RIP France Gall

Sad to hear that sweet France Gall died today. In memory of her and all the joy her music has given me over the years I’d like to share these images from a Guy Peellaert book I own.  Peellaert designed the packaging and branding for a make-up range that was to be fronted by France Gall – it never saw the light of day in the end, but imagine how lovely it would be to own some France Gall cosmetics!

Missing you already, France X


Francoise Hardy in Petticoat magazine

Thought I’d share this English language interview with Françoise Hardy from Petticoat magazine (4 February 1967):

Friendly warning:  If anyone shares this on another site, please link back or credit Hero Culte – it’s very disappointing to see that people just nick your posts without mentioning where they have got the material from.  If it continues I shall have to start putting watermarks on my photos, and nobody wants that, do they?  Thanks!

Do you remember the first time?

I recently found this article in an old copy of Cosmopolitan magazine from November 1973.  It involves “tree love”, kissing cousins, cherry cola trade-offs and witchcraft and just had to be shared:

Roger Vadim – the earth shook…

Samantha Eggar – No way, Jose!

Sally Kellerman – Twenty-five… twenty-four… twenty-three…

Michael Caine – the best teacher I ever had

Linda Lovelace – thinking about it…

Elizabeth Taylor – leaving it up to you

Omar Sharif – scared and stupid

Laurence Harvey – if I dirtied my velvet suit my mother would be very cross indeed…

Faye Dunaway – deeply embedded guilt

Sean Connery – playing doctors and nurses

Sacha Distel  – I put a lot of pressure on her

Carroll Baker – everybody should take as much as they want

Mae West – ain’t nobody got time for that!

Oliver Reed – positively bedewed with innocence

Brigitte Bardot – BBeautifully

David Niven – Wash your dickybird!

Leslie Caron – Give me three minutes…

Adrienne Corri – so bloody cheerful

Charles Bronson – not completely satisfactory…

My Beatnik Doll

I need your help here, please – I bought this little beatnik doll from a flea market recently, well, I think it’s a beatnik doll…  I’ve named her Vali, after the dancer and artist Vali Myers, but I wondered if anyone knows anything about this little lady – what type of doll she is, who made it, where and when it comes from &c.

She’s made of hard plastic and has winking eyes.  I like her eye make-up, her necklace and the little sandals (painted on).  I didn’t want to mess up her clothes too much but I can’t really see any markings other than the “Empire” sticker which is on the bottom of one of her feet.  I’m assuming this just means empire made, but I know very little about dolls!

If anyone has seen one of these dolls before or knows anything about her, please let me know!  (Excuse the “stuff” in the background, you might have noticed I am a bit of a “collector” – or “hoarder”, if you prefer…)


My Favourite Stuff: Julian Maclaren-Ross artwork

Yesterday I posted about Julian Maclaren-Ross on a BBC documentary and then I got to thinking that maybe I had never posted a photograph of my Julian Maclaren-Ross artwork.  I’m pretty sure I didn’t, so here’s a photo of the little poster he made for, I guess, the (unmade) television play My Name is Love (The Girl in the Spotlight) as the woman seems to be Sonia Orwell.  It would be from about 1961 if that’s the case, maybe? 

Excuse the angle and any glare, I bought the picture framed and although it’s badly framed I have left it that way for now, which makes it hard to photograph.  I really love the picture and his naive artwork – it makes me smile every time I pass it in the hallway.  It’s nice to have something as unusual as this in my collection, a drawing (coloured-in too!) by one of my favourite writers to accompany a piece of his work.  I’m such a fan-girl, aren’t I?

Bon anniversaire, Serge Gainsbourg!

I love Serge Gainsbourg, me.  Today would have been his 89th birthday and since I received a gift of a (bootleg?) album of the Marie Mathématique soundtrack yesterday, what better way to celebrate Serge’s birthday than with a bit of MM?  Marie Mathématique was a cartoon, drawn by Jean-Claude Forest of Barbarella fame – Marie Mathématique was the little sister of Barbarella. There were six episodes, screened on the fab French TV show Dim Dam Dom from 28 October 1965 to April 1966.  Serge Gainsbourg did the narration and provided the music so, of course, the whole thing worked beautifully.  Marie never talks herself – the stories are told through the songs and on-screen text – but you do hear France Gall’s laugh throughout.  And in episode 4 you even hear a bit of Serge’s Qui est “in”, qui est “out”Each episode was introduced by a different presenter (or presenters):

Episode One was Sandie Shaw:Episode Two was Chantal Goya (also seen pointing to a huge photo of her husband Jean-Jacques Debout):Episode 3 was someone I should recognise, but I’m not sure – is it Marie-France Pisier? (please let me know who it is if it’s not her):Episode 4 was… I don’t know – they look great whoever they are (again, please let me know if you know):Episode 5 was another one I don’t know:And Episode 6 was, I think, Dorothy McGowan:Here’s some screen shots from the episodes, just because the artwork is so good:INA should give this an official release (you can watch it online for a fee here) with some English subs.

