Last time, or as our friends across the Pond say “previously”, in Sebastian’s World”:
Sir Sebastian Wylie Fox, the much beloved British Shakespearean actor, is currently “resting”, at the Home for The Terminally Overdressed, a retirement facility for thespians hidden on the Slough Trading Estate, “so handy for Elstree and Pinewood Studios”.
A Now to Remember
Sebastian who has inherited the mantle of Irving, Gielgud etc., will never be forgotten for his portrayal of Shakespeare’s King Richard which is a play by well known play write William Shakespeare in which he played Richard III, the much loathed English monarch, at least by the Tudors. Sebastian had spent some years in America studying with Stanislavsky and other “method” greats. He was always able to inhabit roles to such an extent that delusions of grandeur have always been part of his oeuvre.
Those who saw him at his first performance in the Ayr Gaiety Theatre in the early 1950s say his extended “Nooooow” at the beginning of “Now is the Winter of our discontent”, was a spine chilling moment of theatrical intensity that few who were sheltering from the rain on Ayr beach that day could forget. As many a now elderly Saltcoats’ mother will say “Aye it wis wan fur the weans tae remember an’ nae mistake , fair nearly put me aff ma fish supper.” (Translation – Yes indeed it was a memory our children will long treasure and the emotion was such that I was barely able to eat my platter of local fruits de mer.)
Back to the Britain We Loved
In truth Sebastian is more than resting, for his memory is not what it was and he cannot, therefore, any longer cope with lines. Jakub, the Home’s Activities’ Director from Warsaw – at least until those from abroad in our caring professions have to leave because Britain is going back to be the country it once was, i.e., longer working hours in the mills, mining disasters. endless choruses of “Knees up Mother Brown” and good old fashioned British diseases like rickets and consumption – has noticed he is depressed.
So he has called upon ace reporter Hilary Dee Range from “The Daily Slouch” and her collaborator Vivienne Valhalla, the uber curator. They are desperate to make money, and their reputation, from exploiting Sebastian’s memories and memorabilia in articles, exhibitions and those all important TV programmes for people who did not study history at school. Jakub, who knows their sort well, has suggested that a suitcase belonging to Sebastian’s famous Aunt Muriel labelled 1967 may hold some interesting stories for them.
La Dolce Vita
The pair, who are modern ladies of the thrusting sort, joined Sebastian for an Italian evening at the Home. Despite the lasagne made with cheap tinned tomatoes they enjoyed the evening in which the more vocally gifted residents entertained each other with operatic highlights and little vignettes from post war Italian cinema, which were they had to admit quite moving although Vivienne did slightly blanch when her Jimmy Choos got a soaking, because her that was in The Forsyth Saga, did the fountain scene from La Dolce Vita in a paddling pool, with an offstage fire hose. Mind you as Hilary whispered to Vivienne, “You gotta admire a woman who can do that with those bingo wings and no shame.. “Don’t be ageist”, said a voice from behind which came from a woman who was a researcher on the consumer affairs programme That’s Life in the 1970s.
The promised evening going through the suitcase after the panna cotta did not materialise as Sebastian fell asleep after one Chianti too many. The media ladies have noticed that he has a knack of stringing things out as long as possible. “I suppose” said Hilary “it come from years of milking applause.” They failed to see one of Sebastian’s eyes opening and roving around the room before shutting with a glimmer of a smile on his face and thinking to himself “you can’t outfox the Fox ladies.”
Too tired to return to London they booked into one of the guest rooms in the Home which in keeping with the Home’s policies resembles the accommodation of The Bentinck Hotel in The Duchess of Duke Street where many residents had pivotal roles as arriving or departing hotel guests in Edwardian London.
