The road was empty, stretching out before him like the future. There was no speed limit, so he got the E-Type up to 120mph, eating up the road in front of him. All he could hear was the car, and all he could see was the tarmac. The M1 was empty, and there was nothing else on the road.
Nothing except the policeman on the motorbike, that is, who was waving him down. David Bailey was stopped all the time because he was young; in those days young people didn’t have cars, especially not E-Type Jags or convertible Rolls-Royces.
It was 1965, just a year before Swinging London was officially born, and Vogue had asked him to photograph Sophia Loren for the Peter Ustinov film Lady L, and so he was driving all the way up to Scarborough, where they were filming.
The policeman said someone had phoned through about the young photographer because he had been doing more than 100mph, even though there was no speed limit on the M1.
“Whose car is it?” he asked.
“Mine,” said the photographer.
“Unlikely. Where are you going?” he asked.
“Scarborough,” said the photographer.
“OK, why are you going to Scarborough?”
“To photograph Sophia Loren.”
“All right, sunshine, what’s your name?”
“Of course it is, and I’m Napoleon bleeding Bonaparte. Now get out of the car, and show me your driving licence.”
And so he got out of his car, showed him his licence and the policeman said, “Oh, bloody hell, you’re telling the truth; you really are David Bailey. My wife’s a big fan of yours! Will you say hello to Sophia Loren for me and please drive a bit slower…”
The world felt like a very different place to the one Bailey had known ten years earlier.
He was 27, and, like the rest of London, he had it all before him.
April 2016 marks the 50th anniversary of Swinging London. April 1966 is when Time magazine officially anointed London as “The Swinging City”, turning it at once into a Mecca for American tourists as well as an international symbol of cultural upheaval.
From 15 April 1966, seemingly overnight, London suddenly became the coolest city in the world. Of course, for the magical 500, those denizens of the Ad-Lib nightclub who had been making London swing for the past four or five years, Swinging London was almost becoming a cliché. Yet this was the month when its image as a cultural capital was rubber-stamped for the eyes of the world to see.
The cover of this issue of Time didn’t just focus on the individuals who were making London swing – didn’t just alight on the Beatles, the newly minted prime minister, Harold Wilson (on the first of the month the Labour Party had won the general election with a majority of 96 seats), trendy photographer David Bailey (who, as usual, had taken the cover shot of that month’s British Vogue) or zeitgeisty fashion designer Mary Quant. Instead it celebrated a place, a mood, a feeling, a geopolitical and social revolution.
The 15 April issue of Time featured a cartoon on its cover – drawn by a Punch illustrator – a collage incorporating traditional London symbols such as Big Ben, a red double-decker Routemaster bus, a Union Jack and the Houses of Parliament. Yet it also included the new symbols of meritocratic London: the Beatles in a pink Rolls-Royce, the Ad-Lib discothèque, the Who, the Rolling Stones, some Kings Road miniskirted “dolly birds”, an E-Type Jaguar and a caricature of the prime minister, smoking his habitual pipe (even though anyone in the know knew that he smoked decidedly non-egalitarian cigars in private).
“In this century, every decade has had its city,” ran the editorial inside. “The fin de siècle belonged to the dreamlike round of Vienna, capital of the inbred Habsburgs and the waltz. In the changing Twenties, Paris provided a moveable feast for Hemingway, Picasso, Fitzgerald and Joyce, while in the chaos after the Great Crash, Berlin briefly erupted with the savage iconoclasm of Brecht and the Bauhaus. During the shell-shocked Forties, thrusting New York led the way, and in the uneasy Fifties, it was the easy Rome of la dolce vita. Today it is London, a city steeped in tradition, seized by change, liberated by affluence, graved by daffodils and anemones, so green with parks and squares that, as the saying goes, you can walk across it on grass.”
Looking back now, it almost seems as though everything happened at once. In a decade dominated by youth, London had burst into bloom. It was swinging, and it was the scene. The Union Jack suddenly became as ubiquitous as the black cab or the red Routemaster, and all became icons of the city. Carnaby Street’s turnover was more than £5 million in 1966 alone. Quite simply, London was where it was at. Fuelled by growing prosperity, social mobility, post-war optimism and wave after wave of youthful enterprise, the city captured the imagination of the world’s media. Here was the centre of the sexual revolution – the pill had been introduced in 1961 – the musical revolution, the sartorial revolution. London was a veritable cauldron of benign revolt.
Carnaby Street wouldn’t be pedestrianised until 1973 (to cope with the human traffic resulting from pieces like the one in Time), and was still being besieged by retailers trying to exploit the area’s success. Tommy Roberts opened Kleptomania in Kingly Street, just behind Carnaby Street, in the summer of 1966, and it quickly became one of the “in” places. It was curatorial in essence and, as well as clothes, Roberts filled the shop with Edwardian wind-up gramophones, sepia-toned erotica, opium pipes, a coffee table made out of an elephant’s foot – “weird bits of junk”, according to Roberts.
© Getty / Michael Putland,Michael Putland
Kleptomania was where the Who came in before their tour of Australia, leaving with four matching pith helmets, where Terence Stamp and Julie Christie would come on the weekends when they weren’t filming Far From The Madding Crowd.
“It was a higgledy-piggledy mess, but we found that people wanted to buy these things,” said Roberts, “especially since the area was opening up studios for the advertising business. For £30, a tipsy ad man could wobble away on an original penny-farthing after a Soho lunch.”
The store soon started investigating the possibility of manufacturing own-brand clothes, yet the East End tailors Roberts approached initially baulked at his sketches of silver satin bell-bottoms and trumpet-sleeved shirts. “I got round the problem by claiming I was from the costume department of the Bertram Mills Circus,” he said.
So influential was Kleptomania that it became a tourist destination, especially for international celebrities: Liberace, Tony Curtis, Brigitte Bardot and Sophia Loren all turned up to pay homage to Roberts’ eclectic boutique.
