The other day I got to touch this chair…
The year I was born this chair got to touch the bare bottom of Christine Keeler.
It was as the scandal of the Profumo Affair was exploding in Britain, marking the end of the age of austerity and heralding the new age of permissiveness.
I’ve been writing a script over the summer in which Keeler appears as a minor character so have been immersed in the era of which this photograph is an icon.
The photo session was in Lewis Morley’s studio above The Establishment Club in Soho (18 Greek Street) which was the spiritual home of the emerging anti-establishment of the early 60s. It was founded in 1961 and presented among others, on the small stage on the floor below Morley’s studio, Lenny Bruce, Barry Humphries and Dudley Moore. The club was part-owned by Moore’s partner in crime Peter Cook, another defining character of the era.
Morley was born in Hong Kong to English and Chinese parents, coming to England straight after the war in 1945. He eventually emigrated to Barry Humphries’/Dame Edna Everage’s native Australia in 1971.
The Keeler session was set up to produce images for a film that never happened (The Keeler Affair). Present were Morley, his assistant and the producers.
I recently came across another such movie that was never made featuring Keeler’s partner in crime Mandy Rice Davies. Her picture, by contrast in costume, was shot by Terence Donovan (1936 – 1996), another of the key photographers of the Blow Up generation. His first major retrospective – Speed of Light at the Photographers Gallery, London this summer – brought to light this magazine cover:
Morley decided to use one of a number of chairs he’d recently bought at (probably) Heals as a prop. They are cheap knock-offs of a classic Arne Jacobsen design, the 3107. The chair is more crudely made than its original and has a hand-hole introduced to get round copyright infringement.
At the beginning of the session Keeler was dressed in a leather jerkin, covered (just) but still plenty sexy. Morley shot three rolls of film on the day – on the first two he shot her dressed in this way both on and beside the chair.
Keeler had been a model in her early years in London before getting sucked in to The Scandal. She had also been a showgirl and good-time girl, all these activities and aspirations adjacent in England in the late 50s/early 60s.
The producers then demanded that she pose nude. They insisted that was in her contract. Morley was reluctant and protected Keeler, both with the back of that chair and by clearing everyone but himself out of the studio and averting his eyes while she stripped off and mounted the chair. In this way he protected her dignity whilst fulfilling the terms of the contract.
He then shot the third roll. He tried various angles which you can see on the contact sheet which now lives at the V&A. Morley recounted the end of the session thus:
“I felt that I had shot enough and took a couple of paces back. Looking up I saw what appeared to be a perfect positioning. I released the shutter one more time, in fact, it was the last exposure on the roll of film. Looking at the contact sheet, one can see that this image is smaller than the rest because I had stepped back. It was this pose that became the first published and most used image. The nude session had taken less than five minutes to complete.”
Last shot of the last roll – suitably mythic.
The shot in question can currently be seen in the first room of the You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970 exhibition at the V&A. As can the chair.
What’s powerful about the shot is the X-shaped composition made up of her upper arms and thighs, bright in the high contrast, combined with the echo of the top half of that white X (those upper arms joined into a curvaceous triangle by her shoulders) which matches the sensual curved triangle of the chair back. The hands and wrists also make up a mini X, reinforcing the power of the central shape. The dark V of the chair back is a massive amplification of that hidden famous vagina. But topping off the shot is an alluring yet refined face. And a strong one, as challenging as any of the enigmatic eye-to-eye starers of Manet. [see E for Enigma – Manet Picture of the Month]
Morley used the pose again two years later with Joe Orton, the playwright who best captured the essence of the 60s in Britain. I first came across Orton in the Lower 6th (the freest and best year of school) when I was looking for the subject of a project and came across Orton by chance. I’ve loved him since. But I don’t find that the Morley portrait captures him well as it gives no sense of his cheekiness or humour.
Morley also used the pose with TV personality David Frost (in the same year as Keeler), but in a less still way, capturing something of the energy which was to land Frost a chair opposite President Nixon in the next decade (in the famous 1977 interviews which did for the leader of the most powerful nation on earth). Frost, The Establishment, Cook, Private Eye were all part of the same Swinging Sixties circles.
Circles which overlapped with the establishment with a small e and their interface with Soho, pretty girls, gambling dens, sharp-suited gangsters, swinger parties, all the ingredients in the explosive brew that was Profumo.