Anyway, to make this more about Serge, I thought I should share something else, very special.  For Christmas I was given this book, which is wonderful.  It’s Tony Frank’s latest book of photographs of Serge, signed especially for me, sigh! – there are quite a few photographs I’ve not seen before and I LOVE the one on the front cover, even though (or maybe because) Serge looks untidy and his jumper has got bobbly bits on it:I won’t share all the photos, you just need to buy yourself a copy – it’s limited edition, just 1,000 copies worldwide, all signed, and they are of a beautiful quality.  Celebrate Serge’s birthday and buy your copy here.  HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MISTER GAINSBOURG!!!


Jane Birkin and the Oscar nominated high speed train

Anyone who visits this site regularly knows I am mad about Jane Birkin. I recently received my DVD copy of Jane’s latest film – a short film called La femme et le TGV (trans. the woman and the high-speed train).  It’s a 30 minute film, incredibly well-made by Timo von Gunten, who both wrote and directed it.   The story, based on real events, is about a lady called Elise Lafontaine, who waves at the high-speed train each day when it passes her little house.  One day she receives a little note from the train driver and they become penfriends.  But things change when the route for the high-speed train is altered and the train no longer goes past Elise’s house.  I don’t want to give too much away because you really need to see it, but I will say it is a warm and funny film that more than deserved its Oscar nomination this year.  Unfortunately, it did not win the Oscar but it has already scooped up multiple awards because it is so excellent.If you go to the website here, you can pay to watch online or buy yourself a DVD copy, which has bonus features and the disc looks great because it is designed to look like a record.  It’s either £3.59 to watch on Vimeo or £12 to buy a DVD.  There are numerous subtitles, so language need not be a barrier!  And, look, here is Jane wearing the blouse which is now in my collection!


My Hero: Alan Sillitoe

I was always an avid reader from a very young age and my mum got me into reading Alan Sillitoe’s books when I was still quite young (I had to get special permission to borrow them from the school library because they were deemed to be “too adult” for me). I used to be able to talk to my mum about Alan Sillitoe’s characters – we talked about them as if they were real people, because they seemed to be real to us – and what was most special for me was that Sillitoe came from Nottingham, which is my home town.  I felt a kind of connection with him and his “people”.

It’s funny the things you remember.  In the 1980s, I got myself a part-time job working at the Nottingham Playhouse and I remember that Alan Sillitoe’s brother was in the band which was playing during one of the runs there – one day I saw Mr Sillitoe in the orchestra pit when I was checking the theatre and I was very worried that he might be dead as he was lying down and his eyes were closed.  Turned out he was just having a kip between shows, but he didn’t half give me a fright!

Something else I remember was seeing Alan Sillitoe doing a Q&A session at the Broadway Cinema in the early 1990s, I think, and afterwards there was a chance to meet him – I tried but I was just too terrified, because he was my literary hero and I was scared that I would embarrass myself by busting out crying – roaring, as we called it in Nottingham – so I just let him walk past without telling him how much his writing meant to me.

Years later, a friend who knew this story and worked for the press, asked me if I would like to go and interview Alan Sillitoe at the Phoenix Artist’s Club in London.  I figured I should do it whilst I had the opportunity, even though there was always the chance I would start roaring.  The date was 3 April 2008 and, yes, I did start roaring and he was very nice about it.  How embarrassing, eh?  He was a gentleman though – very occasionally your heroes live up to your expectations after all.

My mum always wanted me to be a writer and I remember thinking that if I ever wrote anything, the two people I would want to like my work would be my mum and Alan Sillitoe.  But when I showed my mum this interview, all she could say to me was that there were two typos in it so I never showed her any of my writing.  Funnily enough, Alan Sillitoe gave me his address and said that if I ever wanted to send him any of my work to look over I was welcome to do so.  Sadly, I never got around to doing that before he died nearly 7 years ago.  I’ve been working on a book (non-fiction) on a very part-time basis for the past 3 years, it’s hard work but I am dedicated to it; hopefully this year I will be able to finish it, but I know that I won’t be able to show it to my mum or Alan Sillitoe, as they’re no longer with us.  Maybe someone else will like it?!

