Famous Agony Aunties

May 5, 2023 | 1 comment

Problem pages have been around for almost three hundred years. Famous agony aunts not so long!  Over that time they have changed, not necessarily for the better.  A famous agony aunt did not exist years ago. The original agony aunt advice column was aimed at people who were worried, fearful, lonely, indecisive or sad about some emotional torment such as their marriage coming to an end. People who had nobody they could talk to or preferred not to share such intimate and embarrassing things with people they knew. By writing to an agony auntie they felt they could share their feelings and get comfort without taking risks that come with talking to people you know.  If you want to become a well paid online agony aunt click here.  You can also give free advice or receive free advice here from others who enjoy guiding people with a problem.

Over the years things have gradually changed. More recent newspaper columns tend to get their agony auntie to focus on teasing and pleasuring with accounts of women cheating on their husbands with a huge emphasis on the sexual details and down playing the emotional part. Almost like soft pornography, something to be read for entertainment, rather than the problem itself. The famous agony aunts from years ago would turn in their graves if they saw this.

How did problem pages and the agony auntie start?  How did the famous agony aunt get off the ground?  Towards the end of the sixteenth century a man called John Dunton, a hard working, industrious and focused printer, aged thirty two, was worried about an affair he was having. Understandably he wanted to be able to talk about this and share it with someone without having to reveal who he was and he did not want to go to people he knew… after all this could have made his problem far worse! He did not want to be judged or have interference, nor did he want to have to keep all of his feelings and worries bottled up. He launched the Athenian Gazette as a way of being able to speak about it and share it without having to take any risks and published the very first ever agony aunt column. In many ways he was the very first famous agony aunt or uncle.

John Dunton’s idea proved so popular he had no choice but to hire people to help him, including Daniel Defoe who became a popular agony uncle. By the 1970s women came to the fore. Publishing agony aunt columns not only appealed to their audience but were a cheap way of filling many pages. Many of these agony aunts were very judgmental and moral and would give opinions of what was right or wrong rather than giving advice which would be helpful. Almost as though they were there to criticise or upset rather than help.

One of the youngest and most sparkly of the agony aunts is Emily Clarkson, daughter of car enthusiast Jeremy Clarkson. She is a 27-year-old influencer, presenter and agony aunt columnist. She presents the Should I Delete That? podcast  with Alex Light, where they discuss everything from online bullying to eating disorders.

Despite Jeremy Clarkson’s estimated net worth of £30 million – Emily makes her own money, even choosing to save £9000 a year by not going to uni.

Victoria Coren Mitchell was born 18th August 1972 in London, England and is a British writer, television presenter and professional poker player. Aged 14, inspired by lonely Jo March from Little Women, Victoria sent a short story to Just Seventeen magazine under an assumed name. The story was accepted and published, earning her £90.  Victoria answered a nationwide appeal from the Daily Telegraph for a teenage agony aunt columnist (her ‘audition column’ was about the terrors of the countryside for an urban child), got the job and wrote for them weekly for four years.

She writes weekly agony aunts and advice columnist columns for The Daily Telegraph and The Observer. Her website is at victoriacoren.com   Victoria has appeared in many television programmes and won many international poker competitions.

Coleen (Patricia) Nolan is a more recent agony aunt.  She is an English singer, television presenter and author. She was a member of the singing group The Nolan Sisters from 1980 to 1994, one of the biggest singing groups. She was born on 12th March 1965 in Blackpool, England. Coleen was married to actor Shane Ritchie for nine years.  Her website is at ColeenNolan.com.

In 2013, Nolan  has appeared on television many times including Celebrity Big Brother and Loose Women. She was a resident agony aunt on the ITV chat show The Alan Titchmarsh Show, appearing on the show every Friday. In 2015 she took part in ITV’s Give a Pet a Home series which worked alongside the RSPCA in Birmingham.[14] The show began airing in April 2015, with Amanda Holden as host. Nolan has a weekly column in Best magazine.

Philippa Perry  was born on 1st November 1957 in Warrington, Cheshire, England. She had a variety of jobs including McDonalds. She went to Middlesex Polytechnic where she gained a degree in Fine Art as a mature student.[6] Philippa is an advice columnist an agony aunt who writes for The Guardian, a national newspaper in the UK. She is a psychotherapist and author.

