It’s been a busy 33-years for Dame Jenni Murray. For the past three decades, she's been a presenter on Radio Four's Woman's Hour, a role which has seen her grill countless famous faces; Margaret Thatcher, Gloria Steinem and Monika Lewinsky, to name a few.
And, despite a few inevitable controversies, it’s widely agreed that under Murray’s guise the show became an epicentre of fierce debate, with few topics off limits. Indeed, part of Murray’s skill is her ability to get the best out of her interviewees, often encouraging them to open up in ways they wouldn't normally dream of. Her smooth yet brisk tone led veteran newsman Charles Wheeler to say she had, "the most beautiful voice on radio, ever." Despite ongoing criticism about whether Woman's Hour still deserved a place on air, the programme recorded 3.7 million listeners weekly on its 70th birthday in 2016.
In July this year, Murray announced that she was leaving the show - as is her co-presenter Jane Garvey - and this week, she will present her last ever episode. We’ve picked out 33 of her best moments...
1. Her introduction to the show in 1987
Murray took over from Sue MacGregor, who had been on the programme since 1972. Prior to Murray joining, Woman's Hour frequently broke new ground in discussing issues such as the menopause, illegitimacy, homosexuality, divorce and prostitution. With her no-nonsense approach, Murray was a welcome addition to the team.
2. The Margaret Atwood interview, June 3 1987
Shortly after Murray joined Woman’s Hour, Margaret Atwood was invited on the show to discuss The Handmaid's Tale. Throughout the interview, Atwood shed light on what led her to write the dystopian novel - a vision of a future in which women have become little more than walking wombs.
“By the time it was published, reality had caught up with it enough so that nobody thought it was too bizarre or eccentric. Instead, they said things like: how long have we got until this happens?” she said.
In true Woman’s Hour style, this interview was ahead of its time and remains relevant to listen to now, 33 years on.
3. The Bette Davies interview, 1989
In an interview with the Radio Times, Murray recalled that the first time she felt truly nervous on the show was before an interview with the Hollywood star Bette Davies. Speaking about the interview, Murray said Davies arrived looking “stunningly dressed and perfectly made up.”
Murray had just read her autobiography, which described how Davis had made meals for servicemen during the Second World War. She decided to begin the interview by asking Davis about that, rather than the obvious questions about her acting career. “It worked a miracle and she was putty in my hands,” she recalled.
4. Joan Baez, late 1980s
Murray frequently references the interview with the American singer Joan Baez as one of the highlights of her career. In the moving episode, Baez leaned back from the microphone to sing the unaccompanied lullaby she had sung to Martin Luther King when he could not sleep during the civil rights marches of the 1960s.
5. Margaret Thatcher, 1993
Two years after Thatcher's resignation, Murray asked her questions on how she had dealt with sexist comments, such as Alan Clark’s reference to her “pretty ankles”, or François Mitterrand saying she had “the eyes of Caligula and the lips of Marilyn Monroe” - to which Thatcher didn’t offer much response. Much later, Murray realised that Thatcher's press secretary hadn't showed her those newspaper cuttings, meaning her revelations came as a genuine shock to the former PM.
Speaking about her experiences of interviewing Thatcher, Murray had said she, “had these blue eyes that bore into you.”
6. Notoriously tough questions
Murray’s questions can be so ruthless that some interviewees have even begged for reprieve. Virginia Bottomley once went on the show and said: "Jenni, I don't really know my facts on this. You will be gentle, won't you?" But Murray could be tougher on women than she was on men. "I've never been an advocate of the 'women are gooder' school," she insisted.
7. Barbara Castle on the shocking pay gap
Barbara Castle, the MP who bought in the Equal Pay Act in 1970, was another memorable guest on Woman's Hour on Murray's watch. She spoke about her days as a young MP when businesses in her constituency proudly showed her their pay scales, which began with managerial, then skilled, then unskilled and, at the bottom, women. With debate about the gender pay gap still ongoing to this day, the interview presents another moment in which Woman’s Hour was boldly ahead of its time.
8. 50 years of Woman's Hour, 1996
To mark the 50 year anniversary of Woman’s Hour, Murray published a book, The Woman’s Hour: 50 Years of Women in Britain. It looks at the achievements of women since the end of the Second World War, and includes personal reminiscences on topics such as health, education, sex and politics.
9. 'That woman' Monica Lewinsky, 1999
The former White House intern famously became embroiled in the scandal that led to one of the most memorable quotes of the 1990s: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman”. But Murray was keen to get to the bottom of “that woman’s" version of the story. In the programme, which was dedicated solely to the interview with Lewinsky, Murray famously challenged her about why she hadn’t removed “that stain” from her dress.
Speaking about the interview later in her career, Murray said: "I could not help feeling sympathy for a plump young woman who had been only 21 when the most powerful man in the western world - old enough to be her father - had whistled. Which of us, I thought, would not have responded?"