For a very particular moment – arguably one key frame – Morley managed to transform a 21 year old (who grew up in a converted railway carriage, abandoned by her father), a 21 year old swirling helplessly in a maelstrom of post-war British politics, the Cold War and the breaking down of the class system into a strong and dignified woman, the epitome of Sixties British beauty.
Day 2: Liverpool
So I’m sitting in front of Liverpool Town Hall in the Indian summer afternoon sunshine. I’m discussing a documentary with a Scouse film-maker, the protagonist of the film and the cameraman. We’ve just arrived, the beers have just landed and out of the open balcony door of the Town Hall tumble the strains of Let It Be. Then more Beatles. Then a female singer doing covers of their songs. I couldn’t have scripted or timed it any better. My fantasy Liverpool afternoon. After the meeting I trotted down the street to the Odeon for the world premiere of the Beatles documentary, Eight Days A Week, put together by Ron Howard. The red (actually blue) carpet shenanigans were broadcast live from Leicester Square to this and other cinemas around the country and beyond, including the arrival of Paul and Ringo. Where better to watch it than in Beatlesville. The moment and song that punched out was when John composed Help. It stood out as the point when their song-writing went up a gear or three.
Day 1: Sheffield
Spent the day working with an indie producer in Sheffield – which was fun. After we wrapped for the afternoon, I headed into the city centre from the atmospheric, leafy burbs. In the golden early evening sunlight surveyed the city’s excellent array of street art, not least the excellent work of Rocket01.
After a fine Mexican beano, hung out chatting in the Peace Gardens with their monumental fountain portals and all-round perfect mix of water, stone and grass. I’m usually in the city for DocFest in the summer so it was good to see it under other circumstances. It has some of the finest regeneration in the country, with a brilliant passage from the station up to the Peace Gardens. The blade sculpture bordering the station with a thin layer of water flowing over the gigantic knife-edge of shining steel. The tower of the university bearing a poem by Andrew Motion about standing looking at the tower of the university. The art deco Showroom cinema. The art deco Library and (Graves) Gallery. The wooden ribs and hothouse glass of the Winter Gardens. The Victorian Town Hall, sheltering the Peace Gardens.
Day 2: Sheffield
Began the day at a working breakfast with a Sheffield-based film producer who is a very nice guy. Then a quick visit to the Graves Gallery to look at the hidden treasure that is their permanent collection. Catching my eye this time: Christ Carrying the Cross attributed to Luis de Morales (late C16), a prematurely aged, weary Jesus, right beside a striking painting of a man holding a skull, a dark momento mori where the difference between the head and skull is marginal; The Hours by Burne-Jones, six ladies representing the sweep of the day, their dress ranging from dawn blue to late afternoon russet and back to night-time blue-black; a Paul Nash landscape, an Auerbach cityscape of Mornington Crescent; Sam Taylor-Wood suspended from the ceiling (flashback to young John Lennon); a portrait of Edith Sitwell and her languorous hands – one of the best galleries in the land.
Then the train to Liverpool across the Peak valleys bathed in Indian summer gold.
Day 3: Sheffield
Rain after the early hours thunder, making the work at Roco (a new creative co-operative space) all the cosier. A good creative session, inducing headache in the journey to a possible break-through, wrestling with knotty problems between cups of tea. A burst of sun as we left to mark the conclusion in grand style.
“So we sailed on to the sun”
The Beatles – Yellow Submarine
To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.
— e e cummings
On the day of the Opening Ceremony of the Rio Paralympics, it’s interesting to contrast the UK television marketing of London 2012 vs Rio 2016
In 1964 Mandy Rice-Davies was asked to play the lead role in a film of Fanny Hill, based on the novel by John Cleland. However, the film was never made.
This cover shot is currently to be seen at Terence Donovan: Speed of Light at The Photographers Gallery, London.
This is a magazine/pamphlet I bought at an antique shop near Woodside Park for a tenner. It’s Mandy’s response to the Denning Report into The Profumo Affair, hence the cheeky title.
Here’s the house of Mandy’s lover Peter Rachman – I found it on Sunday after a walk on Hampstead Heath.
Back in 2000 I chaired a task group for the Broadband Stakeholders Group (a body lobbying the Government for better broadband connectivity) looking at the probable impact of broadband on the UK workplace. One of the group’s conclusions was that it would have a positive impact on the environment and transport because it would enable workers to do more locally or at home, thereby reducing the need for the daily commute.
