Saturday, 15 June 2013


At ten o’clock one Saturday morning in February 1975, I received a phone call from Jack Martin, the American gossip columnist to whom I had spilled the beans about George C.Scott and Trish Van De Vere in Nerja four years earlier. I had kept in contact with him but not seen him since, though we were neighbours, for he lived in Cornwall Gardens, one of the most agreeable squares in London just across Gloucester Road from us. 
 He was in a panic.                            
 He had been offered a very lucrative post on the National Enquirer which would mean him living in New York. It was a career move he could not refuse, but he had to leave within a week and was unlikely to come back to London. Would I be interested in taking over the long lease of his flat at the very economical rental he was paying and look after his furniture, paintings and antiques until he could arrange for their transportation to the States? All this in one distressed breath. 
 'Probably' I said, 'But could Maribel and I see the flat before committing ourselves ?'
 'Come round and have coffee, now.'
  Number 34 Cornwall Gardens was a four storeyed Georgian Terraced house with columned entrance and steps up to a yellow painted front door. 
 We rang the bell.
 The door opened, we walked into a black and white tiled hallway, climbed the stone staircase with wrought iron balustrade and found Jack waiting for us on the first floor landing. He ushered us into what can best be described as a museum. A vast living room was dominated by three tall arched windows opening onto a small balcony which overlooked the garden square with its multitude of plane trees, elms, beeches and abundance of bushes. The ceiling was high, the polished parquet floor covered with Persian rugs, the walls dove grey hung carefully with prints, watercolours, oil paintings, and a giant Victorian mirror above the fireplace. There were several sofas, a satinwood inlaid mahogany sideboard, a number of Queen Anne style chairs, a pedestal desk, a Georgian games table, a plethora of porcelain figures, silverware, clocks, ceramics, a doll’s house, it was a repository of valuable antiques. Andy Warhol’s large portrait of Mao Tse-tung stood on an easel in one corner. 
 The rest of the flat consisted of a dining area with small open plan kitchen, a bathroom, separate lavatory and bedroom, also furnished with antiques, with a corner window looking out onto a church. 
 'How much is the Warhol worth ?' I asked. 
 'Millions. It’s my most treasured possession. I know Andy,.' Jack said. 
 'And you’re ready to trust us with all this ?' 
 'I can’t think of anyone better. You wrote a book on antiques after all.'  
 'It was a Bluffer’s guide,' I reminded him. 
 'Everything is insured anyway,' he said, then informed us that Twiggy, and her husband Michael Whitney were moving in within a few days for three weeks. It had originally been arranged that they would stay for a year or so, but they too were unexpectedly going to the States, which explained the panic. Twiggy would contact us before leaving and hand over the keys. He had just one favour to ask. Would I supervise the removal men when they came to collect all his furniture. 'I’ll leave you a list of what has to go, more or less everything except fixtures and fittings and the double bed which Vanessa Redgrave and Franco Nero slept in when I lent them the flat.' 
  We discussed the rent and other , which added up to less than we were paying, shook hands on the deal and went home, stunned that we had had the luck to be offered such a luxurious apartment for next to nothing. 
  The next three weeks were spent dreaming about the flat. We walked round Cornwall Gardens several times and stood looking up at the first floor of No 34 not believing that we would soon be living there ourselves.. Then Twiggy rang and we went round.
 The actress-model, whom I had seen so often in fashion magazines, on television and in the film of "The Boy Friend" was smaller than expected, beautiful rather than glamorous and more delicate than on screen. She talked excitedly about a show on Broadway she was going to rehearse and, after several drinks, handed us the keys. She and Michael were leaving early the next morning. 
  With a certain amount of diplomacy, and a good deal of patience, we waited till the following afternoon before rushing to take possession in case their departure had been delayed. We then found it a quite extraordinary experience moving into someone else’s apartment knowing we were at liberty to open every cupboard, every drawer, change the furniture round and use what had never been ours. When surrounded by objects of great value it is also a little worrying, so Maribel and I spent the first few days putting every piece of pottery, porcelain and glassware that might get broken safely away, and changed Mao Tse-tung’s position so that he was not staring disapprovingly at us while we sat back on the sofa watching television.
  During the first week of June, Jack Martin’s removal people came to pack up and take away his possessions. For several days Maribel and I watched as the flat was first filled with empty tea chests and mountains of newspaper, then slowly but surely gutted. When they had finished and gone, we found ourselves standing in what seemed like a small, dusty, empty ballroom with nowhere to sit down. So we went out to buy a new sofa and other essential, collected all our worldly goods from the Gloucester Road flat and happily settled down to a new way of life. 

Andy Warhol's Mao
Flat  in Cornwall Gardens

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