13 FEBRUARY 1959, Page 15


Swans 'You must not call it a charm school,' said John Douglas reprovingly. 'They learn a great deal more than charm here.' He explained the system : daytime model classes catered for the desire of the moth for the star, evening classes in general self-improvement dealt with the humbler desires of the chrysalis—those who simply wished to become moths.

He looked speculatively across at the latest intake, the bunch under the notice board : only he knew what their guinea an evening would bring them They were a rough cross-section of girls and women—very rough. Most had frizzy perms, one was leaning against the wall like a ladder up the side of a house, several wore proudly a disastrous shade of sage green.

In due time they would be advised about colours and shapes, and taught to make a few simple clothes; exercises or corsets would restrain their bulges; porridge-coloured faces would glow with applied colour, hair that looked like shredded wheat would become as fields of ripen- ing corn. They would learn to walk like models, talk like Eliza Doolittle and converse like George Sand. At least, that was the idea.

All Galateas have their problems, of course. What if the boy friend can't stand the new per- sonality? What if the social adviser says firmly that port is not drunk before, during and after tea—and Mum has been doing nothing else for years? What to do if you learn that the one colour you must never by any chance wear is that grim shade of mustard yellow which at present, like a jaundice, infects your whole ward- robe? The Cinderellas must long for more money to accomplish the transformation, or wish that the magic wand could touch the rough heads of Ma and the boys as well.

And the Pygmalions have their worries, too: rival departments work on the same girls, and it is not clear what happens if the figure people get rid of someone's elephantine hips just as the fashion people have designed her a dress that hides them A group of girls in a half-way state came out of class and headed for their club in the base- ment. They were at the stage where the make-up is Bond Street but the expression still unmistak- ably Barnet; where a salon walk carries along the usual ragbag of oddments with which women are tempted to keep warm in winter. As these cygnets, half-clumsy and half-swans, sailed down the stair- way, it was comforting to think that in a few minutes they would all be slumped happily in their chairs, knees crossed, expressions all any- how, and shoulders hunched as usual.

In fact, one newcomer doubted whether much really could be achieved in a mere eight-week course. For answer, Mr. Douglas pointed to a girl who was at that moment coming down the car- peted stair. Her hair a fragile puffball above an immaculate face, she stepped delicately down, a long gloved hand steadying her billowing skirt. Only a hint of shyness enlivened her model-like poise.

'That girl,' said Mr. Douglas, 'was a complete suburban mouse when she came in here. Her husband wouldn't take her anywhere, and when he did, she looked all wrong and never knew what to say. Now look at her.'

Looking at her gave no pain; no pain at all. The group by the notice board gazed at her as she passed : for a moment Before gazed at After with envy and disbelief, and a wild hope surged in the most unlikely bosoms.

Song THE SEA IS COLD. The wind blows through people waiting forlornly at bus stops. The pier lies on the water like a rusty old toy abandoned by giant infant.

At the Regent Ballroom a lift carries would-be dancers to the ballroom. A thin man says gravely to the lift-man : 'You see a lot of strange faces on a Tuesday.' The tone implies—don't let it happen again. A few couples swirl round and round on the glassy floor. The bandleader in a red tuxedo smiles, stretches out his hands in a benediction and announces : 'I would like to play some Viennese waltzes, beginning with "I feel pretty" from West Side Story.' The couples whirl under the lights which hang like multi-coloured stalactites.

A man walks up to a woman to ask her to dance, half takes his hands out of his pockets, sees her closer and quickly walks on again.

The band stops and the bandleader raises his hands again. 'We now have much pleasure in presenting the preliminary heats of the talent singing contest. The winners will qualify for the finals at the Hammersmith Palais, London. Will contestant No. 3 please make his way to the band- stand . . . naughty boy, No. 3 . . . where are you?'

The other contestants gather on the stage and look at each other as if expecting to be shot in a few minutes. Will No. 3 please make his way to the bandstand . . . ?'

A girl holding a card with No. 1 on it steps forward. 'Here's the first singer. A very lovely young lady . . . give her a lot of encourage- ment . . . a nice round of applause for the lady. She will sing . . . "The Birth of the Blues." ' She moves nervously up to the microphone and adjusts it without making any impression on it. She looks behind her and coughs into her hand. The pianist plays the opening bars. He nods at the girl and she faintly begins to sing. She stops, looks back at the pianist as if to make sure that he is still there, and starts again. She falters, slows, stops and walks over to the pianist. They have a hurried conference. She begins again and her voice gets louder as she continues. At last she finishes, more or less with the band.

No. 2 is a smooth young man with skin the colour of Nat King Cole's and carefully cultivated vocal mannerisms to match. He wears a dinner jacket and smiles often, whilst his hips shake in time to his waving hands.

No. 3 still has not appeared, but No. 4 steps up to the mike. He holds his large numbered card defensively in front of him, and looks like a runner without a race. He sings 'A Certain Smile.' He does not smile. '. . . a freezing glance . . . so many lovely things . . .' his voice is sad. A waitress sighs and checks her bill stubs without looking up at him.

No. 5 is a short, short man with horn-rimmed glasses and looks like a young devitalised Arthur Askey. The title of his song is announced—'Am I Wasting my Time?'—to a chorus of ironic cheers.

When he stops, the four contestants stand in front of the bandstand and are judged by the volume of applause. The girl who sang 'The Birth of the Blues' appears to have brought the largest number of friends and relations and she wins. Her mouth drops open in surprise and the local press photographer quickly poses her smiling up at the other contestants. They smile bravely but sadly back at her.