In the space of a few months the skies over London had become kaleidoscopic, full of multicoloured swirls and curls, and curlicues of every shape and size. It was as though colour had replaced coin as a symbol of wealth and success, as though pigment were the cure for all known evils. There appeared to be no affliction not tempered by the application of some glitter mascara, or the donning of some extravagant garb. Colour became almost confrontational. In a few years this would result in clothes – and hair – being used as ways to let your “freak flag” show when you were squatting outside the American embassy or throwing rocks at police vans. But for now this sartorial exuberance was just a way to semaphore your determination to be one of the beautiful people. Newly emancipated girls in gingham minidresses with white organdie collars, cutaway shoulders and short white Courrèges boots read Nova magazine on the bus. Floppy-haired boys wore blazers and rode bikes.
It wasn’t just the West End that was experiencing a demographic shift, though, as other pockets of the city were changing too. In 1964, the British sociologist Ruth Glass used the term
“gentrification” to describe the way in which Islington was being colonised by the middle classes, or at least those from the middle class who considered themselves early adopters. The topography of Swinging London was becoming slightly more complicated.
The Time cover was published the same month Michelangelo Antonioni started shooting Blow-Up in London, with the first day’s filming taking place near a chain of soot-stained railway arches in Queenstown Road in Battersea. An enigmatic attempt to capture the zeitgeist, the film was as beguiling as it was beautiful – a lot like Swinging London itself. This was the month when London learned to fall in love with its future, when it appeared to embrace all that was to come before it.
As spring turned into summer it seemed as though everyone wanted to be in London. Many in the film world were already there: Michael Caine, Tony Hancock, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore were filming The Wrong Box at Shepperton Studios; François Truffaut was on location shooting Fahrenheit 451 with Julie Christie and Oskar Werner; and even the veteran filmmaker Charlie Chaplin was making what would turn out to be his last film, A Countess From Hong Kong, at Pinewood.
Perhaps the biggest news was the fact that Stanley Kubrick had taken over four enormous sound stages at Elstree for his latest extravaganza, 2001: A Space Odyssey. There was so much press attention that one paper had even reported that he had asked Lloyds of London to insure the movie against “the discovery of extra-terrestrial beings prior to its 1968 opening”.
The same week, Mary Quant published her autobiography, Quant By Quant, achieving instant deification in the press when it was serialised in the Sunday Mirror. Here was yet another home-grown star to be fêted, applauded and celebrated. Patriotism was running high, as the country appeared determined to amplify the enormous groundswell of young talent it was producing.
Like the decade in which it flourished, London had a personality at the time that was vibrant, brash, moody, young and transient. London was the city of affluence, adolescence, attitude and Alfie. As a laboratory and showcase for the emerging youth-oriented scene, London became the favoured habitat of a generation of pop-culture prime movers.
A sensibility started to knit itself together. Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg were already starring as John Steed and Emma Peel in the TV series The Avengers, pop art had begun to directly influence interior design, graphic illustrators and art directors, and drugs were more readily available than they’d ever been.
A new London was mushrooming into life. Winston Churchill was dead, abortion was about to be made legal, and happiness seemed exponential. Britain was experiencing almost full employment, and so it never occurred to anyone that there might not be a job waiting for them when they left school or their red-brick university. And the job you wanted was probably in London. It was all about the city. Turn around, you saw an actress. Look across the road, you saw a potential model spill out of a taxi. Over there, by the Chelsea Potter, wasn’t he a writer? And wasn’t he standing next to the guy who managed that group? Or was it the other guy, the gay one who was trying to organise a be-in at the Roundhouse?
Everywhere you looked you saw an aspiring this, a potential that. And they were all dressed up to the nines. Every window had a Union Jack decal, every poster was emblazoned with a yellow flower or a caricature of a Regency dandy, only this time wearing -coral-coloured loon pants and a paisley cravat. If you walked along the Kings Road, as part of the Saturday afternoon procession, you would be -assaulted by a barrage of noise escaping from every shop doorway: “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore” by the Walker Brothers, “Paint It Black” by the Rolling Stones and “Paperback Writer” by the Beatles. You might hear the odd bootleg, too, smuggled over from New York or Los Angeles. There were huge music scenes on both coasts, yet bands had to be accepted- in London before they could properly get -traction at home.
This would be the year in which Harold Wilson’s freshly elected government would sanction the BBC’s decision to launch an all-day pop radio station coincidentally at precisely the same time that their pirate rivals – such as Radio Caroline – were being hounded out of existence by new legislation. This was also the year in which Bill Cotton, then the assistant head of light entertainment at BBC One, decided the channel needed a British version of The Tonight Show, which was hosted by Johnny Carson on the American network NBC. Cotton’s big idea was to poach the Radio Caroline DJ Simon Dee. (Dee’s first show would air one year later, on Tuesday 4 April 1967, and would feature Lance Percival, Cat Stevens, the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Kiki Dee.)
A year earlier, Diana Vreeland, the editor of American Vogue, had said, “London is the most swinging city in the world,” putting into words what a lot of people on both sides of the Atlantic had been thinking for a while. “The caste system, in short, is breaking down at both ends,” ran an editorial in the Daily Telegraph. “The working class are busting out of the lower depths and invading fields where they can make more money and the upper class is breaking down walls to get into the lower levels where they can have more fun.”
Burt Bacharach and Hal David had got there first, too. In the autumn of 1965 they’d recorded their love letter to the city, the decidedly jaunty “London Life”, sung by the TV presenter Anita Harris, and containing the immortal line, “While Paris sleeps, London just keeps right on swinging.”
The social composition of Swinging London was very particular, with a giddy mix of the most bizarre people. After dark, what makes cities exciting is the way they polarise. Low and high life are accentuated and scrambled as larger limos drive down shadier streets to heaving nightclubs in empty neighbourhoods full of poor people pretending to be rich and rich people pretending to be poor. And in the Sixties, this started in London.
“It’s often explained as a result of the post-World War II kids all coming of age at just the right time,” said Paul McCartney, the ultimate Sixties London immigrant. “And, as well, we all ended up in the same city. We’d come down from Liverpool – various people had come over from America to London: the global village was just beginning and opening its doors. We went to the same parties, same galleries. It was a scene… The swinging London scene.”
