Unlike a lot of men I’m not really a car person. Living in London I didn’t need to drive and didn’t learn how until I was 30 when I moved to Florida where you have to if you want any sort of life. As a result I don’t really equate them with freedom or girls like in the Springsteen songs and see them mostly as things to get you from A to B. Not that I don’t appreciate a beauty of a classic car like an E-type or Mustang (and wouldn’t say no to owning one), but I don’t get erotically aroused by them like the bloke in Queen’s “I’m In Love With My Car”.
There are a lot of pop and rock songs about cars but few make them as blatantly sexual as this. Written by drummer Roger Taylor, it’s hysterically over the top but there’s something gloriously ecstatic about it that I’ve always loved. With its lines about “pistons a pumpin” and “my hand on your grease gun” it’s almost, um, Ballardian in its erotic fetishization of cars.
I first heard this when it was the b-side of “Bohemian Rhapsody” and kids at school would sing “I’m In Love With My Bike” to it. We knew all the girls loved a nice Chopper.
The future used to look like such a brilliant place to live when I was a kid, all sleek and shiny surfaces, rockets, hover cars, robots and talking computers. But now that we’re actually living in what I considered “the future” back then — 2001 was eight 18 years ago! — it doesn’t seem half as exciting and the long-term outlook is a bit grim. Given the choice I’d rather live in the future of Gerry Anderson’s 1970 TV series UFO which had all the usual science fiction gizmos and vehicles, but was also a groovy-looking world of mod interiors and futuristic babes in cat suits and silver mini skirts.
I was a huge fan of the show when it was first broadcast — I even made my own SHADO badge out of cardboard — but as I was only 8 at the time I was more interested in the Interceptors and Ed Straker’s car than all the space-age dolly birds lounging around on modular furniture. But even I took notice of the girls stationed on the Moonbase who wore tight sparkly uniforms and purple wigs (the function of which has never been explained but who cares), especially Lt. Gay Ellis played by the lovely Gabrielle Drake (top) whose forceful command of “Interceptors! Immediate launch!” in that posh Head-Girl voice of hers conjured up all sorts of, um, thoughts.
Innocent though I was, I definitely had the feeling that there was more going on in the show than I understood (it had “adult” themes — ooooh) and scenes like this left a long-lasting mark on my impressionable young mind. Gabrielle, as you probably know, was the older sister of Nick Drake, though in that outfit she looks more like she’s related to David Bowie.
Unfortunately we don’t have this sexy future to look forward to as the show was set in 1980 which, far as I remember, didn’t look anything like that. Though with all the silver outfits and purple hair I like to think it predicted the look of Glam Rock.
Like all Gerry Anderson shows it had cracking theme music.
One of the pleasures of living in a big city is the cosmopolitan cultural pleasures it offers and when I was a fresh-from-college designer working in London in the late 1980s I took full advantage and went through a phase of seeing tons of foreign films. And there were a lot to see too, back then it seemed like every week you’d open Time Out and there’d be a Jean De Florette, Women On The Verge of a Nervous Breakdown,Au Revoir les Enfants,Cinema Paradiso, or Delicatessen that was packing them in at The Lumiere, Screen On The Green, Chelsea Cinema, or the Riverside Studios, and few things made me feel more like a sophisticated boy-about-town really living the metropolitan life than going to see a film with subtitles.
The one that really reminds me of that era and stuck with me ever since (not just for the reasons you might think) was Betty Blue from 1986 which is about the Frenchiest French movie I’ve ever seen. The plot is the classic Gallic cinema story of l’amour fou or “crazy love” with everything turned up to 11: a man living in a state of existential ennui falls for a wild, emotionally-unstable girl given to burning down houses and stabbing people with forks. They spend most of the film bonking the merde out of each other and the affair leads to madness and death — Fin.
It was something of a succés de scandale at the time because of the amount of naked flesh on display and the lusty nature of their rumpy-pumpy — as a friend of mine said at the time about it’s notorious opening scene: “that’s not making love, that’s fucking. But it was also memorable for the explosive performance of the astonishing-looking Beatrice Dalle as Betty.
