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Odyssée d'avril Ashley; Duncan Fallowell et April Ashley
Jonathan Cape, Londres, 1982
ISBN 0-224-01849-3
Épuisé maintenant.
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April Ashley Store;
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Duncan Fallowell et April Ashley

Transférer

21 avril

Pour survivre au genre d'hypocrisie parfois causée par autre chose
Les personnes tolérantes qui sont confrontées au sujet de la conversion sexuelle sont très résilientes
Un sens de l'humour est nécessaire. Ashley abonde en avril. Si elle
La vie privée a été violée en 1961, elle était un top modèle londonien et une star sociale en devenir.
Dans la nuit, ses réservations ont été annulées, elle a été harcelée par des accusations téléphoniques.
Téléphonez et conseillez à vos amis d’oublier Londres. ils
Elle a même le mérite de sa contribution à Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, The
Route vers Hong Kong. L’amertume n’est cependant nullement un ton qui joue ici un rôle.
Réservez.
Dans cette excellente collaboration
avec les descriptions de scènes sociales de l'ami et écrivain Duncan Fallowell
scintillent positivement: à Paris, où Sartre était assis dans son manteau sale,
Londres, où avril a brillé dans les salons de la richesse et du rang et en Espagne
Ses nominés comprenaient des acteurs très célèbres et son futur mari.
C'est aussi une histoire émotionnelle et dramatique. Nous rencontrons le bidonville de Liverpool
où un petit garçon a été brutalement harcelé et battu insensément par ses pairs; la
d'abord, des remarques inattendues sur sa beauté inhabituelle; la terrible confusion qui
commencé quand il est allé en mer; tentatives de suicide et condamnation à la plupart
département strictement supervisé d'un hôpital psychiatrique; puis échapper à Londres et bientôt
puis à Paris.

"Le jour où je porte des vêtements pour femmes"
April (alors appelée Toni) avait déclaré: "C'est le jour où je sais que je peux le devenir." Mais dans
Paris Toni devrait porter des costumes élaborés dans un club appelé Le Carrousel
Les célébrités se sont retrouvées pour sentir qu’elles avaient quelque chose d’existentiel. a fait. C'était le
première pause d’années d’habillement androgyne strict. On se voit alors
Toni avait en grande partie laissé le peuple décider lui-même. Bien sûr avec des amis proches
(dont il n’y avait pas que la quantité, mais une variété attrayante) étaient les étiquettes
sans importance. Ensuite, la décision a été prise. Toni s'est envolé pour Casablanca. L'opération
et ses effets psychologiques sont décrits en détail en mouvement.
Les étiquettes sont finalement devenues
important pendant la procédure de divorce d'avril de son mari, l'hon.
Arthur Corbett. L’Église et l’État exigent des définitions strictes. L'affaire était une
obligation judiciaire extraordinaire de "déterminer" le sexe d'une personne
n'avait pas de précédent juridique. Un conseiller juridique a prédit qu'il pourrait avoir vingt ans
avant que la loi ne devienne plus réaliste et non plus compatissante,
Manière d’afficher ces problèmes.
C'est un merveilleux
une vie heureuse malgré ses énormes obstacles – passé fringant et hilarant
tourne, plein de gens non seulement remarquables mais intéressants. Le livre reflète
énorme esprit et chaleur, beaucoup de sagesse et surtout
Générosité de l'esprit.

DUNCAN FALLOWELL est né en 1948 à Middlesex. Il a écrit
et a beaucoup voyagé, a vécu à Berlin, Bangkok et Rome et était pour un
Editeur de temps des magazines Deluxe et Boulevard. C'est son
premier livre complet.

content

chapitre
Liverpool
mer
folie
Paris
Au magicien de Casablanca
scandale
Espagne
Rome
Dans lequel je rencontre presque tout le monde
divorce
AD8
Une femme de propriété

"Et, chérie …"

C'était le cher vieux Prince Max de
Hohenlohe-Langenburg, gros et rapide dans ses ornements, est assis à ma gauche
Dîner de gala dans le sud de l'Espagne. La salle brillait de cristal et d'argent,
Ananas, homard et champagne. Et le discours intelligent – quel combat! Une page de
La pièce était un demi-cercle de fenêtres à colonnades à travers lesquelles passaient les bijoux
glissé sur le patio à la lumière des bougies et frapper un groupe. J'ai arrêté de jouer avec le mien
truffer et faire briller mes yeux sur la mer Méditerranée à bout de souffle
avec des yachts et au-delà, bien au-delà, jusqu'aux lumières de l'Afrique.
Max se pencha et regarda
vers le bas. "Et, ma chérie, de quelle couleur -?"
Princesse Bismarck nous a passé
Table sur leurs bâtons. Cliquez sur Swoosh, cliquez sur swoosh sur le chemin des toilettes. il
réussi à se tenir, se balancer et s'incliner. J'ai ri. Elle hocha la tête de son nid de pie
haute altitude et passa agité par la mauvaise porte.
"Chérie, quoi -?"
"Max, crache-le!"
"Eh bien, mon cher, je me demandais quoi
Colorez vos mamelons. Marron ou rose? & # 39;
J'ai lissé ma tendre poitrine tenue par un
Bande de glace rose Shantung et dit: "Le plus pâle, Max, rose."
Il a sorti une couronne et a commencé
Il tremblait si fort qu'il mit le feu à un de ses doigts humides
Brandy, et j'ai dû allumer le cigare pour lui.
"Jeunes cerises, boutons de rose doux, ah –
Voyez-vous la femme là-bas? Il a souligné une connaissance américaine qui avait
Il a hérité d'une grande partie de l'Ohio et s'est enfui en Europe. Figues séchées! Mâchés …
mais toi, mmm, pépins roses, chéri, tu es né haut, je pense. & # 39;

Angel Max: Des manières parfaites. Et complètement
faux sur mon origine. Don Pedro m'a tapoté l'épaule par derrière. "Puis-je
Avez-vous le plaisir? & # 39; il a dit. Don Pedro cria à la taille alors qu'il dansait. mais
une telle tête noble. Et nous sommes allés à Watutsi sur la terrasse.

Bien-nés! C'est drôle. Je ne savais pas ce que c'était un cadeau jusqu'à l'âge de onze ans
Anniversaire.
"J'ai un cadeau pour toi," dit Mère
dit. J'ai attrapé la table pour me stabiliser et j'ai eu la chair de poule. Mais vous
Je ne peux pas l'avoir avant que tu rentres de l'école. & # 39;
La cloche a sonné, j'ai couru hors des portes,
fit un signe rapide de la croix alors que je passais devant l'église. À la maison était mère
tenant un paquet brun. Je l'ai pris fortement en respirant. Sorti une paire de gris
Chaussettes.

Conçu pour un été au Fort Hotel
(où ma mère était une femme de chambre) Sur l'île de Man, je suis né un garçon dans la …
Smithdown Road Hospital, Liverpool, le 29 avril 1935. Je partage cet anniversaire
L'empereur Hirohito du Japon, qui nous fait tauren comme Fred Astaire, Catherine
le grand, Shirley Temple et Hitler.
Ensuite, ma mère m'a ramené à la maison
Le bidonville noir de Dockland s'appelle Pitt Street et m'a baptisé George. Vous ne l'avez pas eu
plus bas que Pitt Street. Même alors, la police patrouillait par paires. Si vous êtes
il ne pouvait être déplacé. Et nous l'avons fait très facilement. Quand j'étais quelques
Emagazine.credit-suisse.com/app/art…1007 & lang = DE La famille a été transférée à l'âge de deux ans dans une nouvelle paroisse de Norris Green, sur le Rhin
Périphérie de la ville. Depuis lors, le reste de la rue Pitt a déménagé avec nous, ainsi que le
La tristement célèbre Scotland Road continuait d'être pleine de poings.
51 Teynham Crescent avait un extérieur
Toilette et bain plein de charbon. Des familles comme la nôtre ont stocké du charbon dans la salle de bain pour l'empêcher
être volé. Mais nous avons eu le luxe de trois chambres à coucher. Le plus petit était réservé
pour moi seul, parce que je me suis nerveusement couché pendant les quatorze premières années de ma vie.
En guise de punition, j'y serais enfermé sans chaleur ni lumière et on me dirait
étaient des esprits.

Mes parents étaient tous deux Liverpudlians.
La mère est née Ada Brown, un nom que j'utilise maintenant en essayant de voyager
incognito.
Elle, une protestante, a épousé mon père,
Frederick Jamieson quand elle avait seize ans. Il était catholique et tellement virtuel
Elle laissait tomber un enfant chaque année: Roddy, Thérèse, Freddie, Moi, Ivor, Marjorie. Une partie
Nous étions plusieurs morts à la naissance.
En tant qu'enfant du milieu, je n'ai jamais rien eu de nouveau
Vêtements. Seuls des signes d'usure gris, rapiécés, fichus, effilochés, pendent au mien
cadre sec. Même mes sabots – alors de rigueur parmi les enfants voyous pauvres –
Même ceux-ci étaient des mains-me-bas. Je pensais que je ne devrais jamais voir la fin
Des chaussures en bois qui me tombent dessus, des coquilles en bois dur avec un bord en acier cloué au bord
Sous-pages. Ces jantes tombaient toujours et devaient être frappées à nouveau
tu te sentais comme un cheval.
Dans sa jeunesse, sa mère était jolie et
coquette, avec les cheveux et les yeux bruns fins et de bonnes dents. Elle aimait sortir
Danser ou "jigger" comme elle l'appelait. C’est à peine si cela a toujours été le cas.
enceinte. Ma première impression fut qu'elle ne m'aimait pas. C'était si petit
c'était physique entre nous. Mais elle avait un grand coeur pour accueillir des étrangers. grand
Roddy aux yeux bleus, qui a navigué à un jeune âge, a continué à emmener
reculé. L'un était Reggie Endicott, à moitié indien, toujours en train de rire.
fabuleux, qui est resté longtemps avec nous et a mélangé la maison
Achetez un gramophone et jouez les disques de Frankie Lane jusqu'à ce que le plâtre éclate.
Un Australien, Bernie Cartmell, a suivi Roddy par la porte un jour. Il était
mince et flasque, toutes les mains et les pieds. Nous l'appelions "la longue pisse" et
se demandait quand il partirait. Et il y avait une fille mexicaine, la belle Phyllis.
La mère était allée aux toilettes le matin et y avait trouvé Phyllis
endormi. Il y avait un bébé blessé dans ses bras. Bien sûr, ma mère a pris les deux
Il y avait toujours des processions à travers la maison. Habituellement, ils dormaient où
Ils sont tombés.
Père était cuisinier dans la marine royale
et pas souvent à la maison. S'il l'était, il distribuerait des friandises
Âge et pendant que nous mâchions, il décrirait des ports de mer exotiques ou adonnerait sa passion
rincé aux huîtres à la Guinness. Père était aussi petit que mère, un peu
construit, mais beau, avec des yeux noirs forts que j'ai hérités, et un paradis,
Kobold sourit. Il était aussi un voyou, un gros buveur et a dépensé chaque centime dessus
le schnaps. J'étais en colère contre lui.
La maison était toujours active, mais pas moi
rappelez-vous de nombreuses autres relations. Mon seul grand-parent vivant, la mère de ma mère, était comme ça
surpris par le son de la première sirène de raid aérien, elle a eu une crise cardiaque et
mort sur le coup. Un des frères du père est supposé posséder un Stradivarius, mais nous
jamais vu
L'irresponsabilité du père signifiait que
Maman a dû travailler très dur pour nous garder en vie. Elle a soulevé des sacs de pommes de terre et
Boxe des oranges dans une épicerie et bombardement pendant la seconde guerre mondiale
l'usine de bombe fazakerly. En raison de la proximité quotidienne de TNT, elle a beaucoup perdu
Les cheveux et toutes ses dents. Doris Paper, meilleure amie de la mère de l'autre côté de la rue,
travaillé dans le même établissement. Ils allaient chez eux tous les jours.
Des pantalons et des combinaisons, les cheveux noués en turban. Un matin à l'usine
Doris a dit: "Je me sens bizarre partout." En fait, elle a brûlé. TNT peut vous faire ça. ils
et mère ont été ramenés à la maison dans une ambulance. Mère a fait une théière et
Doris a commencé à crier: "Je dois aller à Lav! Je dois aller à Lav! & # 39; abzocken
Tous ses vêtements ont couru de la porte arrière. La mère l'a retrouvée morte sur les toilettes
Seat.

J'étais un enfant à problèmes. À côté du
Pipi au lit, je suis né avec une carence sévère en calcium. Cela a conduit à fréquenter
Des accidents où je ne pouvais plus marcher. Sur un voyage sauvage, je suis tombé vingt pieds
Mur sur la succession de Lord Derby, fuyant les gardes-chasse qui ont essayé
tire-moi. La chute m'a immobilisé les jambes pendant trois mois. Roddy et Freddie
construit un go-cart sur une boîte orange et vieilles roues de poussette pour moi
pourrait être tiré à travers les rues voisines. Il s'est toujours effondré, ou
Ils ont frappé les murs pendant qu'ils se reposaient. Les gens m'ont toujours trouvé couché dans les rues,
ce qui l'irrita après un moment.
Il y avait des injections hebdomadaires de calcium
à l'hôpital pour enfants Alder Hay. Si j'étais hors de combat, ma mère devrait le faire
porte-moi sur le dos Elle pourrait se reposer dans le tram, puis me prendre et me porter
moi à l'hôpital. Ces voyages ont été faits dans le silence complet avec la mère
Bouche réglée d'une manière agaçante.
La nourriture était un autre problème. Je n'ai pas
prends ça du tout. Nous nous sommes nourris principalement de sandwichs à la sauce brune, mais mère
Je me corrompais avec des frites, ce qui me plaisait beaucoup. Parfois, j'ai volé des betteraves
des allotissements et les mangé crus, ou des carottes que je nettoyerais en grattant
sur un mur et partager avec mon pointeur de bâtard Prince.
Roddy n'a pas simplement ramené des gens.
Il a apporté la première bouteille de ketchup Heinz à la tomate que j'ai jamais vue. Et le premier
banane guerre. Il a été coupé en six morceaux, un chacun. Un tel goût bizarre. J'ai craché
La mienne est sortie et je ne l'ai pas touchée depuis. Et quand j'avais sept ans, il
ramené Prince. Nous nous avons adoptés immédiatement. Il me suivrait
Ecole et attends aux portes jusqu’à ce que je reparaisse. Il m'a suivi jusqu'à samedi
Photos du matin sur Broadway Regal, derrière le tram, et
alors que j'étais à l'intérieur et que j'appréciais ma série préférée, The Perils of Pauline,
serait assis patiemment dehors et scrutait la rue. En tant que personne, personne ne voulait aller à
Sa promenade était toujours en sécurité avec Prince. Son seul vice était le meurtre de chats. il
Une vingtaine d'entre eux ont été assassinés avant qu'un grand chat ne le guérisse par plusieurs moyens pervers.
Coups au visage.
Liverpool avait vingt-trois miles
Les quais, le plus grand port du monde à l'époque, ont été lourdement bombardés
pendant la guerre. Si la sirène hurlait la nuit, tout le monde devrait la cogner
l'abri Anderson. Ceux-ci ont été faits de fer ondulé et devraient être enterrés dedans
le jardin et couvert de terre. Pas les nôtres. Il a dépassé à l'arrière d'un
obliquement dans quelques centimètres de sol. Il y avait trois couchettes des deux côtés
Les puces et les coléoptères. Je détestais y aller encore plus que dans la chambre simple
et si mon père était à la maison, il me permettrait de m'accroupir sous la haie à côté de lui
tandis que des explosions ont secoué la maison et le ciel est devenu rouge sur Liverpool. Mais ce que moi
La plupart des gens se souviennent de l'odeur de sel dans son uniforme.

Mes jours d'école – une telle torture. Ces religieuses, ces prêtres, ces enseignants sans espoir,
ces enfants dégoûtants! Bien que lui-même ne soit jamais allé à l'église, le père
insisté pour que nous soyons éduqués en tant que catholiques stricts. J'ai été envoyé à l'école primaire St. Theresa
School, une institution vicieuse et arriérée dirigée par le clergé dans lequel on était forcé
quatre fois par jour en prière sur ses genoux. C'était très difficile. Nous avons passé beaucoup
Au fil du temps, nettoyez les sols avec des chiffons à poussière fixés à nos chaussures en bois et lorsque nous ralentissons
Les nonnes ont agité les règles entre nos genoux. Les genoux étaient la grande chose à St
Theresa.
En gros, mon éducation consistait à
apprendre à marcher vite. J'étais l'herbe ultime. Ma tête avait l'air trop grosse et
Cela a été souligné par la préférence de ma mère pour me couper les cheveux en un Henry V.
Bol à pudding, S'ils ne m'appelaient pas Sissy, ils m'appelaient Chinky, et c'était moi.
l'objectif des écoliers. C'était une chance que le personnel inspecte après l'école
Tous les bunkers de raid aérien parce qu'ils me trouvaient souvent dans une pièce liée
à une couchette. Ce n'était pas terrible d'être ligoté dans le dos. Mais le visage lié
En bas des plumes nues ont laissé des taches rouges laides sur les joues.
Une fois, un gang m'a retenu au sol, tandis que plusieurs autres ont sauté rapidement.
Sur mes pieds Cela signifiait qu’un autre terme avait été omis: davantage de voyages de ferroutage à l’hôpital et
Roddy et Freddie me roulent dans une boîte.
Pour tenter de me rafraîchir la vie,
Mme Filben – une jeune enseignante canadienne enthousiaste aux grandes dents chères – a décidé
faire de moi un moniteur de classe responsable de la distribution des livres. Quand je suis venu
avec les manuels rouges en ruine (je ne me souviens plus de quoi ils étaient, Mlle Filben
Les méchants n'ont jamais pu aller très loin dans la classe
sabots de fer. Après quatorze jours de rendu en noir et bleu
Privilège, j'en avais assez et la prochaine fois, cet accent canadien frais
Je me suis penché sur les bureaux. "Les livres s'il vous plaît, Jamieson." Je me figeai. Mlle Filben a essayé
à nouveau. Rien n'est arrivé
"Jamieson, distribuez, s'il vous plaît
ces fichus livres! & # 39; En attendant, elle se tenait devant moi, transpirant
dans un chemisier jaune clair. J'étais paralysée et elle m'a frappé au visage. Je frappe
son dos. Nous avons tous été déroutés. Ses jolis yeux se sont remplis de larmes, mais j'ai perdu ceux
Job.
Quelque chose d'autre dans le domaine académique?
Un essai: Que veux-tu devenir quand tu seras grand? J'ai écrit: "J'en veux un
Cinéma star et mener une belle vie. & # 39; Cela m'a conduit au fond de la classe. Quelqu'un était
devrait dire "conducteur de moteur" ou "prêtre".
Sport. "Pouvez-vous nager, mon garçon?"
Je n'ai jamais essayé, alors j'ai dit: "Oui, monsieur."
"Alors plongez dedans."
Je suis bleu au visage et trépidant
mais à partir de ce moment j'ai nagé. Finalement, ils m'ont donné une médaille de bronze à vie
sauver.
Vincent Patterson était mon seul ami
à l'école. Il était sombre et pâle comme moi, mais plus grand. Il n'aimait pas se battre, mais c'était
bon à cela, si quelqu'un a insisté. Nous étions très religieux et avons décidé de ne pas
jurer. Pour un tel endroit, Vincent était exceptionnellement éthéré et il pourrait aller bien
devenir prêtre. Un jour, il se rendit à Bromborough dans le Cheshire et
ivre d'un flux pollué. Trois jours plus tard, il était mort.
J'avais treize ans, très secoué,
et commis le péché mortel de la messe manquante du dimanche. Lors de la confession des prêtres
dit: "Pourquoi n'étais-tu pas à l'église dimanche?"
"Je veux y penser, mon père."
"Si vous devez penser à Dieu, c'est vous
à jamais damné! Sors de cette église! & # 39;
Il avait été parmi un groupe de prêtres
avait vu ivre et maudit dans son jardin quelques semaines plus tôt, alors je ne me sentais pas
trop volé. Un sous-produit de ma perte de confiance était une perte de blâme pour le braconnage.
Si purifiés, Prince et moi avons attrapé les lapins avec un zèle renouvelé dans les domaines de Lord
Sefton et Lord Derby. C'était à peu près une demi-heure de marche dans le vert
de Norris Green, lieux de rêve par un après-midi ensoleillé, mais l’arrivée de
La myxomatose a mis fin à cela.
Peu de temps après la mort de Vincent, mère
avait chassé mon père de la maison, ce qui m'a également empêché d'être chez moi.
De longs voyages en mer et quand il était à la maison, il était plâtré dans des bars avec du rhum
Chasseur de bière, il serait absent sans vacances. Il y aurait une bagarre, mon père
pire "Mais, Ada amour -." Visage, Visage elle irait à lui, puis il s'asseoir
hébété dans un coin, attendant que la police militaire vienne le chercher.
En outre, la mère s'est maintenant avancée
très bien avec Bernie Cartmell. Après l'expulsion de son père, elle et Bernie ont vécu comme un homme
et sa femme. Un père a finalement été banni avec des éclats d'obus de la Royal Navy
Des plaies au ventre et aux jambes qui refusaient de guérir. Il a travaillé brièvement comme un bus
Driver, puis Liverpool piétine une petite pension.
Juste avant mes quatorze ans, j'ai
eu un autre choc terrible. L'âge scolaire est passé à quinze ans. Surtout
approche intelligente était de l'ignorer – jusqu'à ce que les autorités ont menacé
Mère avec application de la loi. Un jour, le directeur entra dans la classe. Nous étions
dans un silence agité. Alors qu'il parle à l'enseignant, il se retourne soudainement. & # 39; Qui
Était-ce murmurer? Cela venait de là. & # 39; Son long doigt osseux tendu
vers moi et je me suis baissé.
& # 39; vous! Monte! Vous étiez
Whispers # 39 !;
"Je n'étais pas, monsieur."
"Ne mentez pas!"
"Je ne mens pas, monsieur."
"Ne vous battez pas!" Et il a commencé à frapper
Je suis tellement à la poitrine que je suis tombé.
J'étais blessé et en colère en criant: "Tu es affreux
Mec, je t'ai dit que ce n'était pas moi! & # 39; et a couru à la maison en sanglotant.
La mère était en colère. "Viens avec moi," dit-elle
dit: "Je vais traiter avec lui."
Quand nous sommes revenus en classe
Le directeur était en proie aux ravages de la désobéissance. Mère a pris d'assaut
directement dans. "As-tu jeté mon enfant à terre?" Elle était puce et la serra
Poings si durs que les jointures étaient blanches. Le directeur a commis l'erreur
essayez de la fréquenter.
"Pas toi, ma bonne femme" moi!
putain catholique catholique, je vais te tuer si tu touches encore un de mes enfants! & # 39;
"Comment osez-vous jurer dans mon école!"
Mère a décidé de frapper son visage
comme il se trouvait à environ un demi-mètre au-dessus d'elle, elle a dû sauter. & # 39; # 39 & serment? Elle était
sauta de haut en bas et le frappa. "Je vais bien dire ce que je baise, toi
Cul avec des oreilles! Je suis protestant Je ne voulais pas que mes enfants élèvent des catholiques sanguinaires
En tout cas, je suis en phase terminale quand ils passent la moitié de leur vie sanglante à genoux
Priez! Elle l'a frappé à nouveau, a attrapé mon bras et nous sommes partis. Le mot a fait le tour
à propos de Raving Ada de Teynham Crescent et mes derniers mois d'école étaient en grande partie
sans être dérangé. Quelle vie difficile pour les mères et les directeurs dans les bidonvilles.

Quand j'ai donné l'impression que la vie domestique et la vie scolaire étaient brutales
Je vais corriger cela maintenant. Dès l'âge de dix ans, j'ai déménagé.
John et Edna Lundy ont tenu une épicerie
Magasinez dans l'ancien marché du fer de St. John's (qui a été démoli maintenant). Le frère de John était petit
Fiancé avec ma soeur Theresa (bonté divine, le temps où Tess était "fiancée", comme elle l'appelait)
il). Quand j'ai commencé à conduire loin de chez moi, il approchait. Ils m'ont engagé
comme un garçon de courses dans sa boutique, qui était célèbre pour le bacon. J'ai traîné des pages de celui-ci
étaient beaucoup plus grands que moi. Une demi-couronne par jour plus les pourboires, 8h. jusqu'à 22 heures
une richesse incroyable pour un enfant de dix ans. C'était le week-end et pendant la
Vacances. Plus tard, chaque fois que je décidais de quitter l’école, ce qui était souvent le reste
Jour.
John était grand, juste et donné
Hilarity. "Bonjour, pépite." C'était son surnom spécial pour moi. Un autre religieux
Vacances? O.K., le vélo est à l'arrière, voici une liste des livraisons. & # 39; Edna était sombre,
avec des crocs et un accent riche du Devonshire qui m'a intrigué. J'ai essayé aussi
Imitez-le et tombez accentué entre deux chaises, donc plus tard
Quand j'ai déménagé à Londres, il était facile pour moi de parler sans accent. Jean
et Edna est devenue un parent remplaçant et j'ai vécu dans sa chaleur pendant une longue période
vers le haut. Pour la première fois, j’ai rencontré du vin et des plats non cuits et j’ai pu
Whiskies d'escargots de l'armoire à cocktail tubéreuse avec un paquet de cigarettes musical
ci-dessus.
Edna est tombée enceinte, une femme d'affaires
effrayant vaguement compris. Quelque chose nous avait été signalé
École sur les lectures de la Bible, mais en gros les religieuses et les prêtres célibataires
Vous avez vous-même contourné le problème en le répertoriant en bloc sous le symbole "Sin". et & # 39; Sin & # 39; ont déposé
essayez de nous transmettre leur dégoût. À la maison, où nous avions peur
Même si nous voulions nous embrasser, tout le sujet était tabou.

Mais dans une ville comme celle-ci, on ne peut pas vivre longtemps
Liverpool et rester ignorants sur les faits de la vie. Le quartier rouge dans le port
était Sodome et Gomorra avec des matraques. De la mémoire la plus ancienne du
Les prostituées étaient une vue de la ville. On disait que si une jeune fille descendait du citron vert
Dans la rue, les lions rugissaient devant St. George's Hall. Chaque vendredi soir les filles
À la gare de Lime Street, ils se sont réunis, les lèvres rouges et les chaussures rouges, à la rencontre des trains
Introduction de la G.I. Je viens de Warrington pour un sale week-end. Nous suivrions,
claqua des gerbes de gomme à mâcher survolant la plate-forme
quand les portes de la voiture ont rebondi. S'il y avait des copines pour la saluer
Beaux, les tartelettes les recouvriraient de sacs à main: "Putain, putain de putain de putain de gratuit!"
Quand Edna est à nouveau enceinte
et a donné naissance à une deuxième fille, j'ai dû dormir à nouveau à Teynham Crescent,
obligé de porter un gant avec des sifflets et des coups de pied de l'arrêt de tram à la porte d'entrée. si
cela sonne mélodramatique, rassurez-vous, il ne se passe guère de jour sans que je ne sois là
exposé par les durs indigènes d’une certaine barbarie, il était donc tôt
m'a obligé à ressentir ma propre unicité.
Heureusement, à travers tant de coupes
École pour travailler dans le marché, j'étais riche. En prime, John pousserait beaucoup de thé
Bons à la main (rationnement encore répandu). Tout le monde était fou du frisson
à partir de ¼1b supplémentaire. Tea et je l'ai vendue au marché noir pour un shilling
chacun. Avec ma fortune, j'ai acheté des cadeaux à ma mère – écharpes, bas, pas cher
Bijoux. "Je vais la mettre dans le tiroir du bas pour un jour de pluie", dit-elle.
Étrange.
Après avoir été expulsé de la maison,
Le père s'est arrêté au marché ou aux portes de l'école et m'a demandé quelques bobsleigh.
Je lui ai donné ce que j'avais, sachant qu'il s'occuperait du bar le plus proche. Si dans le
Quand j'avais quatorze ans, je suis allé au tribunal pour la première fois – Prince était revenu à son grand âge
Façons de se faire mordre la tête d'un chat, et le propriétaire indigné me hante
– Je pourrais payer l'amende de dix shillings. Drôle, je n'ai presque rien acheté
tout pour moi
Sauf les chaussures. La chance de cette première
Chaussures. C'était comme une promenade dans le lit.
À 14

Après l'école je suis allé travailler
Les Lundys sont des employés à temps plein, l’un des chanceux qui ont un emploi. Mes cheveux ont repoussé
de son bol de pudding embarrassant et, avec tout le cyclisme, je développé facilement
Des roses sur mes joues. Je suis venu au travail un matin, mis ma blouse blanche et étais
Sur le point de pincer sous le comptoir pour collecter les ordres, Edna dit: "Pourquoi, pépite?
tu es très belle & # 39; Un vertige temporaire. Références physiques à moi
Je me suis toujours senti malade. J'ai supposé que j'étais moche, une conviction que la plupart des autres appréciaient
confirmer.
Plus tard, j'ai vérifié dans le miroir. mince
et ralenti pour mon âge. Les dents sont tordues. Yeux foncés, brun verdâtre, cils très
longs et sourcils finement cambrés. Cette partie de mon visage a toujours été gardée basse
Fronce les sourcils, sauf quand c'est devenu confus. Pas de taches – je n'ai jamais traversé
cette épreuve. Un peu de rouge dans une pâleur autrement macabre. Cheveux noirs denses Na et
était nouveau?
Peu de temps après, il revint de la
Pierhead sur le tram n ° 14 avec Jo, un voisin de Norris Green. Je me suis endormi.
De façon inattendue, il m'a frappé aux côtes. # Sommes-nous là? & # 39; J'ai demandé.

"Non, mais tu te réveilles, tu ressembles à
une maudite femme quand tu dors.

À quinze ans, je n’avais ni poils au visage ni au pubis, ma voix n’était pas cassée, ce n’était pas moi
accablé de désir sexuel, et je n’ai pas tiré. En comparaison, beaucoup de mes
Les contemporains étaient d'énormes animaux couverts de peluches. Bien que je n'en voulais pas non plus
Pour jouer avec des poupées ou porter des vêtements de mère, j'ai toujours été ridiculisé
J'étais comme une fille et oui, je voulais être ça. Jusqu'à ma perte de foi j'aurais
de longues conversations avec Dieu tous les soirs et lui a demandé de me réveiller normalement,
Réveillez une fille, réveillez-vous, tout ce qui me convenait le mieux. Instinctivement sans
En sachant pourquoi, nous savions tous que je suis un outsider.
C'est pourquoi j'ai décidé de prendre soin de moi
La main. Ce n'était plus bon d'être une fille. Je voulais être un homme. quand
personne n'était autour je croassais dans les registres inférieurs jusqu'à ce que ma voix se lève
violemment cassé ou au moins rugueux. Je ne pouvais pas parler pendant cinq jours
Le médecin indien a dit à sa mère que j’avais fait quelque chose de spirituel à ma voix. Beaucoup plus
important, je suis déterminé en privé à aller en mer. Tous les autres hommes de ma famille l'ont fait,
à la fin même petit Ivor. Cela semblait être l’une des choses qui ont fait de vous un
Man.
Mes courses m'ont amené à
quartier le plus chic de Liverpool. Comme ils étaient loin du centre-ville, j'ai
serait donné des tasses de thé quand je suis arrivé. Un de mes objectifs préférés était que
Maison de Mme Rossiter. Pour moi, elle était une créature de l'espace avec ses coiffures
et ses longs ongles, son entrée de marchand et ses gicleurs sur la pelouse. M.
Rossiter était un homme important chez Cunard et quand je l'ai confié à sa femme
l'a incité à m'interviewer dans le bâtiment Cunard.
"Mais tu es trop jeune pour partir
Mer ", a-t-il dit.
J'avais quinze ans et j'avais environ onze ans
Ans "Mais je ne suis pas trop jeune pour aller à l'école, non?"
Il m'a donné une grande lettre de
Einführung auf geprägtem Cunard-Papier. Es schnitt durch alle Bürokratie wie
ärztliche Untersuchungen und Einverständniserklärung der Eltern, was ein Segen war, weil ich keiner von meinen Angaben erzählt hatte
Familie oder Freunde darüber – nicht einmal John und Edna, die wichtiger waren
als jeder andere – für den Fall, dass sie Hindernisse aufwirft.
In der Nacht vor der Abreise bin ich gekommen
Nach Hause von der Arbeit und sagte: 'Mama, ich gehe morgen, um mich einem Kadettenschiff anzuschließen.'
‚Nun, ist das nicht etwas ', sagte sie und
kochte weiter Bernies Pommes.

An einem feuchten Novembermorgen fand ich mich mit einem kleinen in der Lime Street Station wieder
brauner Pappkoffer, der auf den Zug nach Bristol und das Kadettenschiff S.S. attente
Vindicatrix. Meine einzige persönliche Erinnerung – Rosenkranz. Wie Aberglaube
klebt!
Der Kurs war sehr intensiv – sechs
Wochen lang.
"Was ist das, Sir?"
"Knoten!"
Was zur Hölle, dachte ich.
Knoten. Ich könnte sie nie tun. Ich habe stattdessen Bögen gemacht.
Die ersten drei Wochen wurden in verbracht
nissen hütten. Wir waren ungefähr zwei Dutzend. Wir wurden mit blauen Serge ausgestellt
Hose und Kesseljacke, dicke Wollsocken, eckige Stiefel und eine Baskenmütze dazu
in einem flotten Winkel getragen werden. Es gab keine Armaturen. Alles kam einfach auf dich zu
aus einem großen Schrank. Alle meine waren viel zu groß. Ich sah aus wie ein Varieté.
Bis vor Tagesanbruch räumen Waschungen das Bett auf
und Schließfach, polnische Knöpfe und Stiefel, den Waschraum putzen, marschieren, Frühstück,
Formeller Unterricht, Mittagessen, Kartoffelschälen und -schrubben, körperliche Idioten, Abendessen,
Licht aus um 21 Uhr Es war keine Zeit für ein Gespräch.
Die zweiten drei Wochen waren länger
romantisch. Wir zogen selbst zur S.S. Vindicatrix, einem Dreimaster
auf und ab schlürfen entlang des Flusses Severn, wo man die
praktische Fähigkeiten der Seemannschaft. Ich raste die Takelage hinauf, den Hof entlang, und
schrie "Land ahoi!" mit beiden Lungen.
»Komm runter, Jamieson. Wir setzen
Sie sind verantwortlich für die Yacht. & # 39;
Die 'Yacht' war ein alter Kajütkreuzer
für den Navigationsunterricht verwendet. Der Kapitän rief "Noch" Noch "Osten!" und ich – gerade wie ein
Streichholz hinter dem Lenkrad – musste antworten "Nor" Nor "East, Sir!" und drehen Sie die "Yacht"
in diese Richtung. Jeder Befehl auf der Brücke musste wiederholt werden, um sicherzustellen, dass es ihn gab
Keine Kommunikationsfehler. Nachts schliefen wir erschöpft und besänftigt durch die Nacht ein
Knarren des Schiffes und das Geräusch von Wasser. Ich habe alles geliebt, besonders dieses neue
Erfahrung "Kameradschaft", auch wenn die anderen über Mädchen prahlen und ich ging
innerlich eigentümlich. Mein einziger Vorbehalt war, dass ich während der meisten Tage eine Koje belegen musste
Die Klasse schwang glamourös in Hängematten.
Landgang kam aber zu Weihnachten
Diejenigen, die sich den Fahrpreis nicht leisten konnten, durften an Bord bleiben. Das hat es versprochen
sei bedrückt, bis ein extravagantes Lebensmittelpaket von John und Edna ankommt. Enthalten war
ein riesiger Obstkuchen. Ich schnitt mir eine Scheibe und gab den Rest weiter. Im Gegenzug kam zurück ein
Haufen Haggis, den ich zum ersten Mal probiert und für nicht unangenehm befunden habe. nous
teilte alles, machte Witze und schlenderte abends zur Mission
Haus, in dem die Teedamen in den dünnen Papierhüten einen Sinn für die Gelegenheit ausmachten
Limonade und Brötchen. Am zweiten Weihnachtstag schlüpften wir zu dritt in die Bristol Pubs und
wurde unruhig: strikt gegen die regeln und daher unbedingt zu tun. Es war am meisten
herrliche Weihnachten, die ich je hatte. Im Großen und Ganzen verabscheue ich Weihnachten, verriegele die Türen,
und fernsehen, bis es verschwindet.
Abgesehen davon war mein Abschlussbericht glaubwürdig
von Knoten, die katastrophal waren. Wir haben das Gruppenfoto des anderen unterschrieben,
versprach ewige Freundschaft, versprach, sich in Kairo oder Rio oder Tokio zu treffen, und alle gingen
Zuhause.
Einige Monate später rief ein junger Mann an
Colin Shipley, der ein Schiffszimmermann und noch einer von Theresa war
Verlobte sagten: »Auf meinem Schiff ist ein Platz für einen Decksjungen. Falls Sie es wollen
es.' Am nächsten Tag nahm ich meinen Pappkoffer und öffnete die Haustür von
Teynham Crescent holte tief Luft, hustete und machte sich auf den Weg nach
Manchester wird Mitglied des S.S. Pacific Fortune.

Das war ein schneller Start ins Leben. Es wurde für einen Moment langsamer, als es an einem kalten Februar war
Nacht im Jahr 1952 fand ich mich mit Colin am Eingang zu der riesigen Dunkelheit von
Manchester legt an. Tatsächlich blieb mein Herz fast stehen. Es war so schrecklich still –
abgesehen vom Quietschen der Ratten und dem unheilvollen Rauschen des unsichtbaren Wassers. Schwarz
Reihen von Kränen und Schuppen fielen in Tintenbecken. Es fing wieder an zu schneien,
Erweichen des Geruchs von Harz und alten Fasern.
A policeman checked our papers from
his little sentry-box and let us pass. Colin walked ahead. I screwed up my eyes, stuck
my head forward, and stumbled after him into the murk, trying to avoid coils of
rope and long cables mooring dead ships to the wharfside. Suddenly the black hull
of the Pacific Fortune hung over us. Except for half-a-dozen hurricane lamps
the ship was in darkness. The sailors were ashore. I followed Colin up the
gangplank.
At the top a man stepped out from the
shadows. He was about fifty and cube-shaped. Swinging me into the lamplight he
looked me up and down, then said over his shoulder in a thick Glaswegian accent,
'Och, Colin, I thought we was gettin' a laddie!' and chuckled. This was Mr Macdonald,
my boss, the Bo's'n.
We crossed the deck, went down the
gangway, flicked on a light, along passages, down again, along more passages,
down, down, to the aft of the ship where the sea crew had their quarters. An iron
door was opened and I was shown into a small cabin.
'You'll be all right here. Danny will be
back soon – he'll explain everything. Have you eaten? Très bien. Sign the list tomorrow
at 9a.m. Welcome aboard, laddie.' And the Bo's'n took Colin off for a drink.
There were three bunks in the cabin.
The two lower ones had already been taken. I clambered up into mine and sat there
nervously swinging my legs.
An hour later the door opened and
Danny came in. He was about nineteen or twenty, skinny with an unexpectedly
studious air. Danny had a crisp tongue which I later discovered enabled him to hold
his own among the bigger, rougher sailors. Robby, a junior like myself but a couple
of years older, followed. Robby was amiable enough but overweight and afflicted
with boils and indelicate odours. I was the youngest crew member, the only one
who had never before been to sea.
Danny showed me where to hang up
my toothbrush, all that sort of thing, and said, 'I'm bollocked so it's lights out.' Dort
was no doubt who wore the trousers in our cabin. 'Besides, you should try and get a
good night's sleep, you'll need it.' Lying up in the bunk, heartbeat unnaturally loud
in my ears, listening to the creaking of the decks, trying to decide whether I should
have packed my rosary beads… but eventually I faded out.
Suddenly there was a rumpus outside
the door. Drunken sailors crashing back from the bars, a sound which was to panic
me often in the future. The door sprang open and a light went on. Three young
mariners were hooting round the cabin. They weaved across to my bunk and started
to tug at the bedclothes. The ringleader, a heavy leathery crewman about twenty-
five years old, was bellowing in a Scots slum voice, 'C'mon, let's have a look! Ooh, 'e's
wearing pyjamas!' I held on tight and kicked. Danny was shouting, Fuck off, Jock!
We want our sleep if you want your breakfast!' A group of older crewmen turned up
to investigate the noise and they restored order. Robby was giggling uneasily and
playing with a boil on his neck.
'Are they always like that?' I wanted to
say to Danny, but my mouth had gone so dry that the lips stuck to the teeth.
'They're O.K. really, they're just pissed,'
he said, turned over, and fell asleep in seconds.
Clang!!! The alarm shook me
rigid. 5.30a.m. Robby was already pulling on his trousers and saying, 'Get a move
on, we've got to get the mess going before the sailors turn up, I'll show you the
routine.' I soon realised that one's status on board advanced with the hour one was
permitted to rise. We were the first up.
Robby led the way along brilliant red
decks and into the sailors' mess, which was spotless and had to be kept that way by
us. He showed me how to make the tea, set the table for the crew, trot along –
everything was done at a trot – to the Petty Officers' Mess and set it up for the Bo's'n,
Colin and the Ship's Electrician (known as 'Sparks'), then along more corridors to
meet Chief Ship's Cook Heywood who resembled a barrel of lard. His face opened in a
grin and he said, 'Well I'll be blowed, whatever next!'
The stewards were now coming out of
their cabins. They lived amidships with their own mess and waited on the officers
and passengers. There was a sharp distinction between the sea crew, who actually
moved the vessel, and the stewards, who provided service for the elect. The sailors
dismissed them as a 'bunch of fairies'. Most of the stewards were English and all the
sailors seemed to be Scotsmen called Jock, coarse-grained types yet good at heart.
The passengers were even further away, somewhere in heaven – the Pacific
Fortune was a 9,400 ton freighter carrying general cargo but with room for a
dozen or so banana-boat travellers. One never saw them unless 'scruberising' their
decks or painting the scuppers where the water ran off. Captain Perry one saw
only when he chose to make the ship's round like Matron in a hospital. 'Settling in
all right?' he asked with a smile, and passed on without waiting for a reply.
Having been introduced to the hot,
steaming galley it was time to trot back to the sailors' mess to clear up the tea and
ashtrays. The crew would work until about 8a.m., when we would serve them
breakfast. Afterwards Robby and I had to dash away to serve the Petty Officers.
Colin said I had a choice – to call the Bo's'n 'Sir' or 'Bo's'n'. I chose the latter because
it sounded so nautical. When all this had been set in motion one was permitted to eat
too, for about five minutes, before the clearing up had to be done.
My duties were divided into one week in
the mess, one week on deck, plus serving tea and breakfast daily. £10 per
week and a monthly allowance of £3. Mess duty was no joy. Waiting on the
sailors, cleaning out their quarters, scrubbing floors, polishing brass, waxing teak,
lunch, tea – after which many of the sailors would finish for the day – dinner,
collapse. Our part of the ship was usually silent by 9p.m. while the passengers at
the other end would be chatting somewhere between the cabinet pudding and the
brandy. Scrubbing in the fresh air is more entertaining than scrubbing in the
bowels so I preferred deck work, especially when entering or leaving a port. Meine
overseer on deck was a taciturn Scot. I can't remember his name but presume it was
Jock. Since he had no regard for words I learnt as I went along.

The first voyage began. The stevedores came on duty and cast us off at dawn.
Winding the steel hawsers on to the bollards made my palms bleed. Jock said, 'Put
these on', and my hands disappeared up to the elbows in deck gloves. But I lost some
of my excruciating shyness and began asking questions which Jock ignored with a
friendly smile.
The Liver Building topped
by the twin Liver Birds, Pierhead, Liverpool

      From Manchester along the Ship Canal
and out into the River Mersey takes a day of complicated manoeuvres. At Liverpool
the ship floated past the green bronze birds on top of the Liver Building. Father
said that if one saw them flapping it was a premonition of tragedy at sea.
First week out of port: passed quickly,
everything so new, porpoises raced the ship, a white clipper in full sail passed by.
In the mornings I ran up to the fo'c's'lehead to retrieve the flying fish which had
inadvertently suicided there. First come, first served, delicious for breakfast. And at
the end of the day, while the crew were gambling or unwinding in their bunks, I
climbed to a secret place on the poop deck and sat on a pile of ropes in my oilskin.
Out in the Atlantic after dark the world is eerily bright. I wondered many things – and especially: what on earth am I doing on a poop deck with raw hands?
Ten days out: the weather much
warmer. The sailors began to take off their clothes, which was very disconcerting. Je
clung on to my jumper and black trousers. We worked without shoes or socks unless
the steel decks became too hot. We put up a canvas swimming-pool for the
passengers.
About two weeks out: I was running
along the deck in the early morning when a remarkable smell hit me. la
relentlessness of salt had abated, and a heavy scent was in the air. Even the old
hands were growing frolicsome on it. Eight hours later – land! On the horizon a low
green island wobbled between the blue water and the sky. Haiti. My first palm trees.
I had never been anywhere in my entire life and now – whack! Palm trees! Haiti! Je
kept rushing the sides of the ship and shouting, 'Can't we get off now?' But we
cruised on through the Windward Passage, for our port was Kingston, Jamaica.
The ship rode at anchor all day in the
Bay of Kingston, waiting for a berth. I asked if we might swim ashore like the
sailors do in films with a Polynesian setting. Cook Heywood said, 'Ever seen sharks,
laddie?'
I had seen only the fin of one
following the ship. An old salt had become very agitated. Apparently the saying
goes: aarr, if a shark do follow your ship for three days it do portend a death on
board. Ours disappeared on the second night and the old salt lived to sleep
again.
Cook Heywood picked up a bucket of
bones and offal and tipped it over the side. At once, and I mean at once, the water
convulsed in paroxysms of pink foam and teeth. It was absolutely mesmerising.
'And be careful when you're ashore,'
said Cook. 'It's a popular form of burial hereabouts.'
At about six in the evening we upped
anchor and sailed into harbour. The ship was overrun by hawkers in jazzy clothes
with whom the crew bartered furiously. Last to arrive was a black woman of
enormous size. She wore a peppermint-green blouse which couldn't have been cut
lower, a blue skirt daubed with flowers, and a flamingo scarf tied round her head.
She flapped on board in sandals. Actually, she sashayed. When she moved
everything moved because she wore no undergarments. 'Hiya, boys,' she drawled
on reaching the top of the gangplank, wheezing and patting beads of moisture
from her throat with a hankie.
This was Cynthia, the washerwoman,
who had come to take the sailors' laundry ashore. Obviously she was very popular
and knew all the men by name. 'Oh!' she boomed, 'I's sure gonna take care ob dis lil
baby.' Two black arms heavily laden with flesh cut out the light and I disappeared
into a chest which sported the most tremendous pair of breasts I had seen in my
life. They were phenomenal, and running down them was an unstoppable
exudation of sweat. I emerged damp and red with the promise that 'One night,
darlin, I's gonna show you der reeeel Kingston.'

Colin, whose uncle was the Chief of
Police, had been invited to a starchy garden party in the grounds of Government
House and he took me along. The ladies wore Army & Navy Stores frocks and
white gloves, and the gentlemen white dinner-jackets frayed at the cuffs. ils
looked incongruous, seedy even, in that tropical landscape.
Officially the party was in honour of a
Royal Navy battleship moored in the bay. A group of young matelots moved towards
me and I overheard 'Look at that skin!' which is naval slang for 'That's a bit of all
right!' They were flirting and asked me what I drank. Only minutes before, I had
discovered Coca-Cola, an invention of genius. So Coca-Colas started to arrive. 'This is
the life!' I thought, taking in the view with a sweep, then everything went round
and I fell over. For the first but not the last time I was horribly sozzled. They had
fixed the Cokes with rum.
The next morning I made another
discovery. My first hangover. Double agony, because our cabin was at the bottom of
the ship, just over the screws, where the heat is at its most aggressive. True, there
was a porthole. But this could not be opened in harbour because of rats. In fact it
couldn't be opened at sea either because we should have been drowned. But when
Cynthia, smoking a cigar, turned up to take me along the Kingston Waterfront, I
knew exactly what to order. In and out of the little wooden bars we went, where
three-piece tin-can bands make the sound of thirty, and smiles leer at you out of
clouds of marijuana smoke – eventually I ordered so many rum and Cokes that I
went quite off them.
Next stop: Cristobal, where South
America begins. We went ashore across a solid red carpet of cockroaches the size of
sparrows., With every footstep along the wharf there was a ghastly crunch like the
cracking of wood, followed by a sickening yellow ooze up around one's pumps.
The Panama Canal: the middle of it is a
bayou, a steaming stretch of swampy water strung with liana and full of flying
creatures straight from Jules Verne. Here the issue of salt tablets was added to my
chores. I hardly needed them myself, being a salt addict. Salt over everything, even
over anchovies, even today when I'm supposed to be on a sodium-restricted diet.
Sliding out of the Canal into the
boundless blue clarity of the Pacific Ocean, we almost bumped into a whale. 'Slow,'
shouted the Officer. The idea was to avoid ramming it. The whale rose out of the sea
like a cathedral, waved and gracefully disappeared. This went on for twelve hours
because the animal had adopted our ship as a playmate. If you ram them you drive
right into a mass of blubber and it sticks, forcing the ship to put into port to have
the corpse removed.
The first call on the Pacific Coast was
San Pedro/Long Beach, where I stocked up on short-sleeved Californian shirts
splashed with cacti, Red Indians and film stars, then three days in San Francisco
which the sailors said was la grande volupté of the run.

Usually I wouldn't press myself on
Danny and Robby when ashore. In public they were embarrassed by my
effeminacy, I think. But the older sailors didn't give a damn. They were amused by
the sight of a young thing groping pathetically into the mysteries of alcohol and
adult life. But in San Francisco all the sailors had their special banging parlours to
visit, so I went into the city alone. From the docks I caught the bus uptown past the
gingerbread houses to Union Square where you have to press your face against the
bus windows to see the tops of the skyscrapers. I gravitated towards Chinatown. nous
had one in Liverpool but San Francisco's exploded all over me in a dazzle of Chinese
neon. Too young to enter the bars, I walked agog for hours and hours and formed a
lifelong friendship with the American hamburger. After the lights, the most
noticeable feature of the district was the number of drunks vomiting in
doorways.
Then it went very quiet. It must have
been the early hours of the morning. I had to return to ship and grew
apprehensive between Fisherman's Wharf and dockland. No bright lights here. Out
of the gloom, wailing and flashing, a cop car flew at me. Two uniformed
immensities jumped out, an entire hardware store hanging from their belts. Je
hadn't known there could be so many different instruments of persuasion. Hands
up, against the wall, frisk; I knew the routine from James Cagney.
'How old are you, kid?'
'Sixteen, sir.'
'Well, at least the kid don't lie.'
It seemed to be an offence in California
for anyone under twenty-one to be out so late. They clanked around for a few
minutes, checking my papers, expressing surprise at my being at sea 'aweady', and
told me to hop in. I was treated to a motor tour of the city before being dropped back
at the ship. Their surprise returned when I shook hands and said thank you.
Americans, I've since realised, are always impressed by civility. They don't quite
know how to cope with it. If ever you find yourself the victim of aggression in the
U.S.A., simply say 'I'm awfully sorry' or something like that and they'll blink and
fall into the palm of your hand.
As we sailed out under the Golden Gate
Bridge I very much hoped Seattle would be as stimulating – one was so
inexperienced. But we did see a body float by with a bullet through its head, so even
Seattle must have its moments.
Canada. Brrr! And quiet. Unsere
northernmost call was Woodfibre, an isolated lumberjack settlement with one
coffee bar, where, surprise, we took on timber. It was in Canada that I gave my first
interview. Colin had something to do with it because the radio people were allowed
to come on board. They introduced me to the listeners as 'the youngest person to go
to sea since child labour was abolished'.
Now the voyage reversed itself.

Haiti was on the horizon for a
while.
My seventeenth birthday came and
went like a piece of flotsam.
Then only the sea.

Whenever I could I retreated to my secret place on the poop deck. While we were in
and out of port, everybody had plenty to occupy his attention but now, back in the
small claustrophobic world of a ship in mid-Atlantic, my anxieties proliferated.
At meal times the sailors flaunted their
sexual conquests, while I sat in silence and became increasingly choked. With all
the toil I should have been developing male muscles but I remained puppyish. Die meisten
of the men showered in the evening after work. Always secretive about bathing, I
was now so ashamed of my body that I crept out to shower in the middle of the night
so that no one would see me unclothed. My behaviour of course only made them
more curious. It was always a huge relief when the weather changed to wind and
rain, so that everyone was covered in oilskins and there was no pressure for me to
take off my top. I was phobic about anyone seeing my chest. Instead of the hard
pectoral muscles which all the other sailors loved to display as one of the bonuses of
physical labour, there was a pulpiness around my nipples which I took to be
rudimentary breasts.
The ragging of that first night was
repeated, usually at the instigation of the same young bullying Jock who now
frightened me very much. There was always a great commotion. 'Silly fuck' this.
'Sod off' that. Objectively nothing catastrophic happened – a few bruises in the
scuffles – and the older men prevented matters getting out of hand. But it made me
wretched. Sometimes they blew kisses and said 'Hullo, ducks' or 'girlie'. They would
wink, slap my bottom, slip an arm round my waist. What was one supposed to do
back? All my wires were tangled up inside because, you see, I was excited by it as
well as afraid. Had I been among the stewards, possibly it would have been easier.
But I was at the Men's End of the ship, in the throes of a profound identity crisis
brought on by puberty but not explained by it (I never completed the proper
physical cycle of male adolescence). Why did I have this curvaceous body?
After three months of voyaging, the
ship was in a filthy condition. It returned via Antwerp and London to Manchester
where one went through the ritual of being paid off (the balance of my wages came
to £19.13s.3d). If one wasn't asked to join up again all the fears about not
being good enough were confirmed. 'Will you be making another trip with us?'
asked the Bo's'n. I had made the grade as far as they were concerned. 'And your
monthly pay goes up to £4.'

There were a few weeks' leave so,
carrying scent, lace, American groceries, holiday shirts and strings of abalone
shells, I went off to put my lightly weather-beaten face round the door in Teynham
Crescent. 'Oh, thanks,' they said when I flung forth my treasures, and then
withdrew back into themselves.
 I couldn't wait to return to the ship.
When I did, it was a comfort to see that
the seamen were by and large the same as on the first voyage. At least I knew
where I stood with them. And one – tall, too handsome, blond, a friend of the young
bully – thrilled me strangely. This could not be openly admitted, especially not to
myself, but nor could it be disregarded because I went groggy every time we
met.
Half-way along the Ship Canal my
overseer knocked me to the deck with one clout. A whirring noise passed overhead,
terminated by a violent whipcrack. One of the hawsers securing the ship in the
lock had snapped and would have gone through me like a wire through butter. elle
wasn't a good start. Passing out into the Mersey I scrutinised the Liver Birds. A light
flashed from them but did they move? Or was my mind wandering?
Life on board settled down to its jittery
routine. One of the stewards I met in the galley presented himself as a suitor but I
didn't respond, having adopted the condescension of the sailors with regard to these
lesser mortals. Besides, the rejection of all advances had become automatic.
Touching people is a very healthy activity. The absence of it made me morbidly
sensitive. Nor could I accept my feeling for the Blond Sailor who caused such an
upheaval in my prudish breast. I stared at him working on deck. He would look up,
wink, and I'd turn away hot and confused. I was convinced a monstrous mistake had
been made and only my being a woman would correct it. There were no fantasies
about dressing in such and such a way. I merely wanted to be whole.
One night the Blond Sailor opened my
cabin door, unbuttoned his shirt and started to kiss me. Two of his friends burst in
to see how far he'd got. The Blond Sailor laughed and went off with them. But I was
engulfed by shame and driven closer still to paranoia.
In Kingston Cynthia said, 'Why, honey,
you sure is gettin' prettier every time I sees yooo.' She calmed me. Cynthia, all Earth
Mother and soothing powers. Yet really she could do no more than she already did.
Which was my washing, free of charge.
Colin took me up into the Blue
Mountains for a drink. We sat on a terrace overlooking a misty valley. The alcohol
churned and threw up the conviction that not only should I never be normal but
that instead of getting better it was going to get worse (which it did). I experienced
an acute attack of panic which suddenly began to break me up from within, the
eruption of intolerable pressures, and a compulsion to jump. Reason played no part
in it. The compulsion emanated directly from the body.

'Come on, it's time to get back,' said
Colin and the brainstorm cleared, leaving me debilitated and depressed.
As we sailed for the Panama Canal on a
calm sea I began to vomit from nerves and tried to pass it off as seasickness. la
Blond Sailor knew he had broken down my reserve. He appeared to swagger with
extra self-assurance. The battle raged on inside me.
In the Pacific the Bo's'n began to
realise I was in a pretty bad way. He gave me work which was either alone or with
older men but he couldn't isolate me. Knots, always my torture, now I had them in
chest, stomach and head and they were getting tighter and tighter.
The sailors must have thought me a
very odd kettle of fish. I was over-polite with them through fear of involvement.
Physically I had deteriorated, eating little, working feverishly in an attempt to
block my thoughts – so much so that the Bo's'n took me aside and told me to take it
easy. But I was under excessive emotional strain. The upshot was that, walking down
the street in San Pedro, I saw a sign saying 'Doctor' and went in.
After an initial reticence I burst,
ending up with 'I want to be a woman!'
'That's insane!… I mean, you'll grow out
of it.' Which is what they were all to say.
He gave me two sorts of pills,
anti-depressant amphetamines and barbiturate sleepers, and told me to visit a
psychiatrist as soon as I arrived back in England. He added that he would waive his
fee.
Well, I hadn't a clue what a psychiatrist
was. It was a new word. The amphetamines shrivelled up what remained of my
appetite and shredded what remained of my nerves. The sleeping pills made me
dizzier than I already was. By the time we reached Los Angeles I was totally screwed
up.
After clearing away the dinner I stayed
on board and when my two cabin mates returned I pretended to be asleep. At about 3
a.m. there was a hoo-ha outside the door. It banged open. Panic! They were
laughing and stank of drink. I fought like a tiger. As usual the old men broke it up
and I was left on the floor with a nosebleed. Later I relaxed sufficiently to weep. But
I'd had enough. My mind went cool and I decided to kill myself. On this resolve I fell
sound asleep for the first time in weeks.

Next day I worked dispassionately through the schedule and after the last job,
which was to clear up when Colin, Sparks and the Bo's'n had dined, I shut myself in
the Petty Officers' Mess. No one would return there until the following day. image
me looking androgynous under a mop of black hair, with a tall glass of water on my
right and on a tabletop to my left two piles of pills, one pink, one yellow. It was
common knowledge that the way to kill oneself was to swallow an overdose of pills.
But which ones? To hedge my bets I decided to swallow both, first a pink, then a
yellow, then a pink, then a yellow, until they had all gone. I'd got half-way through
when I began to shake, tingle and sweat. My vision flashed on and off. It went into
black and white. My final thought was 'This is wrong but so is everything else I do –
hope Mum forgives me.' The last thing I remember was falling off a chair.
Strange to say, I didn't blame the sailors.
They didn't mean to be unkind and were only being their raunchy selves. Certainly
if they'd realised what was really happening they would have done anything to
make life easier. But there was no way of getting it across. How could they be
expected to understand what I couldn't understand myself? Actually their attempts
to make contact with me, however rough and ready, were in fact an example not of
their meanness but of their generosity of spirit. Sea people are wonderfully
generous. They have simplicity and depth because dealing with the elements is
their business. And because of this simplicity they are also touched by romance. Je
have always admired and loved them. Later on, when I became well-known, I
received many letters from sailors and from whole messes.
6 Mess, H.M.S. Crossbow. Dear Miss Ashley – When you first appeared in the
papers we have been collecting your photos and pinning them on our locker doors.
Not long ago we decided to form a fan club and all the Mess wholeheartedly agreed.
We thought that if you could send us a few autographed pictures…

D4 Mess, H.M.S. Excellent, Monday Tot Time. Dear Miss Ashley – It is with
hearts full of hope that we write this our first letter to you, an ex-mariner and now
a beautiful woman. In our mess deck we have forty-one pin-ups of various young,
good-looking women but nowhere among these can be found one such as you. nous
would willingly tear these down if we could replace them with portraits of
yourself… We write this letter in the belief that you will treat it as a sincere one,
and it is you know. Yours hopefully, Able Seamen Grimwood, Gwent, Sheppard.

The Lads, H.M.S. Battleaxe. Dear Miss Ashley – I wish to thank you on behalf of
all the lads for the photographs you very kindly sent. They now occupy a place of
honour in the mess, where no matter where we look we can see them, not that we
would want it any other way… Take good care of yourself and the very best of luck
and happiness in all you do. Sincerely yours, A.B. Derek Herron.
Sirens rang in my head. I came to and passed out, over and over again. On the third
day I came to and managed to focus on the cheerful face of a middle-aged American
nurse in a pale-blue and white uniform. And I was furious!
How stupid to have bungled it – Colin
had found me after all and Furness Withy had transplanted me, 8 August 1952, to
this David Hockney interior in the Seaside Memorial Hospital, Long Beach,
California.
The nurse was saying, 'Oh darling,
you've got your whole life in front of you, how can you be so silly, it's a wonderful,
wonderful world!'
Such rot, but I took to her immediately.
She gave me something outlandish to eat called an avocado pear. It was divine. la
Pear was followed by a priest, blue-eyed American-Irish with a spine-chilling
smile. He prefaced all his remarks with 'my child', which drove me up the wall.
Eventually I had to say, 'Will you please leave me alone!' And when he'd closed the
door behind him I tucked into the other half of the avocado.
A faintly embarrassed representative
of Furness Withy said that the Pacific Fortune had left and I should not be
allowed to rejoin it. I must say, Furness Withy's conduct was exemplary through all
diese. But paradoxically the news saddened me. Despite everything the ship was my
only home and contained my only friends. He added that I was being transferred to
the Seamen's Mission, San Pedro, to convalesce and should be issued with meal
vouchers to the value of three dollars per day. These could be cashed in unofficially
so there was pocket money for bus rides out to the beach. The local Samaritans from
the Norwegian Seamen's Church introduced me to teenage American voluntary
workers who took me to Hollywood, to ball games, to the desert, to the Biggest Big
Dipper in the World. With their help my toehold on life returned amazingly
quickly. One is so pliable when young. One snaps back.

After months of playing around, I was
told without warning to pack my bags for a midnight flight to New York City. I'd
never been up before and was treated like God.
The New York mission was grim and in
a sinister part of town. Again I managed to cash in my vouchers, lived on
hamburgers, hot dogs and french fries, and went into the head of the Statue of
Liberty (the arm was closed). The representative told me to pack again. I was on
stand-by for the S.S. America, which held the Blue Riband for the fastest
Atlantic crossing. It was a case of having to take whatever berth was going. Diese
turned out to be a luxury stateroom on U deck with yards and yards of panoramic
windows. The menu was an astonishment. Here began my love affair with caviar
but I baulked at using the First Class dining-room because my trousers were ragged
and my thin freezing Californian shirts frayed to death. However this get-up was
perfect for the fancy-dress ball on the last night at sea. I went as Robinson Crusoe.
The ship dropped a few passengers at Cóbh on the Irish coast then docked at
Southampton.
Another Furness Withy rep met me,
with a train ticket to Liverpool plus the balance of my pay, £7.1s.6d.
Squaring my shoulders, opened the front door of Teynham Crescent. They were
sitting round the wireless drinking tea.
'What on earth was all that about?' fragte
Mother.

'Now listen to me, you silly fucking cow. Stop all this shit about wanting to be a
woman. You'll grow out of it. Man? Woman? Who Cares? You've got it up here, that's
what counts. If God had intended the genitals to be as important as the brain He'd
have put a skull round them.' Roxy was dispensing advice in a coffee bar, Renshaw
Street, one cold November evening.
The first thing I'd done was go for
another ship but I'd been given A Dishonourable Discharge. The second thing was
to fix up work with John and Edna. And the third was to try and learn to live with
the word 'freak', an embarrassment now to my family as well as myself. In this, a
positive element had entered my life which was crucial: Roxy.
Slightly built, with a strikingly red
face and a pot of green eyeshadow on each eye, he had come to work on one of the
stalls in the Market. His forehead was very high with a mass of ginger hair piled
precariously above it in oily quiffs. When he was excited they dislodged themselves
and wound down over his face, in the centre of which was the foulest mouth I'd
ever encountered. From this nervously jerking orifice, night and day, issued a flow
of abuse and wisecracks. For Roxy it was a condition of existence, like breathing or
the circulation of the blood.
And his hands – when they weren't
involved in the reconstitution of his coiffure, his hands jumped about in
unpredictable staccato, perhaps coming together for a second under the chin like a
stunned madonna before shooting off in independent directions, one to the hip, the
other to interfere with an earlobe, explore an itchiness in the lumbar-region, or
simply gouge the air, then they would meet up again behind his neck in a desperate
attempt to knot an imaginary turban. I never saw him, one might say, in repose.
The animated effect was enhanced by the comparative sobriety of his dress.
Roxy was a new type for me. And in
case you imagine him to be of a simpering disposition, I should emphasise that he
was as tough as boots. Liverpool can be a mean town for those who stick out like
thumbs. But under threat Roxy was at his wildest. 'You touch me, mate, and I'll
fucking knock yer face through the back of yer head!' With green eyes blazing in
green war-paint, the blood vessels standing out on his scrawny neck, the hands
zipping up and down – thugs ran a mile. At first he frightened me too. But the
discovery of Roxy's throwaway attitude towards all that was considered
reprehensible, well, I simply talked and talked, it was like a bowel movement in my
soul.
He invited me to meet his friends in the
gay bars. Whenever the doors opened everyone inside would stop talking, turn
round to check out who was coming in, and then return to the business of letting
off steam among themselves. There were two main haunts: one behind the Market
which I was reluctant to use for fear of being spotted, and another at the Stork
Hotel. The hubbub! Many of the customers wore cosmetics and semi-drag. The more
exaggerated ones had left home and gave parties. I went to one at the flat of two
men who lived as women by night. Full of pink satin, white lace, gold tassels, doilies
all over the place, it looked as though Mae West had thrown up in there. la
atmosphere made me uncomfortable, for my own presentation went much further
than Roxy's in formality – a dark boxjacket with padded shoulders to make me
shapeless, black trousers, hair long on top but cut into a Tony Curtis Boston at the
back, and a white untouched face.
There was nothing to do in Liverpool
in the early 1950s. The only nightlife was people being beaten up and murdered.
After closing time we hung around the Pierhead which was the focus for youthful
frustration. Liverpool has tremendous nervous energy. We youngsters brought it to
the Pierhead where a dangerous static would build.

Reggie Endicott took me to a boozing
party at the house of a friend of his. It was a smart modern one, distinguished by an
indoor lavatory. I stood behind a sofa feeling worse and worse and finally went off
to this lavatory and locked myself in. For want of anything more constructive to do
I took down a bottle of aspirin and swallowed the entire contents. This second
suicide attempt was much feebler than the first. In fact it failed to connect at all. ich
crawled home with Reggie, slept for eighteen hours, and awoke with a monumental
headache. It was assumed I had drunk too much, a permissible excess denoting
manliness.
…We were at the Pierhead. Roxy was
bitching with another Liverpudlian queen called Little Gloria (as opposed to Big
Gloria who came from Leeds) over a piece of rough trade they both had their teeth
into. As usual I was outside it. We had been to the pub behind the Market and had
had a few. I loved to drink. My manners had become even more reserved than
before. Putting a psychological distance between myself and others was my method
of self-protection. Only drink relaxed me, gave me a holiday from myself. But it took
quite a lot, half-a-dozen gins before the lights started switching on.
Out there in the keyed-up atmosphere
of the Pierhead I overheard two young men discussing marriage plans. I couldn't
live that life. On the other side the row between Roxy and Little Gloria grew
intolerable. I knew I couldn't live their life either. Despair swept through me like a
dry wind. Roxy, Little Gloria, me, everything was so sordid. At eighteen I had no
future, no chance for any kind of happiness, so –
I shot like a bullet towards the railings,
jumped clear over them and fell thirty feet into the fast current of the Mersey. As I
fell through the air I registered the shocked silence of those I'd left behind. My fall
was broken by an icy smack. I plunged in and the water carried me off at top speed.
Thinks: 'Thank God the tide wasn't out – it's going out now – I'm rushing towards the
sea – I'm going like the clappers towards New Brighton – I'll float for a while until
my clothes get waterlogged – then I'll be dragged under.' Having analysed the
situation, I settled into the current as one would settle into an armchair.
On my way down-river I passed beneath a
line of pontoons. As I sped out the other side there was a frightful pull on my hair.
For a moment I assumed I had crashed into a post until I found myself rising out of
the water. One of the young men contemplating marriage had seen me vanish
under the pontoon, calculated the point at which I should emerge, ran about three
hundred yards, jumped down to it, and was now hauling me out of one of the most
dangerous rivers in the world. I writhed and fought. Chunks of hair came out. But
he was so strong, and I ended up at the Ormskirk Mental Hospital. 'Youth Saved by
Long Hair', said the Liverpool Echo. My first press.

Though sedated I woke up with a start in a soft white gown with no metal fittings on
it. In the bed opposite, with jug ears and clawlike hands covered in black hair, a
man was tied down and screaming. Some were giggling, or sobbing, or releasing
horrible howls from their throats; others shuffled up and down the ward with faces
cancelled by drugs. In the bed to my left was a young man with the loveliest pale
features. We would chat in the normal way until a fixed stare came into his eyes. il
would start to shiver and to mutter. 'Arrgh… arrgh… I like them black, I like them
big, they've got to be big and black, I've got to have them big and black.' Then the
fit would pass and he'd continue the conversation as if nothing had happened. His
obsession was the breasts of black women, he'd gone over the edge in that respect,
and it had disfigured his whole outlook on life. It occurred to me that his best
chance of a cure lay not in a madmen's ward but in a ticket on the first boat to
Jamaica and Cynthia.
Wanting to go to the lavatory I was
distressed to find myself escorted there by two giants in white coats and not allowed
to shut the door. The inmates were not permitted to shave themselves either. aucun
knives or forks with the food. One ate with a spoon like a babe in rompers. la
screamer opposite had to be fed by one of the giants who wiped the slobbering
mouth and chin after every spoonful. This filthy performance effectively put me
off food. The ward lacked all adornment and was painted a bleak white. The windows
were barred and could open only an inch or two. The doors were bolted shut. I had
been imprisoned in a ward for violent maniacs.

