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Betty Mulcahy obituary


My friend Betty Mulcahy, who has died aged 92, was an acclaimed verse reading artist, broadcaster, writer and educator.

Born in Slough, Berkshire, to Stanley Upton, a shoemaker for Eton college, and his wife Kitty, a primary school teacher, Betty greatly admired her father, who was also an amateur comic actor and one of the mainstays of the Slough amateur dramatic and operatic society. Betty loved seeing him perform, often at the Theatre Royal Windsor.

Betty's first husband, Squadron Leader Pat Thornton-Brown, was killed in action in 1943. Her second marriage, in 1947, to Edward Mulcahy, brought with it the responsibility for acting as a mother to his three small children, Margaret and twins Jane and Michael, from a previous marriage. Betty's initial training in mime at the Birmingham School of Speech and Drama had been disrupted by the second world war and she turned to verse speaking, following success in the final of the English Festival of Spoken Poetry.

Taking her cue from this, she initiated successful collaborations with a number of leading poets, broadcasters and educationists based at the Midland Arts Association, the Midland region of the BBC, Anglia Television, the Poetry Society, Rada and Central. She performed to audiences across the English-speaking world and spent 10 years in the 80s touring the UK with the Michael Garrick Jazz trio. She toured a show based on the life and poetry of Stevie Smith in the 80s and 90s, and in 1984 established the national Speak-a-Poem competition.

My last contact with Betty, only days before her death, involved discussion about poetry matters. It was important for Betty, as a tireless campaigner for the spoken word and the oral verse speaking tradition, to know that her work would go on. This was not only because it had provided her with a lifetime of both pleasure and intellectual nourishment, but also because she wished a similar experience for as many others as possible.

Edward and Jane predeceased her. She is survived by Margaret and Michael, four grandchildren, Frances, Rebecca, Kate and Jo, and five great-grandchildren, Sylvie, Coco, Ruel, Scarlett and Frankie.

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