Seventies Nostalgia

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Riveting 70s blog

One of my Fave Rave blogs is Dominic Lutyens and Kirsty Hislop's  Flashin' on the 70s.

Dominic and Kirsty,who co-created the sublime 70s Style & Design bible have an eye on the fashion and style pulse, irrespective of what decade they choose to write knowledgeably about.

So why is their blog one of my favourites? Because they have now blogged about me of course!

Not only did they plug my novel Frantic, but also its cover designer Celia Birtwell, Amanda Lear,  Jack Nicholson, Bette Midler and also the legendary Cockettes too.

Not bad for one sole blog entry about the 70s!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Frantic's Resurrection With A Little Help From My Friends

I used to hang out in David Hockney's basement in the early '70s. It was the best nightclub in London as international members from the orbits of Art, Fashion, Rock and the British aristocracy flocked there every night. (All the 'interesting' people I met there provided suitable cannon fodder for my Ritz Newspaper gossip column in the late 70's).

The basement's 'vibes' must have been inspirational for the late Ossie Clark wrote some of his Diaries there. And the unpredictable/creative dawn till dusk existence in Hockney's basement motivated me to write the first draft of my (first) novel Frantic back then.

The writer Francis Wyndham professed to love my early effort and showed it to Anthony Blond, his late publisher friend who euphemistically said it 'wasn't for him.'

I proceeded to spend the next decades rewriting Frantic until in 2006, Eiworth Publishing offered to publish it for me.

I didn't think that version's cover did my novel justice, so when the book was republished last month, I was over the moon and considered myself very lucky when Celia Birtwell offered to design a unique new cover for it.

I was doubly over the moon when an ancient friend Jeff Dexter, who read the book twice and loved it has been championing it ever since, persuading his conglomerate of best friends to buy the book.

'Ossie re-wrote some of his 60's diaries in my flat in 1976-77, while rifling through my record collection and stealthily helping himself to my medicine cabinet,' Jeff told me after recognising Ossie Clark in the book.


I was also thrilled when a sophisticated fourteen year old friend in Sydney exclaimed:

'Frantic was the most hysterically insane thing I have ever read, I love it', which proves that the book is not only aimed at surviving early 70's freaks but to Young Adults as well.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Loose Talk


The current slanging match between Martin Amis and Anna Ford reminds me of Tina Brown's Loose Talk book launch at the Ritz Hotel during the late 70s. The late and lamented Marc Boxer told me off for printing something he said to me supposedly 'off the record' in my old Ritz gossip column.

Fashion note: In the pic (snapped by the 'ex-paparazzo' Richard Young) I was dressed in a new Cerutti suit which I had bought with the proceeds of writing the commissioned "Gossip" film treatment for the then movie producer Don Boyd.

I squired the film's scriptwriters, the LA based Tolkin Brothers: Michael (The Player) and Stephen all over London so that they both could research London's nightlife! Incidentally, Don didn't secure a bridging loan for the film which collapsed after two weeks of filming.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Fran Lebowitz - 1979


In 1979, I interviewed Fran Lebowitz for Ritz Newspaper over tea at Browns Hotel. The celebrity photographer Michael Birt, who was just starting out took this nostalgic still of her, which he has just unearthed in his archives.

In those days, journalists and camera crews were usually allowed to decorate the lobbies in London's top hotels with their equipment instead of being shunted off to the Tradesmens' entrances. But Browns, which Fran described as 'American P.G. Wodehouse with shit in', forbid Michael to take a professional snap of her anywhere in the hotel's ground floor. In the end, he had to sneak this picture of her when none of the hotel staff were looking.

Barry Taylor, then MD at Olympus Cameras hadn't yet given me a freebie tape recorder so I was still using my shorthand to do interviews with. Alas, I couldn't hear everything what Fran was saying about her book "Metropolitan Life" as she softly garbled her words, but I did hear her ask me to look her up in New York when I visited.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Hedda and Louella

In 1976, Adrian George, the painter and illustrator was so fed up with me going round to the flat he shared with Celia Birtwell and gossiping for free, he encouraged me to write a gossip column on spec. He then took it to Ritz Newspaper's office in David Bailey's house in Primrose Hill, and the editorial team (including Bailey and his wife Marie Helvin) thought it was so bitchy, I was hired on the spot.

Nicholas Haslam was hired at the same time as me for the magazine's second issue, and David Litchfield, Ritz's editorial editor took us both out to lunch at Langan's Brasserie to anoint our hiring. Nicky decided to gossip under the pseudo name 'Paul Parsons', presumably to avoid confusion re: his role as a fashionable interior decorator. He agreed to write about his British aristocratic friends, and I had no option but to write about the flotsam and jetsam which came under the 'cafe society' category.

Nicky and I were rivals - we often attended the same parties - but we were the 'best' of friends. He used to regularly take me out for lunch at restaurants like San Lorenzo's. I think our luncheon dates dried up after he couldn't land an invitation for a showbiz party thrown by Allan Carr, the producer at Burke's club. It was held in Marvin Hamlisch's honour (he had recently composed "A Chorus Line"), and after his televised concert at the Royal Albert Hall, Jeffrey Lane, the then publicist at the London office of Rogers and Cowan did the PR for the party. I'd known Jeffrey since he was the publicity director at Columbia (EMI-Warner) in Wardour Street in the early Seventies. I was the Press Officer for Warner Bros. at the time, and we both worked at opposite ends of the publicity corridor.

When Nicky heard about the party, he immediately called up Rogers & Cowan's office to be told he couldn't come as I was covering the party. According to David Litchfield, Nicky rang him up afterwards and burst into tears at being barred from a party, probably the first and last time in his life as a serious party goer. Immediately afterwards, Nicky befriended Jeffrey and was put on Rogers & Cowan's 'A' guest list for the rest of eternity.

Nicky was the consummate party giver and It was an unsaid agreement that I would write up his parties in my column. I wasn't complaining, as Nicky's parties were the best: he knew 'Everybody Who Was Anybody'. When Andy Warhol and his retinue were in town once, I went along to his party for Andy Warhol at Bubbles Harmsworth's aparmtent in Eaton Square after I had finished interviewing Steve Rubell at the Savoy (Andy, Halston, and a naked man covered in hundred dollar bills had also been present in the room). Nicky sent out the invitations at the last minute, so people whose post didn't arrive punctually thought they hadn't been invited and were hysterical with grief.

Nicky also threw a party for Warhol at Regines and for the chosen few, a dinner party at the Casserole (which he had just redecorated). I was too tired to go to the bash at Regines and went home to change for the dinner, praying I didn't have to go. I almost got my wish as due to a bickering between Nicky and Litchfield (a common occurence), Nicky rang me to disinvite me. I told him I was so relieved and was going to bed. A few minute later, an emotional Nicky rang me again, begging me to attend the dinner, saying it wouldn't be the same without me. So, I dutifully threw on my party gear and took a a taxi to the restaurant in World's End, where I witnessed Rupert Everett, recently expelled from drama school flirting with Bianca Jagger. She asked him to go home with her but he declined, saying she wouldn't respect him if he did!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Freebies

One advantage of being an exhausted gossip columnist during the late Seventies was I didn't have to pay for a thing. I was given loads of freebies/surreptitious bribes in return for a bitchy comment about the donators in my column. The only time I paid for something was a priceless black Cerutti suit after the producer Don Boyd commissioned me to write a film treatment. Normally, I interviewed everyone including Cary Grant in my Levis, but the designer label came in useful; especially when I devoured steak tartare with interview victims such as the late producer Allan Carr re: "Grease" in restaurants like the extinct White Elephant. I remember wearing the Cerutti when I interviewed David Cronenberg (in jeans) at the Savoy. He was in the process of telling me there was a dearth of women directors and was advising me in intricate detail on how to become one: I didn't have time to study the frames he was making with his hands, as I was late for my (successful) interview at the Evening Standard's "Londoner's Diary", hence the job interview suit.

Manolo Blahnik gave me free skyscraper shoes (he gave me free ones before I got my column), and the head of Olympus Cameras gave me a tape recorder to tape my interviews with (consequently, I lost my shorthand speeds). And, Leonard, the hairdresser never charged me for cutting my hair at his palatial salon in Grosevnor Street until I stopped writing gossip. He was a genius cutter. He never glanced at me while chopping my hair, but looked round the salon while 'feeding' me suitable fodder for my column, like info about the wigs he created for Stanley Kubrick's "Barry Lyndon". Daniel Galvin, the hair colourist who worked at the salon at the time used to colour my hair. Once I looked like a red setter after he poured a henna mix over my locks, but I wasn't complaining as it was free. Bruce Oldfield used to take me out for dinner at Mr Chow, and invited me to borrow an outfit from his shop in Beauchamp Place any time I wanted. I didn't even have to invest in dry cleaning the garments before returning them.