When this appalling fact dawned on me
I asked to see a doctor, and was told to wait. At last he came and I said, 'Why am I in a
place like this?'
'Because if you do stupid things like
you do, you come to places like this.' Like all the staff he wore a white coat. elle
was to prevent psychological contamination, to remind themselves they were part
of the sane community.
'But I'm not mad. This is a place for
raving loonies, this is not for me. I only tried to kill myself because I'm so
unhappy.'
He was non-committal, apart from
informing me that I'd have to stay where I was, under observation for at least three
days.
The two giants took me for a bath,
which completed my humiliation. In the ward the lights stayed on all night.
On the fourth day Mother arrived.
Bernie was with her in his customary, not-with-it way. She said, 'I wouldn't have
come if Bernie hadn't come with me.' I screamed at her. To this day Mother thinks

I've let the family down. It was agreed that I could leave, conditional on signing
papers committing me to a year's psychiatric treatment as an out-patient at Walton
Hospital near by, which had one of the largest psychiatric units in the British Isles.
When I got home my brother Freddie said, 'You silly git', and ruffled my hair. It was
the nearest the family came to discussing it.

Dr Vaillant was the head of the unit.
His dark eyes couldn't rest, least of all on anyone else's, and darted about in terror
of everything. Small and twitchy, he reminded me of a rat in distress. After an
interview with him I was passed on to a much younger doctor who began the cure
by putting a mask over my face and dropping ether on to it. The idea was to release
one's hidden depths by getting one high.
'Why do you want to be a woman?' il
asked. Claustrophobia began to flow up my nose and oppress my chest. Through the
stone walls I could hear someone crying.
'We've got to go and help them! We've
got to!' I was babbling like an old wino and tore the sodden mask off my face. Dort
were four or five sessions with the ether mask and I grew to like it. This is fatal for
therapeutic probes because it means one has regained one's composure. The doctor
asked me about homosexual activity. 'I'm approached nearly every day but I don't
like it and I don't do it.'
After a physical examination they put
me on a course of male hormones. The dose was massive and might have encouraged
a little growth in height but failed to make me shaggy and broad-shouldered. 'No
matter what you do, you'll never be able to change my mind,' I said with a
knowledge I didn't know I had.
Next on the list was sodium pentothal,
the truth drug. It is jabbed into your arm and injected slowly while they ask you
questions, questions, always the same ones, always the same answers, over and over
again. Eventually they decided to go straight for the Main Nerve. Electro-Convulsive
 Therapy.
For this I was put in a public ward.
Observing those who came out was no encouragement. These blitzed souls returned
from the convulsion chamber like zombies, their eyes blinking and heavily
bloodshot, with an attendant supporting them on each side. A few hours later they
awoke in their beds with murderous headaches in comparison to which an aspirin
overdose is like a day at the seaside. When it comes to medical matters I'm usually
very brave but on these occasions was not.
You are wheeled into the chamber.
Wires are attached to your wrists and ankles. A crown of wires is placed on your
head. Heavy canvas straps bind you to a table. Once they press that button it's zonk!
out! until you wake up with a head full of cannonballs and broken glass. quoi
theory lies behind E.C.T. I couldn't grasp. It was followed by more talk.
After six months of these mind-bending
exercises, the doctor told me there was nothing more they could do without
wrecking me physically. The report noted, '…he presents a womanish appearance
and has little bodily or facial hair.'

Mean while I had continued working in the Market. One was really supposed to live
on sickness benefit like an invalid, but the work kept me sane. At the same time I
had my first clumsy affair with a man. He was called Vic and I'd met him at the
Stork Hotel. The barman came across to me and said, 'Someone wants to buy you a
drink', which wasn't unusual. Already I was the prettiest and most mysterious of the
bunch, but going out of my way to look as straight as possible (although the one
thing they always said was, "You've got a 'woman's eyes'"). Occasionally Vic would
crash out on Mother's sofa. She quite liked him. But his insane fits of jealousy killed
it before it had a chance to reach anything romantic.
I had also met one of the directors of a
local brewery, who offered to put me on a catering course. My first assignment was
with Mr and Mrs Leadbetter in Chester at the Commercial pub in St Peter's
Graveyard. But when I started to attract an extrovert clientele I got cold feet and
asked for a transfer. This was to the Westminster Hotel, Rhyl, to learn dining-rooms
and kitchens. It was off-season, dead as dead (roller-skating was the biggest treat in
town), so after some months I asked for another transfer. It took me to St Asaph. Je
didn't get on with the family running the hotel. The last straw came when a horse
bolted and dragged me on my back all through the shopping streets one crowded
Saturday afternoon. Besides, there's only so much you can learn about a dining-room.
I'd run out of ideas; something else had to happen.

Ronnie Cogan, a friend who'd gone to London, would occasionally return north to
demonstrate his metropolitan style. Aghast and goggle-eyed, he said, "You mean
you've never heard of Cuban heels? Eee, Liverpool's nowhere, kid – if you
want to get somewhere you've got to come to t'Smoke."
It seemed the essential move.
Mother refused to lend me a bean, so I
boarded the train with fifty shillings in my pocket. At Euston Station Ronnie said,
"We can sleep on the floor of Big Gloria's room in Earl's Court."
This was it – London. Piccadilly, the
Ritz, Her Majesty! The most sensible thing I'd done in my life. It's funny how these
changes seem impossibly major while you contemplate them. But when you do
them, it's so easy – freedom and a floor like Big Gloria's had been waiting there for
years. Six-feet-four with a face like Sitting Bull, he didn't seem at all surprised to
see us and immediately brewed a cuppa.

Now for a job. Ronnie and I found
positions right away as table-wipers at Lyon's Corner House, Coventry Street, the
night shift, upstairs. In imitation of Roxy I smeared my lids with green paint, and
ate Benzedrine Inhalers to keep me wiping through the night (you took out the wad
of inhaler, cut it up with scissors and swallowed the pieces with water). It caught
auf. In 1953 if you wanted a cup of tea in Central London at 4 a. m. you went upstairs
at the Lyon's Corner House to be greeted by a squad of painted macaws screeching
about on speed. My section was soon filled with fans, little old men and women to
whom I gave free cups of tea from a gigantic metal teapot. They sat there all night
drinking tea and going to the lavatory, and at dawn they melted away.
With Ronnie I took a small flat in
Westgate Terrace. In the morning after work we'd fly back in a fever to scrub it,
hoping to exhaust ourselves for sleep. My God, those Benzedrine Inhalers. Three
days later you'd be all of a pother and still going! One drank excessively to smooth it
off round the edges. Sometimes I ploughed through a whole bottle of vodka before
work.
No, London was not disappointing. Je
learned all that was free if you were prepared to walk and can still surprise
Londoners with odd corners they didn't know existed. The pubs we frequented were
the Fitzroy and the Marquis of Granby north of Soho, in a district hung over from
Bloomsbury days and known to us as Fitzravia. The Fitzroy was the most outrageous
pub in London and often raided. The police entered, the place fell silent, they bolted
the doors, and anyone without identification was taken off in a Black Maria. "Are
you old enough to be drinking here?" they would ask – I always carried my passport
in case of these interrogations. It was in the Fitzroy that I met Rock Hudson and Ava
Gardner. After hours a mixed bag, including Danny La Rue and Tommy Osborne,
congregated in the Snake Pit, a Soho bomb-site with railings round it and a tea
caravan in the middle behind St Anne's Church. London was of course littered with
bomb-sites. Soho I never really took to, despite spending considerable time there.
But I did meet a famous scientist in a restaurant in Dean Street.
"Is it Mr Einstein?"
He turned and said, "Are you a boy or a
girl?"
"I think I'm a girl."
"Whatever you are, you should be
Madame Butterfly with those long eyelashes."
"Can I have your autograph?"
"But I don't like to do that, it
embarrasses me so much."

"Oh, go on…"
"Oh, all right…" He gave me five, one
each for our table, some kind of record for him.
Little Gloria came south too and
brought the news that Vic had committed suicide on a camping holiday. At
lunchtime he'd walked into a Welsh reservoir. "Don't be too long, food's almost
ready," his friends cried. He called out, "That's O.K. I'll not be back." The body was
found a few days afterwards.
The first Christmas, I went home, laden
with gifts (for Mother a £5 box of chocolates the size of a cartwheel),
showing off in a royal-blue box jacket and slip-on shoes. Slip-ons had recently
come into the London shops. Before it had always been lace-ups.
I arrived on Christmas Eve. Ivor turned
up blind drunk, ready for Midnight Mass.
"No, Ivor, I'm not coming with you, I'm
an atheist now."
"I'll thump you if you don't come, you
great cissy!"
"Not very spiritual talk for a Christmas
Eve."

"No fancy London stuff here, thank you
very much," said Mother. "You are going with Ivor."
"Well, what's happened to you all of a
sudden? You're not even a Catholic. You're famous for encouraging people to defect!
So leave me alone. I just want a quiet Christmas."
Feeble as it was, such confidence
astounded Mother. "Get out of this house!" she bawled. "And never ever come
back!"
Luckily I hadn't unpacked. Ivor
sloshed along the hall walls behind me, attempting to get to the church across the
way. He zig-zagged all over the road. Mother was pushing him, abusing him, trying
to stop him collapsing before he reached a pew. The two of them fell up the steps,
he crashed into the door, and she shoved him inside.
I turned and called out, "Are you sure
you never want to see me again? Because if you say yes, you never will."
Mother was out of breath at the head of
the church steps, framed in the light of the doorway. "I never want to see you
again, d'you hear? I've hated you from the second you were born!"

This moment had been a long time
Kommen. But there was no mistaking that it had arrived. I walked a mile or so to
Broadway where Ronnie was spending Christmas with his lot. When he opened the
door he was horrified to see me with my suitcase but Mrs Cogan was marvellous.
"You come in, love, we'll give you your Christmas," she said.
Back in London, while elbowing tea
stains off the Formica at five in the morning, a very pretty girl called Sylvia drifted
in for a cup of tea and said, "Wouldn't you prefer office work to this?"
"This is O.K. I wouldn't mind a
change."
"I'm sure my boss would love you."
Which is how I came to operate the
switchboard at J. Rowland Sales Ltd, a theatrical agency in Charing Cross Road. Je
gave up the Benzedrine and the eye-shadow and went legit. There had been
inducements – I gave an inhaler to a fellow worker and he ran into a bus and was
killed. Finally, when Ronnie metamorphosed into Humphrey Bogart under my very
eyes, I knew I'd overdone the drink, drugs and sleeplessness. It was at this agency
that I met Duncan Melvin, a musical and ballet impresario whose wife owned Le
Petit Club Français in St James's, a fashionable dining-club for politicians
and civil servants. Duncan looked like a little leprechaun, which is what I called
him. Pink and chubby, always chuckling, he wanted to be my sugar-daddy but I said
no. I was too romantic to make it as a tart.
The agency was perfectly situated
when the coffee-bar boom happened. Our favourites were nearby in Old Compton
Street, the Two Eyes where Tommy Steele used to sing before he became famous, and
the Kaleidoscope round the corner. Here I first met my great friend Rita Wallace
(née Farrell). Like Big Gloria she came from Leeds. Like Duncan she
looked like a leprechaun. Like me she was a teenager, but half my height with wild
red hair, ravishingly pretty and usually hysterical with manic laughter. Rita was
doing the same as I'd done, waitressing all hours, Benzedrine Inhalers, have
another coffee on the house, have another Danish, have you met Betty the Berk?
One was always being introduced to people with names like that. Betty grunted and
carried on spooning piles of sugar into his coffee.

When Ronnie moved on I couldn't
afford to keep the flat. A transvestite hooker friend, Tristram, who had a record of
petty-mongering as long as your leg, said I could take a room in his basement in
Victoria. After a while I had to put it to him.
"Tristram, I think somebody's been
sleeping in my bed."
"Oh yes, Eyelashes (my latest sobriquet),
"this couple I know, she's a doll, he's a dish, so in love, so romantic, they had
nowhere to go, sorry, I meant to tell you."
"And Tristram, you've given up going
to work – how are you living?"
"Didn't you know, sweet? I have this
private income." He was a crashing snob, gave himself such airs.
A few weeks later, coming down the
street after work a little earlier than usual, I spotted a young woman coming up the
area steps. Nothing romantic about her and she was with a man a hundred years old
at least. And something else bothered me. I went up to Bill, one of the boys who
lived upstairs, and said, "Do you know, I got the most shocking bill from our grocer.
It's £43 and I hardly eat."
"Haven't you any idea what's going
on?"
"What do you mean?"

"You're in a very dangerous position.
Tristram's letting your room to whores during the day. By the hour. By the half-
hour when he can.
"You haven't missed much, have
you."
"They must be using your account at
the grocer's too. And the house, you realise it's being watched."
I went cold. Who would have believed I
was innocent? Who ever believes it?
"I'm getting the night boat to Jersey
tomorrow," said Bill. "Why don't you come?"
Bill regularly went there to work the
summer season. The night boat appealed to my sense of drama. A few days
afterwards Tristram was arrested. He was described in one newspaper as appearing
in court "with heavy black beard poking through heavy white make-up".

We floated into St Hélier at eight in the morning feeling gorgeous. la
following day I was washing dishes. The day after that the bush telegraph informed
me of a more amusing job out at La Corbière.

The hotel there was unfinished,
plonked by itself on the edge of a cliff, with the lighthouse rising theatrically
opposite. It was owned by Mr and Mrs Wormold who lived in St Hélier. He was
a charming softie from the North of England. She had more zap, the double of
Ginger Rogers, and was having a duet with his business partner.
"We want someone who can do
everything," he said.
"That's me."
"So far only one bedroom's finished.
You can have it as general manager and caretaker. Breakfasts, morning coffee,
lunches, teas and the bar."
"When do you want me to start?"
"How about now?"
Under me were a part-time barman, a
woman in the kitchen and a cleaner. Among my customers were the lighthouse-
keepers, a tourist called Clare Cork who was passing through and an Italian waiter
who was her lover. But at night I was alone, with only a black cat and a tortoise for
company. I'd start the day with an early-morning swim, then open up, take in the
milk, tidy the bar, put the chairs and tables out on the terrace, put on tea and
coffee, cut bread for toasting, heat the fat in case anyone ordered a cooked
breakfast, and sit there eating pieces of orange in summery bliss. Apart from the
vagrant staff, the first in would often not be until 11a.m., the new shift for the
lighthouse wanting a drink. A few for lunch, mostly salads. Tea-time was busiest,
cream teas on the terrace, but the nights alone could get very gothic.
On my Sundays off I'd sit in the Red
Cabin Bar of the Royal Yacht Hotel and be sociable. Imagine my joy when Rita and
the gang pranced in at the tops of their voices. "Dwahling, it was such a good idea,
we're going to slave here too." After work they'd come out to La Corbière to
keep me company, turning up with the Sarah Vaughan records around midnight
and ready for a party. Mr Wormold normally left at 11p.m. He knew about these

dansants but didn't mind because I was such a godsend during the day.
"All I ask is you don't forget to lock up
last thing."
"I wouldn't, Mr Wormold. And after
midnight I'll turn the lights out too, in case the police get nosey. I shouldn't want to
distract them from their duties." Besides, the lighthouse cast such a poetic light
through the large window it would have been criminal not to exploit it.
One night I'd gone up early to ease my
head – the lighthouse men had been in and out and I was whoozy from drinking
with them. Hearing a noise below, I went to the top of the staircase wound in a
sheet. The party people were arriving. Raising my hand I said "Welcome, darlings!",
tripped, and fell all the way to the bottom where I rolled under the piano. Dazed
momentarily, I grabbed one of the piano legs to raise myself up. It moved. I noticed
it was covered in black cloth. My eyes travelled up it to where a powerful thigh
stretched tight the fabric in an outward curve, up to where it joined another leg
and bulged menacingly as a beam from the lighthouse moved slowly across the
jutting pelvis, and from there to a narrow leather belt, a stark white shirt
suggesting the shadows of a heavily muscled trunk, up towards an open collar and a
dark throat kissed by the sun, two ropes of muscle between which an Adam's apple
was gently swallowing, and on to a strong jaw line, wide mobile mouth with
brilliant sudden teeth, a nose slightly fleshy but only so much as to render all the
rest more huggable, and proceeded to the magnificent eyes in whose endless green
depths birds sang and lions roared and dreams slid to and fro. The head was square,
covered in tight glittering curls, and set rocklike on straight shoulders. For me the
rest of the room had vanished into silence. All I could hear was, "Let go of my leg,
you bloody idiot." He was young and sturdy. Rita had brought him.
A week later, while I was working late
in the bar, he walked in. Rolling golden body, deep deep tan. Taken unawares, I
stuck my head in a glass of gin and scrutinised him out of the side of one eye.
"Remember me?" he said.
Knives switched under my ribs. I'd
forgotten the tonic.

"Can I get you a drink?" I said.
He jumped up on a bar-stool and sat
there grinning. "Just a beer."
I grabbed a bottle, snapped off the cap
and sent it frothing across the bar. "Oh here, you do it." I was pumping shots of gin
into my glass with the other hand and failing to be blasé. I was tongue-tied.
Whenever his own patter ground to a halt, which was quite often, he would look
down and brush non-existent specks of dust from his thighs.
Once the gin began to soak in, I relaxed
a little. His name was Joey, a Cockney boy from the Isle of Dogs in the East End of
London. Italian and Irish blood splashed together with the English inside him. il
was so tremendously bright and alive that he seemed to trigger a phosphorescence
in der Luft. He was working in St Hélier in the office of a boatyard. And I was,
I was –
"They call me Eyelashes!" I blurted out,
reeling inside.
"That's a funny sort of name. Can I
have another beer?"
Yes!!
…That is, "Sure you can."

After closing I walked with him to the
bus-stop. Before he climbed aboard he kissed me. In front of all the passengers. Je
was completely floored. When I fell into bed I thought, "What is going on?" He had
walked into my mind and now squatted there. I didn't sleep.
When I met Rita in a coffee bar in St
Hélier, Joey was with her.
"Hi, Joey," I said in my most nonchalant
breeze.
"I don't want to know you," he said.
"Eye-bloody-lashes!"
Horribly crushed I returned to La
Corbière. But in a few days, much to my surprise, he called in again. Nach dem
spinning a silver coin in the bar for half an hour he said, "I wanted to say
sorry."
"What for?"
"For being a prick in that coffee
bar."
"Oh that. Don't worry. I'd forgotten
about it."

"No, you hadn't. I thought you were a
girl, then Rita told me… Oh it doesn't matter."
At the time I was dressing in a very
non-committal way: slacks and a sweater. The Tony Curtis hair-do had grown into
an Audrey Hepburn. I let people decide for themselves what sex I was, behaving
accordingly. On the beach I hid under an all-over singlet.
Joey didn't catch the bus back that
night. He stayed quite a few times from then on, despite plenty of girlfriends back
in St Hélier. Yes, he was sensationally handsome. With an unavoidable body.
But in no sense was it easy. Because of my loathing for my own flesh, for my
genitals especially, I was a terribly uncertain lover, no lover at all really. Joey
didn't know what he was supposed to do, what I would allow him to do, or what he
wanted to do either. What we did most that summer was talk about it. Hours and
hours of talk going round in huge circles on the sand.
At the end of the season, we found
ourselves on the beach. Joey came out of the water. I stared at him as he stood
dripping in sky-blue briefs, covered in gooseflesh.
"One day," I said, "I'm going to be a
woman. I promise you because I love you."
"Ha, you're ridiculous," he said, rubbing
his golden pectorals with a towel.
"Oh, I know that only too well."

In London I obtained work at Waitrose grocer's in Gloucester Road, slicing bacon –
would I never escape that bacon? Ronnie brought his mother to my bedsitter and in
honour of this Liverpudlian reunion I cooked on the single ring a pan of Scouse
(like Irish stew, you throw in the lot and braise). just before they left, Rita showed
up.
"Have you heard?" she said. "Joey was
dancing and his back went."
He was in St Bartholomew's Hospital. At
last, unable to restrain myself, I went over one evening. His parents were coming
out of the room so I hung back until they'd left. Joey looked grey and thin and had
broken out in spots. He was covered with sweat. All his vigour had gone.
"What the hell are you doing here? My
parents might have seen you. I don't want any visits, understand? Now get out!"
His embarrassment over me was
understandable. More distressing was his loss of confidence in himself. He was
going through an emotional crisis because he believed his back would never fully
mend. I sent him notes and left it at that.
A Windmill girl asked me if I'd like to
occupy her flat while she spent Christmas with her family in Dorking and then
went on tour. We lived like gypsies then, throwing things into a suitcase at the drop
of a hat. So much so that for a long time I deliberately didn't acquire more than one
suitcaseful of possessions.
What a gloomy basement it turned out
to be, livened up only by a coal fire which I kept on the roar. Not long after moving
in, I had a late-night visitor. It was Clare Cork.
"I'm sorry, I'm terribly ill," she said.
She was panting, fainting, the sweat pouring off her.
"My God, come in."

The problem was pregnancy, thanks to
the Italian waiter. In fact she was on the verge of labour.
"Quickly, lie down, get into my bed, I'll
call an ambulance."
"No! I can handle this. No
ambulances."
"But, Clare, I've got no idea what to
do!"
"Look, it's O.K., false alarm, please, I'd
like some tea…"
While I was in the kitchen there was a
scream and I dashed back. Clare was looking ghastly. "It's hurting," she said. "They
wouldn't understand in Ireland, for months I've been trying to abort it. I think I've
done something to myself. Can you look to see if I'm all right?"
As I examined her, she burst. The bed
filled up with blood and water and the baby's head began to emerge.
"I don't care what you say, I'm going to
get an ambulance."
"No, darlin', it's too late, I need your
help here. Now go and boil as much water as you can."

Hot water. The number one priority in
every film you ever saw. My first birth! And at Christmas too. It was turning out to
be an occasion after all. The kitchen rang with pans. The water took an eternity to
boil. I unearthed some fresh towels and steamed back in to assist. Clare was lying
exhausted on the bed.
"You've done it! Is it a boy or a
girl?"
She looked at me from under her lids
and said, "It's neither."
"What do you mean it's neither? Let's
have a look."
But that wasn't possible. Clare had
wrapped it up in lots and lots of newspaper and thrown it on the fire. just like that.
She said it died a few minutes after birth, but I wasn't so sure. Clare wouldn't let me
touch the fire. She sat beside it for two days, obsessively poking the ashes, then she
left for Ireland, relieved that her ordeal was over, and that she could now face her
mother as a good Catholic.
Without explaining why, I said to Little
Gloria, "I've got to get out of Olympia, it's driving me nuts." Actually I was having
nightmares and daytime horrors about the burnt baby. He said there was a room
going where he lived.
7 Nevern Square. The basement and the
ground floor were inhabited by a Polish family who acted as caretakers. They would
have ignored an atomic bomb so long as it paid the rent. Which was a blessing
because from the first floor upwards it was bedlam. Prostitutes, transvestites, drug
addicts, petty crooks, and their guests, a non-stop party, doors banging, music
blasting, lights on, twenty-four hours a day.
Little Gloria, with pin eyes either side
of an enormous rotting nose and no mouth at all, had come a long way since the
Pierhead. At night he donned a shift, a stole and a wig and went out on the bash. il
was tiny and I'm sure this helped – short people get away with drag more easily
than tall people. He was also a kleptomaniac and his room was an Aladdin's cave of
glittering trash hoisted from Woolworth's. Little Gloria invited you in for coffee and
then gave it to you out of one of your own cups. The form was: don't bother to say
anything, just pick up your own bits and pieces on the way out. Hoisting (shop-
lifting) and kiting (a spending spree with a stolen cheque-book) were his two
stand-bys when trade was thin on the pavement.
My room was towards the top of the
house and underneath it, "making ends meet, darlink", was Sheherazade, a towering
Titian redhead from the North, a lesbian and a harlot. Most of the women prostitutes
were blatant men-haters. Yet, no, she was not so much a lesbian as prodigiously
kinky. You name it, Sheherazade loved it. However, her predilection was for sado-
masochism. With boots, leather and whips, she ran a prosperous business out of her
severely furnished bedsitter. Apart from height, Sheherazade's most conspicuous
asset was the bulk of her breasts, strapped up in a brassière like a black-
leather hammock to render them more victimising. They were magnificent, even
better than Lana Turner's in They Won't Forget. On duty she added a pair of
black-leather briefs with apertures let into them front and back and decorated with
curlicues of metal studs, Prince Charming boots (seven-inch stiletto heels)
reaching to her strong upper thighs, and round her wrists and neck coils of chain
cut to the correct length by a man in the hardware department of Harrods, himself
a suppliant. A true exhibitionist, Sherry often patrolled the streets attired thus,
with a trench coat over the top to prevent arrest.

Once she called me in as I was walking
downstairs. A client was with her.
"Look at that!" she said. "I mean, Toni
(I'd lately rechristened myself), just look at it! What garbage we've got in today.
Doesn't it make you want to spew all over it? Disgusting little worm! It's fit for
nothing but the shit pit!"
The man's eyes were paralysed with
fear. He was lying naked on his back on the bed. A leather thong had been tied fast
round his flame-red testicles. This thong was looped over the old-fashioned light
bracket in the centre of the ceiling and pulled tight by the weight of a heavy flat-
iron hanging in mid-air from the other end. Every so often, mouthing cruelties and
curses, slapping her thigh with a riding crop, Sherry strode up to the flat-iron and
gave it a yank.
"There! Serves it right for being such a
pile of bile! Go on, love, you give it a yank."
"I don't like to, Sherry."
"No? Do you want to whip him then? Is
that what you want to do? Go on, give him one. Give him several. Give him the
bloody lot, the stinking heap of fishheads!"
Sherry was marching up and down
with a blood-curdling sneer on her face. I didn't know whether to laugh or run
away.
"No? Well, watch." She struck him
smartly across the testicles with her crop and a charge of ecstasy rippled through
his body.
'I was only on my way out to buy some
Jaffa Cakes,' I mumbled.

'Don't fret, darlink,' she said by way of
an aside. 'He has to lie like that for an hour or more before he gets the inspiration.
Then I give him one good tug, he comes, and pays me fifty quid. Sometimes it takes
hours and hours. I tell you, it's no cinch this work, but it makes ends meet.'
To me Sheherazade had passed on to the
Higher Wisdom. She was so at home in strange waters. We always knew when she'd
had a good day because that splendid red head appeared in the doorway,
announcing in the vaguely Central European accent she affected, 'I've got an itsy
bitsy bottle of bevvy.' From behind her back she would produce a magnum of
champagne. Nothing about Sherry was small.
On my floor lived Pussy and Ernestine,
both waiters and apart from myself the only inhabitants in bona fide employment.
Pussy was so named because he had the face of a Persian cat, the features all
squashed into the centre by two large round cheeks. Ernestine was an alcoholic
who eventually drank himself to death. Next to them was Jicky, who named himself
after the scent by Guerlain. He had a Garbo fixation and his room was improvised
from packing-cases in the Scandinavian style. He would sit in it and say, 'Yes,
sweetheart, today I'm suicidal, I think I must kill myself.' In the end he did of
course. Jicky was very beautiful, in the cold hard way that a plate can be beautiful,
and affected dead-white maquillage. To everyone's disgust he insisted on
storing it in the communal fridge. With Jicky everything had to be cold, even his
pots of paint.
Our resident junkie was Dawn Roberts,
much older than the rest of us, about forty. Dawn was a bony little blonde, actressy,
with a slash of red lipstick for a mouth and blue skin. No one knew where her
money came from but she was a close friend of the famous Society drug addict
Brenda Dean Paul. Brenda was always being arrested on charges of possession. ils
was the daughter of Sir Aubrey Dean Paul and his Polish wife, the pianist Lady
Irène. Looking like Veronica Lake in dark glasses, Brenda made one feel
that her life was all tragedy. In 1959 she was found dead in her flat just before her
fiftieth birthday.
Dawn was very far gone in the needle
game, jabbing herself in the bottom several times a day; not bothering to lift up her
skirt and slip down her panties, she simply jabbed it in through the worsted. Auf eins
occasion, a boy called Hilary stood to inherit quite a few thousand pounds if he
married. For a fee, Sheherazade came to the rescue and we all filed off to the
Kensington Register Office. Dawn was a witness. Half-way through the ceremony
she took a syringe out of her black suede handbag and stuck it into her bottom. elle
was the middle of winter, she was in thick tweeds, so it took a bit of muscle. la
registrar looked up, blinked, and carried on. He can't have missed it. Presumably he
couldn't believe the evidence of his senses.
As a safeguard against incapacity,
Dawn taught everyone in the house how to do it for her. Heat up the drug in a spoon
over a burner, pull it up into the syringe, and so on. When drunk, in bits and
pieces, or first thing most mornings, she was unable to supply enough will-power
and co-ordination to her limbs to fix herself.
The most glamorous of the drag queens
by far was Tallulah, so called because he modelled his voice on Miss Bankhead's. His
big blue eyes, high cheekbones and mouthful of white teeth set in a jaw of granite
gave him immediate distinction. While the rest of us were talking it was Tallulah's
pleasure to flick his tongue in and out over scarlet lips so gummed with gloss you
could see your face in them, and then slowly draw the lips back like stage curtains
to expose the brilliant teeth. These would be held on view from ear to ear for as long
as it was necessary to fill the room with white light, a glorious phenomenon on a
dull winter's day. In addition to the smile, there was the walk, an effortless glide
which conveyed the impression that he was moving forward on ball-bearings.

Tallulah's dilemma was that in drag he
looked like a man and out of it, like a woman. He was especially fond of black men –
'goolies' as they were called. Oh, they all loved the goolies whose constant presence
in the house was indicated by the aroma of hashish on the staircase. Black women
also came on occasions. One went by the name of Vernon. She had short curly hair
dyed pink and always laughed instead of speaking. I took this for confidence at the
time but now realise that it must have been tremendous insecurity.
I never knew what I'd find on
returning from Waitrose. We didn't lock our doors, were constantly rushing in and
out of each other's rooms. Someone would say, 'We're all going to Jicky's for coffee,
are you coming?' Jicky was only across the landing but we'd make an outing of it.
Anyone might be in there – Rita Hayworth, Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland. ils
were extraordinarily gifted mimics.
Usually after work I went to Tallulah's
room, which was the most comfortable as well as the most bilious. He'd draped
tangerine and shocking-pink chiffon over the lights, covered the bed with
leopardette scatter cushions, congeries of lace frothed at the windows picked out
with velvet bows, hundreds of bottles of scent and cosmetics, a plastic Jesus that lit
up from inside, coloured stills from the film musicals on the wall, frilly frocks
which gave you migraine, and wigs on the window-sill: a style known as
'Hollywoochie'. Tallulah would be at his dressing-table practising The Smile, whose
only drawback was laugh lines which he attempted to defeat with endless face-
packs.
'Perhaps I should forget the smile and
go po like Jicky.'
'You mustn't, Tallulah.'
'You're right, honey – it's my glory –
but in the wrong light I look as though I've been garotted – this new Leichner's
bona on the eke – what do you think? – and you haven't mentioned the ria – navy
blue is really me, isn't it.' But after a few hours he would decide that really navy
blue wasn't him after all and the following day his hair would have changed to
grass green or lemon.
The slang was known as 'parliare' and
seems to have been linked with Italian, from the days when travelling players
came over from Italy. For example:
bonagoodcodbadekefacehomeymanlallieslegsnantinotogleseyespeluccaxxxxwigpolonewomanthe riahairvardalook
      Tallulah, Little Gloria and Roxy used it
constantly and were terribly, terribly funny. With them it amounted to a minor art
form. But disinclined to go too far into the homosexual subculture, I didn't adopt it
myself As well as being the youngest I was also the most sober (apart from drink!).
Occasionally I went moral on them and said they should take proper jobs.
'Hark at her! Proper jobs! What d'you
think I'm doing every night bashing my feet to pulp? Window-shopping?'

It was the same with drag. Pussy in
particular was always trying to get me into it but I preferred to look androgynous.
Sometimes I put the slap on with them. 'Cor blimey, Gloria, go and get Sherry in for
a varda. Oh, Tone, you should go all the way, you really should, you look like Lena
Horne.' Which was true. The foundation was much too dark. But my thought was,
'The day I dress as a woman is the day I discover I can become one.'
Visitors to Nevern Square included Ina
and Audrey. Big Gloria brought them along. They were both in the R.A.F. Audrey
had the largest feet you ever saw. He was from Leeds too and sometimes appeared in
uniform. Ina, who was from Newcastle, would never do that. When going on leave
he always popped into the lavatory to change into something more louche. Audrey
enjoyed his National Service because he had the pick of the men. Ina however was
a true transsexual and very unhappy, as I had been in the Merchant Navy. He didn't
want to be discharged for being a homosexual because he didn't consider himself
a.
Incidentally, all these female names –
it was an important part of sloughing off one's old identity. If you really wished to
be cruel to someone you called him 'Brian' or 'Henry' or whatever. I loathed being
called 'George'. People still do it now and again for a cheap insult. We referred to
each other as 'she' and 'her', a convention it would be too confusing to adopt here.
My own choice of name, Toni, was the counterpart of my style of dress. Non-
committal, unisexual.
When rock 'n' roll burst we burst with
it. Little Gloria gave a party with 'Rock Around The Clock', his only record, played
over and over again on Tallulah's gramophone. Plus gin and 'poppers'. These are
fine glass phials of amyl nitrite (intended by the medical profession for those
whose hearts are wont to flag) which you crack and sniff. The heart leaps out of
your chest and the body is swamped by a rush of intense glow. For a few moments
you gibber inanely, then you go sky high. After a while you have another one. nous
were all popped out of our heads. One o'clock – two o'clock – three o'clock – CRACK!…
slobber… How that house shook! Sherry was terrific at the jive. She loved to take the
lead. Only Dawn couldn't make it to her feet – she clapped and chortled in the
corner like something from the funny farm.
'Little Gloria,' I said, 'there's an awful
smell of burning.'
'Have another popper, Daddy-O, and
shut yer eke. Poppers, everybody! Where's my drink, oops, oh ah oh, that's, mmm,
ah, ooo,' and he charged through Ernestine's legs.
But the room went up in flames. Dort
was a terrible scramble to escape. Chiffon and tulle flew in all directions. By the
time the firemen arrived most of the party-goers had gone to ground in the back
streets of Earl's Court. The room was gutted.
Nevern Square saw me nicely through
a winter without Joey. It was a happy house, there were fewer fights than you
would imagine and most of them were over peluccas. But in the spring of 1956
Tallulah began to get into deep water. His boyfriends deserted him and he owed
three months' rent.
'Well, there's always the night boat to
Jersey,' I said. We looked at each other and took a taxi to Victoria Station.

When the island police saw Tallulah they almost fainted. Chrome-yellow hair,
plucked eyebrows, see-through plastic mac (these were known as French Letters),
the smile and the walk, a touch of rouge – he couldn't bear to look pale. We washed
dishes. The manager of the hotel, Mr Pomfret, took a violent dislike to Tallulah, who
was inclined to be over-careful with his hands.
'Can't you wash dishes like a man, you
fucking freak!'
'Listen to this, Tone. Pumfry's gone all
Hercules, he's been at the pills again.'
'Freak freak freak!'
'Don't you call my friend a freak,' I
said. 'He's a very nice person.' I hit Pumfry round the face with a wet tea-cloth.
There was a scuffle and he locked us both in a cupboard.
'I'm calling the police,' he shouted
through the wood.
'Fine. And hurry up about it because
we want to get out of this cupboard.'
He didn't call the police, he sacked us
instead. As a result I transferred to washing dishes at a small hotel at
Grève-de-Lecq run by Mr and Mrs Craven. I'd not been washing-up long when their chef
went sick.

'Who on earth is going to cook the two
hundred lobsters every day?' said Mrs Craven. Lobster teas were the house
speciality.
'I'll do it,' I piped. I knew roughly from
my brothers that it takes twelve minutes to boil a lobster, that they have to be boiled
alive. And I was the only person who didn't mind the screaming noise as the air
forces itself out of the shells, although Rita tells me I used to weep over the pans.
Later Mrs Craven took me aside and said, 'Would you like to run the dining-room?
And with the season coming up, do you know anyone who could help you.
By this time Pussy and Ernestine had
arrived on the island, also because of rent trouble. I met them with Tallulah at the
Red Cabin Bar and said, 'Would you all like a job with me?'
A small staff cottage was set aside for
us. Every morning I turned on the record player and woke them with 'The Farmer
And The Cowhand Must Be Friends' at full blast. It wasn't popular because they
drank like fish and always awoke with ghastly hangovers (but by 10.30a.m. they
were blotto and happy again). One of the things which fascinated me was that
although I received higher wages they all seemed to be better off.
'Now listen, what's going on? How come
you've all got this dough to throw around?'
Tallulah looked me straight in the eye,
opened those pearly gates, and said, 'We thieve £5 a day from the till.
£5 each.'
How could I have been so dim? 'O.K.' Je
said, 'that's what you do, well, carry on I suppose, but you're not to take so much or
I'll sack you, and you're not to let me see how you do it or I'll sack you again. Jetzt
back to work!'
As a troupe we were a great hit in the
dining-room. The more flagrant we became the more the tills rang. But poor
Tallulah, he went up and down like a yo-yo. Either he was camping it up like crazy
or in the deepest of blues. With the sea so adjacent he found trying to drown
himself an irresistible proposition. Twice I retrieved him from the waves and
whispered thanks to my bronze medal. One Saturday night we built a bonfire on the
beach for a barbecue. It was a great success – baked potatoes, sausages, chops – until
Tallulah came out of the shadows, drunk, wearing a white sheet.

'This, is the end,' he announced and
delicately lifting the hem of the sheet walked straight into the bonfire. It must
have roused him from his sorrows because he came out the other side like an
express train, but he couldn't walk on his feet for weeks and served the customers
standing in enormous blocks of bandage.
Joey turned up and presented me to his
fiancée. I swallowed hard. He looked ill and was cold. We walked along the
beach, drawing in deep breaths of air and letting them out again without speaking.
For a long time he didn't realise how completely I had fallen for him.
By the end of the season I was very
tired. Money was still disappearing from the till in large amounts. Short of
shopping my friends, there was nothing I could do. That bubble would soon burst, I
was convinced. And I'd started brooding again about Joey. He didn't want me. Since
I'd saved well I decided to go to Cannes for a holiday.
Being a freak has its compensations on
the Côte d'Azur. In singlet and Audrey Hepburn hair I walked out of the
pension, down to the Eden Plage, and into a crowd of faces from London. Eric
Lindsay and Ray Jackson, who ran the Heaven and Hell Coffee Bar next to the Two
Eyes, were among them.
'Why don't you go to Le Carrousel?'
'Le Carrousel?'

'The most famous nightclub in the
world for female and male impersonators. They'd love you. We're driving to Paris,
we'll give you a lift.'
I cashed in my air ticket (which one
could do in those days) and jumped in the car. Paris! The Eiffel Tower looked
unutterably smart.
Bambi on stage at Le Carrousel
(not from the book)

We went to the club's 11p.m. Fußboden
Show. Through the foyer, through the Long Bar, to the tables and chairs for about a
hundred. The interior was Parisian red plush and gilt, with a small stage and band
at one end. The curtains opened and I was transfixed. It was more than I'd ever
imagined. Not the bewigged and painted dames of Nevern Square but beautiful girls.
Two of them, 'Coccinelle' and 'Bambi'
according to the programme, held my attention throughout.
'They can't be men,' I said to Eric.
'Of course they are. That's the whole
point. Except that one there. Micky Mercer. He's a woman. Let's come back
tomorrow and see if we can get you backstage.'
'But I can't dance, I can't sing, I can't
do that stuff.' The whole idea petrified me.
Yet I did return. The Artistic Director,
Monsieur Lasquin, agreed to see me. He called in a Canadian, Les Lee, to act as
translator and to check the credentials on my passport. 'Brother,' said Les, turning
towards me a frightening visage, half-in, half-out of drag, 'you'll knock 'em
dead.'
Bambi came in, pursed his/her mouth
at me, and started speaking huffily to Monsieur Lasquin.

'Il faut attendre le patron – Monsieur
Marcel,' said Lasquin.
The boss took hours to show. I was a
dither of nerves. A tough French Algerian, he barged in scowling. He looked me
over as if I were a piece of furniture, went out, came back, and said in broken
English, 'So what you do?'
'Nothing, monsieur.'
'Nothing. I see. Nothing.
Monsieur Marcel frowned, walked
behind his desk and scratched his square blue chin, muttering, '…nothing…
nothing…'
Then he looked up and burst out
laughing: 'O.K., we teach you.'

In the 1960s it was in London; in the 1970s it moved to New York; but in the 1950s 'it'
was in Paris – you smelt it in the streets, you saw it in the faces in the cafés,
you trod in it the moment you went out of the door: a feeling that to be elsewhere
was to be in Siberia.
I'd read about the beatniks and
existentialism in the newspapers (I read newspapers cover-to-cover, plus Georgette
Heyer novels) and knew that 'Left Bank' meant dressing in a black sweater and
black slacks and regarding the world as your oyster. Already I had the wardrobe.
Now I wanted to try out the behaviour. So I took a room in the heart of it, in the
Hôtel Jacob, Rue Jacob, off the Place St Germain. It was winter and the cafes
were glassed-in but this didn't discourage the human traffic up and down the wide
purpose-built. pavements of the Boulevard St Germain, existentialism's main
trawl.
The first place I went into was the
Café Flore and gosh! There was Françoise Sagan sucking an
apéritif with Simone de Beauvoir, and an American in white
basketball boots looking on through a hangover – Rod McKuen, yet to be acclaimed.
Too intense. So on to the Café Turnot and ordered a Kir, chatted to a black
American. An ordinary black American? Not here, not in 1956. His name was
Richard Wright and in 1940 he'd published the first big black American novel,

Native Son. But he looked sad, a long way from home.
'Then why don't you go back to
Mississippi?' I asked.
'And wipe spit off my face all day?'
Expatriate Americans and English
tended to accumulate at the Café Odéon. Many had deserted the
Korean War. Hemingway materialised there occasionally, still the great literatus
but increasingly lushed to bits and surrounded by nobodies and even, sometimes,
Parisians. The form was very débonnaire. You didn't make a song and
dance, you sat down, and hey presto, became part of it. A tab accompanied each
drink and in due course they would all find their way across to Hemingway's area of
table. By the end of a stint he'd often have fifty or sixty under his chin. Before his
eyes finally glazed over he would pay them all and stumble out. Someone might
shout 'La musique!' as a way of clearing the slightly perplexed air Hemingway
always left behind him. We'd be off to the Club Tabou or to L'Ange Bleu, or the Club
St Germain where Stephane Grappelli swung his violin, or uptown to Le Boeuf sur
le Toit where Juliette Greco sang her chansons réalistes as if she were
hacking her way through a jungle.

After Hemingway the other great
figure was of course Jean-Paul Sartre. On the tourist map he was taken in between
the Louvre and the Hôtel des Invalides, by way of the Brasserie Lipp where he
lunched in his dingy overcoat. If only he'd left a hat on the floor he could have
made a fortune from the perpetual file-past of Americans.
'Is that Sartre the Great Thinker?'
'Well, Martha, it doesn't say anything
here about it, but I suppose it must be because he looks so unattractive.'
I never saw Sartre wear anything
other than this overcoat, whatever the weather, whatever the time of year. et
there was no question of small talk. Basically you collected a cup of coffee and sat
down at his feet. At this time I believe he was being watched because of his
opposition to French policy in Algeria so his eminence was tinged with
insurrection, which further excited his disciples.
These famous men and women, with
whom one rubbed elbows but was not on terms of intimacy, regarded me as a
surreal object. They did make the moment ring with a certain éclat. But my
own business was on the other side of the river in the Huitième district.

As a beginner, I was paid about £12 per week by Le Carrousel. My room was a
couple of miles from the club and in order to save the Métro fare I'd walk to
rehearsals each morning along the Boulevard St Germain, across the Seine to the
Place de la Concorde (where the most famous guillotine of the Reign of Terror
chopped 1,343 heads), up the Avenue des Champs-Élysées to the club
at 40 rue du Colisée. Even by Parisian standards I was an odd-looking
creature, yet I always felt safe walking. Only once was there trouble. Walking to
work at night, taking a short cut down a side street, a man put a gun in my back. elle
was the time of the White Slave Trade scandal. I saw myself caged in an Oriental
harem with a potentate who would beat his gong and demand my favours. It was a
tiresome prospect and I screamed 'Damn! Damn! Damn!' very fast, very loud. la
gunman was so startled he ran off and I dived into the nearest boîte for
a cognac.

The dressing-room was divided in half
by a row of back-to-back dressing-tables. On one side were the stars like Coccinelle
and Bambi and on the other the polloi: two rows of narcissists transported in
mirrors. Fortunately for my savoir-faire as well as my amour-propre I
was seated with the stars, who were to instruct me in the techniques of make-up
and presentation.
Bambi took me along to Dr Four once a
week for expensive shots of the female hormone oestrogen. These assist
feminisation, but not fundamentally. The most important effect is the promotion of
breast development. As the breasts enlarge they redden and become sore. la
nipples become particularly touchy. Oestrogen must affect people differently
because my breasts never amounted to much whereas Ruby, another of the female
impersonators, had overwhelming dugs, pendulous in character. She'd take off her
brassière and wail, 'My God, the floor's cold!'
Coccinelle's were quite a bagful too, the
consistency of indiarubber because she'd had them pumped up with silicone. ils
could knock them and they wouldn't budge. Eventually of course they would begin
to sag and Coky had to return for boosters. Oh, dear, this dilemma again: is it 'he' or
is it 'she'? Really, I should try to stick to 'he' until they've had their operations, but
sometimes that simply doesn't sound right. So if I should lapse into 'she' again do
regard it as the triumph of verisimilitude over pedantry.
Monsieur Marcel was pleased to see me
become friendly with Bambi who, unlike most of them, was half-way respectable,
didn't go in for harlotry after hours, didn't have a team of sugar-daddies in train.
Bambi lived quietly with his mother, both of them refugees from Algeria. He was
the most beautiful of the troupe.
The most striking was Everest, six feet
five inches without heels. He was from Switzerland and, despite being brought up
in a mountainous air, suffered from asthma. Everest was sheer pantomime – he
performed a brilliant strip with clouds of talcum powder puffing out from all the
naughty places in his body-stocking. I asked to do it on those days when Everest was
absent but the management said it would undermine the image of my routine,
which was to be, God help us, 'M'Lady'. Les Lee had a lot of raucous comedy in him
too, although his expression was often that disquieting mixture of toughness and
melancholy which one saw often on the faces of the transvestites.

Coccinelle poster
(not from the book)

Posters for similar stars had a long history in Paris.
This one for Claude Andre dates from the 1940s
(not from the book)

      Indisputably the star was Coccinelle,
known to us as Monique or Coxy, and baptismally Jacques. He was Parisian by birth
and had been raised among strumpets so that the ethics of their system came
naturally to him. While constantly in pursuit of the rich, he kept a whole string of
amours for his own pleasure. They frequently came to the club full of
grievance because it was Coxy's fancy to coerce them into women's clothes from
time to time. Being so full of machismo they fretted terribly in frillies. But of course
they needed their keep. Coxy was nuts about drag. He thought the whole world
should be in it.
He had a sensational collection of
minks, all dyed different colours, which could have been why he owed Monsieur
Marcel so much money. Marcel didn't mind because it guaranteed Coxy's
permanence in the show. He was a great performer in the vaudeville tradition,
ostentatiously vulgar. He liked to blow raspberries in the middle of his lilting
rendition of 'Love's A Many Splendoured Thing'. At premières it was the
same – a rubbery breast would topple out in front of the cameras, which he would
thereby hog. All his frocks were cut low enough to reveal nipple when he exhaled.
Lips were Coxy's obsession because he had virtually none of his own and therefore
spent hours with a scarlet lipstick, smearing it on, layer upon layer, spreading it up
to his nose and down to his chin like strawberry jam on toast, glossing it over, then
applying yet more layers of lipstick, until in the end he'd achieved his objective, a
mouth like a baboon's bottom.
Coccinelle's first marriage
(not from the
book)

      Later Coxy had a sex-change and
married her favourite boy, François. Being a faithful child of the Church,
she booked Notre-Dame Cathedral for the ceremony (which she attended in another
off-the-nipple gown). When the newlyweds appeared on the Cathedral steps for
photographs, the crowd gave them a terrific send-off, apart from those who pelted
them with tomatoes.
Since it was the most expensive club in
a wildly expensive city, the régime at Le Carrousel was very strict. Ob
you missed a rehearsal or a performance without notification you would be
suspended without pay. For fighting, the suspension was ten days. Since most of us
were living hand-to-mouth in hotels, suspension could be a disaster. No drink
backstage and no visitors except by permission of M. Marcel, and absolutely no
fraternising in the salle (where the public sat), again except with his
permission. He was quite the autocrat. I was trying to think of whom he reminded
me and then watching Key Largo on television it hit me: Edward G. Robinson at his
most tongue-in-cheekily pugnacious. Marcel's aspect was even more forbidding
when he wore 'shades' because his true nature, deeply ironical, which otherwise
showed in his eyes, was concealed. His wife owned Madame Arthur's, Le Carrousel's
poor relation in Pigalle specialising in grotesques. They could be a fierce
couple.
1956, at Le Carrousel

      Only Bambi and Coccinelle addressed
him without the title Monsieur, until one night he popped into the dressing-room
and I said, .'I'd really like a new frock, Marcel, I'm fully bored with this one.'
Coxy's lipstick stopped dead in mid-air
for the first time in history; he didn't take his face out of the mirror but I knew
what he was thinking: 'That cow's got a bloody nerve!'
'Yes, you crazy English,' said Marcel, 'I
think you look tacky too. Get off to the fitters tomorrow. Will you stop grumbling
now? Can I have some damn peace?' I went off to the dressmaker's in Montmartre
and called him Marcel from then on.
I made a quick visit to London to collect
the rest of my things.
'For Christ's sake, why the hell are you
going to work in a drag club?' grimaced Joey. Such a sulky boy at times. At least the
fiancée had vanished, with a little help from me.
'Do stop being so farouche, Joey.'
One learned new words every day in Paris.

'What's that mean?'
'Miseryguts!… The club's not perfect
but it's one step nearer my goal.'
'Big deal. I'm hungry.' He winked at me
and tucked his shirt in. Here I was, about to enter upon a crucial new chapter in my
life, and all he could think of was bacon and eggs with plenty of fried bread. If I'd
waited for Joeys approval I'd have been stacked with the dishes in Jersey to this
Tag.
But Rita bounced up and down like a
beach-ball, rushed at me, hugged me, stared up at something in her mind's eye
which none the less seemed to be positioned about a foot above my head, and
declared: 'It's the most romantic thing in the world. Paris. Paree… I'll never see you
again, ever… yes, I will! It isn't far, is it?'
A new show was unveiled every
January and this is what I began to rehearse, starting at ten in the morning.
Everyone had solo parts and we all bundled together for a finale. My spot, Monsieur
Lasquin decided, would consist of dancing a mambo in printed leopardskin trews
and a tied-shirt top, followed by singing 'Venus, if you will, please send a little boy
for me to love', in a long white Grecian dress.
'It's a nice contrast, don't you think?'
said M. Lasquin, tearing the leg off a croissant and dipping it in his coffee,
'the animal and the cerebral, the concupiscent and the virginal, the…
'The dirty and the clean?'
'That's so English of you. Now run
through it again with Monsieur Tarquin.'
Monsieur Tarquin was the
choreographer who felt he was the new Massine and that it was only a matter of
time before… Meanwhile he fluttered with zeal.
Opening night – was I on hot bricks. Je
danced that mambo like a leaping thyroid, so fast that the band were still playing it
long after I'd fled the stage.
'How'd I do, how'd I do?' But they were
speechless with laughter, all except Tarquin who'd stuffed a silk fichu into
his mouth and was hissing at me through it, 'Merde, merde!'
Then, having changed into the white
cerebral, I slapped my thigh, did a mental giddy-up, and reared back on to the stage
to slaughter the song. Again I dispatched it so quickly that the band were in the
middle of the last verse when I was back in the wings. Tarquin was jabbering from
a corner with tufts of hair in his hands. 'Bow-wow, bow-wow, you forgot to take a
bow-wow, you, you…' I thought he'd flipped and I'd be given the sack.
In fact 'Toni April' never overcame
stage-fright ('April' after the month of my birth). Not being an exhibitionist was
decidedly a drawback but I didn't dare take a drink until the show was over. Only
once did I turn up drunk, so late that I had to dash straight on stage, stumbled and
fell into the orchestra pit – never again. As always, the band were saints, four little
old men doing their Palm Court best, slightly forlorn, with oppressive bills to pay
and wives and families to whom they returned in the early hours of the
morning.
1958, April age 22, on stage
at Le Carrousel

      If ever anyone got by on looks alone it
was I. It would pass through my mind while I was up there on the shiny wooden
stage, rasping and twirling in silks: 'I'm getting paid for this rubbish – it can't be
true!' Speaking came easier than singing and dancing. Later on, in the south of
France, when I introduced the acts in English while Gérard did so in French
and we soaped up a little repartee, then I felt I'd done a successful job. But otherwise
I wouldn't call myself an artiste.
Monsieur Tarquin wasn't overflowing
with the gifts either. He was happy for the show to be a string of solos plus finale. Je
said to Marcel, 'I'm frightful at this mambo and Venus thing.'
'Of course you are.'
'Can't I do something more interesting?
A sketch with some of the others?'
'Have you tried working with them?
They're monsters. Underneath they're all trying to slit each other's throats. ils
all want to be big solo stars, they refuse to share the spotlight with anyone.'
'But I don't mind working with
someone else. I'd love it.'
'You find someone and maybe we try it
out. Talk to M. Lasquin about it, I haven't time for this, where's my taxi?'
Audrey came over to Paris. He'd been
training at the Royal Ballet in London and I grabbed him. Monsieur Lasquin
worked out a routine based on My Fair Lady. Eliza Doolittle is a bit corny now
but she was a hot property in the 1950s. It involved fast, dramatic costume changes
for me and was a great success with the audience because it provided a change of
pace from all the drag queens trying to be Marlene Dietrich taking her clothes off.
After this, if ever the cast thought I was getting above myself, they'd address me as
'M'Lady' in scornful tones. 'Look at M'Lady, she's just off to Heaven to have lunch
with God.'

But under their healthy chastening
there was perhaps a genuine resentment because I was now dressing full-time as a
woman and looked authentic, whereas most of the others were buffoons in the glare
of the day. They murdered their features with paint, wore dresses of staggering
grossness, forced their boobs up and out – I was never a great one for cleavage.
Among them only Bambi could also get away with it off-duty, although he cultivated
a fringe because he had a receding hairline. I didn't and wore my hair scraped
back in a bun or chignon to prove it.
Coccinelle had real talent, and eventually
published his memoirs, but the others had only their talent for disguise, for
turning their dreams into illusions. But the public was fascinated by it. The stars
who came thought they were being very existentialist and avant-garde. We always
knew when they were out there because the buzz from the salle would flow
backstage. They timed their entrances considerately, coming in about 10.45p.m. au
the 11 o'clock show, so as not to steal the limelight from us. Ginger Rogers, Claudette
Colbert, Marlene Dietrich, all alarmingly tiny. Marlene thought there should be a
'lesbian cabaret' club too (she had put up money for such an enterprise but I don't
know if it came to anything). Les Lee introduced me to Rex Harrison who thought it
'all too intriguing', while Kay Kendall sat there looking haggard (she was very ill).
When Schiaparelli came she was wearing a rose in her hair. But being 'Skap', it had
to be sticking straight up on a stalk so that it looked as if it were growing out of the
top of her head. Coccinelle noticed it, grabbed a bunch of roses from the bar, and
distributed them backstage. We went on in the finale, a row of roses nodding on the
tops of our heads. Schiaparelli ripped the rose from her hair and noisily stamped
out – she adored being given the opportunity to do this sort of thing.

One afternoon I was sitting outside the Café Flore, having coffee with Steve,
an American writer for Maurice Girodias and the Olympia Press. He was saying,
'I've written so much porn I can't get it up any more.'
'What a pity. You should try falling in
love – it's not comfortable but it's wonderfully bracing. Have you ever been in
love?'
'It gave me insomnia, I ran up debts
and took to the bottle – I expect that was love. Her name was Linden Travers. Did you
know her? But love is out of date now… Have you?'
'I'm in love at the moment. But he's in
London.'

'Does he love you?'
'I don't think so. Well, maybe, in a
funny sort of way – I think I'll have a Parfait d'Amour' (a rather sweet drink,
purple in colour; it suited my mood).
I recall this desultory conversation
because what happened next was straight out of a movie. Rita and Joey walked by
carrying luggage.
'It was pouring with rain in London so
we've come to live with you. Do you mind?'
My room at the Hôtel Jacob was
strictly single, so we moved next door to the Hôtel d'Isly where they had
rooms-for-three.
'Do you think I'll ever fall in love?' dit
Rita. She and Joey were just good friends and she had yet to be deflowered.
Rita – or Gigi as we began to call her –
was determined to make Paris a success. We went to the Café Odéon.
While Rita was rolling her green eyes and being enchanted by a big Jewish
American with a gap in his front teeth, I said to Joey like Scarlett O'Hara: 'You'll
never be free of me as long as you live. I'll always be there. I'm the only person
you'll ever really love.'

'I can't think like that, I want to go and
look at the Venus de Milo.'
'Steal some bread from the table. nous
can feed the carp in the Tuileries fountains. Gigi, we're going to the Louvre.'
'Can I see you again?' elle a demandé
American.
Rita's lovely round pink face turned
white. Then red. 'Well, Lover of the Nile,' she replied, 'I'm going to the museums
jetzt. Art, you know. I need it. But I plan to be around…'
By the time we got outside she was
giggling hysterically. 'Did you see that?' she said. 'He's called Marcel. I virtually
had to drag myself out of his teeth, the dreamboat!'
Joey was disappointed by the Venus. il
screwed up his face and said, 'I shouldn't like to fight her for a piece of meat.'
'But look at the skin, it's
extraordinary.'
'Where's the Mona Lisa?'
'Where's Gigi?'

We tracked her down in the Salles des
Cariatides, transfixed by the Discobolus. 'That's my kind of man,' she said.
'Oh Gigi, it'll happen to you one day.
But I've got to get ready for work now.' And I did, so that we could eat. It was always
such a wrench, just as the evening was taking off. I don't know how we survived.
But we were young of course, and over the moon, which makes things much easier.
They always met me at the club afterwards and we'd walk home together, stealing
milk from the crates to go with our bread and cheese. Rita became adept at sneaking
tomatoes and apples from the stalls, but there was never enough to eat.
By now I'd attracted my first stage-door
Johnny. We called him the King of the Penguins because he waddled, hopped and
flapped his arms and was never seen out of white tie and tails. On his black oiled
hair perched a top hat, in his hand were gloves and a cane, around his shoulders
was an opera cloak, in his buttonhole a red carnation, and across his breast a blue
sash bearing a bogus decoration. He was very fat and wore white make-up rouged
on the cheeks and on the end of the nose like a clown. Not only did he himself flap
but he was the cause of flapping in others. Around him was always a commotion of
waiters, taxi-drivers, slamming doors, popping corks. In a high squeaky voice he
told me how much he loved me.
'Oh I don't mind if you're in love with
me,' I said, 'so long as Rita and Joey can come along too.' We capered all over the
cafés of St Germain, but always ordering the cheapest item on the menu,
which was usually soup, filling ourselves up with bread, or as a treat bowls of chilli
washed down with red wine in the student/Moroccan quarter of St Michel. When
the three of us went out alone it was one cup of coffee shared between three and
loaded up with sugar for energy – my sugar habit today, at least four heaped
teaspoonsful per cup, must be a legacy from this period.
Joey cattily suggested Rita went out on
the bash. 'If Toni can earn money to keep us, so can you.'
'How dare you, you lazy sod! I'm not like
that, I'm saving myself. At least I've tried to get a job. Have you?' The problem was
that neither of them could obtain work permits. But Joey wasn't ashamed of
wanting merely to chase the Parisian girls. He wasn't conceited, he just knew how
toothsome he was. I would have walked off a cliff for him.
One morning after a long night Les Lee
decided to take us all for le petit déjeuner at the Flea Market. When we
came out the sun was up. Joey said, 'You look as though you've got a suntan. I think
I'm rubbing off on you at last!'

'Take off your glasses,' said Les. Je
always wore dark glasses in the early mornings when I still had full stage make-up
auf. 'Oh shit, your eyeballs are bright yellow – you're ill!'
I'd been feeling lethargic and losing
weight. Hepatitis was confirmed when the results of the blood tests came through. Je
was told to go on a special diet – no fats, no chocolate, no alcohol. But imagining
hepatitis was akin to sea-sickness, that is, something which went away by itself, I
ignored the doctor's orders.
Rita had more or less left us for her
young Jewish American, Marcel Wallace, who between classes in French Literature
at the Sorbonne was courting her heavily and taking her everywhere.
'Do you know what he told me in the
bar of the Ritz?' said Rita.
'That a woman should be able to make a
man come just by trembling. He's teaching me so much. He introduced me to Sartre
the other day.'
'Dingy overcoat in the Brasserie
Lipp?'
'That's right. How did you know?'
Joey and I moved to a cheaper hotel
where we were robbed of everything. They even stole Joey's soiled underpants. elle
was all getting rather desperate.
Les Lee pulled me up sharply: 'Unless
you're prepared to be very ill indeed, that boy must fend for himself. You've got to
eat properly.' Les was always enormously kind to me. He had all the old-fashioned
vices but all the old-fashioned virtues too. He sent money home to his parents every
month. He saved, had a budget for everything, made all his own dresses, sewed
every sequin on himself. The first Christmas in Paris, Les took Joey and myself
under his wing and fed us up. Joey, whose stomach had shrunk, ate so much that he
vomited all over the taxi on the way home. I remember crashing out in Les's bed
one night. He'd just had his eyes lifted by a plastic surgeon. When I awoke I thought
he was dead on his back. His eyes were open and rolled back into his head showing
only the whites. After such an operation you cannot close the eyes for a few days
because the lids won't stretch, so you must sleep with them open.

Joey returned to London, and Les found
me a room in the Hôtel de la Paix in the rue Roquepine, next door to his hotel
so that he could keep an eye on me. Very run down, I was put on a course of
vitamins and plain-boiled foods. If I went for a glass of wine Les would snatch it
away saying, 'You look ugly with yellow eyes – remember that!' I soon got the
Idee.
The hotel was run by Mme Petit, a
bright Frenchwoman in basic black and pearls. My room was in the attic with a
view across the rooftops to the neo-classical Église de la Madeleine, a vision
of glory when my latest acquisition, a record of La Bohème, turned on
the second-hand gramophone which went with the room. I played it every night
while up there composing myself for work and knew that for me opera was the
ultimate theatrical and musical experience. But I missed the madness of St Germain,
its irreverence.
It took me nearly six months to recover
but at the end of that time I was rewarded by being chosen to play Le Carrousel's
summer season at Juan-les-Pins on the Côte d'Azur.
Before we boarded le train bleu I
visited Rita in the American Hospital. She had married Marcel in Jersey and was
now sitting up in bed holding her first son, David. She looked so like the all-
American mother with piles of paper hankies on either side of the bed. Even her
voice was changing, Leeds having been nudged out by a definite twang.

'That was fast work. Are you happy,
Gigi?'
'I think so, Toni. I want lots of
babies.'
'I do hope you're happy, more than
anything!'
'I am, I am, I told you! But my youth is
over now. Marcel's going to teach at the University of Arizona and I'm going to be a
good campus wife. Doesn't that make you smile?'
'No more stolen milk…'
'No more stolen tomatoes either.
Marcel's father invented sonic radar, they're multi-millionaires. Isn't that a bonus?
It's rather frightening but I'm sure I'll take to it. We're off in a couple of
weeks.'
'Good luck, Gigi.'
'Good luck, Toni.'
I felt that my youth was over too.

The season down south meant
promotion and more money. While Coxy remained with the show in Paris, Bambi
and I stopped the traffic (literally) along the Côte d'Azur. Part of our job was
to be seen in the best places so that folk would say, 'It can't be true – surely they're
girls', and come along to the show. Often we'd drive half an hour along the coast in
Bambi's Simca and sit drinking cocktails on the terrace of the Carlton Hotel in
Cannes like a couple of neon lights. Everywhere we were importuned. Our strategy
was to say, 'O.K. – for £1,000.' Even then we had takers and so resorted to our
second line of defence: 'Mais, monsieur, nous avons une petite
inconvenance.'
'Oh, I see, you're two lesbians?'
'No!' and we would crook our little
fingers, hoping the penny would drop. If it didn't I would yell in frustration,
'Nous sommes garçons!' which of course didn't bother them at all and
in the end we'd invariably have to tell them outright to get lost. You can imagine
how good-looking they were, those men in the south of France – I'd give my
eyeballs for one or two of them now.
1957, second summer with Le Carrousel at Juan, with
Les Lee (left) and Margaret Lockwood (centre)

      Juan was the nicest of the resorts
because it was relatively undeveloped. Le Carrousel's premises there were not as
opulent as in Paris but attracted a similar mix of the straight, the bent, the curious,
the young and old, plus a quota of celebrities. Bob Hope and his wife came and took
me out for breakfast. He didn't crack one joke. Les Lee explained that his wit was
thin without cue cards. Margaret Lockwood brought her daughter Julia or 'Toots' as
she was known. As I squeezed past her Margaret said, 'I've been dying to ask you, I
hope you don't mind, but what' – she put her nose in the air and swooned like one of
the Bisto kids – 'is that divine scent you're wearing?'
'Ma Griffe by Carven,' I answered
bashfully (because Margaret Lockwood had been a big star ever since The Wicked
Lady in 1945).

While Margaret sat in a deckchair
doing endless crossword puzzles, Bambi and I joined Toots and her boyfriend Simon
Gough on the beach near the Lockwoods' summer villa at Cap d'Antibes. It was very
private, unlike the beaches in Juan where we were mobbed by trippers and
photographers, especially when we wore bikinis. They would point at our knickers,
say 'Where is it?', and we'd have to bombard them with the contents of our picnic
lunch.
When work was over at two or three in
the morning, we'd drive off again to Cannes, to Le Whisky A-Go-Go on Palm Beach.
If the others in the show came with us they usually changed into men's clothes. At
the Whisky it was all fizz and cha-cha-cha. And men. The whole atmosphere along
that coast was so importunate – I could have been a great courtesan if only I'd
known how to cope in bed. Les Lee was quite different. I shared a big apartment
with him and had hardly any sleep. There were troops of men through the flat all
night long while I snuggled up to Frou-Frou, Les Lee's dog, christened after the
underskirt of a cancan dancer.
When there was time, my greatest
diversion was Amateur Strip Night at La Vieille Colombieuse nightclub – secretaries
en vacances would mysteriously get the call, jump on to the stage and start to
disrobe. Half-way through they invariably froze, looked down at themselves in
horror and fled the stage in tears.
In the club next to ours Edith Piaf was
singing. After her show she always left with a group of muscular Ganymedes, the
sensible woman. Apart from opiates, her favourite tipple was vigorous young men
from underprivileged backgrounds. She flaunted them on the beach. When she'd
had a few drinks you could hear her ranting at them: 'Yes, go and brag to your
friends how you've had the Great Edith Piaf! I don't care. You can't break me. I'm
broken already. But try! Try!'
Joey arrived for the summer, bringing
yet another girl with him.
'I've got V.D.,' he said.
'You're full of encouraging news.'

'Don't be like that. I was hoping you'd
lend me some cash to get it cured. It's not very nice, you know.'
'I don't know. I've never had it.
What about this girl?'
'She's nothing really.'
'O.K. – you get rid of the girl and I'll
pay for the treatment.' I had to help him out – he was wearing a white tennis top,
with three mother-of-pearl buttons up to a darling little collar. His looks, as always,
hypnotised me.
A German woman called Ariane came to
the club. She had a brandy-coloured suntan which showed off her platinum hair.
We took to one another immediately and met for lunches and drinks. After a while
she said to me, 'You're English and I'm German – the war was a terrible thing.'
'But it's over now.'
'Yes. And I've an awful secret to tell
Sie. I'm Goebbels's sister-in-law. My sister was married to him.'
'But how come you're alive? I thought
the entire family committed suicide in the Berlin Bunker.'

'I was in the Bunker at the end.
Goebbels and my sister, they murdered their six children and then poisoned
themselves. But I was only twelve. They said: "You are not immediate family, you
leave." They sent me away in a car. My sister was one of the most beautiful women
in Germany.
Ariane had splendid jewels which I
suspect were the remains of the family fortune. She also had a marvellous sense of
humour, refused to brood on the past, and visited me later in Paris: 'I live in
Dusseldorf but I always do my shopping in Paris.'
Meanwhile Bambi and I continued our
search for the miraculous surgeon who would, we imagined, enable us to lead a
normal life. The details of the Christine Jorgensen story had now become familiar
and strengthened our resolve. We were told of such a doctor in Nice and visited him.
He gave us hormone implants. A small cut is made along the pubic bone and pellets
are inserted which operate on a slow-release principle. They last much longer than
the shots.
'Not only can I perform surgery on
your genitals,' he added, 'but also I want to transplant wombs.'
'How wonderful,' said Bambi.
'Wonderful? You're crazy! Bambi, if
you want to give birth to monsters and maybe die on the slab, you go ahead. But
count me out.'
On stage at Le Carrousel, age 23

My pay should have dropped when we returned to Paris but it didn't, which was
tantamount to a rise. Off the breadline at last! It's a glorious moment in anyone's
fife when this happens. And I could begin to save.
Mme Petit knew this and gave me a
better room on a lower floor. There was an informal procedure in these small
Parisian pensions. Because there were no lifts and only one bathroom, as one's
money went up the position of one's room came down. The hotel was tall and narrow
and as I prospered I found myself descending it until I was sandwiched on the
second floor.

One noontide, sitting up in bed with a
cup of coffee, poking my hair, meditating on the start of a new day and springtime
in Paris, with the sun flooding across my counterpane, I was astounded to see
somebody drop past the window. This was followed by an ear-splitting crash.
Grabbing my robe de chambre I ran to the window. A man was spread-eagled
face-downwards on the roof of Mme Petit's dining-room, which was made of netted
glass. The courtyard had filled with gesticulating French. The man was semi-conscious,
 he made no noise, not even a moaning. But when he stirred I could see
that the front of him, especially face and hands, was pouring with blood from a
thousand cuts.
Mme Petit told me he was a Pole. His
wife and son were still in Poland but he had sought political asylum in France. la
morning he'd heard he couldn't have it.
The incident galvanised me into doing
what I'd long wanted to do: move back up to the top. Being so utterly French, Mme
Petit was shocked that I should want my unchic rooftops back but I was determined
and began to unpin the Bohème and Traviata posters. la
French and their chic! It was relentless. As a gesture of defiant individuality I
found myself including in my dress one item that didn't go – a necklace that was too
bulky, an evening bag in the daytime, a clashing scarf, the wrong gloves –
anything to antagonise perfect taste. 'Vulgarity is the garlic in the salad of charm'
(St Bumpus).
After work Audrey and I began to
frequent Le Bantu, a late-late nightclub behind the Lido where artistes unwound
when their shows were over. I first went with Hary Laubscher, a London friend in
the throes of depression. As we left, the manager called me over and gave me a
wadge of francs.

