My initial feeling about co-habiting with a famous film star was one of complete chuffedness. I’d been dumped on from a great height by Maggie, spent three months sleeping on the floor in an empty room above the local fast food joint ‘The Crazy H Diner’, and had my early morning wash in the Gents’ loos in South Croydon. Now here I was being invited to live with – well let’s call her ‘Madam X’ for now – She was a well known British (Hollywood) movie star of the 1960’s and early 1970’s – she had been up there with the likes of Jean Shrimpton, Julie Christie, Vanessa Redgrave etc but couldn’t seem to get herself arrested at the end of that decade for pissing off everyone around her. She loved to shock people and like so many of these types simply had to make sure everyone knew she was in the room, whether it be a restaurant, the theatre, the local pub or even a bus stop (actually she never used public transport so the last location was a lie) – cringeworthy to the extreme!
After she read the following two chapters of this autobiography she got one of her male heavies, one of ‘The Boys’ introducing himself to me as her business manager to call me up and threaten me with a fate worse than death if I didn’t take down, even delete my whole autobiography from the internet just because she didn’t like it – the guy was indeed a bully of the first order and obviously attempting to prove his worth to her (I was probably coming through on her speaker phone) – I hung up after his threats became incredibly nasty. I haven’t as yet received the solicitor’s letter – or indeed her letter bomb through my door! Luckily I gave him a bogus address to meet his demands.
Holland Park was like a yuppie nirvana in comparison to South Croydon.
The sounds of Mercs and BMW’s coming and going to the very bourgeois Julie’s restaurant in Portland Road used to piss off Madam X in a big way, especially on summer evening when she wanted to keep her second floor bedroom window open. This enabled fresh London exhaust fumes to filter into her boudoir to do battle with the pungent odour of her un-emptied piss pot. She had bought this little stinky item from ‘Myriad’ the antique shop just across the road, because all her other douche kits, pee pots and assorted kidney secretion type urns had been left in Los Angeles.
For a minimum rent, ‘B’ movie actor Ferdie Maloony (made up surname) had been left to sniff away at them whilst taking care of the domestic bombsite that was the ‘Madam X’ west coast USA residence.
The photographs of Madam X’s Californian home was simple, wooden and rustic with a 60’s /70’s hippy vibe about it. The view from the windows all around showed maple and pine trees and it was beautiful, the only drawback was the one hundred and fifty steps up to the front door. This was something else that pissed Madam off, she had not only to haul up her groceries, but also her twin spirit who came in the form of an old mangy, smelly and matted sky terrier called ‘Stinker’ (another made up name – just in case the ghost the said sky terrier decides to hire the same solicitor and sue me).
Stinker had been on the sets of many films, peed on the floor of many dressing rooms and rear car seats and had been known to almost sever the fingers of Steven Spielberg and another a couple of well known film directors.
It could be said that like her owner, Stinker was not exactly house trained. She left a trail of white hairs everywhere including all over Madam’s bed which she had shared for the last sixteen years. Madam quite often left a trail of, not white hairs but whatever she was carrying she’d sometimes drop at will like a small child just dumping its toys when bored – she would sit on the pavement in the street and empty the contents of her bag onto the ground so that she could see everything in the daylight – This was rather embarrassing especially on a Saturday afternoon in Park Street, Mayfair outside her posh London pied a terre.
Punters would hurry past staring and thinking ‘there’s that crazy woman again’ as Madam cursed loudly at pens, jars of Nivea cream, note books full of scribbles, dog biscuits, rubber gum shields and frownies and other assorted junk that was the contents of her empty bag.
‘Frownies’ incidentally are little triangular pieces of brown sticky paper, designed by some Californian health guru to stick on one’s forehead at night. When one awakes the next morning after a quite night of cosmic slumber, one’s brow is completely crease free and Madam was very much into being crease free.
For an ‘old lady’ as she always referred to herself as, she was surprisingly free of creases from head to toe, apart from a pair of hands that belonged in the grave!
Physical preservation has always occurred to me as being a rather sensible theme to follow; on the other hand, Madam going to bed with a small brown pyramid shaped sticker on her forehead, a transparent rubber gum shield over her million dollar Hollywood crowns and a head soaked in sunflower oil, tightly covered by a Sainsbury’s carrier bag was, to say the least taking her obsession a little too far.
The cabinet on my side of the bed held ‘The History of Rock and Roll’ vols 1 and 2, a Walkman, various cassettes and a pack of Silk Cut.
The cabinet on Madam’s side of the bed supported a wobbly table light, a Sony remote control for the TV and a two litre bottle of orange juice mixed with her own urine. She preached that this was the cure for all her allergies, but only if she caught mid flow into the bottle (yuk) – I avoided orange juice in the ‘X’ residence like the plague. The top drawer of her cabinet was full of assorted debris, wax ear plugs, more gum shields and frownies, polaroids from LA showing her in the jaquzzi with actor Harris Yelpin (made up surname) and son Tom – other photos pictured her at various dinners with Julie Christie and other famous (and infamous) faces.
Her Rizla papers and sensimilla were kept at the back of the drawer and the lower part was filled with more vitamins and pick-me-ups than the entire shelves of Holland and Barrett.
The perks were incidentally very good – I was having ‘knee tremblers’ behind the bushes in Holland Park with a famous movie star, not to mention the occasional blow job as I sat behind the wheel doing 45 mph down Bayswater Road. Yes the surprisingly crease free zone was mine to play with on regular occasions and in many unusual places other than her bunk. We were in and out of the old four poster like there was no tomorrow, what is more, I was receiving some advanced sex education – how to perform for the camera! The playbacks were a hoot; there’d be an extremely horny bit and then my claw-toed feet would appear in the foreground and some unintentional mooning would eclipse the entire shot followed by laughter and giggles and a face pulling competition. The camera, I might add, was always held by a tripod, and not by the local greengrocer, no third parties, although Madam X had hinted at it a couple of times whilst entertaining a French friend of mine by the name of Marianne (real name) – I chickened out.
It wasn’t just the sex though – Apart from her physical attributes Madam X was a great comedienne and a prize show off – I rather got off on using her to shock the stuffy old crowd.
Madam X’s fifteen year old son Tom was turfed out of her basement and re-stationed in the back bedroom of the first floor – his bedclothes had almost matted together with a mixture of chocolate biscuits, Rizla papers, chewing gum and cigarette butts – the whole lot was just transferred to his new room, as plans for a recording studio were being made for her basement.
Madam X had the idea that she would get the financial support and investment from Steven Spielberg to launch her new venture into pop music theatre. She had at first pinpointed for this honour, the American record industry giant David Geffen, but their relationship had diminished rapidly almost before it started. Apparently Geffen used to keep popping around to her place in Beverly Hills to offer her his body but she found this particular body a turn off and finally Geffen ended up with a full ashtray tipped over his entrepreneurial head. This left her with the problem of finding another likely backer for her project. I being her now record producer, co/writer and general Mr Fix-it had been found!
I didn’t know it at that time but a nightmare of gargantuan proportions was about to begin!
In the first couple of weeks, I was made up, felt like the most important guy in the world, which was exactly what I needed. My self-esteem had been in a low place for some time and now suddenly I had become Prince Charming almost overnight, and was being introduced to friends and family. Every day was a fun day and life was a complete and utter buzz.
Evenings were mostly spent in front of the fire with Madam’s speciality – garlic bread with hairs of Stinker plus home-made soup with more hairs of Stinker (the dog I’m referring to here) – or take-out pizza with hairs of Mario the short order chef! On the occasions when we dined out, we would always pay a visit to a little adult video shop in Queensway and rent a light porn video to watch in the pit.
