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West End Girls [Hardcover]

Barbara Tate
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)

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Book Description

22 July 2010

Now a Top Ten bestseller.

Barbara Tate was 17 when she heard the whispered word that would change her life: Soho. It would take four years for Barbara to escape her loveless home but when she finally made it to the forbidden streets of Soho - just as London was recovering from the trauma of the second world war - things would never be the same again.

There the naive Barbara meets the beautiful and capricious Mae. When she takes a job as Mae's maid, Barbara imagines she'll be housekeeping. But down a shabby backstreet, Barbara discovers the secret lives of Soho's working girls.

An astonishing world full of fierce friendships and bitter rivalries, dangerous men and desperate measures, Barbara soon learns that taking the money from a staggering supply of punters and making copious amounts of tea are only the bare essentials. She will need to be nursemaid, protector and confidante to impossible, adorable, self-destructive Mae.

The tumultuous and heartrending friendship at the heart of this spellbinding tale gives us a window on a people and a place almost lost to us. It's a true story of adventure, survival and growing up, told with experience, honesty and real heart.

Product details

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  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Orion; 1st Edition edition (22 July 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1409116069
  • ISBN-13: 978-1409116066
  • Product Dimensions: 21.6 x 14 x 3.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 283,450 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Tate's account of her time as 'a maid' to a 1940s Soho tart is warm and affecting (READERS DIGEST)

Readers of a shockable disposition should avoid this book - everyone else should rush out and buy a first edition. It is a jawdropping account of Soho prostitutes in the late forties - a world Barbara knew as she worked for one as her maid - She always said she wanted to paint one perfect picture before she died: she has certainly written one perfect book. (Lynn Barber THE SUNDAY TIMES)

This frank memoir of a lost bohemian culture and underworld [is] told with warmth and sympathy. (SAGA)

Hovering over this affectionate memoir of the rackety Soho of 60 years ago is the sharp awareness that Barbara could easily have ended up, like the lost girls she describes ... her book acknowledges with humility and grace, as well as wit, how close she came to living the tough, funny and colourful but ultimately tragic life she describes. (Jane Shilling DAILY MAIL)

a truly fascinating, entertaining and heart-warming glimpse into some of Soho's most eccentric and outrageous characters. (SUNDAY EXPRESS)

`Not only is this memoir told with candour and compassion but it also affords a fascinating glimpse into a lurid byway of London's social history ... Tate's memoir fizzes with anecdotes and the quality of her writing is superb.' (DAILY EXPRESS)

a winning mixture of art and prostitution ... One of the great strengths of this unexpectedly charming memoir is that it abounds with ... detail about the working life of a prostitute in the Forties ... a splendidly evocative memoir (Craig Brown MAIL ON SUNDAY)

This is a fascinating, dryly humorous book which lifts the lid on an intriguingly sordid world. (THE CHAP)

...by turns salty, funny and sad. (Craig Brown THE WEEK 2012-02-18)

Book Description

The real lives, loves and friendship of 1940s Soho and its working girls.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the Best reads of my Life 11 Aug 2010
By Chris
I read a review for this book in the Sunday Times and decided that I would be interested in reading it, frequenting Soho often myself. The review was positive, but wow. I am not exaggerating when I say that this is probably one of the best books I have ever read in my life... And I read a lot of books.

I read this in three days, I couldn't put it down, never wanting my train journeys to end!

Barbara Tate tells the story of her time working with Mae, a prostitute in 1940's Soho and the friendships she developed along the way. Barbara has a knack of bringing the characters to life so vividly that you can picture them in your mind and want to befriend them, and you feel privileged to be so close to them and there world.

This book will make you laugh (Out Loud as I did on the train earlier today) and cry in parts, but it fills you with admiration at the strength of the human spirit.

This book is just waiting to be filmed..... I can hardly wait!

God bless you Barbara for bringing us this story of your short but memorable time in Soho, and the colourful people you met along the way.

You have acheived your goal and painted a perfect picture....only with words!
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting tale of life as a prostitute's maid 13 Mar 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Barbara Tate gives us an insight into the life of the prostitutes of Soho in the late 40s and 50s. It's an easy, page-turning read, but it's short on detail - it seems a bit bland, generic and emotionless. Maybe she's just not a great writer. She says she has fictionalised her story somewhat.

It starts well, with her leaving a cruel grandmother and setting up on her own in a bedsit, working at a firm producing hand-painted furniture. She then gets an evening job in a bar, and eventually a job as a maid to a prostitute called Mae. The early descriptions of Mae's filthy "hustling flat" in a deserted building are compelling. She is also clear-eyed about the way the "ponces" preyed on women, giving them the illusion that they are in a relationship while taking all their money. (Has that changed? I doubt it.)

