Sometimes I think dropping names is an odious thing to do.
However I am going to make a list of the well known, famous, infamous (do I know any of these?) and perhaps people who aren’t famous but ought to be.
Starting with Marlene Dietrich.
I met Marlene Dietrich back stage at Birmingham’s Alexandra Theatre. I had been invited by Anthony Everitt then theatre critic for the Birmingham Post. It was 14th May 1973. The visit was really quite short, ten minutes maximum. She recounted a moment when she fell off the stage, I don’t recall her saying which stage, where. She blamed it on the whisky. She said she broke her humerus and grabbed my arm to show me where. Well as far as I was concerned it was my elbow that she felt. She was delightfully funny and looked amazing. I hardly said anything – awestruck.
This was early 1970s when I was briefly living in Newport Place in Soho. A small street directly behind the Hippodrome. The one roomed flat was above a Coral’s betting shop. Ostensibly I was looking for work at the time having recently left art college. Soho wasn’t really the best place to look for work. However it was very distracting and I used to waste my little money and plentiful time on what might have been called cultural drinking spots. The French (Gaston’s pub) was one such place. One day I thought I would bravely try the Colony Room. I had heard about it from people such as John Grosser of the Times, a nearby resident, and Andrew Lumsden also of the Times.
It was one of those grey autumnal London days when a warm bar or public house would have been very welcome. Anyway I made it in, I think I recall I had to explain that Iwas an ex art student and just wanted to see what the place was like. It was certainly warm and dark inside not a very large room as I recall. I got myself a Pernod (yes, I was a bit pretentious in those day – Pernod and the occasianal Gauloise or Disque Bleu) and looked around. I vaguely recognised Robert Carrier who eventually came over to talk. In the corner sitting on a bar stool I could see Francis Bacon sitting by himself. Carrier was very garrulous and full of himself, yes boastful in a way. He was probably the best dressed person in the room wearing a good pink Oxford shirt and tailored mid grey slacks. Carrier however became a little overbearing so I retreated to the bar where there was nobody except Francis Bacon. I said hello and that I recognised him as the painter he was. I also intimated that I was an admirer of his work. We didn’t really talk of painting just small talk. I told him I was at the bar to get away from Mr Carrier and his overbearing manner. Mr Bacon nodded seemingly understanding my predicament. Bacon said that I had come on a quiet afternoon and that it would become more lively after five (it was about four o’clock a the time) and offered me a drink. Well that was about it. Bacon was quite sweet and he certainly kept Carrier away. That was the only time I was to meet Bacon and it was my only visit to the Colony Room.
Much later in life when I had moved to Wivenhoe, Colchester I was to find (after he had died) that he had been a a fequent visitor there. He had used the village as a retreatfrom London where he would meet his friends Dickie Chopping and Denis Wirth-Miller.
From Wikipedia -“According to the Museum of London website, “The Colony Room was one of many drinking clubs in Soho. The autocratic and temperamental owner Muriel Belcher created an ambiance which suited those who thought of themselves as misfits or outsiders”. Belcher has been described as “an imperious lesbian with a fondness for insulting banter”. George Melly said of her, “Muriel was a benevolent witch, who managed to draw in all London’s talent up those filthy stairs. She was like a great cook, working with the ingredients of people and drink. And she loved money.”
Princess MargaretNottingham Playhouse
Lauren Bacall Hippodrome Theatre Birmingham
Cynthia Lennon – a friend of my sister whom I met in Jersey
Derek Jarman – from Gay Liberation days
Graham Chapman of Monty Python – also Gay Liberation days