Friday 23 October 2009

Sandie Shaw and the The Millionth Marvell Cooker - Wendy Robertson

Behind this intriguing title lies the tale of the women of Grafton, hard-working and generally hard-done-by girls who spend their days working their fingers to the bone at the Marvell cooker factory. Like in the film The Full Monty, we see the gritty reality of the tough life of these working-class heroes - or rather heroines. This is the mid-1960's and the men may be the ones with all the power but the women are the ones holding things together and getting things done. Despite the advent of the contraceptive pill, as we step behind the scenes - and the front doors - of the factory girls, tales of unwanted pregnancies, backstreet abortionists and extra-marital affairs abound. But in spite of the hardships and difficulties that life throws at them, they are survivors and "keep on keeping on", singing along to the hits of the sixties on the factory tannoy system as they work and taking comfort in the friendships that spring up with their co-workers.

A publicity visit from Sandie Shaw, chart-topper of the time, invited to present the millionth cooker made by the factory to a lucky customer, provides a moment of excitement and agitation, but the working routine continues and for some of the workers, more worried about losing their bonus than slacking off to see a popstar, the media circus is more an inconvenience than a cause for celebration.

The constant shifting of the narrative voice gives us a real insight into a large number of Grafton women, from the lowly factory girl on her holiday job to the boss's wife. Wendy Robertson is a great story-teller and the lives of the main characters, Cassandra, Patsy and Karen, are revealed secret by secret. There are no great dramas - even the Sandie Shaw visit turns out to be a bit of an anti-climax as her arrival is delayed - but the daily ups-and-downs provide more than enough content to keep us interested.

My one little niggle is the front cover, showing a bunch of smiling bathing belles in swimming hats and the words "Heady times in the summer of 1965". The carefree, light-hearted, holiday atmosphere that this suggests has nothing to do with the lifestyle portrayed in the book, where the girls' life revolves around work and they have to make do with the odd trip to the pictures or down to the Gaiety for a dance on a Saturday night.

But you can't judge a book by its cover and this trip down memory lane, with its numerous references to the historical goings-on in the world and the musical soundtrack that accompanied them, shows us an intriguing and endearing slice of real life in the sixties for the working classes.

star rating : 4/5

Paperback: 448 pages
Publisher: Headline (30 April 2009)
ISBN-10: 0755333799
ISBN-13: 978-0755333790
Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 12.8 x 3.2 cm


  1. Thanks Cheryl for your great readiing of the novel. It was a joy to write and I can see that you have a genuine insight into what I was trying to do for my 'working class heroines'. Trying to rise above the stereotypes was the least of it ...
    You are not alone in your niggle about the cover although others have liked it. The publisher's judgement usually wins where covers are concerned. I keep trying to get my oar in...

    I reklish my 4/5
    Thank you again

    Best wishes
    Wendy R

  2. I mean RELISH not REKLISH - although that might be a new experience....


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