One of my fantasies is to be an art student in London in the late 1950s/early 1960s. It’s something to do with the idealism, the sense of new opportunities and freedom and the smell of paint. I want to hang out with the kids described in George Melly’s Revolt into Style:
‘In the 50s and early 60s the art schools were the refuge of the bright but unacademic, the talented, the non-conformist, the lazy, the inventive and the indecisive: all these who didn’t know what they wanted but knew it wasn’t a nine-till-five job. They provided an atmosphere committed for the most part to no immediate practical end. They were the incubators of total Pop’
I recently saw a programme made by Kenneth Clark in 1962 called Pop Goes the Easel about the then emerging British Pop scene. It centres around four artists Derek Boshier, Peter Phillips, Pauline Boty and, the most famous, Peter Blake and follows them in their preferred habits: the fairground, the bedsit, watching wrestling and the art school bop: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IiGBHdonTSk
Despite some memorable sequences, including Peter Blake in bed dreaming about Bridget Bardot, it’s Pauline Boty who leaps off the screen. She looks like a sixties screen icon in the mould of Julie Christie, perfectly dressed in a blond thick bob, long sleeved A-line dress and a long orb pendant. Clearly much more than a pretty face she goes on to discuss her work, collages of Victorian pin-ups, fantasy scenes, 1930s musicals. Clark, clearly also enamoured, shows her in several scenes including her backcombing her hair and also miming along to The Good Ship Lollipop.
Her charisma was legendary. She is described by Christopher Logue in his autobiography:
‘She was astonishing. A big, bright girl with a confiding laugh. Snug headband holding a torque of silver-blonde hair. Hoop earrings, jangling when she turned her head, shoes she decorated on the run – searching her handbad, out with the gold spray, whsp-whssp-whssp, then on to the dance floor.’
Although she has now almost vanished from the history books, she was entrenched in early 60s counter culture. A former flatmate of Celia Birtwell she was also friends with David Hockney and Adrian Mitchell amongst many other names of the period. As well as exhibiting her own feminist influenced work, one piece of which is in the Tate collection, she danced on Ready Steady Go! and acted – including a bit part in Alfie – and presented a radio show, The Public Ear (quoted above and below). She was photographed by David Bailey for Goodbye Baby and Amen as well as by Michael Seymour and Lewis Morley in images that can be seen on the National Portrait Gallery website.
Beautiful, intelligent and loved, Pauline Boty is the perfect example of a Last-Year Girl and an inspiration as to the possibility of a life lived fully and exuberantly.
Here's some style advice directly from her, broadcast in February 1964:
‘When you buy your clothes, what’s the idea of you you have in mind? Who, if anyone, do you base yourself on? Why is it good to be so unobtrusive? Clothes should be assets to show off and enhance you, to enjoy and be enjoyed...Some women just don’t want to be a female nonentity, and it’s the young girls who are showing the way. They’re not going to be squashed, and certainly don’t intend to be wallflowers. A revolution is on the way and it’s partly because we no longer take our standards from the Tweedy Top. All over the country young girls are sprouting, shouting and shaking, and if they terrify you, they mean to. And they’re beginning to impress the world.’
An immaculately researched biography of Pauline Boty can be read here: http://www.writing-room.com/NYSH.pdf