Jenny Stringer, literary editor and true socialist
Loyal friend helped looked after Michael Foot in his later years
04 June, 2018 — By Ben Stringer
JENNY Stringer devoted many years of her life to working for the Labour Party, both locally in Camden and in the Houses of Parliament.
She was also a notable literary editor. She was born in 1936 in Kuala Lumpur, where her father was a Chinese language specialist. When the Japanese invaded in 1941, he was captured and put to work on the notorious Burma Railway.
He survived, but Jenny with her mother and siblings managed to flee on a ship out of Singapore that happened to be going to Australia. She ended up going to school in Geelong, until she was 18. In 1953 the family moved to London where Jenny studied piano at the Royal College of Music.
Her music studies were cut short by the birth of the first of her four children in 1957. During this period she lived with her young family in Pilgrim’s Lane, Hampstead.
But in 1967, the family moved into a big run-down house in Gainsborough Gardens. Not long after this move she and her husband Martin separated, so she was a young, single, parent with four kids and no regular income. Her difficulties were compounded by extensive treatment for cancer and at one point, a broken back.
Her house at Gainsborough Gardens was a lively and bohemian one, with many rooms rented out to interesting people, and lots of music and parties. Its once grand rooms were used for things they weren’t designed for. Such as Jenny’s antique furniture stripping business.
In 1981 she moved to a dilapidated house in Regent’s Park Road and fixed it up. She already knew the road well, having worked there in her antique days with Ron Weldon, who ran a shop there. Primrose Hill was her home for the rest of her life.
In the 1970s she helped out at Erin Pizzey’s pioneering domestic violence shelter, the beginning of what would later become the organisation known as Refuge. This experience galvanised her interest in politics and law.
She studied for the Bar at Lincoln’s Inn. In 1985, she was asked to help edit The Oxford Companion to English Literature, with her friend Margaret Drabble. Following the success of this, Jenny was then asked by the OUP to compile and edit a number of subsequent literary companions, including The Oxford Companion to Twentieth-century Literature in English.
In the early 1980s she also began working on the parliamentary journal Hansard and from there she took on a series of increasingly interesting jobs in parliamentary offices. She loved working at the House of Commons, where she ultimately worked as PA for two outstanding leaders of the Labour Party; Neil Kinnock until 1992, and then John Smith, until his untimely death in 1994.
From this time, until her death, she remained very committed to the Labour Party, particularly to the Camden branch.
Jenny was very good friends with her former neighbours, Michael Foot (another great Labour Party leader) and his wife Jill Craigie, the distinguished film-maker. Before Jill Craigie died in 1999 Jill asked Jenny if she could help take care of Michael in her absence. Jenny did this, and felt privileged to have done so, for the rest of Michael’s life, until he died in 2010.
Jenny was full of contradictions. She loved opera and London’s classical music scene, and loved being among her many musician friends, but she also liked opera of the soap variety and for many years she was a big fan of Neighbours. She was a loyal friend to many and will be missed.
Jenny Stringer is survived by her four children Tony, Ben, Polly and Nick and eight grandchildren.