Monday, 30 July 2012


 'If you are going to stab your mother-in-law during a deadly quarrel, consider stabbing her with Sheffield stainless steel...'
 That was, more or less,  the theme of my third propaganda radio play for the BBC Arabic Features Unit, promoting the benefits of British industrial products, the first two having urged listeners in the Middle East to beware of Syphilis and Gonorrhea..
 I did not think I would be contracted for more but, during 1956-57 I wrote forty of these offerings which proved sufficiently lucrative for me to hire-purchase my first car ( a beautiful sky blue Sunbeam Talbot coupé ) and throw a lavish party to celebrate.
 Actually, that’s not quite true. I personally did not throw the lavish party, I was only a part host.
 One day,  in a pub round the corner from Bush House after the recording of a broadcast,  I met a most extrovert character by the name of Jimmy Eilbeck.
 Jimmy was a tall, 30 year old lanky energetic man, a head of curly ginger hair, an unruly ginger moustache, spectacles with thick lenses and a strong Liverpool accent. He was a senior editor on the Dailly Mirror, had devised a new publication – The Woman’s Sunday Mirror - which he intended to launch with an exceptionally original party on an island somewhere in the middle of the Thames.
 'I’ve got an island in the middle of the Thames,' I said lightly.
 And the following Sunday he turned up at Pangbourne and decided that our island would be the ideal location for the star studded night of Fleet Street mayhem he had in mind. The world and his wife would be invited. Money was no object.
 The weekend of his preference coincided with the fortnight when Eddy went down to Pau to visit his mother for the first time since his accident. As my mother badly needed a release from the cheerless life she was leading, she happily agreed to be Jimmy Eilbeck’s joint hostess along with Eve and myself and invitations were sent out to a list of impressive names for: 
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    A Barbecue on Satan’s Isle. Dress Primitive.  No Swimming - the river is 18ft deep, the current deadly, two experienced swimmers have drowned here.
  The lawns of Weir Pool by which Satan’s Isle is approached are private property. Any indiscretion should only becommitted in the long grass of the island.

The day of the launch in June fortunately turned out to be one of the driest and warmest of the year. More than three hundred guests arrived causing a fair amount of disruption in the village.
 While the invited guests gathered on the island to drink champagne and munch away at a roasted pig or two, local residents took to dinghies and punts to row around and stare at the unexpected celebrities of the time.  Censorious news editors and journalists formed the nucleus of the event,  fashion models abounded, several stars from stage and screen, Frankie Vaughan a then No 1 pop idol struggled with a 3-piece band to be heard above the water cascading down from the weir.
 At the height of the party I noticed that Jimmy Eilbeck himself was not around. I eventually found him in the dining room of the house feverishly typing out an imagined account of the evening for the morning press and phoning in the reports to rival newspapers.
 'It would be great if Diana Dors fell into the water right now, could you give her a shove?' he said to me between calls.
 I read some of his copy, invented snippets of what he would have really wished: A baroness arriving in a minimal costume of sequined fig leaves, a Hollywood actor in white tuxedo getting stuck up a willow tree while imitating Tarzan. A member of parliament spotted in the bushes with a starlet....
 'The majority of people lead terribly dull lives and are crying out for excitement,' he said.. 'The successful press supplies this. Whether things are true or not is of no importance whatsoever.'  This ten years before Rupert Murdoch acquired The News of the World.

 As dawn broke everyone drifted off home, I went to bed and, later that morning, I found Jimmy on the island sitting at a table working away on the next edition of his new paper.
 'Any chance of me writing articles for you?' I asked. I’d shown him my cartoon book and he’d read a couple of my radio scripts
 'You’re good at dialogue,' he said, not looking up, 'but that’s not the same as journalism. Stick to plays, get away from Daddy, and if you can’t risk life without a regular income try advertising, they’ll love the way your imagination runs riot with inessentials.'
 I seldom saw him after the party, but eventually took his advice.

 The success of The Woman’s Sunday Mirror went to Jimmy’s head and, two years later , after getting into uncontrollable debt trying to launch another newspaper, he threw himself in front of an underground train at Stratford East station. 