Betty had to be played by an actress who could make you believe a man would happily follow her to Paris even after she had attacked his boss and set fire to his house, and Dalle was the sort of girl who could make you kill your own mother if she asked you to. I used to wonder if there was a factory in France somewhere that did nothing but turn out pouty nymphettes for their movies as there seemed to be a never-ending stream of them from Bardot onwards and Dalle looked like the model they produced the day they had an excess of parts to use up, giving her the most swollen bee-sting lips and biggest gap-toothed Gallic overbite you’ve ever seen. She looked like she’d just been punched in the face but also almost obscenely sensual as if she was permanently quivering with sex and just one look could melt you to a puddle on the spot.
I was a little obsessed with the film for a while, buying the video, poster, soundtrack album, and the (excellent) novel it was based on. If they made Betty Blue underpants I probably would have bought those too. Several years later while living in Florida I had a fling with a “Betty” of my own too: a dark-haired girl with the same voluptuous lips and big wonky overbite together with the same volcanic emotional ups and downs. Girls like that can be addictive, like Betty’s lover Zorg I put up with all sorts of crazy behaviour and I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t worth it. Men, we’re such idiots sometimes.
Aside from it’s luscious cinematography the other part of the movie that was as gorgeous as Dalle was the superb soundtrack by Gabriel Yared, one of the few scores I can listen to on it’s own as a piece of music, with the best saxaphone theme in a movie since Taxi Driver.
This Playboy from December 1978 was the first girlie magazine I ever bought, a rite of passage for a young man only slightly less stressful and potentially humiliating than getting your hands on a real naked woman for the first time. I was 16 at the time which meant buying it was not only nerve-wracking but also illegal, and I can still remember the superhuman effort it took to work up the courage to go in the shop (first making sure there were no other customers), quickly grab it from the top shelf and take it to the counter. “This please” I said, placing the magazine in front of the shopkeeper, trying to act as nonchalantly and cooly grown-up as I could while inside my heart was pounding like a hammer, thinking that any second now he’s going to ask me how old I am (or worse), or some woman is going to come into the shop and see what I was buying which would make me die of embarrassment. I swear I wouldn’t have been surprised if an alarm went off, a steel cage dropped down on me, and armed police stormed in to drag me out to the street for a public shaming.
Though Playboy was relatively tame and almost respectable compared to some other magazines it shared top shelf space with, that didn’t make me feel any less of a dirty little pervert (albeit an exhilarated and excited one — I did it! I bought one!) so when I got home I hid it in my bedroom cupboard under my comics, as you do. My mother had once told me she’d be more worried about me if I didn’t have any girlie magazines but I certainly didn’t want her to know I’d got it, all the therapy in the world wouldn’t have cured me of that particular mortification.
But while I vividly remember buying it I’m not sure now what made me want that particular issue so much, you’d think all that heart-pounding stress would have been for a woman I seriously fancied but Farrah Fawcett was my least favourite of Charlie’s Angels and I certainly didn’t care about NFL cheerleaders, only having the vaguest idea what those even were in the first place. Maybe it was the Gunter Grass short story. Yes, that must be it, I was buying it for the articles.
Oddly enough, I’ve never had any embarrassment problem buying condoms and never felt in the slightest bit nervous going into Boot’s, picking up a packet of Durex and handing over my money to even the most stern-headmistress type woman there. Maybe it was because one purchase proudly declares “Yes! I am a virile and desirable man who plans to have sex very soon!” while the other is a sad admission you have no chance of getting any for the foreseeable future — which was pretty much the story of my life when I was 16.
The main job of British movie and TV dolly birds in the 60s and 70s was to be passive objects for the likes of Sid James or Robin Askwith to phwooaar all over, or to scream helplessly and faint when Christopher Lee appeared in a cape. But with her imposing height, Amazonian build, and drop-dead beauty, Valerie Leon didn’t fit the part of the ditzy barmaid or virginal damsel in distress so she was usually the one being sexually aggressive and domineering — entering rooms like a panther in heat, thrusting her cleavage forward like a deadly weapon, giving off enough horny static to power a large city — and it was the men who got all flustered and ran to the fainting couch when she approached.
She looked like such a you-are-not-worthy goddess that a lot of the time she wasn’t cast as a regular human being and played a variety of jungle warriors, aliens, and reincarnated Egyptian queens. Even in the famous Hai Karate ads she was more like an amorous, unstoppable Terminator robot.
She was a ubiquitous presence on 1970s telly, forever popping up as the comedy crumpet on variety shows and sitcoms, and you could always rely on her to class up a production — at least visually. As a boy I would immediately, um, perk up when she appeared and would sit through some right old rubbish in the hope that she’d appear again, however briefly, in that low-cut cocktail dress or fur bikini and play havoc with my hormones.
