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Monday, May 23, 2016

Perry's Picture Post part 7

Ex-Managing Editor Alan Fennell and Ex-Art Editor Dennis Hooper of the now defunct “Century 21” comics section had, oddly enough, accompanied Robert T Prior, Andrew Harrison, Bob Reed, Howard Elson, Linda Wheway and me to the new offices in May’s Court – but, once there, had acted very much like a pair of proverbial spare “wot-nots” at a wedding.

It is almost certain that Fennell and Hooper were fully aware that the book departments’ move to May’s Court was a temporary measure only. In June (or perhaps July) 1968, TV21. Lady Penelope and Candy were handed over to Martspress. Assuming that both Fennell and Hooper had been engaged on contracts with a notice period of twelve months, this would have extended their employment to June of 1969 . . . which was precisely when the book section of Century 21 Publishing was finally disbanded.

I need to say here and now that both Alan Fennell and Dennis Hooper were truly magnificent insofar that they never once interfered with anything that we in the book department were (or were not) doing. Looking back and seeing the picture as a whole, I now believe they found themselves in the position of having to work out their one year’s notice period and—despite the book section having a great many planned titles—having virtually nothing to do. However, they were both experienced script-writers, so perhaps they turned to writing to keep their minds occupied.

There was, however, something else going on that appeared to me to be quite utterly bizarre.

I never knew much – if anything – about the domestic problems experienced by Editor of the Book Department Bob Prior during those difficult years. It was only in 2003, when he and I met for an evening meal in a Notting Hill Gate restaurant, that, with tears in his eyes, he’d related all that had been going on at the south London home he’d vacated; of how his wife’s new boyfriend had been disciplining Bob’s two young children (a girl and a boy roughly 6 and 8) by locking them away in the garden shed for what had seemed like days on end.

Clearly Bob had been looking for a change in his circumstances and, in an effort to alter his image, had bought and worn a number of medallions, chunky gold chains and miniature gold bars (which certainly didn’t come cheap) that he’d strung around his neck and wrists. He grew his hair long in the fashion of Peter Wyngarde, the French-born English actor, best known for playing Jason King. During the time that the book section was housed in May’s Court, Bob had come to work daily wearing a sweeping black cape, secured on the left shoulder by a very large, black, decorative, rose-shaped clasp. To top everything off, he wore an oversized hat in the style of George Melly, a flamboyant Renaissance man, passionate about jazz, film, art and writing, who over-indulged in both sex and drink.

Around about February or March of 1969, a well-dressed, tall-and-thin-streak of an individual carrying an official-looking briefcase entered our office demanding to see Robert T Prior. I was told later that he’d had something to do with accounting although where he’d emanated from was anyone’s guess. By the end of the day, Bob Prior had cleared his desk and had left the building without a goodbye to anyone. The ‘tall streak’ remained sitting in the office Bob had vacated for a further two-to-three weeks and, although I received the odd snippet of information from our Sales Manager (whose name totally slips me), I felt it prudent not to create further waves by asking too many awkward questions.

During the latter half of 1968 and the first few months of 1969, Howard Elson and I spent quite a bit of time together working on Alphabeat. I don’t know whose idea it was, or who chose the title—my guess is that it was Howard, but Bob Reed was also very much into pop and I wouldn’t want to dismiss him as Alphabeat's potential originator. The book was essentially an ABC of Pop, and the idea might have arisen from Howard’s father who owned and ran a public relations business representing a good many stage performers (in the Seventies, Howard joined the business and took it over when his father retired).

For Alphabeat, Howard interviewed the stars we came into contact with while I captured a series of exclusive shots . . . at least, that was the plan, although it hadn’t always panned out that way. Take, for example, the day I went to visit Bee-Gee Maurice Gibb.

