Students Staff

16 June 2014

Academic to return to BBC2 for series on shopgirls

Colchester Campus

Dr Pamela Cox

Dr Pamela Cox. Photo credit: BBC/Betty TV/Mark Johnson

Essex academic Dr Pamela Cox will be returning to our TV screens next week to present a new BBC television series on the history of shopgirls.

Starting on Tuesday 24 June, the three-part series follows the journey of the shopgirl from an almost invisible figure in stark Victorian stores to being the beating heart of our glossy, modern shops.

With retail the biggest private sector employer in the UK today, Shopgirls: The True Story of Life Behind the Counter charts how shopgirls have been central to Britain’s retail revolution and at the cutting edge of social change. It will also lift the lid on the working conditions and realities of life for shopgirls, many of whom ‘lived in’ above shops and the new department stores.

Discovering the changing role of shopgirls - Dr Pamela Cox from University of Essex on Vimeo.

Often poorly paid, some doubled as sex workers, contributing to the shopgirl’s sometimes seedy reputation in the late Victorian era. But this wave of pioneering women also enjoyed new-found independence and their own money to spend. By the turn of the century, nearly a quarter of a million women were employed in shop work; they had forged new kinds of work for women and even helped transform the experience of shopping itself. The shopgirl was here to stay.

In the first episode, Dr Cox goes back to the mid-19th century, when shops were owned and staffed by men and shop work was a closed world for most women. But as jobs opened in the factories of the big industrial cities, shops no longer had the same ready supply of young male apprentices, and Dr Cox learns how women’s groups actively sought to promote women’s employment and shrug off the notion that shop work was somehow ‘un-ladylike’.

Dr Cox said: “Researching this new series and book has been a real revelation. Britain may have been a nation of shopkeepers – but they relied, in turn, on an army of shopgirls.”

The series follows the success of BBC2 series Servants: The True Story of Life Below Stairs, which Dr Cox also presented in 2012.

Shopgirls: The True Story of Life Behind the Counter will start on BBC2 on Tuesday 24 June at 9pm.


Note to Editors

To contact the University of Essex Communications Office, please call 01206 872400 or e-mail

For more information about the BBC series please contact Suzie Schilling from BBC Communications on or 07711 385 730.


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