The Morning After the Cheap Tinned Tomatoes the Night Before
“Good Morning Ladies. I trust you slept well and did not suffer any ill effects from the lasagne. Did I tell you they are using cheap tinned tomatoes?” said Sebastian, who was sitting at a table, by the window, in a skilfully reproduced corner of the Wool Pack Pub from Emmerdale. “Do come and sit down beside me, can I order some coffee. Are you Emmerdale fans? I once played an auctioneer at a livestock sale in it.” “Did you use your inner Lear?” asked Vivienne rather spitefully, but then she had not slept well due to all the goings on in the next room between Edward VII and Lilly Langtry. “Not at all!” said the knight, rather tetchily “nothing wrong with my inner ear, I have them regularly syringed. Mind you the programme has changed since my day, there used to be more cooking and that Annie Sugden knew how to bring an ironing board to life.” “Yes we remember your role so well, Sir,” replied Hilary trying to calm Sebastian, “you made that podium your own and the auctioneer speak was as unintelligible as reality. You were marvellous Darling; those cows were never sold more knowingly. Now what about 1967?”
1967 a Year like No Other
“Oooooh 1967 that was year! Indeed one might call it a pivotal year, a watershed year, a year of change or I suppose just another year, but it wasn’t. Aunt Muriel got her C.B.E. in the New Year’s Honours List along with Alf Ramsey getting his knighthood and Bobby Moore his O.B.E., after the World Cup Win of the previous year.
It was another big year for football as Celtic won the European Cup, not that I was into things celtic although I had some rather nice cufflinks from the Aunt and Uncle with knotted designs. It was also the year of the Torrey Canyon oil spill and the first North Sea Gas was piped ashore. Winnie Ewing won the Hamilton By-election. That pleased Mrs Travers my Aunt’s daily woman, what did but not a lot, for despite being born in Warrington she had become more Scots than the Scots. British Steel was nationalised and the Cumbernauld Shopping Centre was completed. Ford phased out the Anglia and brought in the Escort. Aunt Muriel was never keen on those cars she thought the Escort was a seedy name and a seedy car. Talking of cars poor Donald Campbell was killed on Coniston Water.
Muriel Advises Charlie Chaplin
It was also an important year in the Arts. The BBC had the first scheduled colour TV broadcast as well as new radio stations. The Forsyth Saga was a huge costume drama hit with dear Susan Hampshire. Alan Ayckbourn came to the fore and Tom Stoppard was on the road to success after Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead had been performed for the first time the previous year at “The Edinburgh Festival”. Aunt Muriel, who was now an internationally famous stylist, advised Charlie Chaplin on the costume, décor and dancing in A Countess from Hong Kong. Uncle Jasper adored Sophia Loren not to mention Tippi Hedren. Aunt Muriel also helped to direct the scene where Brando is being taught unsuccessfully how to shimmy. If there was one thing the Wylies could always do it was shimmy. Of course Chaplin said secretly at the time that he wrote the film’s theme tune Love this is my Song for Aunt Muriel. It was a huge hit for Petula Clark, one of my favourite singers.
To the United States with the Great Queens
As you will see from the contents of this suitcase it was the year in which Aunt Muriel and Uncle Jasper came to America to see me on Broadway. It was the time of the last voyages of the great Cunard liners the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth.
Aunt Muriel had been at the launch of both at Clydebank and was determined to be there at the end. Her father had been involved with some of the fitting out, as many Glasgow company directors were.
They took Mrs Travers and my daughter Gayle as they wanted to take her to see Expo 67 in Canada and of course to stay with me her father.
Mrs T came because Aunt Muriel was marvellous and knew Mrs T had a secret soft spot for me. In New York they stayed with Cousin Lulubelle in her 5th Avenue Apartment before going to California where their arrival in San Francisco coincided with the “Summer of Love”.
Aunt Muriel was entranced by the site of some 100,000 people gathered in the Haight-Ashbury neighbourhood with flowers in their hair. While the aunt and uncle were more Judith Durham than Jimmy Hendrix, The Who or Jefferson Airplane, they realised that change was in the air and that anti-Vietnam war protests and albums like Pink Floyd’s The Piper at the Gates of Dawn were going to be influential on fashion and domestic design.
Muriel had become something of an inspirational female entrepreneur by this time, a leading light of the Glasgow Women who Mean Business. And of course, unwittingly, Aunt Muriel had been a key figure in the meeting of two of The Beetles and so All you need is love was to some extent her doing. Frankie Vaughn may have been Talk of the Town and Thora Hird and Freddie Frinton, a top attraction in Meet the Wife on television, but Muriel knew this anti-establishment movement was important and that A whiter Shade of Pale was the new colour.
