Cherry Raymond was a broadcaster, journalist and opinion-leader, and a household name during the 1960s and 1970s when few women achieved such prominence in the media. Although she particularly campaigned on women’s issues, and often on topics which were controversial or taboo, her interests were broad, and she played an important role in raising the profile of mental illness in New Zealand. She was one of the founders of the international women’s service organisation Zonta in New Zealand in the 1960s, and embraced the more radical women’s liberation movement the following decade.
Cherry Raymond was born Sylvia Mona Sprigg, the only child of Edith Hannah Allen and her husband, Francis Raymond Sprigg, on 1 June 1925. She was born at Smethwick, on the outskirts of Birmingham. Her father was an iron-founder, while her mother worked as a jewellery designer in an era when few women with young children had paid employment. Raymond later reflected that the attention she received as an only child, along with having attended an all-girls’ school, gave her confidence and provided a strong foundation for her later feminism.
Wishing to avoid the usual female vocations of nursing and office work, she saw in the theatre an opportunity for ‘independence … something other than the conventional life’.1 She had learned the piano from a young age, and from seven took classes in singing and dancing, the latter at the acclaimed Kathleen Danetree dance school in Birmingham. She appeared in pantomimes and concerts.
At the age of 15 or 16, she travelled to London with her parents’ blessing to pursue a performing career. She appeared in revues and musical comedies produced by George Black and Emile Littler, performing both in London and around the country. She also won singing parts, along with some film work and modelling.
In August 1948, Sylvia Sprigg and her parents emigrated to New Zealand to escape the austerity of post-war Britain. Sylvia stopped initially at Sydney, but followed her parents to Auckland after failing to find theatre work in Australia. Soon after arriving, all three members of the Sprigg household adopted Francis’s middle name of ‘Raymond’ as their surname. Sylvia Sprigg became ‘Cherry Raymond’.
Raymond found few theatre opportunities in Auckland, although she obtained some solo cabaret work at the Trocadero. In the absence of theatre work, Raymond auditioned for a job as a radio announcer in December 1948. At that time radio and print media ran programmes and pages which were narrowly circumscribed by women’s social and domestic roles. Jobs announcing women’s programmes were the only positions then open to female broadcasters. Raymond’s audition was unsuccessful, but she accepted a receptionist’s position at Auckland’s 1ZB station to increase her chances of securing an announcing role. After about a year she was invited to speak about women’s issues in a Citizens’ forum panel discussion. This led to invitations to record advertisements.
In 1951 Raymond was made an assistant to popular broadcaster Marina (Joscelyne Parr) on 1ZB’s Women’s hour, filling in when the host was ill or on holiday. She also helped launch a similar programme on Hamilton’s 1XH station in 1954. In 1956 Raymond took over as sole host of the Feminine viewpoint programme on 1YA, which gave her a national audience for the first time. The programme included the domestically-focused light fare expected of women’s programmes, but also featured book, drama and art reviews along with music and talks on various subjects. Raymond described Feminine viewpoint as having ‘a rather literary and informational tone aimed at an educated middle class’.2 She also tackled political and social issues such as alcoholism, which were well outside the usual parameters of women’s programming at the time.
Raymond soon earned a reputation as a strong interviewer, which led to opportunities in the new medium of television in the early 1960s. She was often invited to interview celebrities on Auckland’s AKTV2 station, and from 1965 she hosted an interview programme called Close up for several years. She also hosted daily reports on the Auckland arts festival each year, along with a series of interviews with New Zealanders living in Australia. With her attractive well-groomed appearance and distinctive heavy-rimmed glasses, Raymond was soon a recognised personality on the national media scene. She used her glasses as a kind of statement that she expected to be taken seriously.
On 24 December 1954, Cherry Raymond had married broadcasting technician John Henry (Jack) Metcalf. Theirs was to be a long marriage, with Metcalf working in television production and management. The couple chose not to have children so they could concentrate on their careers.
In 1964 Raymond left Feminine viewpoint to write a weekly column for the New Zealand Woman’s Weekly, then the country’s principal magazine for women with a huge readership. The editor, Jean Wishart, wanted a provocative column to ‘mirror the New Zealand scene and discuss ideas of national importance’, an approach that broke the mould of women’s magazines of the day.3 Wishart initially expected that the column, entitled ‘Speaking frankly’, would feature a series of interviews, but it soon evolved into an opinion column centred on ‘legal and social reform, particularly where they affect women’.4 Raymond’s first column canvassed the subject of ‘mixed marriages’ between Māori and Pākehā, a controversial topic as Māori increasingly moved into the cities in the post-war decades.
