Celebrating Batley’s ‘Singing Mill Girl’

Celebrating Batley’s ‘Singing Mill Girl’

Marie Doreen Kerfoot – versatile soprano. The next chapter!

Doreen Kerfoot

From weaving shed to silver screen, the talented Doreen Kerfoot was one of Batley’s very own super heroes in the late 1940’s – a shining light to many in the dark years after the second world war – people who desperately needed something to smile about.

Sister to my Grandad, Edward Kerfoot, and my Great Aunt Doreen was a beauty queen, pin-up girl, pantomime and film star and versatile soprano. This is the incredible legacy of Marie Doreen Kerfoot, a celebration of Batley’s ‘Singing Mill Girl’.

Looking back to Autumn 2009: We listened to a couple of the tracks, turned loud enough would surely shatter glass, the long pauses in between needed editing out and the hissing from an old tape recording was distracting and needed sorting I was thinking to myself… Then handing me an embarrassing, plain (Sony branded) CD recording, Doreen said to me; “Paul, can you do anything with this?”

Doreen this is for you…

The Singing Mill Girl CD

This is what I did, something I love doing – a personal and graphic transformation in one – a story on how to make people happy beyond belief. Yet this also turned out to be a lesson in helping to create a lifetime legacy, not after someone has passed away, but importantly, whilst they are still here to celebrate it.

The next chapter

The original article was posted in March 2010 and has been updated in January 2017. This now includes the next chapter and a video (featuring Doreen) in a short documentary called ‘Seen on Screen’ (please see link below).

For now let’s go back to 2009…

Fortunately, Doreen’s Great Nephew was a Graphic Designer

Doreen is one of life’s fighters and having also recovered from Cancer, a life full of determination and success she is an inspiration. It seemed fitting that as a ‘great’ nephew (and a Kerfoot myself) that I would help finish a job (and a career) my late Grandad Eddie started many years ago. Apparently Edward Kerfoot (a plasterer and amateur boxer) paid for his sister’s first singing lesson despite difficult times and financial hardship beyond belief. (A terrible fire had also destroyed the Kerfoot’s family home and belongings.) Years later Paul Kerfoot was looking at and listening to Doreen’s amazing life and all he had been asked to do was transform a plain, amateurish CD into something more professional. No, I didn’t have time and was too busy at work, yet this was no excuse, I needed to make time and fit it in, before it was too late. With a bit of effort (in true ‘miles more smiles’ style) and with some TLC, it’s amazing what can be achieved for so little cost these days with the wonders of digital media. (You can actually listen to one of the tracks below.) At the same time I also helped create Doreen’s legacy – something that now won’t easily get forgotten or thrown in a bin. Looking at a few, original copies of the CD’s this is what was really bothering Doreen, a very anxious looking old lady, I could almost feel her own frustration and concern yet knew instantly exactly what to do to make things right. Luckily Doreen (82) had a good memory to recite the story, some great photos and newspaper cuttings, and had someone in the family who was not only happy to help – Paul Kerfoot was also a graphic designer.

Even a very old HND in AV (Audio Visual) came in handy for the very little I knew about improving the sound recording itself. Unlike Doreen, I am crap at music!

It’s never too late for miles more smiles

The original CD had a hand written note with it that stated; “This is a humble, cheap practice tape transferred onto CD. Made in Keith Appleton’s cold cellar, aged 70 years, I had to discontinue through illness. Sorry I couldn’t continue further, I’ve left it too late.”

No Doreen, it’s never too late! From a blank, branded CDR, Doreen’s music was transformed and replicated into her very own CD, covers and all. I also had my good friend Kaz Stoilov from London tidy up and digitally enhance the recording, with some difficulty I may add, as I must be tone deaf. Removing the hissing on the bottom end, (my suggestion), had the ad-verse affect of loosing the high-pitched notes at the top end, so three attempts later Doreen was happy we had finally found a happy compromise. By the way, and in case you were wondering, everything done externally (the sound production and the printing) were done at cost with all my time for free of course. The original order was for ten or more. One hundred replications later were digitally printed and produced and have been distributed for FREE to friends and family. Noting any kind donations, money received in gratitude it seems, has gone to a Cancer charity of Doreen’s choice.

The legacy

There are five tracks on the CD. Please use the audio player below to listen to Track 4 (a family favourite).

