Primrose Hill Revisited – the complete book online - chapter eleven

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chapter eleven

When Jenny stood up and replaced the phone the mob of supplicants milling outside Claudia’s office surged forward like a crowd of penguins at feeding time in Regent’s Park Zoo. She surveyed them: the boyish adman with a flip-chart and an easel under his arm and a shit-eating grin pasted on his face; the lugubrious art director clutching photographs; the printer’s rep flourishing a poster; the two stage mothers advancing before them like battering rams their two snotty little girls dressed in frilly party dresses; and Basil, the magazine’s pathetic advertising sales manager who couldn’t keep his hands off her bum but was useful for dishing the dirt and who was waiting to introduce a client. Both had drunk too many brandies after lunch. Jenny bent her finger to the adman and admitted him to the office. The others pressed around her to complain.

By the time the twelve-year-old adman with the cheesy grin and the ludicrous name of Kip had made his customary oily observations about the weather, the state of the traffic and the restaurant he proposed to escort her to the next time she was free — which she wouldn’t be — and had set up his easel, Claudia had already lost patience. The first page of his presentation showed a photograph of a handsome young stud wearing earrings with the headline: ‘Think Bold’.

“That’s a man,” she pointed out. The adman stretched his grin a notch wider and nodded vacantly. “This is a woman’s magazine”, she felt obliged to add.

He flipped to the next page: it showed the same photo presented as a magazine cover with the masthead Modern Couples. The adman beamed at her: “At a single stroke, you double the size of your target audience.”

Claudia sniffed. “Men are not interested in fashion and home-making.”

“Modern men are.” As Kip turned the page once more Claudia noticed for the first time that his tie, his socks and the handkerchief perched in the breast pocket of his charcoal gray pin-striped suit were all colour co-ordinated — a sort of dayglo purple. She was seized with the notion that these irruptions blossoming through the gaps in his suit all flowed from a single, one-piece purple undergarment that the youth wore. She choked back a snort and had to pull out her hankie and pretend to sneeze.

The next page of the presentation showed a young couple choosing decorating fabrics. “He’d be at the football game while she schleps around the shops,” Claudia protested.

“You’re falling behind the times, Miss Pickles,” he reprimanded and turned another page. This photograph showed two men looking into a clothes shop window.

Claudia rose from her chair, pointing. “They’re holding hands!”

Kip smirked. “It’s legal now.”

“You want to turn Modern Woman into a fag mag?”

“That’s homophobic.”

Claudia had had enough. “Out! Out! Out!”, she shouted and shooed him to the door. She covered the offending image by flipping the chart presentation back to the first page. The photograph of the muscled stud stirred more anger. “And take your pornography with you.”

The adman hovered at the door. “No. Think about it, Miss Pickles. This is the sixties, after all.”

When he was finally gone Claudia collapsed at her desk with her head in her hands. She had lots of homosexual friends. Well, colleagues really. Most of the artistically gifted men she knew were bent. It came with the territory. She had absolutely no problem with that. But the biggest mistake you could make as an editor was to assume that your personal reactions were the same as your readers. Her attitudes were those of an educated, independent woman living in the centre of the most cosmopolitan city in Britain. To the great suspicious mass of her provincial-minded readers a homosexual was a man who carried an umbrella.

There was a need for education. That was the way to get sex into Modern Woman. Not titillation. Education. A responsible piece about sexual mores. Maybe an entire issue. It was not just homosexuality that confused her readers. The sexual revolution has turned our erotic assumptions upside down — or into any other number of positions. Many of her readers must feel they were living through a turbulent period of moral decadence. She buzzed Jenny to hold her calls and appointments for half an hour and fed a piece of paper into her trusty upright Royal.

The good news is that we’ve discovered sex. We’ve liberated ourselves from Victorian repression. We can enjoy sex again, like 18th century libertines, but without the pox. Once again it’s the Americans who are showing the way. With naked people writhing on stage, would you believe, in that ‘tribal love-rock musical’ Hair. A celebration of the human spirit and the human body. But you’ll never see it here. Not while the Lord Chamberlain still determines what’s fit for us to see.

Ten years ago the Wolfenden report wisely recommended that the state should stay out of the bedroom. Only public sexual behaviour should be regulated, which basically means outdoors on Hampstead Heath or the back alleys of Soho. Do what you must, but don’t frighten the horses. They called Wolfenden ‘The Pansies’ Charter’, because it proposed that homosexual acts between consenting adults should be decriminalised, so long as they took place in private and not where the horses could see. Stephen had called it ‘The People’s Charter’ because it meant that the state should no longer presume to define and enforce morality. At a time when every tabloid reader associated ‘queers’ with bribery and treason, the Macmillan government shrewdly concluded that legalising homosexuality was political suicide, and all it did was to pass a law that swept streetwalkers into lodgings.

