One of the most interesting aspects of writing about the immediate past has been the research involved, especially the cover.
Over the years my cover designer and I have had some interesting discussions about Teddy boys, 1950s hair-dos and film stars of that period.
These led to us both Googling women’s hair styles from the 1950s, the era in which my book is set, and commenting on the various film stars of that period. Forget today’s so-called ‘stars.’ A lot of them are no more than participants in reality tv shows. No, the film stars of the 1940s/50s/60s were stars in the true sense of the word, glamorous, handsome, beautifully dressed and coiffured . Not that I knew any of them personally. The nearest I got to them was writing to ask for a signed photograph – and getting them too. I can still remember one address – Universal Studios, Culver City, Hollywood.
Going to the cinema now tends to be an expensive occasion, with costly seats, popcorn and drinks, making it more of a treat. Back in the 1950s, going to the ‘pictures’ was a common place event, like going to a dance hall on a Saturday night. Horwich, Lancashire, where I lived in the 1950s and where my book A Suitable Young Man is set, had three cinemas.
The posh one was the Picture House and that tended to attract the most up-to-date films. Then there was the Palace which had a tin roof and where, if it rained, you couldn’t hear the film. I was once sat on the toilet there when a mouse ran from between my legs and under the gap in the door. Good job I’ve not been particularly afraid of mice. Last of all, was the flea-pit known as Johnny’s, real name long since forgotten though it might have been the Princes’ Theatre.
No chance of hearing a film there either, with everyone talking among themselves and walking about. Because Horwich tended to be last in the distribution chain, the films shown at any of the cinemas tended to be old ones and changed frequently. This mean that we could go to the pictures three times a week for mere pennies. The most expensive seats were the one-and-ninepennies at the Picture House. You usually only went in these seats if you were with a boyfriend.
I was mad about the pictures then. Every week, I read the Picturegoer Magazine from cover to cover, learning about the comings and goings of the stars, what films they were making and what films were up-coming. All innocent stuff compared to today’s gossip magazines. For those were the days when all that was permitted to be shown of sex in films, was a chaste kiss. The bedroom door remained firmly closed. All down to censorship laws.
When ‘From Here To Eternity’ came out in 1953, the swimsuit clad bodies of Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr in a passionate embrace on a beach caused an uproar. When the Rock Hudson/Doris Day films came out in the 1960s, even they were little more than saucily suggestive.
It was about this time that I first starting writing and my heros all bore a remarkable resemblance to British film star, Dirk Bogarde. With his smouldering dark looks and quirky smile, he really made my young heart beat faster. Later, when I discovered his whimsical autobiographical series, I became a fan of his writing.
I wrote to him a couple of times, via his publisher, about something that had particularly drawn my attention or a coincidence that had occurred. Both times, I received a handwritten card – now much treasured. And I once had the pleasure of meeting him at a book event in Leeds a few years before he died. What a lovely man he was! Even as an old man, he was still a self-effacing charmer. When he died in 1999, I cried.
Going back to cover design, our latest research has been cotton mills for the cover of my new novel Such A Time As This. I had originally wanted the interior of a towel weaving mill but none of the photos we looked at had the right sort of looms. In the end, we compromised and went for the exterior of a typical mill.
So what is this book about? Briefly, on the cusp of the 1960s in a small Lancashire mill town, three young women are facing problems and heart-ache that could affect their future. You can read more about it in Such A Time As This.
Lead image is a a timeless pic of Marilyn Monroe.