Ridgers reminisces. Photo & text: Derek Ridgers (3/5)

Ann-Sophie and Jenni, The Torture Garden, London, 2010. © Derek Ridgers.

Derek Ridgers writes:

I’ve been taking photographs in London fetish clubs since 1981.  And the occasional fetishist in other clubs since about 1978.

To the best of my knowledge, the popularity of fetishism really started in the UK in 1976 with the emergence of punk rock and the appropriation of elements of bondage and fetish wear by many of the punk era designers.  Prior to this time, people who wanted to dress in rubber and PVC had to do it behind closed doors, ordering their outfits by mail-order in brown paper parcels.

To begin with it was just a handful of people in a small dingy Soho club called Skin Two, which resided in what was, the rest of the week, a gay club called Stallions.  Skin Two was started by an actor called David Claridge.  He went on to become famous as the hand up the furry arse of TV star ‘Roland Rat’ and after his nocturnal predilections were exposed by the gutter press, he disappeared from the scene.  The atmosphere in the Skin Two club was oppressive and sometimes menacing.  Outsiders, especially ones with cameras, were certainly not made to feel welcome.  But, pretty soon, big name photographers like Bob Carlos Clarke and several others brought fetish style images into view more and things got a lot more relaxed.

By the mid-’80s PVC and rubberwear was all over fashion magazines and pop videos.  By the late ’80s/early ’90s some of the bigger fetish clubs like Submission and Torture Garden could easily attract 3000 people a night and people came from all over the world to get there.  And then some of them went back home and started their own fetish clubs.  Nowadays, Torture Garden has become very mainstream and it’s not completely unlike any other large club in any other major western city, except sometimes people are dressed very oddly.

In the early days, I got threatened with physical violence in Skin Two several times.  One guy seized me by the neck and we nearly came to blows.  A couple of women grabbed me one night and tried to drag me over to where one of the dominatrixes was waiting, whip in hand.  I had to manhandle them off me and make my getaway.  But I was clearly an outsider back then and I would never have even gotten into the early fetish clubs if I hadn’t become friendly with some of the people running them.  I know for a fact that most of the old-time fetishists resented my presence.  But it was obviously people like me that helped to publicise and promote the scene, so the people who ran the clubs have always been very welcoming.  These days you can’t move for photographers in these kind of clubs.

I’m not really sure what it was about the fetish scene that appealed to me.  I’m not a fetishist myself and don’t even really like wearing the leather trousers I’m obliged to wear in these clubs.  To begin with I had a real compulsion to photograph the way people were dressing and the amount of humour and invention some people put into creating their own, largely home-made, outfits was certainly worth somebody recording.  These days, most people in fetish clubs are wearing shop bought, off-the-peg outfits but there are still many remarkable individualists.

Nevertheless, some people say that there’s something badly wrong with any man over 30 who still wears leather trousers, whatever the excuse. In my case, they’re probably right. Exactly what that something “wrong” might be, I’ll leave you to draw you own conclusions.

Anyone who wants to know more about the fetish scene could do a lot worse than go here – http://www.thefetishistas.com/

© Derek Ridgers. From The Ponytail Pontifications.

Ridgers reminisces. Photo & text Derek Ridgers (2/5)

Enoch Powell, Eaton Square, 1984. Photo © Derek Ridgers.

Irrespective of his ridiculous views on race relations, Enoch Powell was certainly one of my strangest ever subjects.

I was commissioned to photograph him by the NME and, together with the writer Mat Snow, we turned up at his very grand flat in Eaton Square to meet a guy who seemed determined, for some reason, to try to make us laugh. For someone who achieved a starred double-first from Cambridge University, and who was often referred to as the greatest political mind of his generation, he struck me as a bit of a twit. To start with, he began by deriding my accent and the way I talk. He enquired as to whether I might be an Australian?  I’m a Londoner, born and bred and though my accent isn’t of the typical gor-blimey cockney variety, it’s never (outside of the US) ever confused anyone before.  Then he asked me about the origins of my name and started to try to find something funny about that.  Next he spoke to a woman who had been detailed to bring us some tea and called her “dear” and invited us to speculate on what his precise relationship with her was (it was his wife).  All the while he was grinning at us like Sid James in a Carry On film.