I never had to pay for a meal, but in retrospect, I think one of the best perks I had was free membership at all the London clubs except for Annabel's. Mark Birley did treat me to lunch at Harry's Bar (which he also owned) though, the Cerutti suit came in useful then. I was a founder member of the late Zanzibar, my favourite club in Great Queen Street. The membership cost £12 but I didn't even have to fork out for that. Once, I had a birthday party at a wine bar called Blitz down the road. Marinka, the professional artist's model was moonlighting there as a waitress at the time (her day job consisted of posing for artists like Ron Kitaj), and persuaded the owner to give me the party for free. Hundreds of gatecrashers including David Hockney guzzled and drank, courtesy of Blitz. Zanzibar had a strict door policy of allowing a member to sign in a couple of guests only. I was obviously exempt from this bureaucratic rule as I invited all the party guests to the club, who swarmed in like a swarm of locusts. I felt a bit disturbed when I later discovered some of them had signed themselves in as 'Frances Lynn' though. Although I made the nightly round of the clubs after the parties in the early hours every evening, I didn't really appreciate my free memberships: I was always conscious of Groucho Marx's quote, "I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member."

Copyright: Frances Lynn 2008

Friday, July 13, 2007

Nigel Dempster, ex-king of the gossips is dead


Another Seventies icon hits the bucket. Nigel Dempster, my old mentor has died after suffering from a wasting disease called Progressive Supranuclear Palsy. When I was the gossip columnist for David Bailey's 'Ritz Newspaper' in the late Seventies, he was one of the first people I went to interview - in his office in the Daily Mail. From then on, we were best friends. He even got me into the NUJ, and I shall always remember going to collect his signed NUJ form in the Private Eye Office. (The 'Greatest Living Englishman' wrote a column called “Grovel,” for the satirical rag). Richard Ingrams (Lord Gnome) who was then the editor offered to second me for the NUJ, but I refused. I wanted a friend to do it, so I asked Maggie Koumi - then editor of '19' magazine to second me. (She went on to become editor of 'Hello' magazine). I was a film critic at the time and Maggie and I sat next to each other every night in screening rooms (We were both permanent fixtures on the magazine film reviewing lists).

I used to see Nigel day in, night out as we were both invited to the same events. Once, (Sir) Sir Dai Llewellyn invited all the Fleet Street gossip columnists and myself to a dinner at Wedgies, a Kings Road club which he ran. (He was dressed in black stockings and suspender belts when we arrived). Nigel didn't show, and my fellow hacks spent the entire evening bitching about him, accusing him of being too grand to show. Yes, I was best friends with Nigel for years until he turned on me. But, he did that with all his best friends. A story was more important to him than friendship, and many a bewildered friend of his couldn't understand why he betrayed them in his columns in the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday. He was the consummate gossip columnist. For him, a story always came first.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

A Playboy reunion

I'm amazed. Old friends from the Seventies are beginning to contact me after finding my website - Frances Lynn on Google. The latest friend to e-mail me is Val Lownes, son of Victor Lownes who used to be the head of Playboy in London. I've known Val since I was a teenger. A gang of us used to visit him in his dad's house in Connaught Square. The butler loved us and always fed us big meals, but never fed the bunnies. Val helped run the Playboy here in London, then was made the Resident Director for the new Playboy Casino in Nassau. After it closed down in 1985, he returned to Chicago, his birth place. It was so nostalgic to hear from him. We used to hang out together a lot in the late Seventies.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Dreas Reyneke - body conditioning teacher supreme.

In the late Seventies, there was only one place to go to if you wanted your physique sculptured into perfection, and that was Dreas Reyneke’s body conditioning studio. He used to have tiny premises in Notting Hill Gate with a few Pilates machines crammed in. The changing facilities used to be barbaric. There were no showers, nothing fancy like that. His rich and famous clients had to change in a little room adjoined to the studio.

I had been going to Dreas since the early Seventies before he started his own studio. Everyone wanted to go to the Pilates maestro, but because his studio was so small there was only enough room for four people (maximum) at a time. Dreas used to look after all the Royal Ballet dancers: the company's principle dancers, like the legendary Anthony Dowell or Lynn Seymour were wheeled in on a regular basis, virtually crippled from their arduous daily lives of a harsh ballet regime. After a session or two with Dreas, they were miraculously patched up. Dreas Reyneke was a magician when it came to working out specific postures for each individual client.

Everyone who went to Dreas was rich and famous and because his studio was so successful, he had a long waiting list. I used to be a gossip columnist in the late Seventies, but Dreas trusted me never to write bitchy things about his clients. My slot was every Thursday at 9 a.m. When Bianca Jagger was in London, she was regularly in my session. She used to wear plastic bags over her thighs in order to lose weight, not that I could see where she wanted to lose excess fat. She was tiny. Joan Collins who had an incredible figure was unrecognisable without her wig, and at one time Rod and Alana Stewart (his then wife) were in my slot.

One morning, they arrived outside the studio without makeup on. Both looked dishevelled, as one usually does before going to work out at the crack of dawn. Unfortunately for their public image, someone had tipped off the BBC about them going to Dreas. A film crew was waiting outside his studio. Rod and Alana didn't seem too thrilled at being filmed (for a topical news programme) not looking their best.

Dreas forbid us to chat, but sometimes when he wasn’t being strict, we got away with it.

‘You want to come and see my Matisse?’ an Amerian woman once asked me when we were both upside down our respective mats.

‘Yes,’ I answered softly so that Dreas wouldn’t hear and tell me off.

Usually, I holed up ithe local fish and chip restaurant after my session with Dreas, but this time I made an exception and after my class, went to this woman’s flat in Knightsbridge to ogle her priceless painting.

My body had never been better when I went to Dreas, but after I became obsessed with tennis, like an idiot I stopped going to him, I just didn’t have the time. By then, rich socialites had become clients. One woman flung her fur coat on one of the Pilates machines and commenced to do her excercises on top of them, until Dreas had to politely advise her to hang her coat up in the changing room.

I miss Dreas and would adore to go back to him. He’s the best, but I very much doubt he would be able to fit me into my old Thursday morning slot any more. Even if he could, I doubt if I could afford him now. He's more popular then ever.

Copyright: Farnces Lynn, 2007

Monday, January 08, 2007

Paparazzi

When I started out as a gossip columnist in the late Seventies, I took pictures of my victims with my little instamatic (this was before the age of digital), but the published pics all came out blurred. Also, I found it a bit of an encumbrance trying to delve and snap at the same time. And, as I was pretending not to be a journalist but a genuine friend of the people, whose brains I was surreptitiously picking, it looked a bit suspicious - me continuously flashing my camera in their gobs. An unobtrusive David Bailey I was not! One evening, I wasn’t minding my own business in the middle of a nightclub opening (Wedgies in the Kings Road) when an exuberant man with long black hair and dressed in black leather banged me on the shoulder. ‘Hi, I’m Richard Young, your new photographer,’ he said cheerily. He went on to explain that “Ritz Newspaper” had just hired him to be my personal photographer, which suited me fine. ‘Photograph that lump of lard over there,’ I ordered at full volume, pointing him in the direction of an obese lord. Richard did as he was told without asking any questions. Richard was no virgin when it came to the world of 'photo journalism' however. He had recently managed to successfully infiltrate Liz and Richard Burton’s birthday bash at the Dorchester, taking a paparazzo shot of them, so he knew exactly what he was doing. He manipulated his camera like it was a machine gun, relentlessly sniping fire. Rat-a-tat-snap!

At the beginning of our partnership, he didn’t know who anyone was, but he quickly learned Who Was Who, i.e. which person was worth photographing. When I was at a dinner in Karl Lagerfeld’s honour at Mr Chow, I was seated at the fashion designer’s table with a group of women journalists, who spent their whole evening, wearily having to tell their photographers whom not to photograph. I didn’t have to exert myself one little bit and concentrated on my fried seaweed, as Richard already knew ‘everyone’ and automatically knew whom to snap without my having to tell him.
‘You are fortunate having a photographer whom you don’t have to tell what to do,’ the fashion editor of Women’s Wear Daily confided in me.
‘Can I borrow him?’ the dame from The Daily Mail asked.

It was all very well that Richard was independent – too independent, for soon Richard was no longer taking exclusives for ‘Ritz’, and like all good paparazzi was making a fortune globally syndicating his photographs of the rich and famous at the functions I took him too. Richard and I worked together harmoniously for years, but I knew we had to finally part company when people at parties started to rush up to speak to him rather than speak to me first. He was no longer my personal photographer, but after having worked with me, was the only civilised paparazzo in London who was allowed to take photographs inside, rather than hang outside for celebrities in the cold.

Copyright: Frances Lynn, 2006

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Ladies Who Lunch

In the late Seventies, it was the vogue for ‘ladies who lunch’ to throw lavish hen parties for each other. Jackie Collins told me that Jerry Hall gave a lunch party for fifty girls, and Jackie taped the lot of them. Enough juicy dialogue to fill several of her Hollywood books, I should imagine.

