Archive for the ‘Oxford Street’ Category

The Scala Theatre, Pattie, Jenny and Paula Boyd, Harry Hyams and Centre Point

Friday, March 21st, 2008
“I have to tell you man, I’m in love with your wife.”

The Scala Theatre on the corner of Scala Street and Charlotte Street was knocked down in 1969, just another part of the huge redevelopment of London during the sixties – a time when town-planners planned seemingly without sentiment. The 1,139 seat Theatre had been built in 1904 but a theatre had been on the site since 1772. It is now a rather drab nondescript office block – another town-planner habit of the sixties.

The Scala Theatre, however, was famous because it was the main location for The Beatles’ film A Hard Day’s Night. They spent a week there filming at the end of March 1964 and it was during this part of the filming that George met Pattie Boyd. She was a model who had recently gained notoriety for appearing in a Smiths’ Crisps advertisement. It had been directed by the American Richard Lester who of course ended up directing A Hard Day’s Night and suggest Pattie for her role.

Pattie Boyd played a schoolgirl in the film (although her eventual sole line was just ‘Prisoners?!’). George asked Pattie out but at first she refused as she had been seeing the thirty year old photographer Eric Swayne for two years. However she soon relented, getting rid of her boyfriend in the meantime, and their first date was at the Garrick Club in Covent Garden but with the Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein as an extra guest. Epstein was also the person from who George asked permission when he wanted to marry Pattie. Which they duly did, with Paul McCartney in attendance and Brian Epstein as best man, at Epsom Registry office in 1966.

Pattie Boyd ended being up the inspiration for ‘Something’ George Harrison’s most popular song, but in reality it was written when their marriage was coming to an end. She was also the muse for ‘Layla’ by Eric Clapton (in the guise of Derek and the Dominos). Layla’s inspiration came from an Indian short story about one man’s obsession with a married woman and someone he couldn’t have. Clapton, a close friend of Harrisons, had fallen in love with Pattie and one night in the early hours at a party he told George, who had spotted the two of them chatting in the garden, ‘I have to tell you, man, that I’m in love with your wife.’

Pattie was horrified and went back with George that night but after three year’s of George’s continuing infidelity and expectation that Pattie should be a stay-at-home housewife, she eventually ended up with Clapton, marrying him in 1979.

Pattie with Eric Clapton soon after their marriage

Pattie and Jenny Boyd

Pattie’s younger sister Jenny was also a model in London and was also the inspiration for a song – Jennifer Juniper by Donovan whom she dated for a short while in 1965. She apparently was working in a boutique called Juniper. After sharing a house with a man called Magic Alex, – one of the principal hangers-on of the Beatles huge entourage, she eventually married Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac in 1970. They had had a long on and off relationship for years. In his book, My Life and Adventures in Fleetwood Mac, Mick Fleetwood describes when he first saw her “I’d see Jenny coming home from school, a stunning 15-year-old in white stockings. I lost my heart to her immediately. I had a massive crush on her, but was so shy I couldn’t say anything to her. I knew then, at age 16, that this was the girl I was destined to marry.”
Little did he know, but he would actually marry her twice. Unfortunately they also divorced twice.

Jenny Boyd working in the Apple boutique

There was a third Boyd sister, the youngest, who also dated a famous person (although there seems to be a distinct lack of songs written about her). She was called Paula and was just seventeen when she started seeing Rodney Bewes, one of The Likely Lads. He, though, had turned thirty and one day Pattie and George turned up at his flat to meet Paula – George recognised him from the BBC sitcom and said “Oh no, not you.” Pattie then exclaimed, “Now look Rodney, you must know why we are here. Paula’s only 17, just out of school, it’s not suitable. That’s all. She’s my kid sister, for God’s sake.” Bewes’s only response was to offer them a cup of tea, they refused, and as they left he mentioned how much he liked the new Beatles single.
Bewes found Paula a nearby flat to make the situation a bit more respectable. The affair lasted only a few weeks and one evening when he was expecting her to turn up to meet his parents she didn’t arrive and she soon left him for, I would imagine, someone much more exciting.
“Elegance worthy of a Wren steeple”

A few hundred yards south from Scala House is another concrete building from the sixties, this time it’s anything but nondescript. Centre Point, standing above the complicated junction of Oxford Street, Tottenham Court Road, New Oxford Street, St Giles’ High Street and Charing Cross Road was one of London’s first skyscrapers. It has always been one of post-war London’s most controversial buildings – to a lot of people symbolising the rapacious and ugly re-development of London after the war. The capital city’s rebuilding made a handful of men very rich indeed and the man who was responsible for Centre Point, a reclusive called Harry Hyams, was one of the richest. He was once called the UK’s Howard Hughes when he turned up at a shareholders meeting wearing a Mickey Mouse mask so as not to be recognised.

Centre Point, built by the architect Richard Siefert for £5.5 million, was completed in 1964. However the controversy started at the planning stage n 1956. The London County Council wanted to build a roundabout at the intersection and also sort out the surrounding area. However the council was only allowed to offer compensation at pre-WW2 values and basically couldn’t afford to buy the land. Harry Hyams let it be known that he could buy the land for the roundabout if the LCC would agree to planning permission to build around and over the top of it. This agreement was illegal and was oral rather than written.

Centre Point remained empty for years. Hyams realised that the capital appreciation was far more than the lost rental income on the building. Additionally by keeping it empty he avoided having to pay business rates on the property. In 1973 when the first advertisements appeared for the rental of the building, the estimated value was £20 million which meant it was now the most profitable building in London ever.

It was around this time that Centre Point was at its most controversial, to a lot of people it was a huge example of the thoughtless town-planning of the preceding twenty years and the fact that it was left empty at a time of great homelessness symbolised the greed of the developers such as Harry Hyams.
The building appeared on the cover of the Lindisfarne single ‘All Fall Down’.
“Politicians, planners go, look what you done,
your madness is making a machine of ev’ryone,
but one day the machine might turn on.

We’ll tear you down, mess you round,
and bury you deep under the ground,
and we’ll dance on your graves till the flowers return
and the trees tell us secrets that took ages to learn…”

The trees eventually did tell us secrets that took us ages to learn and that was that Centre Point has become rather fashionable and today looks rather architecturally splendid (although the road system below it is still a complete mess) and Lindisfarne are really only known these days for a single they made with Gazza years ago. The vagaries of fashion.
On January 18th 1974 protesters campaigning for the homeless occupied Centre Point – two of them had managed to get jobs as security guards for the building. One of the squatters described the skyscraper “the concrete symbol of everything that is rotten about our society. The protest, which actually only lasted a couple of days, inspired the name Centrepoint for a new homeless charity.
Around the same time as the building was completed, London County Council decided to make Tottenham Court Road and New Oxford Street one way, which meant that a roundabout wasn’t needed at all. In 1995 Centre Point was made a Grade II listed building with the Royal Fine Art Commission praising the building as having an ‘elegance worthy of a Wren steeple’.