Fiona Bruce

Fiona Bruce in Sky Arts’ Treasures of the British Library

Journalist and television presenter Fiona Bruce visits the Library to explore some of her private passions and interests when she’s not in front of the camera.

Fiona Bruce is an award-winning broadcast journalist and television presenter and has been the face of the BBC news for over two decades. Pioneering as the first woman to present the late bulletin, she is now a leading figure in British television, presenting The Antiques Roadshow, BBC’s coverage of William and Kate’s Royal wedding and much more.

It’s not all about news and antiques with Fiona though. In Sky Arts’ television series Treasures of the British Library, Fiona had the opportunity to explore six items from the Library’s vaults that sparked her curiosity and told her story – finding her own treasures of the British Library.

Here, we look at a selection of them…

Literary heroine

First, Fiona had a date with her childhood literary heroine Jane Eyre.

An avid teenage reader, Fiona ‘devoured’ Charlotte Brontë’s classic: ‘I read it, re-read it, and re-read it again. I don’t know how many times I read Jane Eyre’.

Like generations before her, Fiona was bewitched by Charlotte Brontë’s tale of suspense and romance, and empathised with those age-old ‘feelings of insecurity, yearning, unrequited love, despair, hope, happiness… There’s nothing new under the sun when it comes to the human emotions and they’re so beautifully played out in Jane Eyre, these are eternal feelings’.

The British Library holds the three fair copy manuscript volumes of Jane Eyre. Written in Brontë’s hand, the manuscript was submitted to her publishers in 1847, under the pseudonym Currer Bell. Alexandra Ault, Lead Curator of Manuscripts 1601–1850, unveiled the first manuscript volume to Fiona.

Fiona has a date with her childhood literary heroine Jane Eyre

Fair copy manuscript of Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre

Fair copy manuscript of Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre [folio: 1r]

The fair copy manuscript of Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre.

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This material can only be used for research and private study purposes.

‘What an incredible treat’, Fiona said, ‘to see the handwritten manuscript of Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë. I could just imagine her sitting at her desk, carefully writing out these lines, having no idea that centuries on we would still be looking at it, and marvelling at it and, and all around the world people would be reading her novel…

‘I just want to take this home with me, I know I’m not allowed’.

While Fiona indeed wasn’t allowed to take the manuscript home with her, her journey into the wonderful world of Brontë wasn’t quite over yet! 

Next, Alexandra shared with her a miniature manuscript magazine, made by Charlotte and her younger brother Branwell while they were 13 and 12, respectively. Intended for the make-believe world the Brontës created for Branwell’s toy soldiers, the tiny volume called Blackwood’s Young Men’s Magazine is hand-sewn and complete with an index and advertisements.

Fiona views this ‘teeny tiny magazine’ from Charlotte Bronte

Brontë juvenilia: 'Blackwood's Young Men's Magazine'

Brontë juvenilia: Blackwood's Young Men's Magazine [folio: 0]

This tiny book is the December 1829 issue of Blackwood’s Young Men’s Magazine which Charlotte Brontë and her brother Branwell produced when they were teenagers.

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Fiona described this ‘teeny tiny magazine’ as ‘like something out of Alice in Wonderland’. ‘What an imagination. I’d no idea it even existed’.

A slice of indulgence

Next, Fiona revealed a very private passion of hers: her love for cake. ‘I think people might be surprised that I love cake so much. If I could eat cake every day, all day, I would’.

She’s not a fan of small slices either: ‘Just big… a big slab of cake – you know I can’t be doing with that Oh, I’ll just have a little taste of it. I just want a decent, slice of cake, life’s just better with that’.

Finding some cake-related morsels in the British Library was no big feat for food historian and Contemporary Politics/Public Life Curator Polly Russell, who presented to her ‘one of the most interesting cookery books in the English language’.

Fiona Bruce learns about 17th-century cake recipes

The Queens Closet Opened

The Queen's Closet Opened

Among the recipes listed in this 17th-century cookery book is a 'very good Glister [clyster] for the winde' – a remedy for flatulence!

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The Queen’s Closet Opened contains recipes for sweets, treats and even remedies supposedly taken from the kitchen of Henrietta Maria, the wife of King Charles I. Published in 1655 during the reign of Oliver Cromwell, it provided a fascinating glimpse into the customs of the old aristocracy.

The book, produced by royalists, portrayed the former queen as a domestic goddess – a Nigella [Lawson] of her time’, in Fiona’s words – in order to elevate her image.

Having seen the recipes, Fiona visited Maison Bertaux, one of London’s oldest bakeries, to try one of the cakes made using a recipe by Princess Elizabeth Stuart, the daughter of Charles I. After all, the proof is in the pudding. Her feedback however, was less than regal.

Fiona Bruce dares to try some 17th-century-inspired cake

Her verdict: 2/10!

The donation

Fiona’s journey through the collections of the Library was almost at an end but before she bade farewell to curators, we asked Fiona to record an interview about her career. With over 20 years’ experience as a journalist, she has been in a unique position to witness the huge changes in the way we consume news and the changing role of women in journalism. As she says, ‘things are definitely changing for women in news and I am leading that wave’.

Fiona kindly donated the interview to the British Library to inspire future generations of broadcasters.

News and Moving Image Curator Luke McKernan predicted: 'In a hundred years, the next Fiona Bruce will come [to the Library] and say how wonderful it is that you hold an interview with the first Fiona Bruce!'

  • Elliot Sinclair
  • Elliot is a Web Editor at the British Library.