From 2000 to 2013 I spent much of my life on a tube train across the city, mostly for no good purpose. I stopped that on 9th July 2016 when I left Channel 4 after 13 glorious years.
I am now working in a peripatetic style and not only thoroughly enjoying it (and the summer) but actually finding creative inspiration from it. I knew this from the sabbatical I took in 2013-14 to write during which I wrote in all kinds of places from the National Library, Dublin to the kitchen garden of Kenwood – and chronicled it here on Simple Pleasures.
As my working week drew to an end yesterday in a steam room near Gray’s Inn followed by a last hour-long burst of writing in some barristers chambers (very productive and clear-minded) I reflected back on a classic week of working on the move which I feel like capturing here for posterity because the working locations were such an inspiration in themselves; reflect the rich mix I plan to make the defining characteristic of my work life going forward; and brought with them such uplifting experiences.
So this week I have worked…
- in Borough, in the shadow of London Bridge – with Mark Stevenson, writer and futurist, on a project about the sustainable future of energy, feeding on his always refreshing optimism
- at BAFTA, one of my two pied-à-terres in central London, where I had a key meeting with an always-inspiring former colleague about the film script I am currently writing (for an energetic British production company whose early successes are very promising)
- in the garden of the Chelsea Arts Club where I met a film-maker whose father knew the protagonist of my movie and from whom I got a useful sense of the kind of person he was. This particular stop brought the highlight of the week as we were joined in the sun-bathed garden by the poet Brian Patten, a charming, witty and warm man from the evidence of this first encounter. In fact it was in a way my second encounter as I saw him perform live in Cambridge around 1984 with his fellow Liverpool poets Roger McGough and Adrian Henri. He gave wise advice concerning my younger son, who has severe dyslexia, and his literary studies. A young priest in exquisitely made robes entered the garden at one point and sat at the adjoining table. At which juncture Brian leaned over the table and recited a brilliant poem about a falling priest, without the faith or courage to fall freely. Brian had based the poem on an ancient Sufi text. It was a beautiful and unexpected gift of words that made my week.
- in a restaurant in Victoria where an old Channel 4 colleague of mine turned out to be pals with a director who would be perfect for the film
- outside Kipferl, an Austrian cafe at The Angel, one of my favourites, where I caught up with Harry Cymbler, MD of Hot Cherry (where I am a Non-Exec)
- in the Reading Room of Somerset House where I drafted an application for Creative England with my co-producer
- in the newly opened Eneko Basque restaurant, scion of Eneko Atxa’s Michelin-starred place Azurmendi in Larrabetzu (in the Basque country in Northern Spain), where we finished drafting the application either side of a beautiful meal of Iberico pork and fruity wine punch
- in my back garden where I carried on writing the treatment to the tranquil sounds of my newly resurrected water-rock (I can’t possibly use the term ‘water feature’, it’s so Home Front). I copied the water-rock from the courtyard of a hotel in Newry, County Down – it definitely irrigates creativity.
- in Raymond Buildings, Gray’s Inn in a room with a photo of my lower sixth English class, a reminder of a very inspirational year with a very inspirational teacher (in the photo sporting a velvet jacket).
There’s a lot to be said for wandering freely. As I read in The Week earlier this very enjoyable week, Nietzsche was also much in favour of being on the move:
All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.
Tomorrow sees the UK release of Woody Allen’s latest movie, Café Society, starring Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network, Holy Rollers, Batman v Superman), Kristen Stewart (Twilight, On The Road) and Steve Carell (The Big Short, Foxcatcher). Here are 4 reasons why it is not to be missed…
1. Vittorio Storaro’s coffee-coloured cinematography
Now into his late 70s, Storaro is the man who photographed Apocalypse Now, The Last Emperor and Bulworth (the first and last of these being among my very favourite films). In this movie he paints 30s Hollywood and New York in a palette of yellows and browns which is as delicious as a cup of Jamaican Blue Mountain with a dash of cream, making it the most beautiful looking film you’re likely to see this year. He is already working on Woody Allen’s next.
Rose: Too bad Jews don’t have an after-life – they’d get a lot more customers.
2. Woody Allen’s masterful writing
Phil: Two time Academy Award winner.
Bobby: Wow, congratulations.
Hollywood Writer: Thank you. You’ve never heard of me, I’m a writer.
Having written nearly 80 films, Woody has gotten pretty darn good at it. Café Society has absolute economy – you see what you need to see, you hear what you need to hear, you linger when you’d like to linger, you catch fleeting words and moments that delight. You get the laughs, you get the philosophy, your heart-strings get tugged, all leading to a bitter-sweet moment that doesn’t even need any words.