1. I’m Wishing
2. Waltz Of My Heart
3. I Could Have Danced All Night
4. Ave Maria
5. Oh! My Beloved Father

DoreenKerfoot1946

The legacy. The amazing story of Doreen’s career needed encapsulating where the words are often more important than the pictures. After an interview with Doreen here below is what I wrote for the reverse of the CD…

The Singing Mill Girl

This compilation is a tribute to Marie Doreen Kerfoot. Born on the 10th May 1927, Doreen has had a diverse career as a talented beauty queen winner (Leeds, 1947), pin-up girl, qualified mannequin (for Yorkshire cloth), pantomime and film star and versatile soprano (bel canto opera method). Doreen Kerfoot – The Yorkshire Wool Queen – played the lead role in the colour film ‘Three Piece Suit’ (1947). An extravagant film made in Bradford, Dewsbury and London (United Motion Pictures Studio) and produced on behalf of the wool textile industry. In July 1948 Doreen married and subsequently chose not to go on with her acting career but nevertheless continued to perform all her life and at every opportunity – professional pantomimes, concerts, opera, musical comedy and popular ballads… plus the odd spine tingling performance at family weddings and funerals. (Ave Maria was a popular favourite.) Doreen’s only live recording was made in 1997 at the ripe old age of 70. Feeling overwhelmed and unwell at the time an old cassette tape recording, made in a cold cellar, is all that remains to posterity of this uniquely talented and fascinating life. From weaving shed to silver screen Doreen’s story of the transformation of the ‘Singing Mill Girl’ from Staincliffe, Batley, is both incredible and humble; making this a recording to treasure for fans and loved ones everywhere.

The Singing Mill Girl.
Copyright © 1997 Marie Doreen Fletcher née Kerfoot. Re-released September 2009.
Design and production by: Paul Kerfoot (great nephew) AKA Paul The Bulletman

Finding your inner smile

Every time I call Doreen we have a little laugh together on the phone, “It’s your GREAT nephew Paul here! How are you?” (Earlier Doreen said to me, “You ARE a great nephew indeed.”) This memory always puts a smile on my face. And in celebration of Batley’s ‘Singing Mill Girl’ I’d like to say this;

“Great Aunt Doreen, I’m so proud of you and what you have achieved in life. It was nice to get to know you a little more, you are an inspiration to us all.”

Doing this job as part of Doreen’s legacy was a pleasure and an honour. It’s a lovely feeling (inside) when you know you have helped make a much loved, old lady very happy indeed, and that to me is worth more than anything. (This creates something I have now referred to as an ‘inner smile.’ And boy does it feel great!) The time put in to do what was a tricky job was paid back in smiles alone. Doreen’s tears of happiness and comments on saying she can now pass away in peace will live with me forever. CD copies are now with many of her relatives and of course are with her many grandchildren. The point being, this was not something done for or after a funeral, it was Doreen’s choice and pleasure of who to hand them out to. Her story and music will now live on for a long time to follow, to be passed on, treasured and shared through future generations. A fitting end to the story it seems?

Missing: ‘Three Piece Suit’

This story could very well have ended here, yet there may be another chapter to follow. The missing piece to the jigsaw is the film Doreen starred in from 1947; ‘Three Piece Suit’. If this does turn up one day (soon) I think I will shed a few tears of happiness of my own, especially if sat with Doreen alongside.

7 years has now passed since this article was first posted (2010) and the original film has still not turned up. However, we do have some good news and an update…

‘Seen on Screen’ – the next chapter

January 2017. Since doing the CD and this post we have captured Doreen on film! Thanks to City of Film’s David Wilson and a talented team of film and media students from Bradford University for helping to keep Doreen’s legacy alive. Doreen Kerfoot is featured in a short (12 minute) documentary celebrating local people and unknown heroes who have appeared in the movies…

To see Doreen please click here; ‘Seen on Screen’, produced by Bradford UNESCO City of Film and featured as part of the Bradford International Film Summit 2015.

Note: x4 featured clips of Doreen: 3 mins 20 secs, 5 mins 59 secs, 8 mins 56 secs and 11mins 12 secs.

Since 2014 Doreen Fletcher (nee Kerfoot) has been a resident at Meadow Green Lodge, Heckmondwike. (I often visit Doreen and she seems happy there.) Aneeqa Ali, Scheme Manager at Meadow Green said; “It’s a privilege for us to have Doreen here – she’s an amazing lady with a super voice! We are delighted to see Doreen recognised for her special talent.”