Raymond lived up to Wishart’s hopes for the column in the ten years she wrote for the Woman’s Weekly. Topics included unmarried mothers, loans for single women, divorce laws, disability, venereal disease, child abuse, mental illness, suicide, contraception and a ground-breaking piece on abortion. Many columns set out to explain to readers their legal rights as women and as consumers. Raymond adopted the tone of a down-to-earth adviser who approached even the most controversial topic as a matter of common sense. She wrote very carefully, providing reasoned arguments in a calm and reassuring tone which helped deflect criticism. In one characteristic column, she advocated ‘a bold educational and publicity campaign’ to explain sexually transmitted diseases to young people – which went against mainstream arguments that such matters were best left to parents. ‘I am talking now in practical terms’, she went on; ‘I think we should leave moral issues aside at the moment. … Knowledge, not ignorance, is the best protection we can give them.’5
Raymond later reflected that ‘Speaking frankly’ had allowed her to reach women she could never have influenced in any other way, and brought some understanding of the women’s movement to many; it was ‘probably the most important thing that I did in my career’.6 She resigned from the column in 1974 after writing more than 500 pieces.
Through the 1960s Raymond’s was a rare feminist voice on the public stage. Although she rarely used the word to her Woman’s Weekly audience, she had decided she was a feminist after reading Betty Friedan’s The feminine mystique (1963). Her profile as a broadcaster and journalist brought many invitations to speak publicly, and she used these as a platform to discuss feminist issues with women. Raymond was instrumental in the formation of New Zealand’s first Zonta club in 1965, an international service club for women with a broad agenda based on feminist aims. Led by Raymond, who served as its foundation president, the organisation expanded throughout New Zealand. There were 18 Australian and New Zealand clubs in 1974, when they were given the title District 16 of Zonta International. The district became New Zealand-only in 1989, with Raymond as district governor. Raymond’s role with Zonta and as a prominent feminist took her onto the international stage, including serving as a delegate to the World Population Conference in Bucharest in 1973, advising the New Zealand government’s delegation to Mexico City in International Women’s Year, 1975, and chairing Zonta’s International Status of Women Committee in 1980.
In the 1970s, with the advent of women’s liberation and feminist groups, Cherry Raymond made common cause with a younger generation of activist women amongst whom she was highly respected. She got involved with the new National Organisation of Women (NOW), serving as its president from 1974. She was the director of the inaugural United Women’s Convention held in Auckland in 1973; she chaired the convention and was instrumental in contacting the international line-up of speakers. Abortion was a controversial topic for both NOW and the convention, but Raymond was clear about where she stood: ‘I am personally pro-abortion … I agree with the sentiment of a “woman’s right to choose” in that no woman should be refused an abortion if she wants it’.7 Raymond was un-deterred by opposition or accusations of separatism; she considered the establishment of separate women’s health centres ‘very important and part of an inevitable polarization of men and women – a phase necessary in order for women to gain the sense [of] identity and knowledge needed for true equality’.8
Raymond threw herself back into television work after resigning from the Woman’s Weekly, appearing in Personality squares and Beauty and the beast; her radio work included Sunday supplement and arts programmes. In 1977 she became the newly-formed Mental Health Foundation’s first employee, tasked with managing a telethon to raise funds for the foundation; it eventually raised over $2 million. Raymond remained with the foundation as public affairs officer, while her husband became office manager.
In 1979, through the Mental Health Foundation, Raymond became involved in the establishment of the National Collective of Independent Women’s Refuges. The collective provided a national voice and secure funding for the women’s refuges that had been established around the country. She also helped introduce Rape Crisis centres into New Zealand, after seeing how well they operated in Hawaii.
Throughout the early 1980s Raymond kept up a formidable programme of work on social causes. She spent two years in Melbourne helping establish the Mental Health Foundation of Australia, returning to New Zealand in 1983.
In 1984 Raymond was afflicted by a rare neurological disorder which affected her sight, speech, hearing and ability to swallow. She endured five years of illness before new medication restored her abilities; during that time, in 1985, her husband Jack Metcalf died. Her last television appearances were in the series Antiques for love or money in the mid-1980s, and in 1986 she was made a Companion of the Queen’s Service Order in recognition of her services to women. After recovering from her illness in the late 1980s, Raymond commenced a new career as a communications consultant, teaching businesspeople how to deal with the media.
Cherry Raymond died on 17 March 2006 at the Caughey Preston Home in Remuera, Auckland, aged 80. Zonta created a Cherry Raymond award, which is awarded annually to a New Zealand club member who has worked to improve the status of women.
Cherry Raymond’s was an important feminist voice in the years before there was an organised feminist movement in New Zealand. She made the transition to the more radical women’s liberation movement, but her ‘plainly quite respectable’ image enabled her to reach a very wide audience and gave feminism credibility in middle New Zealand.9