The death of Betty Boothroyd, the first female Speaker of the UK House of Commons

Betty Boothroyd, former Speaker of the House of Commons of the British Parliament, in London, April 9, 2019.

It is a figure of British politics who is gone, an endearing, funny and devoted great lady. Betty Boothroyd, the first female speaker of the British House of Commons, died Sunday February 26, in Cambridge, at the age of 93.

This native of Yorkshire (northern England) was elected in 1992 to this prestigious and exclusively male function for seven centuries, consisting in enforcing discipline and the order of the debates in the famous bottle green Chamber of the Palace of Westminster. “She broke the glass ceiling [du Parlement] with panache”, noted Lindsay Hoyle, the current speaker, during a short but moving tribute on Monday. Lady Boothroyd was “a remarkable woman” added Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who hailed “his passion, his intelligence and his sense of justice”.

Thanks to the endless British debates on Brexit, the European public got to know one of his successors, John Bercow (speaker between 2009 and 2019), to savor his rants, his screaming stentorian voice “Order” to deputies who are too lively. But before him, Betty Boothroyd was already a star. And unlike Mr Bercow, whose legacy is controversial (in 2022 an independent panel accused him of harassment on his teams), Mrme Boothroyd was unanimously appreciated. “It is a real national institution”, said Prime Minister Tony Blair when she stepped down as speaker in 2000.

“Call me Madam! »

Born into a home of very modest origins (her parents were textile workers), Betty Boothroyd had an unusual journey, defying the class and gender stereotypes of the time. Leaving a technical college in the mid-1940s, she first embraced a brief career as a dancer. Having learned tap dancing at a very young age, she successfully auditioned for a troupe of revue dancers – the Tiller Girls –, performed at the Palladium, one of the famous theaters in the West End, but had to stop quickly after a foot injury.

This short professional experience will leave a lasting mark on her. “Through dancing, I learned discipline,” she explains, guest of the legendary BBC radio show “Desert Island Discs” in 1993, telling “ watching ballet videos on rainy sunday afternoons “.

“Call me Madam! » [Appelez-moi Madame !], she launched in reference to a musical launched on Broadway in 1950, to a somewhat confused deputy who asked her how to refer to her, when she took up her duties as announcer for the first time. The expression stuck: in the bottle green room, Betty Boothroyd was “ Madam Speaker ».

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