After a month or two, however, things seemed to change. Madam X started work on Macbeth (Mrs Macbeth) and Twelfth Night simultaneously. Her bed became a place to revise and learn lines and not one for sleeping in and bonking upon. She became all actressy and lovey, and all of a sudden I was in the way and in her face. I was made to feel guilty for breathing in her direction. Tom would try to excuse her. ‘Don’t be too pissed off with Mum’ he’d say, ‘she always plays the I’m in pain theatrical card before a new role’.
Tom was a really nice kid. He’d lived in more homes than most people do in a lifetime and attended numerous schools both in England and L.A.
His father, an exceptionally gifted British playwright, had always supplied money but never given of himself. Madam had cursed him for ‘buying Tom off’ more times than was healthy. Tom seemed to be fond of me, and I guess through the eyes of a teenage boy, a rock musician was infinitely more exciting than the stuffy actors and directors who populated his mother’s life.
Madam X would leave little notes around the house apologising for her manner the night before. She had the jitters because of Macbeth, and I, having toured the U.K. and Europe with various rock bands, understood her feelings. The first couple of dates on a tour were always terrifying until you receive the first applause, then and only then do the butterflies subside a little. Madam had been doing the ultimate British acting gig (Shakespeare) for three months. Meanwhile, I had been beavering away with the help of a hired hand Mr. Fixit named Paul, turning the basement of 123 Portland Road into a sound proofed recording studio. I would install my studio equipment into this room built within a room, and I clearly saw this as a commitment from her.
Though her prickly and selfish attitude prevailed, I wanted to impress her with my professionalism and completed the design and wiring of the studio post haste. It was impressive. When I arrived, she had an out of tune, hired piano from Chappell Music, Tom’s guitar with two broken strings, and a microphone that didn’t work. Now she had an in-house recording and pre-production facility, not to mention a live-in co-writer, producer, studio engineer, chauffeur, runner, lover, guru, husband, father, masseur, personal assistant and cook in one handy package. My duties were always handed down from her ladyship. I frequently wanted to say, ‘screw this!’ but I kept it zipped because she was the one with the paid gig. I was at that point, having to accept a weekly handout from Her Majesty’s government, which I might add, went in its entirety, straight into the household petty cash.
Shakespeare at the St. George’s Theatre had come to an uneventful end. Madam had kissed Mr Macbeth with the smelly breath over 108 times and nearly gagged each time. He was also four inches shorter than her – an actor whose name escaped me then and still escapes me now. I do remember that he played some kind of half man, half slime in an episode of Dr. Who.
Honestly, all this effort, all this getting into character and creating uncomfortable vibes around the home, all the pain and suffering endured by one and all so that Madam could be worthy of the Bard, and for a paltry Equity minimum of £150 per week! Was it really worth it, for a production that came and went in three months and was instantly forgotten by everyone but those whose lives were disrupted in its wake.
Christmas day and Boxing Day was spent visiting Madam X’s mother in her four storey Georgian town house of opulent surroundings overlooking the sea in Brighton. Madam X had always had a problem with her mother – she was in great awe of her, and was apt to stutter in her presence. Decisions as to whether or not she would visit her were generally left up to the “I CHING”. She would squat there on the four poster, flipping three coins in the air and then, depending on how they fell to Earth, she’d start flicking pages looking for her answer.“Will I visit Ma or just ring? Should I lie and say something’s cropped up?” she turned into a frightened kid when it came to her mother and older brother, Chuckles.
The “I Ching” came in and out of her daily routine almost secondary to inhaling and exhaling. “Shall I call my agent”, throw three coins into the pungent bedroom air. “Shall I take a bath or have a crap?” throw three coins into the air. Madam X considered herself an expert when it came to the mysteries of the “I Ching”.
“Karl Jung spent six years studying this book and finally had to admit that it had scientific magic – not a religion but a truth,” she lectured me, “I have spent seven years studying it, I know it off by heart,” she bragged.
It told the tale of a young girl searching for the ‘man with the scarlet knee bands; the “I Ching” has told her that if she perseveres he will surely arrive. “In China, the man with the scarlet knee bands represented an official, either academic or religious – a teacher, a philosopher, a wise man,” she informed me with a slightly manic look in her eyes. Within an instant, her expression changed as she told me that I was her man with the scarlet knee bands. Looking back on that little scene I can still smell the theatrical bullshit! Then at that moment however, it was precisely what I wanted to hear.
Madam X was a mixture of intelligence and naivety, warmth and peevishness. She has the spoilt manner of an attractive woman who is used to, and expects, flattering attention, and yet is always talking about the value of humility.
The two Christmas days spent in Brighton were uncomfortable. Madam’s relationship with her mother was a somewhat businesslike affair. They greeted each other at the door by simultaneously kissing the air about four inches from each other’s cheeks, fingertips just touching shoulders. I put my hand out to shake her mother’s, and moved in to give her an affectionate peck, but she stepped back looking rather panic stricken. She held my hand between her thumb and forefinger, much as one would hold an oily rag covered with dog shit.
The inside of the ‘Mother X’ home was impeccably furnished with the best in modern and antique furniture. Tastefully wallpapered and painted in eggshell, there wasn’t a speck of working class wood-chip or white gloss in sight anywhere. The Steinway in the ground floor drawing room was tuned every year but no-one
ever played it. Well not until now. I gave it a quick rattle of “Great Balls of Fire” and I could swear I heard a little voice from under the lid saying, “keep those oily rags and sledge hammers off my keys!”
Lips puckered like a goat’s arse, her mother X was a smart no nonsense old dowager and thought Madam had flipped. ‘Marrying a green grocer, my word not a very clever career move there’ – ‘All those nude scenes and sex and then talking about marrying the fellow in the corner shop’. ‘I don’t understand why Madam spends all her time getting involved in all these outrageous scenarios’ she exclaimed when Madam was out the room. I wasn’t sure what the green grocer thing was about but in Mother X’s eyes I think she saw me as just another outrageous scenario too.
Madam X fantasised about buying a flat in the heart of Brixton, marrying the local fruit and vegetable man to earn herself some street credibility.
Apparently the local fruit and veg marriage fixation came and went quite quickly. After all, how could she combine the joys of playing darts and swigging pints of bitter in the local pub then on to a takeaway for curry followed by a quick bunk-up with the lights out with what she had been accustomed to – an evening of Shakespeare, dinner at The White Elephant on the Thames in Chelsea and weekends in health farms.
The Family family fortune had reduced in size over the years. They had lived an extremely affluent lifestyle. Servants had taken care of every domestic hiccup – cooks cooked, maids had dusted and polished and a gardener had manicured a large chunk of their Essex estate. Yet here was Madam X’s mother with next to nothing – a ‘next to nothing’ which mere mortals like you and I might work a lifetime to procure only a fraction of!
The following week, Madam and I, accompanied by Tom and his girlfriend Melanie, spent a few days on one of Scotland’s most attractive estates – Glen Lyon in Perthshire. Six thousand three hundred acres that included mountains, most of the ancient village of Fortingall and Glen Lyon House – a huge, forty room period mansion, built in 1720 by Robert Campbell, belonged to friends Tim and Ferelith Ashfield. Tim, an extremely likeable ex-public school type fellow was charming and married to Ferelith, the great, great granddaughter of multi millionaire ship owner, Sir Donald Currie, who had owned this tidy lot in the late 19th century. She had duly inherited it down the generations. We were given a warm and hearty welcome and shown to our rooms.