His desire to trivialise the situation must, I guess, have been some sort of bizarre tactic to make us forget to ask him anything remotely serious.  It was a little patronising of him and it didn’t work.  Mat Snow was far too canny an interviewer for that and he managed to ask him all the questions I’m sure he would rather have not been asked. Mat Snow writes “being interviewed as he was by New Musical Express, rather than await my questions he launched straight into an interminable monologue about Nietzsche and his philosophy of music, and seemed rather put out when I tried to get the interview back on track by asking him if perhaps his infamous ‘rivers of blood’ UK race war prediction of 1968 was perhaps a tad wide of the mark as things had panned out by then.”

Enoch Powell was a proud man but, in my judgement, by this stage of his political career, a little sad.

© Derek Ridgers. From The Ponytail Pontifications.

Ridgers reminisces. Photo & text: Derek Ridgers (1/5)

Chrissie Hynde, Soho, 1990. © Derek Ridgers.

Derek Ridgers writes:

In the late ’70s I was working in an ad agency that was slap bang in the middle of Soho and through the first floor windows of said agency, we had a front seat view of the rich pageant of Soho life only a few feet below. The agency was only about 50 yards away from the passage next to Raymond’s Review Bar and we were able to observe the prostitutes, armed policemen, con men, clip girls, drunks, junkies, glue sniffers and all manner of street people. These types were very thick on the ground in the Soho of the ’70s.

One got very used to seeing some of them. There was one guy I used to see a lot. A dyed-black haired, lanky twerp, normally dressed from head to toe in leather, who obviously thought of himself as some sort of covert rock star. He also wore eye-liner. He always looked totally messed up, emaciated and completely out of it. It was not always an appealing sight. I remember being particularly appalled by seeing the lanky twerp walking through Soho market with his scrotum hanging out of a hole in his trousers. He seemed totally oblivious to this.

Working right in the middle of Soho did have it’s advantages though. My office was a 45 second jog away from the best second hand record shop in the country – Cheapo Cheapo – and every Wednesday morning, at about 11.00 o’clock, the new review copies would arrive and be put straight out into the racks. I was, by this time a voracious reader of both Sounds and NME and my heroes were Charles Shaar Murray, Nick Kent and Danny Baker.  I pretty much bought everything they gave a decent review too. So, every Wednesday at exactly 10.55, I’d make an excuse at work and run down to Cheapo Cheapo to buy, at about half the RRP, some of the records that had been favourably reviewed in the previous weeks rock papers.  I didn’t realise it at the time but there was every likelihood these were exactly the same copies that had been so reviewed. I’d often see the lanky twerp hanging about Cheapo Cheapo at about the same time as me and I assumed he’d worked out what time the review copies arrived too. I always tried to make sure I got to the best records before he did and, for some strange reason, I always seemed to.

I’d been doing this for a few years during the late ‘70s.  Until eventually I got the sack from the agency, became a photographer and I met the NME writer Cynthia Rose.  Through her, I got a crack at working for NME myself. One day when we were both hanging about Virgin Records, in Oxford Street, she introduced me to my hero, the writer Nick Kent.  And I recognised him as the lanky twerp. The very same lanky twerp that I’d seen rather too much of once before.

(And so it dawned on me that he hadn’t been hanging about Cheapo Cheapo waiting to buy the records but rather selling them the ones I’d subsequently been buying).

The above story is just an excuse to recommend Nick Kent’s fantastic book Apathy For the Devil which is a ’70s memoir of his time as a rock writer and it has some absolutely fantastic stuff about the Rolling Stones, Iggy Pop and the Sex Pistols.  It’s just about my favourite rock book since his last one The Dark Stuff. I don’t have a photograph of Nick Kent.  But his book has quite a lot about the time when he lived with Chrissie Hynde and so I’ve used a photograph of her. Coincidentally it was taken almost right outside Cheapo Cheapo.

And if you should ever read this Nick, I apologise for once calling you a twerp.

© Derek Ridgers. From The Ponytail Pontifications.

V2 Woolworths disaster, New Cross, 25 November 1944.

Air raid shelter sign, Jerningham Road, New Cross, SE14. Photo © David Secombe 2010.