'What's this for?'
'You work at Le Carrousel, don't
you?'
'Yes, but…'
'Well, that's for bringing in a
customer.'
'But he's my friend.'
'Is he? He gets charged the same
anyway. So you might as well take your cut. That's what happens here.'
If you were in the business yourself
and introduced business to another club, you received your cut. Presumably it's this
kind of practice which makes Parisian nightclubs such an exorbitant night out.
The cut was a lot of money. A third of the bill. Hence Le Bantu became my regular
move-on after work and although it seemed to come close to prostitution I was soon
earning as much money there as at Le Carrousel. If Audrey came too we'd treat
them to a few wild rumbas – the management used to ply us with champagne to get
us going.
They did the same with the strippers
who came on from the Crazy Horse Saloon: Dodo Hamburg whose angle was to strip
off widow's weeds out of a coffin, Rita Renoir wearing dark body make-up and
whooping around as if she had five fish in her knickers, and Rita Cadillac, a tall,
pouting blonde. I became quite friendly with Miss Cadillac. We went to Joffo's Salon
together where Robert did our hair and we once spent a weekend at Joffo's château
near Tours. She turned out to be a superb shot, bagging six rabbits to my one.

The Alaria Ballet, an exotic South
American macambo troupe, came to Le Bantu when they were performing at the
Lido. Jean Marais kissed my feet there. Geneviève Fath gave me her
earrings to dance in, two pearls the size of ping-pong balls, one white, the other
schwarz. Geneviève was said to have the largest single-piece marble dining-
table in Paris.
Who else? The Bluebell Girls, of course,
who worked at the Lido, and the Showgirls Sandra Lebroque and Candy Seymour-
Smith (deb-turned-coryphée), accompanied by an American male dancer
called Skippy. He was slim and fair with feet like razorblades. The Bluebell Girls
should have been nicely tucked up in bed by this time. Their boss, Margaret Kelly, a
Liverpudlian, was very tough with them, desperate that none should go astray. But
Elvis Presley had quite a few. He was stationed in Germany at the time and flew to
Paris with an entourage for dirty weekends. His military crew-cut made him
strikingly boyish and it stunned you to realise what a looker he was. The most
remarkable thing about his looks was their colouring: blue-black hair, golden skin,
lips so cherry-red they looked artificial, and brilliant green eyes. One of his aides
took me aside and asked if I were prepared to 'go with Elvis'. 'Going with Elvis'
wasn't something you had to think about for very long but I thought it only cricket
to explain who, or rather what, I was. There was consternation in the Elvis camp.
Presley, puritan as hell but a polite Southern boy none the less, came across and
said, 'I hope my friend didn't embarrass you. Do have a drink.' There were no more
approaches, but his party always sent a drink across when we coincided. He was
always sober, looked slightly uncomfortable, but loaded with charisma even in that
dark glittering den.
Le Carrousel kept one tied down during
the civilised hours, seven nights a week, but every few months I'd take a night off
and there were treats. A performance of La Traviata at l'Opéra – at last.
Judy Garland at the Palais de Chaillot. Meeting Anton Dolin at Bill Taylor's flat – 'You
look like my father,' I said to him. He thought I was trying to be the smart alec until
I showed him Father's photograph which I always carried. Since then he's always
been 'Daddy Pat' Dolin.
A Russian Prince took me to
Shéhérazade for dinner, Old Russia recreated, gypsy violins drooling
schmaltz, and the tables bathed in blue fire from sizzling flambés. la
Prince kissed my knuckles and said, 'I know I'm dull, I know I'm not handsome,

mais vous êtes ma honeybunch and I'll do anything if only you'd go to bed
with me.'
While we tangoed on the dance-floor I
thought about it and said, 'O.K., Dmitri – if you eat a glass for me.' At once he tucked
into a brandy balloon. After three or four bites there was blood everywhere. ils
brought the restaurant's first-aid kit to mend his mouth. It was a gallant effort, I
couldn't deny him.
Capucine
(not from the book)

      But these incidents were exceptional.
And there were few major dramas inside the club itself. Capucine (not the film star
but one of us) did once try to kill himself – I hope you aren't becoming too fatigued
by these suicide attempts. They were always happening around me. Life seethed
with private tragedies. But I'll try to thin them out from here on. Anyway,
Capucine's heart was pierced by a conflict: the ancient sugar-daddy and luxury, or
the young blades and penury? Of course the luxury always won in the end because
Capucine's keeper was a very famous millionaire, enabling Capsy to compete with
and overtake Coxy's mink collection. But unlike Coxy, Capsy wanted to be 'a lady' as
well. This put him into agonising quandaries when he fell for a bricklayer or a
road-digger (which was frequently, because Capsy couldn't resist the
boue).
So it was no surprise when M. Lasquin
announced, 'Capucine won't be in tonight. She's taken an overdose of pills and is
being pumped out in the clinic.'
Capucine on stage
(not from the book)

      However, Capucine wasn't going to
leave the ground clear for sympathy or bitchery and came striding in wearing a
whole mink farm and all the crown jewels. His mouth was swollen and bruised
where the stomach pump had been forced in (sometimes in an emergency, if the
jaw is clenched, they have to break the teeth to do this).

'The show must go on!' he said in
English, throwing off his pelts. And he passed out cold on the floor.
Marcel entered, looked down
scornfully, looked at us, looked at the dressers and said, 'Take her knickers off.'
Capucine was on his feet in a twinkling
– he wasn't going to let anyone see his zee-zee. He flew out to a cab and made a
complete recovery at home. But Capsy had his moment a few months later when
Callas gave a charity concert at l'Opéra. Tickets were several hundred
pounds each. Coxy poo-pooed Callas but Capucine was in fact the only one who could
afford to go. Once there he dropped a shoulder strap, out they fell, and he was all
over the newspapers the next day. This kind of frantic oneupmanship was the
least attractive side of Carrousel life. I suppose fame and attention gave them a
feeling of reality they didn't otherwise possess.
Of all the people Les Lee introduced me
to, Josephine Baker was the one I liked most. Before the war she was Paris, the most
celebrated of the black dancers who bewitched Europe in the 1920s. She had been
nicknamed the Black Pearl and compared to a figurine from Tanagra. In my time
she contrived a comeback show, Paris, Mes Amours, and took it to the Folies
Bergères, the scene of her original triumphs, but they said, 'Sorry,
Josephine, you're past it.' She booked the Olympia off her own bat, put it on and
broke all records there. Then she took it on tour and came back for a second season.
I asked her why she'd gone back into show business and she said, 'Because I was
broke.' The reason she was broke was that she'd taken on masses of orphans and
refugee children.
Towards the end of my stretch at Le
Carrousel I became chums with a new member of the troupe, Peki d'Oslo, otherwise
Alain Tapp, later Amanda Lear.
Audrey said to me, 'You must meet this
young painter I know. He wants to become a woman.' Peki's Franco-Oriental family
lived in southern France and he was pursuing art in Paris, surviving by painting
delightful postcards of Paris scenes. I said, 'But, my dear, these are lovely – you must
stay as you are, you must develop your talent, you mustn't waste yourself in
cabaret.' In addition to being a painter he was a talented polyglot. But Peki was
adamant and so joined the show. Sayonara, starring Marlon Brando, had just
hit the screens – wasn't he gorgeous in that military uniform? – and because of
Peki's features M. Lasquin gave him an Oriental spot.

Salvador Dali visited the club. He said,
'Gold is the most beautiful thing in the world, and the next most beautiful thing in
the world is to wake up in the morning and find lots and lots of cheques in the post.'
Mr Dali hoped to paint me unclad as Hermaphroditos but the possibility of
being immortalised in my half-way house on the walls of the Tate Gallery was too
horrible to contemplate. Dali's cousin was much weirder than the painter. il
invited me for dinner at his flat and served spaghetti. Instead of Parmesan cheese,
he took out a box and sprinkled tin-tacks all over his and walloped the lot down
while giving a monologue on horse-racing.
It was Peki whom Dali came to know
really well. I don't think they were ever what the Americans refer to as 'an item'
but they were close. Peki told me hair-raising stories of Dali's artistic orgies staged
outside Paris and attended by Pompidou and other éminences. One was
an exercise in symmetry. The maestro arranged two beds in the centre of the room,
co-opted two pairs of twins, one male, the other female, and urged them to make
love with their opposites.

Le Carrousel organised tours to Germany, Scandinavia, Italy and South America. dans le
the autumn of 1959, after the regular season at Juan, the promoters of the Italian
tour specified in the contract that both Coxy and I had to be part of the package. la
tour opened and closed with long runs in Milan at La Porta del Ora, a lavish club
with plaster scrollwork on the walls, mock Louis Seize furniture, and a barman who
seduced me with a stream of Dry Martinis.
In Milan I digged with Audrey. He had
a maddening habit of jumping out of his bed at 4a.m. shouting, 'I've got to have a
man, I've got to!' and charging out of the door.
So when Peki said to me, 'I want to be a
lady just like you,' I replied, 'In that case, chéri, when we move on,
you become my room-mate because I tell you, Audrey's driving me round the twist
with these gigantic Italians rolling in at all hours.' And so, for the rest of the tour
Peki became my protégé.

Between the two runs in Milan came
Bologna, Viareggio, Naples and Florence. Not Rome. It was the Papal City and the
Church didn't want types like us in it.
The manager of La Porta del Ora
indicated that it was part of our job to sit with the customers, encourage them to
order champagne (on which the mark-up was always immense), sleep with them if
possible, and drag them back in again the following day.
'I'm not sitting with those smelly old
tramps after a hard day's work!'
'Butta you musta. Eet's expected.'
'Ees eet? It was never done at Le
Carrousel and I'm not doing it here.'
'At leest, won't you eet dinner out
there?'
'I'll eat dinner out there but it's going
to be alone, just with Peki.'
With Kiki Moustique, a fellow performer at Le Carrousel

      Out there, a gentleman of mature years
sitting with Coxy and Kiki Moustique (another of the turns; and who, incidentally,
was married to a sweet young girl) came across and introduced himself. 'Are you
English? I was educated in England.'

That seemed tolerable so we permitted
him to join us. His name was Enrico Paradi, a frightfully rich industrialist. Later
the manager came up and said that Coccinelle wanted to see me in the dressing-
Zimmer.
'You two-faced English bitch!' ils
yelped. 'You're on the first fucking train back to Paris!'
'Coxy, what are you talking about?'
'My name's not Coxy!'
'O.K. – Monique…'
'To you it's Coccinelle – the
Coccinelle!'
'Look, Jacques, is there something I
can do for you?'

Everyone was frightened of Coccinelle,
who was powerful enough to pick up the phone and say 'Marcel, I want So-and-so
exchanged.' But I wasn't frightened because I knew my name was on that contract
alongside hers.
Finally, after plenty of ugly grimaces,
French slang and general dementia, she came out with it: 'What the hell are you
doing stealing my micheton?'
'It's a sad thing, Jacques, when people
as famous as the Coccinelle can no longer hold on to their men!' Sometimes
one has to flourish one's claws in this life or else be swallowed alive.
'You wait, I'll get you, back in Paris. dans le
fact I'm phoning Marcel right now!'
'Do your worst – I wouldn't mind
leaving this grotty little tour.'
I was called to the phone and Marcel
said, 'Ma petite foule Anglaise, what is going on now?'

'Monique's accusing me of stealing her
moneypot.'
He spoke again to Coccinelle, who then
stalked off the premises crashing every door she could lay her hands on. Von
sheer cussedness, I now determined to make a better acquaintance with Enrico, who
turned out to be a dear old thing. There were a few days' break before Bologna and
he invited Kiki and myself down to Rome for a slap-up weekend at the Excelsior
Hotel on the Via Veneto. At Milan station we found two first-class sleeper berths
booked for us. Inside were bottles of champagne, red and white roses and two
purple-velvet boxes of Suchard chocolates with our names spelt out on them in
semi-precious stones.
When we reached the Excelsior we
handed over our passports, changed, and took Kiki's Pomeranian walkies along the
Via Sistina. At the top of the Spanish Steps I saw, wouldn't you guess, Anna
Magnani, one of my favourite actresses in over-emotional parts, seemingly dressed
in mourning (the women so often are in Italy). We chatted while she was waiting
for her son; she was mad about everything English including the people. Jedoch,
when Kiki turned up in full slap and falsies Anna changed completely and that was
the end of that.
As we continued our promenade, the
paparazzi, always to be my bane, got wind of who we were in that telepathic
way for which they're renowned, so we decided to retreat to the hotel – where we
were arrested (as undesirables, the nerve!) and put back on the train for Milan. Meine
experience of the Eternal City had been very brief indeed; it was too galling and
Coxy of course was thrilled – until the paparazzi sold their pictures and Kiki
and I found ourselves featured in all the popular magazines.
Bologna was freezing. The club was
snowed in so practically no one saw us. In Naples the club was run by a countess
who always had a dead rose in her hair and a dead cigar in her mouth. After Milan,
Naples had the best audience in Italy. Florence was chaos. There were no dressing-
Räume. We had to hang our G-strings and wigs in the Ladies. The Florentine women
continued using it and we had to stand over our make-up to prevent pilfering. But
the audience was perked up by several tables of crooks who had trailed us from
Naples. Then back to Milan, where Shirley Bassey followed our act. Shirley didn't
understand the Italian audience and, thinking the incessant talk was disrespect for
her voice, hit one of them round the head with a stick.

One day in Milan I announced I was leaving the show to have a sex-change
operation. They gasped, though their reason for doing so was: 'If you leave the
show, they'll cancel the contract and we'll all be out of work.'
'I made a pact with myself a long time
ago – to have this operation by my twenty-fifth birthday or kill myself. I've saved
enough money and I'm twenty-five at the end of this month.'
'A few more weeks won't kill you!'
'Well, all right, but then I promise I'm
off.'
Let me tell you how this came
about.

5To
the Wizard of Casablanca

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's
eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
Matthew vii 3
Lili Elbe
(not from the book)

Although sex-change operations in 1960 were associated in the public
imagination with Dr Frankenstein (and still are very often), they were
not brand new. The first report of one was made by a German, F. Z.
Abraham, in 1931, but he gives no details. The first popular account was
in 1933 in Niels Hoyer's book Man Into Woman. It is the story of a
Danish painter, male, who became Lili Elbe after a series of operations
only vaguely described.
The term 'transsexualism'
was invented in 1949 by Dr D.O. Cauldwell who wished to describe a girl
who obsessively wanted to become a boy (the incidence of
transsexualism in males however is much higher than in females, about
four or five to one). A few years later the word was taken up by Dr Harry
Benjamin whose researches led eventually to the first systematic study
in 1966, The Transsexual Phenomenon.
Christine Jorgensen
(not from the book)

      In 1952 a team of Danish
surgeons under Christian Hamburger performed the operations on
George (later Christine) Jorgensen which established the general
blueprint for transsexual surgery and post-operational treatment.
Publicity of the case the following year brought the matter before the
whole world for the first time.

The subject of sexual
ambiguity was publicised in Britain by two unusual cases. In 1952
Elizabeth Forbes-Sempill, daughter of the 18th Baron Sempill, issued a
statement to the effect that she had been re-registered on her birth
certificate as a male (taking the Christian name 'Ewan'), thereby
becoming heir-presumptive to the baronetcy of Forbes of Craigievar, a
junior title held by Ewan's brother, the 19th Baron Sempill. Whereas the
barony was one of those rare British titles which can pass through the
female line, the baronetcy could not. So when the 19th Baron died in
1965 having sired only daughters, his daughter Ann became Lady
Sempill and his reassigned brother became, after some litigation, the
Hon. Sir Ewan Forbes, 11th Baronet. Ewan married and now lives as a
farmer in the Highlands, shooting and fishing, skiing and skating.
The second case is that of
Roberta Cowell. Born Robert, the son of Major-General Sir Ernest Cowell,
she had been raised as a boy, and in an effort to establish masculinity
became a wartime fighter pilot and a motor-racing driver. However the
facade was impossible to sustain and when advised by doctors that she
was more properly a woman she tried to kill herself. Roberta Cowell
eventually adjusted to her new role after a series of operations and the
story was published in Picture Post in 1954.
Both these cases were the
result of ambiguous genital formation at birth, resulting in incorrect
sex identification. They are not to be confused with cases like my own,
those of transsexualism, which so far as doctors have determined are
primarily of psychological origin (abetted to a greater or lesser extent
by physiological factors according to each individual case) and
therefore, as the law stands, do not entitle one to a change of birth
certificate. I mention them in order to clarify such confusion, since
many readers will have been introduced to the subject by these two
cases.
Church and State demand
that we be either male or female. But Dr Armstrong's 'Sexual Rainbow' or
'Spectrum of Sex' notices seventeen physical states ranging from the
normal female to the normal male. Most people fall comfortably at one
end or the other but a small number fall into the intervening states
known as 'intersex'. It was Dr Armstrong's belief that I was among this
small number (although very few transsexuals are) and therefore
entitled to surgery to eliminate my physical limbo and underline my
psychological orientation, which was female. Unfortunately, at the time
I was being handled by the Walton Hospital, medicine lacked the finesse
necessary for addressing itself to this question – if it hadn't, I might
have been spared much upset. It would be interesting to know in at way
I could have been classified as a physical intersex, before taking the
matter into my own hands and thus making it impossible
Interesting but not crucial.
A male or a female? I feel that, despite great social confusion in the
early years, the question was settled the subconscious long before
doctors entered my life, perhaps even before birth. The subject is still
very contentious because it poses fundamental questions such as the
relationship between mind and matter. The medical theories were
exhaustively debated in my divorce case, and the various arguments will
be tartly summarised in that chapter. For the time being it seems best to
describe what was happening to me.
I started out life as a boy. Wie
I grew up I turned into a feminine looking boy. Perhaps I should have
accepted my androgynous nature – most feminine-looking boys do, both
heterosexual and homosexual ones. But I couldn't accept it because I felt
myself to be essentially female. Why, I don't know. But I did. Und das
feeling went as deep as feelings can go. Doctors could argue among
themselves for ever. Meanwhile I came to realise what I had to do to sort
myself out.
The taking of oestrogen
satisfied the transvestites but not the transsexuals. I've seen men who've
been taking hormones for twenty-five years and they still look like men
with breasts stuck on to them. But my mind had made an internal choice
of sex to which the external did not conform. My male genitals were
quite alien to me. I would never let anyone touch them, not even when
we slept together, not even Joey. And I never once went to bed with a
man without being blind drunk. As I grew older this physical
secretiveness grew worse. The elimination of these organs became
essential to my finding life tolerable. It wasn't a matter of: wouldn't it be
fun to have a vagina? Possibly for people like Coccinelle, but not for me,
and I doubt it even for her because transsexual surgery is no joke. Meine
early life had been such agony that it seems the psyche had said to itself,
'This life is shaping up into no shape at all. Something has got to take
charge, so I'm going to', which resulted in great strength of purpose.
Little wonder that among less single-minded transsexuals, self-
mutilation and suicide are so common.

The horror of a life of
ambiguity and disguise, the constant fear of being exposed – one could
not live with it and remain sane. You see, I would attract men to whom I
was attracted, but when the moment came to go beyond kissing, the
illusion would fall apart and I would be utterly lost. Even when they said
it didn't matter that I was a boy, it did to me. I regarded myself as neither
transvestite nor homosexual, although aspects of my life perforce
overlapped with these.
You may feel, 'Oh, terms like
intersex and transsexual, they're only words, they don't really mean
anything.' And you would be wrong. Of course they are words, but that is
a tremendous encouragement because it means that instead of my being
a freak, modern knowledge has identified syndromes and named them,
has evolved concepts to deal with conditions such as mine. You cannot
imagine the comfort in knowing that one is something, and not merely
monstrous. My distress at sea was so much the worse for having nothing,
not even catch phrases, to hold on to and steady the mind. One is a rarity,
which makes learning to cope a very hard lesson, but one is not outside
the discernible laws of nature.
Sexual trauma was
paralleled by social trauma on those occasions when I had to identify
myself formally. 'George Jamieson' was on my passport, though I had
long ceased to resemble the picture inside it. In Milan I visited the
British Consul to see if it were possible to be issued with a new passport
in the name of 'Toni April'.
'Heavens above!' he said.
'What on earth are you going about like this for? Don't you realise it's
illegal? You can't go round dressed as a woman!'
'Yes I can. I've got
permission front the Italian Government. For everywhere except
Rome.'
But a new passport was not
possible.
For fear of the questioning
it might involve, and possible refusal, I did not apply for a French work-
permit. Instead I would get Robert, the hairdresser, to drive me to
Brussels every three months. The words of Lady Georgia Blueharnis
came back to me: 'I can hardly imagine anyone setting out
deliberately for Brussels,' But so long as one was out of France for
at least twenty-four hours they would renew the visa and the question of
a work-permit could be avoided. For the journey to serve its purpose the
passport had to be stamped. I cowered in the back of the car, looking like
a young lesbian in harsh black male clothes. I had no confidence in
myself dressed this way, I'd walk hunched-up, furtively, jumping at the
slightest noise. My self-possession returned only when I slipped back
into my proper clothes. Robert would tell the passport officer that I
wanted the stamp as a souvenir.

'But this passport is full of
souvenirs!'
'Yes, well, she, er, he
collects them.'
Fortunately there was
never any major aggravation. I relied on the prestige of the British
passport to get me through, which it did. By now I'd be aching for a pee –
the nerves – but held on until the hotel. I never used public lavatories;
anyway they were disgusting in France and easy to eliminate from one's
routine. In bars and foyers I'd use the Ladies if I had to, but
circumstances had developed in me a bladder of iron.
As the presentation of
myself as a woman became more convincing the fear of exposure
became more acute. I'd given myself a deadline. I had saved the money.
But where was the surgeon?
A few months before the
Italian tour, Coccinelle had vanished. When she reappeared she was
smirking her head off. What had changed? Coccinelle was in no mood to
keep it a secret. She threw off her clothes, fell backwards on to a sofa
with her legs in the air and wide apart, and pointed between them with a
long carmine fingernail. 'Now, M' Lady, what do you think of THAT!'
Coccinelle, half nude
(not from the book)

      'Jesus, Monique…' I'd never
before seen her without her cache-sexe. She had a very pretty
body (with remarkably beautiful feet) and now there was no doubting
the brilliance of the work between her legs. She had, as far as one could
see without getting too close, a five-star vagina.
'Where did you get it?'

'Alia, that would be telling.
I've been sworn to secrecy!' She could be such a tiresome beast. Coxy
donned a blue chiffon robe trimmed with ostrich feathers. It was ultra-
see-through and she posed about in it – so, that everyone could see that
there was nothing a-dangle.
I knew then that I had
found my doctor.
Coccinelle had paved the
way as a result of the extraordinary degree to which she regarded her
body as an adjustable object. She'd had masses of silicone injections in
her breasts. She'd had five nose jobs – transvestites and transsexuals are
obsessed with remodelling the nose. When her nose collapsed to
nothing, she tried to have a sixth to build it up again but it wasn't
possible with mere nostrils to work with. As a young boy Coxy had been
ugly, with a nose that went on for miles, hence, her passion for having
it sawn down until nothing was left, just two holes that glared at you in
the front of her face. She later had a face lift which honestly she didn't
need. She'd had an ear job (the ears are trimmed and pulled back flatter
to the skull). She'd had an eye job. She'd had electrolysis on her facial
and bodily hair. Somehow the eyebrows had become involved in this.
They'd disappeared and she would paint them on wherever the fashion
of the moment dictated. There is so much they can do these days –
operations on the jaws, operations to remove the Adam's apple,
operations which shorten the vocal cords and raise the voice one or two
tones. They can even reduce height by chopping bits of bone out of the
legs (but they can't do the same to the arms so the result is ape-like). I'm
sure Coxy has kept up with all the developments. The only thing they
can't do is sew on lips, which is the one she's really waiting for
(although they can inject silicone into them). There are dangers, of
course. One Paris doctor, known as 'the Tit Man', killed someone with a
silicone needle. It pierced the heart.
(HEALTH WARNING)
Bambi bathing
(not from the book)

      In our priggish way, Bambi
and I disapproved of Coccinelle. We'd sit in the Calvados Bar opposite the
George V Hotel, listening to Salena Jones at the microphone, and pose
there, me as Audrey Hepburn, Bambi as Grace Kelly, and talk about it all.
We did what we did in Paris, Milan and Juan because we had to earn a
living. But at heart we felt we were true ladies. After the show I'd go off
to Le Bantu and dance away my surplus energy with Audrey or Skippy.
And Bambi would go home to Mother and her steady penniless
boyfriend. In our conversation we came to the conclusion that not only
was Coxy an exhibitionist of the demi-monde but, underneath it all,
she was also a man, a homosexual transvestite whose passion for the
knife was driven by vanity, the desperate need to be admired.
How prissy we were! How
sure and how simple-minded. Coxy was far more complex than that. elle
would have taken twenty-five psychiatrists to sort her out. Compared to
us little puritans, she was awesomely liberated, always floating around
in big cars, swathed in minks, oozing sex. The last I heard of her she was
still pulling out her tit at first nights. Only since have I come to
recognise how magnificent Coccinelle was.
Coxy was also perplexed by
me. She could not understand why I had no michetons, why I was
so in love with Joey who was poor and visited me so rarely, why I'd
never had my nose bobbed. 'Darling, she would say, blinking her
bloodshot eyes and placing her finger on the tip of my nose, 'you must,
really you must, I have the marvellous doctor for this.' One look at Coxy's
and I knew my nose was fine. But I envied her glorious lack of
inhibition.

I was driven out of my wits
by her refusal to name the surgeon who had operated on her zee-
zee. All she'd tell me was: 'It cost £1,500, so that rather cuts you
out, doesn't it?'
'No, it doesn't, Monique.'
She raised her painted
eyebrows. 'So you have the micheton after all?'
'No, I don't.' But I wasn't
going to tell her I'd saved over £2,000.
'Well, he wants to remain
anonymous. But he is the best in the world and despises his fellow
medics. They despise him too because they know he's a genius!'

I pestered and pestered
because it was time to make my move from Shangri-La to Nirvana, but
the row with Coxy over Enrico closed her up altogether. It was Kiki
Moustique who obtained the information.
'Toni, I think this is what
you want,' she said.
My eyes dilated in wonder.
Dr Burou, Clinique du Parc, 13 rue Lapébie, Casablanca,
Morocco.
That evening I wrote:
Dear Dr Burou, I got your address from Coccinelle. I am twenty-four
years old. I want a sex-change operation. Would you accept me for an
interview? It's very important.
A secretary replied. It was
brief and to the point. I was to present myself at the Clinic on 11 April.
Having had it out with my colleagues, I told the clinic I'd be there on 11
May.
Back in Paris I explained
my intention to Marcel. 'And so, Marcel, would you be prepared to
advance me some extra money if I run out while I'm there?'
'No, I wouldn't be prepared,
you crazy English! I'll lend you money for clothes, for a car, even for an
apartment if you like, but not for that. I've seen a lot of strange people
pass through this place. And no good ever comes of this operation. Stay
as you are or you'll ruin your young life.'
'You don't understand.
There is no life for me without this. I've only got one life and it's my
only chance for happiness. I can't be a freak for ever.'

'The operation – that will
make you a freak for all time.
'Perhaps you're right. But I
can live with that. Have I got to jump of a bridge before people
understand that I can't go on living as I am? Only I'm not going to jump
off a bridge – I'm going to Casablanca!'
The whole club tried to
dissuade me. Les Lee said, 'Honey, when you see that knife, you'll be
back.' It was different for Les. He had adjusted to being what he was. But
for me the idea of flouncing round Le Carrousel in drag for the rest of
my life was totally unacceptable. There was a big daylight world outside
and I had to face it, I wanted to explore it, it fascinated me.
I said, 'Well, Bambi, aren't
you coming too?'
She looked at me with the
big blue eyes. I thought she was going to burst into tears but she said,
'No, it's becoming too fashionable.'
I couldn't believe what I
was hearing. 'Fashion? What's fashion got to do with it? This is our
future, our destiny, you've got to see it through. This is what we've
talked about for years.'
But Bambi didn't want to
talk about it any more. Then the Bluebell Girls heard. Sandra Lebroque
and Gloria Paul came at me like a delegation: 'You're not going, and
that's that!'

All this opposition had a
consolidating effect. I'd never before felt so calm, so centred. Toots
Lockwood was sweet and girlish on the phone: 'If it's what your heart
tells you, Toni, then follow your heart.'
And Coccinelle was
downright positive. 'Yes! Go!' was what she said before flying off to do a
show in Berlin.
I bought a Casablanca
street-map and studied it at night, trying to imagine myself there. EIN
French-Moroccan boy working at the club supplied the address of a
clean, cheap hotel. At the Hotel de la Paix I packed my worldly goods into
a trunk and took it down to the basement while Madame Petit followed
me whimpering.
On the morning of 10 May
1960 I went to Orly Airport. I thought it appropriate to go alone but Les,
Peki and Skippy insisted on coming and really I was grateful. Because of
my passport I again had to adopt the lesbian gear – there were to be no
last-minute hitches.
Les kept up a patter. 'But
Africa, dear! And all by yourself! It's a disgusting thought. You'll be
murdered at least twice. I know it's not darkest Africa but there are no
smart bits, you know, to hide in. Have you thought about dirt? There will
be heaps of it everywhere. And you'll catch something incurable from a
camel – people always do in Morocco. Oh – what a husky porter – grab
him. My God, you fool, Africa! They'll put you in a cage and sell you in
the market like a parrot. How can you bear the idea of it? All those Arabs
with V.D…. wanting to touch you. They say it's just reached the stage
Europe reached in the Middle Ages – the plague waiting for you round
every corner. Bambi must have told you about Camus –
'Stop it, Les! I'm petrified as
it is.'
Then they all broke down in
tears.
'And stop crying – just help
me get on to this bloody Caravelle jet! I'm petrified in case passport
control asks me to take my hat off.'

'But honey, you don't know
what Africa's like!' sobbed Les, kohl smudged across his face.
'Neither do you, mon
ange. Now where do I go in?'
We all kissed and hugged
and as I was about to go through the departure lounge, Skippy held me
by the arm. 'Just one more thing,' he said; 'when you get back, can I be
the first?'
'Oh, Skippy…' and my rib-
cage collapsed and I wept like a baby.
The flight was ghastly. Six
hours of the worst stage-fright. My stomach was a fist and would admit
no food. A glass of gin and tonic fizzed and went flat on the pull-down in
front of me – I couldn't even drink. But such fear and adrenaline – it
brings you alive to your fingertips!
It was tea-time when I
descended to the tarmac of Casablanca and the heat slapped me in the
face. At the hotel the young Arab desk-boy took my passport and asked if
I wanted a jug of water. Les Lee loomed before my eyes saying, 'Don't! elle
will be full of filthy organisms!' So I asked for a bottle of Perrier and
went up to my room.
All I wanted was rest, to lock
myself in this room in a strange city where I knew no one and doze until
the following morning. I'd been dozing pretty effectively for about an
hour when my eyelids slid open and I thought, 'You lazy, miserable sod!
This is Casablanca, this is Ingrid and Humphrey, the Atlantic coast of
Africa! It's time to stop flopping on the bed, time to stop hiding. This is
Dream-Come-True Eve. So go out and celebrate for Chrissakes!'
I set about myself with
alacrity. In another hour I appeared at the top of the staircase groomed
to kill. A black cocktail dress with a cute bosom, six rows of artificial
pearls cooling the lower throat, a chignon so sleek it might have been
painted on with a brush, my most regal maquillage, and a tiny
evening bag filled with crisp bank notes. Perfektion.

Descending slowly the
stairs, I saw the jaw of the desk-boy drop lower with every step I took. il
was thinking: 'Where on earth did this bit of stuff come from? Two
hours ago the dregs of something disappeared into that room – and now!
The Paris clothes, the hair-do, the eyes, the eyes…' Glowing with self-
assurance in the warm evening, I tell you, I took my time with those
stairs. But staircases can't last for ever and at the bottom I realised with
sudden pleasure that I was starving. I asked him for directions to the
very best Moroccan restaurant (not tourist) where a lady might be seen
dining on couscous alone (it had been lavished on me in St Germain
days). I daresay such a place doesn't exist in the whole of Africa, women
dining alone being so modern a development, but I soon found myself
bumping through the streets in a cab and was dropped at a gilded
doorway. It was the best couscous I've ever had. And being alone didn't
ruffle me at all. There are not many moments in life when one can dine
thus in public, talking to no one, fidgeting not in the slightest, with
heaven moving sweetly through the veins. Perhaps this is how
enlightened Zen monks spend their entire life. If so, they're having a
whale of a time.
The cab returned via the
Clinic – I got out and gazed at it under an African moon against a navy-
blue sky riddled with stars, expecting it to have been transformed into
an Egyptian temple, but it just looked like a clinic. That night I had no
sleep at all, listening to the low whirr of the city, car headlights moving
every so often across the bedroom ceiling. I heard a man's footsteps
climbing the stairs, the rattle of a key in his door, door closed, and
wondered what his secret might be. Everyone should have a secret. elle
gives a person depth, possibilities, something to tell a lover.
Up early, I arrived at the
Clinic with fifteen minutes to spare. A rather too voluptuous blonde
receptionist asked me to wait in the waiting-room but I couldn't sit down.
The Clinique du Parc is basically a maternity clinic for Moroccans on
whom fortune has smiled and the place was filled with the bawling of
the rich new-born. Eventually a nurse beckoned.
Dr Burou's consulting room
was reassuring. Calf-bound reference books and old French furniture
whispered 'quality'. Two things struck me when the nurse had closed the
door behind her. Firstly, the silence. The room must have been sound-
proofed. Secondly, Dr Burou. He was facing the window, then turned
round dramatically. I'd been told that he was handsome but I wasn't
expecting… an Alain Delon. Classic French features, dark-brown hair
and a smooth-smooth tan were the idyllic landscape from which shone
two aquamarine eyes and two white rows of teeth more devastating than
Tallulah's. He beamed health.. He made you think of American
bathrooms and candlelit dinners at the Chateau de Madrid all at once. dans le
fresh linen beach-clothes, with a blue shirt whose top button was
undone to intimate a furry chest smelling of Chanel, he could have been
a playboy who'd just sauntered over from Monte Carlo in his yachting
Turnschuhe. I discovered later that he had a love of water sports and water-
skied every day at the local yacht club.
He was, I suppose, about
forty-five years old and I had only two reservations. One, he dressed
slightly younger than his years; two, he was on the short side: there was
something in the way he held his athletic body which suggested that
subtly he was trying to stretch it, that his lack of height was the only
thing in the world which bothered him. None the less, I was awed.
Dr Burou greeted me with a
simple handshake, and with his hands slung in his pockets started to
walk round me as if I were an exhibit in an art gallery – or a zoo. His
hands were muscular, expensively manicured, and every so often he'd
pull one of them out and make a slight gesture with it as if to emphasise
a point to himself.
'Vous êtes le
spécimen parfait. Please take your clothes off and lie down
over there,' he said, indicating a couch covered with a starched linen
cloth. Everything he said was in a sardonic, slightly flirtatious tone. elle
was immensely attractive, not in the least off-putting, and he soon had
me giggling. He examined me from top to toe to make sure I was all real
and expressed pleasure in the fact that I'd had no cosmetic surgery.

'How old are you?'
'Twenty-five.'
'Oh yes, this letter.
Family?'
I lied and said I hadn't seen
my family since I was fifteen.
'Are you prepared to sign a
paper absolving myself and the Clinic from all responsibility should
anything go wrong?'
'Yes.'
'Are you absolutely sure you
want this operation?'
'Yes.'

'How?'
'Because I'll kill myself if I
don't.'
'Don't talk nonsense. quoi
illnesses have you had?'
'Hepatitis.' I didn't mention
calcium deficiency or the Walton Hospital.
'When was that?'
'Three years ago.'
'Any serious maladies,
allergies, heart trouble?'
'No.'
'Are you afraid?'

'Yes, I am.'
'Do you realise you might
die?'
Apparently there is a huge
loss of blood.
'I accept the risks.'
'Do you realise that I
haven't done many of these operations, that you are a guinea pig?' ,
I believe I was Dr Burou's
ninth sex-conversion.
'Are you prepared for a
shock?' he said. 'Right now?'
'Yes – what?'
He went to a desk and took
out a file of photographs, handing them to me one by one. They were
pictures of the operation, cut by cut, in vehement Technicolor. The gore,
the blood, the knives, if one had the tiniest reservation these pictures
would have flushed it out.

All I could think of saying
was, 'Are these pictures of Coccinelle?' Because if they were she'd had
the most enormous zee-zee. He laughed and ignored my question.
'There's only one thing I
want from you, Dr Burou.'
'What's that?'
'A promise.'
'What promise?'
'That you do not photograph
me.
'But I photograph all my
Patienten
'I want you to give me your
word that you will not photograph me.
'But the records, they
should be complete. One day, you never know…'

'I do know. This is too
important to me, too private, too mysterious – for snaps.'
'OK. I give you that promise.
You know, I think you're quite special. When would you like this
operation?'
'As soon as possible.'
'Move into the Clinic this
evening. We operate tomorrow morning at seven.'
Stunned, I floated out into
the sunshine and walked and walked. I'd expected weeks of psychiatric
tests and clinical run-up. There were a thousand questions suddenly.
Money, for example. He hadn't mentioned it. I thought of my family, one
of the occasions when I was glad to be utterly free of them, not to have
to try and explain.
The desk-boy said, 'But,
Madame, why aren't you staying longer, where are you going so
soon?'
'You wouldn't believe me if
I told you.'
At the Clinic Dr Burou
introduced me to his wife. She was a compact middle-aged Frenchwoman
with short, mousy hair beautifully set, a Dior suit, and small pieces of
high-grade jewellery. She pottered around being 'Madame Burou',
helping with the administration of the Clinic, helping me to fill in
forms. She came across as one of the unhappiest women I'd ever met and
one of the reasons, I discovered, was that Dr Burou, for whom she was
abject with love, had eyes elsewhere. Later I would take tea with her in
the Burous' flashy penthouse, which ran across the top floor of the
building, and listen to her tales of woe.
Then Dr Burou introduced
me to Marie, the Matron, six feet tall with heavy shoulders which
pumped when she laughed. A young nurse, Jeanne, who was to look
after me at night-time, took me up to my room past the Arab cleaners
shuffling about with buckets and mops.

The rooms were not
numbered on my floor but identified by a panel of flowers on the door –
otherwise the place was plain and functional. Mine was 'African Violets',
very appropriate, and decorated in mauve, with French windows on to a
balcony with a view straight into an apartment block opposite. Das Zimmer
had a radio and a private bathroom, the last word in hospital luxury
after my previous experiences, but no air-conditioning, so in that
climate it inclined to stuffiness.
Accompanied by two nurses
as witnesses, Marie came with papers for me to sign. Dr Burou returned,
all flirtatiousness gone, and again we rough the reasons why I should
not have the operation. At the end of his lecture I asked for a bite to
Essen.
'Not before an operation –
the anaesthetic would make you vomit into your lungs and you'd
suffocate to death.'
I went out on to the balcony
and absorbed the city – it was a balmy evening, pregnant with omens. EIN
young boy stared at me from across the street, a monkey on his shoulder,
a fixed smile on his face like a pagan doll.
At about 10 pm. eine Krankenschwester
appeared with a syringe in a metal dish. 'I expect you didn't get much
sleep last night – this will help.'
12 May 1960, 6 am. Two
nurses woke me. 'We must shave you. Down there.'
'Could I shave myself? Tun
you mind?'
Next the pre-med injection.
Bliss.
When they came for me I
said, 'Can I walk to the theatre?' I must have been having a limelight
fantasy.

'You must go by trolley.'
Two girls in blue coats wheeled me along the corridors on my back. Je
counted off the lights as they flicked overhead. Into a lift – but whether
it went up or down was impossible to gauge. Then more corridors. It was
rather like being swept pleasantly out to sea and by the time I rolled into
the theatre I was grinning from ear to ear. The anaesthetist, another
dreamy male, a Mediterranean Dr Kildare, and in fact the only other
man I ever saw in the Clinic, said 'Bonjour, monsieur.' It struck me
as hilarious, a game of charades.
With a mask across his face
Dr Burou said, 'I must ask you again, any doubts…'
'Do your finest work,
Doctor.'
Then they gave me the final
jab.
As I murmured, 'One … two
… three . Dr Burou bent over and breathed, 'Au revoir, monsieur.'
He smelt of gardens.

The operation lasted seven
hours and involved removal of the testes, surgery on the outer genitalia
and the construction of a vagina. No ovaries, no womb of course. la
brilliance of Dr Burou's technique was that he did this retaining the
maximum nerve tissue and inverting it into a vaginal lining so that
erogenous sensitivity was not destroyed. The adrenal glands continue to
produce sufficient androgen for orgasm to be possible by stimulation of
these nerve endings. And afterwards the taking of oestrogen is no
longer necessary.
(HEALTH WARNING)
Some sex-changes claim
that the operation makes them more sensitive than ordinary women,
although I find comparisons of this sort pretentious because sexual
responsiveness is such a personal quality, being the product of
psychological as well as physiological factors. I did ask Dr Burou if it
would be possible for me to make love and achieve orgasm and he said,
'Theoretically there's nothing to stop you. Whether you do, and how
often, is entirely up to you.'
Do you want diagrams of the
procedure? I can't supply them. Dr Burou kept the precise details secret,
apart from the aerial photographs. He is generally regarded as the most
brilliant man in his field. I don't think his technique departs radically
from that used elsewhere: I don't think there are any major 'secret
ingredients'. He has simply refined it and is more adept at it than the
others.
As I came round I was not
aware of my body, which was immobilised by bandages. The first words
were Dr Burou's: 'Bonjour, mademoiselle.'
I heard myself, far off,
saying, 'Was it successful?'
'Indeed it was. I'm very
proud of you.'
Then I passed out with
relief. I kept coming to and passing out, realising what had happened,
unable to believe it. Whenever I attained consciousness I experienced
what can only be described as overwhelming rushes of deep peace and
these would phase me out again.
The following day my brain
was clear enough to dispatch the telegrams I'd promised. To Les Lee,
Sandra and Gloria, Julia Lockwood. I wanted to send one to Joey because I
knew that I could now make him happy. But for him I felt too much
emotion for a telegram. In a few days I wrote to him in London. I can't
remember what I actually said. 'Darling, it's going to be all right now'
was what I felt.
(HEALTH WARNING)
As the anaesthetic wore off
I became aware of a most hideous pain. It was unlike anything in my
previous experience or, I suspect, in yours. It was as if branding irons
were being vigorously applied to the middle part of my body. I screamed
and a nurse came quickly with a pain-killing injection.
'You are going to have to be
very brave,' said Dr Burou, 'because we can give you these pain-
killing shots for three days only. Otherwise you'll develop an addiction
to them.'
The injections stilled the
pain but put everything else at a distance – as if the world were taking
place in slow motion on a screen. They did however allow sufficient
respite for me to give myself a superficial examination. My middle was
grotesquely swollen and bound inches deep with bandages into which
blood continuously spilt and congealed. A rubber tube for peeing came
out of it. Pints of sweat poured off me and this was exacerbated by the
oppressive heat of the day. The noise of carts, donkeys and motor cars
came through the balcony windows and the crying of babies through
the walls.
Feverishly I was running
my fingers through my hair. It came out in handfuls. My lovely thick
black hair, it covered the pillow. 'Nurse! Nurse! I must have a hand
mirror!' My hair was in patches from the shock of the surgery. ils
assured me it would grow back again. It did but was never afterwards
thick and healthy and soon went grey.
My face was puffy with
drugs and sleeplessness. The skin looked bruised and drained, as if I'd
been in a car crash.
Les Lee and Julia phoned. Je
couldn't make much sense of what I was saying or hearing but it was a
comfort to know they were out there. When I replaced the telephone I
thought, 'Those new-born babies bursting into life – yes, I've just been
born too – I am a woman in Casablanca and I'm in agony but my spirit is
soaring and when I get out of here, World, I'm going to knock you for
six!'

The World had to wait
however because I had an appointment with Torture. On the fourth day,
as the branding irons descended and sizzled across my body, I screamed
as usual for the nurse. Instead of a jab she gave me tablets. The pain
mounted and closed in on me. She held my hand and said, 'Scream, yes,
scream, it helps.' It rang throughout the building, a terrible roar of
pain, and the poor women waiting for the onset of labour must have
shuddered with anxiety. The nurse tried to mop my brow as I threw my
head from side to side, clenched in spasms, and gave issue to long
gurgling groans. The pain, which came in waves like everything else in
life, was aggravated by movement of the hips. The slightest shift would
set it off. Night-times were the worst and I must thank Jeanne for
helping me through them. She kept going above my dreadful moans,
chatting about her son who loved mathematics, who wanted to be a
racing driver, who wanted to go to college in England, and how
wonderful it would be if he could, and would I teach her some English? Je
looked at her as if she were mad and then the pain hit me again.
Occasionally my eyes lost focus, ceased to convey coherent information
to my brain, and I would go into a semi-blind hysterical state which was
usually followed by unconsciousness. I was soggy the whole time. It was
delightful when they came to wash me, even though the refreshment
was brief. Lightweight European meals appeared and were taken away
barely touched.
Then came the first of what
I shall call 'the horrors'. At the end of the operation a speculum had
been inserted into the vagina. This is a beak-like instrument which can
be screwed open and closed. I called it my Oscar, after the film award.
Later I christened it Donald Duck. It Is needed to prevent the vagina
from closing up and to guarantee the smooth healing of the vaginal
walls which are heavily clotted with blood while the blood-vessels
realign themselves.
From now on it had to be
removed every morning to allow for examination, ventilation and
mopping up. This was Marie's job. She stuffed a hankie into my mouth
and told me to grip the bedrails behind my head. Marie was built like a
bull and her movements had great physical assurance which was a
comfort. You don't want ditherers on this sort of work. She unbandaged
me, removed the speculum, and then the nurses swabbed me. Tablets
cannot touch pain at this level. Worse followed in the evening when she
came to replace it.
'There are two ways of
doing it. Slow – which takes a long time and is very painful. Or fast –
which is much more painful but soon done. Whichever way you choose,
you must get accustomed to it.'
'Fast,' I gurgled through the
hankie. She didn't wait a second. Bang! My head hit the rails behind the
bed so hard that I almost concussed myself. We took more care in future
over the arrangement of the pillows. Then I was rebound tightly and
she wished me a good night's sleep.
Those awful nights … you
lie there hot and soaking, you scream, you moan, you smell foul with
clogged blood, you're bruised and swollen. And yet you are pitifully
grateful too. Elated, completed at last, a relief so all-embracing that you
imagine nothing will ever hurt you again. But these petites
operations as Marie called them – I started to quake an hour before
she arrived.
In two weeks I was allowed
up to bathe and with a nurse in each armpit take a few disorientated
steps across the floor. Another shock waited for me in the bathroom. EIN
looking-glass. Always slender, I was now a configuration of bones. elle
was suggested that I might like to take the air. Since there was no
garden (apart from the Burous' planted roof-terrace) this meant
hobbling into the street. Making myself as presentable as possible, but
slandering a Balmain suit all the same, we began this epic voyage
through the Clinic to the outside world. My legs were ropes of jelly and
pains shot upward from thighs to chest. Laughing and screwing up my
face with discomfort, we made it out into the sunshine, an explosion of
dazzling images, and I woke up in the gutter.

'What happened?'
'You fainted. We better get
you back to bed.'
I was just sitting there,
chuckling in the road like a drunkard. But it wasn't good P.R. to have
loonies falling about outside the Clinic.
Each day they encouraged
me to walk further. Dr Burou visited me with pep talks and as life seeped
back slowly into my system he christened me 'Mademoiselle Glamour
Girl'. His wife also began to visit me. On the first occasion a nurse
showed her in. She asked how I was, was I comfortable, did I need
anything, going through all the motions of seeming to be involved, but
no sooner had the nurse left us together than Madame Burou began to
change her tack and within minutes was raving about 'Cette blonde!
Cette femme! Sur la plage, toujours cette blonde!'
It took me some time to work
out what was going on. 'The receptionist?'
'La réceptioniste?
Aussi? Non, non, non! Je veux mourir, mourir!!' And she burst into
tears.
'Cette blonde' was the
Great Doctor's mistress, with whom he kept trysts on the beach several
times a week. Madame Burou was frightfully overwrought about it and
whenever I had tea with her up in the penthouse she would always get
round to this subject and end up weeping. She belonged neither to her
husband nor to the Clinic. I never saw her with any friends of her own.
She was utterly lost and the loneliness vaporised off her like ether,
depressing the atmosphere wherever she walked, the sort of woman who
silenced birds.

Julia telephoned. She was
between jobs and coming over. This was a real bonus. I asked Dr Burou if
she could stay in the Clinic. He went one better and said they would put
her up in my room at no extra charge.
When Julia arrived she was
full of schoolgirl gush. Nothing in her manner betrayed shock or
disgust at what she found. Though still a teenager, she capably took over
from Jeanne as comforter and friend. I'll never forget it. Even the
petites operations didn't throw her out of gear. It was quite
remarkable for one so young. And Dr Burou took a definite shine to her –
we saw rather more of him in my room after she arrived. He suggested
she take me out for dinner and he made all the arrangements. I felt
emotionally strong and Julia didn't stop talking.
'You must meet my great
friend Sarah Churchill, the daughter of Him, as she puts it, Winston that
is. He's always just "Him". She's my A.M. (adopted mother) and I'm her
A.D. (adopted daughter).
You could be Sarah's A.D. if
you liked. And you are my A.B.S. (adopted big sister).' She could go on for
hours with these games. Julia was an only child and had been brought
up by a nanny. It must have been a lonely childhood. Margaret was a
tough career woman (look at that aggressive beauty spot!) and though
she was never unkind to Julia I never thought of her as an especially
warm mother. Toots was not starved of love but she'd been short of
affectionate companionship. 'And,' she went on, 'I think you should
leave Le Carrousel, I mean, I adore Les Lee and all that, and I adore
Everest, but I think, now, really, I don't think it's the life for you any
more.'
'Toots, you don't have to tell
me that. I want to marry Joey, adopt children, be the housewife.'
'No, I didn't mean that
either.'
'To be suburban – such a
luxury …

Dr Burou followed up
dinner-therapy by suggesting that sunshine would be salubrious. Julia
and I scrambled into a cab and drove to one of the many swimming-pools
along Casablanca's ugly polluted coast. I looked like a ghoul in a bikini
but was not ashamed, except perhaps of my knee-caps which looked
abnormally large.
Julia dived in. Like her
mother, she was a fish. How I craved the crisp water in that glutinous
heat.
'Come on, Toni, give it a
try.'
'No, Dr Burou didn't say go
in.'
'I'll hold you, come
along.'
'Julia, I'm scared to.'
After ten minutes of
watching her sport about I said, 'Hey, I'll sit on the edge and let my poor
little ankles sort of dawdle.'
A waiter turned up with two
Singapore Slings on a silver tray. I drank eagerly. 'Yes, you're right,
Toots, I've got to take the plunge sometime. Get ready in case I sink
straight to the bottom.'
'Oh, well, no, perhaps it
would be better to wait until you've asked the doctor.'

The 'no' was all I needed.
Carefully I lowered myself in and managed a few paddles. 'Well, at least
it's watertight!' My sense of humour had returned.
At the end of the week Julia
had to go back to London but offered to travel via Paris if I'd like to be
escorted there. Dr Burou said I should stay an extra two weeks but I was
running out of money and told him so. He waved the subject aside but I
didn't want to enter my new life shackled to debts. When the bill came it
was a surprise to read that the operation itself cost only £70. But
Coccinelle was right, the subsequent treatment boosted the total to over
£1,500.
On leaving they presented
me with the Oscar. Dr Burou, as godlike as ever, kissed me on both cheeks
and said, 'I hope you find your happiness now – and remember, it's all up
to you.'
… Again the flight was
terrible. Air France were having a strike of ground staff and we circled
Orly for an eternity while they improvised below. The delay meant that
Julia had to board her connection directly and so I re-entered Paris
alone.
At the Hôtel de la Paix,
Madame Petit and her daughter, Sophie, greeted me with four extended
arms. 'You look so well!' I didn't. 'And there's a letter waiting for
you.'
It was from Joey. Je
recognised his writing at once, like a lot of baby matchsticks falling
over. Our letters must have crossed in the post. A thrill ran through me.
The past month had been so extraordinary, I needed to feel him close and
I couldn't wait, I opened the letter on the spot:
Darling Toni – I hope you
are well, I'm sure you are. I am, thank God. I wanted to write before but
plans got in the way. Well, I've got to tell you, last week I got married to

I collapsed in the hallway.

For four days, I stayed in bed, refusing visitors. The letter – I read it
again and again and cried and cried. It was so awful, the timing of it,
everything. On the fifth day Les Lee forced his way in.
'What's happened?' il
said.
I told him.
'No, no – I mean Casablanca,
the operation.'
'Les, I'm so mixed up now,
Joey's gone, and – yes, Casablanca, it's done, it's wonderful, but…' And I
started crying again.
'What are we going to do
with you, eh? You've just gone through the most amazing experience in
the world and all you can think about is some bum who's married some
slag!'
This was the treatment I
nécessaire. Les brought the gang to see me for reports. Besides, reality
wouldn't let me wail for long – I was almost out of money. Joey's
marriage was the greatest shock of all but I returned to working at Le
Carrousel in order to earn the money that would enable me to leave
it.

After a few days I collapsed
again. Marcel said, 'You need a holiday, I'll lend you some cash.' Robert
Bodin agreed to take time off from coiffing the rich and famous and
drove me south and along the coast to St Tropez, but the Brigitte Bardot
set were screeching into the early hours and I couldn't get any English
tea in the place.
'Let's go to Juan, Robert.
Joffo's there. And Le Carrousel are coming down.' We did all the tourist
spots as well: Villefranche when the French fleet was in, St Raphael,
Cagnes, Antibes. At Vence we joined the queue of trippers to see Picasso
making ceramics in his studio – he looked like a Gila monster in shorts.
At Menton the harbour was dominated by the Creole, Stavros
Niarchos's three-masted black yacht, the world's most beautiful ship. dans le
Juan I had a platonic liaison with Tom who came from north Paris. il
tried to seduce me but I wasn't ready and explained my history. Tom was
sweet and told me that he was separated from his wife who lived on the
other side of Juan. A few days after I left, I read in the papers that he'd
stabbed his wife's lover to death outside La Vieille Colombieuse.
On Bastille Night, 14 July,
the club was booked solid. This is the night when all French citizens run
completely wild – every country should have one night like this per
year, preferably several. Audrey and I caught the atmosphere and went
straight to Le Bantu at 3a.m., my first night out in Paris since
Casablanca. The Bluebell Girls, the Alaria Ballet, everyone was there,
wound in streamers, high on champagne. But I still tired easily. As I was
leaving, Skippy tapped me on the shoulder. He was as skinny and speedy
as ever, with a little golden moustache, and said, 'You're coming with
me.'
Skippy, I know what I
promised but please, not yet.'
'Don't be chicken, honey, it
doesn't suit you. You've got to find out sooner or later.'
'Well, bring a bottle.
'There's plenty at my
flat.'

I was a basket of nerves.
Very gently he undressed me. Despite the wine I was over-tense.
'Come on, relax. I'm not
going to hurt you. If I do, I won't insist.'
He made love to me so
tenderly. Afterwards he said, 'Was it O.K.?'
I was sobbing and laughing.
I couldn't stop. 'It's the happiest moment of my life!' I howled. As we lay
side by side, stroking each other, he said, 'Listen, honey.' The window
was open. Cars hooting, fire crackers, shouting and singing in the
streets. He led me to the window. The bars were a-hop and everywhere
flags flew, rockets shot into the sky. 'Well I'll be damned, they're
celebrating the loss of your virginity.' He was so American. Wherever
you are, Skippy, many dear kisses for being so kind on that miraculous
night in Paris and helping me along the road to womanhood.
Julia appeared again and
announced that Sarah Churchill was coming to meet me. As children we
had been brought up with two gods: God and Winston Churchill. Now I
was to meet his daughter. The three of us met at the Hotel Bristol where
the Churchill family usually stayed.
In 1936 at the age of
twenty-one she'd dashed to America on board the Bremen to marry
a Jewish comedian called Vic Oliver, hotly pursued on the Queen
Mary by her brother Randolph who said she was too young to know
her own mind. Vic Oliver only had €60 to his name when they were
married – it was the kind of thing which impressed me.

Now, aged about forty-five,
she was a natural aristocrat with Titian hair and brilliant green eyes
emphasised by a green silk dress.
'How wonderful to meet
you,' she said. Julia's told me so much I had to fly over and see for
myself'
I went all silly and said, 'I
never thought a Churchill would ever travel ten feet to meet me.' But
Sarah cured my shyness with that uniquely English charm, a
combination of elegance and sauciness, innocence and worldliness. ils
had a light fruity voice, lyrical and gay, and used it to great effect
without overdoing the theatricality. Her gait was that of a young girl,
bouncy and enthusiastic. Yet there was in her a streak of melancholy, I
felt, which all the Churchills had except Mary. Sarah's sister, Diana,
committed suicide, and as everyone knows poor Randolph's life was no
advert. Of Marigold, the one who died young, there was little mention. elle
must have been oppressive to the point of despair, having so illustrious
a parent. Perhaps that was why Winston detached himself from them,
gave them total rope.
Julia was A.M. -ing it like
crazy. They discussed the theatre, rather breathlessly (underneath
Sarah's veneer of breeding was a highly-strung woman), who was in
what, who was getting good or bad notices. Sarah told me that in
Hollywood she'd danced in a film with Fred Astaire, and was terribly
proud of being a quarter American (through her grandmother Jenny
Jerome, Lady Randolph Churchill).
Lunch was in a modest
bistro in St Germain where Sarah was known and treated like a
significant deity. 'Whatever you're eating,' she said, 'we must have red
wine – it's so full of goodness.' She was the first woman I'd met who
openly declared that she never wanted to have children: 'I quite like
them actually but whenever I try to make friends they run off
shrieking in the opposite direction.' Her plane was at 5p.m. und sie war
gone.
'Flying to Paris just for
lunch – that's so stylish,' I said to Julia, for Sarah had made an enormous
impression on me. In due course she was to teach me much about how to
conduct myself in Society. And how not to.
With a friend, a few weeks after returning
from Casablanca

      The new sensations to
which Skippy had introduced me I explored with a young Roman-about-
Paris called Giancarlo. He was very vain in a simple-minded way, always
smartly dressed, would come and go as he pleased, zipping from place to
place, a frightful tease who could be outrageously rude to strangers for
no reason whatsoever. He was hopeless at conversation but tireless in
L'amour. I never discovered what he did for a living. He said he was kept by
a woman. Once I went to his rooms a couple of blocks from the
Hôtel de la Paix. When the concierge rang up to announce me,
Giancarlo gave strict instructions that I was not to be allowed upstairs,
thus compounding the mystery. He must have been up to something
fairly acrobatic because he was always appearing with sprained wrists,
bruises on his legs, nail-parings embedded in his back.

By the autumn I'd saved
several hundred pounds. It was time to face England. Paris had been
marvellous to me – I could never have earned the money that I did in
any other city. And I had acquired a lot of know-how through Le
Carrousel. But I was determined to strike out, even though I hadn't the
foggiest idea how I was to go about it.
Marcel offered to double my
wages but money was no longer the important thing. Besides, change
was afoot in the club too. It was situated on the ground floor of a block of
offices. These were now bring turned into flats and the new inmates
didn't take to the club at all, they thought it lowered the tone of their
property. Angered by the noise, they began to throw old tin cans and
dead cats down into the courtyard. Coccinelle kept a trumpet by her in
the dressing room. Whenever the flat-owners started to rebel she'd
throw up the window, stick out her trumpet and blow. It was clear that
the club's lease would not be renewed, that it would have to move. la
discipline slackened, there was misbehaviour. None the less Marcel said
to me in his swaggering but affectionate way, 'You'll be back, ma
chérie, I don't doubt it.'
What finally persuaded me
to cut loose was Julia's offer to put me up temporarily at her flat in
Dolphin Square. She came over to accompany me on the journey. I said
my good-byes without ceremony. They were all sure I'd be back.
We took sleeper berths on
the Flèche d'Argent. At Dover, I struck them as questionable, all
in black, wearing dark glasses. 'I'm sorry, said the officer, 'but I can't
accept this as your picture.' I started to panic. 'Take your glasses off,' he
said. Julia was behind me, blocking the view of the others in the queue
who were beginning to crane. 'This is not you – please take your hat off!'
He was getting aggressive. My long dark hair cascaded to my shoulders.
'I knew it,' he said in triumph. The picture was six years old. I felt my
legs going and held on to his desk, saying almost under my breath, 'A
great deal has changed since that picture was taken…'
He looked at me long and hard, then
suddenly his whole expression altered. 'Oh,' he said, 'oh, oh, I apologise, I'm so
sorry, forgive me if I embarrassed you.' He took me by the arm and rushed us both
through. I was in England, shaking from head to toe, but deliriously happy.

Dolphin Square is one of the leading eyesores on that brutish stretch of the
Embankment known as Grosvenor Road which runs from Vauxhall Bridge to
Ranelagh Gardens in a part of London that fails to be either Chelsea or even –
which is staggering – Pimlico. I always think of it as properly belonging to East
Berlin (it is characteristic that living in the Square at the time, in addition to the
gin soaks with their polka-dot gloves and cork-tip cigarettes, was the spy William
Vassall, making solitary love to his pin-ups of soccer and rugby-football stars,
though no one knew it until 1962).
Julia had a small flat full of dolls. ils
was rehearsing Peter Pan at the Scala Theatre. Twice she'd played Wendy,
once to her mother's Peter, once to Sarah Churchill's. Now she was Peter himself
and looked it, with her thin boyish body, and honey hair sliced in to the neck.
Sarah had a flat on the river side of the
Square. When the porter discovered that she and I were friends he started to ring
me up. 'Miss Churchill's gone out again – could you help?' I'd go in search because
she could get up to tricks after a drink or two. Once I found her directing traffic on
the Embankment in her nightie.
I decided to change my name by deed
poll. 'April' I retained, but as a Christian name. Followed by 'Ashley' in deference to
noble good-egg Leslie Howard, 'Ashley Wilkes' in Gone With The Wind. It cost
£13. I still think it a good name. Distinctive, yet not de trop. The two 'A's
place me at the top of invitation lists alphabetically arranged. And foreigners find
it very easy to remember and pronounce too…

Next – find Joey. I wrote care of his
parents on the Isle of Dogs.
He was living in Wapping and invited
me to a party there to meet his wife. Eunice was small, sweet, Anglo-Saxon,
unmemorable – no, I don't want to be sour, I became fond of her in a roundabout
way, but Joey wouldn't let her wear make-up and she should have ignored him.
He was looking prosperous in a 'Prince
de Galles' check suit. I'd bought him his first in Paris and he'd adopted the fabric – it
did suit him, noticeable but not noisy, warm and tactile without the murk of
tweed.
'Have you heard from Rita?' he said.
'No – have you?'
'No one's heard then.'
'She must be up to her neck in it.' But it
wasn't Rita's neck which preoccupied me, it was Joey's, thrusting out of his white
collar like a lion's on an Assyrian bas-relief, made in heaven for lips and teeth, and
the eyes brimming with larks. The dark beast! All his male beauty and self-
possession were back. He well knew his powers because after showing me round the
chums I was cornered; he slid out of his jacket, sort of slung himself against the
wall, flexing his shoulders, absently fingering something in his pocket.
'You're looking well,' I said.

'So are you. My back's O.K. But I find I'm
walking a bit twisted to one side. I didn't have it in Paris. You probably haven't
noticed.'
Of course I'd noticed. I shouldn't have
changed it for the world. It was unutterably sexy. It made him appear to be always
on the verge of stripping off his shirt and swinging at a tree with an axe.
We began seeing each other again and
made love to Renata Tebaldi records, arias from La Bohème and
Manon Lescaut …
Which was all very divine – and yes, it
was, Mother Nature had equipped Joey magnificently for love, and I felt it fully for
the first time – but I needed to eat. Work. What was I fit for? I gathered I was
interesting. How could I be profitable?
At night Julia often returned with
members of the cast who said, 'What are you? An actress or a model?'

'Ac-tu-ally…'
'She's a model!' interjected Julia.
I grinned my gratitude and thought –
why not? Modelling was quicker than actressing – and I've always liked things to
happen fast.
A photographer printed up a box of test
shots, I asked which was the best agency in London, was told Cherry Marshall's, and
went along. Miss Marshall asked me to twirl. 'You're a natural ' she said and took me
on the spot. This was a surprise because modelling was then far more formal than it
is now, training was considered essential, but again I had been dropping heavily
the magic name … 'Paris, yes, I've been working in Paris for the past four years,
Miss Marshall, that's why you don't know me – Paris and Milan – appearing for
Schiaparelli, that sort of thing…'
Two days later the agency rang and
asked me to go in the following morning. My first booking. I was up at dawn,
painting a masterpiece. When I walked into Miss Marshall's office she was sitting
upright and immobile. 'Is it true, April, that you worked at Le Carrousel?' It was as if
a statue had spoken! I felt sick. Yes, it was true. 'Then I must tell you, I can't have
you on my books.' She wouldn't reveal the source of her intelligence.
There was no time to dally with hurt
feelings – I'd taken on a small flat of my own at 14 Harrington Gardens, a house
filled with Persian students. Again my gîte was right at the top. I do
hate people walking over my head.
The next agency down the list was
Fashion Models, run by Signon, a Eurasian who had been the Queen Mother's
favourite mannequin. Her mouth was done up like Coccinelle's and generated
almost as many curses. Despite the effing and blinding, Signon was Graciousness
Itself to behold, jet hair sleeked into a chignon and always pinned with an orchid,
fine pearls at the neck.

Signon called in her Scandinavian
partner and said, 'We could use this, Ingrid, couldn't we?'
'Ve bloody vell could, Signon,' said Ingrid,
because she copied her boss right down to the mouth.

Fashion in 1960 was only just coming out of the rigorous Barbara Golan look,
dresses with twenty yards of material in the skirt, stiff underskirts, dozens of
matching accessories. They warned me of the risks of the modelling business,
amphetamine slimming pills followed by too much to drink in order to relax, the
perils of the casting couch, but what I liked least were the auditions. A mass of girls
would clog a hallway until a hard-bitten bat came along and shouted, 'Throw up the
bars, let them through one by one.' The big models – Sandra Paul, Bronwen Pugh,
Grace Coddington, Sue Lloyd – were only the crest of a neurotic, hard-working
groundswell, every one of whom had to be up early and perfectly groomed in case a
call came through. Our heroine was Fiona Campbell-Walter who in 1956 had
married Baron Heinrich von Thyssen, a magnate whose family fortune had
survived the war more or less intact. Marriage was the way up and out into the
world of reality. Sandra Paul became Mrs Robin Douglas-Home, Bronwen Pugh
Viscountess Astor, and Maggie Simmonds Countess of Kimberley.
And I had Joey and Eunice to sort out. The more I loved being with Joey the more heart-breaking it was when he left. EIN
back-street romance had not been my intention. I wanted to do things with him. il
was quite unlike anybody else I knew.
'April, I feel sorry for you,' said Eunice,
'Joey's going places.'
'Sorry for me?' I towered over that little
face. 'You know nothing. Feel sorry for yourself. He belongs to me and always
will.'
In fact Joey belonged to no one but
himself – it was one of the most attractive things about him, that wilfulness. But
Eunice's remark stuck and it depressed me. Joey could do anything with me, so I
knew I had to be extra strong, make a decision and act on it, or else we should drift
in no-man's-land for ever. I was listening to Elvis Presley's 'Mess of Blues' on the
radio when I decided to finish it, to see him no more…
To help me make the break – and this is
something I advise for anyone who feels that their emotions need to be disciplined
by reason – I deliberately took another lover. He could not compete with Joey deep
down of course, which is exactly what I wanted: Enrique Fernandez, a Spanish
waiter, no fuss. I was introduced to him by an Australian model and knew at once
that he was the one to refresh and simplify the air. Apart from being very good-
looking – he had to be that – he was uncomplicated company. We went window-
shopping in the drizzle, then on to the flicks.

'You're too fine a man to be a waiter,
Enrique.'
I took him along to Signon who said,
'What a corker!' He didn't have a work-permit but she still found him plenty to do.
He became so successful that he gave up modelling, married an English girl and
bought an hotel in Austria.
My very first job was a three-day
fashion show in the Stratford Court Hotel in Oxford Street for a manufacturer from
the North of England. Brown twin-sets, grey trews, plaid skirts and pleated shirt-waisters:
country-bumpkin couture in the first flush of man-made fibres.
Signon trained me in how to show off a
hat, how to throw off a coat or jacket – it was essential to look down at the lapel and
feel it compulsively with your fingers, as if apprising the audience of its fetishistic
sumptuousness before slipping it off your shoulders,- catching it by the tab,
standing immobile for a moment with one foot pointing out, turning, and walking
off.
Photo sessions I had least flair for,
because I was used to an audience and didn't know how to play to a machine. Je
tended to freeze. Terence Donovan once photographed me in a poncho for a cigar
advertisement and in order to make me react without premeditation he had two
cowboys fire blanks across my face with six-shooters. Though young, Terry was
already very successful, roly-poly belly, a Rolls-Royce and a studio in Yeoman's
Row, the first of a new breed of self-made photographers.
Occasionally one froze literally, since I
became one of Vogue's favourite girls for underwear, photographed by Duffy
or Honeywell. I saw Bronwen Pugh coming out of a Ladies Room and she said,
'Darling, don't do underwear. You'll never get back into clothes.' It didn't
bother me. I mentioned this to Signon who said, 'I'm inclined to agree with you,
April. Who gives a fuck when you're being paid eight guineas an hour? et
they've booked you for the whole day.'

That led to a soap advertisement with
nothing on at all, except a towel strategically draped. They stood me in a bath which
was so slippery I kept falling over. Instead of running to help, they all gasped and
turned away every time I went flying. They were only trying to preserve my
modesty but I was black and blue by the end of the session.
Television commercials were more
prestigious because you moved. This form of advertising was still new to England
and they were hopelessly amateurish. Arrid Underarm Spray Deodorant: the
rulebook did not allow one to be filmed in the fully frontal act of spraying one's
pits. They shot the underarm, then cut to one's hand going 'psh! psh!' avec le
canister against a blank background. Armpit and hand could not figure in the same
shot because it was considered obscene; whereas I feel that the way they did it was
far more salacious because of the prurience it implied. It was a civilisation ago and
will give you an idea of the traumas they all underwent when my past hit the
headlines.
This commercial was to be screened
during a sweaty summer. Typically, they shot it all in winter clothes. When Mr
Arrid turned up he had puppies and it had to be completely re-shot. I've never
earned more for a day's work. £160, with a free carton of canisters thrown
in. No good to me because I always use roll-on. It's healthier and more effective.
Heated hair-rollers: they wanted a
glamorous type but when the client saw me he said, 'No, no, we don't want Cleopatra,
we want a middle-class housewife, Mrs Upper-Average. Comb out the hair, blot the
lips, pat out the eyes.' It took them hours to make me nondescript. My line was to
open a door and say, 'Hullo, come in.' Then open a door again and say, 'Goodbye.
Wasn't it a lovely evening.' The gist of it was that I'd had a perfect cardboard head
throughout the evening thanks to their heated rollers.
It was through television commercials
that one dreamed of rocketing into films. When the word went out that United
Artists were looking for six beauties for The Road to Hong Kong, filming at
Shepperton, every girl in London with a portfolio put on her best sling-backs and
marched towards Mayfair.
I was early by twenty minutes and went
for a cup of coffee. The steam went up my nose, I sneezed violently, and one of my
eyelashes flew off and landed in the breakfast of a man opposite. Fortunately I
always carried spares.
Over two hundred of London's finest
were compressed into the hall and up the staircase, frantically retouching
themselves with compacts and lipsticks. The noise was enough to give one mumps
because, naturally, they were all insulting each other. I almost turned back but
didn't because I couldn't afford to waste the taxi fare.

