Friday, August 7, 2009

New School Dandy Profile: Ray Frensham

Over the past several months we have been introduced to many amazing people through our Facebook fan page. With this post we continue a regular series of profiles of New School Dandies. This week we feature the UK's favorite eccentric and professional bohemian, Ray Frensham.

Where did you grow up, where did you go to school, and where do you live now? I was born in 1952 (a Piscean!) in the East End of London, on the upswing of post-war optimism. The East End was mostly bombsites by then and amidst the grey austerity I had a pretty happy childhood. I was (what they now call) a hyperactive child: I used to run head-first into furniture a lot.

I’m an only child so I guess I’ve always been at the centre of some kind of attention; I don’t think I’m a show-off! What probably saved me from criminality was education: I went to a grammar school from years 11-18. The building itself was about 450 years old even then. If you can imagine the Phillips Academy dropped into the centre of old-style Harlem, you get a good idea of the school and the set-up.

There are two, rather telling, photographs I would single out: - there’s one of me aged one in 1953, at a street party for the Queen’s Coronation; I am wearing a bow tie. (I guess it must be genetic). - a class photo, with me aged about 9. Apart from my teacher, I am the only one wearing a tie and shirt.

I don’t think I had one of those doting Mothers, although she would’ve killed me if I’d left the house not looking “presentable”! My Dad always was a bit of a snappy dresser - well, for years he looked the spitting image of Gene Kelly. Handsome bastard! What happened with me?

When I was 18 my parents moved to the outer London suburbs; and that’s where I currently reside - a different suburb.

The grammar school, being a kind of exam factory, I decided to pause before (inevitable) University and got a job at the Ministry of Defence. I’d won a (worldwide) essay competition and one of the prizes was a cruise of the Caribbean - and even then, at 18, I knew I would end my days there at some point.

At 21 I studied at one of the modern UK universities (Warwick in the Midlands), Comparative American Studies (a sort of hip-history course). Even by the time I’d left there (mid-1970s) I had started a mail-order record business - especially selling UK punk to the States. By the late 70s I was involved in the (then burgeoning underground) London rockabilly club scene: selling records, managing bands, organising gigs. I may not have dressed in the rockabilly style (didn’t have the hair for it!) but I was always in my bow ties and sharply dressed.

By the early eighties that had developed into setting up an indie record label and song publishing company. Indeed, there’s a 1981 tv programme we were involved in that’s recently appeared on youtube in five segments.
[] you can see me at the start of Sections 4 and 6.

By the early eighties we were courted by EMI so I preferred to license material to them. And by then a few of our bands had been on the popular Channel 4 UK tv music programme The Tube, so I had a few contacts in ‘the biz‘.

I knew I always wanted to be involved in movies and tv but, for someone with my background, there was never any kind of accepted route in. So…

Cut a long story short: eventually, in my mid-thirties (unusual for the media biz) I jumped sideways into music television and served my apprenticeship on The Tube. Years later I asked the guy who gave me my first break (Malcolm Gerrie) why he took me on - after all, in my suits and bow ties I hardly fitted in to the black-black-black sweaters -and-jeans culture of tv - and he said “you reminded me of myself and how I got into television: kicking and screaming and saying ‘what a load of sh**’”.

After The Tube I schlepped around the indie TV industry for a while, then sort of fell into a screenwriting during a lean period - and later joining the (then fledgling-pioneering) London Screenwriter’s Workshop. After a few years I ended up Chair of that organisation for three years - running workshops, teaching, networking, writing for European television - and that takes me to the early-mid 1990s.

During that tenure I was approached (by UK publishers Hodder & Stoughton) to write a book which became Teach Yourself Screenwriting (US pub: McGraw-Hill). Since it’s first publication in 1996 it just took-off and has become one of the standard texts on the subject, with regular updates and expansions, and numerous foreign language translations. The last newly-revised edition was 2008 - but I’ve just heard my publishers plan a special revamped mega-edition for 2010.
Simultaneously, around about the turn of the millennium, for a few years I was involved with finance broking, risk management and insurance policies for movies and tv.

I think there is a general theme that runs through all I‘ve got involved in: whatever I’ve been involved in, it’s been the creative interfacing with business - Piscean extremes meeting in the middle!

