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About the Work

Josephine Butler was the first to campaign successfully for the welfare and rights of prostitutes, especially through her opposition to the Contagious Diseases Act, which allowed the police to 'inspect' prostitutes in garrison towns and ports. Beautiful, histrionic, meticulously dressed and coiffed, she upset Victorian society by describing at public meetings, sex and rape scenes in graphic and accurate detail. There were rows in the House of Commons about her behaviour, one MP voicing that he could not understand how such filth could come out of the mouth of 'the most beautiful woman in the world'. Pimps attempted to kill her on several occasions for the damage she was doing to their business.

Here is Josephine Butler as she first hears of the comments made about her in Parliament.


The women I portrayed in this work were role models for my mother, Muriel. Together they make up her personality and like her they had charisma and chutzpah.
Muriel, a war-widow's daughter, left school at 12 to bring some money into her poverty-stricken family. Hardly able to read and write, she sold programmes and did odd jobs at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham. When she was 14 she was talent-spotted. Beginning as a hoofer in a chorus line, she became a lead dancer and singer with the stage-name Muriel Melford in a long-forgotten musical at the Prince of Wales called Bonjour Paris.
When she was in that show she met her future husband, my father. He was an Oxford-educated schoolmaster over twice her age. He introduced her to a middle-class world of unfamiliar concepts such as politics, ethics and causes. Muriel took notice. Married and back in the Midlands she spoke up about what were embarrassing issues in the provincial England of the 1940s and 50s - pacifism, the abolition of the death penalty and the sexual liberation of women.

″I still use the same approach to my work: I get an idea, think of the title and then make the work. So not much has changed since 1964″

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