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Sandi Toksvig

 Sandi ToksvigAn actor and comedian, Sandi Toksvig is also the writer of many books, including The Chan of Curiosity, Whistling For Elephants and Hitler's Canary. Her latest book, Heroines and Harridans: A Fanfare of Fabulous Females featured "22 portraits of as eccentric a melange of women throughout history of as you are ever likely to find". Sandi joined us in November 2012 to chat about children, houseboats, sexism and more. 

Q. Hi Sandi. I'm another fan of your radio programmes. How old are your children and how would you describe your parenting style - open Scandinavian or buttoned-up English? riverwalk

A. What a splendid nickname. I live on the river Thames and think I should have picked a name like that for myself. My three kids are all grown up now and I expect it was a mix of parenting style. I am very very keen on boundaries and manners but I never ever hit the kids. In fact they say the worst word I can use with them is 'disappointed'. They are all lovely grown ups

Q. Is it true you live on a houseboat? And (completely unrelated - sorry) what gave you the idea for this book? tillysnana

A.Indeed I do live on a houseboat when I am in London but I cheat and also have a house in Kent for all my books. The idea for the book originated with the wonderful drawings and paintings done by my friend Sandy Nightingale. She is a genius and I wanted to do something which showed her off to the wider world. This is actually the second book we've done together. I am also a huge fan of women's history and do what I can to encourage more people to pay attention to some of the unsung heroines. 

Q. Hi Sandi. Do you still have an interest in archaeology? I would love to see you putting your particular slant on the lives and times of the Egyptian Pharoahs through a series about the Pyramids. whenim64

A. I do still have an interest in archaeology. I love all history. I remember that Agatha Christie was married to an archaeologist. She said it was the perfect husband for any woman as the older she got the more interested he was in her. 

Q. I am a HUGE fan of Denmark. I think it's the most civilised country in the world. Everyone seems to have summerhouses. Do you still go back? flibbertigibbet

A. I do go back to Denmark where, rather stereotypically I have a summerhouse. It is a wooden log cabin in the woods beside a lake and is one of the most tranquil places on the planet. I love the fact that the Danes are so keen on work / life balance with the emphasis on life rather than work

Q. You strike me as someone who is entirely comfortable in her own skin. How would you describe your style of dressing? annondomini

A. I don't really have a style. I am short and round and have found the high street is never all that interested in anything other than the 'standard' figure. I'm afraid I now have all my clothes made for me by a very nice gentleman called Mr Kevin who lives in Thailand. He comes to London twice a year and we talk about what I need and then it arrives in the post. No more horrible weeping in changing cubicles. Not a possibility for everyone but my secret spending on myself. I am aware that I am lucky to be able to do it. 

Q. So looking forward to reading your book! I notice from the facebook page, it has some rather lovely illustrations. Why did you choose to have this book illustrated, and how did you choose the illustrator? prufrock

A. Sandy Nightingale the illustrator, is a genius. I was first shown her work by a friend who said 'We need to tell people about this woman and her talent' and I couldn't agree more. The book would not have been written without her and her wonderful husband Gary (the token male) who designed the book. We work in collaboration all three of us and spend far too much time laughing.

Q. If you could be anyone you've written about in your new book, who would you be? pottedshrimp

A. I think I would be Queen Elizabeth but less grumpy. How wonderful to have been able to tell Raleigh what to do and to make friends with Shakespeare. She was troubled with a poor love life and bad hair though which might have made the odd morning a bit depressing.

Q. What does being Chancellor of Portsmouth University involve? totalled

A. It is an honorary position which I was thrilled to take up this wednesday. Essentially I am an ambassador for the University. It is something I am committed to for the next five years and which I already take great pride in. I am a passionate advocate of further education and not just for the young. The ages of the students at the University currently ranges from 17 - 77. I will be present at all the graduation ceremonies and hope to send each graduant out into the world feeling positive and energised following their education experience. I also get to wear a rather splendid purple and gold gown with matching hat which makes me look like a wizard.

