Virago: Changing The World One Page At A Time

Ep 1/1

Monday 31 October



The 1960s - an era full of change, excitement and hope for the future, where free love and alternative culture flourished. Yet surprisingly much of the female population found that their lives were left unchanged; restricted and repressed, their voices were not yet being heard. But by the 1970s, change was brewing…

In 1973, inspired by the radical feminist magazine Spare Rib, 30 year old publicist Carmen Callil shook the foundations of the publishing world by setting up her own women’s publishing house, Virago, aiming to make a revolutionary change by giving women a voice, by giving them back their history and reclaiming women’s literature.

Imbued with the ‘can-do-ism’ that the 70s brought, she took her lead from The Women’s Liberation Movement which was causing seismic shifts in world events, women’s creativity and political consciousness. The film is about that story told by some of the original Virago team - Carmen Callil, Ursula Owen, Harriet Spicer, Lennie Goodings and Alexandra Pringle; women who changed the world one page at a time.

Patronized and welcomed, criticized and praised, these trail-blazing women published books that showed the world how 53 percent of the population saw it. It was indeed no easy task: they took out loans and invested their own money into the company, there were disagreements bust-ups and buyouts, but at its heart a trust and belief that they could change lives through books - novels and non-fiction spurred them on.

The film traces Virago’s development alongside the history of the women’s movement, taking us up to the new generation of women 40 years on as they find their voice. These include women - both authors and editors - who are involved with the publishing house today. The film features contributions from some of the best known authors of our time published by Virago, including Margaret Atwood, Sarah Waters, Sarah Dunant, Maya Angelou and Naomi Wolf.

This is the account of one revolutionary publishing house who set out to change the world for its readers and writers, and, unlike most of the other radical presses of the 1970s, is still thriving as a vibrant and important press for women’s voices today.

The Virago Story is produced by What Larks Productions for the BBC. The Commissioner is Mark Bell, Head of Arts Commissioning for the BBC.

Pictured: Naomi Wolf