The ambience within this great house was one that I had only ever experienced before when visiting stately homes open to the public. I couldn’t wait to go and explore. Madam X unpacked her case and of course the bloody I Ching lay in its rightful place on her pillow. I thought I’d go off and check on Tom and Melanie in their room while Madam threw three coins into the Scottish mist. This would help her decide how to hang up her clothes in the wardrobe. Should she wear her long johns and Turkish socks? Or perhaps she should pop out with Bollock to Aberfeldy and purchase a wee sporran and tam-o-shanter for Hogmanay? Only the magic flick-o-the-coins and the I Ching had the answer.
I wandered quietly along corridors with walls draped in portraits and Scottish landscapes, opening doors at random to peek into rooms, some small simple bedrooms and some rather more grand. There were doors that opened into walk-in storage cupboards and pantries, and others that disclosed bathrooms housing the biggest, deepest iron baths one could imagine.
I couldn’t locate Tom and Melanie anywhere so I kept on prowling until I came to a charming spiral staircase of stone that ascended to a well-lit landing on the second floor. The corridors were much less decorative and an old carpet runner lay along the middle exposing floorboards on each side. I had worked my way up to the east wing which had been the now, out of use, servants quarters. They had a musty and uninhabited for a hundred years smell about them; the goose pimples on the back of my neck told me to retrace my steps and rejoin the others somewhere below.
As a faint smell of weed tickled my nostrils, I realised that I was now back in the same first floor corridor but approaching from a different end. I opened the door to our room, to find Madam X smoking a miniscule joint and trying to exhale the smoke through a small open window. “God, I thought it was Tim and Ferelith coming in,” she said, passing a smouldering dog end held in small pincers to me.
‘I’ve been emancipated since I don’t know when, treat me like a lady every now and then.’ She started singing me one of her new songs. The dictionary definitions of ‘emancipate’ are – ‘to set free from legal or moral constraints or social disadvantages, to set free from slavery, uninhibited or unconventional’. Madam had certainly never known hardship, not real hardship. She had never known the degradation of joining a dole queue; she had never had a best friend called Johnny Snots whose mother couldn’t afford to send him to school with shoes on his feet. She had never known what it feels like to wonder where her next meal was coming from or how she would pay her bills. So in that sense her lyric was entirely accurate – she had been emancipated since birth.
The week was an interesting one. Tom and his girlfriend spent most of the time bonking in a linen room somewhere in the attic, or leaving muddy footprints throughout Ferelith’s drawing room, not to mention the fag ends, chocolate and chewing gum in their bed. Madam X and I had decided to go trekking over the Glen and had fallen into various quagmires and pot holes trying to make our way back in the dark. This had virtually been our first time alone since the start of her theatre run. She had snapped at Tom and I, bitten my head off frequently for no reason, and when she wasn’t possessed by some Shakespearean banshee she had behaved like a spoiled brat! She would express herself endearingly by falling to her knees and smacking the ground as if to punish the earth on which she stood at the slightest provocation. Tantrums were a regular occurrence and not something I was used to witnessing at close quarters.
However here, in the open countryside of the Highlands, she was more at one with nature in a pair of green floppy wellingtons and a long, brown, woollen Russian designer coat (a £1,500 treat to herself from a Knightsbridge boutique). I was unfortunately, still somewhat confused and quietly pissed off with three months of her dramatics.
She tried to allure me by waiting in our room that evening dressed in a skimpy lace bra – no knickers – a suspender belt hoisting up a pair of fishnet stockings and red platform shoes. She had one leg raised on a bedside chair and was mugging like a reader’s wife, wiggling her bare bottom from side to side. She looked like a valley girl propositioning a driver at a car window. She was serious about this, I wasn’t. She was ready for it, I was ready for a cup of tea. I told her she would catch her death of cold hanging around the place like that – a very bad move on my part!
Tim and Ferelith had been the perfect hosts. Tim, in his full Scottish ensemble – kilt, sporran, dirks and socks, tam-o-shanter and all, and Ferelith in Moroccan and Indian hippie gear, entertained us magnificently throughout our stay. We met a nice gentleman called James from Sotheby’s who was spending the holiday assessing various pieces of their art and antique collection. They were selling it off bit by bit. Whenever they were short of the old ‘readies’ they would flog the odd (original) ‘Turner’ painting and slowly work their way down the ladder which most of us are so desperate to climb!
(Years later, Tim and Ferelith are still very dear friends. They are now based in Hampshire, having exorcised the ghosts of Glen Lyon, and are much happier without the encumbrance of such a vast estate. They live a somewhat nomadic lifestyle now, travelling the country selling kilims and antiquities sourced in the East. They are two of the least materialistic people I know. Madam ceased to keep in touch with them, but my wife and I remain in regular contact, because it goes without saying that a Hindu nose flute to, Afghanistan moccasins and a scaled down model of the Elephant god, Ganesh, can come in very handy in Dunstable!)
The spring had sprung and our sex life had regained some of its bounce, so we kept on bouncing. We had started to write and record some new songs for Madam, the only problem being, she couldn’t sing. That however, was nothing new. Half the world’s pop stars couldn’t sing either. I was a dab hand at producing vocals from people with any one or more of the following deficiencies:
A) No breath control
B) Deaf as a post with an inability to pitch
C) No idea of phrasing
D) No feel for rhythm
E) Paranoia behind a microphone
F) Inability to perform without the aid of toxic substances by the truckload
G) Ego mania
H) Stuttering, twitching and hopping around on one leg
I) Falling to one’s knees and smacking the ground
J) Screaming and punching the nearest wall
K) More Ego Mania
L) Ha ha ha
I was a dab hand at producing stunning vocal performances from deaf, dumb and blind people with their jaws wired together – I once made a tortoise sound like Mario Lanza, but Madam was a different kettle of fish – in fact to make a kettle of fish sing would have been a piece of cake (if you catch my drift). No?
Her talent as a lyricist was better than good, she was a great lyricist although many of her musical ideas belonged in the theatre. She, however, wanted to be a pop star. Ideally, (As I once rather daringly suggested) we should have written the material and found someone else to perform, record and front it, but there was no way that Madam was ever going to take a back seat.
She lived and breathed the limelight and was determined to be the ‘rock chick’ in front of her band. Unfortunately, Madam playing that role was about as likely as Prince Charles pouting his lips and shaking his butt and singing lead vocals on a world tour with the Rolling Stones!
But we continued to write and record. I’d prepare the backing tracks and then prepare myself for the long slog, which was the producing of Madam’s vocals. We would record it straight through from start to finish, look at the weak points, of which there were many, and the strong points which always lay in her expressionism and talent for rhyme. Then we would start at the top and spend the best part of the evening getting the first couple of lines right, getting them in key, making them dance with the rhythm of the track, stopping and starting and recording one or two words over and over and over again until they were up to scratch. I’d record breaths so that it didn’t sound like a patchwork stuck together.
To call Madam’s vocal sessions exasperating would be an understatement, most of the time they ended in a row. She would have a glass of Glenfiddick and then halfway through the session out would come the Rizla papers, and it would be a puff on a joint before every take. Anyone entering the control room for more than a millisecond would end up stoned inhaling what we exhaled – it never really lent itself to capturing that magical performance – in fact that old fashioned ‘Let’s get shit-faced and go into the recording studio and make a record’ has never produced any kind of quality performance in the whole history of rock n roll as far as I know.
Writing songs should be fun. Letting the creative juices flow should be exciting – there should be a buzz – collaborators should not only stretch each other but feed off each other. They should be honest and open and be prepared to give as well as take. There wasn’t much of any of this with Madam. She preached that all creativity came from a dark place within, somewhere near your core.