What’s your occupation? I always wanted to see on my passport, in the space where they’d say “Occupation”, the words ‘Professional Bohemian’. But passports don’t have that section anymore. So, I guess, ‘Writer / Author’ is as good a description as any. Someone suggested “splendid semi-retirement”, but I retired from real life and retreated to Planet Ray (as my friends call it) years ago!

I’ve got to a point where I am Very lucky. The book just keeps selling, year-on-year, and I worked out: if I live a low-maintenance lifestyle, I could exist on just my royalty checks coming through. What that means is: any work I do, I do because I Want to do it and not because I Have to do it.

Today, I do a bit of Script Doctor work: basically turning other peoples’ sow’s-ear scripts into filmable silk purses. You see, the thing with being a script doctor is: it’s pretty decently paid, but you don’t get a credit at the end of a film or tv program - in this game, anonymity costs. I see it as a sort of ‘fame’ (at least peer-respect) but at arm’s length and controllable.

I guess you need a certain lack of ego to do this work but people in the industry know who worked on what; and I’m more interested in living in the moment. Any sense of ‘legacy’ will come (or not) long after I’m gone, by which time it won’t matter! I get queries and scripts sent to me, all off the back of the book or from personal recommendation within the industry.

Occasionally I’m asked to give a lecture or run workshops at a University abroad somewhere, which I eagerly accept: last year I was in Spain; this year / next year it looks like it could be Russia and a couple of eastern Europe territories.

At home, I keep my blogs updated when I feel I have something to say or want to bring peoples’ attention to something. And I’ve started writing lyrics again after a gap of about ten years: I send them off to musician friends, often in the US, and their groups perform / record them.

This year I’ve started to get bookings for tv or film productions now: character work, they call it. You turn up, sober and on time, you do the gig, you go home. You bank the check. These days, Bobby Di Nero and I have a lot in common!

Also this year, photographers (from students to professionals) have done several photo shoots with me - one of them wants to feature me in a planned ‘Faces of Britain’ travelling exhibition. And two directors now say they want to make short films about me. (I wonder if these youngsters, raised in their culture of fleeting ‘celebrity’, realise I’ve already been there - on both sides of the camera - and walked away from it once).

More recently, I was approached by an events company to get a group of us together and arrange a series of strolls around Belgravia, in all our period finery. And so I created the London Victorian Strollers group - we had immense fun, we got paid very well for our efforts and we’ve now started working with the events company on future paid work.

And following a recent posting on my blog about my long-practised lifestyle philosophy, Constructive Apathy (the science of watching life pass you by), people seem to be taking an interest in it. Perhaps I should work it all up into a book. But I don’t think I can be bothered.

(Piscean) contrasts and extremes again, see?: a hyperactive child and astonishing indolence today!

When did you establish your personal style? Was there a pivotal moment? How has it changed? Oh most definitely a pivotal moment. I knew as a teenager growing up in the grim bomb-damaged East End of London that I was always fascinated by the glamorous formal wear I saw in the Hollywood movies I grew up with (black tie, white tie, morning wear) - I still remember stealing my first black clip-on bow tie from Woolworths to wear with a suit of mine. I was also a bit of a teenage Mod (I still recall with great affection a beautiful midnight blue Tonik mohair suit I had as a 14 year old).

But I recall the moment, after I had finally worked out how to tie a bow tie - I must’ve been about sixteen or seventeen - and I remember looking in the mirror and making a pact with myself: from now on, if ever I have cause to wear a suit or a jacket and requiring a tie, I shall only ever wear bow ties from now on, and always with a silk pocket handkerchief. And - apart from the occasional funeral - I’ve stuck to that.

I guess you need that little extra bit of confidence to start wearing a bow tie, especially if you are a self-conscious teenager; but if you wear them often enough you don’t notice it, it just becomes part of who you are. [Here, I have to applaud a young band like Honor Society - I like their style]. For myself, I guess I’ve always felt somewhat different from the crowd. Not superior, just separate / distanced, more an observer.

As time goes on what you discover is a bow tie becomes something of a signature for you. (I recall I once wore a straight tie with a suit, just for a change, and all my friends turned on me: “Ray. No. It’s not You”).

Besides, I’ve found that whenever I’m in a crowd or at a conference, it’s easy to be singled out. Someone will ask “which one is Ray Frensham?”, and it’s easy to say “he’s the chap over there in the bow tie”. So when I first went online, my inevitable I.D. was Bowtieguyuk2000.

