Davy Jones, Lionel Bart
& the gangs of Seymour Walk
In 1967, London was a city defined by its fashions, its music, and its streets ~
The moment I heard my mother open the door of our townhouse and call out, "The Monkees are on!" I raced down the street, flung my bike into the outside stairwell, and got myself in front of the telly just in time to hear ~
Here we come, walking down the street...
On Seymour Walk, it was me and my friends ~ Chantal, Edward, and Jeffrey – not walking, but riding our bikes down the street, each day after school.
I knew every inch, every irregularity, and each whimsical crack and potential wheel popper on that street.
Because it was a dead end ~ or as more pleasantly phrased by the French and British, a cul de sac ~ there were few moving cars and, more importantly to our street urchin warfaring strategies, no escape if we were able to block off the street's entrance.
My first summer on Seymour Walk, we formed the Batman Club, named after one of our favorite tv shows, and declared war on a family of French kids who lived at the other end of the street in a mysterious big old house that was mostly hidden from view by a high stone wall.
To gain access to whatever secret garden lay beyond, you had to ring a buzzer a door in the wall, and wait for a disembodied voice to respond, usually in French, which none of us understood anyway.
For whatever reason, we had decided these five kids – Tamara, Sasha, Francois–Jean, Minucia and one more girl (whose name I can no longer remember) ~ were our enemies, probably because we thought we needed some and because we rarely caught even a glimpse of these kids.
Armed with weaponry and shields banged together from the remnants of a construction dumpster, we sallied forth on our bikes with whoops and brave shouts up to the other end of the street, rang the bell at the French kids' house wall, and then fled to hide behind parked cars where we waited to see what happened.
What brats we must have been. But I don't remember ever being scolded for it and somehow along the way, the French kids became our friends and we were eventually invited to pass through the wall and into the illusive compound. It was even grander and more splendid than we had imagined, and quite different from our own homes, with a main house, lovely gardens, and even a charming garden studio where their grandmother lived.
Even better, the French kids lived next door to a truly amazing house ~ the home of Lionel Bart, writer and composer of British pop musicals and the genius that had created Oliver! – the first modern British musical to transfer successfully to Broadway.
At least, that's how the world saw him.
As kids, we just knew him as that crazy man up the street who had a throne for his loo! We were wild with curiosity about this, but never managed to storm the gates of his home, like we had with the French kids, to see this astonishing plumbing marvel for ourselves.
From the outside, Bart's house was a small fortress of white brick walls, terraced gardens, decorative wrought iron railings and locked gates, slightly set back from the sidewalk. It was impossible to miss, partly because it was the only house in London that had a stork on its chimney. The stock reminded me of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales I had been brought up with and for that reason was enormously appealing to me.
A recent Daily Mail article confirmed that what lay beyond those walls was even more outrageous than we had ever imagined. In addition to the medieval throne toilet, which flushed to the tune of Handel's Water Music ~
"There was a minstrels' gallery, an oak-lined sauna, a black glass bathroom with dolphin-shaped taps, a full-size cinema and even a stuffed stork on the roof. And always there was a punchbowl filled with drink as well as far more sinister substances which would send you into orbit after half a sip.
The Sixties was party time in London, and Lionel Bart was the most generous host you could imagine, when he entertained at home in the fabulous Chelsea folly he had built with the proceeds of his hugely successful musical Oliver!"
Unfortunately, we never met the elusive Lionel Bart in his trademark tight green silk trousers and outrageous fur coats, nor did we see the inside of his so-called "Fun Palace." We were just a bunch of street kids on bikes and much as we kept watch over the house, we missed seeing any of his famous guests, John Lennon and Judy Garland included.
Apart from the loo, the real reason we were interested in Bart's house was because Davy Jones had played the role of the Artful Dodger in "Oliver!" and we were ever hopeful that he might actually show up on our street one day to visit Mr Bart.
Sadly, if that happened, we missed it.
And so for my 11th birthday, in addition to the gift my first camera, my mother took me and five of my school friends to see a performance of "Oliver!" in the West End.
Davy Jones had since left the production to join the Monkees, but there we were, giddy eleven-year-olds all dressed up to see the musical he'd starred in, in one of the first pictures taken with my brand new, first-ever camera.
I hadn't quite got the hang of holding it steady and remember accusing everyone of jumping at the same time, causing the image to be blurry.
"The house jumped, too?" my mother asked.
© Kristin Fellows 2012