The six beauties were supposedly
Chinese but fidelity was not the prime consideration. A scout was scrutinising from
the gallery and I was one of those summoned upstairs, past a line of put-out noses,
to the drawing-room which was first base. A short dark-haired girl stood beside me,
taking pert puffs on cigarette after cigarette like Bette Davis in All About
Eve.
'Are you an actress then?' she said in a
madly affected voice that drawled ten feet behind her meaning.
'No, I'm a model.'
'Well, why don't you sod off? I'm an
actress and actresses need work. I've been trained to be an actress.'
'We're all here for the same reason.'
'This is actress territory. You've got a
bloody nerve, you models.' On and on she went at me – her name was Sarah Miles, by
the way – until I was called. Telling her to drop dead, which is a request often made
of Sarah, I went in.

'She's very tall,' I heard someone
say.
'Lovely face, nice figure,' said
another.
'And divine legs,' I added.
'Say that again!'
'Say what?'
'Is that voice real?'
'What do you mean?'
'We've got to give her a speaking part.
Let's see those legs then.'
Damn the legs. A speaking part.
Undreamt-of-grandeur. What I had to do was ask an imaginary Bob Hope to 'Follow
me, sir, please.' I said it half-a-dozen times.

'We'd love you to have a speaking part
but we must see your walk first. Pretend that clock's Bob Hope and approach it.'
'Follow … me, sir, please.'
'She hasn't got a very sexy walk.'
'Would you do it again – and make it
sexier
'… Follow me…sir – please.'
'I think she's got a sexy walk. Kinda
snooty sexy.
'No, I don't think she has.'
'What do you think, Lorna?'
'Follow me, sir … please.'

But the hooker's roll didn't come
naturally to me, and even in make-up I didn't look remotely Chinese, so this helluva
speaking part went to an Oriental girl.
I was, however, cast as one of the six
beauties. We had to geisha around Bing Crosby and Bob Hope in a futuristic
hideaway and my special task was to feed Bing marshmallows with a pair of
tongs.
We were collected at five in the
morning for make-up. There was a fabulous hairpiece sitting in the dressing-room.
It was huge and matched my hair perfectly.
'That's a super hairpiece,' I said. 'Can I
wear it? It would be fantastic down my back.'
'I'm sorry, Miss Ashley,' said the
hairdresser, 'but that's Miss Collins's fringe.'
Joan Collins was in effect the star
because Dorothy Lamour was making only a guest appearance.
My greatest fear was that Bob Hope
would remember me from Paris. If he did there was no mention of it, although I
began to wonder when Bing crooned 'April in Paris' at me. In fact the nearest I
ever came to being a movie star was playing one, on a flying visit to London in
1959, in a mock newsreel that was incorporated into the stage performance of John
Osborne's The World of Paul Slickey. Despite claiming to abhor America and
the Americans, John Osborne then owned a king-size American sedan. I was filmed
getting out of it, acknowledging the adoration of the masses, and walking into the
premiere at the Odeon, Leicester Square. Duncan Melvin also performed in a
newsreel, playing a cleric who'd been arrested for jumping on choirboys.
Slickey was said to be the West End's most disastrous first night since the war.
The boos were deafening. At the end of it, confronting an audience in which
reclined Noel Coward, Lord and Lady Montagu of Beaulieu, the Marquess of Milford
Haven and the Duke of Bedford, Adrienne Corri went out front, threw up two pairs
of fingers and bellowed until the veins started out of her neck, 'Darlings, fuck you
all!'

Live fashion shows were my bread-and-
butter and the best of these were for Roter Models, owned by Mr and Mrs Schroter, a
Jewish couple from Vienna. Their top designer was very highly-strung, so it all
came pouring out in those crazy frocks. He had every design book in Europe and
he'd take features from Chanel, Givenchy, Cardin, Courreges, push them together
and then EXPLODE them. Like most clothes designed by men they were wonderful
for wearing on marble staircases, impossible to shop in.
Modelling, 1961

      The atmosphere at Roter Models was
unusually good-natured. Pauline Moore and Sue Pratt became my cronies, along
with Ina Barton who was in the throes of a marathon sex transformation, the
speciality of London's Charing Cross Hospital. They insist on lengthy intervals
between each stage and use skin grafts from the legs which leave tell-tale scars on
the thighs. So much messier than Dr Burou's technique. But her doctor, John
Randell, was very solicitous for her well-being and wrote her letters which began,
'My dearest Galatea…'
The four of us went on pub-crawls after
work, teasing the men by crossing our legs and ignoring them. Conversation was
very open in the dressing-rooms. Women when they forgather can be quite as
filthy as men. A German model, Hildegard, complained: 'My husband, he fuck me
every morning before work, every night after work, I'm so sore, so fed up with it,
he have such big dick.'
'How big?' I asked, filing a nail, one
eyebrow raised.
'I don't know. Eeenormous!'
'Get a tape-measure out tonight,' said
another.
The other girls must have overheard
because the next morning all them had measured their husbands and lovers.
Hildegard got more sympathy after this. Her Englishman won with 9¾
inches. (However I always feel that girth is every bit as important as length. The
long stiletto can be just as untrustworthy as the little stabber.)

Mr and Mrs Schroter were very hard
workers. But so were those Spanish and Greek women who were paid peanuts in the
backroom. I'd go behind the scenes and say 'Angels, how's the sewing coming
along?' Or if I were wearing one of the frocks, I'd throw up my arms: 'You made it –
how does it look?'
My most important show was a charity
at the Dorchester Hotel in front of Alice, Duchess of Gloucester. I was arrayed in
Deanfield furs and Kuchinksy jewels and was accompanied by two detectives to and
from the Ballroom. I said to one of them, 'Listen, how much stuff have I got on?'
'At the moment you're wearing over
£150,000 worth of swag.' Have you noticed how policemen and criminals so
often talk in the came way?
'What happens if I walk straight across
the Ballroom, out the front door, and shout taxi?'
'Try it and find out.'
As I was the only dark model they gave
me the only white mink. 'How stupid,' I said, 'I haven't got a black skirt to show it
off.' I borrowed a pencil one which was far too tight.
When you do a royal show, you ignore
everyone else, walk right up to the royals, do a deep curtsey, and trail round the
riff-raff afterwards. With my legs in bondage it was bad enough trying to walk, but
when I curtseyed there was a long ripping noise muffled by mink. My first thought
was: 'Oh my God, I bet the Duchess thinks I 've broken wind.' My second thought
was: 'I can't get up.' I seemed to be stuck there long enough for a civilisation to rise
and fall and rise again. While I made rapid calculations, the Duchess must have
thought I was seeking some kind of acknowledgment because she finally muttered,
'Yes, it's very nice, dear.'
It broke the ice. I pushed hard, shot
upwards, drew my legs smartly together, and made a controlled exit.

Charity balls were very common.
Signon would be given a bunch of passes and there we'd be looking ravishing
among the columns. At the Bubbly Ball for Cancer Research, Lance Callingham,
Lady Docker's son, trod on my foot. It didn't matter because the organisers had laid
on 'foot revivers', electric plates which warmed one's feet back to life so that the
dancing need never end. But the reason I recall this occasion was because it was
when the scales dropped from my eyes with regard to the press. One had tended to
assume, halfwit that one was, that whatever appeared in the newspapers was more
or less true. At the Ball a gossip columnist asked me for my name. 'Agatha Christie,'
I said. My picture appeared in the Tatler and under it: Miss A. Christie.
It is so easy to gull the press. Diese
anecdote suggests two other characteristics which I have found to be true of gossip
columnists particularly. They are appallingly ill-read. And while being overloaded
with cynicism they have no sense of humour whatsoever.
You can see I was growing in confidence.
With each job, I made further advances in my campaign against shyness, learned
more, and found myself entering… Society?

Peter Finch wasn't 'Society' exactly. He'd get drunk at Churchill's rather than the
400 and he drank like a bat out of hell. 'Doing anything tonight?' he'd say over the
phone. 'Come on then, let's go to Winston's and push the boat out – Danny La Rue's
appearing there.' Before the wild people and discotheques somehow restricted
closing-time in London to three in the morning, nightclubs always wound up at
four or five, so it would be fairly late when Finchie dropped me back again at
Harrington Gardens. One night he decided he was coming in and paid off the
cab.
My landlady was a foreigner who
specialised in Muslim gentlewomen studying English and there was a house rule: no
men after 11p.m. But Finchie was making such a hullabaloo on the steps I thought
I'd better smuggle him in before there was a scene. Once in my room he threw off
his clothes and said, 'Right, take yours off now and get down on the bed so I can
screw you.' He'd only recently made The Trials of Oscar Wilde but none of the
phraseology had rubbed off. Finchie was of course an Australian. 'You don't beat
about the bush in the Bush,' he used to say. Oozed charm none the less.

'No, you won't, Finchie.'
He nodded.
'Stop nodding!'
He bulged his eyes instead and his
tongue fell out like a furry animal.
I did my usual trick and pointed
between his legs: 'You couldn't, even if you wanted to. Get out before you get me
evicted.'
We started laughing and he crawled
round the floor, pulling on his jacket, trousers and shoes. Everything else was
stuffed into pockets and he bade me a good night, blowing kisses and bowing from
the waist like an eighteenth-century admiral. His departure was followed by a
sequence of wincing crashes. I rushed on to the landing. Finchie was sprawling at
the bottom of the stairs with a nosebleed. 'Sh, sh, sh,' he whispered at the top of his
voice and I heard the door close.
The next morning while preparing
myself for work there was a knock on the door. It was 9a.m. precisely. At the age of
twenty-five one managed on so little sleep. The landlady, a spinster and a religious
maniac, stood in the doorway with an expression of utmost disquiet on her – for
want of a better word – face. It was more like a battlefield across which nausea and
rage fought for supremacy.
'Do you know anything about these?'
she said, holding up between finger and thumb a pair of sky-blue knickers as
perhaps she had once held a dead rat by the tail in Old Istanbul. Finchie's Y-
fronts.
Thus was I persuaded to search for
accommodation less en croute and in due course moved to an airy flat in
Emperor's Gate, sharing it with fellow-model Della Young. But before I did, I was
walking along Walton Street in Chelsea on a spring day, one of those vigorous
London spring days when the shoots peep up to a sky of turbulent greys and the
wind comes howling across from the Urals, when I fell over Duncan Melvin.
Duncan had last been in evidence at Le Carrousel eighteen months previously
when he'd arrived with Lady Jane Vane-Tempest-Stewart (now Lady Rayne) who
was escaping from the attentions of some man in England.

Now Duncan clapped his pink hands,
wrote down my telephone number, and invited me to a buffet Sunday lunch in his
house in St Leonard's Terrace, being given in honour of Vittorio De Sica (Vittorio
was at the height of his social desirability, having won an Oscar the previous year
for directing Sophia Loren in Two Women). Buffets were very much the
vogue. They'd just been discovered. London was suddenly full of people walking
about rooms with plates of food in their hands, whereas before they would have
been bolted to tables. It was the beginning of the informality of the 1960s. Duncan
gave so many parties, was such a generous host, that he was always running out of
money, even though his wife left him all hers. The day she died Duncan took Viva
King and Connie Mount out for a slap-up wake and spent, Viva said, more than she'd
ever seen spent at a diner a trois.
Everyone was there, serving themselves
with gusto: Shirley Bassey, Fenella Fielding, Georgia Brown, Michael Rainey,
Lucien Freud, Daphne Fielding, Lionel Bart and Frank Norman, Jane Vane-Tempest-
Stewart, Muriel Belcher and the Maharani of Cooch Behar, Dorothy Donaldson-
Hudson, Patrick Bashford, Christopher Sykes (the one who was known as the Prince
of Chelsea, not the biographer of Evelyn Waugh), Carol Coombe (Lord Snowdon's
stepmother) …
'Have you tried some of this?'
'No, but you must have some of that.'
'What is it?'
'Don't know – squid in cream?'
'Coleslaw!'

'Never heard of it.'
'I'm going to have heaps of these.'
'After you – if there are any left…'
It was so novel. Shirley Bassey threw a
glass of red wine over an enemy – oh goodness, she's at it again and it's not my wish
to give the impression that she was a violent person. Duncan was screaming, 'My
walls! My walls!' because he'd recently had them covered with dove-grey silk.
One young male in particular kept me
supplied with drinks. 'Are you an actor?' I asked, because although he had that
massiveness of frame one associates with those handsome boys who eat well and
have a drawer full of jockstraps, he was at the same time vervy, stylish, and wore a
flowing neckscarf.
'No, I'm not, but come out to dinner
anyway. My name's Tim.' He wished first to change, so we went to his house in
Wilton Row, off Belgrave Square. A manservant opened the door and said, 'Good
evening, m'Lord.'
'Good evening, George. We'll have a
bottle of champagne in the garden, please.'
Lord Who? It was as if I had strayed into
the pages of a Georgette Heyer.
'Do you like modem paintings?' he said.
The walls were stacked them, angry splodges in steel frames. 'Wander around and
have a look while I take a shower.'

I stepped into a music room with a
grand piano in the centre and daffodils blooming through the windows. Some
writing-paper lay on a desk and I tiptoed over. It was embossed in copperplate:
Lord Timothy Willoughby de Eresby. All those exotic twirls of letters, those
hanging 'ys' like licking tongues..
'Where do you want to eat?' He made me
jump.
'I don't know,' I said.
'Well, I do.' What a confusing
mixture of consideration and arrogance he was.
Where we ate I don't recall, but I did say
'Who are you?'

'You saw the writing paper on the
escritoire.'
'Are you French?'
'God forbid! Actually I have some
property there and some more in Corsica and a few bits elsewhere.'
'But you can't be more than twenty-
three.'
'I'm twenty-five. My father is Lord
Ancaster of Drummond Castle and Grimsthorpe, quondam Lord Great Chamberlain of
England. It'll all be mine one day, so I should start now, shouldn't I? Let's go to the
Stork Club, I'll get your coat.'
A slight yawn opened in the middle of
his big oval face, revealing two rows of jagged carnivorous teeth. In quick
succession restlessness, anxiety and despair followed each other into his eyes,
which passed from animation to liverishness in a matter of seconds, and were as
rapidly overtaken again by the brightness of the night and a teasing smile. In one
evening Tim exposed me to the range of his emotions, including the melancholia
which stalked him to distraction on occasions. For me it was like being dealt too
many cards too quickly, very disconcerting and very exciting. A lesser man would
have been contented with the mere privileges of his birth but Tim made you feel
that peace of mind was something he never knew. This mercurial complexity,
which amounted almost to an iridescence, attracted both men and women to him.
They were enchanted by his frolicsomeness because of the intelligence and uneasy
depths they rightly suspected behind it. He had all the makings of le grand
seigneur, a love of pleasure made rich by his sense of tragedy.
Gloomsville! Let's get on with the story!
He was fun to be with! Al Burnett's Stork Club was a popular retreat on Sundays
because it was 'Amateur Night', when an assortment of the ill-advised made
strenuous and hilarious attempts to break into show business. Because of the
childish licensing laws, champagne was served illegally and, they hoped,
anonymously in plain-glass water jugs to patrons such as Tim whom it would have
been counter-productive to refuse. For all his fluctuations of mood, there wasn't a
better escort to be had in London. The next morning my landlady, thoroughly
vexed, mounted the stairs with a bouquet of yellow rosebuds bearing an inscription
'From Big Tim', the conceited ox. It was the beginning of a close and very dear
friendship which endured until his final mysterious disappearance.
Sudden disappearances were one of his
hobbies; and he would as abruptly rematerialise with tales of the South China Sea or
Chichen Itza at sunrise or a fancy-dress ball on the Grand Canal in Venice. His skin
seemed permanently tanned. It pleased him to take liberties with his wardrobe. Not
only the flowing neck scarves (which were not taken up generally until the mid-
1960s); sometimes he affected odd socks, one green, one black, or would arrive in
full evening dress with fresh dandelions in his buttonhole. In 1959 he'd been
among the two hundred or so guests who thronged a famous party on the Circle
Line of London's Underground, which was a great success until broken up by the
police at Farringdon Station. His professional activities included the ownership of
Wips in Leicester Place, a club whose walls he covered in fake grey fur and which
later became the Ad Lib. With Michael White he mounted a play called The
Connection about the world of heroin. Many of the American actors were
genuine addicts and the police raided it so often that it had to close.

Duncan told Tim my history and
afterwards Tim called me his Bettina, a reference to the Aly Khan's mistress who, by
staying in the background, outlasted all the wives. Debutantes were forever at Tim's
heels. They approached me for advice: 'How can I catch him?'
'By just being yourself,' which is what I
always say, but this presupposes that you know what you are, and none of them did.
Tim was a bedroom nomad and stuck nowhere. He and I slept together often but we
made love on only a handful of occasions.
We lunched at the Mirabelle more
frequently than we made love: Beluga caviare, an iced bucket of it left in the middle
of the table with a scoop, and champagne – perfectly simple, never anything else.
In the evenings he took me greyhound-racing at the White City Stadium with Lord
Clark's son Colin. It was his style often not to say where we were going. One night
we turned up at a grand porch in Hyde Park Gardens. I was appalled to see the other
guests arriving in tiaras and tails because I too had stunning things to parade in –
luckily I'd thrown on a little black cocktail number which you could anywhere.
At the top of the staircase Tim said,
'April, may I present you to the Earl and Countess of Perth.' I mumbled Sir and
Madam, not knowing if it were the correct mode, but they seemed happy with it.
Butlers, footmen, dinner, cabaret, a
small orchestra for waltzes and foxtrots. 'Just having a few friends in,' said Lady
Perth. 'So glad you could join us.'
After dinner a group of men collected to
smoke and drink in the library and I found myself among them. Lady Perth – Nancy
Fincke from New York City – popped her head round the door and said, April,
wouldn't you like to powder your nose?'
'Oh no, Lady Perth, I'd much rather stay
with the men.'
I was quite taken aback when they all
burst out laughing. Only Tim realised that I hadn't intentionally cracked a joke.
What did I know of women withdrawing?
At the drop of another hat, I found
myself racing along B-roads in Sussex until Tim turned through the gates of a
Georgian manor house lit up with lanterns and fireworks bursting above it, two
marquees, a dance band on the terrace doing the Chug-a-Lug. It must have been
two in the morning, but Tim was often the last to arrive. There are those who
always make a point of arriving late for parties, even if they have to sit at home
staring at the clock until they are fashionably two-and-a-half hours behind
schedule, just as there are those who pretend to forget one's name (but it doesn't
happen to me any more – I often wish it did) in order to gain a bogus advantage. la
implication is that they are late because they are in the thick of life and much in
demand elsewhere; they pretend to forget your name, especially if you remember
theirs, in order to imply that they happen to be more memorable than you are. But
with Tim it was genuine. He was often late for engagements because he partook of
so many. If he forgot names it was due to the fact that in the course of a week he
encountered multitudes.

Though by and large I moved
unsuspected through the saloons of wealth and rank, my voice was always noticed.
It is the unintentional equivalent of my clashing scarf or wrong gloves in Paris
days, something that doesn't quite fit and thereby attracts attention to the whole.
Outside the loo at this party I tripped over a girl and the two of us went bumping
down the stairs until we reached the bottom.
'Sorry,' I said when we regained
consciousness.
'By Jove,' she growled, 'you can't
possibly have a voice deeper than mine.'
'Oh yes, I can,' I replied, getting as low
as possible in an attempt to out-husk her. But I don't think I could. Her voice was
like a steamroller driving down an unmade road. She turned out to be Pauline
Tennant, Hermione Baddeley's daughter by David Tennant, and we slung
champagne down each other's throat for the rest of the night. Hermione Gingold of
course has a voice deeper than mine but that is because as a girl her vocal cords
sprouted nodules and she didn't have them scraped.
Tim invited me to spend the weekend
with his mother and father at their great country seat, Grimsthorpe in
Lincolnshire. He told me it was 'awfully nice to look at, thanks to Vanbrugh'. jamais
before had I been to a house party in a stately home and at the last moment I turned
an uncharacteristic yellow. As I was packing my things I suddenly realised that,
with however many brandies as lubrication, I was too terrified to face it. Guiltily,
without even daring to ring and cancel, I drew the bedclothes up to my nose and
stayed where I was all weekend. Tim was furious and assured me that I should not be
invited to any of the family homes again. Apparently a reception party headed by
the butler had been dispatched to meet me off the train and had stood on the
platform for hours in the rain.
To make amends I asked him to travel
with me to Paris for a weekend. A crowd of his hangers-on followed and some of
them, including Marilyn Dent, turned up later while we were dining with Les Lee
in St Germain. Hangers-on are always sad creatures but there was something about
Tim's hangers-on which I found particularly distasteful. Part of me rebelled against
these sprigs because they did nothing with life, they hadn't earned a right to the
self-importance they flaunted. It was silly of me to disapprove of them in this way
but I still had a puritan streak. I still have it unfortunately. Or fortunately if you
prefer. I always think it unfortunate myself. Their humour was brittle and their
behaviour trite. Above all they lacked intelligence, they simply weren't very
bright – Tim easily dominated them all. And although some were aristocrats, they
were not all by any means noble. The kind of nobleman who appeals to me is the
3rd Marquess of Hertford, who in 1848, the Year of Revolutions, could say without
nuance, 'I have a place in Wales which I have never seen, very fine. A dinner for
twelve is served there every day…the butler eats it.'
Marilyn Dent took the lead in silly
chatter. As for her voice, it was like the relentless fluttering of a copy of the
Horse and Hound on a windy day. I couldn't believe my ears, she was saying to
Les Lee, 'You are the most disgusting thing I've seen in all my life! You're the
biggest phoney, the patheticest – '

'Phoney' coming from her was too
much. I had to interpose. Or to be more exact, I came near to killing her with my
mouth. Never before had I had the confidence to lose my temper with the upper-
class English, but I had it now and I enjoyed myself. Finally, I told her to leave the
table at once and take her trashy chums with her.
Timothy was drunk and looked sheepish.
She looked at him. 'Marilyn, do as you're told,' he said.
When she started to argue I said, 'Do you
want me to call the manager and have you physically removed from my table?' –
because I was treating them and I certainly wasn't having her sitting on my
bill.
Les Lee burst into tears. Under the
trompe-l'oeil he was so easily damaged. 'Don't cry, darling, they're trash, I
don't care what their families are. Tim, how dare you bring such muck to my dinner
party?'
Since then I've never stood for it, for
being patronised by those who imagine themselves superior. This was Sarah
Churchill's tuition. She told me, 'Never be frightened of anyone because of
what they are, only be careful of what they do.'
The following morning I had a phone
call from Marilyn. 'I've fallen in love with you,' she said, 'and I want you to live
with me.'

'Is there no stopping that silly bitch?' Je
thought. 'Marilyn, I didn't go through what I went through in Casablanca in order
to shack up with you.'
The day after that she phoned again to
say she'd now fallen out of love with me – so Marilyn turned out to have far more
style and a deeper sense of humour than I'd given her credit for. She was always in
and out of the gossip columns, like a Lady Charlotte Curzon of the early 1960s, really
rather a terrific girl despite my unfortunate first impression.
When Tim had the blues, which was
about once a week, he'd invite me round to Wilton Row to play psychiatrists and
have a quiet cup of tea. It was here that I properly met his elder sister, Lady Jane
Willoughby, herself very intense, and her boyfriend Lucien Freud, artist grandson
of the Viennese genius. These afternoons were more precious to me than all the
grand parties squashed together. Excepting Jane and Lucien, I asked Tim not to
invite Marilyn or any of his more boisterous friends to our teas and he never did.
Sometimes we'd go off for shepherd's pie round the corner at the Grenadier pub and
watch the young guardsmen trading with the queens, which made him laugh and
jollied him up.
The parties I enjoyed most were Brian
Desmond Hurst's. They were like that one in Breakfast at Tiffany's. You never
knew who would be there, Tennants and Guinnesses chatting up soldiers and sailors
on leave. One moved in circles, the same people and places, so it was a thrill when
the circle broke, as it did at Brian's, and one found oneself talking to… Hermione
Gingold, for example. 'Don't expect me to be funny,' she said, 'because I'm the most
lugubrious dame. I only know two jokes. I'm going to tell them to you now to
get it over with. The first is about a lorry driver who was told to take some penguins
to the Bronx Zoo. A few days later his boss was walking past the Radio City Music
Hall when he saw the driver standing in the queue with the penguins. "I thought I
told you to take these penguins to the Bronx Zoo," said the boss. "I did," said the
driver, "and they liked it so much I thought I'd take them to the pictures as well." Je
can't remember what the other story is. It's not dirty either.'
Hermione was later engaged to a
dashing young antiques dealer called Baudouin Mills. She was at London Airport
waiting, for a flight to New York when a reporter approached her and said, 'Is it
true, Miss Gingold, that you're engaged to an antiques dealer?'
'Of course it is,' she said, 'because I know
he'll appreciate me.' Julia and Sarah I saw little of during this period. They were
seriously involved with the theatre and moved in a completely different set when
they moved at all. Julia did take me to see her mother's new house in Richmond – it
was the first time I ever saw a. mink bedspread, blue mink it was.

While all this nonsense was going on, I had a call from a friend of Les Lee called
Louise. Although he had a woman's passport, Louise was a middle-aged male
transvestite who had fathered children. He said that a friend of his was eager to
meet me. I'd given up blind dates with weirdos but Louise was persistent and I
agreed on condition that the appointment be for lunch, so that I could arrange an
afternoon audition as a getaway, and that lunch be at the Caprice. I'd longed to eat
at this famous restaurant ever since I'd seen Nubar Gulbenkian's car outside it. Diese
car, NG 5, was a customised London taxi-cab with carriage lamps and wickerwork
panels let into bodywork. Gulbenkian had commissioned it because it would be tall
enough for him to sit inside without removing his top hat. ('They tell me it turns on
a sixpence, whatever that is,' was his standard line.) And logic told me that any man
who was prepared to lunch at the Caprice couldn't be a complete lout. 'Don't worry
about recognising him, said Louise. 'I've given him dozens of photographs of you.
He knows every hair on your head.'
Deliberately late, because I didn't want
to be left standing there like a lemon, I went whizzing through the revolving doors
on Arlington Street. I was immediately in a sea of expensive hats. The first person I
recognised was Marjorie Proops, the Agony Aunt. Then I heard a voice.
'April? My name is Frank. What would
you like to drink?' A tall thin man in his early forties had jumped to his feet and
was being most considerate. I had a champagne cocktail, slotted in the small-talk
cassette, had another, and we went to eat. 'This is pleasant,' I thought, dislodging a
Sole Meuniere from its skeleton, 'not at all loopy. And Frank – he has the same
texture as Tim and that lot. The upper-class thing, quite at home in the Caprice. But
why won't he give me his surname? He hasn't mentioned drag once but he sure
knows all about me.' I focused on Jill Bennett at a nearby table. She was
playing the hysterical actress part, going from Gwendolen Fairfax to Lady Macbeth
and back again every few minutes.
Like Peter Finch, Frank was a natural
charmer, skilful at putting one at one's ease. He wasn't my type but some would
have called him handsome in a bony-faced way. Soon we were lunching once a
week, then twice a week, then every other day, and always at the Caprice, always
very politely. This couldn't be all. Eventually it came:
'I think I can trust you, April. Ich möchte
tell you something. If I don't tell somebody I'll go round the bend.' The bland well-
bred expression fell from his face, the nose lengthened, the cheeks sank inwards,
suddenly he looked awful, like something Ibsen might have dreamed up in a
nightmare.
'You like dressing women's clothes,' I
said.
'How did you know?'
'I guessed.'

'For years I've been doing it. Da ist ein
male brothel, I pay the boys to dress me up, then…you-know-what.' The British, so
squeamish, bad toilet-training they say. 'But now, here's the point, since I've been
seeing you I haven't done it or wanted to. I think you've cured me. That's meant to
be a compliment. It's something to do with knowing you were a boy, that you've had
the operation, that it's a reality I can't compete with. You've stopped my pendulum
swinging.'
It was the first time I'd heard about his
pendulum. Frank explained that having been brought up in a world full of
grandfather clocks it was the nearest he could come to describing the motion his
personality sometimes took. Usually he was fairly normal, a job in the City, a
healthy chauvinistic attitude towards the weaker sex, then out of the blue – SWING!
He wanted to be a woman, to bind his hips in chiffon and sashay down to the boys in
the brothel, 'those monsters' he called them. Such behaviour is not uncommon but
Frank did seem to harbour an exceptional polarity in this respect – presumably the
result of Dad's heavy hand. He was unable to resolve his conflict by surrendering to
it and so make more tolerable his brief passage on this earth. Until he met me, he
said.
'Go on,' I said, keeping my eyes on him
while tilting back my head to sink an oyster.
'My name isn't Frank of course. C'est
Arthur.' Which sounded even more ridiculous. 'The Honourable Arthur Cameron
Corbett actually.'
'Oh God, another one,' I thought.
'I want to tell you everything so that
you'll understand my problem.' I positioned myself for an epic. 'My father's a
Scotsman called Lord Rowallan. He used to be the Chief Scout. At the moment he's
the Governor of Tasmania. I'm his heir. My elder brother was killed in action in
1944. You can imagine the dreadful pressure on me never to do anything untoward.
Father would go bananas if he knew the real me. I went to Eton and to Balliol
College, Oxford. My son Johnny is at. Eton now. My wife's name is Eleanor. She's also
from Scotland. We get on but it's not what you'd call a passionate marriage – she lets
me once a week and that's my lot. I've three daughters too and we all live in
Hampstead with a Nanny, a gardener, a maid…am I boring you?'
'Only a little bit.' He wasn't in the least, I
was absolutely riveted, but I thought the kindest thing I could do was pretend that
none of it was so very special. Arthur went on and on. It was like an enormous boil
draining out through his mouth. The family's money came from Brown &
Polson's Corn flour. Arthur's grandfather, Archibald, the 1st Baron, had married it
in the form of Alice Polson. In consequence the 2nd Baron, Arthur's father, had
been desperately straight. Arthur's mother, Gwyn, was the sister of Jo Grimond, the
Liberal politician. The family house was Rowallan Castle, an ugly Victorian heap
near Kilmarnock with 7,000 acres. He had three brothers and a sister but the only
member of the family he could really talk to was his Aunt Elsie, a spinster of
mannish appearance who was wont to distribute soup to the poor in gumboots.

In return I told him I was having an
affair with Tim Willoughby. He was furious.
'Arthur, what a puritan you are
suddenly.' He had a pedestal concept of women, even when trying to be one himself.
'There aren't many 26-year-old virgins around any more. What do you expect me to
do?'
'Marry him.'
'Don't be foolish.' The admonitory tone I
was later to adopt with him had already crept in. Tim doesn't want to marry me, he
wants an heir.'
Their dislike was mutual. Tim thought
Arthur an old croak and Arthur was annoyed by Tim's superior nobility and
panache.
'What would you say if I said I've fallen
in love with you?' he said.
Not long after, Arthur rang me in the
evening which was unusual for him. Eleanor was having a fit.
'Why?'
'Because I've told her everything. I had
to, darling.'

'But Arthur, what is "everything"
exactly?' Because the only thing between Arthur and me had been the lunch table,
the talk.
'I told her I've been seeing you and I've
told her who you are. I've told her about the women's clothes and the brothel boys.
Once I started there was no convenient place to stop, I had to go on.'
'Then I'm not surprised she's having a
fit.' Eleanor knew of Arthur's transvestite idiosyncrasy. I discovered in court much
later that in the early. days of their marriage she'd even zipped him up a few times,
But she thought it was all in the past.
'Anyway, she wants to meet you,' Arthur
said.
This was something I hadn't expected.
She obviously had guts and I admired her even before I met her. Eleanor,
née Boyle, was a cousin of the Earl of Glasgow. Her mother was born Mary
Mackie, daughter of Sir Peter Mackie, the Whisky Baronet, and Eleanor was very
rich in her own right.
They were waiting for me at the
Caprice. She was about my height, several years younger than Arthur, with masses
of whisky-coloured hair, and far more beautiful than her photographs suggest – a
faint resemblance to Virginia Woolf. She quivered like a violin string about to snap.
I felt a sham trying to convince her that Arthur was only a friend with a problem,
when in fact, without anyone wishing it, our lunches together had triggered in
him something which augured disaster for her. She was an over-controlled woman
and kept her passions hidden but when we went down to the Powder Room together
she dissolved into tears and begged me to help save her marriage. 'Do go on seeing
him if it stops him going off for the other thing. The thought of that, I can't bear
it.'
Over lunch it was arranged that I should
visit them in Hampstead on Sunday, and meet the children. The point of this was a
hope that if I could be somehow built into the pattern of their fife, albeit discreetly
and to one side, it might prevent the collapse of the family. What an extraordinary
idea that was!
The large undistinguished house in
Wildwood Road overlooked Hampstead Heath. The interior exemplified good taste and
lacked any sign of warmth or spontaneity, but the garden was full of flowers and a
brook ran through it. Johnny was away at school. Eleanor and I took the girls for a
walk on the Heath. Little Sarah ran along beside us saying, 'Oh Mummy, I love April
– can she come and live with us?' Eleanor must have been havoc inside.

On a later visit I met Johnny, who didn't
take to me very much. In fact I got the impression that he thoroughly detested me.
Perhaps he understood what was going to happen. He suffered much at school later
on, as did his sisters.

Tim was away for the summer so I spoke to no one about these developments.
Eleanor went to Holland to stay with friends. She had given Arthur permission to
take me out in the evening.
'So where do you want to go?' il
asked.
'The 400.'
It was the most respectable club I could
think o£ Princess Margaret and Billy Wallace had made it smart in the 1950s
but now it was coming to the end of its days. We talked. Inside I knew that this was
where I should get off, wish him well, and hope that he would sort out his life in a
way which didn't include me. But at the time I was going through acute anxieties of
my own which clouded my judgement.
The chief bliss for a transsexual is to be
regarded as a normal woman. The chief anxiety therefore is the fear of being
exposed and ridiculed.
As I've already said, my true identity
was not at this time generally known. Modelling London knew to some degree. One
evening at Roter Models we had our feet up on the wall to reduce the swelling from
walking up and down on carpet all day (carpet is the worst, concrete is much better,
except that they say too much time standing on concrete gives you piles). All die
models seemed to have problems. One was terribly in debt, living way beyond her
means in order to keep up appearances which are so crucial to this profession. Two
were undecided about artificial insemination (in the end they both had it and both
had babies and lived happily ever after). One was hooked on pills, another on drink.
Hildegard we already know about. Pauline Moore was beside me. Her boyfriend, Sid,
was much older than she was and the age difference was a great worry to her, I
can't think why but it was, so I decided to cheer her up.

'You think you've got it rough? Listen to
me. I have terrible news.' Her feet immediately came down from the wall and she
sat up. And I told her about my sex transformation.
She was staggered and said. 'It's the
loveliest thing I ever heard.'
'Why do you say that?'
'I don't know, I don't know what to
say.'
Parts of Society London and Bohemian
London knew about me. But the press hadn't got hold of it and therefore it was
possible, in that phlegmatic English way which is mistakenly called hypocrisy, for
the fact to go unobserved on those occasions when it would cause inconvenience.
Once the newspapers caught up, this would no longer be possible. And already
there were hiccups.
Jobs would unaccountably be cancelled.
I was due to fulfil a booking, for a plain-chocolate television commercial with
voice-over. They wanted a dark, husky voice to match the product. Then the client
cancelled. It was the same with Hush Puppies. I was perfect – then not. A deb's
delight invited me out for dinner. The boy arrived too early and pottered awhile.
When I came out of the boudoir he'd vanished. There was a call from a phone box:
'You'll think me the most awful shit, and I am, but I saw your room and suddenly
recognised you from Le Carrousel – I'm sorry but I can't take you out, oh Christ, I
am a shit.' It upset me but I felt sorry for the wretch too because he'd suddenly been
forced to face his own feebleness, that to be dissuaded from of action by the
disapproval of others is the most unmanly thing a man can do.
So the evening at the 400 was adding up
to monumentally depressing experience. It was saved by the arrival of Sir Iain
Moncreiffe of that Ilk. He looked like a dapper little bookie and his humour
prevented the evening from being a total flop. Arthur started to reminisce about
Rosa Lewis and the Cavendish Hotel – how he'd been the first uniformed officer to
go there at the beginning of the war, how she'd been particularly fond of him after
he as awarded the Croix de Guerre, how he lived in terror of being landed with a bill
for a case of champagne drunk by someone else because you never queried a bill
from Rosa. If she made you pay for someone else's drink she had her reasons,
although these reasons became increasingly inscrutable as her faculties slipped
way.
But when Sir lain left us, Arthur told me
that he and Eleanor had in fact separated and he was moving into the Vanderbilt
Hotel round the corner from my flat in Emperor's Gate. Divorce was set in motion
soon after. Arthur hired 'an intervener' which was the way to do it before the
reform of the law. They spent the night together at the Grosvenor Hotel at Victoria
Station playing cards. Just before breakfast was wheeled in they hopped into bed so
that the room-boy and the chambermaid could act as witnesses for 'adultery'.
It was late summer. Arthur wanted me to
accompany him on a motoring tour of my old European haunts and I agreed. il
grew more raffish with every mile that separated us from Wildwood Road. In Paris
Le Carrousel had not yet moved to its new premises and we went to the 11 o'clock
Show. Little had changed. Still all that plush. They invited me onstage to take the
finale with them. Arthur was horrified. Typically. His naughty side was always
battling with his respectable side. Words passed between us, and we returned to our
separate rooms in the Hôtel de la Paix in a sour mood.

We caught Peki's strip act in Milan –
meeting the transsexuals and transvestites made Arthur volatile. In Juan I fell on to
the neck of an old boyfriend, which led to an awful row – Arthur drove back to
England by himself in a huff, writing contritely from Grenoble: My most darling
wife-to-be, First I ran over a sheep which caused quite a stir and lost me a whole
hour. Secondly I was immediately behind a car which crashed killing one and badly
wounding two others, and lastly I met with a bicycle race!
With hindsight I see the whole ghastly
mess in these few weeks abroad with him…but we made it up in London and he flew
to Spain to view some property.
It was a weekend and Della was away –
she usually was. There was an unexpected knock at the door. I opened it ajar and, as
a man applied pressure from the other side, slammed it shut.
'My name's Roy East!' he shouted from
the landing.
'And so?'
'I'm a reporter for the People
newspaper.'
Silence.

'Is it true you used to be a boy?'
My stomach hit the floor, blood flew to
my head, my ears sang and my mouth dried up. I sat down and tried to work out
what to do next. Taking a very long breath and moistening my lips with an adjacent
Tio Pepe frappé, I yelled, 'Go to hell!'
'We know all about you.'
Silence.
'We're going to publish the story
anyway.'
'I'll call the police!'
'Open up and make sure we get it
right.'
'Whichever way you do it, you'll ruin
me.'

When all my pleadings failed I let him
in and spoke as fully as I could. I also discovered that the paper had been tipped off
by someone from Nevern Square days, he wouldn't say who, but he or she had been
paid a paltry fiver for it.
It was only when he left that panic hit
me. Tim was away, so I turned to Arthur. That was the secret of his success with me –
he was always there. On Monday he went to see the Editor. This made it worse.
Barbara Back, a friend of his working on the People, tried to have the story
spiked but now they were doubly convinced they were on to something fruity. elle
appeared the following Sunday under a banner headline: 'The Extraordinary Case Of
Top Model April Ashley – Her Secret Is Out'.
The next day I called Signon and went
in. 'Those bastards! I'm sorry, darling, all your bookings have been cancelled. et
there have been a lot of abusive calls from people who've used you in the past. Je
don't know why they bother. You realise you're finished, darling. You can forget
England.'
I was in the middle of a season for Roter
Models but went home to hide. Marcel's 'You'll be back' kept running through my
head. Then the dirty phone calls started which, until recently were to be a feature
of my life. Sarah and Julia rang and tried to raise my spirits. I felt like a criminal
and was afraid to go out.
Mrs Schroter rang. 'Where are you,
April? We're missing our lovely girl. It's not like you to be late.'
'Mrs Schroter…you must know
why.'
'I don't care about silly newspapers, my
dear. For me you are just late for work. So I hope you won't be late tomorrow.'
The next day I forced myself to go in.
There was an embarrassed silence. 'Good morning, everyone.' They broke ranks and
gave me their sympathy in the best way of all – by hugging me. Even Mrs Schroter,
normally so practical, joined in the mood. The door burst open and the Spanish and
Greek women trooped forward to add their comfort. But it was impossible. Beyond
the dressing-room was a carnival of gawpers. I was the centre of ridicule and
terrible insults and cruelties. For me London had collapsed overnight.

While in Spain Arthur had bought the
Jacaranda nightclub in Marbella. There were many things about him which
fascinated me. For a start, his intellect – he could add up columns of figures like a
computer. There was hardly a subject on which he did not have an informed
opinion. But what appealed to me most of all – he was genuinely kind, not only to me
but to many others. So, when he asked me to go and help him run this nightclub, I
didn't refuse.
When the film was released they had even
removed my credit from The Road to Hong Kong, the bastards.

As we grow older, there comes a time when we are obliged to acknowledge the limits
of what is possible in one short life, to strike a balance between the behest of one's
dreams and the chastening douche of cold fact, and perhaps come to understand
that the only real peace on this earth lies not in the gratification of what one wants
for oneself but in the sympathetic contemplation of the follies of others. But I
hadn't yet reached this stage, I didn't yet have one foot in the grave. I still wanted
to change the world. None the less I had suffered a serious reverse and it was
advisable for the time being to withdraw with my shattered expectations.
December 1961: numbness was my most
positive sensation on departure. Arthur collected me from Emperor's Gate in the
morning, in a white Zephyr convertible he'd recently bought. With my Great Dane
puppy, Mr Blue, half-asleep under my arm, we set off. Arthur was very chatty,
excessively so. This was probably because he was taking a brave – most people said
insane – step into a new life. Something inedible aboard the Channel ferry – France
– an overnight stop – where? – the hearse moved south.
Madrid. They wouldn't take dogs at the
Ritz, nor at the Castilliana Hilton. But the Palace Hotel was charming to Mr Blue,
poor lamb. Apart from a little flatulence as we passed through the Home Counties,
he had behaved like an angel throughout. Arthur and I had separate rooms of
course.

We went to the Patio Andaluz nightclub:
flamenco cabaret, a mixed bunch of the international set gossiping among smoke
and shrouded table lights, plus Arthur and I against a wall drinking champagne
and growing more festive, I felt. I was walking briskly towards the Ladies when
there was a yelp behind me. It was Paco, a Spanish dancer who'd worked at Le
Carrousel years before. We must have been chattering longer than I realised
because suddenly the figure of Arthur appeared, looking murderous.
'Whore!' he screamed. It was a word he
often used when angry. It gave him a frisson. He threw my mink at me,
followed at high speed my handbag. 'Whore!' He dragged me out by the arm and
hailed a taxi. I let him get in first. Then I slammed the door and told the cabby to
drive off, which he did, thank goodness.
I jumped into another cab. The driver
told me – once he'd unravelled meaning from the three Spanish words I knew
(sí, on and definidamente , but they get you everywhere in
combinations) – that the real place flamenco, where the Spaniards themselves go,
was called El Duende. The flamenco is a marvellous dance when one is in a rage.
Later, while in Marbella, a local ancient monument called Ana de Pombo (at whose
house Jean Cocteau would stay until he was barred from Spain because of the boys)
used to come to the Jacaranda in the afternoons to give me lessons. I became quite
good at it in the flagrant style with a rose between my teeth.
The next thing I remember is Arthur
standing over my bed waving his shirtsleeves about, ranting while my eyelashes
slowly unstuck, how he'd been out of his mind with worry, what a mad thing it was
for me to go wandering by myself around a strange city at night. I said I didn't care,
I'd often wandered by myself around strange cities at night, I wanted to go back to
England, I didn't want to go on to Marbella to do his bloody nightclub effort, would
he please shut the door, there were people in the corridor, that it all seemed
pointless, dreadful, draining, my nerves, my headache, oh God, etc. By now I was
trailing round the room throwing bits and pieces into a suitcase, madly
uncrisp.

The twelve-hour drive to Málaga
was very quiet. The only incident was that we ran out of petrol in the middle of
nowhere, barren rocks wherever you looked. Luckily we were able to free-wheel
down-and-along, down-and-along to the next human settlement where the petrol
had to be pumped up from an underground tank by hand. It took Arthur an eternity
of physical jerks to fill the tank and all but finished him off. When we entered
Marbella it was dark and pouring with rain.

In 1961 Marbella was still only a fishing village of whitewashed houses with
geranium window-boxes, climbing up the slopes of La Concha mountain which
sheltered the town and gave it its agreeable climate. In the centre was a square of
orange trees where the guitarists plucked their tragic folk-songs and the widows
sat in black. Fishing boats were pulled up on the beach as if immobilised for ever in
a postcard. The main street was full of cafés, bars and shops where at the
hour of paseo (6 o'clock on) the town would parade up and down in fresh
clothes, checking itself out. It was at one end of this street, in the direction of
Málaga, that the Jacaranda Club opened its doors at 9p.m.
There are many fishing villages like
this in Spain. What certified Marbella as the spot was the Marbella Club, then
going through its most fashionable period. Several years earlier Prince Max von
Hohenlohe-Langenburg had made over a seaside property to his son, Prince
Alfonse. In 1955, at the age of thirty-one, Alfonse was married in fairy-tale, even
outrageous, circumstances to Clark Gable's friend, the fifteen-year-old Fiat heiress
Princess Ira von Fürstenburg. After bearing him two sons she hopped off with a
Brazilian playboy called Pignatari, tried to go into films, and flopped. Alfonse
turned to work and opened the property as a resort club for his rich and
aristocratic connections, which he ran with the help of his cousin Rudi (Count
Rudolf von Schönburg). Stocky and looking somewhat like a Turkish-carpet
dealer, Alfonse also had an un-Germanic flair for the business of letting people
lounge around at great cost to themselves and soon established his casa in the
calendar of the jet set.

Visitors who came for longer periods
rented villas. Crops of these had sprung up on the outskirts of the town on the sites
of old farms and were known as fincas. Arthur had rented a new villa on the
Finca el Capricho. 'Capricho' means 'caprice' or 'whim' – and didn't we know it
in the end! When we arrived the house was damp and surrounded by mud and the
log fire wouldn't catch. Rogelia, the wife of Pepe (the finca's caretaker),
brought us some supper. As usual Arthur and I had separate rooms, which delighted
her. For the Spanish peasant 'separate bedrooms' is the last word in gentility. I had
insisted on it, wishing for as much independence as possible. Arthur agreed, not
being a rapist by nature. In fact he was curiously prim, given to making remarks
like, 'You will never be my mistress, only my wife.' He once wrote to me in London:
I have already said to my father and to Aunt Elsie that you would make the best
and most beautiful Mrs Corbett and eventually Lady Rowallan. Of this I am sure and
it is my life's work to convince you of it! He wanted me on a pedestal, not on a
barstool. My inability to remain on any such thing – on either thing – was the cause
of many conflagrations between us.
The next day the sun was shining and it
was almost hot. We went down to explore the Jacaranda: zany tropical décor
with a cool marble floor. Outside through sliding glass doors were orange and lemon
trees and a plant called Dama de Noche which blooms on only one night of the
year. Arthur always kept this flower for me by putting it in the fridge. Also in the
garden was the jacaranda tree from which the club took its name. In the spring
this tree turned into a large mauve cloud.

Mark and Min, the previous owners,
called in to wish us well. Naturally the staff were curious about me, especially when
Arthur introduced me as his fiancée, but my notoriety was excellent for
business. Jaime Parlade, who owned a local antiques shop, was the leader of the
young fast set. Gerald Brenan, lover of the painter Carrington, headed the older 'I
remember Andalucia when' crowd. Bill and Doreen Godwin were Reuters
correspondents for the region and became good friends, of Arthur's especially.
My drinking partners were Sarah
Skinner, an English girl living with a Spanish count; Rosemary Strachey who lived
in a tiny cottage with no electricity, was madly in love with Jaime, and was a very
good painter of cats; and Evelyn Locke, one of those dogged English women from
Crawley in Sussex whom nothing daunts. My intake of alcohol increased. clientèle
came to the club in the hope of witnessing a scene. Sometimes they were lucky.
Certainly I was unpredictable. This bewildered Arthur who was both distressed and
mesmerised by it. For the first year he had terrible eczema.
Not long after our arrival he bought the
villa, which I named 'Antoinette'. This he ostensibly gave to me, minus the relevant
documents. Neither the telephone nor the postman quite reached us at first. la
villa was plonked in the middle of a field and looked almost unseemly, like a virgin
at a party. I soon threw up a low wall, Arthur planted a few trees and shrubs and
put a palm tree on either side of the front gate. The outside of the villa, though
nothing grandiose, thus acquired presence.
The inside needed a firm hand too. Alles
the rooms were different colours. I had the lot whitewashed. However, my
experience at the Ormskirk Hospital told me that matters could not rest here.
Inspired the Robinson Crusoe tomfooleries of the Jacaranda, I went bamboo. Mit
wild junglified prints for upholstery and rugs rioting on the floor.
Soon Rogelia was established as our
cook, Pepe as the gardener, and their son José-Luis who was at school did odd
jobs like splitting figs in the sun or delivering secret notes or swimming with me
in the pool at the old farmhouse where his parents lived.
The only problem now was Arthur.

I was twenty-six, he was forty-two. There was much about him that I genuinely
adored. If sometimes I sound patronising it is because he lived, breathed and
dreamed 'April Ashley'. Whereas this often led him to treat me with great
tenderness and generosity. it could also become horribly claustrophobic. I made
strenuous efforts to understand the complexity of his feelings but my own nature –
impulsive and romantic too but with a strong, qualifying dose of self-preservation
and Liverpudlian common sense – repeatedly rebelled against his attempts to
contrive me as the miraculous resolution of his inner conflicts. If the advantages of
birth, education, influence and property were his, I believe that in the end the
inner strengths were mine. I think he knew it, which is why he both worshipped
and resented me with a pathetic vehemence. Arthur often needed uncloying. Meine
disappearance now and again on one of the roads out of Marbella, in the company
of a beautiful young man nearer my age, sometimes below it, usually did the trick.
Not that I was unduly promiscuous. That came later.

Life at the Villa Antoinette was no
chocolate-box affair. 'She' began to make unwelcome and unnerving visits. EIN
sidelong look would slither into Arthur's eyes. The spine would stiffen and the legs
suddenly cross. The inevitable cigarette, normally wedged down firmly between his
first two nicotined fingers, would slide up and perch effetely between the
outstretched extremities. He would take short petulant puffs, cupping the elbow in
the palm of his free hand, then with forearm upright the cigarette would twitch
round to point backwards over his shoulder. A bitchy accusing edge came into his
voice, the mouth pursed, his bottom squirming among cushions…When 'she' had
gone, his line would be: 'If only you'd marry me, I'd be cured!'
To escape I went for walks with Peter
Townend, a young writer tinkering around Marbella in a state of post-Cambridge
oatsiness. He lived with Menchu, a scarlet woman with wild eyes who was openly
flouting her strict Spanish upbringing. They were always having fights. Often I
went swimming naked and alone in a natural pool on La Concha (until I discovered
a shepherd boy had been peeping at me through the bushes like a satyr – it was the
whiteness of his teeth which gave him away).
But when Arthur slipped into grotesque
parody of myself, I rebelled. It was approaching spring and my spirits were
inflamed. Fortunately Sarah Churchill was at hand in her dark glasses and slacks
and flat shoes. She had popped in on her way to see Henry Audley (Lord Audley had
a house on the other side of the finca from mine).
'Sweetheart, come and stay with me for
a while,' she intoned, pushing back her hair band, 'until your nerves slacken.'
Marbella had attracted Sarah too. She had moved into the Villa Santa Cecilia beyond
Los Monteros, bang on the sea. I spent several weeks there, walking up and down
the terrace with a glass in my hand. Occasionally I paused to ogle the Pillars of
Hercules (the twin rocks of Ceuta and Gibraltar which Sarah christened Bally-Hai
and Bally-Hoo) and dream.
She wrote most of the time at the
opposite end of the house. Sarah loved to write but I believe her greatest talent was
for acting. She could have become a great actress if she'd concentrated on it instead
of letting her energies seep out in so many different directions. She had trained for
the ballet as a girl and would often get up on her toes after a few drinks. Arthur
went out one day and changed all the Jacaranda tabletops from wood to glass
because of Sarah's tendency, and mine, to dance on them.
Henry called frequently. He had been
crippled by a stroke. Sarah prised him out of his wheelchair, made him throw away
his sticks, and take up motoring. It was a remarkable transformation, accompanied
by growing affection and furious rows. Soon they were married.
Meanwhile Arthur had been asking me
to return. Sarah bumped into him in the village sucking his teeth and scratching
his arms, talking April this, April that. She suggested that since he claimed to have
given me the house as a grand gesture, he should do the chivalrous thing, move out
and stay out until I chose to invite him back. This wasn't impossible since there was
a small unused flat available for him at the Jacaranda. He acted on her advice and I
covered the walls there with photographs of me. I returned to the villa and planted
a hedge. I urged it to grow quickly because by now I was becoming one of the
tourist attractions of the region. Strangers would drive up the dust track and leer at
me.

Relations warmed between Arthur and I.
We took to dining regularly at the Marbella Club… where one evening we met the
Duke and Duchess del Infantado.

The Infantados had been very influential ever since the fifteenth century. la
Duke was grim – as befitted a man descended from the Borgias. He had three sons.
My eye fell on the eldest, Inigo, the heir, but not before his eye had fallen on me,
both his eyes, the biggest I'd ever seen, too big to fit in his head. He was twenty
years old, slender, solemn, sensual. The head was like Humphrey Bogart's. I asked
him to visit us at the Jacaranda. He did. We fox-trotted and faintly smooched. A little
rock'n'roll and the Twist which had just come in and was considered very
lubricious. Arthur told me to lay off or else the family would be down on us like a
delivery of coal, close the club, have us deported – his imagination ran away with
him, although the Spanish aristocracy can be desperately parochial compared to
the English. He accused me of sleeping with Inigo. Incorrect. But not for long.
After the holiday Inigo had to return to
Madrid with his family. Every day he telephoned me at the Golf Hotel where I waited
for his calls. Sarah used to run me out there because she loved the place – and
glamorous intrigue besides. Suddenly he called from Seville, from another family
palacio. Officially it was closed except during the feria. He said we
should be alone there to make amor… apart from the usual servants… Surely it
is no accident that the Spanish, French and Italian words for love, amor, amour,
amore begin with a long sigh on the 'a'; involve on the 'm' pushing the lips
together and thrusting them forwards in blatant imitation of a kiss (especially so
with the French 'mou'); and end with an 'r' sound in which the lips are curled back
to reveal both upper and lower teeth while the tongue is fluttered hungrily within
the mouth. Why, the very word amounts almost to an act of rape. By contrast, the
English 'love' begins by withdrawing the tongue in an arc as far away as possible
from the action; then just as the tongue begins to emerge, the mouth has second
thoughts, the upper teeth are bared and champ down sharply on the lower lip as if
it were being told to stop it at once.

'Where are you off to?' said Arthur.
'Seville.'
'What for?'
'Sight-seeing.'
'How long are you going for?'
'I don't know, Arthur, a few days.'
'Then why are you taking seven
suitcases and the Great Dane?'
It was true. I was full of hope.
Latin noblemen christen everything,
the flimsiest bungalow, a palace. But this one was genuine. There was an avenue of
them, all in glowing golden stone set in their own grounds. Inigo drove me through
high wrought-iron gates, up a short drive flanked by birds and love-seats sculpted
from yew to the house, where a retainer took the car away. Inside was a magical
world of decaying smells, dark, gilded, shuttered. Mr Blue was led downstairs and I
upstairs.

Inigo was a very old-fashioned young
man. He hardly spoke at all. When we did, it was in French. Love-making, as
opposed to sex merely, is a mysterious, frown-filled, incessant business for Spanish
males. All that I learned of his other affections was that he was mad about flying.
Our passion was secretive and moody and exciting.
And brief. Papa telephoned. El
duque. He threatened to have me deported if Inigo didn't return at once to the
capital. Inigo suggested we flee to North Africa where he had a hacienda. But
I was older and wiser and couldn't place my future in the infatuation of a boy with
very noble prospects. He took the plane to Madrid. I booked into the Alfonso XIII
Hotel (King Alfonsos old Andalucian palacio, next door to the tobacco factory
where Bizet's Carmen supposedly had her fits). Throughout this period I was
attempting not very effectively to come to grips with the home truths about myself.
For example, could I ever have a straightforward affair? Or a straightforward job?
And to what extent did the answer depend on the fact of my sex-change or my own
basic nature? When it all became too oppressive I forced my mind and my emotions
to go blank. To others this made me appear capricious.
Each day I made the trek to the palace to
visit Mr Blue, who was being cared for by one of the Duke's gardeners. I'd prepare
his meals and place the bowl on bricks. Young Great Danes have to he fed in this
way. If the food is placed on the ground they splay their legs giraffe-fashion and
can grow up permanently disfigured.
Arthur rang. He was extremely sweet at
exactly the right moment and met me at Malaga Airport in the white Zephyr. Wie
usual when I returned from one of my crazy escapades, he had filled the Villa
Antoinette with flowers. But I was angry and set fire to the curtains with a brand
pulled from the fire.
Inigo I saw only once again, at the
Marbella Club, firmly locked within his family group, eyes down, hands under the
table as if handcuffed. Where are you now, young man with the high forehead? sont
you the Duke yet? I must say, your papa seemed indestructible, a heart of leather. Je
remember you for your nut-brown hair and sensitive spirit. You will remember me
only as a youthful folly, but you will not forget me.

The biggest boost was the offer of
employment, a season of fashion shows for the House of Rango. Mr Blue and I flew
to Madrid and checked into the Palace Hotel for six weeks. I spent my free time in
the Museo del Prado, or at the cinema improving my Spanish, or chatting with the
ex-Queen of Albania at Carita's Hair Salon – 'How's King Zog, dear?'
The Rango shows were a success. la
Duchess of Alba, who traditionally came on the last day, paid me the compliment of
altering her appointment to the first day. Spanish noblewomen are far more
powerful than those elsewhere because all titles can pass through women and they
confer their titles on their husbands too. The Duke of Alba was a comparatively
bourgeois figure, aggrandised by marriage. Before the Spanish Restoration, the
Duchess had been the first lady of Spain. Doña Maria has sixty-seven titles.
One is the Duchess of Berwick dating from 1707 and she includes 'Fitzjames Stuart'
among her many surnames. In Spain only Doña Maria, Duchess of
Medinaceli, is more 'handled'. Small, fair and shy, the Duchess of Alba cropped up
again at the Seville feria where each year tradition required her to affix an
expensive piece of jewellery to the Festival Madonna as an offering to the
Church.
The Jacaranda was now doing
excellently. Arthur had established a travel agency and an estate agency on the
premises, and continued to supervise the English Subscription Library set up by
Mark and Min for the English colony.
The English residents, living in Spain to
stretch their pensions, were not exactly me. Many had been in the Colonial Service
and separation from the Motherland had exacerbated not only their snobbery but
also their belief in a kind of P.G. Wodehouse fantasy which England could no longer
justify. I was not prepared to meet this set much more than halfway after my
experience of Sir Ronald and Lady Cross.
He was the 1st Baronet (and the last) and
had not long retired as the Governor of Tasmania. Since Lord Rowallan was the
current Governor of Tasmania, Arthur presumably thought we should all be thick
together. The Crosses were down there at the bottom of Europe trying to marry off
their nervous daughters among the minor aristocracy, the German princelings,
anything foreign with a handle, anything English at all, and Arthur pressed me to
lunch at their villa.
'How's the Tasmanian Situation?' fragte
Sir Ronald.

'Ah,' said Arthur.
'Improved, I hope,' said Sir Ronald.
'Is there a Tasmanian Situation?' éprouvé
Arthur, 'I mean, is it worrying?'
'Could be tricky,' said Sir Ronald.
Stumped by the Tasmanian Situation,
Arthur began to expatiate on my O.K.-ness, how I knew Lord X, Lady Y, Count Z. I
found myself yawning and was also annoyed by his cringing. So, as a livener, and
as a way of saying 'Take it all with a pinch of salt', I started to give Lady Cross
smacking great winks behind Arthur's back. Nothing happened at the time but
later Arthur came stamping up to my villa in a fury.
'Lady Cross says she'll never receive
you again!'
'Receive?'
'She won't because you were, making
passes at her!'

'What? That little fart from the
Colonies?. Passes?'
'She said she'll never receive you again
because you kept winking at her over the luncheon table.'
'The woman must be mad! I don't give a
damn about Lady Cross or about the Tasmanian Situation and I won't receive
her, at the Jacaranda, here, or anywhere else. Now run back and tell her
so!'
This social touchiness even crept into
the Marbella Club, an establishment usually far more mondain than the Villa Cross.
The scraping and slobbering that went on from the Hohenlohes downwards
whenever the Princess Bismarck, for example, turned up was unbelievable – it's
always so much more frantic in these Court circles that no longer exist. J'aime
protocol and grandeur when it's authentic, but when the show's been over for
fifty-odd years…I got into awfully bad odour because I refused to stand for the
Princess Bismarck.
'Princess Bismark,' I explained, 'I
refused to stand for you because I was told that the Hohenlohes refused to bow to the
Duchess of Windsor.' The Windsors were often in and out of Marbella.
The Princess Bismarck was the most
gracious of all the Germans. 'I quite agree, my dear,' she said. 'It was ill-mannered
of them to try to hurt the Duke in that way.'
One aspect of all this made me howl,
however – the English Widows. They were immensely respectable in rose-print
frocks that were skin-tight from a tendency to excess weight rather than from a
desire to be bold. They came to the Jacaranda for their Gimlets and ended up
dancing with the local bloods. These lads, constantly frustrated by their own girls,
would make up to the English women by asking them to dance, very close, and a
young Spaniard doesn't have to press against much to get an erection. One always
knew when this had happened – the Spanish hit of the moment was 'Burroom Boom
Boom' so it happened all the time – because the trotting matron would suddenly go
bright red, become confused and girlish, and rush to the table to swallow off what
remained of her Gimlet. They often made assignations with these boys – who
weren't gigolos incidentally, they only wanted somewhere to put themselves – in a
covert sign-language that was so elaborate in its attempts to go unnoticed that they
might just as well have used a loud hailer.

At home, one damp evening, relaxing in a batik sarong and creaming my face to
the sound of crickets in the garden, I heard the sound of a car thrumming in the
drive. I'd had a slightly draining stint at the Jac. Peter and Menchu had been
throwing mud at each other and I didn't want to be sucked in – Menchu was very
good at sucking people in and I wasn't feeling sufficiently innocent to survive it.
Only the week before she'd come elbowing up to the house and very nearly caught
Peter in my bed – he'd had the wit to jump out of the window. Avoiding them at the
club I'd got myself jammed between some real Gibraltarian horrors.
Carmen – my divine Carmen who
replaced Conchita who stole things – said that the car was for me. Kevin McClory
and Bobo Sigrist had sent it to collect me for an impromptu party.
Now Kevin I had originally met
somewhere in London. Later he made a fortune out of Thunderball. And Bobo
was, well… Bobo, the aeroplane heiress. In those days she was hiding from the press
and her estranged husband, Greg Juarez, an American whom nobody had heard of
until Bobo eloped with him in 1957. Juarez was trying to gain custody of their
daughter Bianca. Kevin and Bobo had rented outside Marbella a property with lots
of locks and alarms belonging to General Franco's daughter, Carmen, Marquesa de
Villaverde (incidentally, when Carmen married the Marques, the Generalissimo had
the Cortes pass a special law preserving the name 'Franco' in the couple's
children).
I threw on some slap, slacks, a silk top,
and jumped in. The Villa Verde was a tremendous cliff top pile inhabited by a mad
gang. Typical Bobo, playing the recluse in style. I was handed a vase of cocktail
topped with fruit and sat down beside a thin blond male.
'Haven't we met before?' I gurgled
through the fruit (everyone was laps ahead of me).
'Have we? I'm Peter O'Toole.'
He wasn't famous then. I had first met
him at Duncan Melvin's in London.

'You've changed,' I said. Where was his
big nose? The mousy hair?
'I'm doing this David Lean thing about
Lawrence of Arabia. I'm playing Lawrence.'
'Is that why they've straightened and
dyed your hair?'
'Yes, and a nose job as well. It was in the
contract.'
'Peter, you look divine.'
'Do you know Omar? We call him Cairo
Fred.' Peter lolloped over and dragged the man back. Omar Sharif was then at the
height of his beauty, powerful and delicate with stunning eyes. He was also the
most sober man in the room, cast straight from Egypt and on his first international
picture. More than a smudge of bewilderment clinched his appeal.
The party went zing-zing until dawnish.
Peter's studio car, one of those long black American ones suddenly to be seen
rolling all round the unmade roads of Spain, took the three of us back to the Villa
Antoinette, where Peter and Omar decided to spend the remainder of their leave. nous
went bananas. Peter especially. Whenever he had time off he'd dive headfirst into a
bottle. He doesn't drink these days because he recently had half his guts removed.
He and Finchie were two of a kind.
King Saud of Saudi Arabia, who was
hanging round the vicinity of the film to check out whether Arabia was being
maligned or not, invited Peter to dinner. Peter refused to go, saying he had better
things to do than be quizzed about T.E. Lawrence's inscrutable motives. la
following day Omar and I saw the King at the Malaga bullfight, creating an
extremely good impression by distributing gold wristwatches to all the
toreros. That evening we came across a clutch of royal princes in a nightclub.
Peter forbade pranks, knowing how funny they are about women (they only
recognise two varieties, the tart and the nun). One of the princes told me he was a
motoring enthusiast – he would buy a Cadillac, drive it into the desert and leave it
there when the petrol ran out, return by camel, and buy another one. He was
thoroughly put out when I explained that these machines are designed to be
refilled with petrol.

When Peter and Omar returned to the
location in Seville, they invited me along and I put up at the Alfonso XIII with its
rotten memories of Inigo. Many of the cast were living there. So was Orson Welles,
up to something secret – or possibly nothing at all, which was usually the case with
him.
With a few wood and cardboard minarets
Seville had been turned into a convincing pastiche of Cairo. The Military H.Q.
scenes were being shot either at the Military Academy or at the Duchess of
Medinaceli's palace. During the shooting at the palace a cable snapped, swung
down, and demolished an important-looking statue. How could they tell the
Duchess? Since she had a pash for Jack Hawkins, he was delegated to break the
appalling news. 'Don't worry,' she said, 'it's only Roman.'
I was introduced to Peter's stand-in,
John Fulton Short. All the stand-in does is get lit because he is of a physical type
similar to the star's. But John was a personality in his own right, being the first
American to achieve full matador status. Peter took me to John's flat hung with his
paintings done in bull's blood. John explained why in the ring bullfighters do not
wear underpants. Since the male genitalia are substantially composed of gristle,
there is in the event of being gored a greater chance of those vitals sliding aside
undamaged if they are unconfined.
Pedro, the Marqués de Domecq
d'Usquain, was opening a new bodega in Jerez de la Frontera. It was my last
night with the actors and I made a drop-dead entrance in emerald satin, Peter
O'Toole giggling on one arm, Omar Sharif smouldering on the other, flashbulbs
popping about us.
Pedro had laid on a gruelling feast, a
different sherry with each course, followed by cabaret, dancing and mixing. How
many Don Pepes can you meet and recall? This was always the problem, a river of
new faces streaming past one's eyes. After an hour or so of flirting with the
grandees, a footman said that Mr O'Toole was howling for me at one of the bars.
'Peter, what on earth is it?'

'Oh, darling!' he wailed and hugged me.
'How can you bear the pain?'
'What pain? I haven't got a pain.'
'You know, the pain…of it.'
During the evening about half-a-dozen
people had tried to enlighten him about me. Nothing he didn't already know but he
was always upset by it on my behalf. By now he was sozzled and maudlin. Je
suggested we leave. On the way out I hit one man in the face, he'd made some lewd
remark. Peter took a swing at another. Back at the Swan Hotel, undressing in my
room, I heard a nearby door slam – Peter was heading for the lift. Naked except for
my coat, and clattering along in mules, I flew after him into the rain. He'd almost
made it back to the bodega when I caught up. It wasn't easy to turn him
round. Incoherent, fighting drunk, he was obviously looking for a brawl – I shared
a bed with him to prevent him from making a klutz of himself.
Next morning three wrecks sat in the bar
of the Swan. Peter's face was like a sucked gumdrop. He was getting down to the
serious business of drinking off his hangover. Omar and I had a spot of lunch. Then
they returned to their exciting work in Seville. And Peter's driver took me back to
Marbella – and to a big surprise.

The News of the World wanted to buy my story. They weren't the first but they
were the most organised. I flew to London and took on as my manager a friend of
Ronnie Cogan's. This was my first disastrous contract – but not my last. The paper
offered £3,000. I demanded £15,000. They retired, returned, and
suggested £10,000 which I accepted. My manager took £3,000 of it, an
exaggerated percentage which didn't exactly endear him to me.

Noyes Thomas did the story. Es war der
classic, six-part sensationalisation of a short ragged life. My aristocratic
associations gave it piquancy. England was unbelievably ho-ho in those days and I
was pilloried for having the nerve to make friendships among the upper classes.
The series, via sex and drugs and violence, but no names, ended with a reference to
my liaison with Arthur.
His divorce had finally come through
and before leaving Spain I had agreed to a formal engagement. Don't ask me why.
I'd been fighting him physically and mentally the entire time. But his
extraordinary insistence may have led me to believe there was solid ground in the
Idee. I was well aware, because Arthur kept reminding me, of the position and
fortune (something between four and five million pounds) he had surrendered to
be with me. His father had cut him off, entailing everything on Johnny. And could
it conceivably he fun to be Lady Rowallan? Did it promise some kind of security of
identity? I insisted on a long, amorphous engagement, even as the family's
jeweller, Mr Hardwick at Asprey's, helped me choose a ring.
While the story was appearing (May-
June 1962) the News of the World gave me a bodyguard. Not that I really
needed him. Being treated like a movie star by one person, like shit by another,
there was no inducement to go out. If I did, it was late, I got blasted, came home.
Lying low seemed the best course…until my manager announced that he'd
committed me to a cabaret tour to capitalise on it all.
One week's rehearsal, a few singing and
dancing lessons; quite inadequate. Originally Des O'Connor was going to prepare the
show, advise on material and so on. But when he asked for £3,000 we dropped
him like a box of concrete.
The Astor Club (black tie and full of
tarts) off Berkeley Square offered a contract for a one-week trial with a five-week
Möglichkeit. Arthur wanted to come over and see me but, he wrote, I must stay here
and work at this club, to make lots and lots of filthy money. I can't for a second time
have a wife much richer than me!…P.S. More old family friends in the club last
night! The Marquess and Marchioness of Reading and Lord and Lady Kindersley!!
 (him and his exclamation marks!!).

