We live in a political age when style trumps substance every time – think Blair’s Babes and Cameron’s Cuties – but we forget that the trend began in the aftermath of WWII with Attlee’s Angels.
The surprise Labour victory of 1945 that ousted Churchill was founded on a new political philosophy – sex-appeal.
The backbenches were suddenly filled with a new breed of MP who relied entirely on their looks and charisma. The likes of Barbara Castle, Jennie Lee, ‘Red’ Ellen Wilkinson, Harold Wilson, Michael Foot and even the dubious Seymour Cocks.
But the siren of the voting lobby was unquestionably the newly elected MP for Liverpool Exchange, Bessie Braddock.
Born Betty Bamber, she was the daughter of buttie magnate, Hugh Bamber, and enjoyed a privileged and sheltered childhood, first at the Aigberth Approved School for Girls before being sent away to a Swiss finishing school on the outskirts of Widnes.
As a young woman of independent means and blessed with a fine bone structure and lilting voice, Bessie turned her thoughts to an acting career. She literally started at the bottom as the rear end of the cow in Jack and the Beanstalk at the Colosseum, but soon got ahead, again quite literally, when she was promoted to the front end.
Eyebrows were raised when Bessie was offered the part of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind. She was as yet little known in America, but David Selznick was entranced by her natural elfin beauty. However, Bessie turned her back on Hollywood for the sake of love.
She had met Jack Braddock one moonlit evening at a pie stall by the Pierhead and had fallen head over heels. They married even though Jack was then but an aspiring tripe merchant.
The wartime offal famine of 1942 affected her deeply and like that other BB – Brigitte Bardot – she became an animal rights activist, particularly on the issue of ritual slaughter which she was all in favour of.
Her practical activism was confined to preparing the tea urn for the mid-meeting break during the interminable local Labour Party committee meetings held in the room over the Docker’s Rest every other Thursday, but a chance meeting was to change all that.
Clem Attlee visited one evening in search of likely candidates to match his political ambition. His eyes met Bessie’s through the brewing steam and in an instant he knew that he had found the Scarlett O’Hara to star opposite his dashing Rhett Butler.
The rest, as they say, is history. The war had ended and optimism was in the air of a country crying out for a new style of politics, one based on sound bites and superficial good looks.
Rumours about her private life abounded, but even the lurid headlines about her three-in-a-bed romp with Ken Dodd and Arthur Askey did little to damage her popularity, nor did the expenses scandal of 1954 when she submitted fraudulent bus tickets and a claim to have the inside toilet at her second home in Newham moved outside.
She also successfully sued the News of the World for damages over the infamous postcard hacking revelations of 1958.
Bessie’s beauty did not fade, even in later life, and it is a fitting tribute to her contribution to British politics that the readers of FHM magazine recently voted her the sexiest politician of all time.