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Girls Just Wanna Have Fun in 1963: Scandal! – Christine Keeler; Up the Junction – Nell Dunn
Do you remember a girl named Gaye Funloving? Don’t worry if you don’t: she never really existed: she was invented by the then-new satirical magazine Private Eye in 1963. In cartoons and spoof news stories she was a fictional good-time girl living it up in high society at posh addresses in south west London, and frolicking in the swimming pool with jet-set guests at a palatial country house.
Gaye Funloving of course was modelled on Christine Keeler, the girl centre stage of the infamous Profumo affair of 1963. But I wonder if she might equally have been modelled on Nell Dunn? – or at least on the young girls from Battersea with names like Lily, Sylvie and Rube that were encountered in Nell Dunn’s classic book Up the Junction, published in 1963.
Scandal! – Christine Keeler (Xanadu Publications, 1989)
Up the Junction – Nell Dunn (MacGibbon & Kee, 1963; reissued by Virago Press, 1988 & 2013)
It is interesting to explore whether passages of writing could be switched between Scandal! and Up the Junction as regards girls going out on the town, 1963-style, in that long-ago world of choosing a new frock at the Pay-as-You-Wear shop; filling a plastic bowl with water from the kitchen tap to take upstairs for a cat-lick wash; finding a ladder in your stockings so squeal at a friend to run out and buy an emergency new pair, three-and-eleven bare-leg.
In the words of the Cyndi Lauper chart hit: When the working day is done, girls they want to have fun. After you have read the books Scandal! and Up the Junction you’ll surely agree that Christine Keeler and Nell Dunn recounted some very similar incidents from their social lives of the early 1960s.
Nell Dunn in Up the Junction had her factory girls humming Same Cooke's hit song Twistin’ the Night Away while they dolled up for the Jazz Band Ball. Hearing of a late-night party, they bundled into the back of a Ford Zephyr: three raucous girls sitting on the laps of three couldn’t-believe-their-luck boys.
Christine Keeler recalled how thrilled were she and her friend Mandy Rice-Davies when for the first time in each of their lives they had their own London flat (in Comeragh Road, W14). To celebrate, they put on their best dresses and they went out to an expensive restaurant. Legs dangling out of the cab window, they returned home stuffing their faces with sweets and giggling madly on champagne.
Clubs and pubs
In the snob stakes, did Christine Keeler’s stamping ground of Kensington and Soho, and the class of person she met there, obviously outrank Nell Dunn’s Battersea? In one sense yes: in her amusing vignette Out with the Girls Nell Dunn had one of her characters kidding a group of boys that she was an heiress from Chelsea instead of hailing from downmarket Battersea. Christine Keeler nevertheless revealed in 1989 that Bayswater in 1963 wasn’t the good area that it later became, and after the race riots of the late 1950s Notting Hill still simmered with racial tension in its run-down streets.
In Murray’s Cabaret Club in Soho where Christine Keeler of working-class Windsor origin was employed as a ‘dancing girl’, she would meet moneybags old men, business magnates, and rich Arabs. Echo, echo in one of Nell Dunn’s short stories entitled Clip Joint where the setting was a similar club. Wealthy foreign gentlemen arrived there in search of elite entertainment but if the lighting had not been so dim they would have seen that the décor was tatty, the expensive drinks were only coloured water, and the hostesses ‘from Brazil’ hailed from Battersea, Poplar and Stepney.
In their private lives, none of Nell Dunn’s girls likely had the phone number of a Westminster politician or a Russian envoy pencilled into their diary. With their beehive hair-styles and their regulation tight jeans and stiletto heels, they fraternised with groups of boys in leather jackets who liked to ‘do the ton’ on their Triumph 650 motor-bikes. The Saturday night hunt for ‘fellas’ would find the girls dancing with boys named Dave and Terry in crowded Battersea pubs, while periodically repairing to the ladies’ to smear on more pan-stick and pass round the hair-lacquer. Afterwards they might snog with boys at a party inside an LCC council flat, eating ham sandwiches and refreshing themselves from crates of brown ale and Babycham while the radiogram provided the music.
