What I was referring to was Don McLean's American Pie running through my head. A song, or poem, a hit from the early 70s, I'd not thought or heard of in years and one perhaps emblematic of my generation - a threnody, if ever there was one, for lost youth and times gone by. I've done a lot of that recently - looking back at the milestones - perhaps it is my age, the fact that I'm retired and the death of someone to whom I should have been closer than I was. Whatever the reason, a backwards glance is the rasion d'être of this blog - nostalgia threads its elegiac way throughout all I have written.
As I mentioned in the previous post, occasionally I receive personal reminiscences - each a milestone in its way - of the men I've written about over the past year or two: that generation of decorators and designers lost, predominantly, to AIDS in the 1980s and 1990s. Towards the end of last year I was surprised and pleased by a comment, a memory vivid and personal from TS. Surprised because it was on a post from September 2009, and pleased because it coincided with my recurring thoughts about Geoffrey Bennison, one of the men with whom, unthinkingly, I began my series about those I've called a lost generation. Bennison's name is remembered still, both as a purveyor of textiles, and also by those of us who appreciate his eye, his style and his wit. As a previous commenter said, it makes one wonder why there isn't a book about Bennison's work.
"I sold to Bennison, he got his talent from being a very good artist, which is why he stands out from the other decorators. He used to dress up in womens outfits on a Friday night and hitch hike down to his flat in Brighton. In London he lived in a top floor flat ............ and he had a pair of binoculars at the window and bought off me in the street far below, by shouting 'turn it upside down, right, show me the front and what's the best price?' Extraordinary man - I miss him. TS"
The idea of Geoffrey Bennison, the grandest of decorators, in a skirt, heels and a wig thumbing a lift on a Friday evening is, to me, the stuff of legend and, undoubtedly, a source of consternation and, possibly, joy to many a kind motorist, the lorry-drivers, the rough trade, and other denizens of the lay-bys of the road to Brighton. An image I cannot get out of my head and one that trumps even these grandest of Parisian rooms decorated by Bennison in Le Goût Rothschild.
I've written about a number of extraordinary men and their connections over the past two years - threads, really, of a larger pattern that shines brightly in my mind's eye but which still needs to be woven - and now I have the time to do so.
Photographs by James Mortimer from The World of Interiors, July/August 1983