Today marks the 67th anniversary of the worst single bombing incident of the 2nd World War – when a V2 rocket scored a direct hit on a Woolworths store in New Cross. The V2 hit Woolworths when it was crowded with Saturday morning shoppers:  the official death toll was 168, but it was often said that the real figure was much higher – although it seems unlikely that a significantly higher casualty number could have been withheld until now.

The V2 was unlike the earlier ‘Vengeance Weapon’, the V1 (A.K.A. ‘doodlebug’, a cruise missile) in that it was impossible to detect – let alone intercept – before it exploded. The first impact in Chiswick in September 1944 was first thought to have been caused by a gas explosion. Their sudden deployment was a source of grave concern to Churchill, and prompted the construction of deep-level air raid shelters in Bloomsbury, Clapham and Stockwell. South and east London received a disproportionately high number of V-strikes, largely because of a British intelligence coup: the double agent Eddie Chapman managed to convince his Nazi ‘handlers’ that V1s were overshooting the centre of London (they weren’t),  hence the rocket launchers recalibrated and bombs began falling on Brockley, Woolwich, Deptford, Catford, Barking, Ilford, etc., and across Kent and Surrey.

The literal impact of these weapons may still be seen in London, where pockets of undeveloped bombsites remain – like the dead spot on Tottenham Court Road opposite Heals, final destination of a V2. South London is peppered with anomalous green spaces or abrupt changes in architectural style on a residential street, characteristic traces of Vengeance weapons. Perhaps the most bizarre legacy of the V2 campaign was the subsequent career of the project’s architect, Werner von Braun. The majestic Saturn V rocket which took Neil Armstrong towards the Moon was von Braun’s creation, the end result of his wartime experiments in rocketry and ballistics. As for Woolworths, they’ve put up a plaque. There is an Iceland store there now.

(The Londonist has a fascinating map of V2 bombsites on London; and further information may be found on the site flyingbombsandrockets.com.)

David Secombe.

Croydon. Photo & text: David Secombe.

Photo © David Secombe 2011.

David Secombe writes:

This photograph was taken on that faceless stretch of The Brighton Road which runs between Purley and the mean streets of downtown Croydon. Technically, I think we are in South Croydon – or perhaps Sanderstead. Purley Oaks maybe?  The Empowerment Centre is still listed on Internet databases as ‘a function room and banqueting centre’, but business seemed a bit slow the day I took this picture. ‘Empowerment’ is one of those words that has become tarnished through endlessly repeated misuse, and prompts thoughts of other terms that have become similarly degraded: ‘passionate’ (mandatory for politicians and CEOs); ‘celebrate’ – and its evil cousin, ‘celebrity’; ‘inclusive’; ‘accessible’, ‘iconic’, etc. These words have suffered a migration of meaning that might be said to constitute a failure of language, or perhaps its defeat.

But The Empowerment Centre’s fate seems appropriate to its location. Central Croydon is a pitiful 1960s attempt to construct an international city on the corpse of a Surrey market town. It is particularly anomalous to discover such futuristic pretensions to civic grandeur in that peculiar interzone between the South Circular (A205) and the M25: an aggregate of  20th Century suburban housing, golf clubs, retail parks, and marooned remnants of historic or industrial ‘heritage’ (there’s another one). This ‘edgeland’ has something in common with J.G. Ballard’s beloved west London suburbs, but none of their seedy glamour: the ancient village of Heathrow made way for London’s main air terminal, and the decommissioned rump of Croydon Airport –  its Art Deco terminal hall and a shabby, decorative turbo-prop airliner – is a sad and perfunctory reminder of the district’s lost prestige. The airfield – its runways too short for post-war, inter-continental passenger jets –  has long been built over, affording a misty, sylvan setting for an array of retail units.

John Betjeman’s poem Croydon evokes memories of a sweeter time, one of his idylls of lost suburban innocence …

Croydon by John Betjeman

In a house like that
Your Uncle Dick was born;
Satchel on back he walked to Whitgift
Every weekday morn.

Boys together in Coulsdon woodlands,
Bramble-berried and steep,
He and his pals would look for spadgers
Hidden deep.

The laurels are speckled in Marchmont Avenue
Just as they were before,
But the steps are dusty that still lead up to
Your Uncle Dick’s front door.

