The Killing Of Sister George | 1968
Robert Aldrich made his name with tough action movies (Apache, Kiss Me Deadly, The Dirty Dozen), but in 1962 directed camp classic What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, spawning the overwrought, Grand Dame Guignol genre which provided late-blossoming career opportunities for Hollywood's ex-leading ladies.
Bold in its day, this broad adaptation of Frank Marcus’ black comedy, about a TV soap star on the verge of losing both her job and her young female lover, Childie (Susannah York), is saved by terrific performances, especially from Beryl Reid, who originated the role on stage.
And the film has the proud distinction of having been banned in Norwich.
Studio interiors were filmed in Hollywood, but there are plenty of 60s London locations. Most famous, of course, is the club to which June ‘Sister George’ Buckridge invites imperious BBC lady Mercy Croft (Coral Browne).
With its mix of genuine butch dykes and femme movie extras, this real club was the Gateways, the legendary but now long-gone lesbian club which stood in Bramerton Gardens, just off the Kings Road, Chelsea, SW10. The ‘Gates’ finally closed its doors for good in the mid 80s, but the unmarked, anonymous door, which for decades led into a haven for London’s lesbians, can still be seen.
The ‘The Marquis of Granby’, the pub supposedly near the BBC in which June drinks at the opening of the movie, is actually the wonderful old The Holly Bush, 22 Holly Mount, NW3, tucked away behind Heath Street in Hampstead (tube: Hampstead; Northern Line).
It’s still there, and virtually unchanged since filming in 1968. This warren of wood panels and bench seats was built in the 17th century as the stable of painter George Romney’s house, which still stands at the rear of the pub. When Romney retired to the Lake District, the building became local assembly rooms, the stable was upgraded to become a kitchen and, eventually, the pub it is today.
Past customers include the inevitable Dr Johnson and his biographer James Boswell, playwright Oliver Goldsmith and essayist Charles Lamb. Music hall entertainer Marie Lloyd drank here, as did ‘Two Ton’ Tessie O’Shea (the larger-than-life ukulele-strummer Dirk Bogarde uses to establish his alibi in 1950s British classic The Blue Lamp).
One of a dying breed of traditional pubs (no game machines, no widescreen TV), the Bush is my regular watering hole. What more recommendation could you ask for?
The pub is open again following long-threatened renovations. Thankfully there’s been no wholesale refurbishment (much of the wood and glass interior is listed), and the place retains its unique atmosphere. Let’s hope it’s left alone for another 50 years.
Over the opening credits, June stomps through the narrow stepped passages between Heath Street and Hampstead Grove. You can see the same narrow flight of steps in 1960s musical oddity, Les Bicyclettes De Belsize. Oddly, June suddenly pops out on the other side of London – onto Lower Mall, Hammersmith at Hammersmith Bridge in southwest London, W6.
The home June Buckridge shares with Childie is 10 Rutland Mews South, SW7, in Knightsbridge – where they would have been neighbours of that nice couple, Alan and Wendy McKim (John Gregson and Dinah Sheridan) in 50s classic Genevieve. The entrance to the Mews is pretty much unchanged, but number 10 and its neighbours have undergone some serious remodelling. This seems to be a popular spot – just visible in the film, opposite the mews entrance, Clock House on Rutland Mews West was home to bank chairman James Fox in Jonathan Glazer’s extraordinary Sexy Beast.
In fancy dress as Laurel and Hardy, George and Childie take the cab vacated by their neighbours at 19 Rutland Mews South – just across the way from their flat. This house is thankfully unchanged.
It’s outside the Guildhall, on Gresham Street at King Street, EC2, that June disgraces herself with a brace of nuns in the back of a black cab (“Out on a mission, are we? Ooh, I say, is that what you girls really wear?”).