My manager signed up some small
support acts for the provinces while I came down the stairs at the Astor to the
theme tune 'April Love' on to a stage adrift with dry ice, the chorus stretching their
arms towards me in supplication. Pretty corny. The songs they'd exhumed were no
better. 'A Good Man Is Hard To Find,' 'An Old-Fashioned Millionaire', 'Lola Lola' quel
the level of it. I did my week and broke all Astor attendance records. But I loathed it.
Mistaking the nature of a five-week option, I had already bought my ticket for
Spain.
When it was explained to me that the
option was theirs, not mine, I was forced to stagger on; but after another three
weeks I went to the manager and said 'Listen, darling, this is a crappy show. Let's
ditch the last two weeks. It's so bad. I'll do ten damn weeks if you want but at
least give a chance to get something presentable rehearsed.'
'But you're pulling more people than
Shirley Bassey!'
'I know. I'm the biggest freak in town.
But I don't like what I'm doing to myself.'
'Miss Ashley, do you realise that if you
went out there and said "Shit" they'd still come to see you?'
The next night I went on and said,
'Ladies and gentlemen, I hear from the management that even if I only said "Shit"
you'd still come to see me, SO – SHIT!' And I walked off.
There was a sound as of a wave sucking
back just before it breaks forward on to the shore, a short interval of absolute
silence, followed by booing and cheering. The management were horrified, the cast
delighted.

'I've been wanting to say that to them
all my life,' said Jacki, one of the chorus. She was a sexy creature who'd worked on
Summer Holiday with Cliff Richard. She'd been trying and trying and trying
to have an affair with him, but he didn't go in for sleeping with girls, so she went
off and married Adam Faith. The Astor season came to an abrupt end.
As a result of the newspaper series I had a
monstrous postbag, hundreds of people wanting sex changes, wanting help, all with
terrifying problems, plus the familiar quota of abuse. Arthur was writing daily
with news from Spain:… the Westmorelands have arrived here and I had a letter from the
Angleseys so we really are in the midst of the British snob world! Kevin was in the
other night and said he had seen your act at the Astor and enjoyed it…I've also seen
Sarah and Henry who cut me twice deader than ice!! I should worry. Von dem
swimming pool today I could hear her shouting and yelling and speechifying and
breaking all the glasses…Russ and Patsy, Rosemary, Rudi, and Aria de Pombo were
all in last night and sent you their best love. Menchu and Peter are still fighting
like cat and dog…Enid Riddle has been fined 60,000 pesetas for smuggled
whiskey…

Smuggling was second nature to most people. In Gibraltar one could easily pick up
5lb. tins of caviare from the Indian shopkeepers who exchanged them for Western
goods with the Russian fishermen. Arthur told me that smugglers trained dogs to
swim across from North Africa to southern Spain wearing saddles of cannabis.
My manager had signed me to appear in
Manchester, Dudley and Weston-super-Mare. We were tied by contract and he was
beginning to get on my nerves. I didn't even have proper stage costumes and was
professional enough to know that they are not the same as ordinary clothes. au
example, one has to be able to move about in them without falling over.
'It's so tacky. "A Good Man Is Hard To
Find" – that's every drag queen's number. I'm not going to do these shows!'

He threw the song sheet in my face and
said that if I didn't he'd sue me for everything I had. By now Ina Barton and I had
moved into a flat in Queen's Gate Terrace opposite the big hostel for young sailors
(who used to slip over for drinks) and I didn't want to be thrown on to the
streets.
June 1962, Manchester: the Northern
Sporting Club, cabaret then bingo then cabaret then bingo. I looked a dream and
sang like murder, it was awful. On to the Dudley Hippodrome where they billed me
as 'The Sensation of the Year'. For this show they had signed up a stripper called
Miss Fifi. During the finale she upstaged me by letting her left tit drop out as I came
down the stairs. It was very effective because in 1962 tits were rare. After two
nights of this I'd had enough. 'Fifi dearest, I may not be very good but I'm good
enough to know when someone's upstaging me. That's two nights you've dropped
your tit. I don't want to see it again. If I do, you'll have to take the
consequences.'
On the third night I sashayed down the
staircase. Plop. There was that tit! I leant over and sank my teeth into it. There was a
short scream, followed by a sound beyond the footlights as of a wave sucking back
just before…ah well, we didn't see that tit again. Actually, it looked much worse than
it was because the wound was embellished with lipstick (stage lipstick is very dark
and heavy because the lights eat it).
Next the Arena Club, Weston, where I
was billed as 'The Most Talked About Woman in the World' – one week, twice nightly.
We digged in a boarding house. The landlady refused to send up my breakfast so I
went down to find out what was going on. The cast had rampaged the previous night
and were still drunk, swearing, fighting each other, being sick. I was blamed for
leading them astray. We moved into an hotel but it could only sleep us for one
night. Eventually we ended up in a couple of caravans between the abattoir and the
gasworks.
By now I wasn't even speaking to my
manager but when it was over I announced I was returning to Spain to recover
from the ordeal. 'Well, you can't go for long,' he said, 'I've signed you for shows in
South Africa and Australia. And I'm cooking something in Las Vegas.' Lunatic!
Ina returned with me to Spain. She'd
visited once before, with her boyfriend Brian McDermott. The three of us had gone
to dinner with Renton Fontana and Brian, high on champagne, was going on about
the advantages of Communism. The atmosphere had become prickly. Ina was drunk
and wanted to drive back.
'No, you're not, Ina. You'll smash up
Arthur's car.'
'Are you suggesting I'm unfit? Heave
off, sister, I'm driving.'

'No, you're not, you – you goose!'
'Yes, I am!'
She pushed me aside. I smacked her
face. She smacked mine. This reciprocal slapping went on for a while and I
thought, 'This is boring – we'll be slapping all week if someone doesn't put a stop to
it.' So I threw my fist into the centre of her face and she went flying. When I
realised what I'd done, I begged forgiveness because I'd broken her nose and
knocked out several teeth. She and Brian packed and left directly.
I hoped this time Ina's visit would be
less physical because she looked as though she needed a thorough rest. Pauline
Moore and Sue Pratt came over too. Kevin invited the four of us up to the Villa
Verde for post-prandial drinks with Shirley MacLaine. We'd already had quite a hen
party ourselves – Rob Roys and Rusty Nails followed by wine followed by
fundador.
It was decided to take Sue's hired Morris
Minor and, knowing the roads better than the others, I decided to take the wheel
before Ina (who was even more sloshed than I was) started laying claims to it.
Driving came naturally to me. Although I'd had no lessons, taken no test and had no
licence, I often went for spins along the coast roads of the Costa del Sol or through
the montañas of Granada.
Everything went swimmingly until
halfway up the mountain. When in the course of chatting away the miles I
happened to mention my lack of authorisation, Pauline started to scream. She lost
her grip, became hysterical. I turned round to reassure her (this seemed to make
her worse) that licences weren't the be-all and end-all of life, that they were only
the outward symbols of a knowledge which might be possessed without them – at
that moment we shot over a cliff –

Thank goodness the car landed on a
narrow ledge fifteen feet below, albeit on its side and with a bone-breaking
crunch. If I had been driving at my favourite speed we should have been dead. Je
once drove Peter Townend at over 100 m.p.h. along the Torremolinos road. He was so
anguished he made a grab for the car keys and I said, 'Peter, be sensible, if you pull
out the key there really will be trouble.'
From here on events became hazy. Je
heard Pauline sobbing. Ina was so distraught she urinated over me while trying to
clamber out. Sue followed her. I crawled up the bank and set off down the hill. un
American found me sprawling senseless in the road. He delivered me to the Villa
Antoinette where my automatic pilot sprang into action. Thinking he was up to no
good I threw the man out and made for the bathroom to remove my make-up. 'Good
heavens,' I mused, 'where is all this blood coming from?' The sight that bounced
back at me from the mirror was of the sort with which meat cleavers are familiar.
Blood was spouting from my neck and hitting the glass. I looked down at my arm.
Bone poked through the skin at the elbow.
In a trice I remembered it all. Pauline
was still in the car! What if it blew up? Or tipped over the cliff… There was a tattoo
on the front door; Arthur, the girls and five doctors jabbering on the doorstep.
Breaking into a feverish sweat I admitted the girls, the youngest and best-looking
of the doctors, and sent everyone else away. The girls had been treated for shock
and were as high as kittens. But I was the only one requiring stitches and clamps.
The doctor was going to fix me with a local anaesthetic until I explained that I was
already full of it. He had to trim the flesh and set the bones. I gripped Ina's hand.
'Endeavour, darling, endeavour!' she urged. Then she turned green and vomited all
over my junglified rugs.
The only other damage was to Sue. ils
had been asking me for years whether she should cap her front teeth. They were
black and downgraded her smile. The question was now settled because they had
vanished. She went on to become Miss England and might well have become Miss
Universe too, but the day before the competition she was knocked down by a car
and her leg was snapped in two.
The following day the authorities arrived.
I had distributed flimsy négligés for the occasion and four scantily
clad beauties faced them en bloc. The policia were helpless. I was fined
only 1,000 pesetas, about £6 then. Apart from my suicide attempts and my
heart attacks, this was I think the nearest I've come to death. The best thing to come
out of it was that I didn't have to do the cabaret in South Africa and Australia. Nor
did I see my manager again.

In the summer of 1963 Tim Willoughby called from his house in Torremolinos. il
owned a nightclub there called 'Lalli Lalli' (which he said was Polynesian for 'Penis
Penis'). His call didn't surprise me. He was a talented drifter, always popping in and
out of the blue. But he sounded in the pits of despair and asked me to accompany
him and his valet Jorgen to Tangier for a week or so.
I'd last been to Tangier with Arthur to
visit Marguerite McBey, the Red Indian princess with a huge house in London's
Holland Park which she never uses. She was the widow of James McBey whose
portraits of Allenby and Lawrence had been printed in Seven Pillars of
Wisdom. That weekend had come about as a result of Marguerite having received
a poison-pen letter from someone posing as April Ashley. Arthur was very upset
because she was an old family friend. 'Take me to see her, Arthur. I have nothing to
fear.' This was the Sarah Churchill coming out in me. Tangier had been fun. la
leadership of the English colony was being enthusiastically contested between
David Edge and David Herbert, Henry Pembroke's uncle, while Barbara Hutton
slowly shrivelled up at the top of the Casbah. We met the legendary Mr Dean in
whose bar the spies and stars had gathered during Tangierss heyday (which lasted
until 1956, when it ceased to be a free port). His real name was Donald Kimfull, I
believe, and he'd been a gigolo in London before the Great War. He was very old and
died not long afterwards. And we saw the famous dancing boys with bells on their
fingers and kohl on their eyes. They retire at fifteen and do something else, like
work in banks.
So I looked forward to a second visit. Tim
became wildly romantic on the ferry across and lifted the ban on my visiting the
family homes. We plunged straight into the Casbah and stopped at the door of an
Arab house. It was opened by Hetty-on-the-Jetty McGee who'd gone ethnic in a big
way (she had picked up her nickname, years before on the jetty of Ibiza harbour
where it was her living to concoct mammoth cauldrons of stew and sell it for 25
pesetas a bowl).
The house was typically Moroccan,
inward-looking, a large room on each floor. Tim's depression returned; lui et
Jorgen sat all day long on cushions listening to tinny Moroccan pop music on the
radio and smoking hashish. They gave me some and I was sick. As a child Father had
caught me with a cigarette and forced me to finish the whole packet, creating an
aversion which has endured. However, I have since learned to accommodate myself
to a little hashish.
The days passed, Hetty kept us fat with
her cooking, but there were no visitors. We didn't go out at all and I was bored,
bored, bored. So I decided not to stay on. Tim saw me off in a daze and said he was
planning to visit Corsica and would I go with him? It was left that he would collect
me on his return through Spain to France.
But he didn't. I have no idea what his
subsequent movements were. Some weeks later, in the middle of August, I heard
that he was missing. Apparently he'd been drinking in Cap Ferrat with a chum
called Bill and against advice decided to put out for Corsica in bad weather in a small
motorboat. Bill was a sailor but they never arrived. No trace of either of them was
found. The speculation in Marbella was that Tim had arranged his own
disappearance and dropped out to Tahiti. He'd visited it during the filming of
Mutiny On The Bounty and often said how he wanted to buy an island in the
South Pacific and populate it with his offspring. Tim's adored sister Jane hired a
plane and spent days flying low over the area. Nothing.

He'd simply vanished.
It was a bizarre and tragic end to a
dynamic personality. Tim could be very haughty at times – what he called the
'Nancy' coming out in him because Nancy Astor was his maternal grandmother. But
his loss was keenly felt by all sorts of people everywhere. The absolute lack of
physical remains must have been doubly distressing to his family, who were
plagued by sightings of Tim for years afterwards. And now there was no heir to the
£15 million Ancaster heritage. Jane has never married and shows no
likelihood of doing so. Tim's father has therefore founded a multi-million pound
trust to maintain Grimsthorpe and Drummond Castle for the general public. On his
death Jane will inherit the Willoughby de Eresby title, which dates from 1313, and
with her it will die.

Around the time of Tim's exit from this life, Alfonse Hohenlohe disappeared with
his two sons, Christoff and Hubertus. He'd been fighting Ira for custody and lifted
them from a yacht she was staying on. And then the Profumo scandal had broken.
I'd been spotted in Madrid with Noyes Thomas and Kim Proctor, the third Profumo
girl. The press laid siege to the Villa Antoinette in pursuit of any details of these
three stories. I was even thought to have harboured Christine Keeler when she
vanished somewhere along the Costa del Sol. Day and night, reporters would pop up
from behind bushes when I least expected it and start ranting at me.
So when I was woken up one night by a
rumpus in the garden I was inclined to dismiss it as journalism. But the clock said 4
a.m., a time when any self-respecting reporter is tucked up in bed in a drunken
stupor. I thought, 'So it must be the gypsies.' They migrated through Marbella to the
Romany gathering in the caves of Granada and at night often stole the undies from
my line as they passed through, if Carmen forgot to bring them in. Then I made out
singing voices. 'I've got a dog, his name is Blue.' Peter and Omar, at the time
unquestionably the world's two most beautiful men, had come to stay.
Peter and I often slept together on these
occasions, on the divan in the sitting-room in front of the log fire, chastely. il
didn't like my bedrooms. He had his quirks. He didn't like daylight much. He loathed
sunlight and writhed out of chairs whenever it struck him. Apart from his face,
neck and forearms, which were deeply tanned from filming, he was a deathly
colour. His flesh looked blue with cold, like an emaciated El Greco. Another thing he
didn't like – there was such a list of them – was the sight of blood, so I was seconded
into taking his father to the bullfight in Málaga. Blood I knew about.
Sian Phillips, Peter's wife and pretty
emaciated herself, came over to the house with their daughter Katie on the girl's
second birthday. Sian spent most of the time on the floor to ease her back. She knew
of my association with Peter but wasn't disturbed by it. Nor had she any reason to
be.

With Omar, however, there is a little
carnal knowledge to report. At lunch á deux he mentioned the word 'desire'.
When Omar raises the subject of desire it's not like the price of eggs or the
Tasmanian Situation. It's like a meat hook which catches you under the ribs and
curves up into the brain, causing wild haemorrhages of the imagination and acute
fluctuations of body temperature. The air about us took on a pinkish hue in which
sparks and fireflies danced. A tingling sensation, like an electric centipede,
crawled up my right arm, across my shoulders, and down the left arm. un
understanding had taken place.
That night I waited in front of the fire
for Peter to pass out. He seemed to take for ever. Finally he slumped and I tiptoed
away, opened Omar's bedroom door, and discerned immediately his eyes because
they were much much blacker than the surrounding darkness which he thereby,
in contrast, caused to be pervaded by a sultry light. In due course this light enabled
me to make out his body which lay like a massive stain on the bed.
Omar lived up to all my exotic
expectations. I hope I lived up to some of his. To my very great surprise I later
discovered that he knew nothing of my sex-change. Peter hadn't bothered to
mention it! After our brief encounter, with my head resting on his damp brown
chest, we chatted until the sun came up and then I crept back to Peter. As I slipped
between the sheets and lay back feeling pleased with myself, Peter stirred. 'Traitor,'
he said and we fell asleep laughing. Before we leave them, I must say that, with all
the alcohol, I never understood how Peter could make it to work, but he always did.
It was an endless fascination to his colleagues that he never once forgot his lines.
Maybe this love of drink explains why Peter is best in feverish roles.
Inspired by their company, I decided to
become an actress and lent the villa to Lionel Bart and Lionel Blair for a month
while I stayed in London with Caroline Stocker (an out-and-out English rose with a
smart languid style, she and Michael Stocker had spent their honeymoon with me).
Sarah Churchill had introduced me to the actress Ellen Pollock, who agreed to
prepare me for an audition at the Webber-Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art. Her
husband, the painter James Proudfoot, gave me his portrait of the young Peter
Ustinov which I still possess – for years it was hung in the spare bedroom and was
the first thing guests saw on waking, but there were so many complaints that it has
now been supplanted by an Augustus John portrait, 'Young Viva King Naked and
Masturbating', which Viva herself left me in her will.
I also made contact with Signon. ils
tried to help but eventually had to explain, in the nicest possible way, that people
thought me too weird. Signon herself came to an unfortunate end. She fell heavily
in love with Barbara Back's son Patrick. Barbara was set against it and Patrick
wasn't over the moon either, so Signon finished her life off with the bottle.
At my audition I did two pieces, Lady
Macbeth's 'Unsex me here…' and a snatch from The Seagull. They stopped me
halfway through and said they'd let me know. I got the message and flew back to Mr
Blue, the club, Sarah and Henry, the villa full of flowers, and of course Arthur,
beaming with a present. He was always buying me bits. This time it was pearl
earrings, very pretty actually. But I use to get so mad with him. 'For God's sake,
Arthur, stop buying me these scraps! Wait until Christmas and buy me something
really big.' I also had visions of breeding and to this end had a bitch puppy
(Zoë) flown out for Mr Blue from his old kennels.

The visions didn't last long because
while I was in Madrid doing another season for Rango, Arthur telephoned to
inform me that Zoë had been shot dead by a shepherd on La Concha. And sadder still
– Henry Audley had died from a cerebral haemorrhage at the Alhambra Palace in
Granada in the middle of a motoring tour with Sarah. He always said that his time
with Sarah was by far the happiest and most exciting of his life.
It was in Madrid that I became friendly
with Simon Munro-Kerr, great-grandson of the Father of Gynaecology. The first
night, Simon, I couldn't believe a man could be so golden, so handsome…we made
love violently. Then we picked up a friend of his and drove to the feria in
Seville. Such noise, so many people showing off on horseback. The Duchess of Alba
sped from palace to bullring to palace in her landau pulled by six Arab greys.
Ahead, attached to the leading pair by only a slender cord tied to his mane, ran a
naked white stallion. The Duchess was the prima donna of the season and very
uncomfortable she looked too.
Back in Marbella, Arthur was going
through a bad spell, threatening to drown himself At such times he would hand
over to me his keys and his will. One morning he appeared with these at my
bedroom window.
'Arthur, if you are going to put an end
to yourself, why are you carrying a weekend case?'

Sarah showed up with him a few hours
später. She'd found him wandering along the Gibraltar road looking wretched. Je
shouted, 'If want to go down to the sea and submerge yourself, as you keep saying,
then just go there and walk in! The Mediterranean can handle it, it's full of trash.'
Then I brewed some tea, returned the keys and will, and the incident was buried.
But Sarah was angry with me. She thought I was being cruel, so I went to a drawer
and produced several suicide notes which I had kept instead of throwing them on
the fire as they deserved. She was sensitive on the subject of suicide. That year,
1963, her sister Diana had killed herself, unable to cope with the disintegration of
her twenty-five year marriage to Duncan Sandys.
It was all too much. I jumped into a taxi
and yelled 'Madrid!' The driver was struck dumb. A thirteen-hour fare. My longest-
ever taxi ride. Quite accidentally I bumped into Simon in the Calle San Geronimo and
went off with him to another feria, this time at Pamplona, the Basque capital.
None of us had ever been to the Pamplona feria before. Hemingway made it
notorious in The Sun Also Rises. It has been called the last Bacchic orgy in
Europe. The town was awash with liquor, and of course there was nowhere to stay.
Simon found a closet in a back street that cost galore.
After the first day I hardly dared go out.
Foul-breathed men kept lurching into me with '¡Que guapa!!' qui
means 'What a beauty!' but sounded revolting. To find a whole town behaving like
one did oneself at one's worst was a most unattractive experience. I hit the bottle
directly, then scrambled back to Marbella. We didn't even see the famous bull-run
through the streets.

Spain was getting jagged. I was going from pillar to post and fast. So when Arthur
caught me in a particularly gregarious mood over dinner at the Marbella Club and
asked me to name a date for the marriage, I agreed. 10 September 1963.
A newspaper-created meeting with mother after
announcement of engagemment to Arthur Corbett

      Soon it was across the English papers.
The telephone at the Jacaranda hopped up and down twenty-four hours a day. M.
Rowallan wrote from hospital, where he was having treatment for throat cancer,
and pleaded with Arthur to come to his senses. Bobby Corbett sent a wire:
Congratulations – can I be bridesmaid? All my friends were disgusted with me.
They knew I didn't love Arthur and saw it as a cold act of self-advancement. Peter
Townend thought it a farce. Sarah didn't mention it at all. Arthur and I fought as
usual. Right up to the day itself I wanted to back out but lacked the decisiveness.
And what was the legal position? My birth certificate had not been altered. Arthur's
lawyer in Gibraltar said that my passport was sufficient for a licence.
The morning of the 10th my nerves
were at their worst, spitting like bacon fat, while my head swam and I fought
against attacks of breathlessness. On top of it all had descended influenza. We were
so late in getting to the Register Office in Gibraltar that the registrar had given up
and gone to lunch. Evelyn Locke, Nicolette Meirs, and Bill and Doreen Godwin (who
were killed in a car crash soon after) were the witnesses and we all drank whisky
until the registrar came back. I went through the ceremony anaesthetised. Coming
out of the building with sneezes and hiccups, I was amazed by the size of the crowd
which had gathered. Sarah, who'd been married by the same man in the same place,
warned me that this tended to happen, Gibraltar being so small and having a very
efficient bush telegraph. As if by second nature, I started to give royal waves, the
white glove fluttering like a bird then going up and down on a pivot. We went
straight back to Marbella and I was feeling so foul I went straight to bed. la
reception at the Jacaranda for which invitations had been printed had to be
cancelled.
With Arthur Corbett in the pool at Finca el
Capricho, Marbella, 1961

      Arthur and I had one wedding present.
It was from Maxine Baird, an Australian/American friend of his from Scotland. ils
had been a famous New York beauty and had married Robert Baird of Lennoxlove
Castle before the war. But East Lothian drove her ever more to the drink. She used to
hide bottles of gin in the suits of armour. She and Robert were divorced in 1960.
When later I met her in London she was living with the Earl Sondes at Lees Court in
Kent. Life seemed to be looking up for her. She would show all comers a picture of
herself with Princess Margaret at a fling in the West Indies. It was her hobby to
cover herself in diamonds, approach one of the big London estate agents, and view
property in the Rolls-Royce they would lay on, believing her to be a rich customer.
Since it was never Maxine's intention to buy anything, she would always choose the
most opulent mansions where her imagination could wander until tea-time. But the
Earl Sondes's son disliked her. 'Maxine,' I would say, 'surely you realise that the first
thing one does is enchant the children.' But after the death of Sondes the new earl
had no time for her and she died in alcoholic confusion. She was always
threatening suicide. I remember getting an emergency phone call from her and
dashing across Marbella to the Apartimentos Fuerte. When I arrived she was in the
ground-floor bar drinking, flirting with the barman. 'April, you mustn't believe all
you hear on the telephone,' she said. Her present was for Arthur really, matching
cigarette-box, lighter and ashtray.
Now Arthur moved into the Villa
Antoinette, which development gave me the creeps. Despite all the peculiarity, I
was under the Impression that four things had been fully understood: I should not stay on in Marbella, which for me had become like living in a glass
coffin. I should commute to Spain from London and Arthur would do the
reverse.
We should adopt children.
He would grant me an allowance of £2,000 per annum.
He would be fitted with a new set of false teeth. The ones he had were old and
green and he had a maddening habit of sucking on them to keep them in because
his gums had shrunk.

The first understanding I now put into practice. I flew to London and stayed with
the Stockers until I'd found a super flat in Cheyne Walk. Arthur wrote several times
a week: Poor Sarah is in dire trouble again but I haven't seen any mention of it
in the English papers. She has been fined 1000 pesetas and recommended by the
Governor for deportation from Spain for being 'drunk and disorderly' in Malaga
and also because she nearly killed two workmen who were on top of a wall she
knocked down with her car!
Arthur decided to sell the club after an
impressive offer from the developers (the site is now occupied by the Apartimentos
Jacaranda). He wrote in October: Well, this is it, the last day of the Jacaranda!
What a life it has been for me here and how much I have loved it and hated it,
cursed it and thanked God for it!
Carmen came to London with Arthur at
the end of the month. Belatedly we exchanged wedding gifts. From him an oyster
mink coat. From me gold cufflinks set with pearls. But our relationship nose-dived.
Love-making was not a success. For three years Arthur had been gearing himself
up for the great moment and his fantasy collapsed in bed. Then everything else
began to turn into thin air. It was nobody's fault. Just the truth at last. After a week
of shilly-shallying Arthur left for Spain and I moved on to a flat in Lennox Gardens
where I was burgled of my jewellery.
In December Carmen and I flew over.
Her father was ill and I had promised to spend Christmas with Arthur. With no
club to go to he was smoking more than ever. Rogelia and Pepe had been thrown
out of their farmhouse by the owners and were living in a wooden ranch-house
with rain pouring through the roof (Pepe eventually surmounted his problems
and became the local Chief of Police). Bickering broke out between Arthur and
myself. Recriminations followed. Suddenly his spine stiffened, he petulantly
crossed his legs, the cigarette shot up his fingertips…This time something
detached itself and fell away inside me. I told Carmen to pack my a bags and call a
cab. At the airport I waited all day long for an empty seat to London. I had plenty
of time to think. It was dark, wet and freezing cold when I fell into Lennox
Gardens. I sat down and wrote to him:
A letter from me. A none too happy one, I'm afraid. I have thought and thought,
not slept for days. But from all the pain and torture in my mind, I see one thing
very very clearly. That is, I will not be coming back to you. I don't know what I
will do, I don't know how I will live. But I know I won't be back…
I am paying dearly for my sin of
marrying you. The worry and the anguish I have felt in the past three years is
making me ill. So the only thing I can do is try to cut you out of my life
completely. Then all I have are my earthly problems. A job, a less expensive
place to live. Arthur, don't think I expect money from you. I don't. Because I
know I should never have married you…
It's so funny but I felt so much more
(although I never really did) secure before I married you than I did after. Then
you denying what you had promised made me feel so sick in the stomach, I could
never have stood myself, let alone you, afterwards. Then I seem to remember you
trying to convince me of other lies of yours in the past. I don't want to sound
bitter, but I suppose I am a little. At the moment my life seems a wreck all over
again. I hope this time I have a little more strength…
I hope you sell your land. In brief,
Arthur, I hope one day you find happiness. Although my heart is breaking I
think you had better have Mr Blue. Give my kindest thoughts to Rogelia and Pepe
and José-Luis.

God bless you,

avril

Isn't it strange? Marriage, I mean. This locking up of people in pairs, this
elimination of individuality. Presumably it has evolved as a way of preventing the
community from being overrun by unwanted children; but also as a method of
organising the compulsion for the nourishment of an adjacent soul, the yearning
for a sense of belonging to the heaving mass of humanity at its fundamental level.
Is this what marriage, is about? If so, it's a very haphazard way of going about it.
People marry for so many different reasons and the more they've seen of life the
more ad hoc their reasons become. Yet nearly always the reasons centre on
the fight against loneliness, the fact that life acquires meaning only in its
relationships, however awkward, transient or intolerable these may be.
So in theory, in my romantic theory,
marriage seemed a desirable state because it fixed you in the fellowship of the
world. It was also one of the accoutrements of womanhood at that time. Und ein
marriage of companionship to an older man is still something I should like to
Erwägen. But as far as fellowship of the world is concerned – I should have known
better. Marriage is no short cut to that. You acquire such fellowship the day you are
born, no matter how often the world appears to drive you into a corner where you
ache and weep alone.

I've had more than my share of
ostracism and ridicule, more than the usual inducement to imagine that God has
singled me out for the special horrors. Each time an obstacle presents itself you
must steel yourself, harden, toughen, in order to endure it. But endurance is a
passive virtue, though not a meagre one. And obstacles have to be overcome, not
merely endured. And in order to overcome, you must extend yourself. C'est
necessary to cultivate a certain ruthlessness, a certain rigour with regard to
yourself as well as to others. And when the obstacle has been negotiated, it is
equally important to allow yourself to soften again. This is possible, because
through the exertion you will have discovered unexpected strengths in yourself
and therefore have a little more confidence.
This process of toughening, extending,
softening is inner growth. It may not enlarge your wisdom but it does enlarge
capacity – and capacity is a kind of wisdom. The softening is vital. If you do not
soften you will come to find the world a cold and malevolent place, with yourself
the coldest thing in it. And experience will turn you into a coward or a bully.
Cowards and bullies have an identical view of life as an arena filled with threat.
Always to be on your guard against attack does not make for a lovely existence.
The world has slapped me in the face so
many times – and I say this not out of self-pity but purely by way of observation –
that sometimes I find I have to toughen then soften very rapidly, an accelerated
procedure which has contributed to the apparent volatility of my behaviour. Je
think I can explain it by saying that whereas I'm determined not to take these slaps
lying down, I am just as determined not to become an embittered old bat.
Also, I'm a natural optimist, I have a
terrific zest for life that frightens even me sometimes. And perhaps suffering is
the consequence of this. It doesn't have to be, but usually it is. The more roads you
cross, the greater the risk of being hit by cars.
Being single can be such a
responsibility day after day, year after year. People imagine that to be single and
childless is to be free and unaccountable. Superficially this is true. But it is also
another test of endurance, not so much of loneliness, since marriage itself can
raise loneliness to harrowing levels in much the same way as the crowded
environment of a city can. The test of endurance comes about because as a single
person you always have to bear the full weight of your own existence, can never
relax into the abiding presence of another, or allow your identity to lighten and
blur through the sharing of it.
The burden of individuality for single
people is exhausting. It requires you to employ stratagems and draw on reserves of
energy you never thought you had. As a result single people are exceptionally
strong and to choose the unmarried life can give a person great power. To be
lumbered with it however can be painful.
With me loneliness was never an acute
problem. I'm never bored when I'm present. I like my own company and indeed
seek it out. It helps maintain my orientation. Some people become very jittery when
left to their own devices. Sarah Churchill was rather like this, always needing the
proximity of a male, although she was too much of an individual ever to find
marriage an easy ride. So was Arthur in the end. A genuine eccentric he turned out
to be. Looking back, I cannot see how on earth he and I could ever have made a go
of it or how we ever imagined we could. All told, we spent no more than fourteen
days together as man and wife.
While sweating it out in that bed in
Casablanca, I was convinced that after the operation life could only be a shower of
diamonds and almond blossom. But isn't it maddening? You move one mountain only
to find yourself at the foot of another. Maybe some don't live like this, maybe for
some life is just a frolic among molehills, but I always seem to pass from crisis to
crisis. What made me able to survive these abrupt switches of fortune (although
finally the emotional strain did get to me and I was very ill) was an underlying
wonderment at my own transformation. No worldly distemper could obliterate my
sense of the mysterious alchemical nature of the world, its ravishing possibilities,
the chances for turning an idea into a fact.

Whenever I looked at myself in the
mirror it was not in self-admiration or self-congratulation but in disbelief. Yes, I
looked beautiful. I was told this so many times that it ceased to affect me. This is not
quite the same as saying it was unimportant. One may cease to be sensitive to such
flattery only to find oneself sensitive to the absence of it. Many people, including
Viva, felt that my chief weakness was an excessive pride in my looks and Viva said
so in her autobiography, The Weeping and the Laughter. If it is true, I have
always felt to be a relatively ludicrous failing, comparable to eating too many
chocolates.
The great gift is to feel beautiful.
I never felt beautiful before the operation. And after it? Hardly a day passes
without my being astonished and exalted by what was possible for me. I resist the
temptation to thank God, just as I resisted the temptation to deify Dr Burou (too
many sex-changes develop God-fixations on their surgeon). None the less, the fact
of my transformation is a continuing source of strength.
I am letting my thoughts circulate around
these subjects because I am about to take off again, and I wanted a breather before I
do – as I'm sure you did. Feeling cooler now? Have you poured yourself a little
something? Right, let's go.

Arthur's reply to my letter told me to stop being silly and return to be his wife. elle
suggested that he understood little about himself and nothing about me. During
those long first nights at Lennox Gardens I developed a habit of ringing the Caprice
at one in the morning and asking them to send round two-dozen oysters in a taxi.
They arrived on a silver platter covered with wedges of lemon and one of the things
that dawned on me as they slid down my throat was that I should have to develop
less expensive tastes and find a cheaper place to live.
While in Spain I had become friends
with a girl called Cecilia Johnson. She had been born in Shanghai and during the
Second World War she had been interned there with her family in a concentration
camp. This had permanently damaged her health, she was prone to internal
haemorrhages, but she looked like Elizabeth Taylor and was very brainy too. Cecilia
needed a flat-mate and I put myself forward. She told me years later that she wasn't
at all happy at the prospect because when she and her boyfriend Peter West had
first met me in Seville she'd assumed I was a raging lesbian.

The flat was small, in the basement of a
house in Shawfield Street, off Chelsea's King's Road, owned by a Mrs Guppy whose
son Nicholas was married to the Persian singer Shusha. Mrs Guppy had a high
trilling voice and wore twin-sets. Every Wednesday Cecilia and I took tea with her
and her sister upstairs, salmon-paste sandwiches and angel cake, and we'd come out
of the parlour bloated and feeling dreadfully guilty because we were both fighting
the flab.
And the reason we were fighting the
flab was that we were always being taken out to dinner. Cecilia and I got on
frightfully well with each other and had turned into a couple of playgirls. Je
shouldn't want to speak for Cecilia on this (although she did say Oliver Reed was a
wonderful lover) but I certainly found myself being extremely promiscuous. Cecilia
loved gambling, I loved clubbing, and we both loved parties. While she was seeing
Anthony Haden-Guest, I had a crush on Sir Peter Osborne, Jenny Little's brother; si
much so that I used to drag myself out of bed at the dot of dawn in order to go riding
with him in Richmond Park: the closest we came to congress. I don't jump but I do
ride quite well. All the same, one morning I was badly thrown. As I flew through
the air I stretched my hands out in front of me to break the fall. Ten very long
fingernails went driving into the ground like stakes and then they all broke
off.
'Peter darling, I know you're not as
mad about me as I am about you, and all this getting up at 6a.m. and now I've lost all
my fingernails, well, shall we call it a day?'
For a rest I would go to Wips, Tim's old
club at the top of Charles House in Leicester Place. Its best feature was a veranda
running all the way round, overlooking London. It was very quiet there after he
died, a ghost club, and I'd feed strips of my steak to a tank of piranha fish and think
of Tim.
I met two couples at this time who were
to be important to me. First – Denny Daviss and AI Mancini at the Establishment
Club. Denny was the daughter of a South African shipping magnate and was an
opera singer, golden-haired, a cornucopia of Rubens curves, large breasts and wide
hips, a tiny waist, long elegant legs. Second – Carol Coombe, who had divorced
Ronald Armstrong-Jones and married Pepe Lopez, an Italian lawyer. Carol and Pepe
divided their time between London and Italy.
Cecilia and I had been putting
ourselves about so much that we decide to call a halt in order to analyse the
situation. Not only were we getting fat, we also concluded that we had become
wastrels, flibbertigibbets, we were not Real People. Men we were using as meal
tickets and so we decided to ditch them. Instead of saying yes to any man who
phoned, we agreed to accept the invitation only if we genuinely liked him. Aber in
our current mood we didn't like any of them and after you say no for the third time
a man stops ringing. We ended up sitting it out in the local, the Chelsea Potter,
which Cecilia hated. She didn't like pubs at all because she didn't have the art of
tittle-tattle and was accustomed to arranged meetings during which she would be
able to thrash out her various hobby-horses. Eventually the phone stopped ringing
altogether. We rented a television to occupy our evenings. Now I became hooked on
TV, which has been a companion and tranquilliser ever since. But TV or the Chelsea
Potter – it was hardly grabbing life by the horns. It was so boring that when at long
last the phone did ring we made a lunge for it. It was a man whom we both
loathed, a right gawky groper, but we'd landed ourselves in such a cul-de-sac
that we said, 'Oh yes please, we'd love to go out.' Which was the end of our trying to
be Real People.
Ina had finally completed her sex-
change at the Charing Cross Hospital and as a present I decided to take her to Jersey
for a week. I was still fighting the flab, and Ina was no string bean, so we hired
bicycles to transport ourselves round the island. On the second day we were
pedalling down a steep hill towards Gorey Castle when Ina slipped and fell heavily
on the cross-bar. She seemed to have hurt herself so we dumped the bikes and
cabbed it back to the hotel for an inspection. Her twat had ballooned. She looked
like an orang-utan on heat. We phoned the gynaecologist in London who told her to
go to the nearest doctor right away, but she refused.

'Don't be silly, Ina. -It's probably
nothing serious but it might be. And they'd love to see a sex-change. I bet you'd be
the first in Jersey.'
But she wouldn't and insisted on flying
back the same day to her doctor in London. I was furious with her for being so
sensitive. I always feel that if you've had this operation you should try to be, as far
as the outside world is concerned, as down-to-earth about it as possible. If one wants
the world to treat one matter-of-factly, one must start by treating oneself in this
way – which means getting in the queue with the in-growing toenails and the
alopecia and the haemorrhoids.
I stayed on at the hotel and went to the
pictures. Coming out I heard a call: 'Hey, April, what are you doing here?'
It was Joey and Eunice, dammit.
All the old cogs and flywheels flew into
top gear. When had I last seen him? Four years before? Eunice looked the same,
Joey if anything fresher and more boyish but the seaside usually does that to men.
They invited me out to dinner. There was a wide chasm between us but of course
underneath none at all. Which level should one play? Eunice looked equally
uncertain. Joey of course loved to he the centre of other people's emotions, he
positively crackled. And when Eunice went to the Ladies, he said, 'I'm thinking of
taking off for Canada. I'm at the boatyard again. I virtually run the place. Ich möchte
open my own. How about coming with me?'
'Oh Joey, don't start, please.
'I'm serious.'
'You're never serious.'

'You're wrong. It's just that I can't be
serious about staying in one place for ever and doing the washing-up.
'Then you'd find me too possessive.'
'You're not really, you know. You like
to think you are but you're not really. Only when it suits you. You're like me, you
like to take off at a moment's notice, without a second thought.'
'That isn't true!'
We weren't exactly seeing eye to eye.
He came to the hotel. He was very firm and very vigorous, warm, simply and
completely male. The London playboys were never like this.
On Monday I went to the boatyard
where he was working. 'I've come to say good-bye. I'm flying to England. The taxi's
outside. Don't stop me.'
He followed me to the airport in a second
cab. Eunice – I don't know how she found out – followed him in a third. I flew
through the checkpoint, turned and blew him a kiss. He stood there with a strange
expression, a mixture of impetuosity and bewilderment, with his hair in his eyes.

Maggie, Countess of Kimberley, said, 'Molly Neville and I are starting up a model
agency. Will you come on to our books?'

'Honestly, Maggie, I don't think there's
any point.'
'We disagree. It's been years since the
story broke. And now you've got this Honourable bit. We'll get you heaps of
work.'
However, there was no reaction at all. ich
answered a newspaper advertisement placed by Simpson's of Piccadilly. 'Wanted: to
sell men's ties, a girl with personality.' That was me. Back came the letter: We
regret to inform you that the post has already been filled… This happened with
Fortnum & Mason, Harrods, Harvey Nichols. I suppose it was understandable.
You don't want a celebrity selling ties. It causes disturbances. The ties don't flow
smoothly over the counter. You see, I was terribly well-known, my picture was
always popping up in the papers. It's fun at first and can even be beneficial if
you're an actor. But when you don't have a profession it is a great discouragement
to prospective employers.
My only job at this time came about
through Sarah who put me up for the position of Assistant Stage Manager in a
revival of Fata Morgana at the Ashcroft Theatre, Croydon, in April 1964. The
play is about a femme fatale (Sarah of course) who seduces a young man
(David Hemmings before Blow-Up) on a hot Hungarian plain famous for its
mirages. David was half-naked most of the time and when he wasn't rehearsing he
played the guitar and wrote verses. Such a poetical young man.

Sarah said, 'We'll try to keep you
anonymous, tone down the slap keep it low. I'll introduce you as Jane (as in Plain)
Spencer (as in Churchill) and I'm sure there'll be no problems.'
On the first day of rehearsals David
Hemmings came bowling through the door and said, 'Christ, April, you were pissed
last night.'
'Was I? Where?'
'At the Establishment.'
'Extraordinary, I don't remember being
there at all, I mean, no, my name's Jane Spencer.' But it was no good.
Ellen Pollock directed it – she often
came to Shawfield Street and had palpitations watching the Saturday-afternoon
wrestling on television. Also in the cast were Tony Singleton, Edina Ronay (Egon
Ronay's daughter who was living with Michael Caine), and a beautiful young
actress called Lyn Ashcroft. She was being tipped for stardom but alas had a tragic
disease which was eating away the bones in her neck. Eventually her head
collapsed on to her shoulders and she died in her early twenties. We rehearsed in
Soho and my job was to dish out coffee, take people for lines, tidy up, brush their
wigs …
Sir Winston and Lady Churchill came
for the last matinee. They sat in the front row flanked by detectives and the press,
accompanied by their grand-daughter Edwina Dixon and her husband Piers. Each
time Sarah had an exit one could hear Sir Winston's voice booming, 'Where's she
gone? What's Sarah up to now? Why has she walked off?' Or if an episode took his
fancy, 'That was a jolly amusing bit, yes, very good.' The audience waited for his
remarks.
After the show he came on to the stage.
Sarah had put a table and chairs there, a large glass of his favourite brandy and a
fat cigar, and everyone was presented. It was too much for me, I ran and hid, but
Sarah pulled me out. Then as Churchill got up to leave, the two bodyguards went to
support him under each arm, but he pushed them away, and this vast, grandiose
accumulation of history, this ancient and overpowering spherical presence alone
in his magnitude and about whom hung a delicate bluish mist of sadness, or maybe
it was just solitariness, shuffled out on a stick, leaving behind an equally vast hole
which we quickly – desperately – filled with trivialities. He died the following
year.

When a protégé of
Francis Bacon's, a New Zealander called Peter, invited me to spend a week in his
studio in Positano I accepted. Bacon I had first met with Tim Willoughby at Muriel
Belcher's Colony Room Club in Dean Street, lair of bohemian alcoholics (Muriel's
mouth was so obscene that every time I think of her I want to give up swearing;
Francis has painted her in full screech). Bacon had a boyishly good-looking face
topped by short dark curls. If he'd been shot through gauze he'd have looked
eighteen, but shot through reality his features were already blitzed by the booze.
My first impression was that he was drunk and it has been my first impression of
him every time since.
Anyway, five weeks later I was still in
Positano. It is built vertically on to a cliff face. You have to walk up and down
everywhere. The whole town is permanently purple-faced. Peter's friends were an
arty lot but fortunately included Jessica Mason, whose husband had written The
World of Suzy Wong. Jessica had no ankles. Her feet were stuck straight on to the
ends of her legs, but from the knees up she was exactly like Joyce Grenfell.
On the beach was an open-air
nightclub full of stone lions. Everyone seemed to have boyfriends except me. Then I
spotted a prospect. Dark-blue eyes, fair wavy hair, a pink mouth made for peaches,
teeth like glory.
He said, 'Will you dance?' I shook my
gaudy earrings and joined him. We stopped in the middle of our Mashed Potato. Je
said the first thing that came into my head: 'What's your name.
'Niccolo.'
'And what do you do?'

'I'm a gigolo.'
'How much do you charge?'
'Depends.'
'Come and have a drink.'
'April, how could you?' murmuré
Peter; 'he's a gigolo.'
'I know – isn't it fun?'
After a few drinks I said, 'Niccolo, can I
hire you for the night?'
'For you a special rate. Nothing.'

'Done!'
He came from Naples – quite a lot of
Neapolitans are blond. He wanted me to meet his family, so I hired a car and we
drove there. Papa was a doctor and I felt that Niccolo's being a gigolo was not from
necessity but a delicious wantonness. We dined with the Baron de la Tour in the
Baron's labyrinthine palace overlooking the Bay of Naples. The three of us sat at
one end of a long banqueting table in deep candlelit silence made more sombre still
by the sound of gold cutlery on porcelain plates. A butler and footmen served us in
white gloves under a painted ceiling. The Baron was very young and very weary,
with heavy parchment-coloured eyelids which were usually lowered. Occasionally
he drew them up with an unsteady deliberation which seemed to enlist all his
strength, so that when fully opened his eyes shone for a moment or two with a
tremulous intensity until the effort became too great and the eyelids fluttered and
fell to their original position. 'I am all alone in this big palace and I'm very lonely
too,' he said in English and plucked a small bunch of grapes and turned them in the
candlelight. So far as I remember, he didn't speak again that evening.
Naples is a city of extremes, all squalor
and glamour. You tingle on a knife-edge as if anything could happen at any time.
The Neapolitans cannot resist a beautiful woman. They fall apart at the seams, they
become like children, they sigh and they swoon. In the streets they shout and
whistle – you turn round – they melt, sink to their knees and start singing. Naples is
so romantic it is unreal. But I had to return to London. Niccolo begged me to take
him with me because Naples was unreal for him too. London was where things were
happening. But I couldn't afford him.
Back in Shawfield Street I said to Cecilia,
'I've made a few discoveries while I've been away. The Italian fashion industry is
booming. There's this place in Rome called Cinecittà where they make films – that's
booming too. I'll never get any work in London and I've got to keep trying, haven't
I? Well, I've done Paris, London, Madrid … perhaps I'll click in Rome.'

The Hotel d'Inghilterra off the Via Condotti, which Jessica Mason had recommended,
is in a part of Rome packed with palaces where only by walking through the gates
do you discover the fountains and noble courtyards.
I arrived with a long string of luggage
and several candy-striped hatboxes, so the hotel treated me well. The Italians go for
display. Unlike the English who delight in hiding wealth and distinction under an
old darned pullover, the Italians like to give it all out in the first act. They lack
mystery but their freedom of emotion makes short work of diffidence, as so many
English men and women have discovered. A Roman holiday is the finest cure I
know for a tight arse.
The first night, I couldn't wait, I felt
the city's invitation pouring through the windows, and walked along to the Spanish
Steps. I had no idea about Roman men but I knew where I wanted to go – Piazza di
Spagna, Piazza del Populo, Piazza Navona, all those piazzas. I walked along the Via
Sistina, where I began to feel somewhat harassed. It is a narrow street lined with
tarts and the men were impinging horribly. So I hopped into a cab and said,
'Trastevere, per favore.' Trastevere is the equivalent of Paris's Left Bank
except that it's got the Vatican City too. Deciding to fall in love with the Piazza Santa
Maria I sat down at a cafe in it and ate a seafood supper alfresco. I'd hardly dug in
my fork when the ragazzi began to hover round. I thought that if this was
how it was to be, I might as well go the whole hog and see what all this dolce
vita was about up on the Via Veneto. Ever since 1959 Fellini's film had been a
byword for all that was most interesting in the Latin temperament.

Outside the Café de Paris on the
Veneto, sipping an Irish coffee chased by a bottle of Guinness, I did my best to be
grand but it was hopeless, it was like trying to fight off the weather, so I went back
to bed to rethink how a lady does Rome on foot.
Next morning I telephoned Jessica and
she said, 'Come over and meet Ginny Campbell-Becker, the puppeteer.' These were
the sort of people one would meet. Another was Jill St Amant, who married a painter
in the Campidoglio and asked me to be matron of honour. She was a fast girl and
when her mother arrived in Rome for the wedding she said, 'Jill, don't tell me –
what weirdoes are coming to the wedding?'
'Well, Mummy, the only well-known
one is April Ashley.'
'Oh dear, she's got such large
hands.'
And when I met the mother she said to
me, 'I've read in the newspaper that you have huge hands – where are they?'
Jill had warned me and I'd worn white
gloves to make them look as large as possible.
'But they aren't huge,' she said; 'why
did they describe them as huge?'
My hands aren't petite but they're no
larger than many other womens'. If you are a sex-change this is the sort of thing
you must go through at least five times a week. And even if people don't say it, you
know they're thinking it. It is one of the main bores, constantly to be the object of
scrutiny for the tell-tale signs. It can make you awfully self-conscious if you don't
hit it on the head. What might, for example, be a perfectly normal fluffiness on the
face of an ordinary woman suddenly becomes, in the case of oneself, the revelation
of a morbid fact. It is very annoying and some sex-changes try to overcome it by
turning themselves into parodies of femininity which of course makes their
predicament worse. One can only be oneself and try to bear in mind that men and
women have far more in common with each other than otherwise. When not long
ago a television company came to my house in Hay-on-Wye to film me for a
documentary on transsexuals, they said, 'Just go about your normal business and
we'll film you.'

'Well, I'm going to mow the lawn
now.'
'Oh. Can't you do something more
feminine like wash the pots?'
'But I don't wash the pots. I hate
washing pots. I get someone else to wash the pots. I'm going to mow the lawn.'
'Like that?'
'Like what?'
'In jeans? Couldn't you wear a dress or
something?'
'But I don't wear a dress to mow the
lawn. It's a crazy idea. I wear jeans and Wellington boots to do that. Now get your
cameras ready. We can do the glamorous bit afterwards if you like. Rut if you want
to film me going about my normal day then I'm afraid it's mowing the lawn in jeans
and boots.'
You see, although they were supposed
to be researching a documentary, they had all these preconceived ideas which they
wanted me to exemplify. Sex-changes, like everyone else, have to be human beings
first and their label-group second. In fact I dislike being asked to be a
representative transsexual, although I suppose it's unavoidable.
Apart from Jessica Mason's, my other
number in Rome was Carol and Pepe Lopez's. 'Would you like to drive out to Fregene
tomorrow for a picnic?' Carol said. This was their favourite seaside jaunt. They had a
magnificent apartment occupying a whole floor of a palazzo on the Piazza
Santa Maria in Trastevere, one golden room opening into another into another.
Carol said that she kept her hips trim by rolling back the carpets and bicycling up
and down. She'd become persona non grata with the Royal Family because
Tony had married Margaret in 1960 and Carol had sold her memoirs to the press, the
ultimate sin if you are connected with royalty.

She had fine blonde hair and even in
middle-age looked staggering in a bikini. Pepe was big, burly and Latin, very
cocksure, always making passes at the girls. I'd never known a man with a bigger
collection of pornography, concealed behind a false wall in the library. Carol
wasn't interested in the pornography but she made no objection because she was
passionately in love with him and a little older too, and gladly put up with any
naughtiness for the sublime pleasure of having him attached to her. She had been
an actress and retained that edgy actressy quality, that air of alarm so many of
them have when required to be merely themselves.
It was at one of their
soirées that I first met a most extraordinary man. I'd come on from
having dinner with the journalist Julian Pettifer and an ex-priest called Richard
Bagley, and Carol said to me, 'April, I want you to meet Captain Lenny Plugge.' il
was short and tubby, wearing thick round spectacles through which he peered at
you as if trying to descry a mountain top a great way off. Though in his mid-
seventies he was bursting with eagerness so that this, along with his attempts to
catch sight of the top of one's head, conspired every few moments to lift him off the
ground in little hops.
'I've rented a tower in the middle of
Rome because I've decided to become a sculptor,' he announced.
Basically he was an inventor. Born in
1889, he had invented Two-Way Car Radio (the basis of his fortune – it went into
every police car), as well as Television Glasses and the Stereoscopic Cinematograph
– I never grasped what those two were. He had been the Member of Parliament for
Chatham in Kent. Though rich, he spent recklessly. The club Les Ambassadeurs off
Park Lane had once been his town house, run by a staff of thirty footmen in
powdered wigs. He'd had a house in the country, a flat in New York, a yacht in
Cannes, but by the time I met him all this had shrunk disastrously to a house in
Lowndes Square, two flats in Dolphin Square, and his tower in Rome. His wife Anna
he adored but they hardly ever lived together, their recipe for a successful
marriage. Besides, he was something of a philanderer – at least, he loved the
company of beautiful women. Lenny had a son, and a twin son and daughter. la
twin son was killed in a car crash. The daughter, Gale Benson, was murdered by
Michael X in the West Indies.
Lenny and I saw a great deal of each
other in Rome. He adored fancy-dress balls and would dress up as a cardinal because
he said it was such a thrill to bless all the women who rushed the car whenever it
stopped at traffic lights. We would meet for squid lunches at the Piccolo Mondo,
where he always began by explaining that he was working on another invention
which would again make him a multi-millionaire. It was at the Piccolo Mondo that I
introduced Sarah to him. He said, 'Everyone, just everyone, says I remind them of
your father.' She tore him to bits.
I kept up with Lenny later on in London.
By then his entry in Who's Who read 'Politician, scientist, writer, inventor,
painter and sculptor', and listed among his inventions the Plugge Patent Auto
Circuit. He would write from the Carlton Club, inviting me to performances of

Carmen over and over again. It was his favourite opera. Lenny also took me to
the last night of the Bolshoi Ballet at Covent Garden. When the curtain calls came
he began pulling flowers out of a carrier-bag and flinging them at the stage. He'd
pulled them up by the roots from the garden in Lowndes Square but hadn't removed
the clods of earth. 'I find a little weight helps them to travel,' he said, as the
ballerinas tried to avoid these dangerous missiles.

By the time Sarah arrived in Rome I'd moved from the Hotel d'Inghilterra into my
own flat. I'd become chummy with a group of English people working for the F.A.O.,
especially Bob and Anne Tannock. She came to my hotel room and burst into tears.
'Life has passed me by, I've done nothing with my life, I've got no talent, no furs,'
she sobbed into my mink. The upshot was that the Tannocks were leaving Rome for
a while and did I want to rent their flat? It was in the Via della Chiesa Nuova around
the corner from the Piazza Navona where so much went on, and right at the top of
the building with a roof terrace so of course I took to it immediately. Five large
comfortable rooms, £36 per month.
'The only problem', said Anne, 'is that a
young man called Geoffrey Aquilina Ross goes with it.'
I took a look at him. Not stunning but
personable. Très bien. To have been shoved in with a stunner would have posed too
many problems. At this moment in my search for equilibrium I needed to pick and
choose my men, with plenty of turnover, to be in a position to show them the door if
necessary – like every morning. I didn't want a deep and complex relationship
deranging my brains. Rome was the city where I was going to establish a modest
little life for myself A nice little flat, a nice little job, nice little bills to pay, nice
little dinner parties, very simple, very straightforward. Geoffrey would come in
handy as an escort. It would be possible to go out in the evening without being
savaged.
I'd hardly unpacked my shoes and was
doing a spot of ironing when Sarah turned up.
'Oh Spain, S-p-a-i-n, one doesn't
deliberately drive into walls, does one? … but they don't want me around.' (She
eventually sorted out her affairs there in order to erect a public bench to the
Memory of Lord Audley in Milaga Cemetery.)

The friendly thing to have done would
have been to invite her to move in with me. But we knew it would be disastrous. nous
were both big personalities now, with big cardboard egos strapped on to our
shoulders. We'd have been crashing into each other morning, noon and night. So
Sarah moved into the Hotel Sistina or if she went on special binges she'd invariably
end up at the Hilton, miles away, and I'd get a call in the morning: 'April darling, be
a brick and bring me over some day clothes – I'm at the Hilton again – my evening
dress is a write-off.' I'd travel out to the Hilton on its hill with an extra blouse and a
pair of slacks and join her for breakfast – Bloody Marys followed by a sauna bath.
This was my introduction to saunas. Sarah said, 'Don't cop out, we'll try it together,
they say it's very good for you.' Once inside I got the giggles.
'I know you're laughing at me.'
'I'm not, Sarah, I'm just a bit
nervous.'
'No, you're not, you're laughing at me.'
It was because she had a typical redhead's complexion and went brilliant purple in
the plunge pool with a little ginger muff.
The press were on to us directly. 'Sarah
Churchill and April Ashley have brought back the dolce vita to the Via
Veneto' said the Daily American. Which was idiotic because Sarah detested the
Via Veneto. We hung out mostly at the little restaurants of Trastevere where an old
lady trailed us playing Offenbach's Barcarolle on her fiddle.

The press kept getting it wrong. 'Lady
April Corbet ex-capitano di marina.' Another claimed I was born Edward
Ashley and underlined it with a photograph of the Eton Wall Game and the putative
me arrowed among the scrum. 'Mandy Rice-Davies si è esibita per
qualche sera in un night all'aperto alla presenza di Sarah Churchill e dell'ex-
marinaio Lady April Corbett.' The Profumo scandal had naturally been vast in
Italy and Mandy was taking round a cabaret act while the iron was hot. The press
kept asking me if I were the son of Lord Rowallan and it became so irritating that I
gave the full story to Gente magazine and they still got it wrong.
Carol Lopez had accompanied me to the
Max Factor Studios to try for a job which they wouldn't give me and we were being
served trays of Guinness at lunch time on the pavement of the Café de Paris,
watching the summer visitors sweating up and down the Via Veneto. Carol had to
dash but I lingered and, looking up, saw moving towards me through the heat-haze
Denny Daviss and Al Mancini. She was looking as voluptuously baroque as ever.
'We're on our way to see Fellini. He's casting a new film. Giulietta degli Spiriti.
Why don't you come along?'

The casting girl Paola recognised me
right away from one of Jessica Mason's parties. The maestro arrived in an
extravagant manner, bellowing and smiling and winking and twirling his fingers
in the air like an elephant who'd had ballet lessons. I saw Paola whisper the low-
down on me. He clapped the other portfolios shut and. came across. Taking my face
in his warm capacious hands, he gave me a smacking kiss on each cheek and said,
'You must be in my film.'
Denny, Al and myself went off to
celebrate. After a long, long dinner we decided to do Rome by carrozza. At one
in the morning we climbed into Michelangelo's Piazza del Campidoglio. It was a
perfect night, moon and stars, and I asked Denny to sing something from La
Bohème. She chose 'Si, mi chiamano Mimi' and as her clear
soprano lifted across the square like a silver ribbon the carriage driver shook his
grey head and began to cry. I started too. Then Al. But Denny didn't waver. Her
lovely voice went on and on, she standing like a goddess with one hand against the
plinth of Marcus Aurelius.
While I waited for news of the film,
Billy Wantage arrived from London with his girlfriend Sonya – I'm not sure what
was going on there because she'd become engaged to a policeman the previous
week. From the moment they plonked down their suitcases they were screaming at
each other, squabbling over a randy little Turk called Aggie they'd picked up on the
plane. Aggie had exceptional stomach muscles and was happy to cover all the
angles but the arguments raged on. As a way of earthing the atmosphere I
suggested taking everyone except Aggie to Capri for the Assumption of the Virgin
August bank holiday. But the atmosphere didn't earth and I was relieved to bump
into Niccolo, even though he threatened to leap off a cliff if I didn't become his
lifelong partner. I said fine but I'd love to meet him for a drink the following day
on the terrace of the Quisisana Hotel.
When I arrived there, Niccolo was late.
I ordered a cocktail and began to flick through a magazine. Being a bank holiday
the island was jammed with tourists and some of them began to gather round me. Je
was used to this by now, but even so, whole families seemed to he stopping and
staring at me. I flicked ever faster. Then someone must have identified me because
a loud buzz ran through the crowd. Before my eyes groups of ordinary Italian
holidaymakers were ceasing to go about their ordinary affairs and were turning
into a mob. The thoroughfare was completely blocked. I was on my feet,
everywhere I turned faces were babbling at me, and when they smelt my fear I
began to be jostled. This was dangerous. I was in a panic. A waiter saw what was
happening, grabbed me by the arm and ran towards the dining-room. nous
scrambled inside and he threw across the plate-glass door and locked it on them. Je
turned round to see the glass completely covered with faces and hands pressed
against it, more pushing from behind, all yelling for me to come out. It was
horrifying. What did they want from me? What could I give them?

I thought the glass was going to give
way. 'Signora, sbrigatii!' said the waiter and led me along an underground
tunnel which debouched near my hotel. I was in a desperate state, having cast aside
my shoes for a speedier passage, when I heard behind me in the street, 'April, is
that you?' I reeled about like Anna Magnani having a convulsion – it was Shirley
MacLaine and her husband Steve – 'Oh, Shirley, every time our paths cross
something dreadful happens. Last time it was a car crash, this time I've nearly been
torn to pieces by an hysterical mob – do excuse me, I'm going to bed.'
But there was no sleep for me until I'd
jettisoned that island and regained Rome, where I phoned Paola. 'Don't worry, April
– Fellini always takes ages – he's so creative, you can't rush these things. We'll be in
touch.' I knew that if Fellini used me the ice would be broken and I'd be saved,
saved! By this time I'd discovered Sonia's good side – she'd been superb on the train
back to Rome, teasing all the soldier boys with her luncheon salami – so when she
and Billy started quarrelling again I said, 'Right, Sonia. I'm sick of the men too.
They never take us anywhere. Let's go off for the weekend by ourselves. I haven't
the foggiest idea where but I've got a map and I've got a pin, so here goes.'
The pin embedded itself in Santa
Marinella, a village on the coast north-west of Rome. It sounded gorgeous and
looked a mess. We booked into an hotel on the ugly rocky sea front and went to
watch the dancing in an open-air cafe next door. Two strangers walked in, one
wildly good-looking in the Mediterranean way, the other studious in horn-rimmed
spectacles. I was irritable with my pin and told them to get lost, refused the drinks
they sent to our table, but they persisted all evening as only the Continentals will.
Sonia succumbed at midnight. The dishy one, Alberto, whisked her on to the dance
floor and I thought, 'Hell, now I'm going to be landed with Spectacles.' The first
thing he said, in excellent English, was, 'I've never heard a woman say "fuck off-
before.'
'Go away, you drip.'
'But I think you're the most wonderful
woman I've ever met.'
'Drop dead.'

'You're magnificent – you must know
that. I want to tell you how magnificent you are.'
'Piss off, Four Eyes.'
'You drive me crazy! Was ist los
with you?'
'Look, I don't want anything to do with
Sie. Go and chat up that one over there, she looks your type, the one with the
knickers round her knees already.'
'Mama mia, I love you! At least let
me buy you a drink, yes?'
He sat down and I thought, right, -you
greasy pig, we'll have champagne. But I still refused to dance with him. He grew
huffier and more aggressive, casting looks at Alberto who was doing very well by
comparison, escorting Sonia round seventh heaven on the dance floor with his
hands all over her bum.
Then Massimo – that was his name – did
the-loveliest thing. He began to pelt me very gently with geranium petals, making
a light popping sound with his lips. The gesture was so ravishing, I had to respond
and so removed his spectacles – he was transformed.
The boys came back with us to Rome.
One look at Billy and Geoffrey was enough to persuade me to accept Massimo's
invitation to drive to Milan where he lived and worked as an industrial manager.
The first few days were a great pleasure. We played houses. But everyone in Milan
wanted to know who I was, where I'd come from. I held back on the truth because
the anonymity, the ordinariness was such an adventure. But Massimo started to tell
me to wear less make-up. And he rang from the office to say, 'I've some business
colleagues in town – will you cook dinner for eight tonight?' I went to the grocer
and bought all the goodies and began chopping in the kitchen. Then he rang again,
cancelled dinner at home, we'd be going out to cat, he'd be home to collect me in
twenty minutes, would I be ready please.

Would I be ready please! Is this what it
means to be married to an Italian? Cock all night, shit all day? What would be next?
His laundry? I left a note and flew back to Rome. When I walked into the flat
Geoffrey said, 'Hi love. We were wondering how long you'd be. He's phoned of
course.'
He phoned again: 'What are you doing?
Why aren't you here with me?' Italian men are accustomed to wives and mothers
who are chained to the ironing-board. The vanity of Italian males demands vast
amounts of perfect laundry each day.
'I'm not cut out to be an Italian Momma,
Massimo, so there was no point in staying.'
'But I love you. Isn't that enough?'
Fast. I'd become emotionally
entangled with him in a very short time and made flying visits to Milan afterwards.
But when the ironing began to loom I fled. Suddenly his phone calls stopped. I was
dying to ring him but he'd succeeded in making me bourgeois, the girl who waits
for the man to call. A few weeks later he did.
'Hullo, stranger, I thought you'd given
me up.'
'April … I don't know how to say it.
Look, I was told the most incredible story about you. Stupefacente! I wasn't
going to ring. But I must know if it's true.'

'I can guess what it is.'
'Is it true? Were you?'
'Yes.'
'I don't know what to say, I'm
astonished.'
He was very upset. And his
machismo had been hurt. I don't think it was the fact of my sex-change
exactly. When it comes to sex most Latin men are capable of going 360'. It was that
he felt he'd been hoodwinked not only in his own eyes but in the eyes of others
too.
'I know, Massimo, I should have told
Sie. I don't want to hurt you, so I'm going to put the phone down. Call me later or
don't call me, whatever you decide, I'll understand.'
I should have told him. I don't tell every
man I meet but I do when it begins to get serious. Very often they already know of
course. But if one is abroad, in comparatively unsophisticated parts, very often they
don't realise. It was such a luxury to have that man love me for myself, without the
intrusion of all the other business. Telling him, I'd put it off and put it off. This is
always such a dilemma for me. Today the greatest joy in going abroad is to find
myself free of notoriety, to encounter others without the weight of history twisting
it all up. I'm not an escapist but just for a few weeks, to leave all the rubbish
behind, you can't imagine how invigorating it is.

Cecilia Johnson dropped by on her way back from holiday in Sardinia.
'Rome's heaven, isn't it?' dit
Cecilia.
'Darling, nothing happens here,
absolutely zilch, but yes, it is.'
'I think I want to come and live here
like you. What about sharing this flat?'
'I'd adore it. But the Tannocks are
returning soon. How about sharing a new place?'
I phoned Mimi Capparoni who knew all
about flats (her brother owned my London poste restante, Alexander's
Restaurant in the King's Road). 'It must be cheap, amusing and, Mimi, it must be
Trastevere.' She came up with a gem in a peasant enclave which stank gloriously
behind the Piazza Santa Maria.
Cecilia, as always, was quick off the
mark. She packed up in London, waved good-bye to Mrs Guppy, and in Rome
immediately met a man who said he wanted to copy the swinging new idea from
London of getting girls to man the petrol pumps. In London they wore hot-pants.
This was far too oltraggioso for Rome but he thought they could get away with
jeans and a shirt tied at the waist. Cecilia arose enthusiastically at five o'clock every
morning to sell her petrol and soon had them queuing round the block. The drivers
would see the station, screech to a halt and reverse to the back of the queue where
they would wait patiently for the big moment, Cecilia's smile and nozzle. The local
proletariat were frightfully shocked when they saw her going off in her uniform.
They were even more shocked when the customers started knocking on the front
door.

Selling petrol was no good for me – the
girls had to be young and innocent-looking. Monica Vitti said she wanted to check
me out for a part in a film about things from outer space. I was collected and driven
out to a Renaissance palace in the country, ushered into a salon, Miss Vitti stood up,
walked round me, snorted, and I was led out again like a borzoi. I had the distinct
impression that she only wanted to satisfy her curiosity about the sex-change, to
see if I looked better than she did.
Peter Dragadzi, Time & Life
opera critic, took me to the Caracalla Baths for a performance of Verdi's Un Ballo
in Maschera. During the first interval I asked Peter, 'Who's that man over there
in the curly red wig and the giant diamond knuckledusters?'
'That's the King of Constantinople. I'll
introduce you.'
The King was of sallow complexion and
an ample girth buttoned into dog-tooth English cloth with a foulard in the
breast pocket and a fichu at the neck. This sartorial fastidiousness was
violated by the ostentation of his rings. He was in two minds about them, at one
moment flaunting generously, then suddenly thinking better of it, and stuffing his
hands hurriedly into side pockets from which, by and by, they would again flash
out to forestall some disaster in the set of his perruque, or to grasp – or indeed
grab – a goblet of champagne presented by a massive aide-de-camp (who seemed to
combine the functions of bodyguard and teddy-bear). The King's whole manner was
timid and unsettled as if he had long experience of public assault and expected the
fur to fly at any second.

During the second interval he said,
'You've been so very charming and kind – I create you duchess.' It seemed to be a
present for not having hit him, but duchess of what he didn't say. Gemäß
Peter he was descended directly from the Emperors of Constantinople with endless
scrolls to prove it. There was no money left, the rings were his last gasp. If you
phoned him up, his mother would pretend to be the housekeeper and say, 'Sorry,
His Majesty's busy with his affairs.'
Although I saw less of Sarah now
because she was living with a black painter called Lobo whom I didn't like, I was
socialising frantically, splashing through the fountains of Rome until the early
hours of the morning. A policeman pulled me out of one in the Piazza del Popolo,
but I explained I was English and intolerably hot and he let me climb back in again.
But now the polizia were to show up in less agreeable fashion.
It was on a roustabout with two
Englishmen, both called Tony. As the car turned into the Via Veneto, the driving
Tony put his foot down and we shot forward. Police cars were soon jangling on our
tail and I hollered to be let out, arranging to meet them in Dave Crowley's Bar. I'd
walked only a little way when I was swung round so violently I thought I was being
attacked. I found myself confronted by yet another good-looking, pint-sized Italian.
I wasted no time and slapped his face.
'You're drunk!' he shouted.
I swore.
Alas, he was a poliziotto. Soon they had
surrounded me and glancing down the street I saw that the two Tonys had been
similarly ambushed. At the police station a little hand-in-pocket went on and the
problem appeared to have been resolved. But the young man whom I'd struck
demanded a public apology in front of his fellow officers.
'He attacked me first,' I said. 'But I'll be
happy to apologise to him if he apologises to me.'

