From Man and Wife (1996)
Chapter 1. Opening the suitcase
No facts 'speak for themselves', but it is from the 'facts' that we must start. When she died, my mother left me a brown leather suitcase full of papers about her and my father's lives: 'That's for you, one day,' she used to say, pointing to the suitcase, which had a place of honour on the floor opposite her bed in the ground-floor room she lived in, because she was partially disabled, in the last years of her life. I had no idea what was in the brown suitcase, and little curiosity about it either, until one day several weeks after her death, when I snapped open its rusty latches. Inside the lid I saw what I had once written as a child, in the neat italic handwriting taught at my very proper girls' school: my address, in that long-drawn-out child's way which begins with one's full name and expands over many lines to end with 'the Solar System, Space'. I had also prophetically added, 'If this case dares to roam, box its ears and send it home (please).' The suitcase was a carefully garnered storeroom of the past. Everything in it had been 'Pruned', in my mother's gardening metaphor, though she left no clue as to what had been cut out and why. One thing was clear: what was in that suitcase was intended for me. It was meant to tell me something my mother thought I needed to know; and it was for me to make use of it however I thought best.
This book is the result. Its theme is one which underlies many twentieth-century dilemmas: the relationship between the public world of 'work', and the private world of the home and personal relationships. The phrase 'man and wife' which 1 have used as the book's title sums up the traditional arrangement; the two spheres of home and work have historically been identified with men and women, and in marriage the unequal separation is most clearly recognized...
Being based on personal papers, the narrative of the book is in one sense a deeply personal one. But the papers also tell a significant public story. My father, Richard Titmuss, was one of the 'founders' of Britain's welfare state. His work from the late 1930s onwards played a role in the development of British post-war social policy. By the end of his life, he was well known in certain academic, political and social circles and possessed an international reputation based on a lifetime's work analysing health, social and fiscal inequalities and welfarism. and human rights. During the latter part of the period with which this book deals - the early 1940s - Britain seemed to be hovering on the edge of one of the most radical social policy shifts of all time. The National Health Service and the welfare state arose like a phoenix out of the ashes of the Second World War. Although the pathway to state intervention had been laid much earlier, the post-war period was a brave new world to many. It was one with which Richard Titmuss was intimately associated. He influenced the manner in which the welfare state evolved and was understood, not only in Britain, but as a model to be emulated and improved on by other countries...
Alongside this panoply of achievement, my mother Kathleen ('Kay')` Titmuss's own claim to fame was that she could be considered part of it: she was the helpmate wife - intellectual and social companion, co-traveller to international conferences and Buckingham Palace garden parties, domestic and social organizer, carer of Richard's body, clothes, house and daughter. When she met Richard she was active as a social worker in a movement to help the unemployed, and as a founder member of a professional social work organization. But the story of their relationship is also the story of her retirement from this public activity. 'There's only one thing I regret,' she said to me after Richard died, 'that I wasn't Lady Titmuss.' She was referring here to the offer of a life peerage made by PM Harold Wilson, which Richard declined. In the pages of this book, there is a somewhat different story. Kay Titmuss did once have a life of her own. This meant a considerable amount to her, and continued to do so through the years of marriage. It's one reason I wanted to write the book: to show what my mother did and how she lived, to dignify not only what she might have been, but what she, 'in fact', was, to turn into words on the printed page all those declarations that she really must write a book about it all one day..
The papers in the suitcase my mother left me included family correspondence and press cuttings from my mother's childhood, a few letters from my father's early life and some from his early adulthood; memorabilia from their early life together; notebook diaries kept by my mother, and pocket diaries used by both my parents from 1939 to 1987; notebooks kept by both my parents containing thoughts, quotations, and details of money and health; a file of papers relating to my father's activities before he met my mother, and one for the social welfare work she did in the 1930s and '40s; a few documents and letters from my own childhood; notes for the lecture series my father gave when he first took up a university post, Ministry of Food ration books for 1953-4, passports and family birth, death and marriage certificates; records of my father's honorary degrees; his CBE and other medals; notebooks with the menus of meals my mother served to visitors in 1967-74; miscellaneous personal news cuttings; and invitations to a Buckingham Palace garden party and to two dinners at 10 Downing Street from Harold Wilson and Edward Heath. But the most substantial documentation in the suitcase is for the period between 1934 and 1944, the first decade of my parents' life together. ..
This book draws on the papers left in the brown suitcase, particularly the letters.` It tells a story, and proposes an argument about public visions and private matters. The story is a personal one about the developing relationship between Richard. and Kay Titmuss and the evolution of their/her/his work in the years leading up to and during the Second World War. The argument is a general one about the framing of a liberal-democratic philosophy and political agenda against a backdrop of massive, hidden inequalities of birth and power; it uses the exemplar of Richard and Kay Titmuss's lives and work to tease out the way in which the public philosophy could, and did, ignore the private inequality, and was thus ultimately driven to failure. At the same time, the narrative of this book also shows just how, on a very simple level, there can be no abstract theory or set of values unmediated by the concrete living of everyday life. In this respect, the lives of Richard and Kay Titmuss are interesting primarily for their ordinariness; along with millions of other men and women they met, and fell in love, and made their livings, and a home together, and survived, though not unscarred, the long years of the war. Their diaries and letters resemble those kept by both the rich and the poor, recording the everyday tribulations and triumphs of being alive then. In their living out of the public and the private, Kay and Richard Titmuss were also only one couple among many; millions of men were freed for full participation in the world outside the home through the unpaid services of women within it. He could have been any ordinary labourer, she any ordinary housewife.
But it wasn't as an ordinary housewife that my mother primarily wished to be remembered in the leavings of the brown suitcase. She did go to a garden party at Buckingham Palace once, in 1970. On that grey June day, someone took a photograph of the two of them leaving the house. The neat, economical figure of Richard blazoning the red tie (emblem of socialism) subdued by the dark suit stands to one side of the pale yellow door of the house, and Kay, in front of the door, is a little fuzzy in a white suit and a navy straw hat awkwardly positioned on her head. She wore hats only on special occasions, like meeting the Queen or the PM or attending parents' days at school. The handbag in the picture is very like the one she used the day she died. Her handbags were always dark, soft leather, with a single strap and a single clasp and very little in them. The gloves were specially for the Queen. And so they stand together there, in the neatly paved front garden, which used to be grassed over and home to a variety of shrubs, but with time Kay had pruned all this to make it the kind of tidy place she felt comfortable in.
My mother treasured this day, just as she treasured all Richard's claims to fame. One of the most poignant insignia of this is the envelope in the brown suitcase which she kept because it found its way to the house in Acton despite its being addressed only to 'Professor Richard Titmuss, British expert on the welfare state, c/o Lord Mayor's Office, London'. His fame was her fame. They were one being, united in his effort to make the world a better place.