2nd May 2023 Handheld Comic Classics 4
I think my moment of truth came when I dropped into the chemists for some face cream. It is bad enough to have a deaf chemist’s assistant (poor soul, why ever didn’t she take up greengrocery or dry cleaning?) but to have to shout: ‘Can I have another tube of Over-Forty Cream?’ is pushing back the veils of mystery a bit too far, even for those of us with small, blabbermouth sons who tell anybody anything anyway.
My almost teenage daughter, on the other hand, means well. ‘Don’t mind me saying this, Mummy,’ she starts diplomatically. And I learn, from the talk they’ve just had at school on make-up, that not only is my eye-liner old hat but I’ve got to smear pinkish stuff over and under the lids to really make the scene.
Piggy-eyed but trendy I gaze bleakly into shop windows. A fifteen-year-old policeman strolls past. I dive into a boutique before he offers to help me across the road. Immediately my ears wax over — protection against the sonic boom of the latest disc which has come a long long way from Jack Jackson’s Record Round-Up. My pupils meanwhile are opening at widest aperture to compensate for the boutique’s midnight-blue walls, floor and ceiling. A glimmer of Lurex catches my eye through the gloom, and I’m in luck —it fits. I glide off to the next party, a shining, ageless, happy creature.
Betty Bendell was one of the top five British women’s magazine columnists in the late 1960s and 1970s. She wrote continuously for a range of magazines, including Annabel, Woman, Homes and Gardens, The Lady and The Countryman, but she was most well-known for her long-running columns in Good Housekeeping and Family Circle. She was perceptive, direct and funny, one of the leading comic writers of her day.
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Betty Bendell (1929-2021) was born in Wimbledon, south London, and served in the Women’s Royal Naval Service before marrying a Royal Navy photographer in 1957. They had a son and a daughter and lived in Goring and Henley before emigrating to Canada in 1975. She wrote for a range of Canadian magazines before retiring in 2012, aged 83.
My Life And I is a collection of the best of Betty Bendell from Good Housekeeping and other magazines. Betty’s writing gives new perspectives on the lives of women of her time and class, with a different kind of value – reportage and memoir rather than similarly hilarious fiction – from that of the much earlier Diary of a Provincial Lady by E M Delafield (1930). From ‘My dollyrocking days are over’ (1966) to her last column for Good Housekeeping in 1980, these 87 pieces have been chosen for their humour, their social history and absolute embeddedness in British life in the 1960s and 1970s.
In My Life And I Betty records her era from the perspective of a mother and a wife at home, in the school playground, at the parties, in the garden, on holiday, in the shops, and queuing at the supermarket, speculating wildly about the lives of her friends and neighbours. She goes dancing, walking, picnicking, shopping (a lot), visits beauty salons and speculates wildly about the lives of her friends and neighbours. She learns to drive (almost). She thinks about applying to do a horticultural course, but is not encouraged by the thought of being thus qualified to work as a grave-digger. She makes her own clothes: one gloriously tragic column relates the process of making a garment perfectly by hand, with disastrous results. Her children, the family pets and her hapless husband are reviewed and found lacking, most of the time. Read Betty for a fabulous record of Middle England in the Swinging Sixties.
‘A glorious collection of writing from one of Britain’s leading and funniest magazine columnists in the late 1960s and 1970s … astute and wildly funny … a heady mash-up of Diary of a Provincial Lady and Bridget Jones’s Diary‘ – Red Online
‘Her columns, nearly 90 of which have been collected together in this new edition by Handheld Press, are funny and honest, and she’s not afraid of laughing at herself as well as other people. On top of that, they provide a marvellous overview of the life of a middle-class wife and mother, and the changes that took place in her world, between the 1960s and the 1980s … Regular readers of Betty’s columns must have looked forward so much to the next episode, and certainly would have come to feel they knew her as a valued friend. I felt much the same way at the end of this delightful collection.’ – Shiny New Books
‘An absolute hoot … Bendell’s take on domestic preoccupations, from housework to cocktail parties, from school sports day to supermarket to the etiquette of the launderette, has frequently had me — and my mum — in stitches … Articles dating from 1966 to 1980, a time period of which I have only selective childhood memories, fall outside my usual inter-war and Home Front reading comfort zone, and I am very, very grateful to Handheld Press for sending me a copy of a book I might not have otherwise read … don’t hesitate. There are days when laughter really is the best medicine. ‘ – The Unhurried Reader
‘I loved it! … Like catching up with a friend, like stepping through a time portal … such ease and such wit. I loved the intelligence of the writing, so funny. I loved it. I ranked every one of the 87 essays … of the four stars (really good) there were fifty, and five stars (knocked me socks off), there were eleven. I think that’s pretty good!’ – Lil’s Vintage World