, , RUTH LANGDON INGLIS

PIONEERING JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR

By Neil Langdon Inglis (lordstarlink@gmail.com)

Early life and education

Ruth Langdon Inglis (née Ruth Filer Langdon) (December 17, 1927-December 15, 2005), the writer and journalist whose life spanned the continents of Asia, the New World, and the Old World, was born Ruth Langdon in 1927 in Mukden, Manchuria, daughter of William Russell Langdon, a US diplomat and Japanese scholar, and Laura Filer, later to become a noted Oriental art dealer. In the preface to her work, “A Time To Learn” (1974)[i], Ruth Inglis was to evoke the bitter weather of Manchuria: “Mukden’s winter cold was intense, a dry, crackling, numbing kind of cold...I knew about frostbite”. In 1949, Ruth Langdon graduated with a degree in English Literature from Barnard College in New York City, before joining her parents in Singapore for her father's final posting, and working, under Ron Baxter who became a lifelong friend,[ii] as a cub reporter for the Straits Times, which provided her with a sound apprenticeship for a subsequent posting with the Continental Daily Mail in Paris.

Adult life

In 1952 Ruth Langdon married Keith Woodeson, an Englishman who worked as representative of the Continental Daily Mail in Italy, and with whom she had a daughter, Diana, born in Boston three years later. Ruth was devoted to her children and committed to her writing career, and she embodied the quest for work/life balance long before the term was invented. As the 1950s progressed, Ruth joined the public relations office at Sarah Lawrence College, New York, alongside such luminaries as Joseph Campbell (later to author The Power of Myth). While on staff, Ruth developed a keen interest in all aspects of writing and publishing, including publicity.

After her divorce from Keith Woodeson in 1957, Ruth’s years as a Londoner began, with her 1958 marriage to the Anglo-Irish journalist, historian and broadcaster, Brian Inglis,[iii] who in 1959 was appointed editor of the political and cultural review, The Spectator.[iv] As a result of her husband’s editorship (widely regarded as that magazine’s high-water mark), Ruth Inglis was propelled into the role of literary doyenne, one that came naturally to her as, in typically gregarious vein, she began to host soirées at their home in 15 Montagu Square, Marylebone, and later at 20 Albion Street in Bayswater[v], where her son Neil, was born in 1962. Her later proficiency as a celebrity interviewer may have had its genesis amidst the witty conversations and heady atmosphere encountered on such occasions[vi]. During these years, Ruth Inglis also contributed to The Spectator’s “Consuming Interest” column, under the pseudonym Leslie Adrian. She returned to work shortly after Neil’s arrival with a cultural profile of British youth, carried in a distinguished North American publication[vii]. There was always a Transatlantic dimension in Ruth’s life and work, and she maintained an affectionate correspondence with her U.S. family, visiting her home country whenever possible.

Journalistic career

In the mid-1960s, Ruth Inglis was approached by the editor Dennis Hackett, who invited her to become the star interviewer for Nova, described by Kate Muir, writing in The Times (April 22, 2006) as “a politically radical, beautifully designed, intellectual women’s magazine”.[viii] Ruth was later to describe her stint at Nova as the high-point of her professional career, tackling social issues in a way that broke new ground for women’s magazines of the period (her articles included the legalization of homosexuality, “walled-in wives”, and the battered baby syndrome). In the years that followed, in the pages of Nova, The Observer, and elsewhere, Ruth Inglis profiled personalities as disparate as Roald Dahl, Bianca Jagger, Mario Montessori and John Updike. Travel, for business or pleasure, remained an abiding interest; and later in the decade, Ruth savored the opportunity to profile her beloved Provence (“Few Britons”)—a region then undiscovered, as the title of her article suggested. In the next decade, she would travel to Denmark for the The Daily Express (May 12, 1979, "Danish... Tasty! Ruth Inglis finds the French of the North are jolly but so expensive.").