I think one of the most glamorous hen parties I went to, was a birthday bash given by the exotic model Marie Helvin for her best girlfriends. At the time, I wrote a gossip column called ‘bitch’ for her then husband, David Bailey, publisher of the defunct “Ritz Newspaper’, so I think Marie invited me along purely for me to cover her party. Marie hired the whole of Eleven Park Walk, off Fulham Road, which was one of London’s most fashionable restaurants at the time, and discreetly paid for the lunch after the bash was all over. The guest list included Angelica Houston who was then Jack Nicholson’s girlfriend, Nona Summers, an infamous society hostess and Elsa Schiaparelli’s granddaughter Marisa Berenson, the beautiful actress and socialite. At the time, she looked exactly the same as she did in “Cabaret”, which was pretty miraculous considering she had recently undergone extensive plastic surgery on her face after a car accident. In those days, I hadn’t yet been given a freebie tape recorder and was still using my shorthand, so it’s a shame I didn’t surreptitiously tape the lunch, because I can’t remember in minute detail, what we all talked about. Nothing about earth-shattering world events, I suspect. All I do vividly recall is that one woman, a wealthy theatre impresario’s mistress chain-smoked in between courses that, due today’s phobia of anti-smoking is completely out of date. The late Tina Chow, who tragically later died of AIDS, announced she had just returned from holidaying in Sardinia, where she said that Fanta and frozen pizzas were dished out, and all at ‘exorbitant’ prices. Considering the continental currency was then pre-euro, by today’s standards, the beach fast fodder would be now considered cheap. ‘The beaches were filled with people covered in perfume and lipstick who all looked like they had been recruited from a Rogers & Cowan guest list,’ Tina said. (Rogers & Cowan is an ‘A’ list showbiz public relations company). ‘Next time, I shall holiday on a yacht,’ she added. She announced she had also been to the Vatican, but just after Pope John Paul I had died. His thirty-three day reign was the shortest in papal history. Zandra Rhodes popped in for ten minutes, declaring it was the first time she had lunched in three months, and topped Tina by saying she had also just recently visited the Vatican but before the Pope had died. Other girls including Lady Victoria Waymouth, before she married (the late) Patrick Lichfield, the royal photographer. Model agency owner Laraine Ashton, an ex-model laughed about Omar Sharif (a movie star in those days), trying to lick champagne from her toes the previous evening. Everyone must have been feeling happy after the lunch, as all the women offered to give me a lift home. I was so touched, that I didn’t bitch about any of them when I wrote up the lunch.

Copyright: Frances Lynn, 2006

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Eccentricity Used To Be The Norm

There was an abundance of eccentric personalities in the late Seventies, and Olga Deterding, the Shell oil heiress was one of them. She wasn't as wild as the characters in "Frantic", my nostalgic novel about the early '70's ('A lion coat clad white girl, with waist length black Japanese hair, was leaning against the stage, mouthing excruciating obscenities from her exquisitely shaped lips. .... every time this creature from a lost planet opened her shaggy lion coat, she was totally nude underneath), but she came pretty close. Olga was an enthusiastic socialite, and at the opening party of Wedgies nightclub in Kings Road, was so sloshed like she regularly was, that she spent most of her time crawling around on the floor underneath the tables. This anti-social behaviour was regarded as the norm in those days, so nobody cared if she made a fool of herself. One person who did was a German girlfriend, who was staying with me at the time. She thought it was shocking that this middle-aged woman was making a spectacle of herself. Maybe members of café society were hesitant to reprimand an heiress, but my girlfriend had no idea who anybody was and even if she did, she wouldn’t have cared less.
‘Get up immediately! You are making an idiot of yourself. Can’t you see that everyone is laughing at you,’ my Teutonic friend barked. Olga Deterding might have been inebriated, but she actually listened and managed to pick herself up from the floor, and plonk herself down on a chair where she promptly fell of again.

She entertained lavishly in her multi-storey penthouse in Piccadilly, which was ideal for parties. She gave an after show party for her equally eccentric crony, Quentin Crisp after his one-man show at the Duke of York. If I recall correctly, the penthouse walls were painted a glossy white and the décor, made up of realistic sheep sculptures nibbling at the grass coloured carpet was a topic of conversation. Olga was single, and similar to women of ‘a certain age’ was regularly escorted by members of the gay community, which included Quentin Crisp. Olga was a louche socialite, from whom everyone ran away from when she was peaking in a fit of drunken exhibitionism. But, she possessed a heart of gold, unlike a lot of ‘ladies who lunched’ in those days. The majority of them lionised their hairdressers and fashion designers, and were committed to the art of looking fabulous. Olga was past caring what she looked like while she lurched from one party to another. At least she was dressed for dinner when she choked to death on a piece of meat, while dining out in a club. Her shocking exit made the headlines.

Copyright: Frances Lynn, 2006

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The VIP Room

I first came across the VIP mentality when I attended an after concert music party in the late Seventies. It was a two tier party, as 'the VIPS', i.e. - the rock stars and their groupie entourages dined in a cordoned off area of the party – on a raised pier, so that they could be seen by the rabble. The mob partied in the rest of the room, only permitted to speak to the cordoned off diners, if the burly bodyguard zealously guarding the rope separating the stars from the plebs allowed them to. Getting near the rock stars was considered harder than getting an audience with the pope. I put it down to Music Biz elitism, as God forbid the performers would have to mix with their audience! Perhaps they were terrified of catching a throat infection, which would have been fatal for them, as rock stars sing from their throats, not from their diaphragms.

In the Seventies, there didn’t seem to be so much elitism in clubs and professional parties. Although, the commercial concept of VIP rooms was in its infancy, Studio 54 was a trendsetter. Its VIP room was the club's grubby basement where the jaded chosen few were freely allowed to snort drugs unobserved, a savoury step-up from doing drugs together in the lavatory. 'Cosy, cosy,' Alice murmered, eyeing the lewd graffiti daubed walls of the tiny cubicle in which she and Brent had locked themselves in,' is an extract from "Frantic", my nostalgic '70's novel when a lot of the party action was held in toilets.

In Seventies' London, VIP rooms/sections didn’t really exist in private nightclubs. Everybody was mixed up together. However, the VIP concept has existed in restaurants for years, invented to keep the ‘out of towners’ separated from members of the ‘A’ list. One of the mâitre d’s tasks in fashionable restaurants is to intuitively know whom to place in the ‘right’ section of the restaurant. Not only has there been an invisible cordoned off area in trendy restaurants for years, but there has always been a top table. Social climbers would kill to dine at this rarified table, which is usually reserved for the restaurant's owners and his friends. It must be tragic for people who care about such things to be seated on the wrong side of the restaurant, or to be led to a bad table by the lavatory. Some people don’t even attempt to go to fancy restaurants if they’re not on first name terms with the mâitre d’, for fear of being seated on the wrong side of the restaurant, which for them would mean social Siberia.

Los Angeles is the ultimate city for VIP sectioning. The city's social structure is divided into strict streams, where the 'A' list is hard to penetrate. It's rare for different lists to socialise together. But, you would certainly be considered 'Z' list fodder, if you were seated at a table in the Beverly Hills Hotel’s beautiful garden. It's the done thing to eat inside, even if the weather is glorious. But, as long as you don't care about the top table mentality, and are purely interested to eat good food produced in a clean kitchen, you are probably not interested in showbusiness, or are a potential Zen Buddhist monk!

Copyright: Frances Lynn, 2006

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Showbiz publicists

Celia Birtwell, Jeffrey Lane, Frances Lynn
In the late Seventies, it felt safe to roam around London streets late at night. Visiting American celebrities weren’t so regimentally guarded as they are now. They weren’t always flanked by burly bodyguards, or a retinue of anxious PR people forbidding journalists to ask them an impromptu question. When I used to be a freelance film journalist, it was easy to get interviews with celebrities. Nowadays, showbusiness is completely PR driven. If you are lucky to get more than ten minutes with a celebrity, their subservient publicist will be glued to their famous clients' side, making sure you stick to asking innnocuous questions. In 'the old days', stars were more accessible. I once asked the actor Robin Williams for an interview in Tramp, the Jermyn Street nightclub and he granted me a breakfast session the following morning at the Savoy. In those days, journalists were allowed to enter the five star hotels by the main entrance and sit in the lobby with their camera crew, if they had one in tow. Nowadays, journalists are usually requested to use the tradesmen’s entrance.

When Raquel Welch was promoting her yoga book, ‘The Raquel Welch Total Beauty Book’ at the Hippodrome in the early Eighties, a gang of enthusiastic journalists, myself included, had no problem plonking ourselves down uninvited at her table. We consequently spent the entire evening with her, blatantly holding our tape recorders underneath her nose. Her personal publicist hovered discreetly at a distance, forbidding anyone else to join our table for the entire evening.