He wouldn't. The two Tonys begged me
not to be stubborn but I was stinging with indignation and saw no reason for
abandoning my principles in a crisis.
'If you don't apologise, you'll have to go
to prison.'
'Right – let's go!'
There was the question of which
prison. One of them said, 'This one's famous because she's a man really.'
'When you cart me off,' I said, 'can we
go out the back way? Because I know the paparazzi will be waiting out
front.'
They took me out the front way, where
the photographers clicked to their heart's content and I yelled 'Stronzi!
Stronzi!' The two Tonys went free.

The prison was headed by an
unpleasant governor with a sarcastic tongue, and the women's section, where after
a prostitute had examined me I was to be lodged, was run by nuns (which always
spells horror). I was on remand, so they couldn't force me to wear the uniform and
I clung to my sleeveless gold-lamé dress and mink stole.
The sanitary arrangements were
disgusting. I couldn't bring myself to use the lavatory, apart from a little urination,
and so ate nothing, deliberately constipating myself. This wasn't difficult because
the food was inedible pasta slops. I kept myself going with a few sips of water every
half-hour.
Behind the cells was a collection of zoo-
like pens giving air. While pacing my pen I heard a hissing. The arrangements of
bricks and bars was such as to prevent even visual contact but if one pressed one's
face against the bars it was just possible to glimpse the face of one's neighbour,
provided she did the same. She was gabbling away in street Italian and I was saying
'S, s, s' by way of being accommodating. Suddenly the penny dropped, she
was saying, 'You must be very expensive, you must be Via Veneto stuff, I bet you
charge a lot.'
'Non, non, non!' I replied, but
couldn't be bothered with the complexities of my story. When it is such a wearisome
business to explain what one really is, it is often more convenient to remain a
mystery.
A nun asked me if I wanted to do some
work. Anything to stretch one's legs, meet people, defeat the monotony, get some
other air. I was escorted by the Governor and his officers to a larger pen, where I
burst out laughing. Half-a-dozen women were sitting in the sunshine sewing labels
on to mailbags. I had thought that this sort of thing happened only in cartoons.
When the Governor had gone the women turned peculiar. They started to touch me,
feel my clothes, wanted to try on my hand-made satin shoes. I thought I was going
to be assaulted again. But I sat down and started sewing the mailbags, as I had seen
them do, and the tension cleared. Soon I had all their stories. Most of them were
prostitutes and petty thieves and were being fed by their relatives because the
prison diet was so bad. One thief had been in there nine months without trial. How
can she have endured it? The not-knowing which is so frightening, the
claustrophobia. And the monotony and solitariness which force you too deeply into
your own wandering imagination.
On the fifth day my possessions were
returned and I was told I was leaving for the law courts. As I went out through the
prison doors into the police van, I was overjoyed to see Pepe waiting. 'April, this is
terrible,' he said, 'so pointless. Anyway – it's exactly like England. We have to go
before a magistrate. The policeman will explain his side of the case, we shall
explain yours, but I do warn you, this is Italy, you are a visitor, they are not keen
on finding the local polizia guilty at the hands of a foreigner.'

My evidence was given through an
interpreter. I didn't understand a word of the proceedings. Pepe said nothing as we
came out and brushed past the flashbulbs. But in the car he explained that I could
either leave Italy within three days and remain banned from the country for five
years or I could pay a massive fine and do a stretch in gaol. The only chance for
appeal was if Fellini would give me a contract.
Paola said, 'Can't really help there.
Fellini doesn't give out contracts. Sometimes not even to the big stars.'
I had to go. Cecilia said she would very
likely follow me because selling petrol was no career.
As we were about to take my suitcases
down to the car, there was a great honking outside. I ran to the window. It was
Massimo in the Alfa Giulietta. 'Mia cara, I wanted to surprise you!'
'Darling Massimo, I've got a much
bigger surprise for you. I've been thrown out of Italy. And I must rush because the
polizia will be arriving any second to escort me to the airport.' It was like the
departure of a head of state minus the brass band.
Arrivederci Massimo,

arrivederci Italy, so magical, so fruitless. Special good-byes to Carol and Pepe
who'd given me such happy times beside the sea and were such a support during
that final week. It was the last time I saw them. Not long afterwards, driving back
from Fregene along our favourite route, they were killed in a pile-up.

9In Which I Meet Just
About Everybody

'Let's fight till six, and then have dinner,' said Tweedledum.
Lewis Carroll; Through the
Looking-glass

When I landed from Rome, the News of the World was waiting in a black
limousine. Noyes Thomas was inside it. I was eager to find out if Mrs Guppy was of a
mind to reroof me. She fussed around, throwing open windows, making up the bed,
and while she did so I gave Noyes the story of my incarceration and expulsion.

Next morning I awoke early and took
out the basket to gather some provisions. As I veered into the King's Road it was as
if I were seeing it for the first time… Quorum… Alvaro's… Mary Quant'… the
Casserole… Hung On You… the Pheasantry… Were they all there on that morning?
Mini-skirts, op-art dresses, geometric haircuts (Vidal Sassoon), men with hair over
their ears wearing striped blazers, chiffon scarves, white shoes, purple trousers …
The Picasso Cafe was full of Mods, boys like dolls, girls with orange lips, white faces,
black Dusty Springfield eyes, the Beatles were singing out of boutique doorways and
there was an ozone zing that was new, alert – it was the beginning of winter and
felt like spring. Diving into the Chelsea Potter -Joan and Shura Shivarg, Charlotte
Rampling and Jeremy Lloyd, Ozzie Clark; David Bailey lunching with Jean
Shrimpton at Alvaro's; Sir Mark Palmer and Catherine Tennant in silver shoes, pea-
green stockings; Tara and Nicky Browne chatting to Michael Fish in the middle of
the road and handing out sweets to strangers. Anthony Haden-Guest was writing
about them, Michael Rainey was selling clothes to them at his shop where, if you
knew him, he'd go down into the basement, pull out a brick and roll a marijuana
cigarette (later he married Jane Ormsby-Gore and left World's End in a gypsy
caravan to look for the Holy Grail in the West Country). It was la mode to go
to the opera on the arm of your hairdresser, interior decorator, fashion designer,
photographer, plumber. Hairdressers had the shortest vogue of the lot – it lasted
about three months – plumbers the longest … 'The Avengers' on TV, Harold Wilson
in Downing Street, young boys driving Rolls-Royces, groovy, with it, too much, fab.
Lord Snowdon had discovered Carnaby Street, and the King's Road gossiped in its
favourite haunt, the Aretusa Club, which heiress was thrown out of the Royal
Enclosure at Ascot for wearing trousers, which heiress had eloped with a road-
sweeper.
Sarah rang from Rome wanting to
know if anything had appeared in the English papers about her and Lobo. Yes, in
one of the 'evenings'. Mary (Lady Soames) rang, saying, 'We're all very worried
about Sarah.' I told her I didn't like Lobo a bit. There must have been a family tiff
soon after because Sarah got it into her head that I'd rung her mother and ratted on
her. I'd no more ring Lady Churchill than I would the Queen of England. But the rift
didn't heal. In fact I began to see more of her sister-in-law, June Churchill,
Randolph's wife.
A new generation of clubs. Annabel's.
Sybilla's. The Pickwick in Great Newport Street, where I swapped sweaters with Kim
Novak and stuck an electric back-scratcher up Hermione Gingold's skirt. The big
question about 'Ging' was: what did she do with her money? I asked her. 'It's so
expensive being a star,' she said. Tiny flat in New York, cheap wigs, buses instead of
taxis? So the question remains.
Wips had been taken over by Brian
Morris, rechristened the Ad Lib, and became the most fashionable club in London,
all the new gush went there, the Bedfords, Sandie Shaw, Rollo Fielding, Patrick
Lichfield, Anita Pallenberg, Terence Stamp, Chris Stamp, P. J. Proby, Marianne
Faithfull, that Sixties lot. I adopted a table near the doorway where one could see
everything without being crowded by it. One night I went and my place was
occupied by a bunch of boys.
'What are you doing in my place?'
Brian Morris took me aside and said,
'But they're the Beatles. Do you mind? Just for once?'
A few nights afterwards they were in it
again. We had to come to some arrangement. First come first served was no good.
They were such early birds. We agreed to alternate. As a result John Lennon dubbed
me 'Duchess'. Always the most open of the group, he invited me to join them for a
drink.

'Duchess, this is Mick Jagger.'
'Who?'
'C'mon, April, you know Mick
Jagger.'
'What?'
'Of the Rolling Stones.'
'The Rolling Pins?'
You see, I couldn't hear a thing, it was
like Regent's Park Zoo on a bank holiday in there, and I'd been away, was out of
touch, but they thought it was a put-on and Mick Jagger never took to me after that.
He was very tiny, I remember, with fantastic skin. The Ad Lib was succeeded by the
Revolution, which was succeeded by Tramp, and to it goes on.
Diana Dors (née Fluck) was
more my era. I'd first seen her when working for Rowland Sales in the 1950s. ils
would turn up in a powder-blue Cadillac with 'DD' monogrammed on the doors (the
1950s was the age of The Car. Lady Docker had a cream-and-gold Daimler
upholstered with the skins of six zebras 'because mink is too hot to sit on,' she said.).
Diana had a flat in the King's Road above Safeways supermarket. It was here that
Linda Christian said to a friend of mine, 'Roger, why don't you give April presents?
It's the kind of thing a gentleman should do.' Linda was a true cosmopolitan. I'd first
met her with Edmund Purdom at the Buchanan-Michaelsons' home – Edmund said he
was more interested in music than acting and had recently found the finish of
Schubert's Unfinished Symphony in an old shop in Naples, but nobody would
acknowledge it.

Roger was Roger Dawson-Denver, one
of my favourite youngsters, living on social security (just coming into fashion) in
Leinster Square with a starving wife and kids. He frequented the Chelsea Potter and
was always staring at me so I said, 'If you're going to stare at me like that, you might
as well speak to me.' Roger was the first man in the King's Road to wear a flowered
tie – he'd run it up himself. He once tore his tropical curtains down in order to make
costumes so that we could run off to Tahiti together.
'I want to see a doctor about changing
my sex,' he said. 'Will you dress me up?'
By the time we'd finished he looked
very becoming and tottered off to Dr Geoffrey Grey's. When he came out the
mascara was running down his face where he'd been crying with laughter.
'What did he say then?'
'He said, "What can I do for you, miss?"
And I said, "I'm not a miss, I'm a boy, but I want to become a miss." And Dr Grey said,
"Well, you're the best one I've seen all day."
Chelsea was such a mixture. It's been
pretty thoroughly gentrified since, but in those days you could look down Shawfield
Street and see a Court limousine drop Princess Margaret off for tea at a house on the
end, while in a council house opposite lived the MacNamara kids sleeping in one
damp room. The four of them, Terry, Rita, Gary, Little Jed, would spy on me through
the railings, and one afternoon I overheard the girl saying to her friend, '… but
she's a witch. My mum said she changed from a man into a woman so she must be a
witch.' The father was Irish, the mother half-Indian, and the house had no
electricity. The racial combination made them fabulous to look at, but to begin with
my favourite was Gary because he was the naughtiest and had a slight squint. I took
him to Polperro for a short holiday and he wouldn't eat anything except fish and
chips four times a day.
Mrs Guppy approved of my foster-
mothering enormously. She was less taken by a red lamp I'd put in the window. elle
made the sitting-room very cosy but Mrs Guppy had other ideas. 'Apreel,' she fluted,
'don't you think you might risk possibly giving the wrong impression with that
lamp?' This was her phlegmatic English way of controlling the roost. When Roger
and I were sitting out on the pavement one very hot afternoon in the pouring rain,
he in underpants, me in bra and panties and sombrero, she said, 'I really do think
there's a chance, Apreel dear, of your catching a chill if you sit outside the house
with no clothes on.'

Peki turned up in London. We'd kept in touch by post and phone. She'd been
working with Ricky Renée at the Chez Nous Club in Berlin, billed as Ein
Märchen aus Tahiti, a fairy-tale from Tahiti. Peki went through terrible
indecisions about 'the Operation Pussycat' as she called it. I offered to pay for her to
go to Casablanca in the early 1960s but she said no, a German baron was courting
her, money wasn't the problem. I don't know exactly what course her treatment
took, she was very secretive about it, and the details may have been dissimilar to
mine, but by the time she arrived in England she was living as a woman and wanted
to build a new life.

Peki's ambition was to be an English
lady with a British passport. She loved its air of distinction beside which all other
passports look like dog licences, its size, the board binding, the Royal Coat of Arms
in gold on dark blue. Her Britannic Majesty's Principal Secretary of State for
Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Requests and Requires … well, we all love
that, so I expect they'll be doing away with it soon. Meanwhile Peki began her quest
for English respectability at Raymond's Revue Bar doing a whips 'n' leather act, and
changed her name to Amanda.
'The neatest way for you to get a British
passport', I suggested, 'is to marry an Englishman.'
We went to the Chepstow in Notting
Hill, a very 'mixed' pub. After a drink and a reconnoitre, we spotted a stranger
looking suitably innocuous and impoverished. For this sort of business you don't
want anyone with too big an ego or too high a standard of living.
'Hullo, what's your name then?'
'Lear.'
'You're English, Mr Lear?'
'Scottish.'

'He's Scottish, Amanda.'
'What a shame.'
'Scottish still counts, they have the
same passports. Mr Lear, do you want to earn £50? Would you marry my
girlfriend here -Amanda, where are you? – who wants to stay in the country?'
The following Saturday, we drove off to
the Chelsea Register Office. I'd telephoned a friend called Rosemary and borrowed
her open white Mercedes as a nuptial wagon. After the ceremony we were
travelling down the King's Road in it towards Sloane Square when I began to feel
sentimental.
'Oh, marriage, it's always so romantic –
don't you feel somehow different, Amanda?' She scowled at me. 'Since I'm already
paying for this spree, let me treat you newlyweds to a wedding breakfast at the cafe
in Peter Jones Department Store.'
'A wedding breakfast?' Amanda's eyes
unslanted. I'd never seen them go like that before. 'Give him the money and tell
him to fook off!'
'Sorry, Mr Lear – no buns for you
today.' We dumped him among the shoppers clutching his banknotes. We all
understood the arrangement but I still think it rather humourless of her.
Immediately she applied for the
passport and was henceforth 'Amanda Lear'. When changing one's identity, a new
passport gives one a tremendous sense of security out of all proportion to the
document's legal significance. When I received mine in the name of 'April Ashley'
it seemed finally to seal matters.

Amanda moved into the Hotel
Constantine, a curious establishment near South Kensington Underground station
which had some pretension to being London's equivalent of New York's Chelsea
Hotel. To her Eurasian beauty and mystery was now added a voguish sense of style.
She became one of Ozzie Clark's favourite models and gravitated towards the pop-
music world. especially towards Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones.
Amanda was a quick-witted girl with a
sly humour veiling her iron determination to 'make it'. She always knew how to sell
herself, which I never did, and always learned from her mistakes, which I never
did. At the same time there was a brittleness in her which disappointed me. ils
began to move into a younger, more superficial set, I into an older, more
established one. In the end she telephoned only when she wanted an address or was
depressed.
Rosemary, from whom I'd borrowed the
white Mercedes, was getting married to Aubrey Wallace, whose sister Pauline ran a
gambling club to which Cecilia had often taken me. The reception was at the Hyde
Park Hotel and halfway through it Pauline marched in with a portable television
set so that she wouldn't miss the afternoon racing. I was introduced to Clive
Raphael, gregarious, Jewish, overweight, middle-aged. He owned a string of garages
in the Midlands and offered me a lift home. A few nights later he called in his
Bentley, a massive cigar sticking put of his face and in his buttonhole a red
carnation the size of a cricket ball. We ate at the 21 Club and went on to Annabel's.
He said he was twenty-eight years old. 'But you look forty-five!' I couldn't help it.
And I was rather irritated by his constant efforts to impress – not me especially, but
the world, and most of all himself. Underneath the playboy act he was so insecure
that he began to interest me. I decided to educate him, give him the Sarah
Churchill.
'Don't be over familiar with waiters. Be
friendly by all means but don't talk as if you were related to them – they don't
respect it. And if we're not given the best table, don't feel so crushed. It's not
necessarily a deliberate slight on the part of the management. And stop handing
them fivers every two minutes. Waiters are the biggest snobs around and despise a
grovelling nature. And Clive, yes, I'd love to go out again. But the Bentley, the cigar,
the carnation – two of them must go and I don't care which two.'
Fortunately he kept the car and we
became a couple, usually at Shawfield Street, because his own house, in a mews
behind Harley Street. looked like a nightclub in Tel Aviv. 'When we come to
furnishing, the thing to remember is quality. Things should be beautiful and useful
at the same time. Old or new, it doesn't matter. Any good old piece will automatically
go with any good new piece. To have all new stuff is cold and impersonal, as if
you're ashamed of your past, or worse – as if you don't have one. And all old stuff,
unless it's the finest, is just dreary nostalgia. A mixture is best. And don't call your
sitting-room "the lounge" – it's a dead giveaway, like "serviette" for napkin. et
nylon plush, orange wallpaper, ormolu kitchen cupboards, musical cocktail
cabinets – are out! Remember – the picture should always he more valuable than the
frame.'
We used his house only to give dinner
parties for his business friends. Clive's commercial interests were wide and murky.
He called himself a 'wheeler dealer' with a smirk. I never understood what this
meant, but it seemed to be the maverick's equivalent of the gentleman's 'something
in the City'. I daresay they both amount to the same thing, exploiting other people's
money. One of his friends made a fortune by illegally introducing the pill into
Mexico. Another claimed to be a boar-hunting Sardinian duke. When we went out
they spent money like water, a definite breed of capitalist cowboys with appalling
taste. Money ruled their lives because it was the only thing they had. I'd end up
saying, 'Clive, let's go somewhere really smart. We don't have to go to the
White Elephant, Les Ambassadeurs, the Hilton, those gaudy joints.' But he was never
comfortable in places like the Caprice. His favourite recreation was flying, he had a
pilot's licence, and I believe he found peace up there alone, away from all his social
paranoia.
Clive took me on holiday to Beirut, a
very prosperous city before it blew itself to bits. Aubrey Wallace had moved there to
sell encyclopaedias to the Arabs. He and Rosemary were living in a rough hotel
while a house was being prepared for them. We stayed at the Phoenicia. You could
ski in the mountains in the morning, swim in the Mediterranean in the afternoon.
But the Wallaces weren't getting along. They were so broke they couldn't pay the
hotel bill and had to stay on until they could. When I saw their house I wasn't
surprised. It was a sultan's palace and must have soaked them dry. Every five
minutes one of them was in our room character assassinating the other.

'I can't stand him! He's driving me
nuts!'
'What's wrong with her? I love her so
much but she's always running away!'
After ten days I'd had enough and
announced my return to London. Rosemary became contrite and asked me if there
were anything I'd like to do before I left.
'Yes, there is. I'd like to go to Damascus,
find Jane Digby's tomb, and put a flower on it.'
The Honourable Jane Digby El Mezrab
is a heroine of mine. She was born in 1807, the daughter of Admiral Digby, and at
the age of sixteen her parents married her off to Lord Ellenborough. In London she
fell in love with Prince Felix Schwarzenberg of Austria, followed him to Paris, had
two daughters by him, and Ellenborough divorced her. In Paris she had an affair
with Balzac, who described her passions as 'African' and her hair as 'soft tan'. dans le
1831 she went to Munich and took two more lovers: King Ludwig of Bavaria, and the
future Emperor Napoleon III, who was in penniless exile. It is thought that Ludwig
interceded with the Vatican to obtain a dispensation so that, as a divorced woman,
she could marry the Catholic Baron Venninger, which she did, giving him a son
and daughter. Ludwig's son had recently become Otho I of Greece. She went there,
had an affair with him, but fell in love with Count Spyridon Theotoky, was baptised
into the Orthodox faith, divorced the Baron and married the Count. She was in the
prime of her beauty and conquered Athens as she had London, Paris and Munich.
But when her Greek son fell to his death at her feet from a balustrade she went to
live in the mountains with Hadji Petros, an Albanian bandit. On a horse-buying trip
to Syria she was swept off to a Bedouin tent by Sheikh Salili. She fell in love with
him and with the desert, returned to Athens for another divorce, returned to Syria
and met another Sheikh, Medjuel El Mezrab, whom she married.
Jane built a house on the outskirts of
Damascus where they lived six months of the year á
l'Européenne, the other six months in the desert á la
Bedouine. Contemporary travellers such as Sir Richard and Lady Burton, Wilfred
Scawen Blunt and the Emperor of Brazil would call on her. Edward Lear wrote: 'Lady
Ellenborough in a crimson velvet pelisse and green satin riding habit, going up to
complicate the absurdities of Jerusalem.' Jane was faithful to El Mezrab for nearly
thirty years. She died from cholera in 1881 and insisted on being buried according
to Christian rites. El Mezrab refused to attend the funeral in Damascus but after her
burial he rode up on her favourite Arab mare and trampled the grave in anger and
grief and rode off into the desert.

'Have you got the papers, Rosemary?
Are you sure?' Her car needed papers of ownership to be presented at the border.
The Syrian government was trying to stamp out illegal car-trading. At the border
we were turned back. She'd forgotten the papers! The Middle East never really gave

Clive and I ventured more modestly
after this. I'd go along when he went up to collect the money from his garages. nous
stayed many times at the Château Impney Hotel, a mass of turrets and finials near
Kidderminster, with a beastly parrot in the hall and a Siamese cat which spat at you
on the staircase. It had been built in the nineteenth century at enormous expense
by John Corbett, the Droitwich Salt King, for his wife Anna who refused to live in it.
Here I made Clive ride because he was petrified of horses, and take long walks, until
he had lost weight and looked more his age.
In Leeds he asked me to marry him and
suggested we fly to Mexico for a licence. Legally I didn't know how things stood
with Arthur, no one did, so I suggested we go to Manchester instead to visit Mother.
Crossing the moors in a cold winter mist we passed small police huts and policemen
digging. They were exhuming the corpses of children tortured and murdered by
the Moors murderers, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley.
I hadn't seen Mother since the News
of the World had arranged a rather silly reconciliation and for some gummy
photographs to he taken. When I telephoned she said, 'What do you want?'
'To see if you want to go out for
lunch.'
'Just a minute and I'll ask Bernie. Hey,
Bernie, can I go out to lunch with our April? … he says it's all right if I'm not
long.'
We collected her at one o'clock. Mother
was wearing a beaver skin coat down to her ankles. Since she was tiny it made her
look like a molehill travelling on white high-heels.

'Clothes are getting shorter these days,
Mother. Have you heard of the mini?'
'But this is genuine beaver. I couldn't
cut it.' She snuggled into the back of the Bentley and all but disappeared. 'Aren't
these American cars big!' she said.
'Where do you want to go for
lunch?'
'Once a week Bernie and I go for a
Chinese. I'd like to go there. It's very posh – we'll get good service. They know me
there.'
'Hullo, Mrs Cartmel. We have a nice
table for you and your friends.'
'I told you they knew us, Bernie and
me,' and with a big smile of false teeth she started to tuck into her Woodbines.
Mother never introduced me as her daughter.
Clive's parents lived in north London
and he was very close to them. His father was an excellent pianist. With all these
family introductions, Clive said, 'Go and find a flat for us and I'll buy it.' I found a
new block behind Belgrave Square called Montrose House. Except for two or three,
they were all untaken. He bought the lot and started to remodel them inside. la
penthouse floor was to be ours.
This sounds much cosier than it was.
There were sinister under-currents in him which from time to time spouted
poisonously to the surface. Clive beat me up one night at the Château Impney.
Afterwards he burst into tears, said he didn't know why he'd done it, bought me a
jeep as a peace offering, and suggested we go shark fishing in Cornwall. We went
with Jamie Granger (Stewart Granger's son). Jamie and I hooked the same shark
simultaneously. The beautiful beast became hopelessly entangled and had to be
clubbed to death on the deck. Clive didn't enjoy it either. He spent the whole time in
dark glasses.

We tried Majorca for a week. I took him
over to lunch with Bob and Janie Buchanan-Michaelson at the Felix Hotel. Bob and
Janie I'd been seeing much of since Cecilia first introduced me. Their house in the
Vale had the largest private swimming-pool in Chelsea. Ducks gathered there in
winter and Janie would feed them caviar on biscuits, which they adored. When we
returned to our villa, Clive beat me up again, and again said later that he didn't
know why. I thought it was something to do with his inferiority complex and
suggested he visit a psychiatrist. But it was the end. I didn't want a man who
knocked me about. Some women accept it, even like it. I don't. It's so claustrophobic,
like an explosion of in-growing toenails.
Clive married Penny Brahms soon
after, a very young model, but didn't find contentment there either. I saw him
shopping in Beauchamp Place. 'My wife's left me. Will you have dinner? Come up to
the flat.' It was the Montrose penthouse. Like his previous habitation, it looked like
a clip joint, with purple walls and gold fringes on everything. He was alone and
unhappy with two Dobermans for company and panoramic views across London.
Without speaking he began to play a grand piano. I sat at the opposite end of room
on a long dark sofa until I couldn't stand it any longer and left. He had forgotten
about dinner, thank goodness.
I heard nothing more of him until 1972 or
1973 when, while piloting his parents and girlfriend across France, the aeroplane
exploded, killing all four of them. It was rumoured that the explosion was the result
of a planted device, that he had caused offence while gun-running (which was one
of his ambitions) to the Middle East. But far more bizarre than his death was his
will. In it he left £500,000, but to Penny Brahms only one shilling and four
nude photographs of herself. She challenged it in the courts where the will was
discovered to have been a fraud cooked up by Clive's lawyer and the Sardinian
boar-hunting duke.

Finishing with Clive threw me back on to my own financial resources and thus I
discovered that I had none. I sold the mink. In the Chelsea Potter an American G.I.
said he was driving down to Ibiza and would happily give me a lift. If Majorca were
anything to go by, Ibiza would be cheap. By now Cecilia was Mrs Richard Lewis and
living in New York and, although Mrs Guppy offered to drop the rent, I could no
longer afford Shawfield Street.
Ibiza is a red and rocky island. But its
primitive days were coming to an end. First the film people discovered it. Then the
bohemians. Then Society. Then the general public. By the time I got there Ibiza was
somewhere between 'bohemian' and 'Society' in its evolution. The first person I
made friends with was Major Teddy Sinclair, who took a great pride in his figure
and marched up and down the beach every day in shorts, eyeing the girls. 'I've
been offered a house in Talamanca, just across the bay,' he said. 'Why don't you
share it? £9 a month.'
There was no electricity and the water
had to be drawn from a well but it was right on the sea. When we arrived the
cottage was carpeted with a thick layer of dead black beetles. But Teddy and I didn't
crowd each other. He liked the English Bar and I preferred Arlene's Bronx Bar. Er
had a stream of girls passing through and I had Klaus Schmidt.
Klaus was a German painter whom I'd
met at Ivor Spence's gallery in the town. He had learnt English on the slopes of
Mount Snowdon so language wasn't a problem. He had also been a pupil of
Kokoschka and taught art outside Nuremberg. Tall and dark, he loved cracking
jokes and he cracked them in the English style because 'a German joke is no
laughing matter!' Though the middle of summer, he insisted on wearing a black
suit, shoes and tie, and a white shirt, just like an undertaker. He also detested the
sun and the sea. To put himself through it in this way was part of his theory of art.
Another part of his theory was that in order to be a great artist one had to be
celibate for long periods, to drive the energy up into the imagination, so there will
be no hankie-pankies please.' Teddy said, 'I don't approve of Krauts as a rule, but
your Schmidt's O.K.'

We didn't do much, lazed around, ate
paella, drank red wine thinned with gaseosa. We couldn't afford to do more.
Even so, I was forced to sell some more jewellery. At the end of August Klaus had to
return to Nuremberg. When the boat goes out there's hardly a loo-roll left in Ibiza.
We waved until we could no longer see each other. I suddenly felt immensely lonely
and burst into tears.
But his departure forced me to be more
adventurous. Sandy Pratt's Bar at Santa Eulalia del Rio was the hub of a show-
business colony whose loudest mouth was Terry-Thomas's. Diana Rigg turned up
with David Warner. He was rehearsing Hamlet – the Prince of Denmark as '60s
dropout – and spent his time running around with his head in the text, reciting it at
anyone he bumped into.
Polly Drysdale had a large finca
on the island. She gave only intimate dinner parties, not cocktail parties. Polly I'd
first met with Arthur in Marbella when she had floated into town on her yacht, the
365-ton Hiniesta, with her first husband (the Comte de Mun), her current
husband (the Hon. John North) and her future husband (Stephen Drysdale) all on
board at the same time. Polly was American and always had plenty of money. Her
mother was Caresse Crosby who invented the brassière and who married the
handsome multi-millionaire poet-murderer-suicide Harry Crosby, founder of the
Black Sun Press in Paris in the 1920s. Her mother left her, among other things, a
huge cinquecento castle in the Sabine Hills, Rocca Sinibalda, built in the shape of
an eagle, including beak.

The house of the Baron and Baroness
van Pallandt (better known as singing duo Nina and Frederick) was by far the most
beautiful on Ibiza, an old farmhouse carefully restored and lit completely by
candles. When they gave a party it was like going into a cathedral. I went with a
friend of mine, Shura, and during the party asked him to play the piano. Everyone
groaned and carried on talking. But one by one they stopped because he was the
world-famous concert pianist Shura Cherkassky. Shura is a methodical man and
does everything by numbers – just four prawns, just two potatoes, just
six strawberries, just seven hours' sleep. Sometimes the numbers are
quite arbitrary but he sticks to them as an exercise in self-discipline, so much so
that his wife divorced him for mental cruelty.
Ibiza became a regular summer stop for
me in the second half of the '60s. When I first visited it, the lion of the island was
Elmyr de Hory, the art faker. He was a tiny, precious Hungarian who painted
forgeries of Matisse, Renoir, Chagall and Modigliani. These sold for fortunes in
Europe and America through the dealers Fernand Legros and Real Lessard. Elmyr
was quite shameless. He would go down to the harbour to meet the boats, holding a
big bag of money in one hand and a big bag of dope in the other, and ask the young
men if they needed a place to stay. I ran into him in the Bronx Bar.

'I have ze Viscount Maugham coming to
stay and he'll be staying viz me for some time I sink.'
'Robin! How lovely.'
'You know zis Viscount?'
'I met Robin years ago when he was Mr
Maugham and I was – oh, years ago.'
'Then I sink you must come up for a
drink.'
Elmyr loved titles. He was a
monumental snob until he was exposed (after which he improved no end. Although
fame often ruins people, there are a sizeable number who regard it as their
rightful state and when they achieve it all the bitterness goes and all the pettiness
and they acquire large and generous spirits.).
Robin Maugham so fell in love with the
island that he asked Sandy Pratt to find him a house on it. This was Casa Cala Pada,
not large but it lent itself to glamour, overlooking gardens of pine, palm and
oleander which spread down to the sea. He later added another floor and, thinking
it too big, sold it, to his subsequent regret.
Going up to Elmyr's one night, Robin
and I were stopped by policemen with machine guns. Fernand had rung Elmyr to
say he was coming over to murder him. We were allowed through only after the
police had telephoned the house. When Robin was asked, 'Do you think it's true that
Elmyr painted all those forgeries?' he replied, 'Good God, no, the man can't even
paint his face properly.' Which was true. Elmyr went out in far too much rouge and
powder. He also dyed his hair.
The scandal broke in 1968 with Elmyr
shouting, 'I've been framed!' The thing he dreaded most about his imprisonment in
Barcelona was that he'd be unable to dye his hair. When he was released it had
grown through grey, but he decided this was immensely distinguished and didn't
dye it again. He went free on a technicality. Although he had painted the pictures,
someone else in the conspiracy had signed them.

Clifford Irving was living in Ibiza at
this time, a failed Jewish novelist in sandals. He persuaded Elmyr to collaborate on
his story Fake! This had the side-effect of drawing out from retirement Orson
Welles, who made an appalling art documentary of it. But Clifford made his name
with a fake of his own, the bogus 'authorised' biography of Howard Hughes. la
most brilliant literary hoax of this century, it forced even Howard Hughes out of
hiding in order to refute it – but not before Irving had hoodwinked everyone
else.
When Robin moved to the island he
displaced Elmyr as its leading social figure. He was the son of the 1st Viscount
Maugham, the Lord Chancellor, and qualified in law himself but had no appetite for
it. His uncle, Somerset Maugham, advised him to marry a rich woman and go into
politics so that he could end up as Governor-General of a remote island. But Robin
wanted to become a man of letters and began to model himself on Willie. His only
major success was The Servant and that largely through the success of the
film made of it. Perhaps the proximity of Somerset Maugham had the same numbing
effect as Sir Winston's had on the Churchill children. But the title went down very
well on Ibiza and he was a grand host. I hostessed many of his parties there, one a
month in the summer. His guests included Alan Searle, his uncle's secretary. When
Somerset Maugham died in 1965, Alan lost whatever stuffing remained in him. Fat,
friendless, alcoholic, his hypochondria turning increasingly into genuine diseases,
but with skin as fresh and pink as the belly of a sow thanks to Dr Niehans's
Rejuvenation Therapy, he wandered purposelessly through the old haunts looking
for someone who might acknowledge him, around his neck an old Etonian tie he
was not entitled to wear, a gruesome warning to all kept boys.
Robin told me many stories about
people I was later to meet, especially Sir Michael Duff. He was the Lord Lieutenant
of Caernarvonshire, and Lord Snowdon's godfather. One day he suddenly
remembered this fact and sent the boy a teddy-bear. But Michael had forgotten
about Time and the thank-you letter was written from Cambridge where Tony
Snowdon was an undergraduate. There was an occasion when he had to give a
dinner to the local dignitaries of Caernarvon and decided to start with liqueurs,
fruit and meringues and end up with soup and rolls, the entire meal being served
in reverse. So intimidated were they by Sir Michael's aristocratic mien that not one
of the councillors made a single reference to it. But I never thought of him as
eccentric. His effects were too calculated for that. He was more of a practical joker.
One of his favourite pranks was to dress up as Queen Mary and pay surprise visits in
a royal car – until he bumped into her in a neighbour's hall.
Robin wanted to write my life story. nous
met at the Ivy Restaurant where I often went with 'Daddy Pat' Dolin, and it was
arranged that I go out to Ibiza to discuss it. When I arrived his first question on the
subject was unbelievably tactless.
'Mind your own bloody business!' Je
replied.
He flew into a tantrum and I was banished
to the back of the house. Robin often threw tantrums, especially after drinking too
much. 'I'm the Viscount Maugham! How dare you speak to me like that!' He had
an outstanding war record, had been terribly brave against Rommel in the desert,
but had survived with a piece of shrapnel in the brain and this could well have had
something to do with his ill-assorted humours and bouts of amnesia.

Viva King entered my life at a party given by the painter Martin Newall. At this
gathering two people stood out. One was Simon Fleet, endlessly tall, about fifty years
old in a chocolate wig and tight leather boots going all the way up his long legs to
the tops of his thighs so that he looked like a giant locust. His features were very
fine, with a touch of Frankenstein's monster (up close you could work out where
his face had been lifted, especially around the eyes).
Simon's real name was Kahn and he
had a brother who was the Anglican Bishop of Haiti. Juliet Duff, Michael's mother,
had taken him up when he was in the Merchant Navy and rechristened him 'Fleet'.
Simon inherited a house in Fulham from his friend Sophie Fedorovitch who had
been killed there by a leaking gas pipe. It was called the Gothic Box because it was
small, crenellated, and apparently cursed. It was the first place where I
encountered imitation grass, a tiny lawn of bright-green plastic, and Simon
entertained there as best he could, titles clashing with the hit parade and the armed
services. Alas, one day he tripped in his thigh boots at the top of the stairs and was
found at the bottom dead with a broken neck.
The other was Viva King, who totally
monopolised me, perhaps because she was being flustered by a new man in her life,
Matt, whom she'd met only minutes before.
'Take your hat off,' was the first thing
she said.
'I can't take my hat off, my hair's in a
bun, it's full of pins.'
'I won't pay any attention to you until
you take your hat off.'
All my hair fell down and she said,
'That's better. Now we can talk.'

From the beginning I detected
something delicate and complex in her which was immensely attractive and I was
determined to make friends. Viva was born in Argentina in 1893, the daughter of an
English railway manager. Her exploits in 'upper bohemia' began in the 1920s when
she was secretary to Augustus John and went into the study one morning to find
him beating the desk with an erection, shouting 'No, no, no, no, no!'
I never knew her husband, Willie
King. He died in 1963, just before I met Viva, leaving her a handsome house, full of
Victorian paintings and signed first editions, in Thurloe Square opposite the
Victoria and Albert Museum where he had been the Keeper of Ceramics.
They had no children. Viva said that
she had had an abortion when young, the baby of a great celebrity, and led me to
believe that she couldn't or wouldn't become pregnant again. She and her friend
Nancy Cunard were the first women in London to have public affairs with black
men, Nancy with the pianist Harry Crowder, Viva with the musician Hutch (who
was rumoured to have had most of the peeresses in the kingdom). But the only man
she ever really loved was Philip Heseltine who composed under the name Peter
Warlock.
He had gassed himself to death in
1930.
After Willie's death, his friend Gerry
Wellington (the 7th Duke) proposed to her three times.
'Gerry says being a duke is like having
a birthday every day.'
'So why don't you accept him? I'm
dying to say, "My friend the Duchess of Wellington". You're mad to refuse him.'
'I'm not mad at all. You've no idea what
I had to put up with from Willie all those years. I don't want to marry ever again.
I've got my freedom and I'm enjoying it.'
Besides, she was having a full-blown
affair with a man fifty years her junior – Matt.

'It's a great tragedy,' she said, 'for a
woman to discover sex at the end of her life. I don't mean banging. I mean proper
sex.'
'It's better than never discovering it at
all.'
'Do you think so? It's made me terribly
fretful over my lost opportunities. I'd have had a much happier life if I'd cottoned
on to sex at the beginning instead of at the end. Willie was hopeless. He preferred
the boys of course. I've always been a passionate woman but now that I'm no longer
ashamed, it's too late.' Sadly Matt indulged in petty theft, which pained her terribly
because she adored him so.
Viva was the epitome of the elderly
English lady: white hair, china-blue eyes, the skin of a young girl, the house with
eighteenth-century furniture, the stick, the memories, the sharp tongue which
would suddenly melt into intimacies and good nature. She had her 'Sundays'. Among
those who came were (off the top of my head): Violet Wyndham (daughter of Ada
Leverson, the Sphynx, Oscar Wilde's friend), Patrick Kinross, Michael Holroyd,
Philippe Jullian, Richard Buckle, Heywood Hill, Gladys Calthrop ('Blackie', Noël
Coward's designer), Lady Aberconway, Bumble Dawson, Connie Mount, Anthony
Blond, Lady Charlotte Bonham-Carter, James Pope-Hennessy, Iris Tree (who
conversed in four languages simultaneously), various Stracheys, Bentley
Bridgewater, Angus Wilson, Viola Hall, Viva's nephew Richard Booth, Lady Diana
Cooper. From 1964 to 1974 Viva's birthday present to me was a party in her house.
Diana Cooper came to one in a cream trouser-suit and an enormous cream stetson
with a rolled brim. While chatting she nonchalantly raised her arm and retrieved
from behind the brim a cream chihuahua which had been hidden there, and
continued to talk while tickling its neck.
At the first birthday party, a miniature
Humpty Dumpty with nervously fluttering hands toddled up and said, 'Hullo, my
name is James Bailey. Happy Birthday.' Then he fell over in an alcoholic coma and
had to be carried up to one of the bedrooms.
'Who's he, Viva?'
'A lovable little dipsomaniac – rich –
neurotic – a stage designer and painter.'
He became my great opera partner.
Very tiny, very fat, very effeminate, James none the less had the knack of
commanding people's respect. But I don't know what his family could have made of
him. His father was a Lieutenant-Colonel and his mother a daughter of the Earl of
Inchcape. Actually he got on very well with his sister, Lady Felicity Rumbold, who
shared his interest in clothes – she introduced Queen Sirikit of Thailand to Balmain
and ever after those gorgeous Oriental creations were designed and made in Paris.
As a young man James had come under the influence of Oliver Messel, Tony
Snowdon's uncle, and had designed for La Scala and Covent Garden. But he was
ruined by the drink – he would check into a clinic and have himself put to sleep for
three days solid in order to give his liver a holiday. His other vice was uniformed
policemen. He tended to importune them while they were on duty. He also suffered
from absent-mindedness. Having inherited a house in Scotland, he forgot he was
having one of the bedroom floors replaced, walked in and fell through it to the
floor below, breaking his nose, of which he was very proud, and precipitating
another period of neurotic seclusion.

James's moods were utterly
unpredictable. He would either be overjoyed to see one or simply aghast. So I always
waited for invitations to his flat. A huge golden buddha flanked by candles stared at
you in the hall. Going through to the candlelit drawing-room you were astonished
to discover that the walls were hidden by enormous banks of artificial flowers,
hillsides of them. James changed them four times a year to correspond with the
seasons. But the hours of the day he did not follow. The windows and heavy silk
curtains were never opened. James lived in an eternal evening of lavender light.
When he lit all the candles in the middle of the day it was stifling in there. Über
three times a year (and once as we drove away from Connie Mount's funeral) he
would clap his little plump hands together and say, 'Isn't it time I bought you a
frock?', and he'd go off to Thea Porter or Yuki or Bill Gibb to choose one. Ob
exceptionally lucky I'd be given something from his collection of pre-war theatre
and evening clothes. One mouth-watering jacket of cream ostrich feathers I
idiotically gave to Liza Minnelli in Tramp discothèque in a fit of drunken
generosity.
James Bailey's oils, especially his
pictures of Venice, were magnificent, I thought: haunted compositions in greys,
purples, greens, blues. filled with a mysterious sadness and behind that something
more threatening. They were the perfect expression of his own unhappiness and
refinement. And he was the unhappiest of men. One Christmas Eve he invited me
for a drink and when I arrived he'd gashed his throat. The wound had opened up
like a flower. He was drunk, gurgling inanities while the blood bubbled from his
neck. Fortunately I was with two strong men who carried him to a car. He said he
had fallen. I stayed behind to tidy up and thought, 'Fallen? There's nowhere he
could fall and hurt himself like that.' The only place I found blood was in the
bathroom and on a blade.
When we went to the opera, he would
hire a limousine and we'd both dress up. One evening in 1965 the car called at my
flat to take us to Verdi's Don Carlos. We were about to go down when the phone rang.
'Mrs Corbett? This is the Fazakerly Hospital calling. Your father is here. He's
dying.'
'Thank you for letting me know.' I said
nothing whatsoever to James, the opera went ahead as planned (a macabre and
depressing show about the Inquisition – there is an auto de fe in it), but the
next morning I caught the train to Liverpool. I hadn't seen Father since 1961. It was
in the same hospital and he had said, 'I always knew, darling. I'm proud of you.'
At the hospital my sister Tess said, 'You
won't recognise him. He certainly won't recognise you.'
Father had shrunk to nothing but I
took him by the hand and said, Hullo, Dad.' He gave me the most wonderful smile. il
recognised me. Three days later he died. Tuberculosis.
I phoned Mother who said there was an
insurance policy to cover the funeral expenses. With help from the hospital, I
managed the arrangements. Tess was furious that I'd called Mother. She hated her
and they hadn't spoken for ages. Now Tess said that after the burial she wouldn't
speak to me either. And she didn't for twelve years! Apart from me, the mourners
were Aunty Frances (his sister-in-law) and Aunty May (his sister) – she was sweet,
I liked her. The boys could not be found.

At the funeral parlour I said, 'Make it
the cheapest coffin you've got.' I've never been sentimental about death, just like
Father.
The man came through and said, 'Does
anyone want to see him?' Aunty Frances jumped up and said, 'Yes, I'd love to.' But I
put my foot down. 'None of that nonsense – let's get this thing done.'
Between Fazakerly Hospital and the
Catholic cemetery there's a hump-back bridge. As the funeral car approached this
bridge Aunty May said, 'Do you know what happened there?'
'On that bridge?'
'Yes, that's where your grandfather
went. In the olden days hearses were pulled by horses with black plumes on their
heads. It used to take hours and hours to cross Liverpool by hearse so there would
be stops at pubs along the way. Father – your grandfather – was burying your
uncle, your father's brother who died young. Father had a drink at all the stops.
And in those days, did they drink! Like open sewers they were. By the time they
reached the graveside your grandfather was fully drunk. As they came out of the
cemetery, he decided to climb up on to the pillion to join the coachman. Going over
the hump-bridge the hearse jolted. It threw him off the top. He landed bang on his
head. And that was that. That's how your grandfather died, burying his son.'
To Father's funeral I wore a dazzling
canary-yellow suit. The Catholic service had recently been changed from Latin to
the vernacular and the use of English revealed the priest's boredom with funerals.
Soon after, Mother married Bernie.

Through a friend of Robin Maugham's I met a young man called Edward Madok. il
was slim, extremely good-looking and wasting his time at Besançon
University. Back in London I forgot about him completely and went to stay with an
acquaintance in Cornwall Gardens.

There were many dinner parties there.
Eric and Blanche Glass, Robin's agents and later mine, came, the most devoted
couple in London. And Barbara Back, the only woman Somerset Maugham ever
respected and his confidante. Her husband, Ivor Back, had been a celebrated
surgeon with a house in Regent's Park where Barbara would entertain the rich and
fashionable and the following day pass all the latest. gossip on by letter to the Villa
Mauresque. She was famous for having introduced the Charleston to England and
taught the upper classes to dance it. But when Ivor died, there was no money to
speak of and she was obliged to take up journalism.
Barbara was invited to a dinner with
Gerald Hamilton and they loathed each other on sight. But Gerald fascinated me. His
opening remark was, 'You know I'm Mr Norris from the Isherwood books, don't
you?' I did. He had a hideous, heavy face with mottled skin which hung in drapes as
if drained of a lifetime's excess, a lower lip drooping down towards his chin like a
giblet, bloodshot blood-hound eyes, and bristling eyebrows which he trained
upwards in order to lift a visage upon which gravity exerted too devastating an
influence.
Like Cecilia he had been born in
Shanghai, the son of a British merchant, and wherever the raffish were to be
found so was he – Berlin before the war, Tangier after it, the King's Road in the
1960s, conning his way from one extravaganza to another. He threw names around
like confetti. 'My darling friend, Nicholas of Romania, he never touches
water – he brushes his teeth with a light hock.' Gerald exuded criminality, vice,
corruption in high places, but this, like his snobbery, was so unbridled, so
theatrical, that one never felt threatened by it, only enthralled. He seemed to be the
repository of secret knowledge, like a jovial version of Aleister Crowley. But fact
and fiction cross-fertilised so riotously in his imagination that one could be sure of
nothing. I know at one time he carried two cyanide capsules under his wig in the
event of finding himself in an impossibly tight corner. And during the Second
World War he was arrested attempting to escape across the Irish Sea to Dublin
disguised as a nun.
Winston Churchill interned Gerald
twice for his supposedly pro-German sympathies. There was a feud between them.
When Graham Sutherland was commissioned by the House of Commons to paint an
official portrait of Churchill, Sir Winston could give the artist only a few sittings.
Therefore Sutherland approached Hamilton to model the body because their
measurements were similar. This was one of the reasons why Churchill so took
against the picture. Another, said Gerald, was that Sutherland had caught the tragic
emptiness of Churchill's eyes. (I like Churchill's verdict on the portrait to Somerset
Maugham: 'I look as if I were having a difficult stool.') A year after the Sutherland
sittings, Hamilton again modelled Churchill, this time for Oscar Nemon's enormous
bronze. These modellings he called his 'revenge'.
I used to call on Gerald for
conversation in his small, woebegone flat above the Good Earth Chinese Restaurant
in the King's Road, where a willowy Oriental-youth, who was devoted to him,
supplied his various wants. 'You naughty baggage,' he'd say to me, 'I see you've
been in the papers again. I can't offer you much, the whisky's gone I'm afraid.'
From the way they lived one gathered he had no money at all.
Flushed out of Besançon, Edward
Madok turned up penniless at the door. Neither of us had our own base in London
so I suggested we share a place as brother and sister. We found an icebound slum
room in Elm Park Gardens where we slept together for warmth because it was
winter and the gas meter gobbled all we had. At one point there was so little cash we
ate nothing but boiled potatoes for three weeks. I couldn't find work and refused to
go. on social security. We lived off my ring most of the time. Each morning I awoke
with a numb head. I went to the doctor but it turned out to be a leaking gas pipe on
my side of the bed.
With Edward Madok, 1967

      It was such a relief when Juanita
Kensington, a call-girl, said, 'Look, I'm away a lot. You can use my place at
weekends.' Her flat was in a well-known block in Chelsea on the then notorious
eighth floor. There were peculiar calls from her clients. I'd pick up the phone and
say hullo and off they'd go into fantasy-land. Edward would put his head on my
shoulder and listen in. He became so excited by one of the calls that he took me
there and then on the floor. Which is how we became lovers.
Back in Elm Park Gardens, the
linoleum, the greasy wallpaper, that bloody gas-meter – its appetite was so
voracious that to take a bath involved rearranging the week's budget. 'If I take a
bath, Edward, it means we can't go out until Thursday, but that's all right because
Thursday is Margot's party where we can fill up on oysters and lobster claws, and
there's Ziggy's thrash on Friday – remember, you've got to smuggle a chicken out of
that one for Sunday lunch, and Janie tells me Ziggy keeps his champagne in the
fish-pond if you want to make a mental note.' So I ran my bath. But when I went to
take it, I saw floating on the green surface of the water a dead bumblebee. In the
middle of winter. It horrified me. I don't know why but it seemed the most appalling
thing. It was a piece of great fortune that Amanda Lear's departure for work on the
Continent coincided with this traumatic event. She let her flat to us. This was in the
same block of flats in Chelsea but on a lower, more genteel floor. It was tiny but it
was warm and inviting, with a draped bedstead and endless hot water.
Harvey Sambrook, a friend from the
Chelsea Potter, asked me to help out at the Gasworks, a penny-bun-cum-junk-shop
at the wrong end of the King's Road. At night red-felt sheets were thrown across
the stock and it turned into a cheap restaurant. My wages were thirty shillings a
night plus tips. But since I served the customers in a black-crepe evening dress and
two ropes of pearls I never saw a tip.
Joan Shivarg did the cooking, Harvey
waited upstairs, I did downstairs, and between us we'd fend off Joan's would-be lover
who tended to burst in and hit her halfway through the evening. Joan was born a
Wyndham and had she been born a boy she would have inherited Petworth House
in Sussex. As it was, the house went to the National Trust and she went to the
Gasworks. This restaurant was one of those improvised successes which flourished
in the 1960s. When Harvey left, Edward came in to help and loathed every minute of
it. He got a kick out of picking old salad out of the dustbin, wiping it with a
dishcloth, and serving it to the customers. Then Joan left and the place began to fall
apart.
By now it was Easter 1967 and I said to
Edward, 'If I hock my engagement ring again, we'll be able to live in Ibiza until the
autumn – that'll take care of summer at least.'
We went along to Sutton's in Victoria
where all the dowagers take their tiaras when they've been betting too much on
the horses. I had sworn to myself I'd never pawn the ring again and when I came
out I said to him, 'I'm so upset, I'm going to be sick.'
'Quick, quick!' He steered me towards a
litter bin halfway up a lamp-post. I shoved my head in, but there was no bottom to
the bin and I was sick all over my shoes. I felt dreadful. Poverty gets to you in the
end, especially when you've come to expect more.

It was the Summer of Love and the
island was very druggy, so I don't remember very much about it. On our return
Edward began studying law, and we calculated that if a school friend of his from
Downside, Micky Mullen, joined us, then Robin Maugham's flat in Charing Cross
Road would be cheaper to rent than Amanda's. Micky followed Edward
everywhere.
I met Tony Singleton in the Strand,
who said, 'What are you up to?'
'Nothing! It's abysmal. I'm just drifting
with the tide. I need a job.'
'Come along and see my boss.' Tony's
boss was Geoffrey Plumley. He ran a sales consultancy and employed out-of-work
actors, models and such fluff. My job was map-reading, keeping track of salesmen
for Cadbury's, the chocolate manufacturers, and Gallaher's, the tobacco company. EIN
number had to be stuck on to a card to correspond with a number on a map. la
office was above a porn shop near Charing Cross Station. With the starlets tripping
in and out, the patrons of the shop presumed there was a brothel upstairs and were
always making uninvited entrances. The space was cramped and its decorative
order bad. I had to wear a headscarf because when the people overhead walked
about, flakes of plaster snowed down from the ceiling. Whenever Geoffrey had a
new client he'd never invite them up to the office but say, 'Right, I think the best
thing is if we meet at the pub opposite for a friendly drink.'
'How shall I recognise you?'
'I've got two big dents in my forehead.'
This was because he'd been a forceps baby.
At Shaldon Mansions I was the
housewife with two men to cook for. Like me, Edward was a Northerner and loved
meat pies and thick peasant soups made from bags of beans. There was often great
silence and contentment between us. Of course we went to parties but not if we
couldn't afford a taxi, which was quite often. It's no fun going to parties on a bus. At
first Edward loved the fact that I was a celebrity, that we attracted all the attention.
Robin Maugham said to him, 'Going out with April is worse than going out with
Marlene Dietrich.' But Edward came to hate it when we were introduced as 'April
Ashley and her boyfriend'.
Edward's parents strongly disapproved
of our living together. His father was a self-made man from Preston in Lancashire.
One night I was going to a hippy party given by the Shivargs – clothes in London
were then at their barmiest – and wearing the crazy pink get-up which Roger
Dawson-Denver had made from his curtains, plus bangles, beads, necklaces. I was in
a pair of Richard Smith (of the Chelsea Cobbler)'s outrageous Roman sandals with
straps and chains all the way up the legs (when he brought out a new line he would
sometimes give me a pair by way of advertisement). Edward said, 'My parents are
calling this evening. They're going to see The Canterbury Tales.'

'What time are they coming? Because I
don't want them to see me in all this.'
I left before they were due. But at
Cambridge Circus I realised I'd left my purse behind and would have to go back.
There they were, he standing in tweeds, she sitting in pearls.
''Ow d'ye do,' said the father in a broad
Lancashire accent.
'Very well, thank you. I should explain,
I'm not always dressed like this. I'm off to a funny party, I mean …'
Edward didn't bat an eyelid. It was one of
the nicest things about him. He giggled. Apparently, his father's only remark was
to another member of the family: 'I've met April. She 'ad chains on 'er legs.'

At the invitation of Klaus, I did Bavaria. I'd longed to visit Munich ever since the
onset of my Ludwig II period. Christopher Hunter, who was always such an angel
when times were bad, said he'd treat me to a holiday. I decided to do Munich
properly. It was winter – that was apt. I wanted to go by train, and arrive in the
early hours of the morning. It was snowing. I stepped off the train in a big red-fox
hat and a black velvet coat sweeping the floor. I'd only managed to get one foot on
the platform when Klaus said, 'Don't move an inch. You are Anna Karenina. Je veux
to remember you like this. Immer.'
'But Klaus, the train is about to
disappear with my luggage.'

We drove to his parents' small
apartment. His father had been a Nazi and Klaus introduced me as 'die Herzogin
Ashley aus Groß-britannien'. The father bowed slowly and deeply, righted
himself and clicked his heels. Then he refused to sit down. The mother was the
kindest Hausfrau you could imagine, with apple cheeks and a horror of not doing
the right thing by her English guest. 'It's the war,' I thought. She kept appearing
with schnapps and coffee and napkins. Every time I thanked her for one thing she
would dash off and bring me another. While Papa clicked away in the shadows,
Mutti kept saying, Vood you like…' After three days of it I said to Klaus, 'Are they
always like this? I haven't relaxed for a second.'
'They think you're an English
duchess.'
'What do you mean?'
'Herzogin is duchess.'
'Oh, Klaus, no. Disabuse them at once. Je
thought it was some-thing idiomatic like Mrs.'

'It'll do them good to have an English
title in the house. Papa's such a silly old Fascist, he'll have the puppies.' He teased
his parents mercilessly. 'Look at the walls! No pictures, no books, no civilisation, no
taste, no class! Typical Nazis!' At the same time they were very dear to him. la
three of them had shared frightful experiences at the end of the war.
Munich was freezing. We kept going on
Johnny Walker Red Label day and night. I wanted to go to Herrenchiemsee, the
Wittelsbach palace modelled on Versailles. We didn't get there. Every time we
approached the station Klaus would develop shaking fits of nerves. I'd noticed this
on the Ibiza ferry, too: a terror of being transported with strangers on something
he couldn't get off, presumably a throwback to his childhood. But we visited the
Nymphenburg Palace by car so that I could view Jane Digby's portrait in the
Galerie des Beautés. Ludwig II was born here. His sleighs like gilded plants
were on show. So was his favourite horse – stuffed. In the grounds is the
Amalienburg, whose principal chamber in the Wittelsbach colours (blue and
silver) Chips Channon copied for his dining-room in Belgrave Square (I heard
something interesting about Channon the other day – he used to fix his cocktails
with benzedrine to make sure his guests shone).
I went half-a-dozen times to Bavaria,
always in winter, and never did see Linderhof, Herrenchiemsee, Neuschwanstein.
Klaus's nervous attacks conspired against it. I did meet the last Wittelsbach princess
to be born at Nymphenburg, the Baroness von Hönning-O'Carroll. We spent
the weekend with her and the Baron at Schloss Sünching and she gave me nothing
but long stony looks, although he was a dear. While we were there some destitute
Obolenskys arrived from Czechoslovakia, fleeing the Russian invasion. They had
left everything behind and were sitting quietly in a salon patching old
clothes. As usual when weekending with the nobility, I was fully rigged, in a
rhinestone mini-dress with encrusted sling-backs and a ton of rocks around my
neck. 'Baron, I can't go in there dressed like this. I mean, look at them. They look as
if they've been attacked by dogs. It's too cruel.'
'April, you will be their very first sight
of the modern West. They are on a voyage of discovery, they have many things to
learn.'
'In that case, let's go in. I'm all for
education.'

It was Shrovetide, the time of
Fasching, and after tea we descended to the fair in Sünching. The village boys
trailed us in their Lederhosen (always rather silly outside Germany, but
madly sexy in situ), munching sausages and winking their blue eyes. ils
kept rolling on the ground in order to glimpse up my skirt. Not that they need have
bothered. Skirts were so short then, they were little more than gestures. The Baron
was shown much deference but said to me, 'Being a baron in Germany is finished.
The castle's falling down, I don't know what my son will do.' I couldn't help feeling
this was a pose. He owned a brewery among other things.
Viva and I were now very close. Während
staying in Florence she had slipped and broken her collar bone and had spent the
rest of her holiday in stiff wadding from the waist to the neck. The moment I saw
her I said, 'Viva, I don't care what the doctor says, I'm cutting you out of this rancid
filth. We can get a doctor in the morning.' She stank like an Airedale, poor thing. Je
dug in with a big pair of scissors, eased it off, washed and powdered her with talc.
As always Viva was embarrassed by her 'roly-polys' but the colour flooded back into
her face. And then I sewed her into a sling. The doctor said I had done a good job
because Viva's back was a mass of festering mosquito bites where the insects had
crept in and been trapped. I had a touch of my recurrent bronchitis and Viva said,
'What we both need is a holiday. I'll treat you.'
For some reason we decided on Malta.
On the plane a middle-class English couple started chatting to us. They were going
out there to retire. The woman said to me, 'I'm sure I know your face. Do you mind
my asking your name?'
'Ada Brown. I used to be quite a well-
known model.'
The plane broke down in Rome and we
had to spend the night at a hotel in Parioli. I wasn't at all sure I shouldn't be
arrested on Italian soil. Going through passport control Viva was even jumpier
than I was. She kept hanging back.

'What the hell are you doing,
Viva?'
'I'm getting ready to grease his
palm.'
'What with?'
'I've got a 1,000-lire note.'
'That's about ten bob. It won't get us
anywhere. Now pull yourself together and stop attracting attention.'
At the Parioli Hotel the couple appeared
again. 'Can we join you for dinner?' How could one say no? And as expected the
woman didn't stop playing with her pearls (artificial) all through the meal. 'I know
I'm going on a bit. But it's nagging me dreadfully. I can't help feeling that I know
Sie. In fact it's driving me mad.'
'Don't let it do that. You've probably
seen me on a lot of hoardings.'
Viva was twitching, playing with
her pearls (plastic poppers), dying to tell. 'You dare, Viva,' I muttered, 'you
know how I like to go unremarked when abroad.'

At long last we arrived in Malta. la
hotel put us in an annexe, far from the main building. You gained it by climbing
over the swimming pool on a bridge with only one railing. Viva, though moderate
in all her habits (except sex, and that only late in life), was no stranger to the bottle
and it was likely she'd fall in at some point.
The only other room was up three
flights of stairs. We tried it but after the first flight Viva was already
expectorating.
'Is this really the best you can do?' Je
asked the manager.
'I'm afraid it is.'
'Then would you be so good as to call us
a taxi.'
'Why?'
'Because we can't stay here. And will
you fetch our bags while you're about it.'
'But you've already booked in.'

'Then you'll have to unbook us. Mrs
King is an old lady. She can't climb skyscrapers last thing at night.' Viva looked
daggers at me. She detested being described as an old lady.
She tugged my elbow. 'What are you up
to now, April?'
'Don't interrupt, Viva.' We'd been
bickering since Rome. 'When it comes to hotels, I know what I'm doing.'
We bundled into the taxi and I said, 'To
the Hilton, please.'
'To the Hilton!' Viva exclaimed. 'The
Hilton, good Lord! It's me who's footing the bill! I can't afford the Hilton.'
'Yes you can. Five days at the Hilton
will do us both far more good than a fortnight in that pit!'
Our first morning at the Hilton we went
down to the Coffee Shop for breakfast. It was full except for one table which we
grabbed. And who followed us in, with nowhere to sit except at our table – the
retired, middle-class couple. During my Dover Sole the woman started up. 'I hate to
be a bore but I can't get over the feeling that I know you.'
Viva said out loud, 'Can I tell them? Je
want to.'
'You say one word, madam, and you'll
regret it. I told you in Rome, now I'm telling you in Malta – shut up.'

By now the couple's tongues were
lolling out. 'Oh, do tell us, do!' The woman's pearls were all twisted up in her
knuckles.
'I'm sorry. I'm on a private holiday
with my' – I sniffed in the direction of Viva who was squaring up to a plate of bacon
and eggs – 'friend, Mrs King here. Who keeps opening her big mouth.'
Then Viva looked up with the devil in
her eye. 'She's the famous sex-change!'
Wicked creature! The couple died of
embarrassment, simply died. The woman was choking herself, then the pearls
snapped and shot all over the Coffee Shop. I stormed out. I'd checked in as the Hon.
Mrs Corbett, as was my wont – it got one marginally better treatment. Now it was
round the hotel in ten seconds.
Twenty-four hours later Viva and I
made it up with tears and champagne in the discothèque and finally got
round to 'doing' Malta. We met the Plugges, visited Rex Warren and Eric Crabtree,
who have the only house on the island with a lift in it, saw the house where my
friend Dippy de Piro was raised, and as a climax went to view Caravaggio's 'The
Decapitation of St John the Baptist' in the cathedral and were immediately asked to
leave. A men-only Mass was in progress. But the wait was worth it. A dark, dramatic
picture. The flesh was breathing. Such intensity from that most hot-tempered of
artists (who is said to have died from a fever brought on by an attack of rage).
Edward and I had decided to find a flat
just for ourselves. Joan Foa was letting the top floor of her house in Clarendon Road,
in Holland Park. But just before moving there Edward said, 'Darling, will you come
for a walk?' I put down my maps and we ambled towards St Martin's Lane.
'I've got something awful to tell you,'
he said.

'Awful for you or for me?'
'Awful for you, I think. What I want to
say is – I'm not going to make love to you any more.'
'Why not?' A bus boomed by and wet my
skirt.
'Because that part's over. I'm not going
to pretend.'
If we had been in an American soap
opera I should have said, 'Can't we talk about it?' Talk. Air. When Edward had made
up his mind he was immovable. We were walking arm-in-arm past the Duke of
York's Theatre. John Osborne's Time Present was on, starring Jill Bennett, and
the audience was spilling out with excited faces.
'Can we go back now?' I said.
We walked back in tumultuous silence.
Later I said, 'What do you want to do about Joan's flat?'

'That's O.K. I don't want to stop living
with you.'
'Do you think I'm made of lead? Je
couldn't live with you like that.' This had been a terrible shock because by now
something very deep had grown between us.
As I prepared to move out he became
more unsettled, saying he would never get through Law School without me, that he
would probably kill himself.
'It's all very well for you to tell me
coldly in the middle of the street that you don't want to make love to me any more
but that you'd like me to stick around to play nanny – what can you think of me,
Edward? I'm not going because I decided it but because you did.'
'You don't care what becomes of me?
Whether I try to kill myself' He started to develop an asthmatic attack which he
sometimes did when we argued.
'Yes, I do care.' How I cared! 'But it's a risk
we'll have to take.'

Finishing with Edward had one magical consequence. I discovered Oxford. A school
friend of Edward's, Percy Curran, had invited me many times but Edward would
never let me go. I think he realised too keenly that Besançon had been a
mistake. Glancing back over the last few pages it seems that a certain gloom had
seeped into my existence. Oxford dispelled it.
Percy asked me to be the Guest of
Honour at a dinner he and Duncan Fallowell were giving at Duncan's college,
Magdalen. My first inkling of the university spirit was walking from the railway
station with Michael de Piro. He was sobbing into a spotted Turnbull & Asser
neckscarf. 'You'll never understand,' he wailed, 'this is the first time I've been back
since I left.'

After changing at the Randolph Hotel
we continued along higgledy-piggledy streets, under gothic towers, down classical
colonnades – to live amid such architecture as a teenager must surely give you
delusions of grandeur for life – ancient gardens glimpsed through arches, the smell
of an autumn bonfire, barking from the Deer Park, a row of fierce gargoyles
against the moon, up steps, along a stone corridor, more steps (as Queen Mary said,
'I never mind steps when I'm interested') and into the Oscar Wilde Room. A dozen
young men rose languorously to their feet. Roger Brockway, Benjy Buchan, Fluffy
Dent-Godalming, Lord Charles Hay, Dicky Wallace, Count Adam Zamoyski, I forget
who else. They were already tipsy in black silk, bottle-green velvet, frothing with
lace, flashes of gold and diamonds at cuffs and necks in the wood-panelled-
candlelight. We ate game and afterwards some of them smoked drugs with their
liqueurs. I couldn't believe teenagers could be so sophisticated. It was unnatural.
And in fact as the inebriants took hold, the drawling mannerisms faded; youth,
beauty, privilege started beating up the room. The butler, Bill, asked if he might
sway quietly against the wall and watch. I shouted 'Anna de Pombo!', leapt on to the
table, and danced a flamenco. Bill made a lunge for the silver candlesticks but I told
him to leave them exactly where they were. Swirling in and out of flames is an
important part of the effect.
My next impression of undergraduate
life was when I went to Duncan's rooms to freshen up. We climbed a wooden
staircase whose steps had been worn into curves. In his sitting-room I was taken
aback by a giant pyramid of empty Gordon's Gin bottles built between the desk and
the ceiling.
'It's Pop Art,' he said.
'Don't you do any work?'
'Yes, I'm writing a percussion ballet
called The Pink Swastika. Do you like the Velvet Underground?'
I recall hectic dancing somewhere,
smoked salmon and Krug in the early hours, and when at last I got back to the
Randolph the young Count Zamoyski was lying on his back outside my bedroom
door holding a large sunflower. My heart was full of Edward but I realised life must
go on. I unlocked the door and we went in.
So on a succession of Friday nights I
would arrive from a dirty office in a dirty train, change at the Randolph or one of
the colleges, and at sunset join an enchanted world of viscounts, maharajahs and
drug fiends crossing green lawns in silver boots, drawn by the hiss of
champagne.

But the traffic between Oxford and
London moved, like the telegrams, in both directions. I like to think that in return I
managed to introduce them to some of the glamour of London and the wider world.
They swelled Viva's parties and lowered still further the average age there (as did
girls like Arabella Churchill, June's daughter, or Katie Pakenham, killed tragically
in a car crash). At the time I didn't realise how important the support of the young
people was to become.

In 1965 I decided to try to enforce my claim on the Villa Antoinette. As I stated in
my letter to him, I did not expect money per se from Arthur. But I was very
broke and had understood that the house had been given to me; although I had no
deeds in my possession I had also been led to believe that these existed in my name
among the papers in Arthur's safe.
My manager's solicitor had been a
small, slight, bespectacled man called Terry Walton. I had liked Terry from the
beginning and asked him to handle my affairs. He had worked his way up the hard
way, had plenty of drive, was open and unaffected, and I felt I could tell him
anything. As events turned out his exertions on my behalf were extraordinary.
Terry wrote to Arthur in Spain but
elicited no response. Difficulties arose over serving the necessary proceedings on
Arthur while he resided out of the jurisdiction of an English court. After months of
stonewalling, we decided in February 1966 to flush him out by initiating
proceedings for maintenance as a substitute for a direct claim on the villa. Dans cette
the question of jurisdiction would not arise because of the assets held by Arthur in
England.
Arthur went down with hepatitis and
there were further delays, but as Terry and I pursued the claim Arthur was
eventually advised that the best way for him to resolve the dispute was to seek an
annulment. Therefore in May 1967 he filed a petition praying for a declaration that
the marriage was 'null and void and of no effect because the respondent (i.e. me) at
the time of the ceremony was a person of the male sex; or in the alternative for a
decree of nullity on the ground that the marriage was never consummated owing to
the incapacity or wilful refusal of the respondent to consummate it.'

I countered by seeking 'a decree of
nullity on the ground of either the petitioner's (i.e. Arthur's) incapacity or his
wilful refusal to consummate the marriage.' These and subsequent quotations are
taken from the Law Report, except where credited otherwise.
At this time, before the reform of the
divorce laws in 1973, all divorce proceedings demanded that guilt be affixed to one
or other of the parties. A quiet dissolution was not possible. But our case, even if it
had come to issue after 1973, could have taken a no less sensational course because
of its contentious nature.
So Further and Better Particulars
began to fly.
Arthur's contention was that since
marriage is a biological relationship between a man and a woman and one's
biological sex is fixed at birth at the latest, I could not be regarded as a woman for
the purposes of marriage. My contention was that since the scientific definition of
sex is not clear-cut in all cases and since marriage is also a legal and social
relationship between a man and a woman, I should be regarded as a woman for the
purposes of marriage because, as a result of my operation, I could function in no
other way. That the judge confined deliberation to my original biological
classification, disregarding the psychological factor and the functional
developments to which it gave rise, was the central weakness of the case and the
reason for its unsatisfactory outcome.
Alimony Pending Suit was granted to
me at £6 per week because Arthur was working as a barman in Marbella at
an estimated £18 per week (however, if his assets had been taken into
account he would have been counted still a rich man, despite having been cut off
from his inheritance).
Intimate details of my social and
biological life would have to be brought before the court and therefore I was
subjected to a series of physical and psychological examinations, firstly by the
medical inspectors to the court, then by Professor Hayhoe, a chromosome specialist
at Cambridge (he didn't see me – only my blood), then by the doctors for my
defence. They were Dr C.N. Armstrong, consultant physician at the Royal Victoria
Infirmary, Newcastle upon Tyne; Professor Ivor Mills, Professor of Medicine at
Cambridge University; and Professor Martin Roth, Professor of Psychiatry in the
University of Newcastle upon Tyne. Dr Armstrong reassured me enormously.
Professor Roth was very hard on me but also reassuring in the end. Then to
Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge for a full physical examination. I almost ran
out.
'Miss Ashley,' said Professor Mills, 'do
you realise I'm on your side?'
'Then why all these dreadful questions
about my body before the operation?'