Anyway, for whatever reason, I don’t think this interview was ever used – I was never told so if it was.  So I thought that as it’s very nearly 9 years ago that I met my hero and he was so very encouraging, I should share my interview here now.  If you spot those two typos my mum mentioned, you know what to do!

PICTURE “BORROWED” FROM THE WONDERFUL ALAN SILLITOE WEBSITE  (Go and visit it after reading this interview, please!)

This is the article exactly I wrote it back in April 2008:

Alan Sillitoe was born in Nottingham in the East Midlands in 1928.  He began writing at the age of twenty when he was struck down with tuberculosis and had to spend eighteen months in hospital.  His first novel Saturday Night and Sunday Morning was published in 1958.  His second book The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, a volume of short stories, was published in 1959.  Both Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner were made into influential British New Wave films in the early 1960’s.  Nearly fifty years on Sillitoe has had more than fifty books published.  This year to coincide with his 80th birthday, A Start in Life, a novel originally published in 1970, is being re-issued by London Books.

Are you pleased to see A Start in Life re-issued?

I’m very pleased actually because I’ve always rather liked it.  I mean, you write a lot of books, some you like, some you don’t particularly like – although none of them you hate, obviously – but I was very happy when London Books said they would re-issue it because… well, I mean the reason I have so much affection for it really is because I wrote it at a time when I needed to sort of cheer myself up.  In a way I wrote it for myself, entertaining myself and making myself laugh, and thinking that if I could make myself laugh then so would everybody else because I’m just a normal person like everybody else I meet.  So I do like it for that reason.  I was playing music all the time when I was writing it – Handel’s Messiah and also another great piece of music by Handel Israel in Egypt from the Bible.  Wonderful!  Over and over again.

A Start in Life, to use your words, ‘tells the ordinary and no so ordinary experiences of a bastard and a proletarian to boot.’  The tale starts in Michael Cullen’s home town of Nottingham and follows his journey to London in the 1960’s.  There was a follow up in the 1980’s and there’s going to be a third volume shortly, isn’t there?

First of all you had A Start in Life in 1970, then in 1985 you had Life Goes On and now there’s Moggerhanger, but so far I haven’t really got a publisher for it.  Maybe one day London Books will do it but I don’t know yet.  [Moggerhanger] is the final volume – that’s the lot – and it takes place in the present day.

A Start in Life seems to be essentially about sex and gangsters, so it’s rather cheeky that the protagonist Michael Cullen says ‘there’s more to books than reading about sex and gangsters.’  Of course, the book proves him right…

There’s been so many good books about sex and crime throughout history anyway, of a certain sort, think of Alexandre Dumas and all of those wonderful writers.  But [A Start in Life] is not explicit though – you’ve got to put two and two together and then it’s about sex and crime and all the rest of it.

You’ve written so many books about the Seaton brothers, Arthur and Brian; several books about William Posters; and now you’ve written your third volume on Michael Cullen.  Do you get attached to your characters?

I do actually, I mean the thing is whenever I’m at the end of a book, I just don’t know what is going to happen to them.  Then two years later I think, ‘Whatever happened to William Posters?’ or ‘Whatever happened to Arthur Seaton?’, as if they lived and I knew them.  I always think of them as people because in that way they’re very vivid to me.  It’s then up to me to make them very vivid to others.

How much of your characters is in you personally and how much is incidental?  For example, you have the same initials as Arthur Seaton, who, like you, has a brother called Brian…

That’s true, but I never thought of that when I was writing Saturday Night [and Sunday Morning] – it’s funny that!  Somebody pointed it out to me – but it is very interesting.

And Michael Cullen wears waistcoats, which you always wear…

Yes, this comes out in details sometimes but I’m not basically [like my characters], although I must be a little bit, somewhere, otherwise I wouldn’t have had this sympathy [for them].  You know, you have to love your people whether or not you love them as a brother or love them as a sister or whatever.  And if you do that you get into them and if they become real to you on the paper, as I said already, they’re real to others who read the book.

