Must See Films: The Final Programme

1970s, Austin Garritt, british boutique movement, chelsea cobbler, jean varon, Jenny Runacre, john bates, Jon Finch, Julie Ege, marit allen, ossie clark, Robert Fuest, Sandy Lieberson, The Final Programme, Tommy Nutter, Vogue

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The Final Programme (1973) is a film I must admit I have been desperate to see for many years. Ever since I read that Ossie Clark and John Bates designed clothes for the leading man and lady respectively, but also because of the connection to The Avengers – courtesy of writer, designer and director, Robert Fuest. I am less familiar with the work of Michael Moorcock, so I hope that his fervent fans will forgive me for any ignorance and allow me to mainly rave about the aesthetics of the film.

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It is a fascinating attempt to look at a future, distant or not – we are never entirely sure, without trying to be futuristic. In design terms, this is approached with an eye towards the Art Deco; which, possibly without realising, actually firmly establishes it as quite thoroughly Seventies in style. The designers chosen, Clark and Bates, are also notorious for their period tendencies, and the set designs are reminiscent of plenty of Vogue interiors features I have seen from the time. But, much like A Clockwork Orange, with a bit of distance (and when, like me, you think something looking ‘a bit Seventies’ can never possibly be a bad thing), this subtle Seventies-does-Thirties version of the future actually works perfectly. While the technology is a tad clunky, it is so highly stylised that you can actually believe that we might return to it someday.

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Dressed in Ossie Clark-designed Tommy Nutter-made suits, Finch swaggers around like an elegant hybrid of Ossie himself, Marc Bolan and Jim Morrison. Bouncy curls, sultry lips and just the right amount of chest hair on show. Laconic, cool, and admirably fond of biscuits, he is a perfect off-beat hero. It’s no wonder Jon Finch was considered for the part of James Bond, but it’s also no wonder that he turned it down. Jerry Cornelius is a far more interesting character to play; the humour is quirky and the fight scenes are playful – his movements more catlike. Bond is a thuggish oaf in comparison.

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Jon Finch in The Final Programme

Cornelius is the ultimate Man in Black, slim and sleek. From the beginning, aside from an all-too-brief moment in a kaftan, he really only wears a sharply tailored black suit with a gently ruffled white silk shirt underneath. We first see him with a large fur coat over the top, which again is rather more reminiscent of a rock star than of a ‘hero’ – futuristic or otherwise, and a pair of simple aviator sunglasses. If there are subtle variations in his black suit, they are not made to be noticeable. But it also doesn’t feel like a rigid costume, just a signature choice. In a way, Clark has the harder task in designing a single ‘look’ which must run through and work within the design feel of the entire film: from the wilds of Finland, through his family’s perfectly minimalist Art Deco house and then to rural Turkey.

It is interesting to note that Ossie stated, in an interview from April 1969, that he was originally asked to do costumes for 2001: A Space Odyssey. The collaboration came to nothing, however, thanks to ‘disagreements’ between Clark and (presumably) Kubrick.

“I gave it up partly because the film company didn’t like my ideas, and didn’t think I knew what I was talking about.”

Ossie Clark, 19 Magazine April 1969

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Of course Hardy Amies ultimately became the designer for 2001: A Space Odyssey, and it reinvigorated his career during a time when the likes of Ossie and John Bates were far more in demand. I see this as interesting, because this ‘futuristic’ film doesn’t attempt space age futurism in the way 2001: A Space Odyssey did. It does make you wonder if Ossie had decided that his brand of period-influenced design and quirky tailoring was the only way he wanted to design 2001: A Space Odyssey, and that – coincidentally – it was very much in keeping with the overall design by Fuest for The Final Programme.

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Julie Ege in The Final Programme

Jenny Runacre (below) is the lucky lady with the impossibly elegant (and predominantly white) couture John Bates wardrobe. Her ‘look’ is strikingly unusual for the time, and a perfect contrast to the brief appearance by Julie Ege (above), who is the perfect early Seventies dolly we see in a Mr Freedom, Pop Art-inspired sequence, and later to Sandra Dickinson’s kitschy, bottle blonde waitress. Runacre looks like a kind of hard bitch version of a Botticelli muse; big eyes and softly curled hair flat around her face, but with a gorgeously sneering voice and a cool air of superiority.

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Jenny Runacre in The Final Programme

John Bates gets to have a lot more fun with his anti-heroine, who has considerably more costume changes than Finch, with a largely white palette and subtle variations on his billowing batwing shapes of the time. With boots by Richard Smith for The Chelsea Cobbler, and furs by Austin Garritt (with whom Bates often seems to have collaborated on leather, suede and fur designs at the time), her look is flawless from head to toe. The use of white feels like a conscious aspiration on her part, heavily connected to her vision for the future of humanity. But it also contrasts in a very basic way with the head-to-toe black of Cornelius; like a reverse of the black and white, evil and good, yin and yang cliché.

