'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