Jean Sporle was a model who worked for Pamela Green and George Harrison Marks in the early days of Kamera. She was born in London and was evacuated during the Blitz, but returned once the war was over. She got a job as a typist and one holiday with a group of friends she went on a trip to Clacton. “There was a beauty contest advertised on a poster at the pier. All my friends said I should enter so I did for a laugh. And I won! I couldn’t believe it. I can’t remember what the prize was, but it was a decent amount of cash. I do remember it was such a giggle.”
Approached by one of the other contestants Jean was asked if she wanted to go on the ‘circuit’. One of her friends persuaded her to enter a local competition in Eastbourne. Local competitions, however, were for local girls and entrants were closely vetted. “I gave the beauty contest circuit up as a bad job, but I’d got a taste for modelling. I decided I’d like to try modelling or be a film extra, so I started going to a café on Gerrard Street where all the would-be actors and actresses hung out. A bit further down the street was a photographer’s studio belonging to Harrison Marks. In the entrance hall, they had photographs of glamour models in bikinis. It took me an age to get enough courage to enter.”
A platinum blonde lady called Pamela Green, the photographer’s ‘wife’, greeted Jean. I told them “I’d done some bikini shots for Spick and Span and was looking for more work.” They promptly booked her for a photo shoot. In 1956, Jean was earning £3.50 a week as a typist, for a two-hour shoot she would earn £2. “George was a very kind gent with a fun sense of humour. I was never alone with him, as Pamela would help direct. They were both very good to me. As my confidence grew I was persuaded to go topless. Nudes were all they did really.”
“I was nervous during my first shoot. I couldn’t stop shaking. George and Pam were both very patient. I had to balance on top of a vaulting horse covered in white paper. I sneaked into the darkroom to look at the proofs to make sure they were all right. It was only then I stopped shaking. My mum thought I should have a job that didn’t require me to take my clothes off, but my dad was very proud of me.”
When George and Pam found out Jean could type she ended up working for them in the office. It was around this time that the first few issues of Kamera were being produced. Everyone was really excited about it. Jean appeared in the early issues of Kamera featuring on the covers of issue two and twenty-seven.
Jean remembers working in the shop one day when a man came in. He was smartly dressed and gave her a hand written list of magazines he wanted. She collected them together and rang the sale in the till. “They’re not for me, they are for my brother,” he said. “He’s an artist.” After which he quickly left the shop. “It was such a taboo thing back then.”
“I got fired from a temp job for Brook Street. The office they sent me to they had a Kamera calendar up on the wall. It was quickly turned to the page I featured on, July. All the guys walked past my window where I was typing and giving me strange looks, later that day the personal department, or human resources as they call them now, gave me a week’s salary and told me to leave as I was causing a disturbance.”
It wasn’t long before Jean was helping out in the dark room. Once the photos were developed they had to be doctored. Not everything could be shown despite them being “nude”. “I would take the photos and scrape off the pubic area with a razor blade and then pixel in a smooth area with a fine brush and black and white paint. That’s when they were fit for publication.”
“I was always late for work, slipping into to the shop and crawling under the counter asking if George was about only to crawl into his knees. I remember on one occasion, when I was on time, I sat at my desk and opened a drawer to put my bag in and saw a huge spider. I screamed uncontrollably. Everybody came to see what was happening. The spider was a prop. George was laughing his head off saying he wished he had filmed it. I could have had a heart attack!”
One day when Jean was in the reception area making tea, a gentleman came in to buy some books. He said to George pointing at me “Is that Rita Landre?” “At the time my hair was long and the same colour as the wig Pam wore. George saw an opportunity to prove that Rita and Pam were different people, so came over to me told me not to turn round full face on. The gentleman then asked if he could meet me and get sign a photo. George explained I was French, shy and couldn’t speak English. I do not know what would have happened if the chap had spoken French. In the end, he settled for a signed photo of Rita in the post.”
Pam and George had a cat called Uncle. As a publicity stunt, George pretended that it had gone missing. He advertised in a national paper offering a reward of five pounds, not a bad amount in the sixties. Uncle was put in the dark room out-of-the-way. It wasn’t long before people started turning up with cats in their arms. Uncle escaped, however, and Jean was sent to find him. “I knew he used to go over the roof to Brenda’s next door. Brenda was a prostitute and Uncle used to sleep at the end of her bed. I climbed the stairs and hoped she didn’t have a client. I knocked on the door and said, “Excuse me, madam”. I heard a grunt that seemed to beckon me in. As I opened the door I saw Brenda, lying under a client. She was a big lady in her 50s. She waved a hand at me to come and take Uncle who was curled up on the end of her bed. I grabbed him and charged back down the stairs. Needless to say George did not have to pay up and announced the cat had been found.”
George did quite a few portraits of film and stage stars, which resulted in him getting invites to film premieres and social functions. Just some of the people Jean got to meet were Barbara Windsor, the composer and playwright Leslie Bricusse, the actress Yvonne Romain and Anthony Newley. George drove an Oldsmobile and on one occasion, when he was giving Jean a lift, he was trying negotiate his way out of Lex’s Garage on Brewer Street, just as Dianna Dors was driving her pink Cadillac in. “The language was an education. I don’t remember who got out of whose way.
Having all these contacts, it wasn’t long before Jean got her chance to appear in a film. A nervous agent contacted her asking her if she would mind appearing topless. “I didn’t, especially as then they told me they were paying £40 for one day’s filming!” The topless scene was in Cliff Richards first film Serious Charge (1959), the one where he sings Living Doll. In the scene, she was in the teenage gang break into the Lido late at night and have a lark.
“I had to dive into the swimming pool, once in a bikini, once wearing a petticoat and once topless. The petticoat was shot for the American market, the bikini for the UK and the topless version for the French. I even got to say a line — Do you think you ought to do that, Larry?” The film was accidentally ruined and the whole thing had to be shot again on another day resulting in Jean getting paid £80.
Jean also starred alongside Pamela in the first 8mm striptease film shot by Harrison Marks, called Art for Arts Sake, but more about that another time.
Jean continued with photographic modelling until 1962. “I’d appeared on the front cover of Reveille, had a bikini shoot in News of the World and the West London Observer. I loved seeing myself on a front cover. The attention you got was very flattering. I laugh now when I think of the lads on the stalls of Berwick Street Market treating me like royalty, having a laugh and trying to buy me a cup of coffee.”