A lot of your books are set in your hometown of Nottingham.  Nottingham has changed a lot over the years and, sadly, for many people, perhaps those who have not visited, it always seems to be linked with news reports of violence and crime these days.  Has this perception affected the way you write about Nottingham characters at all?

It’s not the old Nottingham types who are involved in crime, we all know that – it’s the drug dealers killing each other and I would never write about them because I have no sympathy for them; anyone who can murder with such ease, you just can’t get to them… I’m always up and down to Nottingham and always have been all of my life, even though I haven’t lived there since I was 20 or 21, I want to know what’s going off and the rest of it.  When I’m with my two brothers, Michael and Brian – Brian just died – we’d just put on our cloth caps and go to a pub and we’d just laugh, talk, reminisce and all the rest of it.  And it was just like it ever was, and if there’s one thing that doesn’t die, first of all is the accent, secondly the argot, the slang – new things come in but if they’re not suitable for the Nottingham slang they go out again very quickly.  I love Nottingham really; I always have.

Your characters quite often seem to be working class anti-heroes.  Would you agree with that?

Yes and no.  They’re all individuals really.  I don’t believe in the working class at all.  The Nottingham character is an idiosyncratic bastard, awkward, opinionated and so on.  But they’re human, very, very human; I couldn’t deal with anyone else.

Characters like Michael Cullen, Arthur Seaton and Colin Smith all seem to be rebellious and opposed to authority and the establishment.  At the end of the film of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning even though Arthur Seaton is settling down in one last act of defiance he throws a stone at the new build houses – in effect, at his own future life – and Colin Smith in The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner throws the race…

Well, [Arthur throwing the stone] was more futile than Colin Smith throwing the race.  That story, [The Loneliness of] the Long Distance Runner, is really my guide through life actually.  You’ve got Colin Smith in Borstal, he’s trying to keep his integrity whilst they’re all bombarding him with what he should and shouldn’t think.  When he lost the race, he put them in their place and told them what he was.  So that was a good action, even though, as my mother used to say, he cut off his nose to spite his face.  But, still, everything costs something and he knew it; he wasn’t a fool.  So that’s what he did… if he’d won the race there wouldn’t have been a story.

Albert Finney played Arthur Seaton in the screen version of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning in 1960 (directed by Karel Reisz); Ian McKellen played the stage version in 1964 at the Nottingham Playhouse; Tom Courtenay played Colin Smith in Tony Richardson’s screen version of The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner in 1962.  Who would play Michael Cullen if A Start in Life were ever adapted for the screen?

It’s a good question – who would I pick?  Somebody a bit Irish really, a blabbermouth, a seducer, a confidence trickster… I’ve actually had offers to make it into a film but they’ve all fallen through.  I’ve written a treatment of it, so if we do it I would have to meet the Casting Director and they would show me who was possible.  With Saturday Night I was not absolutely keen [on casting Albert Finney as Arthur Seaton] but I realised that he was a good actor and that was all that mattered really; that’s a lesson I learnt.  Of course he was perfect for it but that surprised me because when I was writing it I’d got it into my head that Arthur Seaton was tall, a little bit thin, hard, muscley, and so not physically exactly like Albert.  But in the long run you need a good actor.

I read in an interview somewhere that you said for someone with your background to be a doctor or a lawyer would have been a real difficulty, ‘but if you want to be a writer – there’s the pen and paper, and you just write.’  You are a very prolific writer, having written more than fifty books in all (including novels, volumes of short stories, poetry, children’s books, plays, an autobiography and essays).  But is it really that simple – ‘you just write’?  Do you have any advice for budding writers?

Well, I mean yes, you read everything you can possibly get your hands on.  All the Latin and Greek classics in translation, all the great novels from everywhere; Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Dickens – everyone really that’s gripped life in their writing – Shakespeare and the Bible.  They were all such a pleasure to read.  Yes, [they influenced my writing] but then I threw the influences off and found my own voice.  You’ve got to be influenced, but you’ve got to find your own voice.  Reading, reading, reading, and then writing.  When you write, you use your pen and ink or what you do and over and over again you re-write so that it becomes clearer, in clear English.  Mix it with the demotic, you’ve got a style; you’ve got a style, people remember.  Anyway, that’s what I would say.  It took me ten years from beginning, from starting to getting something published, which is not long.  It seemed like forever at the time but if I look back on it, it’s not long.