There were more divergencies than commonalities among the thousands of people who converged on London in the mid-Sixties, yet collectively, together, they were responsible for one of the most creative periods of post-war Britain, a cultural groundswell that would be destined to repeat itself mid-decade, every decade, for the next 50 years. The first iteration was Swinging London, followed by punk in the Seventies, the new romantics of the Eighties, and Britpop in the Nineties.
London was the city of the decade.
“There seemed to be no one standing outside the bubble,” said the satirist and co-founder of Private Eye, Christopher Booker. Yet Swinging London was very much a bubble, and while it was the harbinger of change and the catalyst for so much that came in its wake, in reality it was a citadel. While it’s easy to assume that London in the mid-Sixties has been documented exhaustively, what we think happened is very different from what actually happened. When we think of 1966 we tend to think of brightly coloured young things -nonchalantly making their way down Carnaby Street, kicking their Cuban heels along to the Kinks’ “Dedicated Follower Of Fashion”; but London in 1966 contained other worlds, too, not least the gargantuan island of the East End.
In the early Sixties, the East End was as different from the West End as England was from France. Although there was a slow migration of talent from east to west – David Bailey, Terence Stamp, Terence Donovan et al – in those early days rarely the twain would meet. If you were from the East End, you were more likely to visit Kent than Oxford Street.
“Back then the East End all looked the same, right from Bow and East Ham through to Hackney and Dagenham and Barking and beyond, just rows and rows of little 1880 houses,” said Bailey. “People were so poor you’d see market stalls covered in second-hand false teeth. It was quiet there, too, and cars were still something of a novelty, even in the early Sixties: as kids we’d follow George the milkman as his horse plodded along the road.”
The only people with cars that Bailey knew were the gangs, such as the Krays, and they all had pre-war cars, like old V8 Fords. Too often, the area felt like one big ghost town, deserted in the evening, empty on Sundays.
“If you came from the East End and you wanted out, there were only three things you could become – a boxer, a car thief or maybe a musician,” said Bailey. “But just because you’re born in a stable doesn’t mean you have to grow up to be a horse. I didn’t. Back then the East End was a bit like Cuba, because you could only get out if you boxed, stole or sang. By the time I was conscripted into the army I’d been a carpet salesman at Wickham’s Store in the East End, a shoe salesman, a window dresser, and a time-and-motion man at Poliakoff’s, the tailoring firm my father worked for. I also did a stint as a bad-debt collector, for Mickey Fox, who’d been a well-known boxing referee. Mickey was an incredibly tough man, and I was his sidekick. He used to put milk bottles on top of the doors so you’d find out if the guy who owed money had been back or not. And if they were smashed he knew to hang around. He’d also write signs outside, such as DS for ‘Don’t Serve’, while there were all these symbols that he used to scratch on the wall that meant things like ‘Tough guy, be careful of the husband!’ to warn you not to go round on a Saturday morning because you were likely to get a right-hander.”
If life in the East End was tough, life “Up West” was completely alien.
“When I first went to work at Vogue in 1960 they used to pat me on the head and say, ‘Oh, doesn’t he speak cute,’” said Bailey. “I thought to myself, I’ll show you how cute I am, dear. And I did. Within nine months the managing director was asking me if I’d mind moving my Rolls-Royce so he could get his Humber out – and the Rolls was two-tone blue and grey! I think it was my cockiness that the Establishment didn’t like. It was all very well employing someone from the ‘other’ classes, but why couldn’t he be more grateful? I wasn’t in the least bit grateful. Why should I have been grateful?”
The early Sixties were full of people like Bailey, people from East London, South London and the “wrong” parts of West London who were infiltrating parts of the city that had previously been out of bounds. People who were not only moving in worlds their parents would never have dared to enter, but also inventing new ways to make a living, creating a lifestyle industry that had never been seen before. London’s seemingly unwitting metamorphosis from a gloomy, grimy post-war capital into a bright, shining epicentre of style was due largely to two factors: youth and money.
The Fifties baby boom meant the urban population was the youngest it had been since Roman times, with 40 per cent of the population under 25 by the mid-Sixties. The abolition of national service for men in 1960 allowed young people to have more freedom and fewer responsibilities than any generation before them.
The real stars of Swinging London all spoke with glottal stops. Like the photographer Terry O’Neill and the actor Michael Caine. O’Neill first met Caine in 1963, and during the next 30 years would photograph him more than 30 times, -cataloguing the myriad personalities of a Very British Institution. “Over the years I’ve shot him so often that it became something of a holy grail for me to photograph him without his glasses,” said O’Neill. “A lot of critics think that Michael’s power lies in his specs, but they couldn’t be further from the truth. With Michael, it was always his eyes that gave him his power, always his eyes that made people notice him. I think he’s often thought acting was a strange profession, but he’s displayed a lot more dignity than most.”
O’Neill became one of Caine’s greatest friends, and it was the actor who made the photographer a star – though not a lot of people know that. When O’Neill first went to the US in 1966, to photograph Hugh Hefner at the Playboy mansion in Chicago, the live-in bunnies thought he was nothing but the living embodiment of Caine’s blue-collar rogue. It was the voice that did it, a voice that the girls would knock on his door at night just to hear, then giggle and run away. This was the influence that Caine had, that David Bailey had, that every Cockney made good had, and it did more for social mobility than anything before or since.
“When it happened, being from the other side of the tracks was suddenly the thing to be,” said O’Neill. “And we made the most of it. Me, Michael [Caine], [David] Bailey, Doug [Hayward, the tailor], we all used to go to the Ad-Lib, and there’d be the Beatles, the Stones, Jean Shrimpton, Twiggy. You’d be sitting there in rows, talking about jobs we’d have to do when we reached 20 or 30” – and this is a mantra repeated by many working-class Londoners who had their first flush in the Sixties – “because none of us thought it was going to last. We made the most of it because we all thought it was going to disappear. That’s the principal reason we partied so hard, because we assumed that this was all a dream, and that we’d suddenly wake up and be back at the labour exchange, wondering what had happened. But the weird thing was, we never woke up. Something happened every day. You’d wake up one day and Mary Quant had invented the miniskirt, or Antonioni was filming Blow-Up. It’s hard now to explain just how exciting it was, but nobody was famous then. We were all in it together.”