‘Nothing of merit or worth was ever created out of light – all great artists and writers are total bastards’, she would say. Well, she was certainly doing her best to follow in that great tradition. All the soul searching that we both had to go through in order to be creative was quite frankly, a pain in the arse. I thought it was all a superfluous load of crap!
‘David Lean spent six months with his eyes full of sand filming ‘Lawrence of Arabia’; he kept the cameras rolling through sand storms and ended up in hospital almost blind for his art – That’s pain!’ I remember thinking, as she spat those words at me, that if someone was up for making himself blind just to shoot a movie, then he must be a completely mad bastard.
‘Come along boys and girls, let’s go into the desert for six months, get our eyes sandblasted, fall into an oasis and get chewed up by crocodiles, get shit upon by camels and then if we’re really lucky a passing caravan of terrorists might open fire on us and we’ll all die in acute agony, but hey, that’s ok, everyone will know we’re true artists!’
Two years later after Madam and I had parted company, I met David Lean trying to kick open Madam’s front gate at her House in Hammersmith. As I approached him I suggested ringing the intercom bell which was there in front of his nose, he might also like to turn the handle on the gate (no?) but he ignored my advice, presumably preferring to break the toes on his right foot before entering – the pain would no doubt help him in selling his new movie ideas to Madam’s screen and play right husband.
The nice mister Lean kept yelling over the garden wall ‘I’ve got Brando’ – I helped him turn the handle and open the gate and once inside Madam’s madhouse an argument instantly broke out between all three of them – David Lean and Madmam’s husband had previously been working on a film adaptation of Captain Bligh and Mr. Christian, a dramatized account of the Mutiny on the Bounty of which I still own an original copy of the first draft of the script – Madam’s husband had given me it to scribble ideas on whilst helping him find words – words even escaped Madam’s husband as they escape all of us.
Lean was angry as hell, Madam yelled about Dickie Attenborough stealing her husband’s whole screen play ideas for the movie ‘Gandhi’ so this ‘Passage to India’ movie was this and was that!
I eventually left them all to work on their pain so that they may create something of great worth together.
Producing Madam’s project was confusing and frustrating. On the one hand she wanted the music to be natural and organic, she wanted to capture a performance rather than a big production, and she wanted to be a kind of singing Lenny Bruce.
On the other hand, she wanted to be a pop singer. She was ten years to early to sit there and be all ‘unplugged’ – it was the early 1980’s, the decade of programmed music and sampled sounds, in fact at that time mostly synthetic sounds. The Eurythmics were the big new thing, and the market was only open to people playing synthesizers with the index finger of each hand.
I felt strongly that the only route to take, with Madam as the artist, was a concept album showing off her talent as a vocal expressionist, acting (which she did best) through the songs. I wanted to feature other artists like Malcolm McClarren would have done. He was a great example of someone who had had hit records in his own right without being able to sing for toffee! I wanted to produce something that would make the most of Madam’s creative talents but that would suit the synthetic market place of the time.
Madam, however, hated synthetic sounds, and in hating anything she perceived as artificial she thought she was achieving depth. She would tell me how she wanted to follow not lead, then in the next breath she was ‘Born to be a Vanguard’. She was extremely hard to direct/produce because she would not take on board anything criticism that did not fit in with her own inflated image of herself. So, she was happy to be led if it suited her, but stubbornly inflexible if there was any chance of ego indentation.
In between the ‘You lead, I’ll follow,’ and the ‘I’m a vanguard’ bollocks, was of course, the I CHING. Before any decision could be made she had to chuck three coins in the air and consult the holy book. Sometimes I wished that she would insert her I CHING and her coins into her back passage, and just make up her mind what she really wanted.
Whenever I’d get pissed off with her endless changes of mood and direction, she would always say, ‘I’m just a rung on your ladder, Charley, and that makes me happy’. The truth clearly was, I was also a rung on her ladder and at times it seemed as though I was being trodden on from morning to night. In fact looking back, it is difficult to fathom how I was going to benefit from these sessions.
Madam got a recording studio with an engineer/producer into the bargain; I got an almighty migraine headache! I was also curious as to which other idiot would have endured living for so long working in the world’s heaviest drama, ‘The Life and Times of Madam X.’ I would be led frequently down memory lane recalling sagas from the most important childhood in history – there was a pig called Charlie whom her family ate for dinner and a prostitute named Sylvia with whom she had apparently lived. She let Madam watch her getting laid and Madam had learned all of Sylvia’s secrets through a keyhole. The tales were endless, usually far-fetched and always starring herself.
When I wasn’t being regaled with her past life story I was face to face with the real life dramas – the 3-d full Technicolor rages which often exploded at the least domestic trifle, such as the state of Tom’s room or the fact that Stinker had once again missed the soggy newspapers which lined the kitchen floor and had peed on the rug. Then again, she could be running down the slight incline in Penzance Place after her driverless mini metro because she’s forgotten to apply that boring necessity, the handbrake. It was like living on a precipice, and from whichever angle you looked down, it wasn’t a pleasant drop!
One day Madam became pregnant and then became un-pregnant in the blink of an eye – I didn’t have a say in this possibility at that time – but in hindsight her instant decision to un-pregnant herself was a wise one for all concerned I guess.
Years later I realised that being a daddy is the most treasured and rewarding thing that could ever have happened in my life. Having an excuse to hide in the cupboard and leap out shouting, ‘Boo Aaarrgh!’ It was about making secret places under bushes in the garden and filling them with treasures – twigs stones and flowers and odd bits of Lego. Looking at my son like the little brother I never had and communicating with him on his extremely beautiful and innocent wavelength – true elation.
Cutting the umbilical cords of both my son and daughter at their births and crying tears of extreme joy – watching them grow into beautiful, warm, well adjusted loving people themselves. This is what I would have spent my whole life denying myself, had my wonderful now wife Lauren not pushed me into this new and incredibly rewarding lifestyle. But I digress.
Tom lay around in a torpid manner either glued to the television or blowing joint smoke up the snout of one mangy and farting Stinker. The very unmangy and unfarting Madam had turned all spiritual once again, uttering words of wisdom in her epigrammatic way.
‘The I Ching reckons this or that, the coins have told me so. Oh! How wonderful Charley, silence is golden. Silence will overcome violence, and prayer, you know prayer!’ she’d blab on. I can’t say I ever saw Madam down on her knees, though there were many times during our involvement when she had me crawling on mine.
‘Charley, oh Charley! You know I feel that living here, with a view of the church outside our back yard is a good omen! Charley, I think we should get married, will you marry me?’
The I Ching says, (and here’s a piece of wisdom I actually remember from those days), ‘tis better to be prepared for nothing than unprepared for something’ – Well, at that time in my life I was unprepared for a lot of things, not to mention a proposal of marriage from Madam X.
The truth was, I was completely and utterly infatuated with this crazy, theatrical child woman, who on the one hand yearned to be innocent, simple and spiritual, but who on the other, wanted to sink her fangs into power. The fact was however, I didn’t love her – I could never love that type, her type.
Firstly she was a self confessed ‘talent fucker’ as she put it. An expression she had picked up in LA. It meant basically, that she was someone who latched onto talented people and used them to further her own career – most of the Hollywood set are precisely that kind of animal. I supposed I should have been flattered, since I was in the same company as her lovely and incredibly talented screen writer husband, Stephen Spielberg and Larry Olivier to name but a few. Unfortunately I just tended to feel used.