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Jenny Runacre and Jon Finch in The Final Programme

It is interesting to contrast Bates’s designs for Miss Brunner with his more famous costume design stint for another strong female character: Emma Peel in The Avengers. Where Emma Peel’s clothes were feline, often cut sparingly and close to the body, Miss Brunner’s are billowing, voluminous and with more feminine detailing in trims and embroidery. Leather is replaced by suede, long-haired sheepskins replace rabbit fur in bold op-art patterns. Prevailing trends of the early Seventies, and a clear design direction by the two designers, mean that the roles are somewhat reversed; where the male protagonist is wearing skin-tight tailoring and revealing flashes of skin, the female is largely concealed until the denouement.

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Jenny Runacre in The Final Programme

While there is no specific designer credited with the costumes of the more minor characters, the overall costume consultant – I was delighted to note – was one Marit Lieberson. Better known as Marit Allen (formerly of British Vogue and one of the most influential fashion journalists of the 1960s) Allen championed both John Bates and Ossie Clark early in their careers – wearing a design by the former for her wedding to Sandy Lieberson (also producer of this film) in 1966 – so the decision to use them so prominently in the film makes the most perfect sense.

It somehow feels like the combination of Fuest as production designer, Marit as costume consultant and two of the best British designers of the time, was a combination that couldn’t possibly lose. And yet, it did.

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Despite the fact that The Final Programme has become something of a ‘lost’ film of the otherwise booming British film industry at the time, the overwhelmingly harmonious styling has secured it, for me, as one of the finest films of that period. I don’t see why A Clockwork Orange or Logan’s Run (both films of a very similar aesthetic and calibre) should both be so well-known, while this languishes in obscurity.

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Jon Finch and Sandra Dickinson

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The Beautiful People

david bailey, grace coddington, marit allen, michael chow, penelope tree, Vogue

Occasionally I go and gorge myself stupid over at the magnificent Youthquakers site. They make no pretence of scanning perfection, which means they can bombard you with a tonne of amazing Vogue scans at any one time. I feel exhausted just looking at it. It also means that a complete Brit-fashion geek like me (with more magazines than I can cope with) can take a look at copies of US Vogue, which I can rarely justify getting hold of myself.

I spotted this brilliant piece in a February 1970 US Vogue. Mrs Chow was, of course, Grace Coddington and Mrs ‘Liberson’ was, in fact, Marit Allen. Fashion journalism legend and boutique collector extraordinaire. She was the wife of Sandy Lieberson (tsk! tsk!, US Vogue fact checkers…), who was a film producer and to whom I am extremely grateful for bringing That’ll Be The Day, Stardust and Rita, Sue and Bob Too! into my life.

Also, Penelope Tree. Yay!

Made in England

book reviews, Foale and Tuffin, iain r. webb, james wedge, jean shrimpton, jenny boyd, john bates, marit allen, sixties

I was lucky enough to be able to attend ‘In conversation with Iain R. Webb’ at the Fashion and Textile Museum last week, in my inadvertent and faintly ridiculous new capacity as fashion book groupie. Iain is the kind of person who completely awes me into silence with his knowledge and experience, so it was nice to be able to just take a seat and listen to him for an hour or so – without feeling like a chump for being awed into silence.

If you don’t already have a copy of Foale and Tuffin, then why on earth not? Put it on your Christmas list! Buy yourself one as a treat! Hunt me down and steal my copy! I’ll whack you over the head with my copy of Arthur Marwick’s The Sixties (a nice, hefty tome which would be perfect for book-stealing blog-readers) but I’ll forgive you eventually.

When I first heard they were actually planning to do a book on those fabulous ladies, AND an exhibition, I nearly squealed in delight. I may actually have done so, but I was in a room with John Bates so there’s not a lot I can remember from that night (if you want to put me on mute, lock me in a room with John Bates and Iain R. Webb and you won’t hear a squeak out of me).

My dream Foale and Tuffin outfit. Photographed by the incredible James Wedge.

The book doesn’t disappoint. As I have heard many people saying, not least those behind the project, the most appealing thing about it is that it isn’t a simple biography of two people. It’s like a window into their friendship coupled with a luxury chocolate box selection of Important People who, cumulatively, give a valuable insight into a most intriguing and endlessly inspiring period in history.

You often come away from fashion books with a strong sense of one person’s life. One person’s view of a cultural revolution. Often you can barely find mention of other designers within its pages; throwaway references to models, movers and shakers and maybe the odd two line quote. But here, in Foale and Tuffin, you have small essays created from interviews with the likes of Jean Shrimpton, Jenny Boyd, James Wedge, Marit Allen, Molly Parkin….oh I can’t even prioritize them, they’re all so important. It’s like a proper documentary in book form. In fact, I’d be a very happy bunny if they had been able to produce this as a ‘Beyond Biba’ style film.