I had known most of the showbiz publicists since my days as a press officer for Warner Bros. After I became a journalist, they always made sure I was at the top of their scheduled interview list, even if I was writing the article for a small circulation periodical. When I once interviewed the late Robert Altman at the Athenaeum, his PR left me alone with him for the entire day. I was one of the few journalists who interviewed Frank Zappa when he was once in town for a couple of days, because his PR lady who got me the gig was one of my tennis partners. But, if you ever let the publicists down, like not turning up for an interview, you were out. Once, I inadvertently upset a well-connected socialite after writing about her wedding reception at Mr Chow. Her powerful PR friends blacklisted me for a week, until they realised they needed me to write 'puff' pieces about their ‘A’ list clients.

I was friendly with the PR lady, who was looking after Cary Grant when he worked for Faberge, and consequently I was one of the chosen few who was granted a 'one to one' interview with the legendary actor. I used to smoke in those days, and before my interview, the PR lady told me I was not allowed to smoke in Mr Grant's presence. I got an even bigger shock after the PR left me alone with the silver haired ex-film star in the lobby of the Royal Lancaster hotel. Mr Grant informed me he wouldn't permit me to use my tape recorder. His reasoning was he could tape himself. Nowadays, the publicist would definitely have sat in on the interview, and under similar circumstances, I would have been grateful for her recollection afterwards.

Because I had been given a freebie tape recorder some time before, I had woefully neglected my shorthand and my speed had been reduced to about 25 words per minute. I prayed the interview would be brief, but unfortunately we got on so well, that Cary refused to answer all his incoming phone calls, saying he was tied up. So, there we were, Cary Grant and I lolling around on the sofa together, while I tried to dredge up some original questions to ask him. I was unable to appreciate his nuggets of wisdom though, as I was on constant red alert, frantically hoping I was going to remember everything he uttered. I would have been with him for a week if his wife hadn’t come up to interrupt us after several hours, saying they had an important appointment to keep. I could have kissed her. I ran out of the hotel, sprinted all the way home and threw myself over my typewriter where I bashed out my interview purely from memory (my random notes were illegible). I must have done something right, because when the Cary Grants visited London next time, Mrs Grant rang me up to say how much her husband had enjoyed the interview. Nowdays, the PR would have passed on her comments to me.

Copyright: Frances Lynn, 2006

Monday, November 27, 2006

Who Survived The Seventies?

Frances Lynn and Steve Rubell at the Savoy.
Photo by Mervyn Franklyn  

It’s interesting to see what happened to the people I used to gossip about in the late Seventies. The late Zanzibar, a private membership bar in Covent Garden was always filled with famous people. In one evening alone, the following people were having a drink there, and most of them have since died or are living in obscurity. Francis Bacon, the painter and his friend Thea Porter, the dress designer who created the rich hippy look are both dead. Bobby Moore, the footballer and captain of the England football team when they won the 1966 World Cup, ‘dribbled out of Zanzibar with two blondes, one of whom tried to steal the visitor’s sign-in book’ has since died of cancer. Tina Chow, the beautiful, then wife of Michael Chow the restaurateur who wafted around in Fortuny gowns later died of AIDS after trying to cure herself with crystals. Patrick Lichfield, the royal photographer, then happily married to Lady Victoria Waymouth, recently died after having a stroke. Angelica Houston used to live with Jack Nicholson, but is now married to a sculptor called Robert Graham and lives in Venice in LA. ‘Sex-bomb’ Sylvia Krystel, rumoured to be having a fling with actor Ian McShane at the time played the title character in the soft-core film Emmanuelle – one of the most successful French films ever produced. She recently had cancer and lives a simple life of obscurity in Amsterdam. Phil Lynott was Thin Lizzy’s vocalist and songwriter, but died from heart failure and pneumonia after suffering a heroin overdose in 1986, aged 36. Nigel Dempster used to be a famous print journalist. In the late Seventies, he was the gossip columnist for the Daily Mail. After thirty years in the job, he was retired against his will in 2003 and suffers from Parkinson’s disease. David Hockney had just bought a book out called David Hockney by David Hockney. His boyfriend Peter Schlesinger had just left him for Eric Boman, the photographer. Now, David Hockney is still David Hockney and his recent Portraits exhibition was held at the National Portrait Gallery in the UK, in Boston and in LA. He is officially single. Celia Birtwell opened her textiles shop in London, and is now a successful fashion designer and textile designer. Her recent collection sold out in 'Top Shop' after ten minutes. Larry Adler, the harmonica player, who insisted on telling dreadful jokes, died in 1987 aged 87. Peter Langan, who co-owned Langan’s Brasserie with Michael Caine in the late Seventies, loved drinking so much that his Harley Street doctor gave him injections enabling him to continue drinking. He died aged 48 in 1988. Germaine Greer used to be a glamour puss but recently appeared as herself in Ricky Gervais’ 'Extras.' The fashion designers Ossie Clark and Bill Gibb are both dead. Ossie was murdered by his lover, and Bill Gibb expired from cancer. But, the saddest story of the lot was of Timothy Swallow, a gossip columnist who worked for Nigel Dempster. In the Seventies, he committed suicide in Australia when he was there on holiday. He obviously couldn’t handle the pressure.


Frances Lynn, copyright: 2006

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Artists' Models


Celia Birtwell is a successful textiles designer and fashion designer (her latest collection sold out at Top Shop in ten minutes), but she has regularly modelled for her friend David Hockney over the years. As a result, his portraits of her hang in art collectors’ homes all over the globe. I often wondered what it would be like to have to patiently sit still for hours while being painted or drawn. In the early Seventies, I found out. Peter Schlesinger used to be a painter, but has since switched to being a sculptor. I’m the eldest of three girls and initially, he wanted to paint a portrait of us all together. Peter started to draw us all in David Hockney’s studio and at first he was quite excited, especially as my middle sister wore a Twenties' feathered cloche hat she had bought especially for the occasion. Unfortunately, my sisters began to quarrel during the sitting and refused to sit together, so Peter scrapped the idea of drawing us. But, a few years later, he asked me to pose for him by myself. At the time, my aunt in Beverly Hills had just sent me a knee length green, leopard print Diana von Furstenberg wrap dress, which I consequently wore everywhere. I even wore it to a charity ball where all the other women were embalmed in designer label ball gowns, and some of them even had tiaras plonked on their heads.

I was thrilled that Peter wanted to draw me, but I found sitting for him was the most deadly job in the world. I sat on an uncomfortable chair in Hockney's studio for what seemed like hours, forbidden to move or talk. He did allow me to have breaks from time to time, so I stood on my head without bothering to remove my Manolo pink skyscraper high heeled shoes. But, the acute boredom was worth it. He did a marvellous painting of me in the green leopard skin frock, and it currently hangs in his New York loft, which he shares with Eric Boman, the photographer. The late John Kobal, the film historian who had the largest movie stills collection in the world, visited them in New York once, and admired the painting so much, that Peter offered to sell it to him. Although John was one of my best friends at the time, he didn’t think Peter’s asking price was worth it.

I also religiously wore the green leopard skin when I posed for Adrian George, the illustrator and painter in his Bayswater attic flat. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough space for me to stand on my head there. Adrian once drew me sitting in a deckchair and he captured me perfectly. I was young at the time and looked pretty vacant in the drawing. Adrian was my Svengali at the time. He even helped me get my job as the gossip columnist on "Ritz Newspaper' in the late Seventies. He also inspired me to invent a character called Jonti in “Frantic”, my novel about the early Seventies. Jonti got Alice, the book’s heroine a job, which was true to life.

I wasn’t Adrian George's only protégée though. He had an inner circle of his disciples and drew all of them at one time or another. His dealer usually flogged his stuff, but luckily, he gave me the deckchair drawing of myself, which hangs on my office wall today. Adrian also liked to draw Marinka, a famous art tart, and a professional artist's model. She was chocolate box pretty, and had a voluptuous body which the artists loved to paint. When she wasn't sitting for Adrian, she regularly sat for other painters like Ron Kitaj. I don’t know how she had the patience to pose from nine to five, because I thought that having to sit statue still for hours, while being drawn was definitely the most boring job in the world – even though I tried to console myself when I did it, I was posing for posterity.