10. An OBE, 1999
In 1999, Murray was honoured with an OBE for services to broadcasting - most notably, as a presenter for Woman's Hour.
11. Oprah Winfrey, 1999
With one brilliant talk show host chatting to another, this was a defining episode of Woman’s Hour. Winfrey opened up to Murray about her memories of the civil rights movement in America. However, the pair also broached the issue of body image. Speaking about the interview, Murray told the Radio Times: “She didn’t make any bones about her weight going up and down. She said, ‘What kind of a life is it without a French fry ever?’
12. Wedding bells
In 2003, it was all change for Murray, who walked down the aisle with her partner David Forgham. For the occasion, she dressed simply in a new black top and trousers with a beige jacket.
This wasn’t without a few raised eyebrows; Murray had previously written a piece against the humiliations of marriage and spoken out about being opposed to it.
She said: "I did it because of inheritance tax. Under the current law in this country, if I or David had died, because we share all the properties, one of us would have had to pay 40 per cent inheritance tax. Whether we would then have been able to afford to keep our house was questionable. My children risked losing their family home due to a piece of paper.”
13. Getting men to open up
At the beginning of the millennium, Murray worked her magic on the actor Jack Nicholson when she notoriously broached the subject about his apparent distrust of women. According to Murray, he responded by saying it stemmed from not finding out until he was 30 that the woman he believed to be his mother was really his grandmother - and that his "sister" was the one who had "shamefully" given birth to an illegitimate son.
Writing on the show's 60th anniversary, Murray said: "I have often found that men open up on Woman's Hour in a way they would not elsewhere."
14. Asking Edwina Currie if she'd had a smear test
The British politician talked openly about her affair with John Major. In true Murray style, few questions were off limits, and she went on to quiz Currie about when she'd last had a smear test.
She said: "Now I wonder if you are not averse to a spot of hypocrisy as well. Because you told me on the March 17 1988 that you weren't worried about cervical smears being every five years because you didn't put yourself at risk. And I quote: 'I've been married to the same chap for 14 years.' Now it seems to me that you were implying that people who are unfaithful are at risk? Which now seems a bit rich given what was going on?'
Edwina Currie responded: "Well, I think we know a lot more about cervical smear now."
14. The trial of 'Men's Hour', 2004
Ah, is if it wasn’t enough to let women have their own radio space to discuss important issues. On December 31 2004, the show became "Man's Hour" for one day only, when it was presented by Channel 4 News anchor Jon Snow.
Later in 2010, calls mounted for a regular "Men’s Hour" which launched later that year. Of the decision, Murray said: “It’s up to them. They can talk or march for whatever interests them. As long as they don’t mock us.”
15. The lesbian couple, 2005
In 2005, England’s first lesbian couple to have a civil partnership, Rev Debbie Gaston and Elaine Cook, appeared on the show to discuss the landmark event. Murray met Debbie and Elaine the day before their ceremony to discuss what they saw as a "huge step in the right direction for equality".
16. Breast cancer diagnosis, 2006
In December 2006, the presenter announced live on air - in a characteristically fuss-free fashion - that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer.
“Before I say goodbye for the holidays, there's something I need to say about me,” she said. “I shan't be around for a while in the new year because I've just been diagnosed with breast cancer. I'll be having treatment in the coming weeks - the prognosis, by the way, is excellent - and I plan to be back as soon as I feel up to it.”
Within 48 hours, the BBC had received hundreds of cards and emails.
17. ...And her return
Murray has a reputation for being open and honest on air, and this was no different when it came to her cancer treatment. She told listeners that the most emotionally upsetting moment was losing her hair, and then swiftly used this to explore the centrality of hair to definitions of femininity.
“It was the worst day of all,” she said at the time. “My hair was coming out at such a rate... I cried and cried but then I got a good wig and now the hair has started to come back."
18. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, 2007
The urge to tackle difficult topics came to be a defining feature during Murray's stint on the show. In 2007, the former Dutch MP and human rights campaigner Ayaan Hirsi Ali appeared on the show to discuss woman in Islam and the shocking death threats she had received from extremists.
These came after she'd written the screenplay to a film designed to expose the subjugation of women within the Muslim faith. Two months later Theo Van Gogh, the filmmaker with whom she had collaborated, was killed by an Islamic extremist assailant who was found with a note strapped to his chest saying that Hirsi Ali would be next.
19. Masturbation talk, May 2011
It wasn’t always Murray asking the uncomfortable questions. In 2011, the artist Tracey Emin appeared on the show to discuss her latest exhibition, "Love Is What You Want". Live on air, Emin asked Murray if she masturbated, to which Murray responded: “How dare you!” The question paved the way for a later programme on the then-taboo subject.