In between the photos and essays, there are excerpts from Webb’s interviews with the gals. Much like the Ossie Clark and John Bates books before it, you’ll probably flick through it a few times just to ogle the amazing photos and barely take in any of the detail. But eventually you’ll find a window of time, when you can snuggle down and ‘listen’ to Marion and Sally nattering away. I’ve had the good fortune to have witnessed this a couple of times in person (although only tiny vignettes of F&T-ness, really) and have heard even more by proxy, so I’m delighted that an almighty natter with the girls has been recorded for posterity.

Why can’t more books be like this?

My two favourite candid photos of Sally and Marion from the book. I can definitely relate to Marion’s ‘Sewing Machine face’.

Holiday? Perhaps…. & The Marit Allen Sale

fulham road clothes shop, john bates, marit allen, sixties, zandra rhodes

I have just been musing over on Twitter (yes, I succumbed…) about how, in this job, one never really feels able to have a proper break. Even when torn from the bosom of the broadband connection and thrown into the beautiful countryside, there’s always that niggling niggle at the back of your head. Have five people bought the same thing? Does someone (heaven forbid!) not like their frock? Will everyone forget about me in the space of a week?

I’ve been quiet the last week or so, but not because I’ve been on holiday. No, I’ve been doing costume work interspersed with my usual vintage-ing. So no blogging, alas. It’s the first thing to suffer, but I promise you not for much longer.

I am, however, on holiday as of this evening. Nothing particularly exotic, unless the Norfolk Broads are considered exotic by anyone (I can’t imagine it, somehow), but a break nonetheless.

So I’ve tried to tie up all loose ends before leaving, but I thought I ought to come here and apologise in advance about any unanswered emails….and obviously I will be unable to perform post office duties until Monday the 14th. Coincidentally, this is the day before the Marit Allen collection is sold by Kerry Taylor in London.

I had the pleasure of meeting Marit once, and I do find it a shame that her incredible collection is being split up. However, it’s also an amazing opportunity for people to acquire some pretty damn incredible examples of John Bates’s work from the mid-Sixties.

And on top of that, there’s a Teddy Bear print Zandra/Sylvia blouse. Rare as you could hope for. Go, buy!!

Marit Allen RIP

1960s, Foale and Tuffin, john bates, marit allen, mary quant, ossie clark, Vogue

I can’t find any information online about it, but a friend has told me that the wonderful Marit Allen has passed away. The name might be meaningless to most of you, but she was instrumental in the careers of people like John Bates and Ossie Clark.

She worked as the ‘Young Ideas’ editor at Vogue in the mid-Sixties and her youthful approach to the clothes, styling and photographs ensured that the designs popular out on the street became widely appreciated through exposure in Vogue. She championed the young Bates, thus enabling him to continue creating the designs he had been struggling to get noticed with. Young Ideas also featured Ossie Clark’s work in the same summer that he graduated from the RCA and started working for Quorum, so Marit was certainly a visionary and true talent-spotter!

She accumulated a vast archive of pieces from the British Boutique Movement, including her wedding suit which was a Bates design, and this collection filled many gaps in the V&A’s Sixties Exhibition last year. I was ridiculously proud that my handful of pieces were being exhibited alongside hers.

She later developed a career in costume design, being designer for films like Brokeback Mountain and Thunderbirds (amongst many others).

I also had the very, VERY great pleasure of meeting her in January at a study day linked with the Sixties exhibition at the V&A. In retrospect, she was possibly the person I was the most excited about hearing speak and then meeting. And bearing in mind that Barbara Hulanicki and Foale & Tuffin were also in attendance, well that’s saying something about my respect for Marit.

It was so lovely to hear her talk about her experiences and views on the era, with photographs and thoughts on the designers. I had begun to think that the day would pass by with no mention of John Bates’ contribution to British fashion but, as in the Boutique book by Marnie Fogg, Marit sought to emphasize his talent and defend his forgotten claim to have been the first designer to really ‘do’ the mini skirt. And with Mary Quant herself in attendance, it was a brave move. The talk was only too brief, most frustrating that it was curtailed to keep the timing of the day and give Mary Quant more time to witter on about her make-up range and how she ‘invented’ the duvet cover (I kid ye not). I wanted to listen to Marit forever, and to see all her photos and hear all her experiences.

Thankfully I summoned up the courage to speak with her afterwards. I somehow found myself turning around to face her, and realised this was my big chance. We chatted a little about Bates, I told her about my collection and how grateful I was that she had mentioned him (we agreed he was a very underrated talent) and about how unlikely it was that such a boom time in British fashion would ever happen again. Mainly due to the cost of clothing production and shop rental in London.

Now, even more than before, I’m so glad I had those brief few moments speaking with her. I am so in awe of her talent and vision and, in a week where we’ve also lost the wondrous TV producer Verity Lambert, the world is a much gloomier place without these pioneering women.

Above and Right: Two photos from Marit’s Young Ideas section of Vogue. John Bates designs from 1965 above and Twiggy in Foale and Tuffin from 1967 on the right.