With Diana Dors
Jimmy Eilbeck working at the bottom of the garden
Jimmy Eilbeck 

Monday, 23 July 2012


There is nothing like a tiny bit of success to boost one’s confidence.
The tiny bit of success I experienced was the publication of my book of cartoons coupled with my disengagement from Eddy which freed me from the restrictions in my head that held me back from attempting to write more professionally. 
 One evening when glancing through the pages of the TV Mirror, a rival magazine to the Radio Times that listed independent programmes, I read of a competition for a 30-minute television play they were organizing in conjunction with the Cheltenham Festival of Contemporary Literature.
 I unearthed my rejected plays and stories and found an idea that might work as a half hour comedy. Entitled The Man on a Balcony it concerned two unsuccessful actors staying in a hotel at the Cannes Film Festival who go to the ends of the earth to get noticed by the media. It was quite well plotted, I re-worked the dialogue, found a more exciting surprise ending, sent it off to the competition and thought no more about it. 
 A few weeks later I received a telegram from the TV Mirror informing me that I had won a prize for my entry and, the next day, a letter from the Cheltenham Festival organizers inviting me to the prize giving ceremony the following month. I was amazed.
 Eve and I went to Cheltenham for the prize giving and were received at the Town Hall by a Festival hostess who showed us to front row seats in an auditorium packed with serious looking academics.
 Six judges walked on to the stage and took their seats at a long table. Three were best selling authors at the time - Robert Henriquez, Eric Linklater, and John Moore, there was also Gilbert Harding, a notable TV personality of the time, and John Fernald the head of RADA ( The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art ).
 Prizes were awarded for high literary merit to writers who had entered competitions for works of non-fiction, biographies and novels. This took a good hour with the introduction of each winner followed by their thank you speeches, then I heard my name called out by John Fernald.
 'André de Launay ...' he started ( I had used the de because I thought it would impress )....has written a short play with such excellent humour that I think it will be most effective for the teaching of comedy technique to my drama students and certainly deserves a television production.......'
 There was a bit more about the apparent brilliance of the comedy followed by applause. I got up on stage, received a cheque, handshakes and pats on the back and returned to my seat, elated and numb.
 Eve and I followed everyone to a buffet supper where we hob knobbed with more well known authors, publishers and television people. It was the first time we were mixing with high octane personalities and I expected to feel out of my depth, but some knew of my cartoon book and others had seen Eve in fashion magazines, so I grew a few inches taller and hoped an inner smirk of higher self esteem was not too visible.
  In time The Man on a Balcony proved to be a little gem It was published by Samuel French and used as a curtain raiser by many amateur dramatic societies ( still is ),  produced at RADA for a number of years to teach up and coming stars how to get laughs from an audience, was the first play to be televised as a colour experiment on a BBC closed circuit, and chosen as the centre piece of The World Our Stage, an entertainment to celebrate the 21st anniversary of BBC Television, starring Bob Monkhoue and Peggy Cummings.
 Though I thought about leaving the food business and launching out as a free lance script writer, I sensibly decided to wait for a contact of some kind from a television company or agent before taking such a precarious step and, in time, an offer came from a quite unexpected quarter. I was rung by a radio producer from the BBC Arabic Features Unit who needed someone to turn out quick half hour propaganda plays. 
 I immediately went to Bush House and was interviewed by the Egyptian gentleman who had rung me. He suggested I submit a trial drama, twenty minutes of dialogue which translated would come out at thirty minutes in Arabic. He had a translator on his staff.
 'Any particular subject ?' I asked.
 'Oh yes,' he said, 'Venereal Disease.' We need to subtly warn the younger population of the Arab speaking world about the dangers of indulging in indiscriminate intercourse.

The actors on the set of the play "The Man on the balcony"
Bob Monkhoue and Peggy Cummings

Tuesday, 17 July 2012


The publication of my book of cartoons, innocent and lighthearted as it was, did not bring the abundance of joy I had anticipated to either Simone ( my mother ) nor Eddy. My mother, who was a competent artist when drawing Christmas and birthday cards for the family, appreciated what I had done but, again, had to put up with Eddy who saw the slim volume as another triviality which threatened any serious interest I might have in the merchandising of succulent sausages.
 At the office he was unable to hide his irritation with me and, one day, having had enough of this unwarranted melodrama, I decided  to take the bull by the horns, put an end to the deceptions that had clouded my life since I was fourteen, and bring the matter of our true relationship out into the open.
 I rang my mother to warn her of my intention. She sighed very deeply, agreed that things could not get much worse, admitted that she too had had enough and wished me luck.
 I invited Eddy for lunch and chose the Café Royal to add a little piquancy to the forthcoming debacle. We ordered the meal, discussed matters concerning the kitchen staff, the van drivers, the clients that did not pay their bills, then I changed the subject to my sister in France, always a favoured topic. This enabled me to mention that I  had always been surprised how different she and I were. She was so much more serious and less fickle than me, I ventured, then added 'I’ve often wondered if she was actually my real sister...blood related...I mean.'
 Taken aback, he looked straight at me, remained silent for what seemed an eternity, then grimly launched into an angry little speech which I suspected had been rehearsed and honed many times in his head ready for the day when he would use it.
 'I am not your father', he said quite bluntly. 'This tragedy has caused your mother and I very many difficulties, not the least of which has been your attitude towards your responsibilities. You are very much like her and her mother, believing that your own amusement comes before anything else regardless of other people’s feelings. You are, of course, not to blame for your mother's flagrant disloyalty, but I hope that you will understand how hard it has been for me to accept the fact that you are not my son and appreciate all that I have done for you since you were born. I am an honourable man and will continue doing my duty as head of the family. I will not ignore your existence but hope that you will be grateful that I did not throw you out with your mother but took pity on both of you when I learned of her infidelity.'
 I was numbed by his rancour.. I had been prepared for a sensible, possibly emotional analysis of the situation both past and present, explanations of why there had been misunderstandings between him and my mother before I was born, whether love had ever played any part in our lives, but rationality was out of the question. 
 I looked down, speechless for a while, then asked him, with a certain amount of fear and trepidation, if he knew who my real father was.
 'That is a subject which you had better discuss with your mother,' he answered, dryly adding, as he pushed his chair back, 'I will leave you to settle the bill since you invited me.'
 He gripped his walking stick, displayed the difficulty he had in standing up to remind me, perhaps, that the car crash had added injury to insult, and made his way out of the restaurant.
 I sat at the table for a while longer, feeling gutted yet incredibly relieved.
 It was over There would be no more lies, no more duplicity. The situation was at last honest between us. Blood might be thicker than water, but water was crystal clear. I was now free of parental authority.