Copyright: Frances Lynn, 2006

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Post Mortem

A lot of Originals have died since I wrote about them in the late Seventies. Francis Bacon was one of them. He died in 1992. It’s a miracle he didn’t die sooner as he was an active member of The Colony Room, a small bar in Soho which is still popular today. I met him (briefly) and the late Muriel Belcher, The Colony’s owner at the Zanzibar club in Covent Garden, who promptly invited me along to her private drinking club. Never again! In “Frantic”, my novel about the early Seventies, the characters were interested in drugs, not in an overdose of booze. I’m not a drinker, which is why I soaked up the bar’s ‘ambience’ with a clear head. The Colony is a small room and was crammed with alcoholic writers, painters, actors and debauched personalities of the day.
‘Name me one woman writer who can write,’ slurred Jeffrey Bernard, the alcoholic journalist at a nearby table. I sent him a note, advising him to join the AA. He was obviously researching his 'Low Life' column in The Spectator, once described as 'a suicide note in weekly instalments.' The Colony’s walls were covered with piss and the language was pornographic, but everyone seemed happy enough. Even Ian Board, the foul-mouthed barman who later inherited Muriel’s crown, didn’t seem to mind when I ordered an orange juice. I suppose that was because I was a guest of Muriel’s.

I later officially met Jeffrey Bernard in the pokey office of Ritz Newspaper in Covent Garden. We were both writing columns for the rag at the time. I had gone to the office past my deadline with the intention of finishing my column there without any interruptions. Unfortunately, Jeffrey Bernard had the same idea. I happily spread my hard copy on an unoccupied desk, and began to type on a manual typewriter, trying to finish my column. Jeffrey Bernard emerged from the lavatory and erupted when he saw me working away.
‘Get off my f........g desk!’ he screamed. I automatically screamed right back at him, which surprised me as I don't normally lose my temper. Jeffrey was impressed. He apologised to me, offered me a drink and took me to the Coach and Horses, another of his spiritual homes. We were served by Norman Balon, who had the honour of being London’s rudest barman. Balon is still alive but as far as his old customers are concerned, he’s a dead man after retiring this year.

After our drink, Jeffrey Bernard was always civilised towards me whenever we bumped into each other. After I finished the first draft of “Frantic”, he even asked his literary agent to represent me, describing me as 'a sixteen year old genius.’ Jeffrey Bernard was a committed drinker, and was immortalised in Keith Waterhouse’s play, ‘"Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell”, which starred Peter O’Toole, another loyal disciple of the Coach and Horses. Jeffrey eventually had to have a leg amputated due to diabetes. Since his death, the old Soho seems to have become sanitised. In the Seventies, Soho was thriving with hardcore porn stores and strip clubs. Naive punters were fleeced by sleazy hostesses in clip joints, and of course aggressive prostitutes practiced their trade in the streets and in rooms all over Soho. But, I always felt safe walking along the back streets late at night. Although vice flourished, the atmosphere seemed unthreatening. The porn stores have since closed down, and the area has been cleaned up by the police. The only surviving eccentrics from the Old Days seem to be old relics who hog their barstools in the pubs, lamenting the good old days when individualism was a bonus. The Colony now attracts a younger, less outrageous crowd.

Frances Lynn, copyright: 2006

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Showbiz journalism



In the late Seventies, I used to be a film critic. I reviewed movies mostly for magazines, which meant I saw all the new releases at least three months prior to their release date. In retrospect, it was a wonderful job, but at the time, I quickly grew tired of having to go to screenings every night in order to view the new films, most of which were rubbish! But, one advantage of being a film critic in those days was being given the opportunity to interview people whose work I admired. I interviewed almost everyone I wanted to in the film industry (Cary Grant, Robert Altman and the young Mickey Rourke included) except for George Lucas. I was invited to the first Star wars press junket and interrogated everyone on the spot, but unfortunately Lucas wasn’t there. One person who definitely wasn’t 'there' was Carrie Fisher who played Princes Leia. She was ‘out to lunch’, but her press office fibbed she was suffering from jet lag!

In the late Seventies, most of the National critics were middle-aged. In John Kobal’s book, ‘Top 100 Movies’, the majority of them predictably said their favourite film was ‘Citizen Kane.’ My top ten film in the book was ‘Night of the Living Dead’, because it was the only horror film which made me pass out screaming in the aisles. I wrote about it in “Frantic”, my novel about the early Seventies. ‘There was plenty of initial laughter when Night Of The Living Dead came on, and Alice proving she was no provincial, sniggered along with her fellow dingbats. But soon, the audience's patronising laughter died away into terrified silence and during the horror classic’s unpredictable ‘jump’, Alice freaked, screaming her guts out and passed out mortuary cold in the aisles.’

I was in a gang of younger critics who were crazy about horror films. I interviewed Antony Perkins over lunch at Pinewood studios once. It was the best restaurant in town, as all the movie stars in costume had to line up to be served. Perkins had no interest in discussing Norman Bates, his Psycho character. All he wanted to talk about was the danger of sugar, and how he had managed to cut it out completely out of his diet. Several years later, when he was promoting Psycho III, which he had directed and starred in, I went along to his press conference at a West End hotel. He remembered my voice, but was furious with my colleague who asked him to describe the special effect for one of the murders in 'Psycho III'. I can’t remember his exact words now – something like, ‘people like you are responsible for ruining the film industry.’ The critic for the Sunday Times at the time was so impressed with our pertinent questions, he begged us to attend his on stage interview with Antony Perkins at the National Film Theatre, so we could ask the actor outrageous questions afterwards.

I didn’t only get to interview people on film sets or in their hotel suites. I also went to their houses. In the Seventies, Tony Curtis had hired a house in Knightsbridge with his then wife Leslie, who had a huge cleavage and was kept busy, arranging the flowers.
‘What was it like working with Marilyn Monroe?’ was my first lame question. My interview technique in those days was to ask my victims innocuous questions at the beginning, lulling them into a false sense of security before hitting them with the ‘heavy’ ones.
‘Kissing Marilyn Monroe was like kissing Hitler,’ Curtis quoted his famous quote about his co-star in ‘Some Like It Hot’. After he had stopped ranting about Monroe, he enthusiastically showed me all his paintings and drawings and oozed charm. Richard Young, the paparazzo, who was my photographer at the time arrived in the middle of our interview and set up a load of equipment. In no time, Tony’s house resembled a photographic studio.
‘Is this really necessary for a snapshot?’ Curtis asked good-naturedly. Little did he suspect that Richard later sold the photo for a small fortune to international periodicals. Tony and I got on so well, that he invited me back to the house that same evening for a party. (He didn't invite Richard).

Tony Curtis’s party was so pleasant, I can’t remember anything about it. Victor Lownes, Hugh Hefner’s second in command offered to drop me off at the Playboy club afterwards. When we got out of his chauffeured car, the usual hoards of hardcore hookers were waiting ourtside the club, ready to pounce on the high rolling Japs when they emerged from the gaming tables inside.
‘Arrest this girl, she’s a hooker!’ Victor 'joked' to the police. A perfect ending to a lovely evening!

Frances Lynn: copyright, 2006

Friday, November 17, 2006

Parties



My idea of luxury in the late Seventies was to spend an evening in, but I was a gossip columnist at the time, so it was my duty to be always Out. I went to so many parties, sometimes several a night, that it became a chore. I could never totally enjoy myself as I was always working, insidiously infiltrating myself into café society. After three months on the job, I was exhausted. A routine of late nights and early starts, for openings, fashion shows or interviews was not agreeing with me. Once, the actor Terence Stamp requested I interview him at the crack of dawn in the Jermyn Street hotel. I was in a real dilemma the night before. Should I leave the Embassy club early in order to get a good night’s sleep? In the end, I stayed up all night and had breakfast with him in my evening gear.

I shall always remember interviewing the late Allan Carr, an obese Hollywood producer (who later produced ‘Grease’) over a steak tartar lunch at the extinct White Elephant restaurant in Mayfair. He was in the middle of telling me about his staple stomach operation while I was trying to eat, when Nigel Dempster, my ‘best friend’ at the time informed me that Ritz Newspaper was being sued for libel. Apparently, I had written something libellous. I was thrilled. This was my way out. Unfortunately for me, the plaintiff settled out of court, and I was unable to get off my column for years. I was trapped, and fervently wished I didn't have to go Out ever again.

In “Frantic”, my novel about the early Seventies, a character called Julian Croney was the ultimate party giver. ‘Good old Julian Croney had excelled himself by littering the Tower's vast interior with a clashing mix of Aztec daubed tombs, phosphorescent sphinxes, moss covered pyramids and revolving wishing wells. His decor might have been judged ingenious, but he looked personally ridiculous in his transparent kilt with water wings smugly glued onto his cheek bones.” In the late Seventies, the most prolific party giver was a social interior decorator called Nicky Haslam. At the time he gossiped under the pseudo-name of Paul Parsons, and usually hosted his star-studded shindigs in restaurants like Eleven Park Walk or The Casserole in Kings Road. Once he threw a fancy dress bash in his National trust house. He wore waders, some of his guests were dressed in Gestapo uniforms, and Lady Diana Cooper (fictionalised as Mrs Stitch in Evelyn Waugh's ‘Scoop’) wore a lampshade hat and rested in an upstairs bedroom. Nicky’s parties were always successful, because he always managed to invite an interesting mix of people, even though they were the same old faces. But, even he surpassed himself when he persuaded Viscountess Rothermere, commonly known as ‘Bubbles’ to host a party for Andy Warhol in the Rothermeres’ spacious apartment on the 'right' side of Eaton Square. Nicky invited his regular guest list, which included members of the British aristocracy, international socialites, art, fashion and Hollywood. The most memorable thing about Nicky’s party for Andy was Jack Nicholson’s date for the evening. Not one of the countless beautiful girls who would have happily lain down on a puddle, for him to walk over them, but a geriatric: the fashion legend, Diana Vreeland, ex-editor of American Vogue who must have been well over seventy then. Jack was glued to her side all night long.