Caine soon became famous though, playing against type, as an upper-class officer in Zulu. The rest is Sixties folklore: Alfie, The Ipcress File, The Italian Job and onwards, until by the end of the Sixties he was probably the most iconic film star in the country.
“We were all really living that life. It was so much fun to be there – even if you were uneducated you could get a job carrying cameras for David Bailey,” said Caine. “There was this sense of possibility, we were opting out of the class system. What we decided was f*** it, we’re going our own way and if you want to come with us, leave your baggage of class, colour and religion at the door. Join us if you are talented!
“At the beginning of the Sixties I never knew anyone famous; by the end of it everyone I knew was famous, and I hadn’t met any new people.”
Many years later, in a West End nightclub, I remember sidling up to my friend Robin (a keen chronicler of Swinging London), putting my arm around him and saying, almost shouting above the disco din, “You know what? These are the good old days!”
Caine knew it, too. Back in 1966, he knew that sometimes you know exactly what moments are going to last. In fact he’d known it for some time: “From the very start of the Sixties I could see myself at 75 on television telling people about that time. It was the time of my time. I will never have so much fun again, ever.”
For many, sex was on the agenda like never before, especially if you were in the image business. Opportunity was the prime catalyst – opportunity and proximity. Men and women were mixing like never before, in social circumstances that hadn’t existed 12 months previously. If you wanted it, sex was everywhere.
“It was like a tap had been turned on,” said one photographer. “Girls were walking around with inquisitive looks on their faces, almost daring you to approach them. There was just so much sex… If you were cheeky, or at least if you were prepared to ask, you had a great time. All my friends from the East End couldn’t believe all the pussy I was getting. They thought I dressed like a poof, but they started to see why when they saw how much I was getting. Nobody was exclusive in those days, no man anyway, and not many women. This was the Sixties, and girls had just discovered that they liked having sex and men weren’t about to complain. So there were always lots of other girls around. It never entered my mind not to be unfaithful, because that’s just how life was.”
The Sixties was a bellwether time of sex and affluence and youth and all the Alfies. For many it seemed like unavoidable and long-overdue justice, when a generation of working-class Londoners suddenly realised that all those people for whom they had respect not only didn’t respect them, but didn’t respect themselves. Overnight the great struggle was over, and in the space of about six months in 1963 there appeared to be enough for everybody who really wanted it. Caine wanted it more than most, and once he’d tasted the sweetness of success, vowed never to stop eating. For all the ambition, the creative quest and the inability to willingly give up the fame, the real thing that kept Caine going was the fear. The fear that one day the work would stop, the papers would stop calling and he’d be back, moving fish at Billingsgate market. Rather than any kind of obsessive need for applause, this was simply an ambition honed by poverty.
Caine’s indelible image, that sardonic, hooded-eyed, cool Sixties persona, can be summed up by the scene in The Ipcress File when, amid the telltale amateur-professional- copper pans, hanging onions and coffee grinder, his Harry Palmer breaks two eggs into a bowl at once, while informing the female guest he is about to seduce, “I… am going to cook you… the best meal… you’ve ever eaten.”
The writer of The Ipcress File, Len Deighton, says that Caine was so well cast that when he came to write the subsequent novels, it was always the actor he saw in his head. Originally Christopher Plummer had been signed up for the role, but he left to do The Sound Of Music, just as Caine’s flatmate at the time, Terence Stamp, was hired to play the lead in Alfie but then turned it down. It is impossible to imagine anyone else in the role, impossible to imagine any other actor displaying such a subtle disdain for the Establishment.
Caine has always been very particular, very considered. When he first got famous – well, when he first got money (£4,000 for Zulu) – it wasn’t clothes that he thought about so much as hygiene. He bought soaps and shampoos, masses of sheets and pillowcases, and loads of shirts and socks. Even toothpaste. He also started getting everything dry-cleaned, simply because he could afford to. “I’d wear something once and then, bang, it was in the laundry. None of this making something last till the next day.”
Who knew how long this whole thing was going to last?
“Swinging London was an absolute microcosm,” said Terence Conran. “Back then, it was just a few shops and clubs to latch on to, and a lot of those famous people didn’t make ends meet. Mary Quant and her husband, who were good friends of mine, couldn’t get through the door of their flat for the writs piled up.”
© Rex / Stefano Archetti,Stefano Archetti/REX
Ray Davies will probably never again have the definitive cultural authority he had between 1964 and 1971, when his band the Kinks produced more than 20 of the greatest singles ever released. These were picture-perfect musical postcards that summed up working and lower-middle-class life in post-war Britain, songs such as “Dead End Street”, “Tired Of Waiting For You”, “Sunny Afternoon”, “Dedicated Follower Of Fashion”, “All Day And All Of The Night” and “Lola”, the “Angels” of its day.
Concentrating on tragicomic observation, Davies’ songs revolved around predominantly male lower-middle-class aspirations, expressing his ambivalence towards wealth, fame and class, and examining the strange mixture of predetermination and hazard to which human relationships are subject. The ordinary and the obvious were spelled out in his lyrics, but, contrastingly, never in a manner that was either. For years he has written about what Saul Bellow calls the melancholy of affluence, and suggested that “Modern Life Is Rubbish” when Damon Albarn was still in the playground trying to affect a cockney accent.
Davies also, lest we forget, absent-mindedly invented the heavy-metal guitar riff when the Kinks recorded “You Really Got Me” in 1964. When he heard one sniffy record company executive comparing the guitar sound to a barking dog, he replied, “Yes, but what a dog, and what a bark!” As if this wasn’t enough, he wrote what is widely considered to be the best British single ever, 1967’s “Waterloo Sunset”, a deathlessly beautiful record that single-handedly made existentialism a viable subject for pop music. Like Paul McCartney and “Yesterday”, Davies woke up singing it, albeit in a swing arrangement à la Frank Sinatra and Nelson Riddle. “I wanted to write a song about a Liverpool sunset because of the death of Merseybeat and all that. Then I thought, ‘I’m a Londoner, why all the tributes to Liverpool?’ There’s no memory of that song that isn’t a pleasure.”
