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Page last updated at 09:22 GMT, Friday, 30 December 2011
Guest editor: Baroness Boothroyd

Baroness Boothroyd

Every year the Today programme hands over the editorship to leading public figures in the week between Christmas and New Year. Editing the programme on 30 December will be the former Commons speaker Baroness Boothroyd.

Her programme looks at Scottish independence, House of Lords reform, post-apartheid South Africa and her garden's pest problem.


Baroness Boothroyd made history as the first, and to date only, female speaker in the House of Commons.

She is nonetheless a firm believer that people should rise according to their merits and not as a result of any type of positive discrimination.

What she does abhor however is the idea that talented women are being held back by a glass ceiling that - though cracked - is still well and truly in place. Evan Davis met with Lucy Neville Rolfe, executive director of Tesco, Lorraine Heggessey, the first female controller of BBC1, and Rachel Lomax, former deputy governor of the Bank of England to discuss if the glass ceiling is a myth, or reality.

Like other staunch supporters of the Union, our guest editor is concerned that the three main parties - battered and bruised north of the border - are losing the march on their Scottish nationalist cousins in making the case for the Union and against independence.

Lady Boothroyd believes that the implications of Scottish independence for the United Kingdom could be profound yet are not being debated widely enough. Lord West, former First Sea Lord and former Labour security minister outlines his concerns about SNP defence policy.

A black-sash anti-apartheid campaigner in her youth, our guest editor Baroness Boothroyd watched South Africa's emergence from apartheid with great joy.

It was with even greater pride that she welcomed Nelson Mandela to Westminster Hall in 1996 as South Africa's first democratically elected leader.

However, Lady Boothroyd wonders whether South Africa's dreams of a better, fairer future for all South Africans have soured since those jubilant days.

Three prominent South Africans: the Nobel Prize winning author Nadine Gordimer, Jay Naidoo, a minister in Nelson Mandela's administration and Moeletsi Mbeki of the South African Institute of International Affairs discuss South Africa's recent history.

Our guest editor is a fervent supporter of an appointed House of Lords and is greatly concerned that the government's proposals for a largely elected upper house amount to abolition, do not adequately address which House would have primacy and are uncosted.

She is also fears that the calibre of people serving in the second chamber would also suffer. Vernon Bogdanor, Research Professor at the Institute for Contemporary History at Kings College London, detailed his case against change.

She is also concerned at how young people in this country are going to retain a sense of national history if they aren't exposed to it at school, which she fears they aren't. So we brought together the author and historian Amanda Foreman and the history teacher and deputy head teacher Peter Hyman to discuss the current curriculum and the question of national memory. Presenter James Naughtie started by asking Dr Foreman how important she thought history was as part of creating a feeling of national identity.

Baroness Boothroyd has a love/hate relationship with her garden, plagued as she is by a retinue of moles, voles, rabbits and stray deer. She asked Today presenter James Naughtie to drop by and help her with her pest problem.

She is a big fan of musical theatre. Despite the troubled economy, figures out next year from the Society of London Theatres, which represents 52 theatres, are likely to show that box office takings in 2011 were more than half a billion pounds. Our arts correspondent Rebecca Jones reports.

Baroness Boothroyd enjoyed an extremely successful career. But she did so without the advantage of a university education. As a result she was very proud to be invited to become Chancellor of The Open University, a post she held from 1994 to 2006. This year the university celebrated its 40th year of teaching and the BBC's Sarah Montague spoke to one of its earliest pupils Ann Lawrence. She started in the Open University's first year 1971 when she was 32. They were also joined in their conversation by a more recent graduate Andrew Bray, who is a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy.

Despite undergoing open-heart surgery two years ago, our guest editor Baroness Boothroyd is, at the age of 82, "in fine fettle" - something that those who meet her often comment on. But why is that? Is she reaping the rewards of a healthy lifestyle? Baroness Boothroyd wanted some answers and so she commissioned our science correspondent Tom Feilden to find out.

And she reflected on her experience as guest editor.


The first and only female Speaker of the House of Commons, Betty Boothroyd's first career was as a dancer, including a spell as a Tiller Girl.

She took her first steps into politics in the 1960s and served as an aide to a Republican congressman. After serving as a councillor in London, she entered Parliament as the MP for West Bromwich in 1973.

Becoming a deputy speaker in 1987, Lady Boothroyd was elected Speaker in 1992, eschewing the traditional wig. She has sat as a crossbench peer since 2001 after standing down from the Speaker's chair the previous year.

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