Elizabeth Audrey Withers

Elizabeth Audrey Withers, former editor of Vogue magazine, has died, aged 96.

Withers was appointed editor during the Second World War. It was a difficult period to edit a high-fashion magazine, with paper rationing and clothes coupons, but Withers rose to the challenge and carried the title through five turbulent war years and continued to oversee it until the late Sixties.

She graduated from Somerville College, Oxford, in 1928 with a second in philosophy, politics and economics and decided to pursue a career in publishing or writing.

After a spell working in a bookshop, in 1931 Withers answered a box number advertisement that led to her first job at Vogue, as a sub-editor.

She went on to play a key role in the communication of the war effort and the Government, realising her influence, worked with her and used Vogue to pass on new ration restrictions and medical advice.

Her diligence and choice of contributors took Vogue "right into the heart of the conflict".

She was not a fashion-conscious woman and knew that she would be an unlikely candidate for editorship at any other time.

"I am very well aware that I would not have made an appropriate editor of Vogue at any other period of its history," she commented in her 1994 autobiography, Lifespan. "I think it could be said that, during this unusual period in Vogue’s history, it became ‘the intelligent woman’s guide’ to much more than fashion."

In 1953 she was awarded an OBE and in 1961 was presented with the bicentenary medal by the Royal Society of Arts.

Those who worked with her during her editorship included Bertrand Russell, Simone de Beauvoir, Kenneth Tynan, Cliff Richard and Lee Miller.

Withers was successful in her profession but was not as lucky in her personal life. She married a sales assistant named Jock, but sadly the marriage did not last.

"How seldom one is allowed to have everything," she said about the break-up. Fate, however, intervened and she met and fell in love at first sight with Victor Kennett, who became her second husband.

After retiring, they toured Russia, producing a pictorial record of historic buildings.

Victor died in 1980 of a heart condition. Withers had no children.

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