We, like the man himself, can never escape his music. The Sixties hits are forever on the radio, his name checked in every interview by every aspiring Britpop arriviste (stand up Kaiser Chiefs, stand up Arctic Monkeys), and “Waterloo Sunset” regularly tops lists of all-time favourite pop songs. Just a few seasons ago, Burberry’s creative director, Christopher Bailey, sent his models down the catwalk to the strains of Davies’ demo version of his classic “I Go To Sleep”, and “Living On A Thin Line” featured heavily in the Sopranos. When Sky Sports ran a compilation of video clips to mark the passing of George Best, it was accompanied by one of the Kinks’ most poignant singles, “Days”.
You can’t escape Davies’ voice either, and his trademark North London whine, with its nasal, secondary-modern lilt, has been copied by everyone from Albarn to, bizarrely, Liam Gallagher. A recent model was Pete Doherty, whose vocal style seems to get closer to Davies’ the older he gets. It’s also difficult to imagine many Libertines and Babyshambles songs without first acknowledging Davies in his pomp. Even Doherty’s description of his green and unpleasant Albion sounds like it came from Davies’ pen: “Gin in teacups and leaves on the lawn, violence in bus stops and the pale thin girl with eyes forlorn.”
Davies once listened to a radio documentary about the Kinks and he came across, so he said, as a semi-neurotic, psychotic person. “If that’s the way people want to remember me, so be it,” he said. “I had my moments, but I don’t see it that way.
“I’m a grumpy suburbanite, and I think I’ve always been a grumpy old man. A lot of my early songs were written for an older generation, because I wrote those when I was 20, 21, 22. But a lot of people who know me really well say I’m very juvenile! I think one of the great characteristics about London is its grumpiness; rising above adversity, everything’s such a terrible struggle but we get there. It’s part of our siege mentality, bulldog spirit. We came from the gutter, and became enveloped in what became known as Swinging London. And I’m not sure we knew what hit us.”
Like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Animals, the Who and the Yardbirds, the Kinks had one-time art students among their members, and it was the tradition of bohemian classlessness that helped break class barriers, especially in London. Their growing interest in pop art and contemporary design fed into their preoccupation with the music world, too, as did their confrontational -attitude towards fashion.
Predating the pop video by at least 15 years, John Barry’s work is forever associated with the glamour and transcendence of international travel, which, in the early Sixties, was still something of a novelty. Listen to “You Only Live Twice” or “Thunderball” and if you don’t simply think “Robbie Williams” or “that song that Tom Jones wishes he didn’t have to sing any more”, your head will be filled with perfectly calibrated split screen montages of drip-dry blondes, exploding sports cars and deftly delivered put-downs. In the Savile Row dreamworld of Swinging London, Barry didn’t worry about dressing to the left or the right; he dressed on both sides. He was a bachelor king; his swordsmanship was -legendary. He shared a flat in Knightsbridge with Michael Caine and Terence Stamp, and there was a procession of eager young fillies regularly traipsing up the stairs. “Barry was a big ladies’ man,” said Caine, famously. When Barry married the actress Jane Birkin in 1965, Newsweek reported that he “drove off in his E-Type Jag with his E-Type wife”.
Barry liked to tell an anecdote about a meal he had with “Mike” Caine, Jean Shrimpton and Terence Stamp that culminate in the unexpected appearance of the Bond film producer Harry Saltzman, whom Barry had never much cared for. Saltzman didn’t much care for Barry either, and had stated publicly how much he loathed Barry’s theme for Goldfinger, a song that subsequently became a gigantic hit in more than 30 countries. At that lunch, to make amends, Stamp stood up and, in front of the whole restaurant, called Saltzman, then one of the most powerful men in Hollywood, and I quote, “a c***”.
The partying never got in the way of the work, and vice versa. Back in the Sixties Barry would get up at 8am and work until 1pm, walk to the Kings Road, have a long lunch, maybe a siesta, and then get back in front of the piano before the round of evening parties started. He was quick then, too. He wrote “Born Free” in 12 minutes and the theme to Midnight Cowboy in 20. Sometimes it took a little longer: in Caine’s biography the actor recalls being kept awake till dawn one night by Barry putting the finishing touches to “Goldfinger”.
David Bailey likes to paint Mick Jagger, another stalwart of Swinging London, as someone who initially needed Bailey as a cultural and societal tour guide.
“Until the Sixties, the class structure in Britain was almost like the caste system in India,” he said, “and if things had gone on as they were I would have ended up as an untouchable. But the Sixties broke all that down, at least for a few of us. Suddenly London was like a completely different place, a place people like me had never seen before.
“Swinging London just sort of happened by accident, as everything appeared to in those days. Everything was sheer coincidence. It’s almost existential that all the people I knew at the time became famous overnight. There was Jean and Chrissie Shrimpton, Mick Jagger, Michael Caine, Terence Stamp, Terence Donovan – suddenly all the people I knew were in the same position I was, which was on the verge of being successful. So in some respects being at the centre of so-called ‘Swinging London’ was no different than being around before it. Britain was still living in the Fifties. It was the Fifties. Things only started to change in about 1962. Before 1962 you didn’t go out and buy six pairs of jeans; you saved up for one pair and then wore them forever, because you couldn’t afford to buy a second pair. But there wasn’t a sense of desperation, and London wasn’t full of people who were jealous of each other.”
For Bailey, the world started and ended at Tottenham Court Road, as west of that was “all posh”, while east was “home”. London was like a switch, and you were either on the light side or the dark side (literally: the West End was far more illuminated), crossing over the narrow divide in trolleybuses. Many people in the east still lived in the Nissen huts, so-called after Major Peter Norman Nissen, who designed them as makeshift houses for families left homeless by wartime bombing. Bomb craters were everywhere, as were unexploded bombs. The scars of the Blitz were everywhere.