Nicky didn’t organise the balls in Berkeley Square though. The first one I went to, I was forced to change into my evening uniform (a reversible Celia Birtwell costume) behind a tree, as I hadn’t managed to get home beforehand in order to change out of my day drag. The guest of honour was Princess Margaret, but her detective wouldn’t let anyone near her.
‘It’s like the French Revolution, off with our heads and all that,’ a wealthy wit said, viewing the curious onlookers on the other side of the square’s railings.
‘It’s a blast from the past and it’s still disgusting,’ Leonard the hairdresser proclaimed at the time.

Copyright: Frances Lynn, 2006

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Fashion



One of the most talented fashion designers in the early Seventies was Ossie Clark, who had first made his sartorial mark in the previous decade. Celia Birtwell, his then wife designed all the individual prints for his well-cut clothes, which were guaranteed to make any woman look svelte and glamorous. (Celia now designs clothes with her archives prints for Top Shop). Ossie's fashion shows were held in theatrical venues like the Royal Court Theatre, where all of fashionable London would 'see and be seen'. He had a loyal stable of exotic models, one of whom was Amanda Lear. Rumour had it she was a transsexual – people say she invented that rumour to make herself appear even more interesting than she already was. She was an inspiration for "Frantic", my novel set in the early Seventies. ‘Then the first mannequin, a convincing sex change stalked the spot lit catwalk, proudly draped in a Cedrick bow which seemed bigger than the Eiffel Tower. The bow was so enormous, that all could be seen of the mannequin was a pair of pink lips. However, when the creature swished around, wiggling its spine at the audience, fashion Industry pundits were delighted to see clusters of lip shaped bows cascading down onto the floor in one full, Mermaid tail swoop.’

Amanda Lear had a colourful CV, which included a stint as a one-time muse to Salvador Dali. In the later Seventies, she metamorphosed into an international disco queen, and got married too. Before then, I couldn’t resist playing a trick on Amanda, and invented a character called Jet Spray Cooler in my column. Evelyn Waugh’s ‘Vile Bodies’ inspired me to become a gossip columnist after I first read it. I loved the bit about 'Mr Chatterbox' inventing a green bowler as the latest fashion accessory in his column. Following his example, I repeatedly wrote that the fictitious Jet Spray was Amanda’s biggest admirer and was desperate to meet her. Amanda wanted to know who this Jet Spray Cooler character was? I invented a wild story, telling her he was a rock ‘n’ roll superstar.
‘If he’s a superstar, why haven’t I heard of him, darling?” Amanda wanted to know.
‘He’s only famous in LA,’ I fibbed.
‘But, when am I going to meet this Jet Spray?’ Amanda kept asking me.
‘You’re never in the same city at the same time,’ I fabricated.
In the end, I got fed up with having to fob Amanda off all the time and confessed that Jet Spray Cooler didn’t exist. She was disappointed, but took it quite well.

Amanda Lear wasn't the only model who loved Ossie. His flattering costumes made his models look super-sensational, and they all adored him for it. When he appeared on stage after his latest collection at one of his spectacular fashion shows, his models threw themselves at him. It’s a tragedy that he died before he could carry out his promise to me. From the moment I met him in David Hockney’s basement, he promised he would make my wedding dress when I got married. But, he did give me a sexy black negligee. It could easily have doubled up as a convincing evening gown, but his exquisite creation was perfect for a honeymoon.

Copyright: Frances Lynn, 2006

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Playboy


There were several fashionable restaurants in London besides Langan’s: Eleven Park Walk, San Lorenzo’s and Mr Chow amongst them. The latter was presided over by Michael and the late Tina Chow. Upstairs was the place to see and be seen. However, private dinner parties in the restaurant were normally held downstairs. One I attended (dressed in an Ossie Clark dress) was in Karl Lagerfeld’s honour, but he only had eyes for Celia Birtwell (also in an Ossie dress), whose textile designs he recently declared to be the best. (The late Ossie Clark was the inspiration for one of my characters in my novel "Frantic", set in the Seventies). Val Lownes, commonly known as the son of Victor Lownes III, the head of Playboy Europe and the UK Playboy Clubs arrived late, and introduced me to Roman Polanski. This was before the scandal, when Polanski fled the USA after pleading guilty with having sex with a minor. I was mad about his movies and was lost for words, especially when he gave me the number of his hotel room.

I had known Val since I was sixteen, when he used to regularly invite a gang of us over to his dad’s house in Connaught Square. The gregarious butler loved us and whatever time of day or night we arrived, would make us delicious Italian meals. He had no time for the bunnies though and never cooked for them. I used to love going over to the Lownes’ house, to ogle the massive Francis Bacon painting which was exiled to hanging in the hall. Val was very proud of their grandfather clock that was painted by Timothy Leary, but I was extremely jealous of his Afghan waistcoat given to him by the late Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones.

I used to hang out a lot with Val in the Playboy office in Park Lane. Val didn’t invite me to the lavish Playboy parties held in Stocks mansion though. His dad Victor did. Once, I was invited to a 24 hour party there, and was allocated a bedroom to sleep in for the night, but all I did was park my clothes there. The fabulous fireworks displays at Stocks were almost as impressive as the New Millennium explosions. I even went up in a helicopter ride at one of the parties and was sick too. The endless food and drink were lavish, and it was fun watching all the middle aged playboys frolicking in the hot-tub with bunnies young enough to be their daughters. Apparently, the sex/wife-swapping stuff happened in the bedrooms upstairs, but from my point of view on the mansion’s grounds, the proceedings seemed sanitised. All the playgirls had cleavages down to their toes, and the men generally wore a load of gold on their hairy chests, with shirts unbuttoned down to their navels. At one party I went to called ‘The 100 Most Eligible men in the World’, an Australian girl dressed up as Marilyn Monroe was resigned to not meeting her soul-mate at the bash. ’No wonder they’re eligible. Nobody wants them,’ she sighed, fighting off the coked up millionaires. I had to agree with her. I didn’t fancy any of the playboys, and they didn’t fancy me because I wasn’t a Pamela Anderson clone. However, a Viscount offered to drive me home. We had a good old bitch-fest about the party, which lasted all the way from the Stocks mansion in Hertfordshire to central London.

Copyright: Frances Lynn, 2006.

Monday, November 13, 2006

To See And To Be Seen

The most popular restaurants in the Seventies were places to see and to be seen in. The newly opened Langan’s Brasserie in Stratton Street, on the site of the old Coq D'Or, fitted this bill perfectly. Peter Langan, the alcoholic genius who created the restaurant, hosted preview dinners, leading up to the opening in 1976. The ambience was enticing, donated fine art splattered the walls, David Hockney designed the menus, but in those days, the food was the least interesting thing about the restaurant. It was the famous clientele that attracted the café society in droves. On one given weeknight, you could spot deranged members of the British aristocracy, Hockney, David Bailey, Jack Nicholson, Andy Warhol, The Shah of Persia, and President Gerald Ford munching away. (Statesmen were invariably encircled by tables of their security staff). Diners scoffed bangers and mash, while viewing the restaurant's visual froth, which included socialites, top models and their entourages of fashion designers and fashionable hairdressers.

Once the restaurant opened, if provincials booked a table, thinking they could star spot, they were shoved upstairs to 'Siberia', to ogle if they so wished, Patrick Procktor’s freshly painted mural of Venice. The top table, which Peter Langan reserved for his friends was near the entrance, next to one of the big windows in the restaurant. One of the main attractions of the restaurant was Peter himself, who thrived on being an outrageously rude court jester. He revelled in verbally attacking his adoring customers, and behaved like a sexist pig towards his women victims. Funnily enough, trapped diners regarded it an honour if Peter descended on their tables and ruined their meals.

The Sculptor Peter Schleshinger drew a lovely portrait of me in the early Seventies, and the architect who bought it in order to scare his children loaned it to Langan’s. It was shoved at the far end of the restaurant near the library on the ground floor, which gave me a legitimate excuse to ‘see and be seen’, while I table hopped through the restaurant in order to view it, during my days as a gossip columnist. The characters in “Frantic”, my novel about the early Seventies didn’t make a habit of going out to swanky restaurants. That’s because they were holed up in trendy cafes, modelled on the infamous Up All Night in Fulham Road, where wired partygoers used to come down from their drugs. ‘One fading afternoon, in a popular Knightsbridge watering hole, Alice's pounding head lay submerged in her triple expresso coffee (she had spent a tough night at The Igloo)’ is a quote from “Frantic” which illustrates the fad for all night cafes in the early Seventies. Food didn’t seem to be so popular in those days.

