The talk o’ the Steamie

"The Steamie" postcard autographed by Sheila Donald
“The Steamie” postcard autographed by Sheila Donald

In collaboration with the Glasgow Film Theatre’s youth initiative, Pop-Up Programmers, Glasgow Women’s Library hosted two rare screenings of the classic STV Production (1988) of Tony Roper’s The Steamie in this year’s Glasgow Film Festival. I went along to the matinée on Saturday and helped to serve afternoon tea afterwards. Many of the staff and volunteers (not me!) were dressed in 50s costume, in keeping with the setting, and there was a very special guest – Sheila Donald who played Mrs Culfeathers. It was, as they say in Glasgow, a “rerr terr”. We laughed, we cried, and Sheila got a huge ovation.

Although filmed on a set, The Steamie looked very authentic (compare to the photograph of washing pens on The Glasgow Story and the exhibit below from The People’s Palace.)

Steamie exhibit, People's Palace
Steamie exhibit, People’s Palace

The play gives a really good picture of the hardships in women’s lives – I can’t imagine living like that – but, amazingly, steamies were only phased out in the 1980s, although the phrase “talk of the steamie” lives on, to indicate something that is well worth gossiping about. In 1986, a young photographer called Allan Bovill gained access to three steamies in Glasgow – Parnie Street, in the city centre; Bluevale Street in Dennistoun and in the city’s Anderston. His black and white pictures were exhibited in 2012 for the twenty-fifth anniversary of the play – I wish I’d known. Read more in this review by the Evening Times.

You can see pictures of the day itself – including costumed staff, “Mrs Culfeathers”, posh china and platefuls of Tunnocks – on my Storify.

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Anabel Marsh

I'm a proud Glaswegian who loves to go gallivanting both at home and abroad. Join me in my travels, both historic and current. Credit where credit's due: photography mostly by my more talented other half, John.

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