The bomb craters were a cruel reminder of just how much London had been bludgeoned by the Luftwaffe, a seemingly permanent testimonial that was contextualised a little more on 30 July 1966, when England beat West Germany 4-2 at Wembley Stadium to win the World Cup. Just hours after England captain Bobby Moore led his team up to the Royal Box to receive the Jules Rimet trophy, the West End was transformed into one enormous street party. Some people said it was another VE night, though – as the Observer sports writer Hugh McIlvanney said – considering the number of Germans in town, this wasn’t perhaps the most tactful analogy. As Harold Wilson paid a visit to the Royal Garden Hotel, where the English team were unwinding, hundreds of people danced a conga around Charing Cross Station, while nearby, in Trafalgar Square, there was the ritual of leaping into the fountains. Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton and Geoff Hurst were bathed in champagne, the revellers in the West End were bathed in water courtesy of the London County Council, and the nation was bathed in post-war euphoria.
Similarly, if you think of the way in which London was portrayed on screen during the Sixties you might think of A Hard Day’s Night, Alfie or Blow-Up, about a photographer played by David Hemmings but based on a composite of Terence Donovan and David Bailey, who believes he may have witnessed a murder and unwittingly taken photographs of the killing. But for every iconic view of London, there is a flipside, for every Absolute Beginners there is an Optimists Of Nine Elms, for every Ealing comedy there is The London Nobody Knows.
“It was a bloodless revolution, but in reality the whole thing was something of a myth,” said Bailey, on the Sixties reboot. “You have to be careful not to write your own fiction, because a lot of what people say and write about the Sixties is simply not true. There were only about 500 of us, but then there are only ever 500 people at any one time doing something interesting. How many Picassos are there? How many Bob Dylans? It was fine for 500 of us, the lucky ones. [But] apart from a few pockets of affluence and new money, London was not much different from what it had been at the end of the war. Everything was grey, dirty, cheap, miserable. Especially anywhere east of Tottenham Court Road. London was also something like a different planet, because up in Liverpool or Manchester or Newcastle there was nothing happening at all. Nothing. I don’t know if it was great for miners in Yorkshire, or machinists in the Rhondda Valley. For a lot of us in London it was like the rest of the country simply didn’t exist. We weren’t bothered by it at all.”
© Rex / David Magnus,David Magnus/REX
“The ‘Swinging Sixties’ did not swing in Lambeth,” wrote John Major ruefully in his memoirs, and there were many who agreed with him. One of the tartest descriptions of Swinging London was provided by a reader’s letter that Time published two weeks after its “Swinging City” piece: “Thousands of young people with the same haircut, the same facial expressions, rush out every Saturday to buy what everyone else is wearing so they can look different.” Two months after the Time article, the cover of Queen magazine featured a pun that would later be used by the artist Richard Hamilton as the title of one of his images of the Rolling Stones: “Swingeing London”. Inside the issue, the article summed up the increasingly cynical feeling: “London? No, not more about London!”
The waspish journalist Nik Cohn was one of the pre-eminent chroniclers of Swinging London, and one of its harshest critics. “Swinging London was tiny – 500 people and three nightclubs,” he said. The day Time published its issue, he had a ploughman’s lunch and a pint in an Irish pub in Shepherd’s Bush. According to Cohn, it was a “khazi”, which was why he liked it: stale bread, sweaty cheese, sour beer. It was the other side of London, the London not populated by the fabulous 500. He once got into an argument with a regular who owned a hideous white mongrel and who worshipped Bobby Moore. When Cohn -suggested that Pelé was perhaps a better footballer, the man gave his dog a sly nudge with his boot and “the mutt upped and pissed down my trouser leg”.
Cohn first heard about the Time issue from a mod acquaintance called Colin whom he had befriended for the purposes of his work. Colin was a purist mod from the Goldhawk Road who dealt speed to pay for his clothes habit (he bought a new tailor-made suit every week, and would change his shirt sometimes three times a day). Colin hated the way in which mod culture had been commercialised and, in his view, civilisation had peaked in 1964, just before the media had started to report the mod-rocker battles. And in Colin’s eyes, the Time story was Swinging London’s death knell. “This is the end, the f***ing end,” he said.
Cohn agreed with him, and said that not only did London not “swing”, it hardly oscillated. Cohn had arrived from Newcastle in 1963, aged 17, and was determined to make a name for himself. With the arrogance of youth he set upon the city with a vengeance, forging a career for himself as a journalist “in the know”, even though he’d only been in town for five minutes.
“My timing was perfect,” he said. “Nineteen-sixty-three was the year the Beatles released
‘She Loves You’; suddenly, the mood was vivid with new possibilities. The post-war austerity was finally over. Even more important, national service had been lifted. Upstarts like myself, with bad posture and worse attitudes, no longer stood to be shipped to Cyprus or Malaya and hammered into shape. For the first time since the Twenties, the young were in charge of their own fates.”
Almost immediately, though, Cohn started making his name by disparaging the dizzying velocity of the time, while the Time story convinced him that “this dog had had its day”.
Cohn’s point was that London was exciting primarily because it was exclusive in pockets, and that those in the know started getting irritated as the scene began being mediated. As the 500 stretched to 1,000, and then 5,000, the originators, the flag-wavers, those who had first crossed from east to west, well, they suddenly felt superfluous. Perhaps not the ones who had become rich and famous, but if you were one of the magic 500 for whom fame had not rung, you felt rather left behind.
Those on the outside felt aggrieved, too. “Looking back, one can see Swinging London as a mass delusion, a world of endlessly self-aggrandising mythologies,” said the writer Jonathan Green, who, while a master chronicler of the Sixties, was never one of the gilded 500. “If there was novelty, it was not in the much-acclaimed but barely supportable ‘classlessness’, but in the creation of a massively successful media myth, a mix of pop sociology and the propagandist’s chestnut: the big lie. Such mythologising was just about bearable within its own world, but elsewhere it jarred. Lauded as the grammar-school-educated new broom who would sweep away the fuddy-duddyness of traditional conservatism, Edward Heath was at one point asked in apparent -seriousness whether he realised he was the first Tory leader to boast that badge of -modernity: wall-to-wall carpeting.”
At the centre of it all, though, this hastily assembled modernity was intoxicating.