I suppose the truth is that I was the wrung on the ladder, her ladder, a fact that had not gone unnoticed for some time now. Madam’s career was her primary motivation. It was her crutch, the thing that helped her face the world, and she was determined to strengthen that crutch by hook or by crook. She wasn’t able to give of herself because she was too busy fulfilling her own needs. What is more, she had always had the luxury of being able to pursue those needs, having been born into a wealthy family.
When we met, Madam was attempting to fend for herself. She had been as they say ‘resting’ for three or four years having decided that she wanted to be a near recluse (another role to play) and she stumbled and fumbled from day to day, lacking the simple skills needed to get through everyday life. She had never changed a plug or ironed a shirt (she’d learned how to press clothes with her bare hands from some Indian woman in L.A. but the Murphy Richards burned holes in everything it touched).
My background on the other hand, had equipped me with the very mundane skills she lacked. One thing she had learned however, was how to get her own way, and I was starting to become uncomfortable with the fact that there was always an ulterior motive to her actions. Madam always came first in Madam’s life, and when others didn’t jump at her commands she’d turn into a spoiled brat, not giving a damn whether or not she damaged your emotions or for that matter your possessions.
On one occasion she had been hibernating in her bedroom for a couple of days when I received an invitation from an agent friend of mine to come to a party in Epsom. I thought it might be a good opportunity for us both to get out in the warm evening, drive over the downs under the twinkling Hesperus, and rejuvenate some stale vibes. Madam wasn’t having any of it, but not wishing to be a total killjoy, decided that I could borrow her Metro and go solo.
“You go and enjoy yourself, Charley,” she said, “I’m just going to stay up here and meditate, see you in the morning.”
I thoroughly enjoyed getting out and seeing some old friends. It had been the first time in over a year. However on my return, in the early hours, I found my guitar cases, effects rack and suitcase behind the front door. Tom told me she’d been so pissed off that I hadn’t come home earlier, she’d bundled my guitars, a suitcase full of now very crumpled clothes and my amplifier out on to Portland Road for hours. I couldn’t believe that they hadn’t been stolen or damaged. Every time Tom had tried to retrieve them she had screamed blue murder and dumped them back outside. She was well aware that at this stage in my life I had no insurance cover for these valuable instruments, these tools of my trade, and though Madam’s negative actions were rarely pre-conceived, the constant displays of selfishness and complete disregard for the well-being of those around her had started to become wearing – I think now looking back on that she was actually mad as a hatter.
The following morning I felt like telling her that I had left her precious Larry Olivier love letters under the milk bottles for the milkman to discover and flog at Sotheby’s, but I decided to ignore the whole scenario and nothing was said by either party – forgiveness on my part ruled and life went on.
I’d had some dilemmas in my time, but this seemed to outweigh everything else at the moment. I was half-responsible for a life taking form; a human life was growing because of Madam and me. It wasn’t as though we were young kids, wet behind the ears, who didn’t realise that sexual relations often made babies if precautions were not taken. Madam however, wasn’t one for precautions; the pill was out – it was unnatural, cancerous and evil; the cap, the coil and all the rest were no good, and we both felt that a condom was like washing your feet with your socks on! So, though we were old enough to know better, the word that summed up our predicament and ourselves was, downright irresponsible.
A week in Cornwall – very laid back. We spent it pottering around. On one day we visited Truro and the stately residence of some extremely snotty acquaintances of Madam’s who were playing croquet on the lawn when we arrived. When they found out that I was a rock musician and not some great classical composer, they decided that I held no more importance than an amoeba, proceeded to completely ignore me and left me sitting all by myself on the lawn for an hour. I spent the solitary 60 minutes making plans. I would take them skinny-dipping and whilst they were splashing about I’d bury their clothes in some wet silt. I would then leave them to cower naked behind rocks for an indeterminable period before feeding them to some sharks. Normal people would then take over their home, cover its grandeur in satellite dishes and make a nice allotment cabbage patch on their croquet lawn!
Being a reluctant Townie, the countryside has always held a great attraction for me, especially sea view countryside. The clean salt air, cleansing from one’s system the dust mites and clouds of exhaust fumes. Not to mention the fact that the other man’s clotted cream is always more clotted! Having been down memory lane to visit an old ‘X’ family pile – a grand cliff top mansion in its own lush acreage of Cornish countryside – she was ready to return to London and resume the day to day insanity. I on the other hand, could have done with a while longer sitting watching sweet peas straggle the garden wall, dabbing my sable onto my canvas – generally engaging in chilling out in a place that wasn’t five minutes on a tube train to Oxford Circus.
A script awaited Madam’s attention on our return to the smoke. It was a two hander written by Nell Dunn (‘Poor Cow and Up the Junction’) and Liverpool poet Adrian Henry called ‘I Want’. That evening Madam’s husband came around for supper and we all huddled together on the four poster and watched some mindless crap on Channel 4.
Madam was busy reading through the script when she suddenly had a brainwave – she wanted me to play the other part in the play ‘I WANT’. Husband also seemed to think that I was perfect for the part, (a Northern working class fellow in a Northern setting during the war) and as I began to read it, it dawned on me that this book ‘I want’ had been given to me by girlfriend Tessa Holmes eleven years earlier, and had reminded me of our own predicament – two lovers communicating for years by letter at opposite ends of the country. One from an upper class background, the other from the northern working class. Miles apart, in every sense, they come together on rare occasions and crammed the physical and emotional longing for each other into just a handful of hours. The incredible ecstatic highs of being together, then the sadness of parting and leaving each other to their different lifestyles and continued letter writing. All those ‘miss you’s’ ‘I love you’s’ and ‘can’t wait till next times’. The book had sat lovingly on my bookshelf for years till I had lent it out to some forgotten person who had also forgotten to return it. I remembered the story quite well.
The play was to go on in the West End hopefully starring Madam playing ‘Dolly’. It had been suggested that Billy Connelly should play ‘Albert’.
Madam and husband both thought the part was suited to me and so I started learning Albert’s lines and rehearsing with a video camera in Madam’s basement studio. Our plan was to cut 30 minutes of the play with Madam and myself and to use it as a screen test for Nell Dunn and Co.
Weeks passed – I rehearsed about eight different scenes with her. I was learning the art and craft of acting for the camera and I had an impressive teacher.
‘Charley, stop waving your hands and arms around, let the camera do the work’ she’d bellow as she played director. She dressed up an old high backed chair with lace, sat in it and rocked ever so gently from side to side whilst I waved a newspaper occasionally over a carefully positioned spotlight, thus giving the impression of passing shadows through the window of a moving train carriage. A portable cassette stood on the floor playing continuous train noise while Madam performed ‘Dolly’, who was on her way to see Albert in the frozen north. I was told to keep my eyes relaxed and not to glare with them wide open as I looked like some kind of crazed Bush baby.
‘Just let the camera do the work and act yourself. You’re a natural, you have none of those drama school affectations and luvvie mannerisms’ she would encourage me.
We rehearsed the next couple of scenes, which of course with Madam at the helm, had to be in bed. There was one with Dolly and Albert being playful in the morning after a night of lovemaking and another in a mystery bedroom lit only by a red light bulb. This time Albert was bonking some bit on the side called Joan. Wobbling tits and bouncing arse filled the screen (I kept my socks on, naturally, I have my standards – and also my spastic claw toed feet).
