KNIGHT, Jill (b.1923).



Birmingham Edgbaston
31 March 1966 - 1 May 1997


Joan Christabel Jill Knight was born in Bristol on 9 July 1923. Educated at King Edward Grammar School, she decided she wanted to pursue a career in politics at thirteen, her anti-socialist views influenced by her school life. She joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) in 1941 and after the war lived for a time in Hamburg. On her return to the UK she joined the Young Conservatives. She married James Montague Knight in 1947.

Knight was elected to Northampton County Borough Council in 1956 and was the Tory whip until 1966. After trying unsuccessfully to win the parliamentary seat of Northampton in 1959 and 1964, she was chosen from more than two hundred candidates to contest the Birmingham Edgbaston by-election in 1966; once elected she held the seat until 1997. That year she stood down from Commons and was made a life peer as Baroness Knight of Collingtree.

Transcript of clip

"I remember one Member saying to me when I went in the smoking room for instance – I don’t smoke, I never have, but that was where you had a glass of wine or whatever – this very much sort of old fashioned conservative said ‘Jill I thought you were a nice girl!’; ‘I am’, I said, smiling winningly, and he said ‘Not if you go in here, this is the smoking room’, ‘But it’s where the MPs gather and I am an MP, you know.’ That sort of thing I did encounter."

Summary of interview

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Track 1 [01:06:04] Born in Bristol, moved to Cotswolds at 7. Family background –siblings, parents divorced. Mother ran a school –she had a degree [01.25]. Grandfather was Norwegian sea captain, tehn had a garage, then a dairy –and a grocer’s shop (“a bit like Margaret”) [03.15]. Remembers school days “lower middle class”. Family had no politics [04.05]. Brothers teased her about political ambitions. Didn’t mention it again until husband proposed to her [04.50]. Churchgoer but not serious although Grandmother joined Plymouth Brethren tells story of her winter coat. Ambition for politics from schooldays –tells story of English teacher, a strong Fabian, who got them to read News from Nowhere by William Morris – a vision of Golden Age of Socialism. Thought it was rubbish and wrote essays tearing it to pieces. Teacher penalised her [10.30]. Came bottom of English instead of top. Decided she was on the other side. Knowing her own mind –“it’s what we’re sent here for” [11.40]. Speaks about changing her mind about EEC/EC –now opposes it. “MPS are not there to do what they’re told but to do what their judgement tells them is the best thing” [12.53]. How did she became an MP? [13.52] Persistence; had had some stage training –as a WAAF – in the girls’ Gangshow then in Cabaret (friend of Janet Brown). It helped her “produce” her voice and hold an audience. Stood for local council –Northampton Borough Council. Was party whip for a time. Good way of learning about politics and people [16.40]. Today so many people go into politics having been an assistant or a researcher. Fought a seat in Northampton against son of local squire [17.40]. Lost to him twice. Took every chance to speak and to learn about audiences. [18.30]. Gives tips on campaigning e.g. never share platform with opponent –gives example of Cameron/Clegg campaigning on TV. Context of politics at the time, [20.10] was sent to UN to learn. She had a “programme” to achieve –had a lot to learn and women were not favouirite choice of selection committees. [22.00]. Managed the demands of being a mother and a councillor and candidate –juggling timetable [22.45]. Have to be determined. Couldn’t afford a nanny. Had a good time with sons nevertheless. Easier for women candidates today. Finally succeeded in winning a seat –had spoken at party conferences – her views on taxation [24.35] -and been noticed.