Whitstable, that’s where we grew up. The High Street, a shingle beach, abandoned oyster beds, abandoned boat yards.
I always knew that I wanted to make something. I never knew quite what.
Writing, knitting, print-making, drawing, theatre, acting, fashion.
Good… but never good enough.
Wanting to be included but unwilling to participate. Confident to be part of what was going on but seldom sure.
Always there, never present.
Had I been allowed, as planned, to go to St Martin’s College of Art to study fashion I would have become a fashion designer.
I still have note books crammed with crude fashion drawings and swatches of hideous fabric made when I was 8 years old.
Each ‘season’ I would design a new collection and between ‘collections’ I would write and illustrate articles about the history of fashion.
An avid fashion commentator who had unwelcome, precocious, prepubescent opinions about everything.
My damning critique of Princess Anne’s ‘boring’ ivory duchess satin wedding dress in 1973 irritated my short tempered, royalist Grandmother. “Look at those ghastly sleeves…”
I was an industrious child. At boarding school I excelled.
When I wasn’t busily designing imaginary runway collections I worked hard remaking my life, a life I could control.
A life reimagined included: a 30 page illustrated story about a happy family of mice.
As a pretentious teenager at boarding school I spent months writing rambling plays about unrequited love with other boys.
I saw my first proper play on a high school outing to Stoke on Trent. Bertolt Brecht‘s, The Caucasian Chalk Circle with Bob Hoskins. 1975.
I was hooked.
Theatre! I must make theatre.
The lights, the tension, the smell of the theatre. The warmth and silence of the audience, laughter erupting around me, muffled crying from the red velvet stalls.
Oddly, I had absolutely no great passion for film or television. Of course, I had seen many films but it wasn’t a world that piqued my interest.
I had a fondness for black and white Hollywood films from the 1940’s (particularly musicals) that I would either watch on the television on my own or walk up Whitstable High Street to the cavernous Oxford Cinema.
I was inspired. Stealing an idea for my ‘new collection’, a sleeve or muff.
I watched the credits roll: costume designer Edith Head…Funny Face. Adrian, who designed the costumes for The Wizard of Oz.
I’m 12, I discover Marilyn Monroe without ever knowing she is a gay icon. The following year I insist that my parents buy me Norman Mailer’s illustrated biography for Christmas.
Theatre and fashion people referenced film but nobody I knew would ever have thought about making one.
The years after I left Shotton Hall School in 1976, before I went to prison in 1983 were culturally the richest of my life.
I scraped into Medway College of Art and Design with one ‘O’ level and met and befriended the extraordinary Billy Childish. I learned how to etch and screen print and draw.
Punk was determining fashion, graphics and music but scarcely impacted the institutionalised, established, sewn up world of British contemporary art.
Britain would have to wait until 1989 until Michael Clark, Tilda Swinton and Leigh Bowery performed in the Anthony d’Offay Gallery.
Whilst at Medway, I saw a very ordinary man wearing a badly cut suit commuting from London holding a copy of The Sex Pistol‘s single God Save The Queen and nearly fainted in fear.
I was wearing a pair of my mothers bottle green woolen tights. I wonder what he must have thought about me? He alighted at Rainham.
Devastatingly I was not allowed to study fashion at St Martin’s College as my garrulous stepfather refused to let me.
I had to get a job.
The job I was offered, selling clothes at Yves Saint Laurent on Bond Street, London became the beginning of what would turn out to be a great, although misguided, adventure. An adventure that would shape the rest of my life.
I met Lady Clare Rendlesham and within a few months I was in Paris pretending to be her son.
Clare Rendlesham and others
Apart from changing my identity in Paris I threw myself into the very accommodating worlds of fashion, performance art and theatre.
The land of sublime artifice.
During the pret a porter I would run with my friends through the streets of Paris from show to show. Although my time in Paris seems less, in retrospect, about theatre and more about fashion and art, I was introduced to Robert Wilson and members of his company, traveled to Holland to see Lucinda Childs in Dance with music by Phillip Glass and travelled more to see beautiful work by Pina Bausch.
Pina Bausch died this year.
I was one of the first people in Paris to wear a Walkman. I think I may still own that original item.
Some rich friend of a rich friend left it at my place and never asked for it back. Suddenly I had my very own soundtrack. My life scored by Super Tramp. The optimistic opening bars of Take The Long Way Home soaring over the controversial rebuilding of Les Halles that seems only recently to have settled into its surroundings. Music altered my perception of where I was and how I experienced it. Paris was never so beautiful.