The naked body filling the screen belonged to Madam’s house guest, an American actress by the name of Lisa who it seemed, had a secret yearning to be in a porn movie and acted her part with relish, getting her lines right first take, (Ooh, Aaarh! Yes! Gasp! Oh yes! etc.) The camera panned back from the pink and sweaty opening shot to Albert giving it to Joan from behind (his feet in socks and no doubt hob nail boots dangling over the side of the bed – I’m sure you can picture the type of sophisticate in question). Joan became quiet and moved over half out of shot just leaving a big pink backside which I used as a prop to lean on whilst my character addressed the camera as if he were talking to Dolly.
It all felt like second nature (acting that is) although repeating the performance in front of a film crew or on stage may have proved more difficult. Then again, maybe not. I felt very confident about this acting thing and was really excited at the whole possibility of it going that far.
Christmas was soon upon us. Madam took herself off for a couple of weeks of getting into shape at Greyshott Hall health farm, in Hindhead, Surrey. There she was rubbed, pummelled and massaged, steamed and hosed down, titivated and titillated and kept on a diet of something like yoghurt and lettuce leaves until she was as clean inside as out.
I drove down for an afternoon visit and found her completely wiped out in her room. We sat in the Jacuzzi drinking nettle tea and watched some wobbling Japanese people slip into the pool like great tubs of lard slipping into a frying pan. They all nibbled at teaspoonful servings of cranberries on dormouse sized portions of Brie, their enormous, doleful faces dreaming of out sized helpings of whatever they used to be able to stuff their faces with, before they had voluntarily subjected themselves to this luxurious imprisonment.
In 1983 Greyshott was definitely a place for the wealthy at something like £155 per night excluding all the trimmings. Madam paid extra to walk around looking like Marcel Marceau with a tea cosy on her head for several days!
I drove out of Hindhead and over to the M23 and headed south to Brighton to pay a New Year’s visit to Madam’s brother, Chuckles. If he’d lived in the North of England, I would have had the honour of being his first foot with a chunk of coal and a bottle of the appropriate spirit and a Happy New year greeting. However, seeing that he lived a spit away from the cold, grey English Channel, first footing was unheard of.
Chuckles – a man in his late forties – lived by himself, very much a recluse. He’d had no girl friends as far back as anyone could remember. Dumbbells and bicycle wheels shared his living room along with canvasses and his oil paints which proved that he had a great eye. Everything was dusty, having never seen a woman’s touch. He seemed to have followed to the letter Quentin Crisp’s adage on housekeeping – i.e. after the first seven years it never gets any worse! There was no question of following any further examples pioneered by Mr Crisp. As to Chuckles’s sexuality, this was for the moment a subject kept firmly in the closet along with various other X family skeletons! Gay or not, none of it bothered me.
I spent a couple of enlightening hours with this rather shy and secretive middle aged man who always veered the conversation back to the question of how much money his sister was worth.
‘ I say, has Madam got any money these days or is she broke? I know she’s made millions and then she bought that house in awful middle class Holland Park – frightful! Dreadful people all around there! I’m rather keen to know what she’s worth you see’ Chuckles stated, looking a little embarrassed. I must admit that this being the first time I’d spent any time alone with him, I was rather taken aback at his lack of interest in his sister’s well-being and more than curious concern as to the health of her bank balance!
‘I mean, do you think she’s worth a couple of hundred thousand or more? Madam’s never been one for frugality. When she was with husband in the days of their huge house in Surrey, they got through vast amounts of money, e-e enormous amounts just d-d-dwindled away’ he stammered, stammering seemed to run in the family.
I procrastinated, changed the direction of the conversation, discussing his painting and working out at the gym, and when I began to see sediment of Tetley’s in the bottom of my cup, decided to take the M23 north and left him still pondering, though none the wiser about Madam’s finances.
In fact Madam’s finances were also a mystery to me – I had no interest in her wealth what so ever – it had never crossed my mind all the time we were together that she was well heeled – working class people generally done focus on scoring a partner with a generous bank balance unlike the middle and upper classes who are always focussed on marrying into some kind of new wealth!
A couple of weeks after returning from Greyshott Hall, Madam got the call to make a film. It was to be shot in Dartmouth and co-starred Donald Sutherland and Faye Dunaway. It meant that she’d be away on location on the south coast for two weeks and Tom and I would be left to breathe freely in Holland Park.
Tom had just spent a weekend in Brighton with mother X. This was a rare occurrence since Madam’s mother saw Tom as a wayward and disagreeable appendage. He had somewhat miraculously managed to talk her into baking a ‘dope cake’ (laced with cannabis resin). It was hard to imagine mother X, Brighton’s very own Lady Bracknell, frequently seen gracing the Bridge parties of the local gentry, a model of decency and honour, looked up to by the great and the good – stooped over her Aga in floral pinafore, sprinkling dollops of Nepalese temple balls into a bowl of chocolate cake mix. I remember Madam on the phone a couple of weeks later, asking in sheer amazement, what on Earth could have possessed her mother to do such a thing. Her reply was,
‘Well, darling! He asked me to make it and I couldn’t see anything wrong with that if it was going to keep him happy’.
When Tom was not in the company of his mother he always seemed more relaxed and open and more inclined to bond with me. He showed warmth that did not always surface when the matriarch ruled the roost. Our first night in together was spent jamming on guitars and watching T.V. Around midnight Tom looked at me with a glint of pure excitement in his eye and asked,
‘Charley, do you fancy some of Grandma’s home-made Dope cake?’ He leapt up the stairs to his room and appeared 30 seconds later with a very neatly home- baked chocolate cake.
I didn’t really go a bundle on eating Hash, because I liked neither the taste, nor the effects, which crept up on you much later than the sudden rush of smoking a joint. However, we’d had a nice evening together and I didn’t wish to appear a party pooper! So we made tea and guzzled a piece of cake each. Tom, for whom the word ‘moderation’ translated as ‘boring!!!!!’ followed the first piece with two more, rapidly ingested.
‘Come on Charley’ he insisted, ‘have another piece, just one!’ So casting my adult common sense to the wind and acting like an irresponsible fifteen-year-old, I munched away at a second piece. By 1 a.m. I was feeling pretty knackered so I left Tom, sitting in a pile of empty crisp packets, half eaten pizza and chocolate cake crumbs and retired to ye olde four poster which felt spacious and wonderful. Stretching out on the expanse of clean, crisp cotton sheets was luxury. The phone rang. It was Madam checking that all was ok on the Holland Park front. She told me that everyone on the set was nice to her and full of praise for her because she was on her best behaviour – she really needed to work again. I switched on the television and got a blank screen, yawned, flicked it off and was asleep in minutes.
A couple of hours later I woke up hallucinating! The four poster felt like a cage as the room swivelled around. I felt nauseous and giddy. I panicked and sat up, trying to grip the bed for anchorage. The fireplace, Madam’s Polaroids of Tom and Robert Mitchum on the mantle piece all seemed to have a fuzzy and wobbly life of their own.
I reached over fumbling with the bedside light and spotted a bottle of orange juice between the bed and Madam’s bedside table. I unscrewed the cap and gulped down half a pint (knowing that vitamin C was the best thing to drink when stoned) and then it suddenly dawned on me that I was imbibing something more than just orange juice. Oh my God! It was nectar of goat; it was spittle of camel mixed with dribble of platypus. It was urine of the dreaded Madam X! Not only did I feel like I was riding on a souped up waltzer revolving at twice the normal speed, strapped to a pneumatic road drill at the same time, but now I fancied that an alien thing might burst its way from out of my gut, go flying through the bedroom and crash through the window and into the night.