“We started mixing with a lot of the upper classes, who I actually quite liked,” said Bailey. “It was the middle classes I found odd, because they put on such funny voices. I thought the upper classes talked like us in a way, just normal. I just got on with it. For a while, cockney accents became not only acceptable but desirable.”
One so-called member of the upper class who embraced all things east as much as some of the chosen 500 were embracing all things west was Nicky Haslam. He was also rather taken with Bailey.
“David seemed to be in constant motion,” he said. “He travelled light; a satchel and a scooter and, as soon as he could afford it, a camera, were all he needed to start him on his starry ascent. I had somehow managed to cadge the cash out of my father to buy that ultimate accessory for my mod transformation, a Vespa GS, and together we would zoom up there, igniting in me a passion for the area and its people. He was so utterly different from any of my Etonian friends. The enchanting thing about my friendship with David was that we instantly accepted each other’s vastly different backgrounds.”
For many, London at this point was like one long party that no one thought would ever end, especially those who had been recently emancipated. In some respects it was inevitable that something like this should have happened after the war; it was like Michael Caine said in [Bailey’s Book] Goodbye Baby & Amen: “To me it was unavoidable justice. It had to happen. It was all a question of the human spirit: you can keep it subdued for 1,960 years and -suddenly there comes a time when you can’t keep it subdued for another New Year’s Eve.”
There was a sense of entitlement.
And everyone met everyone else in the space of five minutes – every member of the gilded 500 was the best of friends in no time, braided together, seemingly forever. Bailey met Mick Jagger because of Chrissie, Jean met Terence Stamp through Bailey, and Bailey met Caine through Stamp. But there was little competition between them because they were really just starting out. When Jagger was studying at the London School of Economics he needed to find a way to help pay his way, but he didn’t become a cleaner as people often say he did. The story is that Jean’s sister Chrissie put an ad in the Evening News, and that Mick replied and became her maid. But how on earth was Chrissie Shrimpton going to get the money for a cleaner?! She actually met Jagger on Eel Pie Island, when the Stones were playing there one night. She told Bailey they were going to be huge. “Mick’s great,” she said. “He’s going to be bigger than the Beatles!” And Bailey said, “There’s no way that long-haired, scruffy git’s going to be more successful than the Beatles!” He said he was winding her up. Jagger quickly fell in love with her, and so they all started to hang out together. At the time Jagger always wore stripy T-shirts and tight-fitting suits, and boots from Anello & Davide, the dance shoemaker in London. This was where the Beatles started going later.
Jagger and Bailey became friends, and they even lived together for a while, although Bailey thought that he was somehow lacking in Jagger’s eyes, as he wasn’t a musician. In a way Bailey became his link to another world. When Mick and Keith’s Hampstead flat was broken into, they both went to live in the Hilton, but then Keith moved out to St John’s Wood, and Jagger stayed with Bailey. If it hadn’t been for Bailey, Jagger would probably have been homeless.
Jagger was extremely middle class, and he was unsophisticated without having the street smarts – a grammar-school boy who didn’t really know his way around. “Shortly after we met, Mick asked me to take him to a ‘posh’ restaurant,” said Bailey. “I think he liked my lifestyle. He’d never really been anywhere that wasn’t a coffee bar or a club. Anyway, I decided to take him to a place called Casserole in the Kings Road. This was the only other place that was as cool as the Ad-Lib, and was run by a gay New Zealand guy who we called Casserarsehole. I, being working-class, noticed bad manners more than most people. I remember he paid, which was unusual because back then Mick never paid for anything. I told him to leave a tip and he said, ‘Leave a tip? What the f*** for?’ I told him it was customary to leave a ten-shilling note, one of those old brown banknotes. He put the note on the plate, but as we were putting our coats on I noticed he put it back in his pocket.
“Mick was already in the Stones, though no one really knew who they were. I always liked the Stones more than the Beatles, because the Beatles were a bit naff, a boy band from the north. The Stones were cool. I thought the Beatles were very manufactured when they started out, and they only got interesting around Sergeant Pepper. The Stones were always laughing at themselves, always charming and funny, whereas the Beatles were very controlling and protective of their image. Paul was always so earnest, and John was always quite rude. I liked John because he was so rude; he had very definite opinions and certainly knew where he was going.
“The Stones have had a much longer career than anyone expected. They’re like blues artists. Just before he died, Joe Strummer told me he was worried that he was too old to be doing what he was doing. I told him it was a racial thing, and that if he had been black and 90 years old then nobody would care. Which is what the Stones have done. They can carry on until they die.”
Like everyone from his generation, like Mick Jagger, Keith Richards was formed by the war, even if they didn’t know it at the time.
“Even though my memory of the war is pretty much nonexistent, as I was only 18 months old, I still had a sense of sirens and collective fear,” said Richards. “But as you’re growing up in the Fifties, you’re thinking this has got to change, it’s too tight, the atmosphere, it’s too restricted. The others running the joint want us to go back to the Thirties and we can’t. Things had changed. And I guess as I was reaching the age of 15, 16, you’ve got the energy and you’re bursting to escape. Plus, I fell in love with blues music, and that was where you found roots and a form of expression we didn’t have in England. But as I was growing up, my mother was listening to a lot of Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald… You hear things on the BBC, and then you start to bump into other guys who are into it, too; you realise it isn’t just you sitting in a council flat. There are other guys out there listening to music, and somebody’s got a new record from America and you’re immediately at their house. You bring a bottle of beer – that was your entrance fee – and you sit around and listen to records, which is nuts but it’s beautiful. It was very innocent.”
Swinging London soon became a theme park, though, a way of selling the Union Jack as a pop-art symbol. Soon there were clubs such as the Bag O’ Nails and the Scotch Of St James, though the only club with authenticity was the Ad-Lib in Leicester Place (on the top floor of No7), the tiny cut-through between Leicester Square and Lisle Street, right above the Prince Charles Theatre. This was where everyone went, the only place they’d play proper imported blues and soul.
