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West End Girls

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  332 ratings  ·  49 reviews
Barbara Tate was 17 when she heard the whispered word that would change her life: Soho. It would take four years for Barbara to escape her loveless home but when she finally made it to the forbidden streets of Soho - just as London was recovering from the trauma of the second world war - things would never be the same again.

There the naive Barbara meets the beautiful and c
Paperback, 320 pages
Published October 25th 2012 by Orion (first published July 22nd 2010)
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Average rating 4.05  · 
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This is a mad tour of the underworld West End seen through the eyes of a very naive young woman who thoroughly embraced the life style, people and the amount of money she made as a maid, in essence a PA rather than cleaner. After she left off maiding she became quite a famous painter, and this book was published only after her death.

Notes on reading Ten-star read. This book has really upset me. Here I am in 40s Soho with a bunch of hard-working whores, their maids, their ponces and ass
A fascinating glimpse into the lives of prostitutes in the 1940s, in the form of a memoir written by (now deceased) artist Barbara Tate, West End Girls is a little bit juicy and more than a little bit poignant. "Babs" tells us chiefly about her early twenties in which, seduced in a sense by her strict Grandmother's disapproval for Soho, she became a "maid". Maid, as she (and I!) soon discovered, was not necessarily the most domestic of jobs and, nowadays, I'd imagine we'd term her a PA. Not that ...more
Aimee Massey
Barbara Tate was a fairly famous artist, specializing in botanical paintings, but before she really got started in the art world she worked a couple of years as a "maid" to several prostitutes in the West End/Soho area of London.
Maid is in quotes because Tate's duties were more like those of a personal assistant than our usual idea of a maid. She did do some housekeeping chores, but mainly her function was as companion and general helper. She was there first and formost to ensure that the johns
Apr 03, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I opened this book in the store, read a couple of pages, and could barely close it long enough to hand to the cashier so I could leave. The prose is fabulous (in most parts) and I think it's a real shame that the author died before writing any more books.

That being said though, the book could really have benefited from some heavy editing. There were whole sections that were wonderfully gripping, and other whole sections that were clumsy and forced. It was as if the main story was really what 'wo
Penny Grubb
Nov 15, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An incredible tale that almost didn't make it to publication. Barbara Tate tells the story of her time as a prostitute's maid in Soho in a light engaging style that makes for easy reading. On several levels it's an amazing tale - the story itself and the insight it gives into Soho then and when she revisited later; how she came to be there at all; how the book came to be blocked when she first tried for publication (that story is added at the end). She went on to have a very successful career as ...more
Feb 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Could not put this down and read it in a matter of hours. I am fascinated by people who seem normal yet have secret aspects to their lives. Barbara does not seem jaded by her experiences and her compassion for these people touches me.
Nov 30, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An enjoyable and insightful read.

I felt as though some of the characters in this book had become my friends - It's all in the way Tate portrays them I guess, maybe it's that I saw a little of myself in Barbara.

The end of the book almost had me feeling like I was grieving for someone, yet you could almost see it coming - I still found myself reading on to find out what became of these people, and with each person a hope of happier times. Although it wasn't the case I would certainly read this aga
Ellie Dean
Jan 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Absolutely stunning writing and compelling reading. To think this actually happened and not that long ago is amazing and yet the entire story has a comforting feel. This was a very different time to what Soho has to offer today but this was Soho life .... Real life ..... And Barbara Tates portrayal of the characters who lived that life is both honest and real. What a remarkable woman she must have been. To have lived (and survived) the Soho life and then to have moved on to become a loving wife ...more
Cameron Callaghan
A beautifully written account of a world I could not have imagined on my own. Without malice this woman wrote about how it was. Could not put it down.
Stuart Aken
Jan 15, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A book variously described as a memoir, a biography and an autobiography, West End Girls details the lives of Soho prostitutes through the eyes of a virginal, innocent but forthright narrator (I have great empathy with the author, as I used a similar narrator in my novel, Breaking Faith, so my review could be a little biased; please bear that in mind).
Written with humour and displaying an extraordinary naivety mixed with a growing worldliness developed along the journey, this memoir is full of
This is a memoir of two years the author spent working as a prostitute’s “maid”--housekeeper, companion, cashier, and errand girl--in late 1940s Soho. Though the book holds interest in its unusual glimpse of postwar London, Tate shares frustratingly little of her own thoughts or feelings about this phase in her life. Afterward she became an artist and suburban wife and mother; in the Epilogue she writes, “I had a perfect marriage.” Well, good! And that’s about the level of insight you can expect ...more
Oct 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Loved it! An insightful glimpse in to this fascinating world. So glad Barbara Tate captured it all and tragic that she never got to see the success which I am certain this book will achieve. I particularly liked how much fun these ladies had in an arguably dark and unforgiving world. A rollercoaster of emotions, a really great read.
Robert Pereno
Sep 13, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: My Soho friends.
Recommended to Robert by: Babette my wife.
A fascinating tale of working girls during the 40s in Soho. A very easy engaging read.
Nov 29, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Quick and easy read. Next please!
Oct 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book and couldn't put it down. Found the end quite haunting but am so glad I had the chance to read about some remarkable characters from a bygone era.
Feb 15, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
not sure what to put but i enjoyed but felt that it was boring at times.
Jun 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Totally absorbing and revelatory memoir about the author's two-year stint working as a maid for the Queen of Soho – aka 1940s prostitute Mae. It's a remarkable glimpse at a lost Soho – grubby, still a residential neighbourhood with small businesses, seedy and with an air of criminality. Barbara Tate is a wide-eyed 21-year-old who has escaped a miserable childhood and has ambitions to be an artist, when she is invited by Mae to earn a lot of money as her companion, security guard and tea-maker. M ...more
Jonathan Stephenson
The non-judgemental approach of the author, as she relates her time as an ingénue among the more worldly and artful of London's Soho, not long after World War II, is commendable for its openness and acceptance of human nature. However, I read this book as research, already knowing a good deal about the time and place—and had expected a more in-depth insight into the edgy world around her than Barbara Tate (or her editor) delivers.

