Godspeed, Georgy Girl, good-time guru

Lynn Redgrave changed my life. I don’t care how bananas that sounds. It’s true. She was my unwitting guru, a patron saint for me and for all intrepid, glamour-obsessed optimists. She died May 2, leaving us, her adoring disciples, sad and unmoored. A certain bizarre phrase keeps looping through our brains. …

“I’m going to Carnaby Street to get a flat and a modeling job, and I’ll be back in half an hour.”

These words were spoken by Redgrave in the 1967 movie Smashing Time. The plot of this film revolves around the arrival in London of two common trouts named Yvonne (Redgrave) and Brenda (Rita Tushingham). Their goal? The same as everyone who shleps to the big city: fame, fortune and beaucoup de pooblicitay.

The advertising campaign that lured me to this movie at the age of 16 used the slogan “Two girls go stark mod!” I wasn’t disappointed. When the lights came up, I knew that I had found a raison d’être. I decided that I too would go in search of a trendy Carnaby street pad and, in the absence of any modeling offers, a switched-on, groovy, pace-setting occupation.

When my childhood best friend, Biddie (a.k.a. James Biddlecombe), and I simultaneously flew our respective coops, we hung out of the train window, in imitation of Brenda and Yvonne, singing the Smashing Time theme song: “Going down to London, going down to London, we’re going to have a SMASHING TIME!!!”

We rented a squalid bed-sit and set about the task of clawing our way to the middle: I dove into the mad-cap world of window-dressing, and Biddie vamped his way into the spangled West End drag/cabaret circuit. Like Brenda and Yvonne, Biddie and I were two naïve, glamour-starved funsters mesmerized by the fashion and fabulousness that shimmered on the horizon. Guided by visions of our two heroines, we learned that the best defense against any disappointment/rejection is humor.   Her portrayal of Yvonne is memorable and hilarious, but also poignant. The ability to inhabit a character so dripping with emotional ineptitude and imbue it with genuine vulnerability was her great gift. She did the same in Georgy Girl and was nominated for an Oscar. Despite the gravitas of the Redgrave dynasty, Vanessa’s younger sister understood that inside us all lurks an uncool Yvonne screaming for a bit of love and attention.  

When I gushed after meeting her in the mid 2000s, she surprised me by matching my deranged Smashing Time–ophilia with equal enthusiasm. She was only too happy to talk about this under-celebrated movie and was at pains to assure me that she and Brenda, as she still referred to Tushingham, had remained pals. She joked about her chemo wig and her burgeoning career as a playwright. Here was a woman who, despite baroque family dramas, eating disorders and cancer, still believed it was possible to zip off to Carnaby Street to get a flat and modeling job and be back in half an hour.

R.I.P. Yvonne. You will be missed.

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