However, Ruth Inglis’s marked literary interests were never to be eclipsed by the exigencies of topical journalism: she interviewed figures such as the novelist Olivia Manning[x], provided important introductions in London for the American poet Anne Sexton (who was said to have coined the term “Swinging London”), and also forged a strong and enduring friendship with the Irish novelist Jennifer Johnston, whose early literary efforts Ruth vigorously championed. Ruth was never (to use her expression) a "queen bee" and considered it a point of honor to support other professional women and their personal and educational aspirations to the fullest (in later years, a fine illustration of Ruth's approach to glass ceilings was to be found in her January 18, 1978 DX interview with the new, 28-year-old drama teacher at Rodean, the highly regarded girls' school, entitled "The drama bomb that explodes at Rodean today").

As someone who was always keen to spread the good news about top-quality projects, Inglis was a natural to provide PR for the prize-winning documentary The Black Fox on Hitler’s rise to power (Executive Producer Jack LeVien, USA, 1962). In The Facts Are These (1969),[xii] Ruth returned to more familiar ground, researching the social issues that were always closest to her heart. And a decade later on February 2, 1978, she discussed this very topic in the pages of The Daily Express, when she commented on a new series of ten 30-minute documentaries, also from Granada, entitled "Facts for Life": one segment, entitled "Birthday," featured an 8-minute depiction of a baby's "crowning" in the delivery room. Inglis's assessment epitomized her instinct for personalizing her commentary while emphasizing her dual role as professional woman and parent, combined with her crusading concern for child welfare: "Mother of two myself, no prude, and a great believer in the "telling-it-like-it-is" school, I saw the film yesterday [and found it] far too raw for schoolchildren, [leaving] nothing to the imagination and [likely to] arouse unnecessary fears in young girls' minds."

Ruth Inglis’s marriage to Brian Inglis was to come to an end in 1974.  In his autobiography Downstart (1990)[xiii], Brian Inglis—referring to Ruth as “Boo”, as she was known to her nearest and dearest—describes the gradual dissolution of their marriage: "I had rented a small flat as an office to write in, and periodically to stay in during the week, not always alone. Almost imperceptibly Boo and I eased apart,..."  In 1972 Ruth Inglis, in the course of her initial separation from Brian Inglis, had met the Canadian writer, Eric Burdick, long resident in Ireland and the UK; they were to live together for the next two decades.[xiv]

After her spell with Nova, Ruth Inglis embarked on a new career when she was hired by Alastair Burnet[xv] to join the Features Page, and later, the Women's Page of the Daily Express (beginning in 1976) where she wrote on topics such as single parenthood, domestic violence and child abuse, as well as the more scholarly areas of child development and education which had always interested her. At the time she humorously recalled the challenge of producing a feature on an unfamiliar topic (oil spills) “for the edition” (i.e., with an urgent deadline), while striking up a cordial relationship with her newfound sources, in the event she ever needed their advice again (her contact book was the envy of her colleagues). 

Books

But broadsheet publication would never set a large enough stage for a writer who was unusual in combining journalistic flair with an incisive and compendious intellect, skilled at both marshalling data and casting a piercing and original psychological insight on the course of events. As the 1970s unfolded, she embarked upon a long and fruitful partnership with the publisher Peter Owen, with the appearance of her first book, A Time to Learn, a guide for parents to the theories of early-years education (1974).[xvi] This was followed by The Sins of the Fathers (1979)[xvii], a study of child abuse; Must Divorce Hurt the Children? (1982)[xviii]; The Good Step-Parent's Guide (1986)[xix]; and The Children's War (1989), a perceptive account of Second World War evacuees later featured in an exhibition at the Imperial War Museum.[xx] In the 1990s she was also to write a regular column on influential educators (Maria Montessori, Benjamin Spock[xxi], Friedrich Froebel, John Bowlby) for Nursery World magazine. Her final book, The Window in the Corner (2003),[xxii] was a history and defense of children's television, in which she noted that television "does not invade the child's mind to the exclusion of other activities; they will sit and listen for a given period and no more . . . [they] can and do switch off the plug-in drug."