New Colours, New Ideas, New Shops
Muriel soaked up the other colours of San Francisco and came back to London where she was no stranger to the UFO Club and was at the premiere of Bedazzelled with Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. Cousin Lulubelle was widely regarded as the model for “Lust” in this modern version of Faust. Uncle Jasper was, if truth be told and it should be within reason, was a little bemused by it all. He thought joss sticks were illegal drugs and was concerned when Mrs Travers seemed to be developing a menthol and eucalyptus boiled sweet habit.
Aunt Muriel realised that there was money in macramé and psychedelic patterns and so she and Cousin Lulubelle started up a series of retail outlets aimed at the self expressing hippie generation with “Lulubelle Takes a Trip” opening in Carnaby Street in the autumn of ̓67 with its long skirts flat, sandals, old – what you call vintage – uniforms and big earrings. It was an instant success and was followed quickly by “Muriel’s Magic Carpet”, a ground breaking shop which pandered to the huge demand for the exotic and the oriental. Her revival of the Paisley pattern was a great success although it has to be said Uncle Jasper had never quite relinquished it in the first place. The shops were soon full of trendy people Sandy Shaw, who had won the Eurovision Song Contest with Puppet on a String that year, Twiggy – everyone who was anyone in the swinging sixties really.
The Genius that was Muriel Wylie
“Sebastian”, interrupted Vivienne “this is an amazing collection of material, but how was it possible that one minute Lady Waterside as she would become is advising on the stylish outfits and sets for the fabulous Sophia Loren and the next she is selling kilims in the Kings Road?”
“Well Miss Vallhalla, that was the genius of the woman, one minute it was miniskirts and ponchos and the next a tailored two piece. She did not believe in making herself a prisoner of the past although she appreciated its influence. Others like her neighbours Lottie Macaulay the Bungalow Builders wife and Cynthia Savage whose fortune was in Pickles and Preserves found the changes difficult and became miserable and old all too soon. Aunt Muriel following the example of Cousin Lulubelle and her old sparring partner Lady Pentland-Firth embraced the new and remembered, rather than mourned, the past. And they was better for it.”
“Tell us Sir did your Aunt embrace the fashions and furnishings herself?”
“Well yes she could often be seen in one of her shops speaking to a customer wearing a kaftan, she loved kaftans and she had always had a love of turbans. However, I think it is fair to say she loved her old duster coats more. When I think about her I realise that she was in many ways always playing a part; in reality she has been my greatest influence.”
The Wily Fox
“How fascinating – a woman for all seasons! Would you consider letting us make a film about this period, with accompanying exhibition, lavish book etc.? We have the title “Hey there, Muriel Girl”, a bit of an “homage” to Georgie Girl and the emancipated woman.”
“Well ladies, let me think – are you toying with the idea of me recreating the journey in 1967 with luxury accommodation and a reasonable emolument?”
“Oh we were thinking as it is television you would do it for the love of it.”
“I bet you were” said Sebastian, glancing at his copy of “Get Rich” by Cousin Lulubelle”. “I bet you were, but if you want to make me another offer, I might be able to fend off the others.”
“What others?” they asked in unison”.
“Oh just an American Production Company that has suggested an actress takes a wrong turning during a shopping session in Cumbernauld and finds herself in 1960’s Britain, where she meets Aunt Muriel and manages to bring back a whole load of 1960’s designs to recreate the exhibition of the century. They want the rights to the contents of the suitcase and the other 6 trunks in my storage facility.”
Later that evening
“Well Jakub I have had a most enjoyable day.”
“Good Sir Sebastian I am pleased. Those ladies certainly left looking rather flushed, now swallow your galantamine, it’s made from daffodil bulbs you know. I didn’t realise another production company was interested in your Aunt’s story.”
“Well they are not, but Aunt Muriel always said if you give things to people too easily they don’t value them and I don’t just want to be another brick in the wall for those two. I’m old and forgetful, not daft.”