Doreen Kerfoot – ‘Batley’s Singing Mill Girl’
Doreen becomes pin-up
‘Doreen Kerfoot, singing mill girl of Batley, England, has become a pin-up girl in the mill towns since she won a talent-spotting competition and starred in a film planned to draw recruits to the wool industry. To date, she has had one marriage proposal, five boxes of chocolates and, from a 9 year old admirer, a home-made Christmas card.’ – Schenectady Gazette, New York – May 31, 1948
“It’s been a unique carry on for a weaver to live such a lovely life.”
Born May 10, 1927, Marie Doreen Kerfoot has had a diverse career as a talented beauty queen finalist, pin-up girl, qualified mannequin, pantomime star, film star and versatile soprano (bel canto opera method).
A fascinating life of highs and lows, Doreen, her sister Margaret and two brothers Edward and Brian, lost all their family belongings after a fire destroyed their home in 1946. Their parents Jack (John Joseph) and Julia Ann were devastated.
After the Council’s restoration, including a lovely new white fire surround, Doreen sang at home with her mother playing an old piano. Brother Eddie, a local plasterer and keen amateur boxer (‘Ted’ Kerfoot), paid for Doreen’s first professional singing lessons. Margaret entered her younger sister into a film star contest. They encouraged Doreen to pursue a dream, a passion and a unique talent.
May 8, 1947. The winner of the ‘Yorkshire Film Star’ contest held at Lewis’s Store (Leeds), Doreen Kerfoot – the singing mill girl from Staincliffe, Batley – was to play the lead role in a colour film ‘Three Piece Suit’.
A white three-piece suit was featured in an extravagant film made in Bradford, Dewsbury and London (United Motion Pictures Studio) and produced on behalf of the wool textile industry.
The film inspired young female workers to join the wool industry. For Doreen, ‘Three Piece Suit’ was a life-changing opportunity, from weaving shed to silver screen, from ‘Batley’s Singing Mill Girl’ to the ‘Yorkshire Wool Queen’.
‘Queens of industry across the country were pioneers of their time, hard-working women who became standard-bearers for a golden age in Yorkshire’s industrial heritage.’
Doreen modelled clothes designed in Yorkshire, and made of Yorkshire Cloth at the exhibition ‘The Story of Wool,’ which toured the West Riding towns.
5,000 people spent the bank holiday watching eight finalists being chosen for the ‘Yorkshire Beauty Queen’ contest (1948). Organised by the Evening Post for Harrogate Corporation, officials described the crowd as the biggest ever in the Valley Gardens, hundreds climbed on to a roof to see Doreen and the beauty queen parade.
Doreen was runner-up. This led to a role in the Dewsbury Empire pantomime Aladdin, alongside Jill Summers, who went on to play Phyllis Pearce in Coronation Street.
Married to Harold in July 1948, Doreen Fletcher (née Kerfoot) continued to perform all her life and at every local opportunity – professional pantomimes, concerts, opera, musical comedy and popular ballads – plus family weddings and funerals. ‘Ave Maria’ was a popular favourite.
April 26, 1988. Held at the Queen’s Hotel (Leeds) and sponsored by the Yorkshire Evening Post in aid of Wheatfields Hospice, a Sue Ryder home for patients, after recovering from Cancer and in recognition of her career, Doreen won a prestigious ‘Women of Achievement’ award.
In March 2015, Doreen appeared in ‘Seen on Screen’, produced by Bradford UNESCO City of Film and used as part of the Bradford International Film Summit.
Planned for November 2017, Leeds Industrial Museum at Armley Mills, formerly the world’s largest woollen mill, will host an exhibition about Doreen and other young women chosen to represent some of Britain’s most prominent economic powerhouses.
John McGoldrick, curator of industrial history at Leeds Museums and Galleries, said: “Being named a Queen of Industry was an incredible opportunity for those who were elected, and women lucky enough to be given the title became very much celebrities in their own right. It was also a chance for women to play a leading role in industries which had traditionally been male-dominated, providing inspiration for other young women who might want to make their way in a new career.” – Yorkshire Evening Post – April 5, 2017.
May 10, 2017. Celebrating Doreen’s 90th birthday let’s remember the voice, beauty and unique talent of ‘Batley’s Singing Mill Girl’, also a legacy marking the 70th anniversary of the ‘Yorkshire Wool Queen’ and a missing film last seen in 1947.
For more information, additional photos and archive files please contact:
Paul (The Bulletman) Kerfoot
Creative Director, also Doreen’s Great Nephew
For additional content please see below.
• Please use the audio player below to listen to Track 4 ‘Ave Maria’ from Doreen’s CD.
• To see the original post, first published in March 2010, Celebrating Batley’s ‘Singing Mill Girl’, please click here.
• Full page article: Phil Hutchinson, Batley News and the Dewsbury and Mirfield Reporter – May 18, 2017. Click here to download the full article shown below (PDF file).