And I’ve always worn tunic shorts with separate stiff collars since my first job in 1970. It’s interesting to see my accumulation of stiff collars over the years as I’ve moved, half-inch by half-inch, from the 15” size then through to the 17 ½” of today. And I have to say the quality of collars today is simply not as good as they used to be, hence I buy antique collars whenever I find them.

Even during the 1970s, when I was at University - a time of long-haired scruffiness and student sit-ins - I would still have short hair and wear a bow tie and often a suit etc. I was denounced and called an “Anarchist”. I rather revelled in that term!

Certainly one of the most intelligent observations I ever read was the one from Hardy Amies “the well dressed gentleman is one who chooses his clothes with care yet wears them with nonchalance”. Prince Charles and Charlie Watts (of the Rolling Stones) embody this today. I think that sums it up: style isn’t just about what’s on the surface, it’s about the inner attitude one has to life and to people.

How would you describe your style? To be honest, my “style” is something I have never seriously thought about. And it’s not so much a conscious, studied “style”, more an accumulation of random influences. If I feel like doing or wearing something, I will. However, I do keep coming back to the word: Individualistic.

I was recently asked to thumbnail-describe myself in an interview and, even though I happily drift between about the 1880s to the 1930s, I just burbled out something about “GeoVictWardian Gentleman homosexual dandy” [[Georgian / Victorian / Edwardian]]. Make of it what you will. On facebook I put down “Conservative Libertine!”. A man of opposites and contrasts, I suppose.

On the other hand, you could use the term I stated earlier: Professional Bohemian.

I tend to shy away from ‘labels’ per se (not just as in designer-labels). Perhaps I like being somewhat elusive? I do have a slight dread of being thought of as ‘hip’ or trendy. During the 1980s I stopped wearing suspenders / braces because everybody seemed to be wearing them. Mind you, I did start wearing sock suspenders then! And I noticed this year there have been rumblings of the rebirth of the straw boater this Summer (a friend in Tokyo recently told me they’ve sold out everywhere in that city). I do find it rather odd that some people seem to think of me as “ahead of the curve”!

I think there is always the mix of old and new for me: For example, I use Dax wax on my hair just as much as I use Brilliantine, sometimes both at the same time.

Years ago I described to my first tailor I was “traditional with a twist”. For example: I once came across a near-new dinner-suit/tuxedo by Valentino in a local charity shop - beautiful construction and huggable lapels. But the black plastic ribbed buttons looked cheap, so I changed them for silk ones; and the pants had no stripes - so I went to a military tailor I know, got him to source some 2” wide black satin and got him to put the stripes down the sides.

The thing is: when looking at old and vintage clothing styles, it’s all very well being obsessive - almost anally retentive - about authenticity [especially amongst the ‘Re-enactor‘ types] , but you Have to be practical: products that you’ve used and loved for years may suddenly stop being manufactured. Seek out vintage/antique clothes by all means but, face facts, people of earlier times were smaller in stature and sizes than most of us today, you probably won’t find your size so you’ll have to adapt something else or get it made up bespoke. (I’m 5’ 11 ½” tall, size US 11 shoes; the only thing that’s small about me is my hat size - 56cms / 22” - consequently, I have four superb vintage silk top hats at home I can choose from. I didn’t intend amassing so many, they just came my way begging me for a home).

Now that I’ve been asked to examine it, it’s interesting to realise how much of my “style” has developed from practical responses to accidental happenstance:

- when I was a smoker I would hold the cigarette between my middle and fourth fingers because, due to a childhood accident, I don’t have much feeling or movement in my right index finger. Years later I saw a photograph of Noel Coward holding a cigarette in exactly the same way. I’ve noticed the actor Cary Elwes does it today.

- in about 1990 I researched and presented a short TV series “The A-Z of the Well-dressed Gentleman” and I discovered the last remaining UK factory that made and refurbished monocles and lorgnettes. And considering I only have one bad eye, I thought I should really support these chaps and get one made up. And besides, why pay hundreds of pounds / dollars for some designer frames when my monocle cost me £35 ($50), with prescription lenses.