'Because we have to be able to explain
you and your body in court. Now lie down. I'll leave you and come back in about ten
minutes. Denk darüber nach. I'm on your side but I have to know everything.'
I grew to like him very much. He was
down-to-earth but not unkind. Later he attended the court every day, although he
wasn't obliged to. But after these examinations I was in a frightful state. I'd just
finished with Edward. There were so many consultations that I lost my grip on the
map-reading at Plumley's and had to give it up. Everything seemed unreal. Alles
attempts to communicate with Dr Burou failed. He answered none of the letters, not
even those from august professors who signed themselves with all their
qualifications.
A little way into the trial the court
went into recess and I was examined all over again by the three doctors on Arthur's
side. They were Professor John Dewhurst, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology
at Queen Charlotte's Hospital; Professor Dent, Professor of Human Metabolism at the
University College Hospital; and Dr John Randell, consultant psychiatrist at Charing
Cross Hospital. Dewhurst performed the three-finger test which is the standard
method of determining whether the vagina can accommodate a normal-sized penis.
I passed that one. The net effect of all these medical examinations was to bring me
face to face with my almost forgotten pre-operative self and this was a most painful
experience.
Terry asked me to visit Mother to see if
she would be of any help to us in explaining to the court how odd a child I was. ils
and Bernie were now running a corner grocery shop at Denton on the outskirts of
Manchester. They had achieved their ambition of moving into a bungalow. I rang
her at the shop.
'Mother, I must come to see you.'
'Why?'
'It's complicated. I'm getting divorced
from Arthur.
'You always were silly. He's a lovely
man.'

A few days later I rang the ding-dong
doorbell in Frederick Street. 'Hullo,' she said. 'When are you leaving?'
'Tomorrow morning.'
'Are you hungry?'
'Not particularly. I've brought some
wine.'
'I'm not mad about wine. Don't stand
there, come in. I've cooked a pan of Scouse.'
The wine was rosé – I knew she
liked the colour. Bernie joined us for the stew. He was quieter and floppier than
ever and went to bed soon after we had finished eating.
'You won't get Bernie's name in the
papers, will you?'
'Mother, they're not interested in
Bernie.'

'Oh, that's good'. Do you like the
bungalow?'
'Yes, it's very nice.'
'It's lovely.'
We chatted and opened the second
bottle of rosé. She relaxed more and more but I didn't. I tried to explain to
her about the divorce, its implications, but she couldn't take it in and preferred to
enlighten me about Theresa's awfulness, how Theresa wouldn't speak to her, how
Majorie came to see her only when she wanted something, and how the boys were
much better only she didn't see much of them either. I ended up having a polite
battle with a mother I didn't know and couldn't reach. But the more we talked the
more I realised that she was much fonder of Arthur than she was of me. And that
she was a scatterbrain and would be anybody's under cross-examination. I'd gone
up to see if she could testify on my behalf, and came away terrified in case she did.
Terry visited her himself and said she could be useful to us, but I said I didn't want
her to be called if it were avoidable.
My leading counsel was J.P. Comyn Q.C.,
assisted by Leonard Lewis. They both had their work cut out in seeking to grasp
abstruse and mostly hypothetical medical principles in a field where even the
experts did not agree. Mr Comyn was one of the most persuasive and feared
advocates at the Common Law Bar and was extremely fashionable. But I think he
underestimated the complexity of the argument which would have to be mounted in
my defence and the force with which it would have to be prosecuted if we were to
succeed. He held too much faith in putting me in the witness box and letting
appearances speak for themselves. By contrast Arthur was represented by Joseph
Jackson Q.C., a thoroughly rude and unpleasant man and, probably for this reason,
one of the best divorce lawyers in the kingdom.
The complexity arose because, as the
judge wrote:Since marriage is essentially. a relationship between man and
woman, the validity of the marriage in this case depends, in my judgement, on
whether the respondent is or is not a woman. I think with respect, that this is a
more precise way of formulating the question than that adopted in paragraph 2 of
the petition, in which it is alleged that the respondent is a male. The greater, of
course, includes the less, but the distinction may not be without importance, at any
rate in some cases. The question then becomes what is meant by the word 'woman'
in the context of marriage, for I am not concerned to determine the 'legal sex' of
the respondent at large … It appears to be the first occasion on which a court in
England has been called on to decide the sex of an individual, and, consequently,
there is no authority which is directly in point.

Joan Foa was superb. I must say it is amazing how people do rally round and,
however much it may be due to their love of vicarious excitement, it is essential not
to be alone during such ordeals. Joan said, 'If only we could get Roger Ormrod to be
judge. I know him. He'd surely understand.' When the letter arrived saying that the
case was indeed to be heard before Ormrod we hugged each other and danced round
the kitchen. 'I know it's going to be all right now,' she said. Justice of course does
not turn on such blatant considerations, but because it is so cold and impersonal a
force, out of fear one catches at anything which will give it some human aspect.
Ormrod had been a doctor before the war and I believe this was one of the reasons
he was chosen.
The night before the trial opened I
watched some television with Joan and her husband Giorgio, went up to my room
and thought about what to wear. This in itself was a devilish decision. Too severe
and I would be called butch. Too feminine and I would be accused of trying too hard.
I shelved the problem and collected a Vindaloo curry from the Indian take-away
opposite. This is a very hot curry which, after our first experience of it, we
christened the Windy Loo. When eaten with a Mandrax it either shot you skywards
in a fireball or knocked you out dead, depending on whether or not you were
supine at the time. I took the liberty of two Mandrax but it was no good. There was
too much adrenalin in me for sleep.
Arriving at the Divorce Courts, 1969

      11 November 1969. I rose and had a cup
of coffee. I dressed, deciding on a black-velvet maxi-coat and the fox hat I'd worn
for the snows of Bavaria, and was ready when the car came to take me to the Law
Courts in the Strand.
The car (which had been laid on by
some people who were setting me up in a restaurant) dropped me at the back
entrance to avoid the press. The reporters saw what was happening and swarmed
across the courtyard. I was ushered across the famous Great Hall, a Victorian Gothic
masterpiece designed to reduce to the size of a mouse anyone who sets foot in it.
Terry and Mr Comyn were outside No. 2 Court.
Arthur was there with his lot. He was in a
dark suit and tie and looked much older than I had expected. 'How silly,' I thought,
'that I can't go over and greet him.' More than all the probing questions and the
probing fingers, more than the endless consultations, this simple fact made me
realise that I was now in the grip of something inhuman. I had surrendered my
soul to the lawyers and would have to watch while they not very skilfully kicked it
about among themselves.

Abnormalities of sexual identity are divided into two broad categories, the
psychological and the physical. Of the psychological two main abnormalities are
recognised – the transvestite and the transsexual, although transsexualism may
possibly have some physical origin too. A transvestite is someone with a strong
desire to wear the clothes of the opposite sex. This is usually intermittent and not
accompanied by the corresponding desire to live and pass as a member of the
opposite sex. Transvestite males are frequently heterosexual. The transsexual on the
other hand desires to become to the fullest possible extent a member of the opposite
sex. Transvestism and transsexualism are both far more common among males than
among females.
While disagreeing strongly on where
the emphasis should lie, the medical witnesses on both sides agreed that there are
four fundamental criteria for assessing the sexual identity of an individual. Diese
are:
Chromosomal sex. Normally a
person has twenty-three pairs of chromosomes in his ordinary body cells. All ova
carry the X. There are two varieties of spermatozoa, one X, the other Y. Fusion of the
ovum with an X spermatozoon produces an embryo of XX chromosomes and
eventually a normal female. Fusion of the ovum with a Y spermatozoon produces an
XY embryo and eventually a normal male.

Gonadal sex. This refers to the
presence of either testes or ovaries, and the hormonal ratios which they
regulate.
External body form or genital sex.
The presence of a penis and scrotum or a vagina, plus secondary sexual
characteristics.
Psychological sex. The standard
tool here is the Terman-Miles Test, an extensive questionnaire which the patient is
asked to complete.
In the great majority of individuals
there is no problem. All four will be congruent. But naturally there are exceptions.
There can be errors at the stage of chromosomal fusion resulting, for example, in
an XXY chromosome pattern or an XO (i.e. single X). The XXY is Klinefelter's
syndrome, an undermasculinised male with atrophied testes and some breast
enlargement. At puberty the secondary sexual characteristics fail to develop in the
proper way. The XO is Turner's syndrome. An X goes missing, producing an
individual with the external appearance of a female but no ovaries and again
failure of the normal changes at puberty.
The development of a normal male or
female is not governed exclusively by the chromosomes. The correct chemical
balance in the embryo is also critical. For example, the adrenogenital syndrome.
Here the chromosomes are XX but the external genitalia may appear to be male.
What has happened is that abnormal enlargement of the clitoris produces the
appearance of a penis and fusion of the labia the appearance of a scrotum. But
there are no testicles and further examination reveals the deception. In most cases
hormone treatment and surgical intervention enables the woman to live as a
normal fertile female. Alternatively a subject has XY chromosomes and testes but
the external genital appearance of a woman, with well-formed breasts (testicular
feminisation syndrome) due to the tissues being insensitive to male hormones.
Testes are usually found in the abdomen. Surgical resolution of this problem is far
more difficult, since it is always easier to remove an excess than it is to supply a
want (it is not yet possible to build a convincing penis; for the same reason
transsexual surgery on males is more feasible than that on females).
All the doctors agreed that the above
examples, which are not very uncommon, would be classified as intersex. la
physical criteria fail to agree. Many doctors, including Dr Armstrong, define
intersex as the state in which any of the criteria, including the psychological, fails
to agree. But because our society demands that we be either male or female, the
medical profession has to assign the subject to one sex or the other. As Professor
Dewhurst put it: 'We do not determine sex – in medicine we determine the sex in
which it is best for the individual to live.'

So what about me? Could I be classified
as intersex and therefore be reassigned to the female sex as being that in which it
was best for me to live? That was the medical consideration.
And were I not to be classified as
intersex, would my post-operative transsexual status none the less entitle me to be
classified as a woman for the purposes of marriage? That was the legal
consideration.
Of my chromosomal sex there was no
doubt. Professor Hayhoe found it to be XY, male.
Of my gonadal sex there was no
evidence, although presumed male at birth. Professor Mills and Dr Armstrong
thought that I was a probable case of Klinefelter's syndrome. This occurs in the
case of XXY chromosomes but occasionally in XY too. They accepted my statement of
spontaneous breast development and small testes and generally feminised figure
prior to the taking of oestrogen, underlined by the report from the Walton Hospital
(poor on detail though it was). Professor Mills attached much importance to the
reference to 'little bodily or facial hair'. His examination of my body found no
evidence of male hair-growth whatsoever, either on my face or elsewhere, and
once such hair develops evidence of it can never be entirely eliminated.
Professor Mills, an endocrinologist, felt
that subjects with a decidedly abnormal ratio between male and female hormones
might also be candidates for intersex. He referred to a chemical test carried out on
my urine which indicated that my hormonal balance was strongly female in
character. Another test carried out during the trial produced a more ambiguous
result. Neither test was allowed in evidence because they were not carried out
under legal supervision.
Of my genital sex, it was now female
due to vaginoplasty, though male at birth.
With regard to psychological sex, I took
the Terman-Miles Test. The average male scores 65+, the average female -31. Meine
score was -15, the conclusion being that my psyche was emphatically female in
orientation. Unfortunately this test was likewise inadmissable because it wasn't
carried out under legal supervision. Dr Armstrong and Professor Roth felt that
transsexuals could not be classified as properly male or female and could only be
usefully described as intersex. All their attempts to broaden the discussion along
these lines were cut short by Ormrod, who agreed with Professor Dewhurst and Dr
Randell that in questions of sex-determination little regard should be given to
psychological factors when chromosomal, gonadal and genital sexes are all the
same.
This, crudely, was the medical picture. But
let's go back and into court where we were all sitting with solemn, even perplexed,
faces.

I would have liked to do a Perry Mason on the trial but no transcription was made
and to attempt, therefore, a dramatic reconstruction of the procedure would be
hazardous. The risk of misrepresentation in a matter such as this, in which the
reasonableness, or the futility, of an argument may rest upon the correct placing
of a comma, would be very great – even as it is, it's like writing on eggshells. So
what follows is, I'm afraid, only an impressionistic account which is, however, in
keeping with my numbed, incredulous state of mind.
The court was deep, pit-like. We sat on
the front bench with our solicitors and the Q.C.s one bench up behind us. Everyone
stood for the entrance of Mr Justice Ormrod, who wore a little wig and spectacles
(not half-moons). At first the public gallery was thinly populated but this changed
as the trial got under way (seventeen days spreading from 11 November to 9
December).
The first matter to be discussed was
what to call me. I was happy with 'April Ashley' but they settled on 'Mrs Corbett'. Je
felt that Ormrod didn't like me, a gut reaction. I mentioned this to Terry and
Professor Mills over lunch in the basement of the courts and they laughed it off.
But I knew Ormrod was disconcerted by me. He never once looked me straight in the
eye but glanced furtively in my direction and mumbled his references to me as if
they were distasteful to him. His behaviour towards me was contemptuous. Richter
are the absolute rulers of their domain, and can play at being God, a temptation
they do not always resist. Solicitors and counsel alike are obsequious to the point of
grovelling, each side desperately keen to get into better books than the other by
adopting ever more extravagant genuflections. And the sycophantic laughter when
the Judge attempts humour – well, the atmosphere is terribly unnatural, stiff with
formalism against which common sense has to fight for breath.
Arthur's case was opened first. When
questioned he was very frank about his personal life. In this he had been cleverly
advised. He explained that he had had sexual relations with many women before,
during and after his marriage to Eleanor. He also described his deviations, the male
brothels, what happened there, his need to dress as a woman, which he did about
four or five times a year. About being so dressed he remarked, 'I didn't like what I
saw. You want the fantasy to appear right. It utterly failed to appear right in my
eyes.' From the first meeting he said he had been mesmerised by me. 'This was so
much. more than I could ever hope to be. The reality was far greater than any
fantasy.' And later: 'It far outstripped any fantasy for myself I could never have
contemplated it for myself.'
Suddenly I realised what he was doing.
So did my medical and legal advisers. Arthur was emphatically presenting himself
as a deviate, in vivid detail, some of which was new even to me. For example, I had
not realised the extent of his homosexual experiences. By adopting this confessional
approach, by posing as the pervert since struck by contrition, by casting a pall of
sulphurous depravity and transgression over our entire relationship, he was able
to convey the impression that our marriage was no more than a squalid prank,
some deliberate mockery of moral society perpetrated by a couple of queers for
their own twisted amusement. By implication, I too was a deviate, and no more than
a deviate. He appeared to be apologising in court and sympathy was forthcoming. Je
was not apologising for being myself and sympathy wasn't forthcoming.
This tactic involved an urgent
reconsideration of my defence. It was the first turning-point of a case which was
now revealed as something quite different from an objective consideration of my
status for marriage purposes. I now had to defend myself against an all-purpose
stigma of indecency, against the prevailing opinion, led by Arthur's testimony, that
our marriage was a shameful joke because I myself was a shameful joke.
A few days into the case Ormrod
suddenly asked if it were necessary to continue wasting the tax-payers' money.
Both Arthur's representative and mine protested that it was important to hear the
evidence in full and Ormrod grumpily agreed to go on. In the face of his alarming
lack of interest in the debate, my counsel began to look very worried indeed.
Professor Mills said, 'There is a great
deal of snobbery in this case, April.' By this I assumed he meant not only the
obvious prejudices against transsexuals and the usual gestures of male chauvinism
but also a more subtle association between Arthur, Arthur's counsel and the bench,
the subconscious intransigence and hauteur of educated gentlemen who had
no intention of being made to revise, or even examine, their notions of what a man,
a woman, a marriage might be, especially not at the behest of a parvenue such as
myself who, having been born into a Liverpool slum, not only refused to stay there
but had the damn nerve to change her sex into the bargain, and not only that, but
more, much more, cheek of all cheek, had the impertinence to marry into the
peerage as well! I was in all respects an arriviste and so in their eyes not
worthy of serious consideration. I have little doubt that my position and my
arguments would have been accorded far greater respect had I been born into a
family of distinction (on the other hand, perhaps not, perhaps I should have been
pilloried for letting the side down. One thing you have to admire about these castes –
they sure know how to protect themselves, from without and from within.).

Dr Randell's psychiatric examination
was, to say the least, curt. At one point I had my head X-rayed because Professor
Dent said it would show male characteristics – but he turned out to be wrong. Dent,
by far the friendliest of the opposition, seemed to regret having been caught up in
the affair, as later did Professor Dewhurst, whom Jackson on several occasions had
to prompt with words which suggested he was thinking 'Whose bloody side are you
on?' The provisional nature of Dewhurst's conclusions became obvious under cross-
examination.
They say that if your shoulders are
wider than your hips it is a sign of masculinity. My shoulders were half an inch
wider than my hips. When the discussion turned to the question of my beard, the
subject was raised of the races of the world who do not have hairy faces, Orientals,
Mongolians, Red Indians. I longed to cry out, 'But I'm not a Red Indian!' Both men
and women have hair on all parts of their bodies except the palms of the hands and
the soles of the feet. This varies in amount and character according to sex. My face
is in fact quite downy but of female type and my pubic hair is in the classic female
pattern. I used to worry about my legs and would have them waxed. I remember my
beautician saying to me, 'Miss Ashley, if you think you've got hairy legs, you should
see Elizabeth Taylor's shoulders.'
Dr Vaillant was subpoenaed by the
opposition. He was still head of the psychiatric department at Walton. But I was
shocked when they brought him in because he was in a desperate condition, a
terrified man. 'What have they done to him?' crossed my mind, suddenly imagining
myself in Russia or Fascist Germany. He was dragged in, hunched up and trembling,
eyes darting everywhere. The ushers had to shove him physically into the witness
box because at the bottom of the steps he began moaning, 'I can't go up, I can't, I
suffer from vertigo.' He was wrenching his shoulders, pulling in his arms, pulling
bits of himself away from the ushers, the picture of a man trying to avoid being
strapped into a strait-jacket. The judge said, 'Mrs Corbett, will you please stand
up.'
I stood rigidly to attention.
'What do you think of the respondent
now, Dr Vaillant?'
He screwed up his face and his eyes
started out on stalks. He hissed one word: 'Mincing!' After extracts from the Walton
Report were read out they let him go, to his very great relief. Vertigo? A few feet up
in the witness box? It was cruel to bring him in. He had no useful testimony for
either side.
Jackson tried to imply that I was a gold-
digger and had conned Arthur into marriage. Both these insinuations were
discounted. Arthur said he knew all of my history at the time of our marriage and
that he felt for me the love which a man feels for a woman. The judge said his
impressions in this area were inclined to be fantasies and were not important
(although elsewhere the judge commended him for the straightforward honesty of
his testimony).
'But,' said Jackson, 'you received and
accepted many presents from Mr Corbett.'
'Yes, every single one chosen by my
husband and never asked for by me.'
When cross-examined about the
anatomy of my body before the operation I broke down and cried a little. For any
transsexual this is the most distressing memory of all – we bury it, we try to forget
it, we push it further and further into the recesses of the mind, and therefore it
remains at the root of our insecurity. In my case this is especially ironical and
annoying because in all other respects I'm a great one for getting things out in the
open.
I have already described my male
genitals as 'meagre' and that is exactly what they were. I have already stated that to
my eyes my appearance was otherwise more female than male. My inability to be
more clinically specific counted against me and the absence of proper detail in the
Walton Report made it difficult for my doctors' belief in an XY case of Klinefelter's
syndrome to be taken into account. Let me put it to you like this. How would you like
the most personal details of your sexual mind and body, with all its doubts and
vagaries and imperfections, to be paraded for public scrutiny in a court of law? Not
very nice. And you are one who (setting aside the intersex readers for a moment)
has the basic security of knowing yourself to be either male or female. Multiply
therefore your sensitivity to such exposure a hundredfold and you might be able to
grasp something of how horrible it was for me.
Having said that, it is wise to add that
all unpleasant truths have finally to be faced if one is to free oneself from them. So
having been forced to take stock of my previous self in public, unambiguous
terms, in the long run – in the very long run because it took years to get over it and
this is still the most difficult chapter to get out of my system, a kind of catharsis – I
did emerge a stronger individual, having been obliged to acknowledge aspects of
my past which in my weakness I should have preferred to regard as simply not
being there.
An analogy would be the working-class
boy who works his way into the middle-class – his biggest problem is coming to
terms with his origins. My working-class origins never bothered me in the
slightest, as it happens. They were completely upstaged by my more fundamental
and harrowing transference from male to female. For post-operative transsexuals
the greatest test is accepting in full what it actually means: that they were
never natural males and can never be natural females either. On these grounds
alone, it seems to me, we are the most obvious of all intersex types.
Towards the end of the trial, in early
December, I was coming out of the courtroom with Terry and Professor Mills when
there she was, standing in the corridor in boots and a full-length black mink and
heavy dark glasses. Rita.
By this time I was so spaced out that all
I could say was, 'Hullo, Gigi. I'll be right with you.' The feeling for 'time' had gone
in me and with it an important aspect of normal perception (the other being a
feeling for 'space'). We went across the road for tea.

'How's your son? David?'
'I've got four,' she said, 'three boys and
a girl.'
'You must have done an awful lot of
trembling.'
She laughed and said, 'But I'm divorced
from Marcel now. Let me drive you home.'
At Clarendon Road we brewed endless
pots of tea and talked and talked. Only then did it dawn that I hadn't seen or heard
anything of her for twelve years. Apart from a broader American accent and a
generalised aura of uptown Hollywood, she hadn't changed at all, the same beautiful
round face with shining green eyes and not a line to be found, the same
extraordinary sense of fun which disconcerts so many people and which I find
impossible to convey. But in its very different way her divorce had been almost as
traumatic as mine was being because, underneath the jocularity, it had clearly
taken a similar toll on her self-assurance and sense of identity. She had returned
from the U.S.A. only a few months previously and had moved to Aylesbury to be
near her favourite sister and bring up her four kids single-handed, which I
thought was really gutsy. When we'd last met I had been Toni April. But she had
recognised me from the newspaper photographs. Joey she'd been unable to trace. Je
told her that he'd gone to Canada, bought a boat which he'd christened the
Cockney Panther, and was at that very moment probably floating past an atoll
in the Pacific. I hoped so. It sounded so much more attractive than the pickle I'd got
myself into.
The trial ended on 9 December. la
reserved judgment was not to be read until the following February and the interim
would be an endurance of nerves. Arthur flew back to Spain, but not before Terry
Walton had chased him down the Strand and slapped a writ on him, seeking a court
declaration that Arthur held the Villa Antoinette in trust for me. This was a
precaution in case the judgment went in my favour. I went up to Oxford to a
dancing party at Lady Margaret Hall with Duncan and Richard Doyle, and Rita came
with me. She took to the place directly and her high spirits awed them. She could
party all night, have one hour's sleep, and be as fresh as milk for more excesses the
following day. The only person who could keep up with her was Duncan and even
he had to retire with conjunctivitis after two consecutive nights without sleep. His
parents were arriving to take him out to dinner and he greeted them with a blue
complexion, sinister dark glasses, and two eyes full of pus. 'I don't know what you're
on,' his father said, 'but it's costing me several thousand a year.'
I looked like a skeleton, having dropped
from nine stones to seven, but the undergraduates were fine therapy for the simple
reason that they were less interested in the trial than in their own exotic affairs.
Richard Doyle, also painfully thin, great-nephew of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and
now a novelist himself, paid me all manner of exquisite attentions at a time when
my self-esteem was at its most vulnerable. Having left Oxford, he kept me going
with a stream of letters from his family home in Essex. They were never more than
a couple of pages, and his writing was such that he could never manage more than
one sentence per page, but they were amusing and companionable.Dear Ashes, Our new drive is being constructed today so we have a
bulldozer working away. This rather spoilt lunch since this machine was working
just outside the dining-room windows while we were eating. It is a trifle upsetting
to have a huge sweaty machine and driver of similar description thrusting away
some ten feet from the table.

… Many thanks for the lovely note and also the cutting about the Daimler. As you
say, a lovely car and dirt cheap at 5 ½ grand. The trouble is I think if I got
one of those just now, people would think I was embezzling… a huge lorry has now
got stuck in the mud of our new drive.

… My mother has just bought a new grand piano in my absence. This, after I had
spent much time and effort persuading her to get rid of the old one… I have your
photograph prominently displayed on my dressing table; however as yet no one has
been in to look at it.

The ordinariness and the simplicity of these communications meant a great deal to
me during that nerve-racking winter.
By 2 February, the Day of Judgment, I
had lost another half-stone and was down to six and a half. At 9a.m. diesen Morgen
Arthur was found in a coma at the Villa Antoinette, which further fattened the
headlines. He was discovered face-down on the sitting-room floor by the maid, who
had come in to take Mr Blue for a walk. His friend Guy Sitwell said, 'Arthur must
have been unconscious for at least sixteen hours – he was supposed to catch a plane
from Milaga to London last night to be in court. The doctor says he has a head
injury and may have fallen.'
Towards the end of the judgment, long
after my last hope had slid into obscurity, one of my restaurant partners who'd
come along said, 'Come on, we're going.' The press were outside and he told them, 'If
you want to speak to Miss Ashley, there will be a press conference in half an hour
at the restaurant premises, 8 Egerton Gardens Mews.'

The judgment had been: I hold that it
has been established that the respondent is not, and was not, a woman at the date of
the ceremony of marriage, but was, at all times, a male. The marriage is,
accordingly, void…' In this any consideration of intersex was discounted by the
judge, who in some instances did not believe the testimony relating to it and in
others held it to be irrelevant. The psychological sex, he said, would have
importance only when the biological criteria were not congruent. Transsexuals
therefore lost all marriageable rights. As for my villa – I could whistle for it.
I remember very little of the press
conference, I was in robot gear. They asked me what I felt about Arthur's coma.
'I'm sorry about it. But I shan't be
flying out to see him. That part of my life has ended.'
'Yes, I'm still to be regarded as a woman
for social purposes – woman's passport, woman's prison, woman's national
insurance, woman's hospital, etc. I shall get my pension at sixty.' (Although there
was a case recently of a transsexual who applied for her pension at sixty and was
told she'd have to wait.)
'What are you going to do now?'
'Carry on. What else can one do? It just
means I can't get married for the moment but I have no plans to anyway.'

Joan didn't know what to say to me. She was stunned by the judgment. All I wanted
to do was go up to my room and hide. I lay on the bed, shut off my mind, and
eventually went to sleep. Nothing had yet sunk in.

The Simon Dee Show on television was
the first Sunday after the judgment. I said I couldn't go on unless they gave me a
large glass of whisky to have on the set. Eventually they relented. John Lennon and
Yoko Ono were on with me, talking about their bags. They would climb into them
and stay there. Bag for Peace. Bag for Love. Bag for Whatever. They kept climbing
into these bags. We were all clowns together.
But I was in a state of shock. As I came
out of it, I went into a deep depression. The judge's words went round and round in
my head like an unstoppable tape loop, provoking ugly nightmares and the
physical sensations associated with fear. I felt guilty. Hideously so. My pride had
taken a beating from which it never fully recovered. I had been proud of escaping
from the Liverpool slums, I had been proud of finding by myself the solution to my
problems of sexual identity, and now it was just. thrown back in my face as worse
than nothing. Physically I was completely run down. I had to check into a health
farm; Forest Mere in Hampshire.
At Forest Mere I spent most of the time
alone. I had to face people but I couldn't. I didn't know what to say to them and they
didn't know what to say to me. Ava Gardner was there, trimming up for a film. Je
longed to introduce myself but all my confidence had been wiped out overnight.
Meals were served in my room. I didn't visit the public dining-room once. ils
started me off on health food – nuts, raisins, salads, beans – because I'd virtually
stopped eating and could take nothing more substantial.
My mental state was horrific. It was
like being on a helter-skelter, going down very fast in an agony of despair and
panic with no one to help me apply the brakes. Why was I alone? Why had I no
family to help me? There was nothing solid inside me. All my certainties had turned
into meringues. I would rush away from the lip of one abyss to find myself at the
edge of another. When your confidence in yourself as a person is knocked
completely away – and I do not mean dented or bruised but knocked completely – it
produces a rapid and uncontrollable oscillation of intensely unpleasant feelings
which amounts to suffering from acute claustrophobia and acute agoraphobia
simultaneously. Your reason tells you that it is vital to cling on to people and fills
you with the dread of being left alone. But your emotion fills you with a dread of all
encounters. In this way reason and emotion wreck each other and the battle
between the two produces rushes of panic, confused perception and patternless
palpitations and muscular spasms. It is the patternlessness which is so frightening.
Everything is out of control. Which being the case, I was frightened of hurting
myself. Since the operation I have never done this in a deliberate way but my
aloneness increased the apprehension that I might do something silly, by mistake
as it were, not because I sought death but because I sought a respite from these
tortures. Was there nothing which could
…minister to a mind diseas'd,
Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow,
Raze out the written troubles of the brain,
And with some sweet oblivious antidote

Cleanse the stuff'd bosom of that perilous stuff
Which weighs upon the heart?
I had brought a bottle of Remy Martin to help me sleep. Each night I stared at it,
longing to crack it open and swallow the lot but knowing that if I did it would
destroy whatever drive remained in me. It was one of the modest challenges I set
myself, which kept me sane by giving my willpower something specific to bite on.
When one is in this sort of state, one has to begin with the small accomplishments. Je
love reading but couldn't manage it. My focus shifted wildly about. Either the page
was an impenetrable mess of print or the phrases would eat into me with a queasy
intensity. So I decided to put the television on and leave it on all the time, even with
just the test card, just for the noise. I often slept through it. I kept nodding off or
cutting out. The awful thing about depression is losing one's powers of
discrimination. This is compounded by the fact that one's grip on oneself is so weak
that sleep is continually interrupted by outbursts of lurid dreams and unwanted
flows of adrenalin, and therefore wakefulness suffers from the constant drag of
exhaustion. In consequence the distinction between the waking hours and the
sleeping hours begins to be lost and one comes to occupy a twilit interzone of
drifting anxiety and sudden vertigos. But it was essential for me to have episodes of
complete rest at whatever cost, so I continued to swallow Mandrax at night.
Forest Mere has excellent stables and I
wished to go riding but was found to be too debilitated and had to be content with
long walks. I was staying in a row of chalets, the walls between which were very
thin. In the adjacent chalet a man was on the telephone and I heard him say, 'You'll
never guess who's in the cabin next to mine – that monster April Ashley.' I have
had great experience of loneliness but at that moment the feeling was never more
complete. More than an anguish of friendlessness, it was a bleak and limitless
conviction that I was outside humanity altogether and therefore that humanity was
meaningless and had no existence. This lasted for, oh I don't know, some timeless
moments during which I lost all sense of perceptual identity in a universe of
indifferent chaos. Then something happened. I became angry. Or rather I became
aware of a tiny strand of anger somewhere within me, the merest filament, but it
existed, and it was ME. I was angry with the man next door. I had gone way beyond
the confines of self-pity, towards the foothills of insanity, and anger was leading
me back into the flock.
I tried the sauna bath. It was crowded
with obese women. I looked like something out of a concentration camp and was
embarrassed by my body which, after the court case, was the object of their uneasy
curiosity. They were embarrassed too. I told Big Blonde Betty, my masseuse, 'I'm not
going in there again. I don't like saunas anyway. Are there any steam baths
here?'
'Oh yes, they'll be much nicer for you
because they're individual, private.'
Betty was fantastic, my contact with a
nourishing reality, because I was in genuine need of some mummying. 'April,
you're so thin -we'll have to take good care of you. Forget all about the court – we've
got more important things to do now.'
She gave me a massage every morning.
I asked for as much oil and cream as possible because my skin was out of condition
and flaking off. Followed by a steam bath, more oil, beauty treatments, my daily
walk, rabbit food, TV, dozing, fitful sleep.

But I didn't want to stay at Forest Mere
for more than a week because I became very frightened that if I didn't plunge back
into the world immediately the depression would settle on me and I should go into
an absolute decline. This understanding in itself marked progress. But the prospect
of leaving filled me with foreboding. How would my friends and acquaintances
react? The judgment quickly sorted them out. In some cases I was upset to discover
how bad a judge of character I'd been. But these were more than compensated for
by the reverse surprises, those people secure enough in themselves not only to
accept me, in all my vivid headline sinfulness, but also to champion me. près
friends like Viva weren't bothered in the least, except for my welfare.
Strangers reacted in all sorts of ways.
There was the usual screwed-up minority who made a point of referring to me as
'him', especially if I were within earshot. Some poked me in the breasts to see if
they were real, or pulled my hair to see if it were false. What amazes me is that in
other respects these are usually normal people. Sex cases seem to bring out their
weird secret obsessions. They acted as if they had a perfect right to humiliate me in
this way, as if my past meant that I surrendered all rights to the basic
courtesies.
But on the whole, people – from the
London taxi-driver upwards, or downwards, whichever way you want to go – were
unexpectedly kind and went out of their way to boost me. One woman who had
attended the trial every day ran across me in the street. In Sloane Square I felt a tug
on my sleeve and turned round. I recognised her at once. About sixty years old,
very slim and smart. 'Miss Ashley, do you remember me? I hope you won't take any
notice of that idiotic judgment. You would be foolish to do so. Live your life, be
wonderful. I watched you. You are very brave.'
I mumbled something and ran off. Es
was terrible, running away from her like that, but I felt the tears coming. Right up
until that moment I'd kept it all in. I'd read the letters alone with the odd little tear.
But now this woman in Sloane Square had simply reached across and touched my
heart and had almost triggered the flood. I wanted to sob it all away. I should have
done. But I held it back -just. It was a long time before I recovered the courage to let
myself go in this respect. Crying is not given to us for nothing. It is a release for
distressed emotions. It has been discovered that emotional distress builds up certain
chemicals in the body. They ran an analysis of real tears and these chemicals were
found in them. But in tears induced by onions these chemicals were not present. elle
would be interesting to know what would be found in tears of laughter.
There were many letters of course,
mostly from women, mostly kind and encouraging. Only two were truly abusive.
'You're a bloody man, get back into trousers, who do you think you're kidding?'
As part of my brazen-it-out therapy I
again went to Oxford. Those qualities in myself which I like least – my
stubbornness, my bluntness, my egotism – were now the very ones I had to draw on
to pull myself up. Not only did I intend to stick around, I intended to make noises
too. But going to Oxford was a nail-biting business because the undergraduates
didn't belong to my generation, my world, my set. They were independent and they
were young and therefore their reaction was especially important. I made myself as
glamorous as possible and went up to a party given by Baron Paul de Gaiffier
d'Hestroy at New College. And had a sensational time. Their behaviour towards me
hadn't altered in the slightest degree – except that they were rather excited by the
publicity – and this helped me to feel that perhaps nothing very crucial had
happened to me after all. There was only one piece of bother. We had all gone on to
another party on the first floor of a large private house in the Banbury Road. EIN
Rugby Blue the size of a bus roared, 'You're a bloke, you'll always be a bloke, and I
fancy you!' As he advanced I side-stepped, he overbalanced, and like a pelican
diving for food, went plummeting down a grand staircase to the bottom where he
was left to sleep it off.
There was the question of an appeal.
Terry was very keen on this. 'Everything is moving in our direction.' He even
offered to help financially. Money was of course the problem. I had received legal
aid for the case but this is not granted for appeals. The Sunday Mirror had
paid me £5,000 for my side of the story. My partners suggested I sign this
immediately over to the restaurant, on an investment understanding, otherwise I
should forfeit it all in legal costs (Legal Aid has to be paid back if one comes into
money within seven years). The cost of the appeal was assessed at £7,000 and
a substantial part of it had to be placed with the court by 24 August 1970. Joseph
Jackson said that I had deliberately disposed of my assets so as to be unable to pay
the cost of the appeal. This is untrue. My assets would have been swallowed up by
the previous costs. At one point an American foundation dealing with transsexuals
was willing to underwrite the appeal but this had to be dropped when it was
discovered that Professor Dewhurst sat on their English committee. I must admit
that I had little energy for fund-raising at this stage but I do regret not trying
harder while the opportunity remained. The drift of subsequent debate was towards
my side, as were certain legal developments in Europe and America. But it couldn't
be managed in time. And because there was no appeal, there was no transcription.
This alone would have cost £872.10s for the top copy, Plus £72.12s.6d.
for each duplicate copy required by the court.

Let's get the sour grapes out of the way right now. I was bitter.
A month after the decision went
against me in London, a court in Grasse in the south of France ruled in the case of
Hélene Hauterive, a 35-year-old transsexual who underwent in Casablanca
an operation identical to mine, that she is a female for legal purposes and can
marry if she wishes because 'she possesses external genitalia of a feminine type
and because her psychological behaviour is without doubt that of a woman.'
Dr Harry Benjamin

      In New York Dr Harry Benjamin
commented on my case: 'The judge's ruling is terribly illogical. It is a very
inhuman decision… While we should be very careful and very conservative in
advising the operation, once it has been done we should do all in our power to make
life easier for them… Chromosomal tests are a purely technical thing and of no
practical value, but could nobody see this?' Dr Howard Jones Jnr, of Baltimore's
Johns Hopkins Medical School, America's leading institute for transsexual research,
commented: 'Sex can be identified in a number of ways – by chromosomes, by
identification of the gonads, by examining the genitalia, external and internal, and
by looking at the hormones. The sex an individual considers himself to be is an
equally important factor… It isn't the operation that changes the sex. The operation
merely reinforces a decision that has already been made. One who is familiar with
this particular problem soon comes to the conclusion that you can't disregard the
fact that someone believes he is a female.'
Christine Jorgensen said: 'The judge's
decision is a cop out.'
What it effectively did was create a third
sex for whom marriage was not possible, this third sex comprising not only all
transsexuals but also certain intersex categories. The Lancet posed this
recondite but still important question:
…operations might be carried out which subsequently make it impossible for the
person to fit either sex for marriage purposes. What, for instance, is to happen in
the case of a female child with the adrenogenital syndrome who has a complete
penile urethra and labia fused to form an empty scrotum, if a surgeon when
exploring for undescended testes finds a uterus and ovaries and removes them
(such a case is recorded)? On the decision of Mr Justice Ormrod the patient is female
and one must 'ignore any operative intervention'. This would be a heartless
decision… There is no doubt that these two decisions about assignment of sex and
what is an acceptable artificial vagina raise problems of great importance to the
medical profession. The work of paediatricians, endocrinologists, and
gynaecologists in dealing with problems of intersex will now be immeasurably
more difficult and surrounded by a frightening air of uncertainty. Although the
marriage of such a person might possibly not be annulled during the lifetime of
the partners, the challenge could still come after the death of one of them, from a
third party who was interested in the inheritance.

One does wonder why the question of whether or not I was an intersex was not
properly investigated. Professor Mills wrote to the Lancet:
…there was abundant evidence that this individual did not go through anything
remotely like male puberty, and since I believe her statement that the breasts
developed spontaneously, I consider that she was endocrinologically an intersex.
Thus I believe that an artificial vagina was constructed in an intersex patient,
which is something we frequently invite such experts as Professor Dewhurst to
tun.

Why didn't Ormrod order the hormone tests and the Terman-Miles Test to be
properly carried out? I wish he had done so, because if I had been proven to be an
intersex I should no doubt have received a far more sympathetic hearing. But
whether or not I am an intersex is a question marginal to my feelings on this
subject, which are that just because Arthur and I made a farcical mess of things it is
unfortunate that a general principle had to be extrapolated, denying transsexuals
marriageable status altogether. To deny a small but distinct social group such a
right is a very serious matter and yet Ormrod did not seem to take it seriously. il
came to his conclusions irritably, as if it were only what we deserved, that we
somehow had to be penalised rather than accounted for. To my mind the medical
arguments should have been only a preamble to the central issue – how can the law
respond intelligently and usefully to the predicament of all transsexuals? I'm not
asking for sympathy, you can get sick up to the back teeth with professional
sympathy, but I am asking for a sense of what is practical in life. Had he not taken
such a narrow view, we might have made some progress here because however you
look at it, it is simply not very bright to say that one must ignore the consequences
of operative intervention. If we were always and only to refer back to first causes,
then civilisation could never happen at all. These operations don't take place for
the hell of it, they are not a branch of light entertainment – and yet Ormrod
persisted in viewing the operation as a kind of wantonness on my part.
Is it the function of the law to create
non-people? And if we had as our inalienable rights 'Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit
of Happiness', what then? Tension between the male and female principles (or the
positive and negative) is the mechanism through which the universe propagates
selbst. It is understandable that the court should pay some attention to this
mechanism as it applies to humans. And having done so, conclude that I am not a
natural female. However, the greater does not include the less. From this it in
no way follows that I am or was a natural male. But this is slightly beside the point.
Because marriage is not a biological relationship. The biological relationship is
called coitus. Marriage is the cultural institution developed from this and when a
relationship develops it changes its character. I do not see that it makes sense to
treat marriage as something entirely separate from the currents of social life of
which in fact it is one of the key components. Procreation is an important factor in
marriage – the most important in most marriages – but from this one must not
assume that marriage and the procreative relationship are the same thing. la
overlap may be immense but the distinction is obvious.

Dr Armstrong and Professor Roth were
especially upset at the dismissive way in which all their attempts to broaden that
argument were treated. In The British Encyclopaedia of Medical Practice Dr
Armstrong with Professor Hall concludes thus:In spite of the fact that the assigned sex of a patient with intersex may
be challenged as not meeting the criteria of a man or of a woman for the purposes
of marriage, the authors would not advise against marriage in the sex assigned
provided the other partner was fully aware of the situation and agreed. It seems
unlikely that society and the medical profession would in general wish to deny the
comradeship and social benefits of marriage to those unfortunate patients who fall
into the category of intersex.

Since Dr Armstrong regards transsexuals as a species of intersex, this advice would
also extend to them. I too would say – Go ahead! But tell your partners all. Be Mr and
Mrs Bloggs if you can. Or more to the point, if you want to. A lot of transsexuals
living in obscurity were unmarried by my judgment and remain helpless before
the law should a conflict enter the relationship. But the situation is bound to be
resolved before long. It will take another court case – more time and money – and a
more far-sighted judge than the one I was blessed with. As Christine Jorgensen's
lawyer, Robert Sherman, said: 'The legal entity of changing sex is only now
evolving. It will take twenty years before it is established.'
But of course the right of a transsexual
to marry by no means solves all his or her problems. Arguments still rage about the
wisdom of the operation itself The Johns Hopkins Medical School suspended its
transsexual operations after a report by Dr Jon Myer suggested that transsexuals
were no happier after surgery. This is often true, alas. There are many suicides.
Their dream is to become a normal man or woman. This is not possible, can never be
possible through surgery. Transsexuals should not delude themselves on this score.
If they do they are setting themselves up for a big, possibly lethal, disappointment.
It is important that they learn to understand themselves as transsexuals, and if they
find this difficult, various groups and associations are there to help them. It's all
very civilised and chatty these days.
Research into the problem continues.
More clues are revealed. In 1979 at the Fourth World Congress of Sexology in Mexico
City, Dr Wolf Eicher of Munich announced that his team had discovered that the H-Y
antigen present in all normal skin tissue was significantly absent in an
experimental group of male-to-female transsexuals. This could be a crucial
discovery. In the last ten years psychiatry had tended to feel more and more that
examination of the DNA and RNA, rather than chromosomes and hormones, is a
more profitable line of investigation. Dr Armstrong believes that recent work on
the sexual differentiation of the brain might provide an answer to the origin of
such a clear-cut and deep-rooted condition as transsexualism. The amount of
androgen required for masculinising the brain is greater than that required to
masculinise the genitals, so that sufficient androgen might be present in the foetus
to produce an anatomical male but still leave the brain improperly differentiated.
This also provides some argument against the feminist proposition that the
differences between male and female outlook are essentially due to cultural
environment and conditioning. Another argument against this proposition is
provided by the tragic case in America of a normal baby boy whose penis was
accidentally cut off by the doctor during circumcision at his birth. After discussion,
it was decided that the best thing to do was perform a sex conversion on the infant
and have him raised as a girl. But now at puberty the 'girl' is revolting against the
female role, the masculine gender is strongly asserting itself, The medical
profession is severely agitated by this case.
The matter is immensely complex.
While we were preparing this book, Sir John Dewhurst wrote to Duncan: 'I believe
the judgement to be correct for the reasons which Mr Justice Ormrod set out in it
and do not think I can helpfully amplify this without going into considerable detail
which you ask me not to do. Certainly no reconsideration of the matter has changed
my view.' But he added: 'I find the whole field of transsexualism one of the most
difficult that I have ever encountered in my medical lifetime, so difficult in fact
that I felt obliged to give up my work in it and concentrate on other things, since
for one reason I felt I was making no progress.'
I admire Sir John's frankness but I hope
not too many other doctors follow his example, because I can't help feeling that a
simpler, less agonising method must be found for solving this problem so that in
the far future sufferers from it will not be obliged to go through what I went
through in Casablanca – and in the courtroom.

I now gave myself to subterranean boîte de Joie, AD8. A for April, D for
Desmond Morgan (Dizzy), 8 for 8 Egerton Gardens Mews. My partners founded a
company, Freshrise Ltd, to run the restaurant and I entered into a five-year
contract with this company which took all my earnings, including the
£5,000 from the Sunday Mirror, in return for which I should officially
receive £60 per month and free accommodation in the studio above the
restaurant. This was the only arrangement, I was persuaded, whereby my income
would not be forfeited in legal costs, although when reviewing my position Lord
Justice Winn observed, 'Slavery has been set aside, but this agreement comes very
near it.' The principal backer was Eagle Star Insurance. Kit Lambert, manager of
the Who pop group and son of the composer Constant Lambert, put up £2,000.
Alan Kaplan, an American doctor, put something in too. He was an addict who
prescribed his own drugs. Not very long after we opened, I was having dinner with
him in the restaurant. As usual he was in an abject state, rambling on about why he
wouldn't be around for much longer, why he'd be doing himself in. I listened to his
morbid talk for an hour or more, I thought it part of the job, then he staggered to
his feet and had to be helped upstairs to a taxi. A few hours later I heard he was
dead. Alan had swallowed a bottle of pills in the restaurant but no one had seen him
do it.
The restaurant opened on Monday, 2
March 1970, with one hell of a party. Between five and six hundred people passed
through what was in fact a rather small underground room. Several weeks later
Shirley Bassey was opening at the Talk of the Town, and Chris Hunter had got
together a group for our first night off. We were about to leave the restaurant
when a wheelchair appeared at the top of the stairs. This was the trademark of
London's most influential restaurant critic, the paraplegic Quentin Crewe who
wrote for Vogue. The cars were waiting for us and I thought it would be too
toadyish to cancel the evening, so I gave him a drink and left.

Quentin's review was savage. The basis
of our salmon pâté was soap, and so forth. All the same, he gave AD8 the
longest write-up of the month. Actually the food improved enormously when in due
course Pepe joined us as cook from La Popote.
It wasn't until later that I could get
back at Quentin, when Henry Pembroke and Christopher Thynne bet me a bottle of
champagne that I dare not accompany them to the Crewe wedding reception at the
Barracuda. In fact, I felt quite confident going along between two lords. When
Quentin said, 'April, I do hope you've forgiven me for the write-up', I was
ready.
'I never read my publicity, darling. Je
just measure it.'
It was at this reception that I first met
Princess Margaret. I was standing by one of the bars, flushed with introductions,
and a young boy approached me.
'Is it true you're April Ashley? I'm
Jeremy Sykes. You know my brother Tatton Sykes. Can I get you a drink?'
'But I've already got this big glass of
champagne.'
'No, something stronger.' He plonked a
tumbler of whisky into my other hand.

'Isn't that Princess Margaret behind
you?' I asked.
'Yes it is. Have you met her?'
'No.'
'Hang about then.' Cockney turns of
phrase were still popular among the jeunesse dorée. Jeremy turned
round and said, "Ere, Maggie. 'He poked her with his finger and it sank into the
flesh of her shoulder. 'Maggie, come and meet April.'
With a glass in each hand I bobbed and
said, 'How do you do, Your Royal Highness.' I was so nervous I got mouth rush and
jabbered. She was skilful at sustaining a conversation with 'Yes' and 'Really' and
'I'm sure it was'. I finished up by saying, 'Will you do me the great honour of dining
at my restaurant? We'll take good care of you. There are private booths at one end
where you can see everything that's going on without anyone seeing you.'
'I'll send someone along to look at it,'
she said.
'Do you mean you'll have someone case
the joint first?' I couldn't help myself. My big mouth again. The words came
tumbling out. She moved away. And never came.

Thoughts on Princess Margaret: a
highly emotional woman. I was reminded of a Frenchman's description of Jane
Digby: 'Her passions could be seen agitating in their imprisonment.' I was
fascinated by how sexy she was. Soft perfect skin, Prussian-blue eyes, thick sensual
lips, an overweight voluptuous body very well held – she seemed more confident in
her body than in anything else. One felt she would bruise easily like a ripe fruit. dans le
the course of being used a great deal she seems to have become a little lost along the
way, so that one thought all the time what a shame it was that fate had called her to
a station in which she is prevented from fulfilling her passionate nature.
I don't think she liked being called
'Maggie' in front of me. It must be a great trial for her to be handed round at
parties. But of course she lays herself open to this by her desire to mix as freely as
possible in the real world. Her roles were a source of confusion to her, being
familiar one minute, pulling rank the next, torn between 'Maggie' and 'Your Royal
Highness'. Of course, had she been blessed with greater wit and lightness of touch,
the incongruity might have given her more amusement and therefore more power.
Instead, this incongruity had become a predicament and there was about it a breath
of tragedy. Obviously she is a woman capable of great love. In another age she
would have inspired poets and adventurers. In ours she has increasingly found
ease only among those younger and of considerably less distinction than herself.
None the less it is lovely to see her looking so beautiful and slender these days.
The restaurant was hard work seven
nights a week and I had to be groomed for it. Nearly every penny I made, the paltry
£6o a month and any cash bonuses, went back into the business via make-up,
hair-dos, clothes and shoes. My work began with a cup of tea and 'Crossroads' on
television. Then to the cosmetics, nearly always Max Factor and Revlon Ultima II.
First, on with the moisturiser, followed by the foundation and a little powder to fix
it. It was always a long night, and one during which I was being kissed every five
minutes, so I could never get away with sticky make-up. Then eye-shadow, mascara
and false eyelashes. Masses of blusher on the cheeks to give colour and bring out
the cheekbones and some more on the forehead because my complexion is quite
colourless (but very heavy shading on the face went out with the 1960s). Indeed,
without make-up my whole face is blank. It is a plain canvas on which I can paint
almost anything. I'm sure that's why I gave up painting, because my face became
my canvas. Making-up is also my meditation in the concentration of which I
compose my inner self.
Eyes: masses of blusher under the eyes
to take away any bags or dark circles. My top eyelashes grow straight downwards
and without make-up the eyes look quite small. So I apply plenty of mascara, rolling
the lashes again and again to make them curl upwards. And this opens up the eyes
enormously. Everyone thinks I have huge eyes but I haven't, it's an optical illusion.
My eyes are deep set, so I favour a dark eye-shadow to bring them out. This also
makes the irises appear much darker than they really are, almost black in fact. To
separate the eyes, I thicken all the lines slightly towards the temples. Eye-shadow
carried above the eyelids raises the eyebrows. My eyebrows are very high up
anyway and excellently shaped with the minimum of plucking.
Nose: I have a slightly
retroussé nose and since I detest such noses I put a little white on the
tip of it to make it look straight.
Mouth: the best thing in the world for
making a mouth look young is to have a very precise one. My mouth was never
very precise at the best of times, so I outline it in dark pencil, then fill it in with
lipstick. Then I cover it with gloss to make it last all night. The best ever was
California Gloss by Max Factor. Can't we get it back? I can't imagine why they
discontinued it.
Skin: only two commandments. Clean it
and feed it. That's all. Once a day before bed, with cold cream and moisturiser. Diet is
not crucial. A bad diet won't necessarily kill a good skin, but it pays to be
reasonable. If you drink, a lot of moisturising is essential. Alcohol, champagne most
of all, is very dehydrating. Hard-drinking men would look far less haggard if they
fed their skin.

Hair: I had a lot of white in my hair
which I wasn't inclined to hide. But with the place fogged with cigarette smoke, it
would turn a vile yellow. So regularly I'd blue rinse it which brought up the white
a pale blue and made the black very black.
Clothes: always long because the
patrons expected glamour. I was the main attraction and so of course went
overboard. Once I wore jeans to work and some Americans who'd brought friends in
to see me in all my finery were frightfully disappointed. They said they felt
cheated, as if the understudy were on for the night, so I didn't do it.
Shoes: the staff reckoned I walked five
miles a night up and down the tables. With all that walking, you must provide the
foot with a norm. Chopping and changing of height and weight and shape would
soon ruin the feet. So virtually all my shoes were the same high-heeled evening
sandals from the Chelsea Cobbler, in a variety of colours to match various outfits.
They were very light and made from kid.
Now I'm getting older I don't try to
keep up with the latest fashions. I think it best to stick with the style one feels most
at home in. In my case this is rather early 1960s with futuristic touches (I've always
wildly mixed things up). My face especially looks early '60s and this makes people
think me grand. Any middle-aged or older woman who wishes to give off that
indefinable air of grandeur would do well to avoid being too up with the latest
fashions, which is usually viewed by others as trying too hard to stay young – and
nothing is more ageing than that. For the older woman the secret of looking
impressive is to be dressed up to the nines in the style of one or preferably two
generations previous to the present.
Unless I had parties, I would go into the
restaurant at 8 o'clock to check the tables and flowers. But there were always
parties, sometimes four or five a night. It was good advertising. The opera likewise.
So long as I appeared in public my partners did not object. But it was always on to
the restaurant afterwards.
AD8 was a long warm pinkish cave,
small enough to be intimate, large enough to be profitable. The staff were given the
choice of dressing casually or formally, but either way they all had to wear the
same. They chose to dress casually. Black trousers and red shirts. Some of them,
especially when they returned from holiday full of zest, would try to flog
themselves as well as the food and hope to get away with shirts open to the waist.
But often people don't like warm hairy navels being pressed gently to their cheeks
while they're eating, and I had to insist that only the top two buttons were
undone.
Jean-Pierre, our French barman, was a
true find. Customers tried to outsmart him by ordering some obscure hideous
cocktail they'd picked up in Montevideo or the Phoenix Islands and he'd always
plonk it down in front of them. I'm convinced he studied these things at night
under the bedclothes with a torch.
Our first manager was Roberto, and
Dizzy did the cooking. Dizzy looked very young for his age and was eager to
preserve his youth, to which end he'd have himself injected with vitamin
compounds and miracle custards from Switzerland. But unfortunately meat and
vegetables would jerk up and rush for cover the moment he appeared. He's now
doing very well on Fire Island, but at the time everyone agreed that he was better
out front as the manager. Still, if a big star came in, Dizzy would rush round
clucking, 'Wadda we do? Wadda we say?' Then I began to grow suspicious because he
wasn't a great drinker but was getting tipsy.
'Jean-Pierre, are you fixing Dizzy's
drinks?'

'Oh no, Madame!'
'Jean-Pierre, you are fixing
Dizzy's drinks. I know him. He's only had three and he's got to sit down.'
'Yes, all right, I admit it, but we all
decided it was best so that we can get on with the work.'
'O.K., thanks for telling me, carry on,
because it keeps him out of my hair too. But nothing poisonous please.'
Our new cook, Pepe, was a classically
handsome Italian usually with a moustache. And he could cook too. He was
tremendously honest and hard-working but if he didn't have a woman in his life
his temper was dangerously short. He would chase the waiters out of the kitchen
with a meat cleaver. They'd be too terrified to go back in and come running to me
because at such times only I could pacify him.
'Now listen, Pepe, the boys have got to
come into the kitchen because they've got to collect the food because the customers
are getting hungry.'
'Those bastards! I'll chop their heads
off! O.K., let them in.

Then we had the screaming lulus who
came in to do the washing-up. They were always fighting too. Blood everywhere.
Our most gracious washer-up was Dizzy's friend, Eleanor Clutton-Brock. She was big
and tactile, the heiress to Chastleton House, one of the most beautiful Jacobean
houses in the country. It has hardly been touched since the eighteenth century,
mildew everywhere, and was used in the filming of Joseph Andrews.
Micky Mullen or his enchanting sister
Allison often worked on the till and our porter, who cleared out the rubbish during
the day, was David, an angelic Irishman. When I lived in the studio he would bring
up my coffee and toast each day at lunch time. David lived in a bed-and-breakfast
Platz. Because of his untidiness and his drunkenness he could never keep rooms. Je
thought he was well into middle age but discovered that he was only in his thirties
with a wife back in Ireland. Often I'd find him wandering about drunk in the street.
After he'd done his work, I'd say, 'Right, David, one drink with me in the bar before
the customers start to arrive.' When he'd had his whiskey he'd obediently shuffle
off, never pressing for more. One day in a stupor he walked in front of a bus and
was killed outright. I really missed his sweetness when he went.

The first couple of years were full of variety and gaiety. My dream was that we
should become an established restaurant and go on for years. The divorce trial had
given us a head start, we were booked weeks ahead, but I had a battle on my hands
to overcome our original reputation for bad food. Such reputations are the hardest
of all to lose because, although people often give the impression of knowing the
difference between good and bad food, in practice they rarely do. The reason for
this is that they don't pay attention to it. As with wine, their reaction is governed
by hearsay or the remarks of someone who appears to be in the know rather than
by their own immediate experience, which they are inclined to distrust for fear of
making a faux pas. One of our most successful dishes was Champagne and
Camembert Soup.
We were flooded several times when
the drains became blocked in the Brompton Road and the water would pour down
the stairs. The customers started yelling, 'We'll be electrocuted, we'll be fried to a
crisp!' And I'd have to do my bit. 'Ladies and Gentlemen, fear not, the wiring is all in
the ceiling.' We'd throw dozens of aprons and tea-towels on to the floor and carry
on as usual.
Gradually I was recovering confidence,
learning never to forget a name – as the Queen will tell you, this is a priceless asset
in dealing with the public. Most people expect to pass through life entirely
unnoticed by the world. The joy which overcomes them at being remembered can
often make for a successful evening all by itself.
The restaurant had genuine glamour
and genuine characters and was the stopping-off point for many hard-core
Knightsbridge and Chelsea socialites. One of my main obstacles was that a new
member of staff would cotton on fairly quickly that when it came to the nitty-gritty
I had little say in the running of the place. Occasionally I'd throw a tremendous
tantrum to remind them that I wasn't to be disregarded. The only improvement in
my position was that the studio proved to be too small and the company therefore
took a lease on a flat in Eaton Square of which I had the use. It was on the first floor
and so I had the original drawing-room. This room was vast and beautiful but
unfortunately had no furniture whatsoever, so I would dance around barefoot in it
to my Puccini and Rodgers and Hammerstein records.

Everyone came to the restaurant, from
John Osborne to the Chinese Ambassador. Elaine Kennedy brought Ingrid Bergman,
Denny Daviss brought Placido Domingo, who sang Neapolitan love songs until 1
a.m., accompanying himself on the baby grand. Ava Gardner taught me how to
drink tequila. Stretch out thumb and forefinger and place salt in the hollow
between the two. Cut a lime in half. Lick the salt, slug the tequila, suck the lime in
quick succession. It's as if someone had thrown a match into the Brock's Fireworks
factory. Ava was living in semi-retirement in Knightsbridge with her little dog.
She loved London because she had discovered that it was a very personal, very
private city and she loved her privacy. She came to us about once a month, always
very simply dressed, and sometimes she drank a great deal, sometimes nothing at
all. She visited her old flame Howard Hughes when he was staying at the Inn on the
Park. I pressed her about him but she refused to divulge anything. She had caught
the secrecy bug which he spread, the high drama of being one of the exclusive
club that knew him, membership of which was conditional upon saying nothing.
She did say that he infuriated her so much that once she hit him with a frying
pan.
Kit Lambert said he would eat his
investment and he came almost every night. Usually he was alone but pop people
sometimes came in behind him, especially Keith Moon. (Keith had the wildest
reputation, he'd drive his Rolls-Royce into his swimming pool, that sort of thing,
but really he was the softest of men with a passion for schoolgirls – he reminded me
of Robert Newton, who also drank himself into the ground.) Francis Bacon came,
bringing the young artists, always falling over and having to be helped up the
stairs afterwards.
Barbara Back always had to be helped
in as well as out. Barbara was the world's worst driver. She would stop at Belisha
beacons and wait for them to turn green. She took me to the premiere of Robin
Maugham's play Enemy. There was a big party afterwards at the Ivy
Restaurant. It was torture driving there with her. Even though she went at only 15
m.p.h. one always felt in the utmost peril, and because of the slow speed this
apprehension seemed endless. As we went into the restaurant she said, 'Darling,
I've got my high heels on, please take my hand, I'm getting vertigo.' I looked down
at her shoes. The heels were scarcely an inch high. She was always tall and skinny
but by now her legs were mere bones.
I decided to give dinner to my three
oldest lady friends – Barbara, Gladys Calthrop and Viva. They already knew each
other very well and decided not to compete but the glad rags came out none the less.
Gladys wore hunks of primitive jewellery a la Nancy Cunard. Barbara, who
had a daring colour sense, wore a yellow-silk pencil dress with emeralds. And Viva
wore a white blouse and the inevitable black-velvet skirt which was her 'going out'
skirt and covered with the stains of two dozen dinners past. Viva suffered from the
Crowning Glory syndrome and only really bothered with her hair, which was
always spun into ice-blue candy floss.
'We're the three oldest fag hags in
London,' said Barbara. She was Somerset Maugham's, Gladys was Nol Coward's and
Viva was Norman Douglas's.
'Do you realise,' said Viva, 'that there
are well over two hundred years between the three of us?'

'Jewels burn brighter on a fading
skin,' said Gladys.
'And how many men?' dit
Barbara.
'Not enough. The waste, the waste!' dit
Viva, warming to her favourite subject. It turned into an extremely bawdy dinner.
At the end of it Barbara offered them both lifts home but Gladys 'longed' for a taxi
and Viva insisted on walking.
Pat Dolin brought Evelyn Laye and
Rudolf Nureyev, Bobby Moore brought the footballers, Johnny Dankworth and Cleo
Laine brought each other. Danny La Rue came and invited me to dinner with
Liberace at his house. Very luxe de Harrods. Even Danny's toilet paper hung
out of a dolphin's mouth. Liberace I couldn't believe. He wasn't at all amusing but
extravagantly sentimental instead, lachrymose even. When he spoke it was like
molasses dripping out of the Virgin Mary. Incidentally, for kitschiness Danny La
Rue's house couldn't compete with Lionel Bart's. Lionel had a musical staircase
which played selections from Oliver when you walked up it. He also had a
musical lavatory. It played 'Food, Glorious Food' when you flushed it by depressing a
large gold crown.
Amanda Lear
(not from the book)

      One who never came to AD8 was
Amanda Lear, which hurt me. She still telephoned to say how low she was. 'You
know you have a standing invitation to dine with me.' But she wouldn't. Nach dem
finishing with her German and Brian Jones, she moved further into the pop world
via David Bowie and Bryan Ferry, and I heard from her less and less until I heard
from her no more. I think the root of her unhappiness was her unease about her
sex identity. She had the bone structure but lacked the nerve. Even when she
became the Disco Queen of Europe you could hear it in her voice – a moose at
bay.
I was always giving free meals to
worthy causes, much to my partners' fury. One such case was Sir Francis Rose, Lord
Berners's friend. Vikki de Lambrey started to bring him in. He was small, grubby
and poor, and sometimes slept at Viva's house. He had succeeded to his father's title
while still a child and had been vaunted as a prodigy in the Parisian art world of
the 1920s. Gertrude Stein thought he was as good as Picasso and apparently as a
teenager he was terribly promising, if his seventeenth-birthday party is anything
to go by. It took place in Villefranche at the Hotel Welcome where his mother lived.
Lady Rose imagined herself in touch with the spirits of the dead and wore sailcloth
dresses painted with roses by her son. The party was organised by Jean Cocteau and
the guest of honour was Isadora Duncan. It ended in a fight – Lady Rose was
attacked by a lobster – between the French and American sailors who'd been urged
to attend. Despite this rapid start, or more likely because of it, Sir Francis failed to
develop and ended up designing wallpaper in a disgruntled frame of mind.

What a frightful shame it was, so I gave
him free food with half a carafe of wine thrown in. One night Sir Francis arrived
and we were chock-a-block. Roberto asked me what we should do and I told him to
set a place in the corner of the bar. I always had my own meal there if I were
eating alone. On this night I was sitting at the other end of the restaurant with
Polly Drysdale and Lord Antrim. After he had eaten his fill and wiped his mouth, Sir
Francis approached our table screaming abuse.
'How dare you put me in the bar. Nicht
you realise I'm the 4th Baronet! My mother was the daughter of a French
count!'
I was so upset and so angry that I
whacked him one across the chops, told Roberto to throw him out and never to allow
him in again. His vanity, unappeased in consequence of the world's disregard, had
eaten up all his self-respect.
'Who was that?' asked Lord Antrim.
'Francis Rose.'
'Not Sir Francis Rose?'
'Yes.'
'You've just done what I've been
longing to do ever since I was at school with him.'
… Vikki de Lambrey was another case
but at least he was well-meaning – I say 'he', but Vikki was indecipherably
androgynous in appearance, with long rats' tails of various tints, plucked eyebrows,
and a high thin voice like Japanese water torture. He was always sending me letters
by recorded delivery marked 'urgent' or 'confidential' or 'strictly private' and I
would open them gingerly to find enumerated therein his reasons for not living.
He once sent me an eleven-page telegram, beginning I just had to send you this
short message … Vikki's favourite pastime was to hire a white Rolls-Royce from
Harrods, put big stickers in the front and back windows with his name on them, and
tell the driver simply to drive round and round London all day. Vikki's desire for
status was like a plant's desire for fight. It was constitutional. It was also doomed.
When he started to call himself a Rothschild, the banking family had to threaten
him with the law. The last I heard, Vikki was out of prison (I don't know why he
went in), had decided to put unreality behind him, and to this end had started up an
organisation called the Marianne Faithfull Rehabilitation Society.

Rita was at the restaurant almost as
often as I was; her children came down on their birthdays. And Terry MacNamara
turned up one night. He looked so sweet with his suitcase, just seventeen years
old.
'I've run away from home,' he said.
'Right, Terry, hold on a moment.' la
place was packed but I called up Roberto and told him I'd be gone for half an hour. Je
took Terry to Eaton Square where I had camp beds for emergencies. He couldn't stop
trembling.
'Why have you run away from
home?'
'Because I can't take my parents any
more.'
'Well, darling, I can't talk to you now.
I'll give you something to help you sleep and we'll have a proper talk
tomorrow.'
I tucked him up in bed, gave him a
couple of Valiums, left the lights on and the number of the restaurant, and told him
where I'd be. At AD8 I sent his parents a cable. Terry with me and O.K. When I
returned from work he was fast asleep.

The next day I took Terry out to lunch,
filled up his wine glass, got him drinking a bit, and said, 'So what's the problem?' elle
all came flooding out. It was nothing to do with his parents. Although he had all the
feelings of a young man of seventeen, he was short for his age and looked scarcely
twelve years old. He would make passes at the girls and they would turn round, pat
him on the head and say, 'Dear little Terry.' I'd also called him this and I bit my
tongue. But the temptation was considerable because he was small, cuddly, and so
wunderschönen.
'Don't despair. I have an idea. One good
thing about my divorce case was that I learnt a bit about endocrinology. We'll get
you a doctor and see what can be done.'
I explained everything to his mother
Pat and took him off to see his G.P. in a grim surgery in Hammersmith.
'It's rather difficult, doctor, but Terry
isn't growing at all well and I know of an endocrinologist called Professor Dent,
he's a professor of human metabolism at – '
'Yes, I know of Professor Dent.'
'I think Terry should see him because

There is nothing the medical
community hates more than being made to feel that curative knowledge is not
exclusively its own … The doctor went red in the face and said, 'What on earth do
you know about endocrinology?'
'Not very much but I've picked up a bit
along the way.'

'Maybe they could help him, maybe
they couldn't. It wouldn't do to raise the boy's hopes, Mrs MacNamara, because these
things are by no means straightforward.'
'Doctor, I'm not Mrs MacNamara.'
'Who are you?'
'I'm Miss Ashley.'
'You're not the boy's mother?'
'No.'
'Then I'm afraid this conversation is at
an end.'
I returned to Pat and said, 'It's no good,
you'll have to do it, but at least the doctor knows the problem now.'
As it turned out, Terry did start to see
Professor Dent, who put him on a course of something and Terry grew up without
any more difficulties.

There were three Americans I always loved to see in the restaurant. First Johnny
Galber, voted several times Best Dressed Man in the World. The second was Billy
McCarty, exquisite manners, way over six feet tall, who gets younger by the year.
The third was Tommy Kyle. He was the most outrageous of the three by far and he
was the richest.
Tommy I'd first meet ten years before
at a dinner party given by Mrs Ting-a-Ling, Joan Thring, Rudolf Nureyev's
manager. I liked him, he was so mischievous, so outspoken. Tommy loves to stir it up
and he can be very brutal. Then he walks out of the room to leave the rest
scratching each other's eyes out.
Tommy was the personal assistant,
manager and chief designer to Gustav Leven, Mr Perrier Water, and when in the
south of France lived either at Gustav's dreamy Château Croix des Gardes on a hill
overlooking Cannes or at his own smaller but scarcely less sumptuous house, La
Bastide, adjacent to the main property. Gustav worked most of the time in Paris but
he would fly down in his aeroplane for quick weekends with his girlfriend,
Jacqueline Citroen.
Christopher Hunter took us to a first
night at the Hampstead Theatre Club. During the interval Tommy said, 'When are
you coming to the south of France?'
'When you send me the ticket.'
The following day the ticket arrived at
the restaurant by special messenger. I flew to Nice Airport. The housekeeper of
Croix des Gardes, Madame Lolo, was there to meet me and the chauffeur, Sonny, who
wore a bright fluffy orange wig with a cap stuck way up on top of it. He was
standing beside an open Rolls-Royce in café au lait, the same colour as
his uniform.