Yet, rather suddenly, the new Sexual Offences Act has changed all the rules. Though Stephen was quick to point out some amusing peculiarities. Men can fuck each other in England and Wales, but not in Scotland or Ulster. Merchant seamen on the high seas have to keep their hands off each other, but passengers and the crews of foreign-registered vessels are fair game.

In the same way, the Pill has unchained female sexuality. And everyone will tell you the Pill has encouraged rampant promiscuity. And if it fails you can get an abortion legally now.

So, the ’60s are a Sex Maniac’s Charter, right? Well, not necessarily. The Pill is only now becoming generally available. She’d read somewhere that fewer than one in ten single women has ever used it. According to a recent survey most teenagers are still virgins at age nineteen. And the average age of marriage has fallen from 25 twenty years ago to 23 now. It seems young people still want families, not unbridled sex. Perhaps the sexual revolution isn’t taking place all over Britain as we fear, in bedsits and the back seats of Minis, but in the newspapers, which lubriciously retail the exploits of a few wealthy or celebrated British youngsters.

But how did she know? The only indisputable fact was that she wasn’t sharing it.

Jenny knocked and slipped in with her dictation pad. “The heavy breather rang. Twice.”

“I am never in to Stephen.”

“I told him to stick it in his bumbag. Twice.”

“Anyone else?”

Jenny made a wanking gesture. “He’s coming. Over.”

Herr Wankler? It can’t be Friday yet. Not even in Germany.”

Jenny put on a stage German accent. “’Zyust ze sozyial call,’ he said”.

“So, no panzers.”

“And a call from Perfect Romance Limited. You’ve not been using a dating agency?”

“Actually, I have.”

“A dildo gives you more kicks. And afterwards you can put it away in a drawer.”

“Research. For an article.”

Jenny arched an eyebrow. “So, what was he like? A wimp or a sex maniac?”

The girl was too clever by half. Claudia couldn’t let her get away with that. “Actually, he was dead gorgeous. But American, regrettably. And maybe just a bit immature.”

Jenny smirked. “How young?”.

Claudia was finding it difficult to return Jenny’s knowing gaze and so was almost relieved when Herr Wankler goosestepped into the room uniformed in leather overcoat, leather briefcase and natty little leather Austrian hat. “I was just passing through. I thought I’d pop in to see . . .” He broke off and she followed his gaze to the large photograph of the young stud on the easel with the headline ‘Think Bold.’ “Is that it? The new strategy?”

A split-second of panic gripped Claudia as she moved to block the easel. But her strength, she had always felt, lay in improvisation and, while still holding Jenny’s amused, ironic gaze, inspiration came. She wheeled to face Wankler with sudden confidence.

“Young men”, she announced, and started pacing around her desk. Wankler revolved like a panning cine camera to follow her movements and Jenny had to keep dodging out of the way. “Young men attract women of all ages. Girls drool for them and older women want to mold them. We’re in the throes of a sexual revolution. Our readers can regain their youth by tuning in to the younger generation. Modern Woman shows them how.”

In a literal if unconscious gesture of appreciation, Wankler removed his saucy hat. “I want you to present this to the board. Next week.” He discovered his hat in his hands and clapped it back on his head. “I want you to know I’m right behind you on this,” he said, before exiting through the door as abruptly as he had arrived.

“I’d rather have you in plain sight”, Claudia hissed through gritted teeth and instantly regretted it. More ammunition for Jenny to store away in her war chest. Some day she would have to sack Jenny. But right now she needed all the help she could get, so instead she said “We need a brainstorm meeting.”

“You want me to send an all-staff memo?”

“I want you to rally the fucking troops to the front line. Now.” Claudia replied, and flopped into her chair.

 

As Herr Wankler elbowed his way through the crowd of impatient supplicants and disappeared out the main door. Jenny climbed onto a stool. She faced the labourers in the editorial room and cupping her hands around her mouth, shouted “Action stations! Grab your socks and hold your cocks!” The two mothers clapped their hands over the ears of their two little girls and made for the exit, now blocked by the advertising space salesman, who had produced a bottle of brandy from the company liquor cabinet and was pouring a shot for his client. Both were unsteady on their feet and as the clucking brood pushed past they fell over.