Q. I joined specially for this webchat though I now realise my name makes me sound like a stalker.
I think you are great on various quiz shows. So few women seem to be prepared to go on those panel shows - do you think HIGNFY and Mock The Week are too macho? Hurricansandi

A. Hello stalker
I felt so bad that a high wind with my name could've caused such devastation.
I don't think it's that women won't go on quiz shows. I think it is that they don't get booked on quiz shows as much as they should. There are plenty of great women out there who could do the job. Of course the fastest way to get more women on is to let them be the hosts. Years ago they made two pilots for HIGNFY and I was told 'we really liked you Sandi but we couldn't have a woman in charge of the news'. I hope things have changed but I suspect you will carry on seeing many shows with hardly any women at all.

Q. You always seem so buoyant. Do you ever loose it and have a good rant or do you always see the funny side? NfkDumpling

A. On my mother's side I come from a family who managed to laugh their way through the second world war while living for many years in a shelter dug by my grandfather. I think on the whole it is easier to be upbeat. I often think people who are grumpy must be exhausted by it. Bad things happen to us all and we have to deal with them but the Greeks knew that the comedy and tragedy masks like side by side. Being cheerful as a default position usually makes the bad times easier to bear.

Q. Oh good! I'll look forward to this. Will try to think of a question too. But hello Sandi in the meantime. Bags

A.  Hello Bags, I'll try and think of something too.

Q.I'd love to know more about your views on history and male bias. The book sounds very interesting. cleopatra

Other things you might like: 

A. It is often the case that women have been overlooked or forgotten in history and it seems a shame. Not just for women but for men too. We are missing out on some inspirational stories. There is a great book called Who Cooked the Last Supper by Rosalind Miles about women's history. Just the question alone makes you think about the women who made great events happen but whose names have been lost in time.

Q. Hello Sandy - I know you are a mum. Do you hope to be a gran one day and if so will you join us on Gransnet? rosiemus

A. Mostly I hope that my kids give me a breather first. They have only just grown up and need to spread their wings first. I love babies so of course, I should like to be Gran one day and then Gransnet look out!

Q. You are going up and up in my estimation GNHQ! James Martin and now Sandi Toksvig! Can you give her a username and get her to join? I would love to chat with her on a few of our threads. whenim64

A. Hello there
I have never been in the same category as James Martin so I am delighted. Thanks for the offer of joining a thread. I am a keen embroiderer so I like the needle association

Q. No questions but just want to say I LOVE your column in Good Housekeeping. It is so wise and always always makes me smile. Thank you. wisewoman

A. You are very kind. I think I have been writing for Good Housekeeping for about twenty years now. Long enough to have forgotten how long it is. I love writing the column and try to make it a combination of silly nonsense with a dab of sense. I will pass on your compliment to the editor.

Q. Sandi was at boarding school with me (in the same dorm) and was exactly the same then - always had us in hysterics with her stories just want to say hello and congratulations on everything and look forward to reading her latest book. NonnaLi

A. Hello there and well done for growing up as well considering our rather restricted back ground. I can't say that I was all that keen on boarding school as I missed my family so much but I do remember that we laughed a lot. Thank you for that

Q. Saw you in Chester Town Hall this week. Can you please remind me of the title and author of your of favourite book. penny2

A. Gosh I don't know if I said I had a favourite but I always recommend Rosalind Miles' book on the history of women - Who Cooked the Last Supper which I just mentioned to someone else. Hope you enjoyed the show

Q. I would love to know how much of the banter on my favourite radio programme (The News Quiz) is rehearsed. Greatnan

A. None of the banter is rehearsed. I have the questions and have a team who help prepare the answers as we need to be accurate. The rest is just the tosh that occurs on the night. We recorded this weeks show last night and it is being edited as I type. I have nothing to do with that so the final version is always a surprise to me too

Q. You have such a successful career - I wondered if you had ever experienced discrimination for your age (or indeed sex/sexuality). minette

A. Certainly there has been discrimination here and there (see my answer about HIGNFY) but I try not to let that get me down. Best just to keep going. Women are still discriminated against. After more than forty years of the Equal Pay Act being in force on the whole women are still paid 30% less than men. If you really want a shocking statistic - according to the UN women of the world do 66% of the world's work but own just 1% of the assets. yes, 1%. I didn't mistype it.