Country house swimming pool … Open-air pond
It was at Cliveden, a country house owned by Lord Astor, that Christine Keeler’s infamous swimming-pool incident took place. It was the scene of her ill-fated first-ever meeting with John Profumo, a Cabinet Minister. It led to the fall of the Conservative government, amidst wild rumours of a security leak to a Soviet naval attaché who was also one of Miss Keeler’s associates.
Echo, echo, again, in Nell Dunn’s Out with the Girls story when the young lads and the girls decided that for a dare they would have a nocturnal swim ‘up the Common’ after their night at the pub. Did you think that tattoos are a modern-day craze amongst British youth? One lad stripped off his shirt in 1963 to reveal an I AM ELVIS tattoo. The swim ended with making a bolt for it away from the pond and out through the trees when the approaching blue light of a police car was spotted.
What you gonna do with your life?
For me the abiding impact of Christine Keeler’s Scandal! memoir of 1989 is to appreciate how very young and innocent she was – aged only in her late teens – when the glittering lights of London led her into a lifestyle that you can imagine any good-looking girl from a non-affluent background would be thrilled to experience after growing up in a dull suburb and leaving school at age 15.
There is another line in the Cyndi Lauper song. It goes: What you gonna do with your life? Nell Dunn became a respected author and playwright – most especially for her famous novel Poor Cow published in 1967. It was adapted for film directed by Ken Loach who has recently in May 2016 been honoured for the second time in his life with the Palme D’Or top award at the Cannes Film Festival.
Meanwhile, a visit to the National Portrait Gallery in London in the summer of 2016 will show you that the legend of Christine Keeler indisputably lives on. Most people would settle to have their portrait on display there once … Ms Keeler is there twice! The two portraits testify to her youthful good looks that literally stopped a government in its tracks, earning her lasting fame but also, alas, notoriety. Interviewed by John Mortimer in the 1980s, Christine Keeler surely summed up with accurate hindsight the simple truth that, like Nell Dunn’s party girls from Battersea, she had hoped only for adventure, not misadventure, when out on the town seeking friendship and fun in west London after work. She told John Mortimer that what happened to her “could have happened to any good-looking girl.”
Previous articles by Jerry Dowlen in the Books Monthly Archives include:
Girls Just Wanna Have Fun in 1963: Christine Keeler & Nell Dunn
Politicians, Pop Stars and Preachers - John Mortimer's Characters of 1986
Shakespeare's 400th Centenary
Gregory's Girl: Remembering the Hit Film
The Impact and Legacy of Fear of Flying by Erica Jong
A Tribute to Margaret Forster
Remembering Saeed Jaffrey
Old Wine in New Bottles - "new" books by Margery Allingham, Raymond Chandler & Agatha Christie
Remembering Ruth Rendell
Philip Larkin: His Maiden Voyage on The North Ship (1945)
The Catcher in the Rye and Billy Liar
Erle Stanley Gardner
Antony Sher: The History Man
Edmund Crispin, Crime Fiction Author
Computer Chess: The Imitation Game
P G Wodehouse
John Betjeman and Candida Lycett Green
Sherlock Holmes: The Seven Per Cent Solution
Muriel Spark & Jane Gardam
The Story of Edith Nesbit
Anthony Gilbert and Michael Gilbert
Rebels With A Cause
Inspector Winter: Gwendoline Butler's First Detective
The Carlton, The Commodore, and the Embassy - Orpington's Three Cinemas
The Bergerac Police Adventure Series
It's All In The Mind - Margery Allingham and Graham Greene
Berlin: Cold War Spy Thrillers
The Life and Centenary of Barbara Pym
D H Lawrence: The Sniggering Legacy of Lady Chatterley's Lover...
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