The club had a tiny lift, which made it difficult for people to just blunder in from the street. As soon as you walked out into the top floor you were greeted with your own reflection, as there were mirrors everywhere. The owners knew that their new clientele liked nothing better than looking at themselves. Drinks were served in incredibly small glasses, 25 shillings for the first and ten after that. Steak and chips cost £1. John Lennon was the first Beatle to brave the club, and seven weeks later it was the coolest place in London. In January 1965 Ringo Starr -proposed to his girlfriend, Maureen, in the bar. Michael Caine said it was the only place he ever saw all four Beatles and all five Rolling Stones dancing together.
So important was the Ad-Lib that this is the place where the illustrator Guy Peellaert decided to centre his own vision of Swinging London, in his enormously influential book Rock Dreams, published in 1972. In a series of 125 striking tableaux, Peellaert displayed an amazing gift for re-creating the likenesses of his heroes in a pop-art style, while putting them in situations either echoing their mythical status or playing on their most famous lyrics. He painted everyone from Frank Sinatra and the Beatles to Elvis and David Bowie, although he reserved his keenest interpretation for the Rolling Stones. He drew them re-creating the food fight at the launch of their Beggars Banquet album; he portrayed them in SS uniforms surrounded by prepubescent girls (an image that was as shocking then as it is today); and he squeezed them into the Ad-Lib, holding court in front of Beatle Paul, Saint Marianne, the Who’s Keith Moon et al.
“I actually first went there with Jean and Terry Stamp at the very end of 1963, the week it opened,” said Bailey. “It was a real place in the sky, a Soho penthouse converted into a discothèque with loud music, mirrored walls, and huge floor-to-ceiling windows looking down on London – you could see right across Soho, Mayfair and Piccadilly. The DJ wore a tuxedo, and the dancefloor was the size of a cocktail napkin. They served drinks like you got on an aeroplane – in little bottles with mixers on the side. They had a black chef called Teddy – which was very exotic at the time – and people used to take their food out on to the balcony and smoke joints. There was even a doorman to park your car for you, which was unheard of for a place like that. There were photographers, singers, young actors and actresses, artists, models – everyone who was anyone.”
The Ad-Lib was also where the Beatles went when they first, unwittingly, took LSD. “John and George had been spiked,” said Paul McCartney. “They had a dentist friend and he spiked them one evening. I think he wanted naughty sex games, because they had all their wives there, and he said, ‘Does anyone fancy a little bit…’ and they said, ‘You f*** off, mate! But we’ll have a coffee…’ They went to a club after the coffee, because they didn’t really know what would happen to them. And they got to the Ad-Lib and it appeared to be on fire, and they decided they’d get away from that, and they drove back at about 20mph, hugging the kerb, apparently, out to Esher, where they ended up at George’s house, and these huge big friendly trees were waving at them… It was a kind of mixed experience.”
Nietzsche once said that in reality, hope is the worst of all evils because it prolongs the torment of man. This is something anyone who ever queued to get into the Ad-Lib knew too well, that the velvet rope could descend at any moment as those on the periphery of the fêted 500. In the years that followed, nightclub culture became incredibly competitive in London, and the attitudes of the doormen changed to reflect their new-found status – one idiosyncratic transvestite who looked as though he had been imagined by Walt Disney on acid used to hold a mirror up to unsuccessful punters and say, without even a soupçon of irony, “Seriously, would you let you in?” – yet entry to the Ad-Lib was based on status and status alone. It didn’t matter what you looked like, it mattered who you were, and in this respect it was no different from all the gentlemen’s clubs of St James’s.
Twiggy (“The face of ‘66,” according to the then-mighty Daily Express) and her boyfriend-come-manager Justin de Villeneuve were regulars, too, although like many young models, she shouldn’t have been there at all.
“Twiggy was a Saturday girl at a hair salon in Queensgate in London when I first met her in 1965,” said de Villeneuve (born Nigel Davies, in Edmonton, north London). “My brother was a hairdresser there and he told me about a girl working with him who had a great look and wanted to be a model. I was a Jack the lad and knew lots of people in London, so he asked me if I would meet her and introduce her to the right people. She was my girlfriend from the beginning, which was a little bit naughty because she was 15 and I was 25. I only became Twigs’ manager because her father insisted I look after her career. He also insisted we form a company – the directors were Twigs’ mum and dad, her brother and me.
“When Twiggy first started as a model I called her Princess – I even had composite cards made with ‘Princess’ on them. It was my brother who called her Twigs and Twiggy first. Then one day I dropped her off at a studio to be photographed by Barry Lategan, and as I was leaving to say goodbye, Barry said, ‘What did you just call her?’ I told him, ‘Twigs, but her name is Princess.’ He said her name should be Twiggy, so we kept it and that’s how she took off.”
Just about the only person from that time who admits they didn’t enjoy the Ad-Lib is Jean Shrimpton, who, by her own account, having been dragged there by Bailey, who she was then dating, used to sit in the corner and do her knitting. She felt stupid on the dancefloor, and hated all the noise. “The disco was a subtle form of torture,” she said. Marianne Faithfull found the place a bit of a chore, too, not least because she was hit on all the time. She used to sit and gaze out of the huge window that looked out over the rooftops, talking to no one.
For everyone else, it was bacchanalia.
“I came out of the Ad-Lib one night and got into my convertible Rolls-Royce,” said Bailey. “There were only two made. Elizabeth Taylor had one and I had the other. I had spent all day photographing Jean with a python around her neck. The snake [had] needed to be back at London Zoo by 5pm because that’s when it closed, so I had to keep it until the zoo opened again in the morning. I had no idea what I was going to do with it until then. After the shoot we took it in a weightlifter’s grip and put it in the boot of the car. That night I went to the Ad-Lib, and had come out about midnight a little bit worse for wear. I was driving quite erratically and was stopped on Tottenham Court Road by a policeman. He asked me whose car it was, what the registration was – I didn’t know – and then asked what was in the boot. Which is when I remembered the snake. And so I told him.
“‘A snake? What do you mean a snake? Are you having me on?’
“‘No, it’s a snake.’
“And so he opens the boot, opens the grip, and out curls this 12-foot python, frightening the living daylights out of him.
“‘You’re telling the truth!’ he squealed. ‘Are you in show business?’
“‘Sort of,’ I said.
“‘Well, drive more carefully then.’
“And with that I drove off…”