Archive for the ‘peter cook’ Tag

Chairman of the Board – Picture of the Month: Christine Keeler by Lewis Morley (1963)

The other day I got to touch this chair…

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The Keeler chair

The year I was born this chair got to touch the bare bottom of Christine Keeler.

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photograph by Lewis Morley

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.

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Lewis Morley (1925-2013)

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.

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Dame Edna by Lewis Morley (1996)

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:

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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.

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The actual Keeler chair

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The 3107 v The Keeler knock-off

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.

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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.”

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NPG x38964; Christine Keeler by Lewis Morley

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.

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Joe Orton 1965

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.

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David Frost 1963

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.

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Christine (21) & Mandy (18) at the height of the Profumo Affair

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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.

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Under The Chair

127-2004s

Previous Picture of The Month – Georgia O’Keeffe

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Prince of Denmark (Day 51)

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Taking the show back out on the road – this time to Copenhagen for CPH:DOX, the annual documentary film festival, and an emerging sub-set called SWIM which focuses on multiplatform/transmedia for storytelling, distribution and financing. Installed myself on arrival in a lovely room overlooking the 19C University of Copenhagen buildings. It was a drizzly day, much like the last time I visited around four years ago, same time, same place. But I enthusiastically did a super-fast turnaround and was out on the street again in minutes with my Savile Rogue Spurs scarf (a cozy present from the excellent Street League – do go look) and a moderately waterproof coat (though the same can’t be said of the boots). In other words I shifted my normal 9-5 day to make room for some touristing.

I’d used the ambiguously named SAS flight to carry on with the first draft of my commercial creativity  project and to do more Comedy research, focusing on Peter Cook.

Back on the streets of Copenhagen, I headed towards Christiania, the hippy zone I’d set off to visit last time but had got caught in a rainstorm and taken shelter in the Jewish Museum designed by Daniel Libeskind. This time I got all the way to the so-called Green Light Zone where hoodies and beanies of the world unite. I’m too old for that shit. Found myself a quiet candle-lit café for a late lunch of fried herring heralded by a steaming glass of glogg (spiced wine). Throw in a copy of Uncut with a long article about singer-songwriters and that’s me happy.

Headed back to the hotel satisfied and damp. Took off my rain-drenched socks and hit the keyboard big-time, very much in the mood. More work on my model chapter With a Little Help from My Friend centred on Literature and Allen Ginsberg.

Took a few minutes to tidy up plans for a Channel 4 team visit to Arte on Friday in Paris (after which I plan to go check out the Beat Hotel in rue Git-le-Coeur when Ginsberg nearly got hooked on smack, the only time his drugs ever got out of control). And a few minutes thinking about Working Title which Enfant Terrible No. 1 is studying in Media Studies. Then back to business, inspired by the university library opposite, still fully lit towards midnight, walls of colourfully bound books illuminated in the arched windows (perhaps inevitably, no students in evidence).

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This above all: to thine own self be true

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Leipzigzaging (Day 38)

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(c.1954)

On something of a pilgrimage today. Read up about Peter Cook and The Establishment club in the square in front of where my grandfather lived when he came to livd in Leipzig as a young man in the home of his favourite sister and her husband. The smart apartment building gives on to Nordplatz, centred on an old church and made up of simple but attractive grassed gardens. I get a certain pleasure of continuity and return from standing on its stone threshold.

I am writing this post sitting in the gardens of the St. Elisabeth Krankenhaus in the Connewitz area in the south of the city, the hospital where my father was born in 1937, two years after it opened.

From Nordplatz I walked through the adjacent autumnal woods round the zoological gardens. I stopped for a bit to do my daily German revision with the Duolingo app (keeping in touch with my linguistic roots) then headed on to Kathe Kollwitz Strasse where my grandfather and his young bride moved in. Where their flat was has been blank ground for a long while (a car park with trees) but by the time I get back here it will have been built on, laying to rest the vestiges of their home here.

I read some more Cook book on the back chair of this resonant memorial which feels like the hub of my Leipzig.

Before I left for my trek I had reviewed my master document to get a feel for what progress I’ve been making on the book and had a pass at the nascent Theatre chapter which needs a number of interviews transferred into it. That’s looking like a laborious transcription task though I will see if it can be automated at all.

Once back at the hotel after a dinner out at Leipzig Media City, about two clicks from my father’s birthplace, I did some more online research about Jeremy Deller, making me even more reassured that he is a good subject for the Art part. In particular I was reading about his work Procession for the Manchester International Festival. I’ll think of my pilgrimage around the city as a fusion of that and Richard Long’s work with some spirit of Picasso in its triangularity since today is his birthday.

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