Every time I tried to close my eyes and sleep I felt like I was appearing in a scene from The Exorcist – In future I would let Tom indulge in the old wacky backy cake alone, or better still, I’d suggest he share it with his grandmother Wren in Brighton. And as for Madam – she could keep her bodily fluids to herself!
The following afternoon I went down to Kingsbridge, near Dartmouth, to visit Madam and see the movie set. I had left late and arrived at The Buckland Toussaint Hotel around 11.30 p.m. The doors were locked so I rang the bell a couple of times and got no answer. Eventually, after flicking gravel at the upstairs windows, a light came on and Madam popped her head out and threw down a key to the front door. There were various members of the cast staying there including Donald Sutherland and Faye Dunaway. Donald Sutherland had been very forthcoming with tokens of regard for Madam’s husband, though Faye Dunaway had been more reserved and had kept her distance.
The following morning I carried Madam’s case down to the car and went into the lounge to wait for her. As I was flicking through the pages of an old Country Life magazine I felt a pair of eyes watching me. I looked up and one of them winked at me. The eyes, belonged to a face, which resided on a lady reclining on a sofa at the other end of the lounge. I did a double take and looked behind me but there was no one else in the room. I looked for a third time and realised that I was getting the eye from a pouting Faye Dunaway – She started winking at me and blew an imaginary kiss over to me.
I stared down at my feet and then coyly looked in her direction to meet her gaze. Just then her other half, Terry O’Neil, hurried into the room unknowingly arresting our enjoyable flirtation, so I nodded a greeting and went off to the Metro to await Madam. On her way out of the hotel Faye beckoned to Madam so she stopped for a few words, then moments later she stormed over to the car, climbed in and slamming the door nearly off its hinges.
‘She just asked me if you were my son – the bitch! She’s got all her face stretched and pinned back under her hairline you know. She spends hours getting made up from 5.30 am every morning’ Madam was in full bitching mode by now, ‘she has it all stretched and pulled back and stuck down under her hairline’. She was repeating herself, no doubt making sure that I got the whole gruesome picture! ‘I’m in and out of make up in twenty minutes. No fuss, and she’s playing the big star, chauffeured to the set, chauffeured back, chauffeured to the bathroom and the world waits while she takes a dump’ – Boy was she mad!
(NB. Never mess with the ego of an actress – at least a mad f**king crazy one, it can be dangerous).
‘She orders everyone around, they don’t like her you know’ – I half listened, adding nothing; I was still in the first flush of flattery. Who knows, take away the gaffer tape and maybe she looked like Clement Freud – Who cares! I got the eye, flirted with and blown a kiss from Bonnie Parker, Hey Hey!
Madam showed me around the set, which was an old house in Totness, and I was introduced to various crew members in the production office. Donald Sutherland never showed up, never winked at me, probably never had his face stretched and stuck up behind his hairline, and will probably never know about my existence but who cares – I never fancied him in ‘Kelly’s Heroes’ as much as I fancied Faye Dunaway in ‘Bonnie and Clyde’.
Madam returned to Holland Park on March 1st to find the script and contract for Joe Losey’s forthcoming film – she was to co-star with Diana Dors and Vanessa Redgrave.
During the McCarthy Era, Joe Losey, fearing being blacklisted in America moved to England and directed some of the classic British 1960s movies – his early collaborations with playwright Harold Pinter also brought a long friendship and a successful career for Pinter as a screenwriter. Losey realized three films from Pinter’s screenplays, The Servant (1963), Accident (1967) and The Go-Between (1971), all of which have made a mark in the traditions of British, European, and American art house cinema. The Servant won three British Academy Film Awards in its day.
We were invited to dinner with Joe Losey at his home in Chelsea, right opposite the very house where he had filmed “The Servant” with Madam, Dirk Bogarde and James Fox back in the sixties.
After dinner with Joe and his wife at his local Italian restaurant on the Kings Road we went to a theatre on The Strand where Vanessa Redgrave was starring in a play with Christopher Reeve.
Vanessa was one of Madam’s heroines and she was very much looking forward to meeting her. We found our way backstage into Vanessa’s dressing room – Madam introduced the two of us and told her how much she was looking forward to working with her. Vanessa proffered her hand which was like grabbing hold of a dead wet fish, and I remember thinking that she was as tall and lanky as me and had the charisma of Mrs Mop! We hadn’t been in the room two minutes when we were plunged unwillingly into some kind of political discussion (she really was wasting her breath on us) but she did interject in a somewhat apolitical way, that she had the hots for Superman.
I remember sitting through a ‘two hander’ west end play with Redgrave and Reeve fawning over each other all the way and to my none-theatrical sensibilities and awareness found it less entertaining than watching paint dry! This was one of the most surreal days that I had had!
The next thing on Madam’s agenda was to ‘get her tits done’. Now that she was required to get her kit off for her art once again she wasn’t confident she had the buoyancy of old – or should I rephrase that and say the buoyancy of ‘young’.
Freddie Nichol, the renowned Harley Street plastic surgeon, was entrusted with the ‘X’ treasure chest. She had implants stuffed through two inch slits made under each armpit, which were then miraculously shoved down under the skin to a resting place under each breast. My immediate reaction to Madam’s new bust was one of horror, she looked liked she’d been hit by a tank! However within a short time she had Hollywood Knockers to match her Hollywood crowns. They looked good to me and presumably also to Joe Losey because once filming had started he managed to get them in every other shot.
Madam got a call just before shooting began at Pinewood, and was asked ‘would Charley consider a part in ‘Steaming’ as the doorman to the bath house?’
(Apparently Joe had liked my eyes when he’d met me over dinner, and he wanted them in the movie along with Madam’s new knockers.
I floated up to a little cloud where I sat and gently coddled my ego, which once again was enjoying a swell time! I was to play a young man whose job it was to sit in the ticket booth at the door, and who was a confidante to Diana Dors. The camera would pan and cut to my eyes on the occasions when a nude lady walked past. I was made for the part! Ogling nude women was something I could do extremely well – I could even do it in my sleep.
Within minutes of the offer of the acting role, a call came in asking to hear some of my audio work, as they did not as yet have a theme tune for the movie. Joe Losey had been happy to include James Fox in a major role in “The Servant” even though he had no acting experience at the time. Now he seemed to be about to repeat the performance by casting me in his latest film. Not only that, but he was also toying with the idea of having me write the movie score. I couldn’t believe my luck. Perhaps doors were really starting to open for me. Madam wanted to sing a song for the movie, but I suggested we just write one to start with (I wasn’t sure her vocal style would be too favourable a sales pitch) and so we posted a cassette of songs to Joe in Chelsea.
At rehearsal it was discovered that Diana was dying of cancer and was in a great deal of pain. Almost overnight, Joe was also taken ill, and was diagnosed as having cancer too. Madam returned home from rehearsals every evening full of praise for Diana and how she was soldiering on fighting her battle against this dreadful disease. She told me proudly of how she would act her part as if she had not a care in the world and then between takes she’d retire to in pain to death’s door.
‘Diana is a true professional – she is amazing – she has incredible strength of character you know, and I want you to meet her’.
Madam’s idolatry of the great theatrical luminary, Vanessa Redgrave, had waned almost overnight, although she was very impressed with the way in which Ms Redgrave used her politics to wangle her way around the direction of a now very ill Joe Losey. She seemed to have a politically correct answer for everything concerning her part in the proceedings.
