May 2012

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Rita Landre first appeared in the magazine Show Business. Apparently she was a trained trapeze artist who left the circus to sing in a cabaret in Paris. Her father was French, her mother Dutch.

Actually, sorry to spoil it for everyone, Rita was in fact Pam in a wig. The wig was originally made for Mary Morris in the play The Young Elizabeth (New Theatre, London, 1952), hence the colour.

As many of the readers of this blog know Douglas Webb was in the RAF. In fact, he was a bona fide war hero. Living in Leyton, experiencing the full effect of the blitz, he joined the RAF on his 18th birthday.  Having to take a pilot’s induction exam he deliberately “made a nonsense of it” as he wanted to be a gunner. If he was going to war, he wanted a go at shooting the Bosche. He ended up a gunner in F/Sgt. Bill Townsend’s Lancaster in Squadron 49.

Douglas Webb, DFM of 617 Squadron – The Dambusters.

After finishing their tour the crew volunteered (minus the wireless operator who declined) for a secret mission. They joined what was to become Squadron 617 and their mission was Operation Chastise, now known as the legendary Dambuster’s Raid

They went to RAF Scampton to take part in ten weeks of intensive training, involving lots of cross-country low-level flying. They were first asked to fly at 150ft, then 100ft and finally 60ft. Doug knew it was going to be bloody dangerous. For one thing, the altimeter didn’t work that low. When Wing Commander Guy Gibson gave the pre-operational briefing the crews all saw where the red ribbons ended on the map: the most heavily defended area of Germany mockingly nicked named the Happy Valley. Doug was convinced he wasn’t coming back. After watching the first two waves take off, he returned to his quarters to take a bath.  He wanted to die clean.

Taking off just after midnight F/Sgt. Townsend flew their plane AJ-Orange towards the heart of Germany. The flak was extremely heavy, as the enemy had been alerted by the first two waves of attack. Doug in the front turret hosed enemy positions with his machine guns.  As he pumped away at their searchlights he was glad for the extra rounds he had “borrowed”. Lancaster AJ-Orange target was the Ennepe Dam, near Dortmund. With a thick mist rising from a wooded valley, they had difficulty in locating the target. Three times they overshot the dam. On the forth run at 3.37am, the bouncing bomb was released at less than 100ft above the water

As the plane circled the lake discharged a huge spout of water into the air followed by vast ripples spreading towards the Dam. It had fallen short, but they were pretty confident that the shock waves would do some damage. As they turned for home the fast approaching dawn made the return trip extremely dangerous. They could clearly see the breached Möhne dam and the Germans could clearly see them. Flying dangerously low, hugging the contours of the landscape, avoiding unexpected landmarks and pylons they flew through a barrage of distinctly unfriendly anti-aircraft fire.

When they got to the Dutch coast the Germans turned the large coastal guns on to them. The plane was badly damaged and one of its engines was knocked out, but taking evasive action they made it out to the safety of the North Sea. They arrived back to base at 6.15am. Flying downwind and into the sun they had a rather bumpy landing as the last plane back. Casualties were shockingly high. Eight of the original 19 Lancaster bombers were damaged or shot down, and of the 133 aircrew, 53 were killed and three captured.

As King George VI was in Africa it was the Queen Mother, then Queen Elizabeth who presented the squadron with their medals at Buckingham Palace on June 22, 1943. Doug was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal.

After some time as a night vision instructor, Doug wangled his way back to 617 Squadron and flew on its last mission against Hitler’s Wolf’s Lair in Bavaria. Back on civvy street in 1946, he rejoined the London News Agency as a staff photographer, eventually going freelance and opening his own photography studio in Greek Street where he specialised in theatrical and film portraits as well as nudes. And that’s where he met Pamela Green.

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In 1949, Pamela Green joined Spielplatz Naturist Club in Bricket Wood, near St. Albans. Another famed member was Ross Nichols (1902-1975), founder of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. Ross was a committed naturist and joined the utopian Spielplatz community in Hertfordshire in the 1930s. A neighbouring naturist club, The Fiveacres Country Club, was also home to a coven of witches.

Gerald Garner (1884 – 1964), who in the first half of the 20th century popularised the pagan religion of Wicca, had brought some land in Fiveacres in 1946. For Garner, a keen nudist, the naturist club was the ideal venue to be skyclad. He purchased and transplanted the Elizabethan witch’s cottage from the renowned Abbey Folk Park at New Barnet, which had been forced to close due to wartime bombing. The cottage became the centre of The Bricket Wood Coven’s rites and rituals. Many important and influential figures in Wicca were members of the coven, including the High Priestess Doreen Valiente, Jack Bracelin, and Eleanor Bone.

Gerald Garner  would often visit Ross Nichols at Spielplatz. Long evenings when they would talk late into the night was the norm. Ross Nichols ended up helping Gerald Garner with his first work of non-fiction, Witchcraft Today (1954). Witchcraft Today is one of the foundational texts for the religion of Wicca, along with Gardner’s second book on the subject, The Meaning of Witchcraft (1959) of which Pam had a first edition on her shelf, along with other books on the subject.

Continuing the witches theme, Pam named her cat Pyewacket. Pyewacket was one of the familiars detected by the witchfinder general Matthew Hopkins in Manningtree, Essex, in 1644. He is believed to have been responsible for the deaths of 300 so-called witches, all women, between the years 1644 and 1646. In 1959, Pam and George Harrison Marks purchased a boat at the Earl’s Court Boat Show. They named her Pyewacket as well. She was kept in a boatyard in Maidenhead.

In 1967 44 Gerrard Street, opposite Pam and George’s place, became known as Happening 44 – an über-hip psychedelic club run by light show artist Jack Braceland, His company, Five Acre Lights, was named after Fiveacres nudist club where Pink Floyd played a gig on Guy Fawkes night in 1966.

Below is a publicity shot of Pamela Green from the 8mm striptease film Witches’ Brew (1960).

I wondered what happened to the witch’s cottage? Does anyone know? If you do drop me a line.

The recently published book, The Story of Soho: The Windmill Years, by Mike Hutton author of The Vice Captain, is well worth a look. The Windmill Theatre provides the backdrop against which Hutton explores Soho, during the years 1932-1964. Jack Spot, Paul Raymond, Mrs Henderson, George Harrison Marks and Pamela are all featured.

The Story of Soho: The Windmill Years, 1932-1964 is available from Amazon.

Here’s a fab a picture that most of you won’t have expected to see — George Harrison Marks with Brucie. This is from the photo shoot for the Mister Entertainment LP by Bruce Forsyth with Alyn Ainsworth and his Orchestra put out by Parlophone (PCS 3013) sometime around 1960-1963.

A parody of Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus by the photographer Angus McBean, featuring Pamela as Venus and David Ball, Angus’s boyfriend as Zephyrus, the Greek god of the west wind. I think it appeared in Lilliput  in 1952.

While going through a box of archive material I came across this stereoscopic card. I don’t know anything about it. To me it looks it is from the 1920/30s. Not sure what they are up to but it seems fairly amusing, so I thought I would share it with you.

Caption contest anyone? The best answers are always sharp, short, and funny!

The infamous shower scene from Naked as Nature Intended cut from the British release by the censor in 1961 and still missing from all subsequent UK releases. It was originally cut due to the assumption that people would infer that Pamela and her flatmate were lesbians. The scene remained in the American release of the film. Ironically the film was released in the United States as As Nature Intended, the word “Naked” being far to risqué for the American public.

The book, Naked as Nature Intended: The Epic Tale of a Nudist Picture, is available from Amazon.

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