It was during this time in 1978 that, as a willowy teenager, I chanced upon Fred Hughes at John Jermyn’s Rue de Bellechasse home. That beautifully, wonderfully decorated house..rococo monkeys and Fortuny silk.
Fred had been, the year I met him, diagnosed with MS and had become nihilistic and surly.
“When Fred got sick, he had to go to the American Hospital, and I decorated his room. I went to visit him, and brought pictures he liked, from his house and flowers, and decorated his room…” Julian Schnabel
Perhaps because of MS Fred, so reviled, cut a sad and lonely path through his own life ending up incapacitated, angry and alone. At the end, surrounded in his Lexington Avenue home by the most beautiful things, nothing could placate him.
When I met Fred he had slicked back black hair and tailored suits, he lived in an apartment on the Rue du Cherche-Midi and was, to a provincial teenager, incredibly glamorous..a true dandy.
“It was I who found Fred Hughes his Paris apartment on the Rue du Cherche-Midi, where Warhol would stay.” Pierre Berger
He probably only liked me because I told him I was Lord Rendlesham but later, when he knew the truth, he would laugh and mock the moment we met and feign outrage.
Fred took me to New York, bought me Vetiver and appropriate underwear, gave me drugs at Studio 54, lent me shirts that belonged to Farouk, the last King of Egypt, wrapped me up in linen sheets and laughed at my jokes.
Fred introduced me to Yves St-Laurent and his muse LouLou de la Falaise, Baron Eric De Rothschild, flame haired owner of Egoiste magazine Nicole Wisniak. I sat entranced by these people. Wearing clothes Fred had bought for me, a name that was not mine…casting off a past I had no need for.
Perhaps we understood each other because we had both abandoned our past for a far more thrilling present.
Latterly, he was described as ‘a consummate liar, social climber, and a bespoke SOB who grew to total ghoulishness because of his connection to Andy Warhol.’
Who cares? Isn’t everyone a social climber of some kind and why the hell not? It is galling to have Fred’s memory so maligned. From what I saw and heard he managed or rather..baby sat Andy Warhol, pulling him out of relative poverty, protecting him from unworthies.
Unless that was a lie? I really don’t have a clue. As a teenager I thought he was just swell.
It is so sad to him like this, stricken with MS:
This photograph is amusing. Tim Hunt, Princess Anne of Bavaria, Me and Alexis de Toqueville at Anne’s apartment in Paris.
Samia Saouma’s Gallery (another social hub as galleries tend to be) I was introduced to the work of The Baron de Meyer, Man Ray and Joseph Kosuth. I followed the crowd and applauded the sparse and mannered work of Robert Wilson. We saw I Was Sitting on My Patio This Guy Appeared I Thought I Was Hallucinating and Death Destruction and Detroit.
In Paris I learned about artists and their power and prestige. Most of these men and women, invited to Europe during the late 70’s early 80’s, were American. Flooding the world with new ideas; polemical and challenging.
What happened to the arts? Even though British theatre seems to have maintained it’s edge, British art has become increasingly bland and decorative. Says nothing of the war or the bloody peace.
Paris was just how Paris is meant to be: an education for a young man.
Before we leave Paris there was one sublime moment. It was a moment. We all need them. Romantic. I had been invited to the house of some elderly Duke. On an orange velvet wall hung a huge sunset by Turner. Surrounded by furniture, a light supper served in front of it. This is how art should be enjoyed. Domestically.
Returning to England I was given the telephone number of Erica Bolton by The Princess Anne of Bavaria. I met Erica at The Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, West London, where she worked as a publicist. My great love affair with the theatre began in earnest.
David Gothard Riverside Studios
Erica Bolton, in turn, introduced me to a community of successful writers and directors. Men and women who inspired me to make my own theatre, my own films, my own art.
I listened and learned.
Erica sneaks me into the theatre to see Kantor’s sold out show Wielopole, Wielopole. I sit in the Gods looking down at syphilitic soldiers marching, wax figures strapped to the living, a monochrome set with Kantor in the middle of it all tweaking his memories and watching sadly as the dead come back to life.
It was triumphant, breathtaking theatre and in sharp contrast to the very British, academic work of Peter Gill (Cherry Orchard) who I met that year (1978) and his then assistant David Levaux the now hugely respected Broadway director.
There were so many exciting people to hang out with at The Riverside like the precocious Hanif Kureishi fresh from his triumphant stint at The Royal Court.