In 1985  Dr Lady Philippa Perry trained and volunteered for the Samaritans, a national well known help line service in the UK,  after which she trained as a psychotherapist, and was a member of the UK Association of Humanistic Psychology Practitioners. Perry worked in the mental health field for 20 years, 10 in private practice, before being published. From 2010 she spent time on the faculty of The School of Life, but she has subsequently discontinued this.

She had a regular column about psychotherapy in Psychologies Magazine for two years; in September 2013 she became Red Magazine’s  advice columnist. She also works as a freelance journalist specialising in psychology and was an occasional presenter for The Culture Show on BBC 2.

Perry has presented various documentaries including: Sex, Lies and Lovebites: The Agony Aunt Story  for BBC 4,  Being Bipolar, for Channel 4,  The Truth About Children Who Lie for BBC 4] and The Great British Sex Survey for Channel 4. Perry is a monthly agony aunt for Red magazine and, since June 2021, for The Observer newspaper. She appeared on BBC 4’s The Museum of Curiosity in November 2019. Her hypothetical donation to this imaginary museum was “A swarm of fruit flies.

She is married to Sir Grayson Perry. The Perrys live in London.

Famous agony aunts include Marjorie Proops, probably the most famous agony aunt of them all,  was born Rebecca Marjorie Proops OBE (formerly Rayle, nee Israel) in Woking, Surrey, England, UK and was a journalist and an advice columnist who wrote the column Dear Marje for the Daily Mirror newspaper. She began her work as an agony auntie at the Daily Mirror as a fashion correspondent and took over the advice column when the original agony aunt died. She spent forty years helping readers with advice and was very positive about counselling, helplines, support groups, gay rights, contraception, comprehensive sex education for children.

Her book Pride, Prejudice and Proops (Time Remembered) was published in 1975, followed by Dear Marje the following year. Her many interesting radio appearances included a guest spot on the BBC Radio 4 comedy programme Just a Minute. Many do not know that she was appointed OBE in 1969, awarded Woman of the Year 1984, in 1977 had a waxwork in Madame Tussauds and in 1971 appeared as the special guest on This is Your Life with Michael Aspel.  She died 10th November 1996 at the age of 85 and was buried at Golders Green Jewish Cemetery in London, England.

Claire Rayner nee Chetwynd was born 22nd January 1931) in Stepney, London, England, UK. Rayner trained as a nurse at the Royal Northern Hospital and Guy’s Hospital in London, she wanted to become a physician, while training as a nurse, but met actor Desmond Rayner and got married to him in 1957. The couple lived in London and Claire worked as a midwife and then later on as a nursing sister. Rayner wrote her first letter to Nursing Times in 1958, complaining about nurse’s pay and conditions. She regularly wrote to The Daily Telegraph about patient care or nurses’ pay and conditions. The famous agony aunt started to write novels and had published more than twenty five books by 1968. By the 1970s Rayner was writing for Woman’s Own and had established herself as a direct and respected agony aunt. Her agony auntie advice in the teenaged girls’ magazine Petticoat caused criticism when she was accused of “encouraging masturbation and promiscuity”. Her down to earth manner led the BBC to ask her to be the first person on British pre-watershed television to demonstrate how to put a condom on and she was one of the first people used by advertisers to help sell sanitary towels.

She began to regularly appear on Pebble Mill at One and in 1973 began an agony column in The Sun but left this to join give readers advice through the Sunday Mirror in 1980, she made her second television series of Claire Rayner’s Casebook soon after. She left the Sunday Mirror and moved to the Today newspaper for three years. She was named medical journalist of the year in 1987. She made it her personal aim to reply to every single letter she received – this was an unfunded project by the station – and an enormous task when you remember how busy she was already and how snowed under advice columnists get when offering free advice when she worked for TV-am in the late 1080s and the early 1990s. Like Marjorie Proops famous agony aunt Claire was a special guest on This is Your Life (1989).

Agony auntie Rayner had breast cancer in 2002 and became a breast cancer activist to promote the work of the charity Cancer Research UK and was a huge believer in the National Health Service. She suffered from Graves Disease and became a patrol of the British Thyroid Foundation in 1994.