 When I got home that evening, Eve was not in a good mood.
 'I told Daddy that we were thinking of going to Spain in July for a holiday,' she said, 'and he’s decided that he and Mummy will come too. I don’t think I can put him off the idea.'
 Major William Ekin, more fondly called ‘Bill’ by everyone, unexpectedly turned out to be a problem. Though he was a genial Pickwickean character and bon viveur whom one could not possibly dislike, he dominated his daughter.
 Whereas I had found the strength to flap my wings, risk crashing to earth but had now flown off to a land of promising adventure, Eve allowed her father to clip her wings and so never quite managed to leave the nest.
 Though Doris was only troublesome because she never contradicted her husband, both interfered with our lives on all levels throughout our twenty years of marriage and, sadly, proved to be partly responsible for our eventual divorce. 

Eddy, Simone, Doris and Bill

Bill and Simone discussing the marriage of their offspring

Monday, 9 July 2012


Eve and I were married on 27th March 1954 at St James’s Church, Down Street in Mayfair, the reception held at the Naval and Military Club round the corner. It was a wedding with society pretences enjoyed by all and, for me, like jumping  from a frying pan of simmering chipolata sausages into a gold plated salver of ornate elegance.                                                                                                                                        
  From the moment we returned from a brief honeymoon in Paris my life of live patés, venison pies and sturgeon eggs was eclipsed by the glamour of Eve’s new world which I embraced with fervour.
 Up till then I had known little about fashion. I had heard of Balmain, Chanel, Dior and Givenchy, had glanced at their creations in Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, but not with that much interest. Now I was thrown in at the deep end. The haute couture names of John Cavanagh, Digby Morton, Hardie Amies, Hartnell and Worth became part of my life, while crêpe de chine, grosgrain, organza, piqué, taffeta and other such words were added to my daily vocabulary.
 I was proud to see Eve in the limelight, going to her fashion shows and accompanying her to all the social engagements connected with the new collections. What took place on the catwalk was glamorous, even theatrical, and I loved it all.
 We moved into a very pleasant rented apartment off Holland Park Avenue and most evenings were more than content leading the happy domestic life.
 Meanwhile, back at the factory I was appointed sales manager which impressed no one but enabled me to escape from the office to the peace and comfort of our clients’ cocktail lounges where I sat in great comfort with pen and notepad to write short stories or playlets but, in fact, mostly doodled while waiting for inspiration. I drew countless pictures of Eve modelling extravagant clothes and ludicrous hats, which amused her enough to suggest I should develop the sketches into cartoons and try to get them published.
 I bought a block of cartridge paper, a special pen and Indian ink and started on the idea in earnest. The result was a series of  12 humorous drawings which I titled I Married a Model, depicting the ups and downs of our lives. I sent these to the editor of She Magazine whom I had sat next to at a fashion show, she published them all in one edition under ther fun name Droo, they impressed a director of Macdonalds the publishers who was himself married to a model, and he commissioned a book of 60 illustrations to be aimed at the Christmas present market.
 The thin volume was launched in October1957 with a fair amount of razzle dazzle. Various newspapers and magazines featured photos of Eve and I posing as in the cartoons,  and a film producer bought an option of the film rights.
 At long last I perceived a light of creative success at the end of the grimy factory tunnel.