We climbed the hill and stopped outside
iron gates. Sonny pressed a remote-control button inside the car and we passed up a
long drive planted with leafy English trees filled with white doves. Everywhere one
caught glimpses of gardeners clipping and hoeing and wheeling barrows.
Eventually, after what seemed time enough to traverse a county, a cream house in
the Palladian style floated across the windscreen. It used to be a redbrick Victorian
mansion but Tommy changed it.
The Great Hall goes the full height of
the house, three floors, a crystal chandelier hanging forty feet down from the roof
and a lift in one corner. Straight ahead is the salon with a circular sofa in the
middle. The floor is patterned with a circular design concentric with it, so that
when sitting there you are on a golden carousel. The salon looks out to the sea
beyond the swimming-pool, which is designed to give the impression that it has
only three sides with a fourth flowing over the cliff. In the centre is a single-jet
fountain which rises to a hundred feet.
The house is filled with valuable
furniture, some of it made for Versailles, but Tommy has the American gift for
updating the antiques of Europe with uninhibited adaptations, daring upholstery
and outrageous bravura effects, quite the opposite of the English custom of wearing
history on the sleeve, letting everything acquire a certain decrepitude.
My bedroom was the Lavender Room
with a view across the Mediterranean. Even the soap in the bathroom was lavender.
Tommy's own bedroom was in pinks and greens, with a collection of Dufys to match.
His bathroom was completely mirrored. The bath was in the middle of the room and
appeared to float in mid-air. Every interior was so over the top that it worked.
Like many Americans who come to live
in Europe, Tommy was a stickler for doing things right. We always dressed for
dinner, except on Sunday when there were no maids on duty and we'd play about in
the kitchen. In the evenings Tommy would come up to my room for a whisky and
Perrier while I was finishing off my hair. And then I'd go into his bathroom and
chat while he bathed. About 8 o'clock we'd go down to the library to meet the guests
and have Dry Martinis prepared by the butler, Rudi. Dinner was usually simple.
Then we'd drop the formality, tumble into the Rolls and charge down town for fun
at Les Trois Cloches which was open until 6 a. m. We did all the bars but usually
ended up here. It was sleazy but fashionable. You'd meet everyone from the local
fisher boys to David Hicks.
One night we were dining out in St
Tropez (I had swordfish, my favourite fish after sea bass). Paying attention to us
from a nearby table was a large flushed woman in middle years, accompanied by a
pretty young man dressed in white. She turned out to be Madame de Juste, from
Haiti. And the boy in white turned out to be a girl, one of France's top tennis stars.
When the tennis star learned of my identity she said in that pugnacious French
way, 'I don't believe you're April Ashley.'
'And I don't believe you're a woman –
show me your tits.'

'Only if you show me yours.'
We unwrapped our respective bosoms
in the best restaurant in town and satisfied each other's curiosity – such behaviour
is very St Trop. The upshot was that they were invited up to Croix des Gardes for
dinner the following day. 'I've heard so much about that house. Can I bring my
husband? And my dog?' said Madame de Juste.
The next evening, corseted in beige
satin, Madam de Juste arrived like a galleon being tugged into harbour, with her
husband, her poodle and a young male lover. As far as one could tell they were all
from Haiti, except perhaps the poodle. There was a handful of other guests,
including Lil, Marquise de Valois (a regular visitor), and after dinner we went
tipsily into the salon for music.
Tommy had arranged for a group of
gypsy musicians to come up from the town to entertain us during digestion. ils
went into their routine. We sat sipping brandy, half-smiles on our faces. ils
wailed about various lost homelands, fiery stuff, melancholy stuff, more fiery stuff.
Just as one felt the end was in sight, the violinists would rev up again, another
lament, another blitzer. I've as good an ear as the next for a Romany jig but we
were drowning ourselves in brandy. When they started to fly round the room, I saw
Tommy wince. I said, 'Are you going on for very much longer?'
'We go on until you seize up,' said the
ringleader.
'I guess, Tommy, that means they're
prepared to be paid off.'
When they'd shuffled out, the brandy
hit us and everything grew much friendlier. Madame de Juste said to me, 'This is an
extraordinary house. I'd luff to see your bedroom.' I took her up there. We'd hardly
crossed the threshold when she ripped my zip down. It was one of those strapless
black crepe shifts – once the zip is down the weight of the brooches carries it to the
floor at once. I was standing there in my bra and panties and pearls. She jumped on
me and threw me across the bed (she was a fine figure of a woman, no wimp in a
scrap):

'Madame de Juste,' I said, struggling for
breath, 'you have your husband downstairs and your boyfriend too and now you
want to make love to me.'
'Yes, yes, that's right,' she panted.
'Obviously you're gifted with
sensuality, but where will it end?'
'I giff anyfing to make luff wiff
you.'
'All right then, I'll have that on your
left hand,' pointing to a conker of a diamond set in claws of platinum.
Her manner changed completely. ils
buttoned up her bodice, smoothed down her hair, and marched out of the bedroom
slamming the door behind her. We hadn't realised it but her poodle had followed
her upstairs and was now trapped inside with me.
'Hullo, darling,' I said, 'how are
you?'
It came trotting up in its encrusted
collar, wagging its tail, and it smiled at me. I was astounded. It grinned and in its
mouth there were no teeth. When I returned downstairs I said to Tommy out of the
side of my mouth, 'Not only has she got a husband, a lover, a tennis star, and wants
to jump around with me, but she's also got a toothless dog – now what do you think
that's for?'

'You've got to be joking. I knew she
was after you – but no, surely not the dog.'
'Watch … Come along, my boy.' Und das
little oddity came wagging up, grinning from ear to ear, showing a fine set of pink
gums. Tommy and I collapsed. Madame de Juste started crying again and called me a
bitch and a number of other names. I asked her if the poodle were a lap-dog. At this
she hurled herself at the french windows. Luckily these gave way and she blew out
on to the terrace and disappeared. When Tommy realised where she'd gone he went
white, because after dark they let out the hounds. He managed to retrieve her
before she was tom to pieces. The husband was no less strange. He didn't say a word
all evening. Just smiled throughout. With a shudder I suddenly realised that he was
the dog in human form.
It must be something in the air down
there because Lil, Marquise de Valois, had her turns too. She was Norwegian and
wore black silk trouser suits, with her hair pulled severely back. She used to sit on
the edge of sofas with her knees apart. On this occasion I was sitting next to her in
the salon after a dinner.
'Phew, the weather's been so hot lately,
hasn't it, Madame de Valois?'
'Do call me Lil.'
'All right, that's nice. Lil. I do like
you.'
'And I like you.' With a tremendous
lunge, she went for me. When Tommy came back into the room, Lil was chasing me
round and round the circular sofa, trying to lassoo me with her arms. My heels
were much higher than hers, so I was jolly glad to see him.

I think it was Dame Edna Everage who
said, 'Lesbianism leaves a nasty taste in my mouth.' I've nothing against it myself.
Who am I – who are you, come to that – to tell people they mustn't love each other!
Many lesbians have fallen for me. But I suppose the reason I've never been able to
fall back is that I'm always so smitten with men.
From 1971 on Tommy gave me some
exceptional holidays from reality but the big trip that year was to Tokyo, as the
guest of Fuji Television's programme 'The Secret of the World'. Tokyo was just like
Manchester, grey, cold and wet. They put me up at the New Otani Hotel and the next
morning I was woken up by the twittering of birds. Since I was a dozen floors up I
couldn't work out where it could be coming from. Then I realised it was the radio –
if you don't switch it off, they rouse you in the morning with bird-song. Davon
moment I was in love with the place.
'The Secret of the World' is a panel
game. A group of Japanese television personalities have to guess one's special
secret. Funnily enough Sarah Churchill had been on the week before. la
chairman more or less had to tell them my secret in the end. We all chuckled and
that was that. The Japanese seem to take transsexualism far more casually than
Westerners do. I might almost have been a bus conductress.
We travelled to a house in the hills for
the tea ceremony. I was wearing a gold kaftan with a burgundy-velvet opera cloak
on top and I towered over everything (the Japanese men were rather nervous of
my height). The mistress of the house asked me how many outfits I owned of the
sort I was wearing.
'About thirty or forty,' I replied, which
I thought quite a few. 'And how many kimonos do you have?'
'Over three thousand.' She had sample
fabrics from each bound into a large book which was divided by occasions:
weddings, birthdays, New Year, etc. They were numbered and she would make her
choice, give the numbers to the maid, and the clothes would be brought to her.
Though the lady was demonstrably an
aristocrat, her house was not large by European standards. On the return journey to
Tokyo, I put it to Koko. 'All the houses are small and all the walls are so thin and all
the families are so large and yet the Japanese are very keen on privacy – how do
they make love?'
'That's one of the great secrets of
Japan. We are the world's most silent lovers.'

A few months before my visit, the writer
Yukio Mishima and some romantic friends of his had committed ritual
disembowelment followed by decapitation. Man A disembowels himself; A is
decapitated by B; B then disembowels himself; B is decapitated by C; and so on. la
last man has no one to decapitate him and so has to be content with
disembowelment. I was flicking through the pages of a magazine in the Otani lobby,
waiting for the car to the airport, and screeched to a halt at a macabre double-page
spread. My last image of Japan: all their heads on a table like a collection of crazy
flowerpots.

My business relationship with the partners was terrible. I should have sorted it out
– but I didn't, and this was soon to cause me great pain. Meanwhile, Edward had done
brilliantly at Law School and was about to enter the Webber-Douglas Academy of
Dramatic Art. He had 'glittering future' stamped all over him.
A flat was now taken for me on the
corner of Elm Park Road. I was happy here and felt safe. My landlady, Mrs Denehy,
was thoughtful and uncurious. My daily, Mrs Anne, an Irishwoman who'd come
from service with Princess Margaret at Kensington Palace, made it feel like
home.
Robin Maugham organised a dinner
party in honour of Gerald Hamilton's eighty-something birthday at the flat which
the Hon. Lady Joan Assheton-Smith shared with Hermione Baddeley. Joan was a
tremendous cook and hostess. She hailed from Australia and affected eccentric
corsages. A plastic rhododendron might be affixed to her generous bosom, or a
stuffed cockatoo. Gerald sat in an armchair like an old potentate in his best baggy
suit. As a special concession to us, he agreed to stay up late, explaining that usually
he retired at 9p.m. in order to be up at 5a.m. to begin writing. He was very
emphatic about this writing without ever giving the smallest clue as to what it was.
We toasted him and all said how wonderfully fit he looked. A few weeks later he was
dead.
Two other legends I met at this time
were Cecil Beaton and Noël Coward. Beaton was giving a party at his home in
Pelham Crescent. Numerous celebrities and assorted American women dripping in
jewels were gossiping in a drawing-room with black velvet walls. Cecil Beaton was
snooty. I think he felt I wasn't out of the right drawer. Beaton didn't have the gift
of mixing. His range was narrow and he could be unpleasantly precious, with that
high thin voice running like string out of a mean tight face. In fact all his being
seemed to be concentrated up in his head. Very homosexual by nature but in
practice the least sensual of men, his blood was cold with self-consciousness. His
involvement with Greta Garbo, I always thought, had the pathetic quality of a joke
from which only Beaton was left out.
Noël Coward was also at this party and
much more of a man, one of those magicians who fills a room with champagne
bubbles by his presence alone. Coward's charm was irresistible, not at all brittle,
but warm, astringent and puckish all at the same time.

I didn't meet Cecil Beaton again but I
did Noël Coward, once, at Johnny Gallier's house. He'd come over to pick up his
knighthood. In the few intervening years he'd aged markedly. Despite obvious
discomfort, he insisted on climbing to his feet, saying, 'I always stand for a lady.'
His face was covered with black spots.
Julia Lockwood came to the restaurant
with her husband. She was in a curious mood and we didn't connect very well.
Sarah Churchill came – she was slightly easier but the old intimacy had gone. To my
delight, because Sarah is a magical person, it improved again when together we
went to Arabella Churchill's wedding to a young schoolteacher called James Barton.
June had rung me and said 'Arabella's got so many hippies coming to this thing, we
thought we'd smooth it over by asking everyone to come dressed that way, so do
come hippified.' The reception at Mary Soames's house in Cheyne Walk was full of
vegetarians and squatters.
There were many visitations from the
past, not all of them a treat. One of the happiest surprises was from Goebbels's
sister-in-law, Ariane. She wrote from America, addressing the letter 'April Ashley,
c/o April in Paris, London, Chelsey'. To my amazement the G.P.O. delivered it to me at
the restaurant – professionally speaking, it was one of the most flattering things
ever to happen to me.
Ariane had a story to tell. While still
living in Germany, she had opened a magazine and read in it a story concerning a
man called Sam Shepherd who was being charged with the murder of his wife in
America. Beside the story was a photograph of him, and Ariane fell in love with it.
By this time she was already disenchanted with Germany. Years before, when she
telephoned me, there were tell-tale clicks on the line which she said was phone-
tapping (the authorities were worried in case she became a rallying point for old
Nazis). She was always escaping from Dusseldorf to Paris and the south of France
and had kept up her friendships with Les Lee and Everest.
So in 1963 she sold up in Germany,
moved to the U.S.A., and made contact with Shepherd. The photograph had not lied,
her love for him was confirmed, and she went to work on proving his innocence.
Over a quarter of a million dollars later, having spent the best part of her fortune,
she was successful. In 1964 they were married and moved into Sam's all-American
house in Cleveland, Ohio, with yellow awnings over the window, where the now
unsolved murder had taken place. But bliss did not await her. Shepherd became a
motorbike and leather fiend and degenerated into a hopeless alcoholic and drug
addict. Several times he tried to kill her. It became obvious that he was guilty of his
first wife's murder and when, she wrote, he pulled a gun on me, I ran away and
filed for a divorce so I could get police protection. I was hiding in a motel for three
months until I had the court order to protect me. The divorce was final in 1968.
Shepherd then married a foolhardy teenager, but died soon afterwards. la
autopsy showed that two thirds of his brain were gone. The whole thing was a
nightmare. I'm slowly recovering from it all and have started dating…
A film was made of her story, starring
Nina van Pallandt as Ariane.

Now, in the autumn of 1972, I also had
to face a tragedy. One evening in the restaurant two uniformed policemen came
down the stairs. They said, 'Miss Ashley, would you like to sit down?'
'No. What is it!'
'We've some bad news, I'm afraid.'
I went very cold.
'Do you know Edward Madok? There's
been a car accident north of Paris.'
'How serious is it?'
'He's dead.'
'Why have you come to me?'
'Yours was the only address they found
on him.'

Edward had been driving back from St
Tropez to begin his second term at the Webber-Douglas Academy. It was a wet night,
a head-on collision. The driver of the oncoming car had been killed too.
Dizzy telephoned Edward's parents.
Although Jack and Julia Madok didn't approve of me they did invite me to the
funeral. I booked into the local hotel and was summoned up to the house. Jack had
been crying I think. He put his arms round me and said, 'April, I didn't understand.'
Julia took me up to Edward's bedroom where I saw many things that I'd given him.
But the room was empty. The spirit had gone out of it.
Eight months almost to the day after
Edward's death, Micky came down to the restaurant to take over on the cash-till
from Allison, who had a date. 'I'd love a drink,' he said, 'I haven't even had a pill
today.' About 1a.m. I said to him, 'I'm off now, Micky. I've got to be up early
tomorrow, I'm going into the country to stay with John and Wendy North. Don't be
too long after the last table.'
'No, it's O.K., I'm going to Kit's house
afterwards.'
The next thing I heard about Micky
was that he was dead. Apparently he'd got up in the middle of the night at Kit's,
feeling unwell, and had taken a shower. At 9a.m. he was found dead in his bed. il
had had some kind of apoplectic or asthmatic seizure and had choked to death. il
had no history of seizures. Micky's death disturbed me far more than Edward's
because there was something spooky about it. Edward's death was grief. But Micky's
wasn't quite explicable and so one's sorrow was agitated by the sharp odour of
something malign.
Not long after, Kit's house was gutted by
fire. And then he lost the Who. With Chris Stamp he had managed them from the
beginning and success preyed on all his weaknesses. I was very fond of Kit and it
would be incorrect to leave you with the impression that there was deliberate evil
in him. He was an intelligent and witty man, blessed with great generosity of heart
and pocket. It was his lack of ruthlessness and guile which made it impossible for
him to remain on top of' the exploding Who empire. Sadly he died recently after
falling down a staircase.

During AD8 I again took up my flirtation with show business. It began when Frank
Dunlop asked me to play Eva Perón at the Young Vic. Copi, a well-known
Argentinean cartoonist, well-known in Argentina anyway, had written a black
comedy about her. Vegetables had been thrown at it in Paris. So Frank Dunlop, ever
interested in the Theatre of Abrasion, wanted to bring it to London. He dined
frequently at the restaurant and out of the blue asked me to take the lead. Copi
thought it a good idea too. When I turned round, the project was off.

But my taste buds had been aroused, so
I tried again with the film Human. This was a Mexican enterprise, produced
by George Schwarz, and directed by an assistant of Bunuel's. It amounted to little
more than the filming of a London party of which I was to be hostess,
cinéma vérité-style, the last decadent gasp of Swinging
London. They must have been watching the films of Andy Warhol. When we
discussed it at lunches beforehand, it sounded decidedly intellectual. Nanette
Newman and Joan Collins were also present. I was impressed. The party was to be
held in a beautiful rented house in Neville Terrace.
When I turned up there on the night I
couldn't believe my eyes. They'd trawled for every freak in London and pulled most
of them in. It was packed solid, a madhouse, full of drink and drugs. Everybody had
been paid £1 as they went in and told to go wild. Leather queens,
transvestites, trendies and weirdoes, debutantes, Bertie Woosters, the Oxford lot.
Obviously, incongruity and surprise were what they were after. I never quite
understood what I was supposed to do – they'd bought me an expensive frock, loaded
me with make-up, and then turned me loose among the crazies while cameras,
booms and lights elbowed about.
A man in chains took a girl so violently
on a green marble table that it cracked down the centre. It required seven men to
carry the two pieces out of the house which should give you an indication of the
violence of their congress. I glimpsed Duncan and Rita having a conversation in a
wardrobe among a pile of shoes, when I was jostled on. I entered a bathroom for a
pee. Ju-Ju, who used to live with Charles Hay, was in there. She was outrageously
fat. That was her gimmick. She was in there naked. In the bath. Bubbles all over the
floor.
'Ju-Ju, what are all those teeth marks
down your breasts?'
'That's my role. Having my tits bitten.
D'ya want a bite?'

'No!'; and I fled. What on earth had
happened to Nanette Newman and Joan Collins?
A reporter asked me, 'What do you
think of it all? There are two men over there kissing.'
'Good luck to them – I'm glad someone's
getting something out of this.'
I'd given Rita a bunch of cash to stay
sober, lest I got drunk and needed help. But I couldn't get high to save my life.
There was one moment when I thought I was getting off the ground, when I found
myself with a black nun on a sideboard doing a tango to David Bowie music, then
somebody hit me with a chain and I sobered right up again. I was crawling up the
stairs to the top of the house for a rest when I saw two studded leather legs planted
in my path. In a rapid double movement he unzipped his fly and pulled out a
monstrous floppy pink piece and wagged it around in my face. He was so drunk.
And so ugly. That did it for me. I was off.
I saw the final cut at Shepperton.
There wasn't much of me left. The plot had changed. It was not particularly
complex: two young people go to a party, then go to bed. It was released only in
Mexico, where I'm now considered quite avant-garde. But they ought to show it in
England, if only at a late-night art cinema, because it was certainly a unique record
of something or other.
Mrs Denehy sold the house in Elm Park
Road and I moved yet again to 235 King's Road, above another restaurant, but the
polishing of Mrs Anne who came with me provided a welcome feeling of continuity.
A journalist friend, F., rang me, desperate for accommodation, so I invited her to
stay until she'd fixed herself up. After ten days or so of being the model house-
guest, she said, 'I've got a boyfriend – would it be all right if he spent the weekend
here?'
It didn't make much difference to me
because I had the small bedroom so that the large double bedroom would be free for
guests. I went to work on the Saturday evening and didn't see who he was. Je
returned at about 3a.m., read a little (a biography of the Emperor of Mexico, my
current pash), swallowed a Tuinal with lemonade (bottles of each always beside my
bed), and switched off the lamp. By and by I was roused from my light preliminary
slumbers by a sound similar to that of a dripping tap.

My first thought was: 'Damn these
Tuinal.' The capsules have a most ravishing colour scheme, tomato red and
turquoise, but sleep was so much easier to come by in the Mandrax era. Jedoch,
the widespread prescription of Mandrax had given rise to such outrageous
behaviour among the young, and not a few inadvertent deaths, and the drug was so
little used for strictly soporific purposes, that the medical profession had
discontinued it. My second thought was: 'But we don't have any dripping taps.' Je
lifted both ears off the pillow in order to gauge the sound's direction. It was coming
from the bedroom, down the hall. On and on and on it went. Tak tak tak, regular and
prim. What could it be? Rats, mice, the plumbing? Then the penny dropped. It was a
slapping sound. Finally it lulled me to sleep as a grandfather clock might. But in a
slightly different mood it could have gone the other way and driven me insane.
Next morning I was woken up by the
aroma of fried bacon curling under the door, so decided to get up and investigate. F.
and her boyfriend, looking very Private Lives in their silk dressing-gowns,
were at the breakfast table tucking into plates of eggs, bacon, mushrooms, tomatoes
and fried bread.
'Good morning, April,' said F. 'You
know Kenneth Tynan.'
'Good morning, Mr Tynan. You should
always grill tomatoes with oregano, you know. It's the only way.'
'I must try that,' he said.
When he'd gone I said, 'Who slaps
whom?'
'Well, mostly I slap him.'

'In future give him half a dozen from
me. You might have warned me, darling. I can hear everything that goes on and it's
not everybody's cup of tea.'
These weekends went on for months.
Likewise that restrained and obsessive slapping. There was something so fretful, so
middle-class about it. I longed to shout through the walls, 'For God's sake, let
yourself go for once, forget the neighbours for once, show some passion for once!'
He wouldn't have survived five minutes with Sheherazade. The sound of that
slapping symbolised for me the whole predicament of Kenneth Tynan's life, the
failure of nerve or imagination or whatever it was which prevented him from
fulfilling his promise, from achieving anything robust, anything truly genuine or
independent. The more loudly he revolted against the bourgeois temperament the
more he revealed his entrapment within it. Such a dainty and colourless bondage,
the sound of dandruff striking the shoulders.
Sometimes I had to dash into the
vacated bedroom before Mrs Anne arrived, to put away the photographs which had
been mistakenly left on show. They decorated their love-nest with Victorian
photographs in silver frames of girls being spanked. Or there might be garters and
various convolutions of thongs hanging from the bedpost.
One day, like a complete fool, I said to
F., 'Why are you wearing a gym slip? Every time you bend over I can see
everything you've got.' She had it all on; black stockings, suspenders, black peck-a-
boo panties trimmed with blood-red satin, a school tie. It seemed eccentric for tea-
Zeit.
'Ken likes it,' she said. 'He's coming
round later.'
And then parcels started to be
delivered in plain brown wrappings. They were love-aids of a sado-masochistic
character. Whips, leather bras, marble eggs covered with leather, etc. What
shocked me particularly was that they were all posted from Somerset. F. soon had a
bottom drawer full of tricks. She showed it to me.
Finally I decided to bring down the
curtain. The ostensible reason was that my niece, Tess's daughter, had rung up
wanting to meet me. I invited her for a weekend (she was a dark and vivacious
teenager and reminded me of myself) and was averse to her finding me living in a
bondage parlour. It would have confirmed all the family P. R.
As I'd not asked for any rent during this
period, I didn't think it unfair to ask them to pay half the bills. I didn't mind having
F. stay for nothing but didn't see why I should do the same for Kenneth Tynan,
especially as he had a habit of sitting on the telephone and his weekends often
lingered into the middle of the week. F. was pretty penniless but Kenneth said he
would cover her cheques. But they bounced and bounced. Next the police showed
up. There had been a robbery. A red Audi had been used. At that time there were
only a few in the country and one of them was Kenneth's. The police had noticed it
parked outside. He wasn't connected of course but having to explain to the police
made me even more annoyed with him. Then I went to a party given by the
feminist pundit Dee Wells. Kenneth was at the party too. He cut me dead, and this on
top of all the bouncing cheques. I thought, 'To hell with you, Mr Tynan – this is
where I go for the jugular.' I sent a telegram to his house in Thurloe Square,
demanding he pay his bill. He wrote back: What a charmless thing to do. Je
cabled back: Were money's concerned, charm doesn't enter into it. He paid.
The plain fact was that the mood was so uncertain at AD8 that I simply couldn't
afford to let him off the hook even if I had wanted to (which I didn't).

The restaurant finally struck its iceberg. Friends had urged me to make my position
secure but I hadn't bothered, imagining the future would somehow be wonderful. elle
wouldn't, apparently. Things were bad, but every night I'd still have to be there on
show, smiling, kissing, trying never to express a negative emotion. I was expected
to be wise, giving and dramatic. Sometimes the mask slipped and I had my outbursts
too. On several occasions I vented my spleen by throwing plates of food the length
of the restaurant, provoked by some ineptitude from the staff. Towards the end,
there was a new member of staff virtually every month. Some of them couldn't
even wait properly. I know many of the customers came in the hope of witnessing a
scene. My nerves and resentment were being held in check by Valium and booze.
One night one of the waiters came up to tell me that the kitchen was closing and
would I give my order. I asked for Pacific Prawns and said to Jean-Pierre, 'I'll have
another Dry Martini while I'm waiting.'
'Madame, do you know how many Dry
Martinis you've had tonight?'
'Do you mean you've been counting my
drinks?'
'The staff asked me to count because
they couldn't believe it. If you have this one it will make thirty-two.'
'Then let's make it thirty-two.'
Walking about and chatting so much,
one hardly noticed it. But I should have taken note. My liver had started to play up.
And Ina Barton had recently died from a combination of booze and pills. I believe
an open verdict was recorded but that's splitting hairs – in effect she killed herself.
Already I'd had one nasty accident at Elm Park Road.
One night I had passed out in bed with
a leaky hot-water bottle. Next morning I awoke with a balloon blister on my ankle. Je
stuck a pair of scissors into it and the water shot out. Then I bound it up and went to
the doctor. 'You've given yourself a severe burn,' he said, 'I'm afraid you'll be
scarred for life. You'll have to rest that leg.'

But I had become a workaholic and
with all the walking up and down the restaurant the leg wouldn't heal. Some weeks
later, after work, I went off to Tramp night-club where I was always made welcome,
regardless of my condition. As I was going down the stairs Ju-ju's boyfriend John
shouted, 'April!' The greeting was so abrupt that I swung round in my long skirt,
tripped and fell. I was wearing a blouse with leg-of-mutton sleeves and could hear
the poppers unpopping as I bounced down the stairs. At the bottom the waiters
rushed to help but I said, 'No, don't touch a thing, leave me for a second, I want to
count my bijoux. Well, they all seem to be here. Right, I'll have a large whisky.'
My right wrist swelled up. Sie
wrapped it in a napkin. At dawn I found myself at St Stephen's Hospital in the
Fulham Road. The wrist was broken. It was set in plaster but a few days later the
hand started turning black. 'This plaster's got to come off,' I thought, because I
knew enough medicine to understand that black fingers are the road to gangrene. Je
squatted dejectedly in the bath for two hours to soften the plaster, keeping myself
going with wine-gums, then cut it off. When I returned to the hospital, I was told
that the wrist had been set incorrectly. They tried to repair the damage but to this
day the joint is misshapen and is turning into a claw. But breaking my wrist had
one fortunate result: I had to take a week off work and this healed my leg.
The arm was in plaster for a couple of
months. At the restaurant I wore plenty of white so that the sling would glare less.
Being right-handed I was unable to prepare myself for work. But luckily my friend
Oscar da Costa, the Uruguayan cartoonist and makeup artist, agreed to attend me
every afternoon. The South Americans have such baroque fantasies, the baroque of
swamps and crocodiles and skeletons of the Saints; I would arrive at AD8 looking
like something untoward seen in a mescalin vision. My protests were useless. One
day it would be Cleopatra from Mars, the next Dolores del Rio a la Grecque, the
Duchess of Hong Kong, or Madame Bovary in Zululand.
At the end of the day all I could do was
peel off my eyelashes, smear off the paint with a little cold cream, and flop on to the
bed. Mrs Denehy would come up when she rose at 7 a. m., to help me out of my
clothes and off with my hairpiece, so that I could have a few hours' sleep before
Oscar arrived to start all over again. 'Today I see you as the Virgin Mary –
divorced!'
Mrs Denehy was a most uncomplaining
woman. She made you understand how London survived the Blitz. 'Daddy' Pat Dolin
came to take me to see Charlie Girl and as we were about to leave he said to
her, 'Ah, my good woman, will you find me a taxi please.' She went rushing down
the street before I could recover from my embarrassment. I apologised the next day
and she said, 'Was it really him? I've been a fan ever since I was a little girl. I'd run
to the end of the earth for him.'

Eventually the plaster came off. Sie
bandaged the wrist and put it into a fresh sling. That same night I was unsteadily
making my bed when I tripped. Extending my left hand to break the fall, I jarred
against the skirting board and smashed the other wrist. Now I came into AD8 with
both arms in slings. I looked outrageous. Now I was swallowing Valium like
Smarties. I'd go from uptightness to downtightness in one skid. Of the two, I think I
prefer uptightness. At least you know where you are. But I hardly knew where I
was from one moment to the next. For three weeks I sat in the bar nodding like
something in the rear window of a car as the customers filed past. The two slings
gave the impression that I was wearing a strait-jacket.
Just before I had to quit Elm Park Road,
something happened which made it possible for me to endure many things. Rita
came down to the restaurant one night, her hair a shock of curls like Shirley
Temple on a thousand volts (Oscar had been getting at her too), and said, 'You'll
never guess – Joey's back in England.'
'Where?'
'In Greenwich.'
He wouldn't come to the restaurant, so
we met at Elm Park Road. Although he'd disowned England, he had sold his boat and
returned to see if his back could be sorted out once and for all.
'I've rented a house overlooking
Blackheath,' he said rather coyly. 'I've a new wife, Nina, and two kids – you haven't
changed at all.'
'Neither have you.'
It was true. He was still very athletic. elle
was like stepping back into a pair of comfortable old slippers, as though he had
never been away, as though we were teenagers again.
We'd do the pubs at lunch time, spend
the afternoon in bed (I'd regained the use of my arms), then he would go, and I
would get ready for work. I feel as if I should be making more of a song and dance
about this. But it wasn't like that. It was so easy.

He'd married the daughter of a rich
Canadian merchant who'd taken Joey into the business as the son and heir he'd
never had. Joey had hit his groove and was now a successful man.
Then he appeared with his four-year-
old son. The boy was prone to sudden bouts of seriousness like his father. We'd take
him into the park and sit on the grass while he romped all over us, and I'd pretend
that he was our child. I know it was silly, I tried not to, because it only sharpened
the painful truth, but all the same I did. Joey was so happy with his son. I'd never
seen him so relaxed and yet so filled with delight.
Then he said he wanted me to meet
Nina. 'No, Joey, I don't want that. I don't want to be able to visualise her, because I'll
start getting guilty.' But he insisted, so we met one Sunday afternoon at the Natural
History Museum. She was a tall, elegant woman, very capable, very beautiful. I liked
her. Right away the guilt started.
By the beginning of 1974 I was
swallowing over a dozen Valium a day. Eventually Dizzy said; 'Dr Atkinson tells me
you've got to have a holiday.'
Old friends Beverley and Larry lived on
Barbados and invited me over. I met Oliver Messel who was small, wiry, very tanned
and extremely mannered, like a monkey who had been raised at the Court of the
Sun King. Although on his last legs, he sang and danced famous numbers from
Gigi for us on his terrace. And I visited Verna Hull who often came to AD8
when she was in London. She lived next door to Claudette Colbert with whom she'd
shared a house for many years. But they'd fallen out and despite living only feet
apart they didn't speak at all.
Upon my return the battles with my
partners started up immediately. The crunch came when they threatened to
pension me off to Greece for the six months which remained of my contract.
'I'm not going.'

'Then we'll sack you.'
'There's nothing wrong with me!'
But there was. Having to be charming
to customers with the rage burning inside – it eats you up so fast. Finally they
geared themselves up and said they wanted me out of the restaurant, and I
agreed.
'We'll give You £3,000 as a pay-
off.'
'But I put in five! And four and a half
years of my life.'
'You can either go for £3,000 or
find yourself in court fighting us and ending up without a penny. You'd better take
the money or you'll have nothing – and who wants to employ a middle-aged sex-
change?'
I didn't have the energy to fight. quoi
was there left? A few nights playing Countess Dracula at the Collegiate Theatre. Je
fled 235, span round town like a wheel without a pin, and then I fled London.

I hit forty years of age at a hundred miles per hour and, darling, it hurt. Where was
I this time? Oh – in another agony of the soul. Technically speaking, I was at Viva's
house, the last party she gave for me, wearing an expression of frantic insouciance
and beneath it a bosom of heaving cockfeathers, the smile a silent scream flashing
at intervals like the warning light on top of that dam in Earthquake, brave, so
brave. I looked magnificent but it was all cardboard and paste, every moment on the
verge of exploding, smithereening, leaving me starkers, the slightest chip of
gravel might do it. And when they'd all gone I slumped, the last dregs of a
Knickerbocker Glory. I was past it. And I'd missed it.
The reason I looked magnificent,
setting aside the ennobling effect of tragedy, was that I'd just returned from seven
weeks in California. I had been hiding away for months at Rita's house, then she'd
gone east to India to look for Duncan, who was said to be strawberry-picking in the
Nilgiri Hills, and I went west to San Francisco to help a friend sob his way through
a nervous breakdown. The west coast was full of distractions. I met Lenny Plugge,
who had moved to Los Angeles; Roddy McDowell gave a dinner party for me in
Hollywood; we visited the San Andreas Fault, unnaturally green, no sound of birds
or animals. I threw a rock to break the ominous silence and said, 'Let's get out of
here', and then we drove down to Mexico to watch the whales making love in slow-
motion off the coast of Ensenada.
Unfortunately it was nothing but
distractions. I had to return to London, the city I love so much and where I have
never found any real happiness. This latest collapse had happened so abruptly. Je
was the toast of the town, on everyone's invitation list, the telephone always
ringing, my days a constant parade of novelty, and the next moment … When you
place your sense of identity in the reflections you see in other people's eyes, what
happens when the people go away? When the lights are switched off?
I was profoundly disenchanted. la
sudden loss of exterior stimulus left me lethargic and empty. Thrown back on
myself, I didn't know what to do. I ventured into Chelsea on a bicycle and was
arrested and convicted for drunken driving. It was the night of some I.R.A.
bombings in that part of London, so the police were hypersensitive. I rowed with
the people with whom I was staying and moved on to Michael Crossley's house in
Wimbledon. Every day I walked on Wimbledon Common, talking to myself,
screaming at the world, trying to find a route out of the cold and acrid smog which
seemed to smother me. By the age of forty, one presumes certain basic expectations
will have been fulfilled. Even if one hasn't achieved anything, one expects at the
very least to have acquired something. But I had nothing.
After a few weeks' further cogitation,
in Ibiza as it turned out, I decided to get right away from it, to move to Hay-on-Wye
on the border of England and Wales. Richard Booth had suggested the possibility of
opening a restaurant in his castle there, but this wasn't an important factor. quoi
was important was for me to escape the hard (and expensive) glare of city lights,
carry off to a quiet place the little knotted scarf containing the fragments of my
life and buckle down to the serious business of sorting them out. Those I chose to
keep would be pieced together into a simpler and smaller but more sturdy
structure.

I had first visited Hay with Viva in the
early. 1960s. Sited on a dramatic bend in the leafy Wye Valley and overlooked by the
Black Mountains, it was Arcadia. The town is exquisitely self-contained, gathered
mossily about the castle in precipitous streets built at odd angles to defeat the
squalls, and encircled by operatic landscapes – the Brecon Beacons and the snow-
tipped Welsh wilderness to the west, the softer undulations of the Golden Valley
towards Hereford in the east, to the south the Black Mountains whose baleful if
often unseen presence makes the logs in old fireplaces bum more blissfully, and to
the north Hergest Ridge and the Radnor Forest. Curving through these set-pieces,
like a fertile voluptuary beset by her lovers, is the salmon-laden Wye, most
beautiful of rivers. And through all of it move the seasons, four film directors each
of distinct personality.
Hay resembles a settlement in a story
by Mervyn Peake and is as aloof from outside influences. There are no industrial
centres in any direction short of a day's expedition. Therefore no pylons invade its
eloquent horizons. The countryside is substantially unchanged from that of the
eighteenth century. Not being on the road to anywhere else, it is a destination in
itself The air is abundant and rich in oxygen. The blue sky is alive with green or
purple clouds. At night it alters to a dome of stars fixed with a moon unnaturally
large and bright. Owls hoot from turrets, bats swerve from steep gables, storms roll
out of the mountains and disperse in a pastel sunrise.
It lies exactly on the border, a
theoretical line which the inhabitants have widened to make a small domain all
their own, owing allegiance neither to the Dragon nor to the Lion. Food and beer
are excellent. On festal days the town ripples with coloured pennons. They are
tough people with a vigorous sense of humour, sometimes melancholy, occasionally
violent, and inclined towards eccentricity. They are accustomed to the passage of
outsiders and neither impressed by nor hostile to them. One of the town mottoes is
'Stuff Tourists', which explains much. One cannot hide behind London
sophistication because they have their own variety which penetrates it. Hay
appreciates the individual, not the type, and it is the visitor who is bewitched by
Hay rather than the reverse. He will find himself drinking more than he usually
does and prancing more than he might wish. Since the ceilings are low, he should
be careful.
Distributed through the town in a
number of buildings is Richard Booth's book business amounting to the largest
second-hand bookshop in the world. 'When I started,' he said, 'the most prosperous
feature of the Hay economy was probably the fruit machine at the British Legion
Club – it was making £400 profit per week.' Without altering Hay's
fundamental nature, the book business has none the less given it something of an
international atmosphere. It wasn't always like that. Richard's first driver, Terry
Parton, had never been more than twenty-five miles from the town in his life.
When they made their first buying trip to Cardiff, Terry said, 'Cor, isn't London
big.'
Richard's maxims for buying stock are
'Never offer a high price – it arouses the seller's suspicions' and 'There's never any
good gear in a house with an illuminated doorbell'. But his basic philosophy is 'Buy
everything and sort it out afterwards', and so by the time I moved to Hay in
September 1975, the town was congested with millions of books – in the castle, in
the old cinema, in the converted workhouse. In Richard's wake other booksellers
opened up. When they gather together the collective noun is 'a conger' of
booksellers – to see them tottering along the streets with armfuls of heavy old
volumes gives credibility to this term.
Richard's reputation for eccentricity
increased when in 1977 he declared Hay-on-Wye an independent kingdom and
crowned himself King, with much roasting, quaffing and jigging. He conferred on
me the title of First Lady, Duchess of Hay and Offa's Dyke, and there is no denying
that he is a man of some dottiness, given to falling off horses and inadvertently
backing his car into other people's sitting-rooms. When his castle burnt down a few
years ago, he said that what woke him was the sound of applause. He got out of bed
to see why his subjects should be demanding his presence at the ceremonial
window in the early hours of the morning. Only then did he realise that it wasn't
applause at all but the sound of crackling beams. Typically it was during the
firemen's strike. But such lunacy is not without underlying purpose and his flair
for Hay promotion is envied by the advertising executives of Mayfair. As the book
trade prospered the town drew more and more eccentrics into its sphere,
specialising for some reason in unfrocked priests.
With the help of Rita and her battered
brown Cortina – a remarkable machine which keeps going despite many
inducements to stop, it is just a lump of rust with big holes in it, and over the years
has become familiar outside every public house between Aylesbury and Lord
Hereford's Knob – I moved into a flat above one of Richard's shops. My new address
was terrific: No. 1, The Pavement. And I loved its pitched ceilings and small gable
windows which looked out to the Radnor Hills. In the immediate foreground was the
town clock tower whose chimes with their lyrical ignorance of Greenwich
reminded me of Oxford (that city is full of clock towers, all telling a different time;
they begin to chime midnight at ten-to and go on until ten-past, twenty minutes of
brazen uproar).
But my transference to the hills was
accompanied by vomiting. I hadn't been well since returning from Ibiza and put it
down to something I'd eaten or my squiffy liver. After Rita departed for the Home
Counties, I took to my bed and stayed there with a bucket beside it. The following
month, October, a friend called Val was coming for the weekend, so I pulled myself
together and got out of bed for her visit. On the Saturday evening we went to the
Baskerville Arms for dinner. This is in Clyro, a village on the other side of the Wye.
The inn takes its name from the hound-loving Baskerville family who built Clyro
Court in the early-nineteenth century. It is a strange house. Hallucinogenic
mushrooms grow on its lawns, After staying there Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was
inspired to write his macabre story The Hound of the Baskervilles, although
in consideration of his hosts he changed the location to Devon. Kilvert's Diary

mentions both the house and its occupants. An entry for 1870 tells of a great storm
which destroyed the gable in which the housekeeper slept. She and her bed passed
through two floors before coming to rest in the shambles of a morning room. Auf
examination she was found to be still asleep, smelling strongly of brandy.
With the decline of Baskerville wealth,
Clyro Court sought other keepers, none of them normal. It became a health hydro
and a swimming pool was added, fed by mineral springs from the hillside. At one
point nobody was sure what was going on there, except that Arabs kept
landing on the lawns in little helicopters and never stayed above a moment. Then
Colin Stone, who had made a fortune selling garden gnomes to the Americans and
was even more eccentric than Richard, bought it and tried to turn it into the
ultimate pleasure dome for jaded pop stars and dispossessed peers. It really was
extraordinarily opulent inside, Liberace Louis Quinze, Walt Disney Scottish
Baronial, Tommy Kyle Rainbow Chic. But the house retained its curious ether. Colin
always said, 'The house is far more powerful than the people who live in it.' He was
right. It was a disaster for him. The last I heard he was languishing in Shrewsbury
Gaol.
At dinner with Val I felt better than I
had in ages. It must have shown because people I hardly yet knew came up to tell
me that I was glowing. But on the way home I began to feel breathless and decided
to walk in the air. I had a black-out and came to, feeling terribly shaky, in the
doorway of Golesworthy's Outfitters opposite my flat. Val helped me up to my
bedroom and as I was recovering on the bed a sharp pain shot under my ribs. Val
held my hand for a moment or two, then I said, 'It's O.K. now, go to bed, I'll see you
in the morning.' Just as she was about to switch out my light, a much more severe
pain hit me in the centre of the chest. It was like being kicked by a horse. My neck
was thrown back and my shoulders forward. Dr Harvey arrived at midnight and
said, 'I think you've had a heart attack.'
'But, Dr Harvey, I don't smoke, I'm
underweight.'
'You do drink and you've been under a
lot of stress lately. I'm almost sure that's what it is.'
I was taken to the Nuffield Clinic in
Hereford. When they traced a cardiograph they found my heartbeat all over the
Platz. The first twenty-four hours is the critical time. If you survive that, you're
likely to survive the heart attack. Every hour or so they woke me up to trace
another cardiograph. I'd lost much of the feeling in my arms. Between the shoulder
and the elbow they were dark and puffy.
The following weekend Rita visited me
with the kids, Denny Daviss rang, and Joey too.

'Do you want me to come down?'
'No, please don't. I don't want you to see
me like this.'
'Well, in that case I shan't see you at
all. We're going back to Canada next week.'
I was inside for just over two weeks.
They wanted me there for a month because Dr Wood said my heart was still very
scratchy, but I was terrified of having another attack worrying about the bills. Je
didn't know how much I was insured for. As it turned out it was up to £10,000.
They instructed me to avoid cholesterol, dark meat, chocolate, sweets, salt, white
sugar, not to overdo the stairs and to acquire a potty, no sex for the time being – I
behaved myself for ten minutes then thought, 'What the hell, if I'm going I might
as well go with the few comforts I can muster.' Out came the bowls of sugar, the
boxes of sea salt – and there are worse things in life than dying in the arms of a big
Welshman.
After a few more weeks I felt fit and
went to London to see Viva. She was on good form, lining herself up for imminent
celebrity, because her memoirs were due out. I was sitting on a sofa in the drawing-
room when suddenly I felt most peculiar. It was as if the floor had given way. Meine
face drained of blood and expression and no longer felt part of me. 'Viva,
something's happened.' But I didn't know what.
The doctor suspected that I'd had
another heart attack, a minor one, a hiccup as they say, which is really quite
common even for healthy people, but coming after the major one it frightened me
very much. I returned to Hay at once and took to my bed for five months' solitary
confinement. By now I had only a few pounds left. I did a careful budget and
calculated that if I cut out all alcohol and most food I could afford to rent a
television set, which, with sea salt, was my only luxury but it did prevent me from
going gaga. I lived on cabbage and baked beans, my own private recession, madly
Jarrow, with occasionally a wine-gum for pud. I would sleep all through the
morning if possible, to make the days shorter. And I hardly went out – you don't
when you can't afford to buy someone a drink. I stayed in bed to avoid losing
weight. My only contact with outside reality was provided by the visits of Pat
Wigington, and Gerry and Vera Taylor's sumptuous dinner parties at Winforton
Court. Reality? Going to Winforton Court was like going to Samarkand.
For want of anyone else, I struck up
conversations with Edward. I'd shake my fist at the ceiling and say, 'Hey, Edward,
what's going on up there? You're supposed to be looking after me so put that angel
down and pull your finger out.' There was plenty of time to think and I began to
make notes for my book.
Eventually I'd had all the cabbage I
could take. It is in fact a fine vegetable but day after day, week after week, even
with sea salt on, you begin to turn pale green and start dreaming of Holland,
definitely a danger sign, so I went up to London for a few days to stay with Colin
Stone. While there I thought, 'I'll give Tommy's London number a ring.' It was
August, I expected him to be frolicking in Cannes, but he picked up the phone and
said, 'What a wonderful birthday present. Today is my fiftieth birthday. I've been
trying to get hold of you but everyone tells me you've vanished into thin air. Come
to my party tonight.' Afterwards we went to eat at La Popote.

'So what are you doing these days?' il
asked.
'Recuperating in the country.'
'Poor lamb, how gruesome. What are
you doing for the next couple of weeks?'
'Nothing, always nothing.'
'You are now. You're coming to
France.
'No, I'm not. And for one reason.'
'What's that?'
'I don't even have the money to tip
your staff.'
'Don't worry about that.'

'I'm serious, Tommy. My purse is a
howling void.
'I know, I heard – I'll take care of
everything.'
The next minute I was sitting on the
golden carousel up to my chin in chauffeurs and chambermaids. At one point
Gustav said, 'I know a lovely place for lunch – in Geneva', and we flew off in one of
his private planes. Aren't wings wonderful? We were back at Croix des Gardes in
time for cocktails. Tommy took his yacht out, the Casa Nina, and we bumped
along the coast for a few days with Mrs Ting-a-Ling and the singer Lulu, who had
married one of the Bee Gees. In St Tropez we tied up opposite a coffee bar. I was on
deck taking the southern air in my curlers and spotted Amanda Lear among the
coffee drinkers. I said to Tommy's friend, Brian, 'Do go and ask her on board for a
drink. I can't cross the road like this.' I saw Brian talking to her, I threw her a tiny
wave, and she hopped on to her bicycle and pedalled off as if pursued by devils. elle
was the last time I saw her. Harold and Grace Robbins were tied up nearby and
invited us across for dinner. Linda Christian was with them and I thought, 'How can
some people stay in this milieu without ever suffering?' Linda floated
through the beau monde as effortlessly as a cork. Nothing sank her. At the
end of the holiday, Tommy quietly handed me envelopes to give to the staff.
Back in Hay I decided it was time to
improve my own earthly circumstances. I went to the Social Services offices in
Brecon. I hated doing it because I come from the generation which considers such
things shameful. The official said, 'Why haven't you worked?' I said, 'Because I've
had a heart attack.' She gave me £4.50 on the spot and I went bright red.
Their doctors decided I was to be registered as a disabled person because I wasn't
supposed to stand for more than four hours a day nor stretch my arms above my
head. Mr Evans of Wrexham made contact with me, a charming careers officer who
suggested I go on a rehabilitation course learning to put tops on bottles.
'Mr Evans, it's very kind of you but I
haven't come all this way to start putting tops on bottles.'

'Veronica Lake worked in a factory in
her time of troubles.'
'Did she? How heartbreaking. C'est
probably what killed her. What else have you got?'
'There's a short cookery course.
I was famished and jumped at it, three
months at Radbrook College in Shrewsbury, a very beautiful and very boring
town.
Richard let me keep on the flat in Hay
and I went to Shrewsbury to look for temporary digs, tramping round boarding
houses all day, one Edwardian door after another, with no luck. Finally j came to the
last on my list, Mrs Williams of Park House. She opened the door and said, 'I only
take men.' My face hit the doorstep and she must have softened at this because she
said, 'You do look tired. Come in for a cup of tea and we'll talk about it.' She went on,
'All the girls I've had have been so dreadful, so untidy and noisy. I find men much
more considerate, which isn't what you'd expect, is it?' I was about to go down on my
knees and slobber in the style of a spaniel by Landseer, but she forestalled it by
saying, 'I'll take you on for a week's trial.'
For the first two days at Radbrook I was
anonymous. In the third day it was out. I went into the dining-hall and two hundred
pairs of eyes turned and stared. There was an unhealthy murmur like marsh gas
escaping from a bog. Any course connected with food demands that you hide your
hair for hygiene purposes and so I was wearing a hairnet, one of those faintly
wartime ones which make you look as though you were carrying a load of rolled
veal on your head. Before, I had always relied on my glamorous shell to protect me
in moments such as this. Now I had to face them as Mrs Mop. I was groping wildly
for a champagne cocktail to quell the mutinies in my thorax but none was at hand,
only canteen coffee and some fatigued sandwiches. 'Valour, dear, valour,' I said to
myself, 'remember Ekaterinberg.' I sailed towards a table on sheer willpower and
felt much better after I'd occupied a plastic chair and joined a discussion on student
power and the Fight For Peace movement.
One of the women in my class said I was
a rich bitch who was exploiting the tax-payers' money for a lark, but Mrs Williams
saw through it. At the end of the week there was a little tap on my bedroom door. Je
put down Daisy Princess of Pless by Herself – at the point where a shorthand-
typist, Mrs Leeds, was about to marry well and turn into Her Royal Highness
Princess Nancy of Greece – and said, 'Come in.'

'It's only me,' said Mrs Williams. 'My,
you have made it cosy in here. I hope you will stay, April. You never go out, you
never cat. I don't want to speak out of turn but I suspect you're going through a
rough time. So I'm dropping the rent a bit and I've got a television for your
room.'
The class was of all ages, some young
kids of seventeen, the majority in the middle years, and a widower of sixty-five who
decided it was time he learned to boil his own eggs. Much of it wasn't new to me and
although I wasn't the best in the class, I was the fastest, especially with the boning
knife. One of our tutors, Mrs Bracegirdle, who for a cookery teacher had a
remarkably hungry look, Kafka cheekbones with straight black hair chopped off at
the neck, gave me any extra filleting which had to be done. One morning Mrs
Bracegirdle came up to me with an extra chicken and plonked it down. 'Do that as
well,' she said. Suddenly, feeling like something at the bottom of a pit in a film
about oppression under Stalin, I rounded on her.
'Mrs Bracegirdle, you're a bloody bitch.
Take that carcass off my bench. There are words in the English language such as
please and thank you.'
'I'm sorry. Of course I mean please.
Now, will you fillet the chicken?'
'No, I won't. It's too late. There are
youngsters in this class. You should be setting an example.'
When we were taken round the Wem
Brewery or the Shrewsbury Abattoir, we were supposed to ask questions. Whether
stinking of beer or dripping with blood, I always asked dozens – every time I opened
my mouth Mrs Bracegirdle's face took on the expression of someone who's just
found a slug in the lettuce.
I was the only short-course student to
be invited to the end-of-term College Ball. I was in my cockfeathers and a low-cut
black dress and the Principal asked me to join his table for a drink. I downed a
massive vodka and set off. Half-way across the hall my heel snapped, I lurched, and
my breasts tumbled out. The whole place went up in a storm of laughter and I
decided it was my bedtime.
The next day Mrs Bracegirdle gave me
the look of death.
'Good morning, Mrs Bracegirdle.'

'I heard all about you last night. 90 per
cent fall-out.'
She wasn't being funny. At least she
didn't look as if she was. Perhaps her sense of humour was very dry. Some people
don't smile when they're amused.
On my last day I was packing up to
leave when Mrs Williams came up to say there were eight women and one man to
see me. I didn't know who they could be, because I'd kept entirely to myself and
made no friends. They were from the class, including the woman who had called me
a rich bitch. They didn't want to leave without telling me how much fun it had been
having me in their class. It was a sweet thing to do but I couldn't see the back of
Shrewsbury fast enough. My best friend had been Terry Wogan on the radio.
The main purpose of the course, from
my point of view, was to push me back into life rather than provide a marketable
skill. So I decided I'd like to do a proper three-year course in cuisine and contacted
Mr Evans again. I wanted it to be in a different place because everyone in the
border counties knew who I was and would never allow me to take study seriously.
He tried Exeter University but it fell through. Then Bangor and that fell through.
Finally he said, 'There's a place going on a one-year business course at the Coleg
Howell Harris in Brecon.' Elementary mathematics, typing, book-keeping, etc. It
was like going back to junior school but made tolerable by my tutor, Mr Jones, a
dear.
But all my worst fears were realised.
One day they were reading about the elegant Miss Ashley in the local papers, the
next seeing me run for the 7.55 a. m. bus to Brecon. I was just as confused as they
were and the Hay kids were a real pest.
Usually you can quip your way out of
taunts. But when tired you either ignore totally or fight back totally. 75 per cent of
my life has been a silent battle against rising to the bait. And some of the things
they come out with. When you've been the object of public attention, you realise
that most people don't know what they're talking about most of the time. You can't
keep putting them straight. It's so exhausting. I've never wanted to go round
justifying myself, as if I were ashamed of what I've done, as if the right to lead my
life needed a special dispensation. Even in this book I'm not trying to justify – only
to explain a little and not even too much of that.
It wasn't easy being accepted in Hay. Je
don't mean accepted like the locals who were born and raised there – one shouldn't
expect that – but simply to be taken for granted in the local landscape without
always causing nudges and loaded comments. I was accepted in this way eventually
but it takes time and I'd forgotten that. Time moves more slowly in the country or
rather each moment, because of fewer distractions, is subjected to a more detailed
examination than in the city. Knowledge is narrower but goes deeper, everyone
knows everything about everyone, and acceptance means acceptance in the
round.
The kids were the worst, the eight to
twelve year olds. Sometimes they were comic. 'She's a lesbian, you know,' I
overheard one puppy say to his friend. Goodness knows how some of the more
squeamish parents explained me to their offspring., The thought of simply
explaining the facts of life causes most of them to blanch and gibber, they usually
just take the kids along to a farm, so how they managed with sex-changes… and I'm
sure their children would have asked at all the wrong moments, in front of Aunt
Maud, during 'Match of the Day', when the whisky bottle was empty.

Yes, before long the kids were all-
knowing, which is right, but sometimes they were horrid. 'Look at her. Are your
tits real?' Usually I strode by on the other side, but once I was hung-over,
Christopher Fry (the young landlord of my local, the Blue Boar) had had one of his
Dionysian parties the night before, ale and Glen Morangie and great hams. I was
running for the Brecon bus and I was late. They were young teenagers. One was
being especially loutish. I wheeled round and charged at him.
'So who are you to jeer at people? Men
don't jeer. How do you want to grow up? To be a nothing? To be a little creep
sniggering in the corner all your life? If you want to know something, behave like
a man and ask me to my face. Men are open and honest and courageous. They don't
hang around in streets jeering at decent people. Do you want to be a man? Or do you
want to be a coward and a baby?'
I walked away, smoke pouring from my
head, the bus probably way past Aberllynfi by now, but terrified too in case they
jeered again, because then I should know I'd lost, that the truth hadn't impressed
them, that my attack had failed. But they didn't jeer. Perhaps the boy learned
something important that day. Perhaps he didn't. Perhaps he's still shivering with
the sheep.
However, I'm not so fanciful as to
imagine that my history should arouse no comment. And I readily admit that what
may have been tough for me nevertheless has many comic aspects. In fact laughter
is usually my own first reaction when I think about my past, because a sex-change
has one thing in common with every other man and woman – the comedy of being
human in a superhuman universe, the incongruity between what we are and what
we frequently imagine ourselves to be. Suicide is the complete failure of the sense
of humour. I promised to thin out the suicides and I've done so. Caroline Stocker's.
Duncan Melvin's. Duncan's surprised me. He always seemed so amused. But it must
have been a front. Something must finally have called his bluff and he fell for it.
June Churchill's was different. She was in the throes of terminal cancer and a
member of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society. Even with all the modern drugs they
could not control the pain and so when no one was looking she swallowed a handful
of heroin pills and stuck a polythene bag over her head.
One of the problems of my newspaper
exposure was that I became always a sex-change first and anything else second. Je
don't blame the People. It had to happen and the furtive life was always what
I wanted to escape. But it also meant that to survive I had to be brazen and that can
coarsen a temperament. Until the story broke I was learning, learning, learning.
Afterwards I was notorious and it was left to me only to exploit my personality. I was
forced to become an 'artist of life', which is close to the art of the actor in that in
many respects one is the product of one's own imagination, but differs from it in
one important respect. That is, one is what one appears to be. One has only one role.
Or to be exact, one is allowed to have only one role. Most people play a variety of
roles, whether they realise it or not. To have only one is a great privation and
prevents one from doing many things which almost everyone else takes for
granted, such as working in a shop if one has to, because one lacks the chameleon
adaptability necessary for casual living. The image tends to require reality to bend
to it, instead of simply colluding with reality in an informal way, and so of course
one ends up an institution. This is not true of all celebrities, only of those whose
celebrity is due to some singularity in their personal life as opposed to the
singularity of their professional accomplishments. But there is one compensation
here if one has the perspicacity to see it and the strength to grasp it. Most people all
their life are the dupe of their self-image. Those of us whose self-image is made a
widely public thing, either through scandal or a quirk of nature, are forcibly
detached from that self-image, which is terribly painful, yes, but can be the
beginning of many profound freedoms.
I need my solitude but I also need
company. The manner of the break-up of AD8 severely damaged my natural liking
for people but like everyone else I want to be used and be useful. So in Hay I found
my good cause, a man in his eighties called Charles Simpson. He'd been a nervous
wreck since the age of forty when he retired into leisure from the garage business,
but being a hypochondriac, the attention which he lavished on his health meant
that for his years he was as fit as an ox. Charlie had buried two wives and lived
alone in a substantial house which had belonged to the second of them, the highest
house in Hay after the Castle. I cooked for him, gave him the town gossip, to which
he affected indifference, steered him away from the bottle, and tried to make sure
he didn't muddle up his boxes of pills. I cheered him up by refusing to treat him
like a two-year-old – the secret of getting on with old people is not to behave as if
they've just strayed from the pram – and in general played the loving but
exasperated daughter. In return he made me feel like Ingrid Bergman, full of good
deeds.
Glück. The Big H. The question
they always ask. Are you happy? It is the inevitable question because it is what
everybody wants to be and hardly anybody is. I have to reply – happy with what?
With the operation, yes, of course I am. It gave me my chance for happiness and
one cannot expect more. Although it did give me a problem as well, different in
character from the social difficulties already mentioned. I had realised my dream,
my goal, and that is rare. At the age of twenty-five it's rarer still. The purpose of a
dream or an aim is to focus individual effort. Without it a life cannot develop, will
simply pass from day to day in a haphazard fashion like a dog's; and if you live like
a dog, you die like a dog. But such aims should always be placed just beyond the
fingertips. I lost my central purpose by achieving it and the problem was what to
do afterwards.
If you want to talk about life in
general, then happiness is no less elusive for me than it is for everyone else.
Nietzsche, my dear, said, 'One remains young only on condition the soul does not
relax.' Youthfulness and happiness are at odds with each other. In middle age one
can incline to defeatism or complacency but while recognising and accepting one's
limitations, it is important not to abandon the dream, the self-criticism, the
possibility for exultation, the inner exertion. I know my limitations but I often
ignore them. There is a Chinese proverb which says, 'Nature takes the line of least
resistance.' That is the distinction between Man and Nature, Man's fearlessness in
pursuit of the impossible. Relaxation, acceptance, happiness belong to old age, one's
very last moments. The greater the exertion, the greater the relaxation. Because I
have nowhere near reached the time for relaxation, I am still insecure in many
ways. For example, I tend to grab at people if I like them. This is due not to my
transsexualism but to my upbringing. My childhood was the worst time but it
geared me up for the rest of my life. After a recent television interview in which I
mentioned this, I received a letter from one of the boys who used to bash me in
Norris Green. I felt so upset I was tempted to write but got cold feet. Then I saw
the programme repeat and decided to, thinking they can't shoot you for it, so here
goes. He sounds like a real man to me.

Of that which has passed – what is the
correct way to view it? As far as possible I have checked my facts because I know
the memory can be a conjurer and, as Justice Ormrod remarked, transsexuals have a
tendency to be selective historians, although the failing is by no means confined to
them. All romantics – which includes all lawyers and all historians – view events
through the spectacles of their adoption. But I don't think I have been gratuitously
cruel or taken obnoxious liberties. I did want to be brisk and astringent and this is
bound to make some people uncomfortable, especially when I have not
underwritten their amour-propre. A phenomenon observed by two minds has
a tendency to display divergent characteristics. Besides, people are famous for not
seeing themselves as others see them. This is a very personal memoir and perhaps
some of those in it never grasped the effect they had on me. Let them remember
that I have by no means presented myself in a blameless light and that my partial
view is not the end of the story or the whole story, but it is me.
I was attending Coleg Howell Harris
when in November 1978 I was told of Viva's death. It wasn't unexpected and the loss
took time to make itself felt.
During the last few years I had tried to
visit her as often as possible, and always on New Year's Eve. After such a life it was
awful to see her all alone in her bed, reading the Evening Standard on the last
night of the year.
'Come on, there's a party down the
road.'
'No, I can't, I couldn't, I mean I
shouldn't, no,' but she'd already be climbing out of bed and making for the black-
velvet skirt.
Her autobiography had not been
received as she'd hoped. It lacked sweep. In fact it lacked everything. Stuffy,
emotionless, decidedly ungay, it was so unlike her. She had left out so many
important things. She hardly touched on the vital black market of life which
seethes beneath the membrane of official transactions. At the same time she had
nothing very nice to say about anyone, at least not about anyone who was alive,
including me. I accused her of betraying fourteen years of friendship and – which
was the criminal thing – doing so without wit. She said, 'Don't be so touchy – look at
these', and held up a fistful of umbrageous letters. The book was her final gesture to
life and after it flopped she took to her bed.

Viva's last time out was when I took her
to lunch round the corner at the George and Dragon. I bullied her into it – she liked
to be bullied, it excited her masochistic streak. The second we arrived I set her up
with a large gin and tonic. She loved freshwater fish and had trout, whereas I love
sea water fish and had sole. Afterwards she walked back to the house content and
erect, having forgotten all about her stick. Back in bed she said, 'Do you think your
friend Oscar would come round and do my hair?'
'No, I don't think he would, because you
sneered at hairdressers in your book.'
A suggestion of the naughty old smile
passed across her lips. She didn't go out again. She went into a rapid decline, started
losing her teeth, developed bedsores which had to be covered with pads, and with
her white hair sticking out on either side looked exactly like Michael Foot when
he's rabble-rousing. Although terribly lonely she refused to see anyone except me.
The maid and nurses kept everyone away. Viola Hall paid a visit but was turned
away and had to leave her flowers behind in the hall. There must have been others.
I smuggled Rita in one evening, to Viva's fury and Rita's consternation. Although
Rita had become a visitor at the Stoke Mandeville Hospital for the Disabled and saw
many unfortunate things every day, she wasn't prepared for the change in
Viva.
But the mind was still wonderfully
complete, wonderfully unclouded by false sentiment. Towards the end she wrote to
me in Hay: I am like Oscar Wilde, dying beyond my means, the china has all gone,
but if it doesn't keep the night nurse I shall have to start on the pictures – I detest
doing it, but I am too frightened a coward to end it all which would be the best
way.
In her will she left me all her pictures.
On my last visit she said, 'Take Santiago de Compostella with you.' It was a carving
which she knew I loved. 'Go on, take him. It doesn't matter to me, I'll never see my
drawing-room again. Take him, the pictures are going so fast, you'll have
nothing.'
But I couldn't take him. When she died
there were still a few pictures left, though none very valuable. She left me a little
capital too and so finally I was able to come off social security. I asked Richard if he
were going to his aunt's funeral and if so to give me a lift. But he said he wasn't mad
about death and wouldn't be going, so I didn't go either. She wouldn't have minded.
Like me, Viva didn't believe in an after-life. I still miss her very much, more now
than at the time of her death, and looking back I wish I had attended the funeral,
because a funeral has nothing to do with the dead or with creating the right
impression with the other mourners – it is to fix something in oneself,
Death, death, death! My goodness, and
we still can't pack away the bombasine because there is one other I must record –
Charles Simpson's – dear old Charlie's – and I mention it because the solicitor said to
me, 'In his will Mr Simpson left you his house.'
'Well, I never. Thank you, Charlie,' I
said sweetly like Irene Dunne in The White Cliffs of Dover.

Thus, for the first time, I became a
woman of property.
As a householder I am now entitled to
apply for a gun licence – I must get round to that soon. The Hay boys who play
Devil's Leap by rushing unexpectedly and at top speed across my garden will
provide excellent target practice. A few hefty blasts at them and I'll be in shape for
a safari through East Africa or a trek across Australia.
I have been considering whether to go
to the Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg to sue the British Government for
marriageable status. But somehow there are so many more important things to do.
Like having the house painted inside and out. When I suggested it to Charlie he said,
'But it's only just been done.'
'When was that? 1965?'
'No. 1952.'
All that dark House of Horror
woodwork – fine – I like a little intimidation to back me up – but Dracula walls as
well? Ian (my decorator), start stripping! Let there be light! He says he needs a
.blowtorch…'Try the outhouse,' I shout as I rush to the door to take delivery of my
new curtains.
'Can you pay now?' says the man from
Hereford with a pencil in his ear.
'Of course I can -just give me a
moment,' I reply from somewhere near his feet because the curtains are
surprisingly heavy.
Then there's the garden wall, a noble
edifice built of stones from the medieval town rampart, solid as a rock for centuries.
As soon as I move in, it collapses, taking several embanked trees with it.

'Can you sort of pile it back up?' But
apparently it is a major engineering exercise to be compared with the raising of
the Mary Rose, so I'll have to stock up on tea-bags. While they're about it they
can take out some of those gnarled dead apple trees which at night look as if they
want to crawl in through the window and strangle me. I've been out there in my
housecoat and wellies and hit them with an axe, but it's a man's job. Und das
Elephant Ears clogging the front – tea roses, I think. And some slates have slipped
off the roof
And the bills. You pay them and in
return they send you some more. It's sick. Surely we could devise a civilisation
which wasn't modelled on an Oriental torture? I'll be glad when my yacht arrives
and I can sail off round the world for a year or two. Clockwise or anti-clockwise?
The eternal dilemma …
And there's the dog to feed, a golden
whippet, dear Flora, but she will break wind so. She is easily excited and has to
control herself, I insist, and I think this is the way she expresses her tension. I've
tried everything, all the diets. I've cut out her pasta, her French beans, anything
containing cream and garlic, and absolutely no choccy drops, at most a Terry's
Spartan, but it's no good. It doesn't much matter when we're alone together, one
acclimatises, but if we have guests they flick each other rodent looks and the
conversation falters and the Dry Martinis start to bubble.
And the central heating. Charlie died
before he could initiate me into the mysteries of this esoteric system. There's the
most frightful rumpus going on up in the attic, and down here the walls are
shaking, the pipes racked with screams. I've turned every knob I can find but the
steam is still spurting from the joints, filling the room with a scalding fog. One
hears stories of violent explosions, appalling devastation. I try turning it off but
it's got a will of its own and ignores me. And here I am, off to a hunt ball, dressed
as Artemis of Ephesus with —– honking furiously from the car, the telephone's
ringing, the dog's howling, lightning in the sky, and the wind is on the rise – let
me tell you, something's going to blow, baby, and it won't be the champagne cork.
Boom! Boom! Boom!!!

A Later Picture

April in 2000, age 65Health Warning – Silicone Injections Very Harmful

Many people are led into having injections of silicone to plump up areas of the body.
The short term results can be very gratifying but, whatever the claimed type of silicone,
there is nothing to prevent lose silicone migrating, especially following gravity. Many
have rapidly become disfigured because if this. Silicone is also capable of harbouring infections
which can continue to infect the host body regardless of chemical treatments, which
cannot penetrate the silicone. The only way to remove lose silicone is surgery.
Because the silicone easily penetrates between the body's fat cells, to remove migrated
or infected silicone it is often necessary to remove all the fat in an area, which leaves
nothing between the muscle or bone and the skin, resulting in very unsightly scars.
Leading surgeons assert that those who perform silicone injections
should be "shot on sight". Do not become one of their victims.Health Warning – Continuing Estrogen Essential

April was extremely badly advised to cease using estrogen, and the broken bones she
suffered in her late thirties were the obvious manifestation of the price she paid – osteoporosis.
After sex-reassignment surgery unsupplemented hormone levels would be much lower
than post-menopausal levels in women of advancing age, for which homone replacement
therapy (HRT) is is now commonly prescribed to prevent osteoporosis. In someone leading
an active life more estrogen would be needed and standard HRT levels would have not been
sufficent either. April almost certainly would have suffered many
other effects of that prolonged estrogen deprivation, with rapid effect in some respects – she
herself mentions that her hair was never as good after Casablanca. That this happened to someone
who was severely calcium deficient as a child is especially unfortunate.Health Warning – Outdated Information

The pain April so graphically describes has NOT been the experience of most others undergoing
reassignment surgery from shortly after April's surgery date. Although there are many different
techniques for maintaining the vaginal cavity and ensuring the adherence of it's lining, very,
very few patients experience more than momentary pain, at specific moments, for the relief of which nitrous oxide
gas is often made available. A common description of the days during which some form
of packing is inside, is "uncomfortable". Many even find the stronger painkillers offered to
them unnecessary. But some do expereince substantial pain. Reassignment surgery is a step to be considered
with utmost care, and only if someone feels it absolutely necessary, but the surgery itself,
in the hands of a competant surgeon, experienced in the technique, with all normal surgical
precautions taken, is not usually to be feared more than any other surgery, and perhaps a good deal
less than some.

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