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Diary of a reporter

Colour illustration showing two young women seated on a seat built around a tree in a garden contemplating a large blank notebook The Sound of Pens by Ruth Tomalin (1955)Between the wars, many women at King's studied practical and vocational subjects such as journalism.

The author, Ruth Tomalin (1919-2012), who was a student journalist between 1938 and 1939, has depicted London life at this time in vivid detail in her diaries and in a fictional account of 'Thames College', published in The Sound of Pens (1955).

Tomalin described the Journalism classroom set out like a newspaper office with square, flat desks, typewriters, reference books and racks holding back issues of newspapers that were delivered daily to the Porters' Lodge.

Students attended classes on history, economics, literature, law and more practical lessons on shorthand, composition and interview technique. Questions concerning the limits of the freedom of the press were the hot topic during Tomalin's stay at King's shortly before the outbreak of war when they were to be tested for real.

Some lessons were more interesting than others: her diary entry for 29th November 1938 simply reads 'boring journalism', and like many students at King's, Tomalin made full use of her first term in London, the start of which had been delayed by the Munich Crisis, to visit the theatre, attend concerts, stroll through the parks with their complement of autumn colours, and browse the bookshops in the Charing Cross Road. In November 1938 she saw Alec Guinness at the Old Vic whom she dismissed as a 'wildly pathetic elfin little Hamlet'.

Occasionally, Tomalin enjoyed a treat such as tea at Fortnum's and visits to the National Gallery with an art student friend, Olivia. Her favourite pastime was simply to explore London's parks, or walk through the City or beside the river.

Her entry for Saturday 22 November is typical: 'Went for a long walk round Gray's Inn in the soft golden afternoon'. Thick, often 'filthy, grimy' fogs were common, however, and were a good opportunity to catch up on reading and studies.

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