Dress Down Sunday: Poor Cow by Nell Dunn

published 1967


Well my love I have something to tell you. ha ha. Me and Beryl have taken up Modelling ha ha Yes. It’s alright nothing bad we get £2 an hour mind you only 1 hour a week so far, I’ll send you some photos in my bikeny Sexy. Well what do you think -? new you wouldn’t mind…

I had my first test last Wednesday. Oh Dave you would never have thought it was me. By the way its for the Revalie – Praded – Men Only, you never no you may open a paper and say there’s that Joysy. I doesn’t look like me I had a long piece of fals hair sexy, not bad at all, bottom of my bekiny black top. Black Neglegee with Green nylon Nightdress – Oh its all mad realy. Top Hat was the funniest he said I could have some of the photos so shall I send them to You. Yes Joysy of course still musent let it go to my head A. Mind you the lights are so briliont.

observations: Joy is writing to her young man, Dave, who is in prison – it seems strange that she thinks he’ll be thrilled with this news. The spelling is as is. Nell Dunn came from a posh background, but went to live in a rough part of London and wrote Up the Junction and this book, which were both hugely successful. They are strange books – not as patronizing as you might expect; you would guess that Dunn was good at transcribing, that she actually listened to her friends and neighbours. But it’s hard to imagine that they were best-sellers for any but prurient reasons: they show a dismal way of life, with a lot of not-very-inspiring sex, and they aren’t written with any great style. You can only imagine that readers thought they were curious about the lives of poor people, wanting Nell Dunn to do their slumming for them to get some social realism.

There’s an odd postscript to the film Ken Loach made of this book: Terence Stamp played Dave (who is not the father of Joy’s child – that’s Tom, also in prison). Steven Soderbergh’s really excellent 1999 film The Limey starred Stamp, and used footage from Poor Cow to show his character’s past. Presumably Soderbergh was a big fan of the earlier film – The Limey is not a direct sequel, but the two characters could be said to be in a similar area.

Revalie (Reveille), Praded (Parade) and Men Only were all pinup magazines of the time.

Links on the blog: Terence Stamp also played the man who is going to disrupt this Christmas party, in the film of Far From the Madding Crowd.

The picture is from the State Library of New South Wales.


  1. Moira - Unusual sort of book. And I have to say as a linguist I'm fascinated by the approach to telling the story. The use of language is really interesting to me...

  2. Oh perhaps you should read it then! It's not the best book ever written, but I'm fascinated by the reported language used. You know how often when speech is written down by an outsider, it sounds fake and contrived? Well this is one of the cases where it doesn't, it sounds very odd but very convincing....


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