I am sure that the details she gives of how a prostitute carried on her trade (with a two-way mirror, and bound and gagged clients left in the waiting room) are true to life, but I feel that she has taken anecdotes she's heard and woven them into her own story. And not all these anecdotes are as "hilarious" as she thinks them. The middle of the book is padded out somewhat with these anecdotes.

She says that she wrote the story in 1977 - dictating it to her husband. After a few rejections, she found a publisher, and an editor who cut the manuscript and gave it more "flow".

I wonder how much of what we read is the work of editors? It reminds me of the books by "Miss S" about her life as a prostitute - both the flatness of the prose and the peppering with "amusing" escapades.

The end, where we learn of the sad fate of Mae, is truly tragic.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best books I have ever read. 23 Dec 2011
By hm13
Absolutely brilliant. Hard to put down and the ending answers all the questions you want answered. Such an interesting insight into those times and beautifully told. A book I wouldn't hesitate to read again.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars West End Girls 31 Aug 2010
For those of who who remember the 1950's and early 1960's London Soho with its day world of Italian restaurants and excellent veg shops, and it's night world that respectable people and children could only safely glimpse through the window of a passing car Barbara Tate's book is a nostalgic reminder of a world long past.

Compared to today's world the Soho night-town, despite all our parents warnings, was really a vulgar innocent. The night-town crew of street girls, pimps and petty gangsters more-or-less kept to themselves, and the passerby was seldom molested or manhandled, and Barbara's posthumous book catches all the cheekiness and seediness of this long-ago world.

For those Londoners who were there, and those who just want to catch an authentic flavour of the time 'West End Girls' can be highly recommended as a thoughtful, well-written, and amusing doorway into post war Soho.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and illuminating 23 Sep 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Like an earlier reviewer I bought this book on the strength of reading the Sunday Times review of it. It is a fascinating read and I found it quite compulsive. I read it quickly in 3 sittings. What shines through is the honesty and integrity of the author who realised that she had lived through and experienced a bizarre and unusual slice of life and then acted on her urge to communicate her experience to a wider audience.
The additional story of how the book came to be(finally) published is also very interesting
The Soho she describes is both innocent and sleazy..certainly prostitution nowadays is a much tougher/violent and bigger business than it was then...you get a 'village' feel of the area and the sense of community.

This is a very good read...don't be put off by the few disparaging comments it has attracted here.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An alternative look at the Soho trade 9 Oct 2011
Format:Kindle Edition
Barbara Tate has described what really used to go on behind the scenes for the prostitution trade in Soho. This is an illuminating and honest insight into Britain's social history without feeling the need to add all the erotic details. Too many people judge prostitutes as low-life when in truth they are little different from anyone else; just forced by circumstances to choose a "different" trade. Well done Barbara Tate!
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommended
West End Girls is a collection of Barbara Tate's memoirs from post war London's Soho. An aspiring painter is presented with an opportunity to work as a waitress in of Soho's bars,... Read more
Published 3 months ago by P. Jedrusiak
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting slice of life
Prostitution in immediate post-war Soho - in amongst the war damage and squalor a glimpse of brightness tinged with violence. Read more
Published 4 months ago by J. Taylor
5.0 out of 5 stars 'Walking the beat in Soho'
What a read. Barabara's description of a working girl & her maid reminds me of my first days as a police officer in Soho & visiting a 'models' rooms (on legitimate business I... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Ostrich
5.0 out of 5 stars West End Girls
A fascinating insider account of the daily life of 'working girls' and their contacts in Soho in the mid 19th century.
Published 7 months ago by Mr. David J. Middlehurst
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Read
Great Read. A true story by the author who was an artist but was caught up as a maid in Soho. Her Loyalties lie with Mae and much revolves round the life of Mae and some of the... Read more
Published 7 months ago by John Hart
5.0 out of 5 stars My most favourite book!!
I stumbled on this book by accident - and its now my favourite book. I adore West London, and I have laughed my head off and cried my eyes out at this book. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Romany
5.0 out of 5 stars West e mod girls
Very intriguing lets you in to a world you cannot believe happened in the 1950's to 1970's . Vey good
Published 10 months ago by pam
4.0 out of 5 stars A good read
This is a really good and entertaining read and a bit different from the norm. All the better for knowing it's based on fact.
Published 11 months ago by Annie
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting story
An interesting book which gives insight into Soho in that era. I would have liked more information on the author though as I feel she may have glossed over some aspects of her... Read more
Published 13 months ago by M. Woods
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant!
This is one of the funniest, most engaging biographies I have had the pleasure of reading. The author evokes a Soho that has disappeared, but can still just about be glimpsed if... Read more
Published 15 months ago by Mike kitterhing
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