Pioneering David Gothard, the artistic director, the genius at the very heart of the Riverside Studios. Responsible for bringing Tadeusz Kantor, Miro, Shuji Tereyama and many others not only to Hammersmith but to the UK.
Night after night we sat in the canteen drinking beer and smoking cigarettes. I loved every moment.
In 1979 I made my way to Paris to see Peter Brook’s Bouffes du Nord. The unplastered walls and magnificent arches quite unlike any other performance space. To Paris by boat and train to see Brook’s Conference of the Birds. I can’t remember where I stayed that night. I was in heaven. I remember the Persian rugs on the floor, the chirping of the cast as they imitated different birds..a chorus..the dawn chorus.
I wanted to make theatre so badly. When I finally got around to it I made just one good work The Host. The other works (as it turned out) a preamble for my later film making and really not that good.
In 1981 I moved into a small flat in Furlong Road, Islington. The home of director Michael Darlow. The flat came with a job: nanny to their wayward 13-year-old adopted son.
Wandering the streets I discovered the derelict Almeida Theatre where I would end up having my 22nd Birthday thrown by designer Scott Crolla. Furniture Designer Tom Dixon was our doorman. William Burroughs came.
‘Come Dressed at Duncan Roy’ the invitation demanded.
Here are Kadir Guirey and Tom Dixon in their band Funkapolitan…
The Almeida Theatre, bought and renovated (Bouffe de Nord style) by Lebanese born Pierre Audi. I managed, by chance, to witness the birth of an institution. Even when derelict, Pierre still used the space as a theatre. Amongst many, early notable Almeida productions I saw A Dybbuk For Two People with Bruce Myers and in 1982, at Saint James’s Church, Chillingworth Road at the Almeida International Festival of Contemporary Music, John Cage at 70. Stunning.
Early 1983 I was arrested and imprisoned for running up a huge bill on my credit card. I spent the next ten months starved of theatre and art but found another altogether unexpected beauty.
I was 23. Prison, as I have said before, was beautiful.
People like Erica bid their adieu and I would never really see them again.
1983, months after I left Wormwood Scrubbs Prison I answered an advertisement in Time Out Magazine. Neil Bartlett was looking for performers to open his show PORNOGRAPHY, a Spectacle at the Institute of Contemporary Arts.
It was a gruelling process, one that I found hard to get to grips with.
Acting, as you may know, requires the performer to be real and by this time in my life I really had no idea how to do that at all.
As with my appearance in the ‘A’ list thirty years later, people mocked my decision to be in a gay play about sex and sexuality. Life is for the experience..isn’t it? For one grand adventure after another.
Pornography: A Spectacle. 1983/84 Actor
- Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, 6 city UK tour, Poor Alex Theatre, Toronto, Canada
- Devised with Ivan Cartwright, Neil Bartlett and Robin Whitmore
Robin, Ivan and Duncan in ‘Pornography, a Spectacle’
“Pornography is quite wonderful, outrageous, intentionally shocking — but with real human beings stepping through the sensationalism at regular intervals to speak between the screams of cliché in normal conversational tones about who they are and how they really feel. The recurrent theme is one of intense pornographic description, which the actors suddenly stop, pause, and say, “of course that was merely a quotation,” or “but it really wasn’t like that.” Sky Gilbert
The Critic by Sheridan: 1984 Actor – Mr. Puff
The Host: 1987 Writer/Director
- Institute of Contemporary Art London and National Review of Live Art Glasgow with Georgia Byng and Tatiana Strauss
- October Gallery
Bad Baby: 1989 Writer/Director
- The Penny Theatre, Canterbury, Kent, Hen and Chickens Theatre, Islington North London
- Using a cast of local Kent performers this play examined issues of child abuse using Beatrix Campbell’s Unofficial Secrets as the basis of the text.
Marrianne Fearnside in Bad Baby
The Baron in the Trees: 1990 Writer/Director
- Adapted from the Italo Calvino novel of the same name for The Penny Theatre, Canterbury, Kent
Copper’s Bottom: 1991 Writer/Director
- Sadler’s Wells Theatre, starring Aiden Shaw
Call me Susan: 1993 Co-writer
- Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh; Edinburgh Festival Fringe;
- Call Me Susan explored issues surrounding prostitution across Europe. A dramatised discussion between two prostitutes interspersed with real-life recorded testimonies and pictures of prostitutes working in six European cities.