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Last Updated: Saturday, 21 August, 2004, 09:07 GMT 10:07 UK
Actress turns bloomers into show
The guided tour of underwear mixes cabaret with social history
A vicar's wife and actress who used to show off her knickers to earn money has turned her enterprise into a show.

Rosemary Hawthorne, author, actress and mother-of-seven, was living in Kent in the 1970s when she decided she needed something to do.

She grew up hearing about her mother's work in pre-1950s fashion houses and developed a love of clothes.

As a wife and mother, she got out of the house in Tenterden and earned money by sharing her passion for fashion.

"We had a family of seven children," the Rada-trained actress said.

"You need something of your own."

Ten years later Mrs Hawthorne, 64, was still giving talks on fashion, when a student asked for help with a project on schoolgirl uniforms.

It's a happy show. People like to laugh - and I'm having a great laugh."
Rosemary Hawthorne

Mrs Hawthorne said: "She wanted to know where the word 'bloomers' came from.

"It was from Amelia Bloomer in the 19th Century, who wore a trouser suit."

She said the student told her she should write a book - and she went on to write a book about knickers, followed by a book about bras and a book about suspenders which she now calls her "lingerie set".

"I used to go out and show my knickers.

"People laugh because it's naughty but nice," she said.

"It's very English."

In her talks, she began to concentrate solely on underwear, and it was last year that a theatrical agent suggested she re-write the talk, add music and lights and put it on the stage.

The small element of history in her one-woman production of the Knicker Lady shows how women's underwear became lighter, the more they progressed.

She said she keeps her show light-hearted - "entertainment with a little bit of history".

Funny words

"Underwear is intimately to do with the progress of women and their emancipation," she said.

"At one time, women did not have choice - although there was a little choice if you were rich - but now we do have choice and we are profligate.

"I always say it's me and a cast of hundreds of knickers - 'knickers' itself is a funny word, as well as 'bloomers' and 'drawers'.

"It's a happy show.

"People like to laugh - and I'm having a great laugh."

The Knicker Lady can be seen in Hastings on Saturday at the Stables Theatre.

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