Pear and apple in Croydon gardens
Bud and blossom and fall,
But your Uncle Dick has left his Croydon
Once for all.

Royal Hospital, Chelsea. Photo & text: John Londei.

© John Londei 1998.

John Londei writes:

This photograph features Chelsea Pensioners – or ‘Gentlemen’ to give them their correct title – and was taken in the Chapel of the Royal Hospital Chelsea in 1998 to mark the 80th anniversary of the Armistice that, on the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month”, brought the First World War to an end.

Charles II founded the Royal Hospital in 1681. Sir Christopher Wren was commissioned to design and erect the building. The painting of the Resurrection on the domed ceiling of the Chapel, by the Italian artist Sebastiano Ricci, dates from 1714 and it’s believed to be a donation from Queen Anne. Back then compulsory services were held twice daily in the Chapel.

Seventeen of the Gentlemen in the shot were jokingly called ‘The Spice Boys’ because they always volunteered for such events. Nine days earlier they’d taken part in the Lord Mayor of London’s annual parade appearing on a float depicting The Royal Hospital’s history. But for me the real ‘star’ of this photo was Albert Alexandre, the last veteran of the First World War still resident at the Royal Hospital [the centre row of floor squares point directly to him sitting in the 1st row].

Albert was born in Jersey. Both his parents died when he was six, and he went to live in an orphanage. In 1917 Albert, who looked older than his years, lied about his age (he was 15) and enlisted in the Guernsey Light Infantry. He saw action at Passchendaele, outstanding among the battles of the war not only for its cost in life and limb (almost half a million allied casualties), but also for the weather. In the heaviest rain for 30 years, men, horses and pack mules drowned in the deep shell holes caused by constant bombardment. He witnessed men being blown to pieces all around him, and took part in hand-to-hand fighting. A phrase from one of Siegfried Sassoon’s poems sums it up: ”I died in hell – They called it Passchendaele”.

Albert was discharged in 1919, but re-enlisted into the Royal Garrison Artillery serving in India during World War Two. When Alfred’s wife died in 1992 he moved to the Royal Hospital where he remained until his death in January 2002 aged 100.

A large framed print of this sitting now hangs in the Gentlemen’s Ward at the Royal Hospital. With the passing of time that print, like those old soldiers therein, will just fade away…

© John Londei 2011.

St. Pancras. Photo: Tim Marshall, text John Betjeman.

© Tim Marshall 2011.

From London’s Historic Railway Stations, John Betjeman, 1972:

“For the last ninety years almost, Sir Gilbert Scott has had a bad Press. He is condemned as facile, smart, aggressive, complacent and commercial.When at the top of his form Scott was as good as the best of his Gothic contemporaries. He was so firm a believer in the Gothic style as the only true ‘Christian’ style – Scott was a moderate High Churchman – that he was determined to adapt it for domestic and commercial purposes. St. Pancras Station hotel was his greatest chance in London and well he rose to the occasion.

I used to think that Scott was a rather dull architect, but the more I have looked at his work the more I have seen his merits. He had a thorough knowledge of construction, particularly in stone and brick. For St. Pancras the bricks were specially made by Edward Gripper in Nottingham. The decorative iron work for lamp standards and staircases and grilles was by Skidmore of Coventry, who designed the iron screens in some English cathedrals for Scott. The roofs of the hotel are of graded Leicestershire slates; the stone comes mostly from Ketton. Scott’s buildings are so well-built they are difficult to pull down. He had a grand sense of plan and site. The Grand Staircase, which alone survives of the hotel’s chief interior features, ascends the whole height of the building, by an unbelievably rich cast iron series of treads with stone vaulting and painted walls. The chief suites of rooms are on the first floor and the higher the building, the less important the rooms, until the quarters for the servants are reached in the gabled attics – men on one side, women on the other – and separate staircases. Yet even these are large and wide and compare favourably with more modern accommodation. The building has been chopped up and partitioned inside for offices. It is odd that it is not used again as an hotel especially now that hotels are so badly needed in London.”

Edward Mirzoeff writes:

Not long after this book was published I approached British Railways proposing a BBC documentary on London stations, with Betjeman. BR insisted on charging a facility fee at the same daily rate as that for feature films – which killed the idea, doubtless as intended.