The Times of Chelsea – magic, mystics, motoring and maxis

The Times of Chelsea was a small magazine which ran from 1973-1975. It contained a mixture of Chelsea subject matter – news stories to do with planning or conservation, features on local residents, pieces about local history and what you might call general interest – motoring, restaurants and fashion. The photographer John Bignell was the picture editor, so it was also full of his work. (That alone makes it useful for local history – Bignell didn’t always label his pictures and the Times can sometimes help with that.)

You might find an interview with the then still famous best selling author Dennis Wheatley:

Wheatley may 1973

Wheatley issues his normal warning about the dangers of black magic in this piece, while at the same time impressionable young persons like myself were reading his supernatural novels, not to mention many far more subversive works such as Richard Cavendish’s the Black Arts and the famous partwork Man, Myth and Magic. Aleister Crowley, the Great Beast (who Wheatley may have had in mind for Mocata, the villain in “The Devil rides out”) was another Chelsea resident, like Hester Marsden-Smedley, the wife of the Mayor of Chelsea who wrote many articles for the Times on local history and reported in one that she found Crowley “fascinating but not frightening“. (She found another local resident far more repellent in a piece remembering William Joyce’s short period of membership of the local Conservative Party).

In the film of the Devil rides out, Mocata was played by Charles Gray (of Ennismore Gardens) profiled in the Times in an article called “Elegant baddie”, and photographed by Bignell.

Charles Gray 01 jb355

Another brief resident was Colin Wilson, famous for the 1950s classic of new existentialism  the Outsider, but more importantly for me also the author of another blockbuster survey of the uncanny valley, “The Occult”. If you’ll allow to ramble off on a tangent I met him around this time in the Village Bookshop in Regent Street and he turned out to be friendly and tolerant towards a fanboy. (At the time I took it for granted that the shop had a large occult section – many bookshops did then, but I’ve since read that the owner was a bit of an aficionado of the subject, and actually sent the young Iain Sinclair on some psycho-geographical missions – told in the book length interview with Sinclair by Kevin Jackson, “The Verbals”)

Wilson was also a friend of another subject of an article in the Times of Chelsea, local artist Regis de Cachard (or Count Regis de Bouvier de Cachard de Montmeran, to give him his full name and title).

Regis 01 feb 1973 (2)

We’ve met him before of course. The article notes that  Wilson was intending to write a book about him. That would have been interesting. De Cachard, it says in the article, was currently concentrating on mythological subjects, and he announces his intention to paint 100 pictures on Old Testament themes, one a week for two years

There might be a motoring feature, like this one which also relates to a previous topic on the blog.

Capri mar 1975

You also find some interesting photos, like this one under the headline “End of the Essoldo”.

 

essoldo 02 jul 1974

As it happens we now know the Essoldo was not the last incarnation of this building as a cinema, but its time as the venue for the stage show of the Rocky Horror Show may have been the height of its fame. (Yes there’s an anecdote: a friend of my wife worked as an usherette during the show and got her a ticket, at the end of a row. My wife, a teenager at the time, watched the show in a state of apprehension that she might be pulled onto the stage by the fun-loving cast)

John Bignell provided some celebrity pictures like this one.

Ryan O'Neal jb125

Ryan O’Neal, seen here admiring a pendant belonging to Lorenzo Berni, owner of “the Beauchamp Place rendezvous San Lorenzo”. He “does quite a lot of the cooking himself in between chatting to customers like Mick and Bianca Jagger…and Bill Gibb”

The mention of the designer Bill Gibb brings us to another of the frequent subjects for features in the Times, fashion, often connected to local shops. Chelsea in the early 70s would have been a key location for London fashion of course but the thing I noticed most is that the commonest clothing items being featured in the Times were kaftans, maxi-dresses and nightdresses. Like this one:

bianca buscaglia 02 jun 1974

“Hand made in Yugoslavia” for Bianca Busaglia. They were everywhere. Now, I’ve looked at fashion in old photographs before as you know. (Sambourne, Hawarden etc). And I was living in London from 1973. I hadn’t remembered that this was the era of the maxi skirt and dress. But it was.

variations march 1973

By my recollection, in this period fashions, especially in areas like hemlines ,were pretty much dictated by the big fashion designers who were followed by high street shops. This style dictatorship seemed to come to an end in the late 70s with punk, after which women started wearing pretty much what they wanted. (Okay, a bit of a generalisation I know, but broadly true, like the thing with the colour black – I can remember a time when black was only worn to funerals and you couldn’t buy a black car without a special order. After the 70s you couldn’t get away from black, and still can’t. )

But back to the Times. Is this a nightie?

in pod 02 feb-mar 1974

No, it’s a maternity dress from a shop called In Pod, perfectly in tune with current styles. Check out the shoes by the way. Spot on for this period.

This one though…

night owls 02 jul 1974

That is a nightie, from a shop called Night Owls in the Fulham Road. (At number 50, next to where there was a branch of Gapp’s – see this post. It closed a few short years ago.). We’re glad it’s a nightie and not another maternity dress – she’s smoking, something people used to do back then.

There was also some publicity for the larger shops:

Print skirt may 1973

Modern readers will no doubt appreciate the prices of these items. Below, I don’t know if the smooth gentleman in the striped shirt is giving good customer service to the lady wearing some early boho chic, or if he’s another model working in the modern boutique Elle (of Sloane Square)

elle jun 1975

This is a whole page on a shop called Joseph, at 33 King’s Road. My wife had a raincoat like that.

Joseph 01 feb 1975

In the interests of historical accuracy I went to the costume and fashion collection at Chelsea Library to look at copies of Vogue from 1973 to 1975, the Times of Chelsea years and yes, there were many pictures of much the same sort of outfits, some even more extravagant, and of course colourful. There was a kind of soft focus extravagance about this period exemplified by the fashions of the Biba shop which reached its peak in Kensington and Chelsea at the same time.

One more striking outfit:

fashion-p26-april-1975-zoom-copy

Finally another mention of Chelsea Library in the Times. My old boss:

toc nov 1973 Meara

I hope she won’t mind this small tribute. (Nite: customers of Chelsea Library were eventually reconciled to the merger with Kensington. As a Chelsea resident I can see the advantages.)

The maxi has been back with us for some time. I saw many examples on the way home today. (A very warm Wednesday afternoon). Dennis Wheatley, Charles Gray, Colin Wilson, Regis de Cachard and the Ford Capri are unfortunately gone, though not forgotten. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for Patricai Meara (later Pratt).

Postscript

It was a bit of a ramble this week, but magazines are sometimes like that. I’m not deliberately intending to turn the postscript over to obituaries but I couldn’t help but note the passing of Richard Neville, the editor of another small magazine, the “underground” periodical, Oz. I was too young, and too far from London to be a regular reader, but the Oz obscenity trial was a sensation of the time and I do remember the controversy and the taking of sides. I was firmly behind the three editors, Neville, Felix Dennis (the  millionaire publisher and poet who died in 2014 ) and Jim Anderson. I remember reading a book by Tony Palmer, the Trials of Oz, which portrayed the trail as a knockabout yarn. I couldn’t wait to get to London.

 

 


One response to “The Times of Chelsea – magic, mystics, motoring and maxis

  • Paul Taylor

    I looked through the Chelsea Library’s archive of The Times of Chelsea a few years back, I remember a series of articles debating the local council’s plan, around 1975, to pedestrianise the Kings Road and dig a tunnel underneath it so as to to divert all traffic to the Embankment which thankfully, can you imagine, never advanced passed the drawing board stage.

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