The fodder was definitely the least important thing about Langan’s, although the crème brûlée was divine. It was the best thing on the menu, and one needed a pickaxe to crack the crust. When I interviewed Jackie Collins re: her book “Hollywood Wives”, we consumed crème brûlée for our starter, main course and desert. And, no, we didn’t have the top table. We had the second top one!

Copyright: Frances Lynn, 2006

Hustling To Get Frantic Published


I was a gossip columnist in the Old Days, which meant I had to go Out from morn 'til night, which enabled me to meet and pester luminaries in the publishing business, all of whom had the power to help me get 'Frantic' published. But, although I determinedly left no stone unturned in my determined quest for publication, not one of the trapped UK agents or publishers I persuaded to look at my spec manuscript, was enthusiastic enough to want to publish it.

In my role as a prolific freelance journalist, I was also a film critic. After screenings, the film companies would habitually host a sit-down lunch for the film critics to interrogate the visiting Hollywood filmmakers about their newly released movies. I was so single-minded about trying to get "Frantic" published, that I quickly dispensed with interrogating the producers and directors with pseudo-intellectual questions about their latest movie, and quickly moved onto informing them about my newly finished novel. Without fail, they were all extremely helpful and generally recommended top, American literary agents. I consequently almost bankrupted myself by sending "Frantic" in multiple-submissions to the USA, where the manuscripts languished in the agents' slush-piles for the rest of eternity.

In the end, I became so desperate, that after a famous London film critic erupted with fury when I blew smoke in his face, I knew no shame and begged him if he knew of any good British agents. After he advised me to stop smoking (which I did shortly afterwards), he called a famous literary agent crony of his on my behalf. I was excited when she wilingly agreed to read "Frantic". By this time, it was the Eighties and she herself was in her eighties, and didn't see the point of my novel set in the early '70's, which focussed on drugs, sex and rock'n'roll (in that order).

After I had shown "Frantic" to 'everyone' on both sides of the 'pond', I was resigned to a twilight existence as an unpublished novelist. I threw the second draft into my filing cabinet where it languished for another five years, before I decided to re-write another draft.

Copyright: Frances Lynn 2006

The Frantic Early Seventies


People usually associate the Seventies with punk and disco. But, the early part of that decade was so revolutionary, that survivors of that fast-changing period in time can only look back in retrospect, and marvel how unpredictible the new decade turned out to be.

At first, the early Seventies seemed to be a hangover from the late Sixties, but it soon became obvious that the times were a changing, not only in politics, but also in the arts, specifically in popular music. Woodstock, the 1969 definitive music festival summed up the late Sixties. At the time of that legendary rock festival, which spawned pale imitations for years to come, no-one seemed to realise it was the end of an era, especially when three major rock stars died from unnatural causes soon afterwards. Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix died from drug overdoses in 1970, and last but not least was Jim Morrison of “The Doors”, who followed them to an early grave in 1971. It was definitely out with the old and in with the new. Although, the Vietnam war was still a losing battle for the United States, the prevailing ‘make love not war’ styled politics were generally no longer as idealistic as they had been in the previous decade. Times were harder now, although the youth culture hadn’t begun to realise it yet.

"Frantic", my nostalgic novel about the early Seventies partly illustrates the start of the burgeoning change of that revolutionary decade. For a start, Gay Liberation, the ‘radical lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered movement’ of the late 1960s was exploding in San Francisco. The city was no longer full of 'free-love' Haight Ashbury hippies, but was suddenly populated by politically active homosexuals, who were coming 'out of their closets' without guilt about their sexuality. In those days, AIDS was an unheard of disease, and the city was full of indiscriminate gay clubs, baths and bars, where gays could congregate without public recrimination from the city’s law enforcers.

The Cockettes, a new theatre group, formed mainly of left-over Haight-Ashbury hippies, were indicative of those sexually revolutionary times. The sprawling group consisted of drag queens: long haired hippies with glitter in their beards, women, heterosexual men and even babies. They were the first of their kind: a ‘gender-bender’ group, who quickly became fashionable, due to their flamboyant uniqueness. Their original shows with innovative titles like “Tinsel Tarts in a Hot Coma”, “Pearls over Shanghai” and “Tropical Heatwave/Hot Voodoo” were ‘staged’ at the Palace Theatre in North Beach. The futuristic shows were sell-outs, patronised by the likes of Truman Capote and Rex Reed, who promoted them in his nationally syndicated column.

Admittedly, the new fashion of glitter, sequins and feathers, which the Cockettes theatre group inadvertently inspired, was a bastardised adaptation from the Sixties. But, the sartorial new look was far more blatant and sophisticated than its innocent 'flower power' incarnation, sported by the likes of the late Janis Joplin. The Cockettes not only influenced fashion in the West, but were also the undisputed inspiration for the glam rock era, of which David Bowie, the most famous rock star personality of that glitter pop era, flamboyantly projected the new decade’s bisexual politics in those sexually ambiguous times.

Although, the Cockettes’ shows were undeniably innovative and unique, they broke up in 1972 after an unsuccessful short season in New York. Drugs were partly blamed for their abrupt demise. “They were the first hip drag queens; insane hippie drag queens on and off the stage,” says John Waters, the uncrowned arbiter of bad taste. But, in those days, it wasn’t just the Cockettes who were accused of being insane. Their loyal audience seemed to be too. Psychedelic drugs had been replaced by harder drugs like heroin, proving that the hedonistic climate of the early Seventies was definitely harsher than the infamous 'Summer of Love'. In retrospect, this more brutal regime of hedonism was the instigator for the next revolutionary wave of the Seventies: punk.

Copyright: Frances Lynn 2006

Frantic Observation


People who weren't around in the Seventies, tend to solely associate those frantic days with punk and disco. But, the early part of that decade was so revolutionary, that survivors of that fast-changing period in time can only look back in retrospect, and marvel how unpredictable the new decade turned out to be.

When I started writing “Frantic”, I had just returned from an extended vacation in San Francisco, where I had seen a new theatre group called The Cockettes perform at the palace Theatre in North Beach. I had never seen anything like them before, and during ‘Les Ghouls”, their Halloween spectacular, I was so enthusiastic, that I impulsively jumped up onto the stage at the end of their show. I wasn't the first person to be so spontaneous. In the late Sixties, audiences ran onto the stage nightly after gyrating in their seats during ‘Hair”, so I wasn’t the first.

If I had started to write “Frantic” today, I very much doubt I would have remembered intimate details of those crazy days, but as I actually started writing my novel in 1970, I managed to record fresh sartorial and visual details of that extraordinary period in history. At the time, I was too young to be allowed into bars in San Francisco, and was too naïve to realise that the entire city was in the political grip of a gay lib sexual revolution, which would eventually lead to same sex marriages over three and a half decades later. Unthinkable then. All I was concerned about at the time was the newness of those innovative times, and the visuals of how freaks of all three sexes looked, and the beautiful interiors of their communal squats. The hippies in the previous decade hadn’t seemed so extreme in comparison.

Vintage clothes are in Vogue now, but in the early Seventies, second hand clothes were the norm. All the kids put their individual looks together from charity shops, which helped make street fashion more daring and innovative than ever before. I didn’t have to invent what my characters wore in “Frantic”, as I described their fabulous costumes from first hand observation, but fictionalised them. For instance, Alice, the heroine in the book wore a 'pink basket cloche hat decorated with scarlet ostrich feather plumes, a Thirties pink satin sailor suit, spider web fishnet stockings, and a pair of skyscraper stilettos saturated with red rosettes.’

I started writing “Frantic" shortly after I returned to London, and because my San Francisco experience were still fresh in my mind, I was able to describe friends' apartments down to the last exact detail in the novel. ‘The bedroom was a mass of ostrich feathers, which hung down from the rhinestoned ceiling to diamonté covered rugs in whispering waves. All the walls were sequin thick, illuminated by psychedelic rays tinkling from flashing prisms. Glitter of a thousand hues washed over the entire apartment, sporadically lit by flickering Chinese umbrellas concealing pot-pourri light bulbs. Garish kimonos hung on every doorknob, and piles of fancy dress lay knee-deep on the floor.’

In London, clothes were equally as stylish as on the West Coast, and in ‘Frantic”, Alice the heroine always looked realistic, that’s because I invariably dressed her in exaggerated versions of costumes I wore in real life: ‘What with her exotic cardigan, her Mr Buddha rayon, black and silver flared skirt, silver jazz shoes and freaked out hair, plus her trademark thick smear of indelible scarlet lipstick, she looked a divine mess.’ I really did have an outfit like that, so in this instance, all I ficitonalised was the name of the shop.

