Book Reviews

My Turn To Make The Tea by Monica Dickens— weddings, dinners and more weddings

Cover of My Turn To Make The Tea by Monica Dickens, a semi autobiographical account of her job as a junior reporter

My Turn To Make the Tea is a witty fictional tale about the experiences of a young female reporter as she gets to grips with her first job at a small provincial newspaper.

Poppy is determined to prove she can knock out scoops and write stories brimming with drama and colour. Her editor and colleagues at the Downingham Post  have other ideas so Poppy finds her days filled with writing “stories” about weddings and gymkhanas; craft sales and dinners organised by local societies.

Even when she’s sent to sittings of the magistrates’ court, she’s demoted to covering the most minor misdemeanours, the cases considered a waste of time by journalists from other newspapers.

I was only down for a school prize-giving, a round of the shops to report on Christmas buying and the price of turkeys, a lecture on “Bird Species and Behaviour in the Outer Islands” and a demonstration of gas stoves. I could see myself spending most of the week in the office reading proofs and rewriting pick ups about village dances and bazaars.

The Downingham Post is a very conservative newspaper with an aversion to anything that smacks of innovation. Readers don’t want to read “stuff like that” Poppy is told when she injects some human interest elements into her report of an Old Folk’s Tea. Mr Pellet, the editor — ” the most unliterary-looking person I had ever seen” — has very clear views about journalism and they don’t include Poppy’s idea of introducing a women’s page, He knows exactly what his readers want :

Do you know why people read this paper? Because they’ve been reading it for umpteen years, and it’s still more or less the same as the first copy they ever read. It’s safe. They know where they are. In Downingham they’ve been eating meat pie and chips on Saturday nights since the world began, and if they were suddenly asked to eat their joint on Saturday and their pie on Sunday they’d think the bottom had dropped out of life.”

My Turn To Make the Tea doesn’t have a plot as such. It’s more a series of anecdotes about Poppy’s assignments and her relationships with colleagues at the Downingham Post. Over time we see her idealised notions about journalism stripped away as the realities of getting a newspaper out every day take over. There’s no time for in depth reporting or initiative when there are thousands of inches of white space to be filled.

In the provinces you are not really a newspaper in the strict sense of the word. You are more like a parish magazine. You do not give your readers the news but only the news that affects them locally. Tremendous events may be afoot in the great world outside, but you are only interested in what happened within your fifteen mile radius. World-shaking events may be afoot in the great world outside but you are only concerned with what your local MP said to the Mothers’ Union about the cost of living.

Monica Dickens has a keen eye for observation, never more evident than when she shares her thoughts on the odd assortment of fellow tenants in the boarding house where she gets a room. It’s run by the gimlet-eyed Mrs Goff, a woman much given to rules and regulations. Lodgers must be punctual for meals or go without, no item of furniture must be moved and there must be no parties or jollity of any kind.

It’s generally light hearted in tone though we do get to learn of some of the challenges of life in late 1940s Britain, particularly the housing shortage and back street abortions. The novel also highlights how women were treated in the workplace — all the Downingham Post team are expected to fill inkwells, fetch paper supplies and wash the cups. But as the only female staff member “it is nearly always your turn to make the tea.”

My Turn To Make the Tea is based on Monica Dickens’ own experience as a junior reporter on a local newspaper. Though my own time on a local newspaper happened 30 years later, I could still relate to so much of this novel. I too did more than my fair share of re-writing wedding reports submitted by proud parents (if they’d had their way every guest would have got a mention); or listing all the prize winners at the annual carnival.

But some things had changed for the better. We all had typewriters where my predecessors had to laboriously write everything by hand. Telephones were more common so no need to physically trek around the district gathering information. More significantly — everyone, editor included, had to make the tea.

My Turn To Make The Tea is one of the books on my #20booksofsummer reading list.


What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

25 thoughts on “My Turn To Make The Tea by Monica Dickens— weddings, dinners and more weddings

  • Pingback: Books of Summer 2023: Random Choices From The Shelves : BookerTalk

  • Hi, Karen, I am very much looking forward to reading my first novel by Monica Dickens: Joy and Josephine (hopefully) soon! 🤞

    Love & Blessings, Jessica 💌

    • This was my first Monica Dickens novel,. I liked her witty observations so will explore some more by her – sometime….

  • Oh I would like to read this, both for the subversive writing and also for the historical perspective. I’ve been wanting to try some Dickens so this sounds ideal, thanks!

    • It’s good at showing a way of life that no longer exists.

  • I loved this when I read it a decade or so ago. I got my start working on a provincial weekly newspaper and it taught he so much about journalism and production. I’m happy to report I was never asked to make the tea!

    • Though I did a journalism graduate course, it wasn’t until I actually started working on a newspaper that I started to understand what it was all about. Of course that was before the PR machinery was in full throttle so we couldn’t rely on news releases – we had to get out and find news.

      • I did a masters in journalism in the days when there was only one university in Australia offering it, hence I moved 1,700km north to Brisbane to do it. And even though it was a well rounded course and had its own suburban newspaper, it wasn’t until I had a real job on a rural paper and the freedom (and stress!) to generate my own stories, including taking the photographs and coming up with the headlines, that all the learnings fell into place. And yea, no press releases or internet, so all news was hand soured via foot/car or phone!

        • I failed miserably when it came to writing headlines. Fortunately we were not called upon to do that regularly because the paper would never have gone to press

  • wadholloway

    I was a cadet journalist for a while, rewriting agency copy for country newspapers. Because of their distance from the capital they were proper papers with international and national sections. I started off on evening shift, writing about the Vietnam War and the Australian cricket team touring England. But when they assigned me to covering country folk in the big smoke, I chucked it in. Which was silly, as they were willing to push me through to D grade after just 18 months.

    • I did some Falklands war reports but always from a local angle. As a district reporter we had to be able to cover everything so in between court sessions, local government meetings, industrial strikes etc etc I also had to do cricket (ugh) and football (even worse because my assigned team never won a single match).

  • I’d love to read Monica Dickens—she sounds so funny—and this must be a great place to start. (My aunt was one of the few female police officers on the force in the 1980s and solved the still-prevalent-in-the-police tea problem by alleging that she had never drunk a cup of tea and had no idea how to make it to anyone else’s satisfaction. Apparently this worked!)

    • Wow, that is a brilliant device for getting out of the tea making. Your aunt was certainly imaginative!

  • I imagine those wedding reports sometimes arrived with a purple tinge. Cheering last line!

    • it’s good fun to read Rosie. The boarding house scenes are deliciously wicked

  • Oh, I’ll definitely look out for this. Local papers are ever thus, though perhaps they might admit to controversy over, say, planning decisions. But even then – bring on the next primary school’s photo of their Nativity play. No wonder I don’t buy our one.

    • Our poor photographer hated the beginning of the new school year because he had to go to every school and do a “first day at school” class photo – which duly got printed because they increased sales. All the parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles had to have a copy

        • I’ve been seeing lots of former US colleagues posting pictures of their children’s “proms” – can’t believe they now do this for children under 11, completely with cap and gown!

  • LOL I was a Bolshie proto-feminist when I was asked to make the tea in my first serious job. I refused to do it. I got a dressing-down, and was told that if the boss told me to do anything it was my job to do it because I was the most junior, so I made him his blessed tea….but nobody ever asked me to do it again!

    • When the next male junior came along, was he asked to make the tea? No? Thought not.


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