Maurice Gibb was living in a Mews house not much more than a stone’s throw away from Hyde Park Corner, Knightsbridge and Buckingham Palace. On the day I went to see him (for some reason, Howard was not with me), I had rather been expecting to see all three members of the group. However, not only was Maurice alone, but he wasn't in what I would call a particularly good frame of mind. At the time I guessed this was down to a bust-up with Lulu; they were not to be married for another year, so this was probably down to a lovers' tiff. I'd felt it prudent not to ask.

Maurice quickly picked up on my disappointment that Barry and Robin were not also present, and  suggested that we drive over to where Barry was renting a penthouse apartment, just off Ludgate Hill and close to St Paul’s Cathedral.

The drive over in Maurice’s dark bottle-green convertible Rolls Royce with pale cream upholstery was totally uneventful (even though I’d actually had my left arm ready to execute a Queen’s condescending wave of acknowledgment had anyone shouted and screamed on recognising my celebrated chauffeur . . . which nobody had.

Sadly things became infinitely worse when parking the car. Within sight of the Cathedral, we’d turned off Limeburner Lane and had to squeeze into a tiny vacancy in Old Seacoal Lane. While maneuvering the car into its parking spot, Maurice inadvertently graunched the side of the Rolls against a none-too-smooth concrete bollard, making his mood even gloomier.

At the rear entrance to the building, he led me over to a private lift that gave access only to the penthouse suite. He obviously had some sort of key as I don’t remember there having been any incidentals such as ringing bells or buzzers or being asked to identify ourselves.

At the very top of this high-rise office block, had I opened the window and leant out holding onto a long stick, I could have almost touched the spires of St Paul’s Cathedral and, from the kitchen (although I never actually went in there to check it out), one could almost have touched the Lady Justice statue at the top of the Old Bailey . . . or to be precise (and give it its correct title) – the Central Criminal Court of England and Wales.

The suite itself was bright and airy – absorbing all the sunlight that was being thrust upon us that day – and, as it was on two levels, it gave the impression of being quite a substantial place. It was clear that Barry was occupied upstairs, so while Maurice went up, I discreetly waited in the spacious living room and had gazed out over London town in all its finest glory.

Two minutes later, an attractive slim, blonde aged about nineteen, nonchalantly dragging a pristine white bed-robe beside her, descended the wide wooden stairway and disappeared into where I  assumed the kitchen to be. She had been totally and unabashedly naked. But what had been even more fascinating was the way she had skilfully circumnavigated a fresh, oversized dog’s turd – still shimmering in its youthfulness, its wispy column of steam caught by a shaft of sunlight – that had been deposited about a foot away from the bottom-most stair.

Somehow, whatever enthusiasm I’d started out with on that day had finally fizzled out. With the feeling that enough-was-more-than-enough, I picked up the bag containing my cameras and the power-flash I’d taken with me, had gone over to the lift and left the building without saying a further word to anyone. I’d not taken one single shot.

However, on browsing the “net” over the past few days, the actions I took on that fateful day in 1968 is paled into insignificance by the three Bee-Gees who appeared on Clive Anderson’s chat show in 1996 and had stormed off after a barrage of Anderson’s sniping jokes!

Billie Davis, the Caravelles and Long John Baldry were all photographed on the same day and more or less in the same place. As to whose apartment it had been, I really have no idea, but it was sumptuously appointed with over-stuffed, white leather settees, a glass-topped Grecian-style metal table upon which had been placed a chunky white and green onyx chess set, and, on the floor, a white carpet with a pile so thick that had you accidentally dropped a chopstick, it probably would have taken you a week to find it again.

Billie Davis – who had been born Carol Hedges – was the first to appear that afternoon. As the light had been good, I’d placed her outside, sitting on the balcony that over-looked Cromwell Road and the Natural History Museum that lay beyond. Looking at Google Maps 47 years later, I see that the building we had been in is now the “Consulat Général de France à Londres” . . . but it hadn’t been at that time.

