People and their profiles: dukes, archbishops, actors, writers, monks, oddbods, the garish, the gregarious - here they are in single file, chosen by chance, by inclination, or by necessity ... and all reflecting, one hopes, the essential, but indefinable, spark that makes one human being interesting to many. Geoffrey Mather
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Flight of the butterfly
The King Charles Club of St John's College, Oxford, banned from its alma mater for being "too snobbish", elected Peter Stringfellow an honorary member. - Daily Telegraph.
It has been a long and surprising road for the lad from Sheffield who was not expected to do much with his life. Peter Stringfellow first prowled the Northern clubland, then paid a million to set up his Stringfellow's Club in the heart of London; then he took over the Hippodrome; then he set up a record company; and then he … well, I don't know what by now.
Stringfellow's Club, when I called in as far back as 1985 had money flowing in a golden stream towards a slight girl in a recess who played her electronic till like a Wurlitzer. The Who drifted in and out. Pete Murray's host had left his powder blue Rolls not altogether well parked. In the midst of it all was a man achieving the impossible and going for more, and with a butterfly as his symbol.
Could this be the lad from the one up, one down? The lad who had no trade when all his earnest companions were acquiring one? They have their trades and are still, presumably in Sheffield.
He dresses in a smile and whatever is trendiest, and plainly failure bred success. But how? He hated school with all his heart. "Three years of purgatory shaped whatever happened afterwards. There was an; incredible amount of bullying.. I was a small, slight figure and gentle. I talked myself out of so many incidents. It was my only defence. I used to socialise as self-preservation to prevent myself getting murdered."
Happiest day of his life was when he left school. Rut what to do? He sold ties at Austin Reed's .He signed up with a car distributing firm and liked the look of the shiny sea of new vehicles. But they stuck him beneath a rusty, old one and told him to take off the exhaust. Hours later -exhausted -and unable to move the thing, he left for lunch and never returned. He became a cinema projectionist. "It was a mass riot. I put on Rock Around the Clock backwards. It finished in 20 Minutes." In a way, he was enjoying life. He was exhibiting the pleasures of the butterfly already, flitting from job to job. "The butterfly," he was to say later, "reminds me of what I like. It is a colourful, harmless creature, and that is how I like people."
Tommy Steele went into the Merchant Navy, got a guitar, came back, became a star. That seemed a good idea to young Stringfellow. He did the Merchant Navy bit, but never actually got the guitar.
:Instead, by way of this and that, he hired a church hall for £3, a local band -The Pursuers -for £.12, put an advert on credit in the local paper, and hoped for the best. He got the worst:. Along came the band, saying, "How many spots do we do?"
He had never heard of "spots." He thought the band would play all night.
He hauled his mother's radiogram on stage to fill the blank moments and lost money for two weeks before making a profit in the third. He went on to clubs in Sheffield, Leeds, and the Millionaires , in Manchester. "If I'd gone to London from Leeds they would probably have eaten me. I went prepared. The secret of London is to put your head up and be recognised as an individual."
If he had been a success of the variety recognised in Sheffield. he might have been a draughtsman. . His father had said, , Look, son, it' s time we had a chat .When we sit down at snap (lunch) time at the steelworks and they talk about their sons apprenticed to this and that, I don't really like to talk about you " That was before he became classless and rootless. He floats from exotic petal to exotic petal in an apparently untroubled night where clients observing the size of their bills are - vaguely - like Bond's drinks: occasionally stirred but never shaken.
He became what he is because he had to run away from a bunch of kids he disliked. His luxury is not of money, but movement.
"I'd never be with anyone I didn't want to be with. I never stay where I don't want to be"
An item on the menu on the night I met him somehow summed him up: Wild duck with strawberry sauce. Chef's choice, as it happens.
Geoffrey Mather © 2004
3 March, 2007