A writer should be like a fish in water; nobody knows you, you walk around the streets, nobody knows you, it’s wonderful.  You see faces; a face can suggest a story or a character or something, or part of a character.  So you just are an observer of life and then you try to, what shall I say?, mash it up inside you until it comes out like ‘art’ if you can used such a pathetic word; you try to make some kind of art out of what comes into your brain.

What does the future hold for Alan Sillitoe?  Will you carry on writing?

That’s not for me to say.  I’ll either be pushed into continuing or I shall not.  If I am, so much the better; if I am not, I’ve got nothing to lose.  [Moggerhanger] was finished a couple of years ago.  I’m writing a book now, a novel, which I haven’t finished but I’m polishing off.  It’s about a carpenter who lives in Arnold [a district of Nottingham].  Well, I don’t know who he is but he just popped into my mind.  I just like to keep my head down and work and hope it keeps coming and if it didn’t, so what?  I’ve done a lot of work.

A Start in Life is now available in hardback, published by London Books.  An authorised biography of Alan Sillitoe, The Life of a Long-Distance Writer, by Richard Bradford is also available, published by Peter Owen Publishers.

Julian Maclaren-Ross In the Shadow of Cain

Six minutes of pure joy – that’s Julian Maclaren-Ross in the BBC documentary Writer’s World: In the Shadow of Cain.  I was very lucky to get hold of a copy of the footage from this show, thanks to Chris who worked hard to get it.  THANK YOU, CHRIS!

I thought I’d share a few screen shots from the show for those of you who haven’t seen it:

This is not an interview, you understand.  It was more a case of wind him up and watch him go.  It’s unbelievable the way Julian Maclaren-Ross talked; excuse my French, but he really had his s*** down pat.  He doesn’t falter at all, he goes from one anecdote to the next without hesitation, even doing a slightly different voice for a Colonel he was talking to, each story neatly turning into another.  I can understand why he was called a bar-room bore though, because there would be little to no chance of getting a word in edgewise.  How he remembers all his lines, I don’t know – and they are lines, because this can’t be off the cuff, it seems so well-rehearsed.  Anyway, I was well-impressed.  Just one thing, his voice always surprises me – the way he looked, his image, I always imagined him talking with a Mid-Atlantic accent rather than being so incredibly posh (even though I knew I was).

He tells stories about the only time he was ever treated as a writer in the army; how he started writing a series of army stories on the company office typewriter when he was transferred to Suffolk; how he collaborated with Dylan Thomas on a documentary script about the Home Guard; how he was once called “a Soho non-blitzer by a very stout young woman known to us as Are They Real or Are They False?”; how a rocket bomb nearly landed on his head and soon after that the war ended (coincidence? maybe!); about a chip shop that had a sign in the window saying, “Owing to Hitler, chips is littler.”  All very, very amusing.

So few pictures exist of Julian Maclaren-Ross, so here’s some more for your visual pleasure.  And for your reading pleasure, buy J. Maclaren-Ross books now!

A familiar face, maybe

Some time ago, I used to write often about a French singer and actress called Léonie Lousseau, who I really liked.  Unfortunately, instead of being pleased that someone was championing her work, Léonie sent a snotty, ungrateful email asking me not to write about her – in fact, suggesting that I was not allowed to and would have to remove all posts about her from my blog, or else

Well, it’s a way of alienating fans.  Understandably I haven’t felt like writing about her in some time, but look here:I couldn’t resist sharing this and I’m really not sure why I have never noticed it before but this looks very much like Léonie Lousseau (or Martine Collet, whatever her name is).  It’s from the 1969 film Slogan, famous for being the film that brought together my two favourites: Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin.

I can’t say I’m 100% sure this is Léonie / Martine, but I’m 99% sure it is.  She is in a short sequence where Jane’s character Evelyne is living with Serge and throwing a party, which is putting him off his work.  Another distraction comes in the form of this pretty lady, who shares an exchange with him.  The character’s name is Twenty, but that’s all I can tell you as the large supporting cast of Pierre Grimblat’s Slogan remain, for the most part, uncredited so there is no mention of Léonie Lousseau or Martine Collet on the film credits nor on IMDB.

Whoever it is, she’s one lucky lady meeting and (briefly) working with Serge Gainsbourg:

Slogan is one of my absolute favourite Serge / Jane films – it’s stylish and it marks the meeting of the mythical couple.  Check it out, and let me know if you think this looks like Léonie!  And I will certainly let you know if I get into trouble for posting it.