BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: UK Politics
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Monday, 23 October, 2000, 14:11 GMT
Profile: 'Call me Madam'

Betty Boothroyd on the campaign trail in 1968
Betty Boothroyd entered Parliament in 1973 after 15 years of trying and at the fifth attempt.

She had a distinguished parliamentary career serving on many select committees and as a whip, but never became a minister.

Elect me for what I am, not for what I was born

Betty Boothroyd, 1992
In 1992, however, the Labour MP for West Bromwich West pulled off the notable triumph of becoming the first woman Speaker in over 700 years of Commons history.

Although well-liked by MPs she stood no nonsense in the Commons chamber, and has been a firm but fair arbiter of the House's rules.

She has been known to mime a yawn to cut short overlong speeches and has never worn the traditional Speaker's wig.

In 1992 she was named Parliamentarian of the Year, and in her role as Speaker she won the respect of members from all parties as she stood up for the rights of backbenchers against ministers and the executive.

Headmistress, nanny and landlady

Her combination of talents has led one commentator to describe Miss Boothroyd as being like a "headmistress, nanny and pub landlady" all rolled into one.

On taking up her position as the first woman Speaker she instructed bemused MPs, accustomed only to men holding the position, to "call me Madam".

Madam Speaker: Firm roots in the Labour movement
While during her election campaign for the post she told MPs: "Elect me for what I am, not for what I was born."

Betty Boothroyd began her long career in politics after a short period during which she worked in show business as a Tiller girl.

Born in Yorkshire, she lived in America in the 1950s where she helped one John Kennedy on his election campaigns.

Long history in politics

She joined the Labour Party as a teenager and spent some time as a secretary to various MPs, including the former Labour cabinet minister Barbara Castle.

Miss Boothroyd, speaking of her upbringing, once said: "I came out of the womb of the Labour movement."

After entering Parliament she became an active member of Labour right wing, winning a seat on National Executive Committee.

Unmarried, she has at least eight honorary degrees and several "Freedom of the City" awards.

Her likeness has even been unveiled in Madame Tussauds - in full robes. The screening of prime minister's questions overseas, notably in the US, made her an internationally famous figure.

As well as being an extremely active member of the political life of the UK, Ms Boothroyd took up paragliding in her sixties while on holiday in Greece.

Last year a poll in Good Housekeeping Magazine put her as the 18th most influential woman in the UK, way ahead of the Queen.

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
See also:

12 Jul 00 | UK Politics
Who'll replace the Speaker?
12 Jul 00 | UK Politics
Speaker Betty Boothroyd retires
12 Jul 00 | UK Politics
The role of the Speaker
08 Oct 99 | UK Politics
Madam Speaker celebrates 70
22 Mar 00 | UK Politics
The Speaker receives press damages
Links to more UK Politics stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more UK Politics stories