Also recently discovered was that Doreen worked as a weaver at Joseph Newsome’s Mill in Batley Carr, now known as the famous Redbrick Mill, Batley.

January 2017: Doreen will be celebrating her 90th birthday in May this year, it’s also 70 years since making the film ‘Three Piece Suit’. Doreen’s life story is both fascinating and inspiring, it would make a terrific feature film, the ups and the downs! Though if I had a wish, it would be for us to all see the original (lost) movie from 1947. I have tried, failed, tried and failed again. Help!

Who can you help?

So what’s the moral to the story? Back in 2010 I asked; How about doing something special for Mum and Dad, Aunties and Uncles, Great Aunties and Uncles, Grandparents, Great Grandparents, brothers and sisters or your best friends and colleagues? Could you go out of your way to treasure something special, encapsulate a memory or a moment in time, and share a few ‘miles more smiles.’ Maybe approach your local newspaper and see if they would be interested in covering a personal, family story. Frame up and retouch an old picture and add memorabilia to the side, (war medals also look good), or do a recording on CD or video and (like Doreen Kerfoot) celebrate their life whilst they are still hear to share it is the real motto of this adventure.

Food for thought

In times of war and real hardship (the 1940’s) both Eddie and Doreen kept going through thick and thin in their own unique ways. I remember my Dad Granville (one of 5 children) saying; “We were poor, but never went without out, Dad (Eddie) always provided for us. Though sometimes we would eat sugar on bread, or fat ‘n’ bread, and once had two rabbits for Christmas instead of turkey. Our shoes, we went to school in sawn off wellies and three shared a bed in them days… I was lucky if I got an orange and a chocolate t-cake for Xmas.” Compared to today’s recession (and dare I say ‘harsh’ economic climate) we have it pretty easy I guess by comparison? Yes, we really don’t know we are born!

Let’s smile and celebrate together

Shortly after this experience with Doreen and another one of life’s little adventures, I decided it was time to frame up some pictures of our loved ones and all now hang proudly at home on our bedroom landing. Treasured memorabilia that is no longer collecting cobwebs, not hidden away in the dark in a safe place for no one else to see…

• A picture of my Grandad Eddie Kerfoot is beautifully framed with an old boxing license and dated 1929. (The guys at work added a head from the license to a 1930’s torso of an Olympic boxer. It looks very convincing.)

• Alongside. and to match, there is a picture of my wife’s father, Ronnie Wood, with his Yorkshire Cricket Club cap, expertly flattened in a 3D frame. (Charlotte tells me, Ronnie was the brother of Barry Wood, Lancashire and England.)

• And finally my other Grandad, Jack Wilson, with a famous letter signed by football manager Don Revie from 1974 – the glory days of LUFC. Grandad Jack was also known as ‘Dewsbury’s Mr Leeds United.’ (Another story to be told another day.) And here it is (2015), especially nice for all you Leeds United fans! Please click; Celebrating Dewsbury’s Mr Leeds United.’

A thought back in 2010: If there were one thing I wish I could change, it would have been to do all this when these loved ones were around to see it and celebrate it, to smile together. Not to do it after they have passed away. Of course we now have the next best thing and these images to treasure are now on full view in our home, and everyone comments on how wonderful they are. If it helps inspire others to follow then I have done something even more worthwhile. My Dad (Granville Kerfoot), also a plasterer like Eddie, was another ‘tough’ Kerfoot family member, and thought the framed pictures were a brilliant idea. (All the Kerfoot’s also have a picture of their father as the boxer.) All of our family treasures will now (one day) be passed onto our own children, Chloe Kerfoot (8) and Joshua Kerfoot (3). Of course they also each have a copy of Doreen’s CD ‘The Singing Mill Girl.’ (Come to think, I best get these signed!) And, as I also keep reminding Chloe;

“The Kerfoot’s. Remember, you will always do well as you are following in the footsteps of a talented and creative family.”

Long may this idea, story and family legacy continue…

Update: May 10th 2017. The Yorkshire Wool Queen. Celebrating Doreen’s 90th birthday, also the 70th anniversary of the film made in 1947, please click here to see Doreen’s special blog post, including news of an exhibition in November 2017 at Armley Mills, Leeds.