20. The Woman's Hour Power List, 2012
Woman's Hour launched a power list of the 100 most powerful women in the UK, as suggested by listeners and judged by a panel – among them Conservative MP Priti Patel, crime writer Val McDermid and writer Dawn O'Porter. In 2012, the Queen was awarded first place, followed by Home Secretary Theresa May in second. The list continues to this day and is seen as a touchstone for the agenda-setting women of the year.
21. And Caitlyn Jenner made the cut...
In 2015, Caitlyn Jenner was added to the list - an important moment of recognition for trans rights.
22. Hillary Clinton, 2014
This interview, in which Clinton spoke honestly about how women in her position are treated as “honorary men,” didn’t get off to the smoothest start. She came into the studio just as Murray was finishing an interview with Shirley Williams and sat in the seat that Williams had just vacated.
“She then picked up a handbag and slapped it across the table. I thought, ‘Good grief, is Hillary Clinton throwing a handbag at me?’” Murray said. It turned out that Williams had forgotten her handbag in the studio and Clinton didn’t want her to leave without it. “In those few moments, I knew she was one of us – she knew that the handbag held a life support system.”
23. Angelina Jolie as guest editor, 2016
As a part of the 2016 Woman’s Hour Takeover, Angelina Jolie took her place in the hotseat. She focused on women surviving sexual violence in conflict, women’s health issues in refugee camps, and broke new ground when discussing why she had been so open about her mastectomy after discovering she carried the gene associated with cancer that led to her mother’s death.
24. Statistics and success, 2016
With 3.7 million listeners weekly, Woman’s Hour became the second most popular daily podcast across BBC Radio in 2016 – after The Archers of which Murray is a fan. A quarter of its listeners are under 35, while 40 per cent are male.
25. Falling foul of the trans lobby, 2017
Murray's time on Woman's Hour wasn't without its controversial moments. In 2017, she famously fell foul of the trans lobby over what constitutes a “real woman”, received a BBC “impartiality warning” and was threatened with “no-platforming” at Oxford University.
26. The abortion act 50 years on, 2017
Hard-hitting topics such as abortion were often top of Murray's agenda. In this 2017 episode, the presenter examined some of the pressing challenges that the 1967 Abortion Act still faces half a century on.
27. A feminist definition
Speaking about how she defined feminism, Murray said: "I always define feminism in a very straightforward manner: that we want to promote women's interests, in which case, in that very strict definition of the word, Woman's Hour is feminist. But those interests are hugely wide-ranging."
28. Woman's Hour turns 70, 2016
One of the unique things about Woman's Hour - and Murray's era hosting it - is how it has seen women's rights shift over time. To celebrate the programme turning 70, Murray and Jane Garvey hosted a special programme that examined how the profile of its listeners has changed over the decades. It found that 60 per cent of female respondents were in employment, compared with 31 per cent in 1951. A clear cause for celebration.
29. Birthday celebrations continue
To commemorate the show's birthday, Murray penned a letter reflecting on its importance.
She wrote: "Throughout Woman's Hour's history we have made small steps forward and back and then forward again. So, where are we now? We have the highest number of women in Parliament than ever before, but still nowhere near the 50/50 representation that would be the ideal. Feminism is no longer considered a dirty word and increasing numbers of young women are ready to embrace it and openly declare their experience of Everyday Sexism. Social media has enabled the word to spread and the new generation of politicians such as Jess Philips, Maria Miller and Stella Creasy are determined to take on the dangerously threatening trolls."
30. Lily Allen interview, 2018
It’s no secret that Murray had a talent for encouraging people open up. In 2018, singer Lily Allen revealed the details of a stillbirth that she tragically suffered in 2010.
She told Murray: ‘I went into early labour [at six months] and they put a stitch in my cervix to stop it developing that lasted a week, I went into full labour and the baby was really small.’
‘As I was delivering him, the doctors said there was a pulse but then there wasn’t, the chord was wrapped around his neck. He was just too small. I’ll never recover from the trauma of losing him.’
The honest interview touched hundreds of fans, with many tearfully writing in to show their support.
31. Working from home, 2020
Not even Woman's Hour is immune to the looming threat of Covid-19. In May, Murray was instructed to work from home, after she was categorised as high risk due to her age. However, this wasn't a decision Murray was happy about.
She said: "It makes me furious that so many of us at the peak of our experience, wisdom and usefulness should be tucked away in such an ageist, discriminatory manner. How can it be possible that one day and one number can change our lives so profoundly?"
32. The leaving announcement
In July, Murray announced that she would be leaving the program after her incredible 33-year stint. She said: “I’ve spent nearly half my life with Woman’s Hour and it’s been a privilege and delight to inform, educate and entertain a loyal and growing audience of women and men. Saying goodbye will be very hard to do, but it’s time to move on.”
33. Final episode
Tomorrow marks Murray's final episode as a Woman's Hour presenter. For many, it will be a chance to tune in to Murray for one last time, before Emma Barnett takes over as presenter in the new year.