Speaking Winnicottish

The journalist and sociologist Dr Anne Karpf wrote in 2014 about the BBC broadcasts, numbering over fifty, of Donald Winnicott (1896-1971), pictured above, between 1943-62. They were brought together in the paediatrician and psychoanalyst’s bestselling book The Child, the Family and the Outside World (1964). Karpf notes:

“Winnicott’s unrivalled ability to communicate without jargon, his imaginative gifts, his feminised voice – all these were seized upon by his committed female BBC producers (Winnicott was never produced by a man), in a BBC reaching its apogee of influence, keen to broadcast innovatory ideas to a wartime public hungry to understand both human aggression and the role that good enough mothering could play in limiting its impact – especially when such ideas were not labelled psychoanalytic, and could be ‘domesticated’ by being transmitted in safe slots such as ‘Woman’s Hour’, the Light Programme and Home Service.”

Karpf writes of Winnicott’s producers:

“(Janet) Quigley and (Isa) Benzie acted as a kind of surrogate listener – the mother who should not be alarmed (although only Benzie had a child), and were able to test out Winnicott’s potential effect on the audience.”.

Karpf adds:

“The contrast with John Bowlby is telling. When Benzie wrote to Bowlby in 1946…she felt it necessary to spell out the approach required…”I don’t know whether I said that one of the exercises necessary for speakers is to make all one’s points – so far as possible – not only with pictures and examples and concrete nouns but literally with words of one syllable.” 12 years later another producer had to write to him in much the same terms.”.

Karpf notes that, even though Winnicott was President of the British Psychoanalytic Society from 1956-59, “In a sense the camouflage of medicine and psychology suited him: it prevented listeners from being scared of what he had to say, or placing him within a particular analytic tradition, emphasising instead his medical expertise and his focus on normality.”.

Clare Britton married Donald Winnicott in 1951. A social worker and psychoanalyst, she helped to establish social work as a profession. In 1943, she wrote to him: “I hope you make a very good broadcast – & will become very famous.”.

Karpf concludes:

“…some 50 years after his last talk, we still speak Winnicottish.”.

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