Although there are snippets of detail the bigger picture of conte
Darla Ebert
Jan 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Unexpected subject matter and very odd too, at times. However, as off-putting as it COULD have been the story line was actually informative, humorous, and not vulgar at all. Not that I would recommend or endorse the author's choices but she managed to keep her own morals while making a lot of money at a time she most needed it. The whole story is filled with paradoxes and moral dilemmas, the author's own inner compass having been broken by a severe lack of compassion and normal family feelings, ...more
Aug 02, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting insight into the life of 'working girls' in 1940's Soho. An autobiographical account of a naive young woman who gets drawn into the world working as a maid for a couple of years, before moving on to become a painter. Nicely written, it conveys a good sense of the camaraderie, harshness, backstabbing and vulnerability of the women.
Jan 14, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
about halfway through I decided that this was reading like a list of incidents. Perhaps that's how memoirs generally read, I couldn't say. But, I still wanted to see how it finished up and was satisfied with a well rounded ending.
Interesting subject matter, and the circumstances of the author give an unusual insight into the Soho of the 50's and with it's comparison to present day.
Gowri N.
Disturbing, yet fascinating. A memoir penned with heart but without judgment or emotional upheaval.

In parts, Tate sounds like a biographer, describing sickening incidents in a quiet, matter-of-fact manner. But the pictures she draws and the characters she introduces are vivid and alive, and they stay with you for days after you finish reading the book.
Jan 27, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
a true story by the author who was an artist but was caught up as a maid in Soho .
She is loyal to Mae and much revolves round the life of Mae and some of the other girls.
It took a while to get into and is not for the faint hearted.
Nov 07, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biogs
I found the lives of the prostitues of Soho in the 1940s fascinating. This was a book full of love but also full of passion and agression. I was relieved at the conclusion, although there is always sadness attached to these bios. I'd recommend it if you like reading real life stories with grit.
Sherry Mackay
Interesting insight into 1940s London and the life of Soho prostitutes. Not sure how much the author whitewashed it but it seems surprisingly charming and her friend seems very happy as a hooker. I enjoyed it.
Hannah Rose
Nov 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I gave this 5 stars because it had the ability to captivate me to read it in just 24 hours and because I'm a sucker for a real life account of a spectacular life! All I wish now was I had the chance to have a tea and a chat with Babs...
Dawn Rapoza
Aug 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It's hard to believe that this is the author's first book because it is written so well. I had to keep reminding myself that this is a memoir. The character portrayal and style of writing are very engaging.
Claudia Zeien
Oct 23, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really enjoyed this first-hand account of life in Soho in the late 1940’s. A light and easy read with memorable and compelling characters. The narrative felt genuine, and the author did a good job of describing the feel of the neighborhood during that era.
Dee Cross
Oct 07, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very fascinating glimpse into 1940s life. Being the years my grandmother was alive it’s nice to see how they lived and how thing have changed.
A very intimate glimpse into the life of prostitution and their ways of life. Emotional, gripping and made my heart beat with both fear and excitement.
Jul 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing
A very honest book with a heart warming (sometimes gruesome!) account of what life was like for those girls post war. It was very eye-opening and captivating. I loved it, a page turner.
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