Seventies Nostalgia

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


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


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


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


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