Davis was climbing back to popularity after having (a) suffered a broken jaw received when her chauffeur-driven limousine had crashed and she’d had to have her jaw wired up for four months while she recovered, and (b) from some damaging publicity in a less-permissive Britain following an affair she’d had with married guitarist Jet Harris. Upon her arrival, she had been slightly on edge at meeting us, but not nearly on edge as Howard had been in the minutes before she had arrived.

He had been checking his recording apparatus, when he suddenly came over – almost white-faced with horror – saying that there was something wrong with his recording machine. “Every now and then it will utter this awful whining sound for about eight or ten seconds,” he said, “and then it goes back to being normal once again. I just don’t understand it!”

Following a week-long study of road-traffic-systems in the United States, Earnest Marples MP had thrust upon the innocent Briton annual encumbrances called MOTs; they were also being forced to understand the intricacies of double white lines; and to cope with new laws regarding the parking of cars on single and double yellow lines, together with the added accompaniment of the dreaded traffic warden. Also bringing misery into our lives was the breathalyzer test and strange things called Pelican Crossings. Prior to Davis’s arrival and with me looking around for suitable locations to pose our stars in, I’d seen one of these new-fangled crossings situated just yards away from where we were.

“That whining sound you appear to be picking up isn’t coming from that squeaky crossing thing down there is it?”

The look of relief on Howard’s face was clear for all to see.

At the invitation of Howard Elson, some solo artists and groups were asked to come to our offices in May’s Court. Century 21 Publishing had a small room that wasn’t being used for anything else, so it was there that groups such as Blossom Toes and Harmony Grass became immortalised on film. The room was a bit bland, so, having bought half-a-dozen large posters—and with the help of my assistant Andy Harrison—we’d pinned up five on the far wall featuring Julie Christie, Laurel and Hardy, Ursula Andress – the shot where, as Honey Rider, she is seen walking out of the sea in the film Dr No – David Hemmings and John Lennon. This bare empty room – devoid of anything apart from a single chair – was to be my studio.

One day, Gun called in and, having taken a few shots, I decided to have a change of view-point. I lay down on the floor, looking up at the ceiling, and got the three guys to encircle me, place their arms on each others’ shoulders, and look down (requesting at the same time not to spit or dribble!).

Once I felt I’d got enough pictures, I said “Thanks lads,” and they trouped off down the stairs and out of the building. I had two cameras and a power-pack flash unit in one hand, and was relying on my right hand to get me up off the floor. Unfortunately, my right thumb was taking my full weight and didn't like it one little bit. It didn’t break, but the pain of the dislocation was enough to put me out for a few seconds!

The front cover of Alphabeat was designed by me in late 1968 using a picture of Roy Wood of The Move. Bob Reed created the lettering that appears on the left hand lens of his glasses. Thirty-nine years later, in 2007, my attention was brought to a Danish pop band of six singers from Silkeborg, fronted by Stine Bramsen and Anders SG (not to be confused with their guitarist – Anders G), who are signed to Polydor Records.

It is said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But you know folks, it could also be called downright plagiarism.

Going back a few years to 1964 to when my son Marcus was born, W H Smith had a retail outlet that occupied the whole of the ground-level floor-space of Hulton House. In their January sale of 1965, amongst other things, they’d included various items from the Hornby Railways OO-gauge system of which I had bought quite an alarming selection. My wife Jenny thought I was totally mad.

But, three years later, whilst employed at Century 21 Publishing and having visited the film studios at Slough on a number of occasions, not only had I picked up quite a number of tricks of the trade from the on-site set builders, but I was also encouraged to construct the model railway system I’d purchased onto a 4-foot by 8-foot sheet of block-board.

In 1968, with Marcus still really far too young to play with the Hornby Double-O set, my recently-created train layout came into its own when being used as a backdrop to the range of Corgi model cars I had been given to photograph. Amazingly, Jenny’s original thoughts on the Hornby Double-O matter had at long, long last begun to mellow.

Roger Perry
The Philippines

Coming soon: In Part Eight, the end of Century 21 Publishing, and I meet up with some old friends at Hamlyn Books.

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