Family life

Ruth Inglis was an idealist about parenthood, and was certain that children would benefit if parents were equipped with the fullest possible resources and information about how children learn, develop, and thrive. These were not mere theories for Ruth, who became a grandmother in the 1980s and 1990s with the arrival of Maisie and Phoebe, Diana's and Lloyd's children, and took intense pride in everything they did. Ruth's last public appearance was in early December 2005 at the London reception for newlyweds Neil and Marielle (whose daughter Marie-Laure shares Ruth's keen interest in the Orient--an interest which Ruth warmly supported and encouraged).  

Retirement and death

Ruth Inglis’s last years, living in a terraced Edwardian house on the edge of her beloved Epping Forest, on the Essex border in England, were quiet ones. After sobering medical news was delivered in 1994, Ruth confounded the doctors and lived another ten years, seeing her grandchildren grow up and embarking upon a new phase of her writing career, including lectures on local history. It was during this time that, with the wheel having come full circle, and inspired by evocative memories of her early years in Manchuria, Ruth Inglis began work on a memoir of her father, an undertaking that was not, however, destined to see the light of day, brought to an end as it was by her sudden death in Leyton,[xxiii] two days short of her 78th birthday. As the Guardian’s obituarist noted, “She had an instant rapport with people of all ages and walks of life, a ceaselessly inquiring mind, a sharp turn of phrase and a great sense of fun.”[xxiv]




 

 

[i] http://www.abebooks.com/9780720601121/Time-Learn-Inglis-Ruth-Langdon-0720601126/plp.

 U.S. publisher: DIal Press (1973). Also see endnote xiv.

[ii] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/ruth-inglis-522460.html

 

[iii] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Inglis

 

[iv] Ruth Inglis was a key source for the Brian Inglis chapter in “To Convey Intelligence: The Spectator 1928-1998” by Simon Courtauld (Profile Books Ltd., 1999).  “Inglis often had trouble writing leaders: his wife remembered once waking up at night to find him writing one in bed, in the dark.”

[v] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/ruth-inglis-522460.html

[vi] Guests included New Yorker cartoonist Whitney Darrow, and authors as diverse as Evelyn Waugh and Yukio Mishima (although not all in the same evening).

[vii] “Britain’s Cautious Generation”, The New Leader (April 1963).

[viii] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nova_(UK_magazine).

Nova referred to itself as “The new kind of magazine for a new kind of woman.”

[ix] The Times (London), January 5, 1969.

[x] http://www.amazon.co.uk/Olivia-Manning-Life-Neville-Braybrooke/dp/0701177497

 

[xi] http://www.amazon.com/Anne-Sexton-Biography-Diane-Middlebrook/dp/0679741828

 

[xii] http://ftvdb.bfi.org.uk/sift/title/69663 et cetera. A Granada schools programme directed by Pauline Shaw dealing with social policy issues (drugs, alcohol, venereal disease, smoking, cancer and mental health).

[xiii] Chatto & Windus, 1990.

[xiv] http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/dont-marry-a-television-celebrity-fame-affects-character-as-ruth-inglis-discovered-when-her-husband-became-a-wellknown-granada-presenter-1412928.html. Inglis’s ribald account of her life in the 1960s and 1970s should be viewed as an entertaining catharsis and not as a strictly objective account of her marriage.

[xv] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alastair_Burnet

 

[xvi] http://archive.catholicherald.co.uk/article/10th-may-1974/6/introducing-a-child-to-the-written-word

 

[xvii] https://www.ncjrs.gov/App/publications/Abstract.aspx?id=58303

 

[xviii] http://www.alibris.com/booksearch?qwork=4525849&matches=6&cm_sp=works*listing*title. Maurice Temple Smith Ltd., 1982.

[xix] HarperCollins Publishers Ltd., 1986.

[xx] http://childreninwar2.blogspot.com/2009_12_01_archive.html

 

[xxi] A perennial favorite of Inglis’s and a previous in-person interviewee.

[xxii] http://www.peterowen.com/pages/nonfic/window.htm

 

[xxiii] http://www.facebook.com/WalthamForest

 

[xxiv] http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/2006/jan/20/guardianobituaries.books