Her autobiography How Did I Get Here From There? was published in 2003 and tells of a childhood spoilt by mental, emotional and physical cruelty at the hands of her parents. She was a prolific campaigner, which included President of the Patients Association, one of the Patrons of The Herpes Viruses Association, was appointed to a committee responsible for reviewing the medical conditions at Holloway Prison, Vice-President (formerly the President) of the British Humanist Association, a distinguished Supporter of The Humanist Society Scotland and an Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society. a journalist, radio and television broadcaster, novelist and nurse but was most known for her career of many years as an advice columnist.  She died in hospital on 11th October 2010 aged 79 following an operation.

Of course these people were not the only famous agony aunts. You could find another agony auntie both in the UK and USA, in the USA they tend to call them an advice columnist, but it is the same thing,  perhaps the most outstanding and memorable being Virginia Ironside who was born 3rd February 1944 in London, England and is a British journalist, advice columnist and author. During the 1960s Virginia wrote a rock music column for the Daily Mail. As well as being a famous agony aunt she is Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society and a Patron of the right to die organisation My Death My Decision that wants to see a more caring and empathic approach to dying in the UK, giving people the legal right to medically assisted death if that is their choice.

She recently did a one woman stand up touring comedy show about oldies. She writes a column “Dilemmas for The Independent newspaper, an advice column for The Idler and a monthly column for The Oldie. Her first book, Chelsea Bird, was published when she was just nineteen years of age. You can visit her website at virginiaironside.org.

Anna Raeburn, another famous agony aunt,  was born 3rd April 1944 in Middlesbrough, North Yorkshire, England, UK. She moved to London when aged seventeen and at the age of nineteen was working in New York. and is a British broadcaster, author and journalist for Penthouse, Forum and Cosmopolitan, better known for her role as a famous agony aunt, specialising in giving guidance on relationships and more general life problems. Anna built her reputation in a popular late night problem phone-in show on Capital Radio called Anna and The Doc. She was invited onto BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs choosing Amazing Grace by Aretha Franklin as her favourite track and had an afternoon advice show on Talk Radio in the late 1990s. Famous agony aunt Raeburn co-write the Maureen Lipman television series Agony. As an actress she starred in The Lucie Arnaz Show and Play for Today and was a critic on the ITV 1 daytime show Mum’s on Strike in 2005. She also appeared as an advice columnist in the early days of Good Morning Television from 1993, as a panellist on the comedy game television show Blankety Blank and as a guest on the discussion programme After Dark. She worked for LBC and has authored two books. She currently writes her weekly blog called Annalog. You can visit her website at annaraeburn.com.

Abigail Van Burel, an agony auntie advisor in the USA, who writes as Dear Abby, also known as Jeanne Phillips. By 1987 over 1200 newspapers ran her own column with her readership eventually excelling 110 million. She is very popular but she has been accused of giving old fashioned, out dated and unhelpful advice. A column she wrote in 2016 appeared to place the blame on a teenager who had been sexually assaulted and a column she wrote in 2018 led to her being accused of xenophobia.

Deidre Sanders was the longest running advice column writer and famous agony aunt – so far – for Britain’s The Sun newspaper with Dear Deidre. Dear Deidre was also a section of the popular and long running British daytime television programme This Morning where viewers phoned in and got live advice. She retired at the end of 2020. On 27th September 2022 the unhappy famous agony aunt informed viewers of This Morning that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Dr Miriam Stoppard OBE, another UK agony auntie advisor, wrote for the Daily Mirror and TV Times. Her company Miriam Stoppard Lifetime sells her health products and books. She is the current famous agony auntie for the Daily Mirror newspaper in Britain and you can visit her website at miriamstoppard.com.

Many celebrities have claimed to give free advice column advice on relationships and problems, either hiding behind a team of real advisors, where they are merely a figure head or providing the guidance for entertainment value only. Others have become recognised as being able to give worthwhile support and help. In the UK Graham Norton regularly gives worthwhile advice to his callers on his radio programme.   Perhaps we could say that he is now one of the most popular, a true famous agony aunt or uncle.

Famous agony aunts


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