3. Santo Loquasto’s Production Design
Woody’s Production Designer since 1987’s Radio Days, Loquasto delivers again – a golden LA at the height of the studio years contrasts with a darkened NYC of clubs, cramped apartments and alleyways. The film opens on a luxurious poolside party beside a bright white Deco mansion – Hockney meets Gatsby – and sets the tone: this is a world to which we’re going to enjoy every minute of our visit.
Party Guest: [to Bobby] Unrequited love kills more people a year than tuberculosis.
4. Unique Story-telling
No-one in the movies tells a story quite like Woody Allen in his elder statesman years. It’s thoroughly American. Profoundly Jewish. Shot through with European. Café Society has the voice-over of the early faux-documentary films (e.g. Take the Money and Run), performed by the ageing voice of the writer-director, rich and literary but still restrained and judicious. It has that distinctive Allen thing of having a young Woody avatar – there’s an aspect of Eisenberg’s performance which is reproducing Woody’s screen persona – much like Owen Wilson’s excellent performance in that other fabulous late bloom that was Midnight in Paris – yet he transcends it to produce a poignant and memorable lead character living a poignant and terrible love.
Narrator: Life is a comedy written by a sadistic comedy writer.
The sound of running water (fountain). Sunshine. Comic books. Flowers. Jesus Christ Superstar (I can hear it from where I am lying, coming from the Open Air Theatre). Grass. Summer. Children. Drums. Dancing. Languages. Chance encounters with friends. Walking with an Enfant Terrible. Full moon – the details on the lunar surface. Parks. In-laws. Allotments. Blackberries. Sharing fruit. McDonalds chocolate milkshake. Gardening. My water-rock. Innuendo.
I met Patti Smith one time – it was in St Luke’s Church near Old Street roundabout after an intimate gig of hers. We talked briefly about Rimbaud and the time he spent in Camden Town with Verlaine. Rimbaud of course features in a scene of the ten-years-in-the-making poetic hotchpotch of a film that is Steve Sebring’s documentary ‘Patti Smith: Dream of Life’ which I saw on the big screen this afternoon at the Arthouse Cinema in Crouch End thanks to Doc n’ Roll.
I went with my old friend, film-maker and teacher Roddy Gibson. We went to see Patti in 2007 at The Roundhouse where she did a wonderful gig centred on her album ‘Twelve’. I’ve probably seen her play live around ten times, always in London, from the Union Chapel to St Giles-in-the-fields by Denmark Street – and even in one or two places that weren’t churches.
The best moment of the film for me was when she, without warning, pours out from an exotic urn Robert Mapplethorpe’s ashes into her hand, explaining the texture, that it’s not like normal ashes or dust. Their connection is a fascinating one, not least as it overlapped with her intense marriage to Fred Sonic Smith.
Her smile which punctuates the film is another thing that stays with you.
I liked the moment when she meets Jesse Jackson at an anti-war demo, as it struck me that he bears the names of both her children – Jesse is the daughter (on piano), Jackson the son (on guitar).
The presence of Allen Ginsberg in the film really resonated for me. I have been writing about him in recent times – here’s an extract. His poetry, in my experience, has the marvellous effect of inspiring the reader to write poetry. Patti is clearly a descendent of his, and that they were friends is inevitable. Blake, Corso, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Burroughs are all present in the film as a constellation at the centre of a particular cultural universe – one that really sings to me.
The line that punched out for me was where Patti asserts that we all have a voice and a responsibility to use it. As I watch my 19 year old wrestle with the shape of his identity and life mission it’s a salutary reminder to tread softly as someone lays their dreams at your feet, to be careful not to crush nascent ambitions or visions, to enable them to use their singular voice and realise their dreams of life.
My mission is to communicate, to wake people up – it’s to give them my energy and accept theirs. We’re all in it together, and I respond emotionally as a worker, a mother, an artist, a human being …with a voice. We all have a voice. We have the responsibility to exercise it, to use it.
Reggae. The sound of the sea. Iced coffee. Going shirtless. Fresh white fish. Balconies. Rooms shuttered from the sun. Reading on the beach. Curves. Pregnancy bump. Sandals. Cool showers. Water with ice & lemon. The shade of trees. Watermelon. Handstands in the surf. Floating in the sun.