Sunday 17th October 2004
As one of the BBC's first women producers, Sasha Young brought the poems of Ted Hughes and Philip Larkin to a Radio Three audience years before they became household names. She was also instrumental in encouraging Jean Rhys to resume her writing career in the fifties when she chose one of her short stories to be broadcast. She published two novels herself, the first of which, The Lavender Trip, won two first novel awards in 1976. Her most recent discovery was Mary Sietmann who, after being urged by Sasha to continue with her writing, published her first novel, Jumping The Queue, under the name Mary Wesley.
She met her husband, Lord Young of Dartington, in 1958 when she thought his recently published book, Family and Kinship in East London, would make a good subject for a radio programme. Two years later they were married and, though she abandoned her career at the BBC, she remained an energetic contributor to the arts, spending as much time nurturing the talents of others as developing her own.
She was born in 1931 at Ramsdean End, Hants, the daughter of Raisley and Ann Moorsom. She was brought up in a literary atmosphere, with Lytton Strachey, Goldsworthy Lowes-Dickinson and Arthur Waley being frequent visiors to the family home. During the war she was educated in South Africa, returning to England in 1946 to go to Bedales. She went up to Cambridge in 1950 where she became a celebrated beauty. She was described by the News Chronicle as "a study of undergraduate elegance" and The Star as "Cambridge University's 'Zuleika Dobson'".
She Joined the Amateur Dramatic Club in her first term where directors like Peter Hall and John Barton eagerly competed for her talents. She made a particularly captivating Viola in Twelfth Night, managing to "pull the stage into the palm of her hand," according to Varsity, no mean feat given Mark Boxer's set designs. The ADC's production of The Comedy of Errors was sufficiently good to run for a brief time in London where it attracted the attention of The Times. "Miss Sasha Moorsom makes a delicious minx of Luciana," wrote the theatre critic. In spite of all this activity she managed to take a double first in English.
After leaving the BBC she combined raising two children with editing the education magazine, Where?, and writing a regular column for The Listener. Her first novel, The Lavender Trip, which she published under the name Sasha Moorsom, was a love story set in Provence, a part of the world she was intimately familiar with having spent Summers there all her life. It won two first novel awards, from the Yorkshire Post and the Authors Club, and was selected by the New Fiction Society. In 1983 she published a second novel, In The Shadow of the Paradise Tree, a satirical account of life among the ex-patriots at an East African university based on her experience working for the National Extension College with her husband in Nigeria.
Writing was far from her only talent. She was an accomplished painter, photographer and sculptress, exhibiting and selling to a large group of fans. She was also a prodigious organiser. She set up the Lauderdale House arts centre in Highgate, raising hundreds of thousands of pounds to renovate the burnt-out building, and helped establish the Open College of the Arts, now part of the Open University. Perhaps the greatest tribute to her organising skills, as well as her generosity, was the concert she organised for her friend the composer Anthony Scott less than four weeks before she died. In spite of being in the final stages of cancer, she managed to attend the concert in her wheelchair.
Towards the end of her life she developed a keen interest in Buddhism, which she was introduced to by her daughter Sophie, a Buddhist. This was unquestionably a source of great comfort to her in her last months when Sophie, who looked after her throughout, rarely left her side. Among all her other talents, Sasha Young was also a poet, having had poems published in The Observer and The New Statesman. A few days before she died she wrote the following verse:
Ah, the company of the birds
I loved and cherished on earth
Now freed of flesh we fly
Together, a flock of beating wings,
I am as light, as feathery,
As gone from gravity we soar
In endless circles.
© 2004 - 2013 Toby Young