But, it wasn’t only the clothes which made the early Seventies unique. In the first part of “Frantic”, the music was still hardcore rock and roll, before the invention of glam rock, spearhedaded by bands like The New York Dolls, who incidentally were the forerunners of punk music. I had been to several rock concerts in San Francisco, and re-invented the musicians and the music in "Frantic", solely from my observation. ‘She'd never heard a singer make noises like him before: raspy, grating, ear-splitting groans, similar to a stuck pig slicing on an old fashioned, corrugated iron washing board. It was a refreshing departure from traditional acid rock improvisation, when infinite guitar solos were executed before vocals. Now, the music and voice were One.’

Survivors from the Seventies say that "Frantic" seems wildly authentic, but that's because Observation, Adaptation and Fantasy are my main tools for writing fiction. They do say that writers should write about what they know about and I am no exception.

Copyright: Frances Lynn 2006

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Clubbing


In the Seventies, there was such an abundance of good clubs in London, that club crawling after a late dinner used to take hours. During the beginning of that decade, one of the most popular clubs in London was the Sombrero in High Street Kensington, known to its loyal punters as ‘Yours Or Mine’. It was supposed to be a gay club, but was patronised by trendy heterosexuals and all the stars. Bianca Jagger with her entourage of fashionable gays was a constant visitor. The club was tiny. The tables were covered with red paper tablecloths, the lit dance floor was miniscule, but the subtberranean dive had a magical atmosphere. The characters in “Frantic”, my novel about the nostalgic early Seventies, almost lived in a club called The Igloo, which was a pseudo name for The Sombrero. ‘At The Igloo, the desperate couple passed the forbidding bouncer on the door by promising to pay their entrance money the next time round. Half running, half jumping, they descended into the murky bowels of the club.’

Tramp in Jeremyn Street was still an institution, and the Speakeasy, the Music Business club in Maddox Street was still going. But, when disco bacame fashionable in the late Seventies, a glut of clubs opened. Down the road from Tramp which still played hardcore The Rolling Stones, a club called Maunkberry’s was populated by a younger crowd. The late Marc Bolan and David Bowie used to hang out there, so did Arnold Schwarzenegger during his body building days. Wedgies in Kings Road was a bit off the beaten track, but all the toffs used to go there to dine and dance, due to the club’s titled managers, Lord Burgesh and Sir Dai Llewellyn. Regine, the international queen of nightclubs added her London club to her international chain. It was in the top floor of the old Derry & Tom's (later Biba) on High Street Kensington, but that proved to be a bit out of the way for committed clubbers in the end. At the club's conception, Andy Warhol and his entourage strolled round the roof garden, and European royalty like Caroline of Monaco had parties there, but the club died a slow death.

Undoubtedly, The Embassy Club in Old Bond Street was the best club in town. It was the UK clone of Studio 54, and had a good sized dance-floor, perfect for disco dancing to hits like Gloria Gaynor's 'I Survived'. The opening party was stuffed with British aristocrats and members of the glitterati. Michael Fish, who invented the kipper-tie asked a select group of ‘ladies who lunch’ to organise the guest lists, forbidding them to invite their gay friends, which was ironic as the club's male clientele were later mostly bisexual.

Besides the big discos which were conducive to amyl nitrate fuelled dancing, there were more intimate, memebership clubs like Mortons in Berkely Square, famous for its long bar on the ground floor and of course, the futuristically designed Zanzibar in Covent Garden. On any given night, you would meet 'everybody who was anybody' in it's long bar. The owners went on to form the successful Soho club called Groucho’s in the Eighties. But, for late Seventies clubbers who loved to boogie until the early hours, clubbing was all downhill from then on.

Copyright: Frances Lynn, 2006

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Sartorial Seventies



It’s incredible to think that when I started writing “Frantic” at the beginning of the Seventies, the clothes of that period are still in vogue today. Alice, "Frantic's" heroine wore ‘an authentic Coco Chanel sheath (purchased from the Chelsea Antique Market), which moved like a slither of black and white lilies,’ when she went backstage to see The Riverbleeds, a rock group in “Frantic". If that dress hadn’t disintegrated, I’d still be wearing it to parties. Chelsea Antique Market wasn’t the only market where you could buy scrumptious second hand clothes. Kensington Market was also a popular hang-out for second hand dresses, now selling for a fortune in vintage shops.

Mr Freedom in Kensington was a popular boutique. The owner was a man called Tommy Roberts who had a very successful boutique called Kleptomania in Carnaby Street during the Sixties. His clothes could easily be worn today. For instance, I bought a pair of turquoise platform soled booties and a postbox red, double-breasted trouser suit (both of which Alice wore in "Frantic"), which I would still be wearing over three decades later, if they hadn’t been stolen.

You didn’t need a lot of money to dress well in the early Seventies. Birkenstock styled sandals first became fashionable then, and although they looked like clodhoppers, they were the 'must-have' accessories. London trendies imported them from the States at an affordable cost, and as soon as the bulky sandals collapsed, they would immediately order another pair. They made a comfortable change from the platform shoes all the girls were running around in at the time. When I wasn't breaking my ankles in platforms, I used to alternate my clomping Birkenstock look-a-likes with my silver Anello & David silver dance shoes. Manolo Blahnik shoes designed his first collection of shoes for an Ossie Clark fashion show in 1972. They were so classical, they could still easily be worn today, and would look more fashionable than ever. I remember one pair he gave me: a pair of black and gold, silk skyscraper heeled shoes, which I ran around in during every waking hour. In "Frantic", Alice bought a pair of 'exquisite rose-petal high heel shoes' from his Chelsea shop. In those days, even Manolo's shoes and the non-vintage clothes were affordable. Ossie Clark costumes with Celia Birtwell’s original prints, so fashionable and fairly cheap in the Seventies, are now sold in Vintage stores at a million per cent mark up from the original price.

Now, you need a mortgage just to feel the fabulous fabrics of the Seventies.

Copyright: Frances Lynn

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Survivors Keep The Seventies Alive


Baby boomers, i.e. relics in their fifties and sixties don’t like to be reminded how old they are. But, ironically they are unable to resist looking back on the Seventies with fond nostalgia. Luckily for them, there is currently a big revival of that extraordinary decade. It’s not surprising as the Seventies were not only totally revolutionary politically - i.e. the advancement of civil rights, gay and women's liberation, the Watergate scandal and the end of the Vietnam war to name a few. But, also the fluctuant times were reflected in the Arts, especially fashion and Music. Glam rock was followed by the revolutionary punk movement and also disco.

Fortunately for nostalgic Seventies aficionados, their favourite decade has never gone away and is currently enjoying a bigger come back than the Sixties even. I started writing “Frantic” in the early Seventies and captured the essence of what I experienced in those hedonistic times. Wild times, fuelled by 'sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll' were the norm amongst kids in the inner cities. But, I would never have predicted that the recent publication of my novel "Frantic" about the nostalgic Seventies, would coincide with the present nostalgia boom. I would never have guessed that the novel I started writing at the beginning of that decade would turn out to be so topical!

It's not only literature about the Seventies which has suddenly become fashionable, but also music and the manufactured Sex Pistols which instigated punk rock. It's amazing how the Arts of that period have all been regurgitated at the beginning of the twenty first century. Especially, the '70's explosive, Hollywood Movie Industry, which churned out masses of commercial, individually themed movies, created by youthful, auteur styled directors like Martin Scorsese, Stephen Spielberg and George Lucas to name just a few. Also '70's horror films paved the way for pale imitations for years to come. The intellectual David Cronenberg, George Romero, John Carpenter and the Italian Maestro – Dario Argento were gods of the genre, and haven’t been untoppled to this day in the popularity stakes.

Thanks to popular TV re-runs on Network and cable television, DVDs and movie downloads on the internet, Seventies movies haven’t been banished to languish in the archives. Francis Coppola’s “The Godfather” movies (1 & 2) are still globally showing, likewise Spielberg’s cinematic masterpieces, like “Jaws”, “ET,” “Close Encounters Of The Third Kind’ etc. George Lucas’s initial “Star Wars” movies were so innovative, that to this day, jaded cinema buffs don’t believe that modern film-makers can ever repeat that exciting folklore magic. Not only were the actual movies larger than life, but so were the legendary movie stars who appeared in them. Actors like Al Pacino Robert de Niro executed the Method, and actor Warren Beatty, who had the power, made and acted in "Shampoo", the superficial Seventies movie with a heart about hairdressing in Beverly Hills. Not only did the Seventies produce a new wave of successful Hollywood movies, but decades later, nostalgic cinematic offerings like Cameron Crowe’s “Almost Famous”, revivalist music, art and literature all help to keep the Seventies resurrected for a very long time to come.

Copyright: Frances Lynn 2006