A good friend of mine, namely the writer Simon Wells, has been a fount of all knowledge on the 1960s for me for a good 25 years now. We first met when I used to run a small women’s clothes shop in SE5 and Simon, then living in Camberwell, popped in one day and we got talking and haven’t really stopped since.
At that first meeting, we quickly found we had a shared love of obscure films from the 60s and spoke about Bronco Bullfrog in particular. I knew a bit about it, but had never seen at that point, but Simon soon produced a bootleg VHS copy and so began a stream of rare films coming my way.
In more recent years, myself, Paolo Hewitt, Mark Lewisohn and the much missed Adam Smith have been on many a rock and pop ramble with Simon leading the way, taking in the sights that have featured in films of the Beatles and 60s landmarks in general. They are endlessly fascinating and it’s always a treat to be invited.
Mr Wells, as many of you reading this will know, is also an author of some note with a string great books to his name, including ‘Your Face Here’ ‘Beatles 365’ ‘Coming Down Fast – the story of Charles Manson’ and ‘She’s a Rainbow – The Extraordinary life of Anita Pallenberg’ to name but a few.
His latest book ‘London Life: The Magazine of the Swinging Sixties’ is a look at the glossy mag that first saw the light of day edited by the legendary Mark Boxer in 1966. Boxer was at the centre of creative London and he soon appointed a top editorial team of bright young things around him.
Among them, a young advertising exec. David Puttnam.
With his contacts in the photography world, Puttnam soon commissioned the likes of Terence Donovan, David Bailey and Brian Duffy to provide the imagery for the magazine.
Illustrations came from Gerald Scarfe, Ian Dury (yes that one, here in a previous life) and Alan Aldridge who worked with The Beatles and The Who. Actor Terence Stamp and his then girlfriend model Jean Shrimpton, edited the fashion pages on occasions.
It all launched at the newly opened Post Office Tower on Friday 8th of October. The movers & shakers of the time were of course there in attendance, such as Mick Jagger, Tom Jones, and Jane Asher et al.
Being a weekly magazine, the turn around on it was relentless and the pace ridiculously fast. However, within a few weeks of opening, Puttnam and Boxer were gone. The reason stated indicated editorial interference and budgets being cut.
The magazine soldiered on though, with a new team in the hot seat(s) and they reported on the big events occurring daily in Swinging London, including the emergence of LSD, The 1966 World Cup, Reg and Ron, The Beatles, Carnaby Street, the films of Richard Lester, emerging pop stars Marc Bolan and David (Bowie) Jones, the mania of the Bonzo Dog Doodah Band, Twiggy, The Playboy Club, Terry de Havilland, Joe Meek, Gregory Peck, The Small Faces, and of course, so much more.
Opening Simon’s generously proportioned book you meet all the above in some marvellous photography, which is so evocative of that era. Informative fashions pages also tell you what shoes to wear, and ‘The London Scene’ reveals who is doing what to whom and where.
Further feature pieces inform on McCartney the songwriter, we meet Julie Christie, examine the film Modesty Blaise, and explore the worlds of Andrew Loog Oldham, Brian Epstein, Vidal Sassoon and Raquel Welch to name but a few.
Need to know the names of the managers and head waiters of the London’s finest restaurants? Of course you do. Handy then, they are all named here and photographed by Terry O’Neill into the bargain.
The thriving art world of David Hockney, Peter Blake, Jann Haworth and Cecil Beaton is revealed, and the comedy of Pete & Dud and Tony Hancock dissected, with Eric Burdon of the pop group The Animals asked to select his favourite LPs.
I especially loved the pull out London street map, informing you the reader, of the best theatres, cinemas, restaurants, car parks even, to attend and what one way streets to avoid!
I also liked the period advertisements covering everything from fashion and theatre revues to sardines and razor blades.
‘London Life’ comes complete with forewords from the now Lord Putnam and the now Sir Peter Blake, and it is simply a riveting read concerning a period of a decade that continues to enthral myself and many others. As is expected, Simon curates it all with an assured authority and the keen eye of an expert who knows his stuff.
I can’t recommend it highly enough.
The Mumper of SE5
‘London Life: The Magazine of the Swinging Sixties’ by Simon Wells is published by Omnibus Press.
Available to order here
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