I’ve no idea if she was any good as an actress because watching her my normal critical faculties tend to short-circuit, and her filmography is full of such nameless roles as “Hotel Receptionist”, “Lady in Bahamas”, “Serving Wench”, “Bath Girl” and, amusingly, “Queen of the Nabongas.” But one credit she should be proud of is having Roxy Music’s “Beauty Queen” written about her. I never knew that until recently and now the opening line “Valerie please believe, it never could work out” finally makes sense to me. I’ve never seen this confirmed by either her or Bryan Ferry but the internet says it’s true. I hope it is because someone as gorgeous as Valerie Leon should have songs written about her.
My Dad was a big movie fan and his idea of a grand day out with me and my sister was to take us to the pictures. I loved it too, sit me in the dark with a Kia-Ora and I was a happy kid. A big event was seeing the latest James Bond film on the day it came out at the Odeon Leicester Square (I think Diamonds Are Forever was the first one I saw there) which I still think is the greatest cinema in the world with its football-pitch size screen. Aside from Bond, Dad also worshipped Michael Caine which meant we got dragged to see Zulutwice when it was re-issued in the 70s (no videos in those days of course).
My own cinematic tastes ran more toward the ouevre of Ray Harryhausen and the stop-motion creatures he created for movies like Jason & The Argonauts, so when The Golden Voyage of Sinbad came out in 1973 the old man took me to see it. Even though it wasn’t his cup of tea I’m sure he didn’t mind because the film had some rather nice eye candy in the form of Caroline Munro who played Margiana, a slave girl and love interest for lucky old Sinbad. Munro had been in the kitschy Hammer film Dracula AD 1970, but her main claim to fame was being the girl in the Lamb’s Navy Rum billboards that were plastered all over London at the time. She wasn’t the sort of actress to give Meryl Streep sleepless nights and her part in the movie consisted mostly of standing there looking scared and trying not to burst out of her costume, but she did that brilliantly. Even though I was only 11 at the time I knew what girls were for by then and she was burned into my subconcious at a very impressionable age.
A few years before all this Caroline had a romance with former Zombies lead singer Colin Blunstone and I don’t know how long it lasted or how serious it was, but when it ended Colin was moved to write a song about her on his debut solo album One Year in 1971. The plaintive “Caroline Goodbye” is a gorgeous record with a whispery and sad Nick Drake-ish mood. He does sound a bit wet though, no wonder she dumped him.
As a bonus feature to our program today here’s a one-off single Caroline made in 1967 when she was only 16. This is very nice 60s girl pop produced by “Teenage Opera” man Mark Wirtz and the musicians on it include Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker. Like her acting, she isn’t the greatest singer in the world but she sure sounds pretty.
When I was a kid there was a pub near us called The Salisbury Tavern (now a Tesco Express — sigh) that had a stripper one night a week. So on those nights me and my mates used to go down there and, if we stood on tip-toe, we could just see inside through the non-frosted bottom part of the window and get a cheap thrill. This was long before any of us had ever been close to a naked woman in real life (at least I hadn’t) so it was quite exciting and did all sorts of things to our pubescent hormones.
One time the stripper looked right at me and I dropped down shouting “SHE SAW ME! SHE SAW ME!” and we all scarpered, thinking that any second the landlord was going to come out and give us all a clip ’round the ear or call the police.
I assume pub strippers died out as a thing at some point in the 1980s which is probably a good thing — these days they wouldn’t go too well with your artisanal ciabatta sandwich and craft beer. The only other one I ever saw was at the Chelsea Drugstore one lunchtime early in that decade and I just remember it all being rather sordid and sad.
We couldn’t hear the music inside The Salisbury so I’ve no idea if any of the girls stripped to this record but I doubt it. Even by then it was seen as more of a comedy record that wasn’t at all “sexy”. I do love this though. It’s the musical equivalent of a Carry On or Benny Hill gag and it’s brassy, burlesque swing never fails to make me smile. There’s also something a little cheap-sounding about it which would make it perfect for a sad and dingy English boozer in the 70s.
This is the 1968 original of the song Salt N’ Pepa had a hit with in the 90s. Lyndell was a white soul singer who sang back-up for Ike & Tina Turner before cutting a couple of singles for Stax-Volt which weren’t hits. Unbelievably she retired from the music biz after this one because she received death threats from her local Ku Klux Klan who were offended at the idea of a white woman sounding so black.