Q. It's not at all uncommon for female comedians to be lesbians. Are lesbians just funnier? oldflame

A. In order to be a comedian you need to be quite assertive. Playing comedy clubs involves late nights and drunken people. Perhaps a few lesbians are just a little more assertive.

Q. You were at Cambridge with a lot of very funny people. Are you all still friends? And did that play a part in your success? sneetch

A. While I was at Cambridge I was too busy working and having fun to notice that those around me were so hilarious. I have a production company with Stephen Fry who I met at University so I guess you could say we are still in touch. I also work with Pip Broughton who I met at the time. I don't know if it played a part in my success. My first job was in children's TV and I got it by answering an ad in The Stage newspaper - nothing to do with Cambridge.

Q. Your books are so entertaining – I actually went out to buy a replacement copy of Flying Under Bridges when I realized I’d mistakenly put it in the Oxfam box. And that’s after having read it twice. This new one sounds very interesting indeed. You must have a favourite heroine/harridan? Care to share? GracieGran

A. I love Bessie Colman, the first African-American to gain a pilot's licence. She is an inspirational woman. Born to a very poor family in Texas, in the end she became so famous that 10,000 people attended her funeral. Check her out. She is fantastic.

Q. I know you can give as good as you get (or better!) but I sometimes wonder if you get fed-up with the condescending attitude of many English people towards other nations, and towards Denmark in particular? nainnainnain

A. Gosh I can't say I have been patronised about being Danish. I think the important thing for everyone to remember is that there is something of merit in every nation. All countries have something delicious to eat, something beautiful to see and nice people to get to know. Personally I am a big fan of belonging to Europe. The negative aspects are often highlighted in the press such as cost but a united Europe has kept peace among many nations for long enough for it to begin to look like a very good idea indeed.

Q. You are a real polymath with success in writing books & plays, broadcasting, performing live shows and acting etc etc. You are an ace communicator! You feature on my list of '6 people you have never met but would like to invite to a dinner party'! Who would feature on your list? I have enjoyed so many of your writings and broadcasts so thank you, tak! nanaej

A.I get asked this a lot and I'm afraid my answer is the predictable one for a proud mum - my kids. Now that they are off on their own paths in life I don't see them as much as I would like. I have met almost every famous person in this country and in many others and I can't think of anyone's company that could beat my childrens.

Q.What's the link between My Valentine, your show and Valentine Grey, your novel? (Hope I've got that the right way round...) Sounds like you might have turned a novel into a standup show?? solidar

A.I did a forty date tour round the country talking about why I like to write and what inspires me. The novel is about a woman who disguises herself as a man and goes off to serve in the second Anglo-Boer War in 1899. It is quite a serious adventure story and wouldn't really make good standup but the process of writing and how a writer gets to the finished product has a lot of scope for laughs. In a way the show allowed me to also do what I love best - educating by stealth. I shall be back on the road with it next autumn I think. Do come. I get the entire audience to play games and to conduct Beethoven's 9th

Q.Welcome, Sandi. Why did you decide not to name the person who groped you in the 1980s? Don't you think it would deter other men if they thought they might be named and shamed? distaffgran

A.The person concerned has now passed away and I decided to accord him more respect than he ever showed me. The point was not to talk about one individual but to highlight a culture which at the time was thought to be acceptable. I am sure there are many many women who had similar experiences in many walks of life. It certainly was not confined to broadcasting. 


She's manipulative - 5-year-old GD

Is it discrimination? - obesity

She invited herself - daughter