Madam’s concern for Joe (whose health was deteriorating rapidly) didn’t seem to match her compassion for Diana’s plight. After all Joe was a member of the weaker sex in Madam’s eyes. She seemed irritated that it took him all his time and energy to climb up the few stairs onto the fake marble bath house set to direct. It didn’t seem to matter to her that he had more than a few lines to get through, but had to visualise the whole proceedings from start to finish. From the beginning of the shoot to the wrap he had to cushion its weak points and promote its stronger ones. He had to study the rushes and make the decisions, all the time wanting and needing to lie down in a darkened room in pain and prepare to check out.
I met Diana Dors on the set of “Steaming” and found her to be an amazingly strong, kind-hearted and charming lady, who also possessed a warm and firm handshake.
Needless to say, the doorman with the wondering eyes was never written into the script and the theme music gig never came my way either. In the end Joe Losey just wanted to forget the politics and get the directing of this movie over with.
Stinker the dog was on her last legs as we delivered her to the veterinary surgery in Knightsbridge. It was suggested that we leave her there overnight to be pumped full of B12 and see how she responded the next morning. The woman on the telephone the following day explained that Stinker had spent the night in the refrigerator having died not long after we left the premises. Could I come and pick her up today? My immediate thought was that she probably stunk more now than she did when she was alive, it was Madam’s dog, let her go pick it up – she could be asphyxiated. She was still in bed; frownie stuck to forehead, scribbling notes to people.
“Madam X,” I said quietly, getting her attention, “The vet’s just rang.”
“I know, I was listening in from up here”! Poor Stinker! I want to get her softly stuffed so I can keep her here on the bottom of the bed where she belongs.” I couldn’t believe my ears. My eyes however, told me that she was absolutely serious.
“Quick Charley, hand me the yellow pages, maybe there’s a taxidermist in this area. My brother Chuckles knows of someone but I don’t want to bother him. They hated Stinker anyway, ever since she pissed and crapped on their kitchen floor. You see Charley, she’ll be perfect, softly stuffed, and smelling nice, and she’d be with me always. She can lie on the bottom of the bed and sit in the car! A friend of mine in Los Angeles had her cat softly stuffed so I know they can do it. She’ll be just like a cuddly teddy bear!” At that moment I thought, “This woman is f**king barking! Totally f**king orbiting Uranus” – I imagined sleeping in her four poster bed with a stuffed dead dog on my feet. It was bad enough putting up with the stink of a four-day-old piss pot at the bottom of the bed.
It was bad enough lying next to Madam, protruding from the top, head awash with sunflower oil and encased in a Sainsbury carrier bag, forehead baring brown sticky paper and teeth covered in rubber gum shields. But now this! Now she wanted a corpse on top of the dusty eiderdown to round things off. The perfect love nest! Her sybaritic mother would have had a fit had she ever set foot into the rancidity that was her daughter’s bedroom.“Yeah, great! Well I’ll just leave you to organise it, ok!” were my parting words as I made my exit down the stairs.“Charley” she shouted after me, “can you ring the vet and ask how much it will cost to keep her frozen for a few days longer till I organise a taxidermist?” Tom had just come in at that point with a friend in tow. They were as thick as thieves and had probably been up the Portobello Road to score some weed.
“Guess what?” I said – bringer of glad tidings, “Stinker is dead.”
“Oh really? Yep, and guess what else? She wants to have her stuffed. She’s upstairs now looking for a taxidermist.”
“What? She’s got a taxidermist upstairs?”
“No shit face! She’s scanning the telephone directory to find one.”
“But why does she want – you mean she wants to get Stinker stuffed?”
“Yes, Softly,” I replied.
I rang the vet later that same afternoon to see if they’d keep the ancient, stinking Sky Terrier on ice. They agreed that I could leave her there for another 24 hours at no extra cost.
The following day brought no reply from carcass stuffers far and wide. Madam wasn’t happy with the situation and wondered if we could do a DIY stuffing job. I tried to convince her that burying her in the back yard under the shade of the old church that loomed over the garden like something from a Lowry canvas, was a much better idea.
“After all, her spirit is gone. You may as well fill a chamois leather bag with duck down and cuddle that” I suggested. She bought it and I was off to the vet to collect the frozen canine stink bag. She was wrapped in a grubby old blanket and lay over a box of economy size Bird’s Eye fish fingers. The nice veterinary lady picked her up and passed her to me. I was slightly taken aback as I held out my arms and received a very cold, stiff Stinker, bent into a semi-circle, having followed the contour of the boxes of frozen foods. It was the first time she hadn’t smelled, Although I wasn’t looking forward to her thawing out in Holland Park.
I stood in front of 123 Portland Road balancing a stiff, dead dog in one hand and fumbled through my pockets, left and right, with the other looking for my front door key. Just then the door opened and out sailed Tom and his drugged friend, both squinting into the light of day with half opened eyes that resembled piss holes in the snow.
“Hi,” said Tom, disregarding my bundle.
“Hello Tom, this is Stinker. Can you hold open the door please.” He craned his neck a little in the direction of my arms.
“Oh wow! Like wow! Stinker – See you,” and off they went in the direction of Portabello Road. I dumped Stinker out in the back yard and was met by Madam X who now wanted to keep her in the downstairs toilet for a while – just until she received a call from the elusive taxidermist. I thought I was going mad, I was sure she had agreed to bury the manky hairy corpse in the back yard and be done with it, but here we were again with, “Oh Charley, if I can just get her stuffed she’ll be perfect, don’t you see?”
All I could think was if I could just get her buried before she thawed out she’d be better than perfect – she’d be gone. I wondered whether she would consider having me softly stuffed if I kicked the bucket. After all, she didn’t believe in attending funerals or weddings. She hated funerals with all their mourners in black suits, miserable, in tears; hands clutching handkerchiefs, heads shaking from side to side – a real turn off – a very sexy gig at all. And as for weddings, they were just a load of pomp – a waste of money. Everyone gets over excited about a dress and a cake. All the guests have to take time off work and go out of their way to buy a present from the wedding list and then show up with a permanently fixed grin for the service and the reception. No, none of this appealed to Madam X. These were private affairs, she would preach, concerning you and God.
Personally speaking, I have always felt that it is perfectly natural to want to share your joy or grief with friends and relatives. It seems somewhat churlish to refuse to involve yourself in the lives of those whom we hold dear. I mean, obviously, checking out is one’s own private gig between you and God (or the devil). The fact remains however, that your body still lies there dead, rotting and stinking the house out until someone decides to take it upon themselves to call the undertaker. Then arranges a time for him to come over and plug up all your orifices with the appropriate stink stopping putty (you may have gathered that this is not my particular field) and dumps you in a hole in the ground or incinerates you into a jar of dust.
Eleven years later, when Madam was married (for the second time) to her play writer, screen writer husband X and living in Sussex, husband’s old body gave up the ghost. I was told that Madam let him lie on his bed for a week or two, keeping all the doors and windows open to help extract the smell. Eventually, her brother, Chuckles, and son, Tom, plus a couple of others arrived, assembled a box from flimsy chipboard and put husband X in it. Apparently his 20 stone weight sent him hurtling through the bottom when they all tried to pick it up. Everyone took turns digging a hole in a little cemetery area in the garden of their twelfth century manor house, just deep enough to cover the old boy over. It all seemed a very comical but also a very undignified send off for the great man, but I guess husband X can be thankful that she didn’t have him softly stuffed!
Stinker too, ended up in a box that I had knocked together with a few screws and some bits of wood from a skip. I quietly lowered her into a hole that I had dug in the side of the yard. I made a little name board, which I stuck into the small mound of earth under the shadow of the old church wall – Madam didn’t get involved, in fact seemed to have total disregard for Stinker’s final resting place – so much for Madam’s so called ‘twin spirit!’