- I’ve never had a moustache in my life. But last year I had an accident which saw me on crutches and confined to my apartment for about six weeks; and naturally you let yourself go a bit during a period like that and the growth just started. I kept it going more out of curiosity, with the intention of shaving it off in the New Year. But by then all my friends told me I should keep it as it went marvellously with my Victorian clothes. I even held an online poll and was surprised at the 3:2 votes in favour of keeping it. And then I started to look after it, using moustache wax and grew quite fond of it. Now, the bottom line is: if people are going to pay me good money (with the London Victorian Strollers) to turn up to an event or take part in a film looking the way I do (like some retro Paris Hilton) , so be it: the moustache stays.

- After the crutches, I spent about eight months using a walking stick,. So I decided to start amassing a dazzling collection of antique walking canes. Some of them really are quite beautiful.

- And after the moustache I decided to grow my side whiskers, again more out of curiosity just to see what they would look like. At the moment they are now half way along my jaw line. (I do seem to be saving a lot of shaver blades).

- At present I’ve started to notice my slowly receding hairline (and I saw a recent photograph of me - which I have banned! - exposing a rather growing bald patch). So I’ve started to wonder what it would look like if I simply shaved the top pate of my head completely, leaving hair just at the sides and back. Trouble is, I would have to keep shaving it, and to be honest, I probably couldn’t be bothered! You see? Curiosity but with practicality. (At least you won’t ever see me with a dreaded comb-over!).

What are your sources of inspiration? Inspiration can come from anywhere and anything and at any time of the day or night, you just have to be receptive to it.

For example, I recently picked up some Vanity Fair prints from 1880 - 1910 from a street market; I might take them into my tailor for an opinion. It could equally be a fleeting glance of a Leyendecker or Rockwell print that catches my eye, or the tie of a tv weatherman, or a vintage photo album, or the curlicue on a restaurant menu. Anything.

Who is your style icon? No one specific name but, off the top of my head:-

The bedrock Has to be the Hollywood ‘Greats’ whose movies I grew up on (Cary Grant, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly). Also English gentlemen-entertainers of that era like Jack Buchanan (The Band Wagon) and the wartime ‘crooner’ Al Bowlly. And the Duke of Windsor for his boldness

In modern times: Henry de Winter aus Berlin (youtube him - a few of us hope to bring him to England), Robert Redford in The Great Gatsby, the artist Peter McGough (I would love to interview him).

…and maybe, in a weird twisted (guilty-pleasure) way, Chuck Bass from Gossip Girl.

What are your preferred dandy reading materials? I have a very short attention span (it’s the childhood hyperactivity). I start books and rarely finish them. So short pieces and features are my preferred reading. Mostly newspapers, I guess.

I wish I could say something like: ‘well, GQ and Details and Esquire are essential reading for me‘… Truth is, I hardly read any of these so-called men’s / “fashion” / lifestyle mags at all, I prefer UK music mags like Uncut, Q or Mojo. But I’m not a subscriber, more an occasional browser; some feature will pique my interest - or the free CD attached - and I might buy it.

The Chap magazine is still worth dipping into, although the new larger format and the areas of white space surrounding the text betray rather obviously it has now been “designed” and lost it’s sense of enthusiastic amateurism. It’s lost its energy and needs to go back to basics.

Any books I do read are non-fiction: mostly biographies, like Sir Francis Dashwood or Alexis, Baron de Rede. I’ve been skimming through a biography of UK Music Hall entertainer Gus Elen (1862-1940): his stage persona was of the aged, scruffy, broad-cockney-speaking Costermonger character, yet off-stage he was a handsome dandy, impeccably dressed, who owned one of the first motor cars in the UK. I love those juxtapositions . Or books to do with the movies and screenwriters, or creativity in general.

I tend to side with Noel Coward (and his comments about television being ’for appearing on, not for watching’) when I say: “books are for writing, not for reading”. Oh dear, does that make me sound like a terrible snob?!

Do you have a favourite website? Apart from your own glorious sites? Inevitably, the first four just have to be from me!:,,, Others: (an excellent UK site for vintage eyewear - tell Darren I sent you), (New York-based Keith Tritto, a good pal; he also makes costumes for the New York Metropolitan Opera…say no more!),,,,,, (more vintage eyewear, in NYC, but pricey),,,,,,,,,, and for the really flamboyant:

What is your favourite personal item (non-clothing/accessories)? Being a writer at heart, I could not live without a pen and paper; it’s like my comfort blanket. I remember once I was going out and realised I’d left my favourite pen indoors and I got a weird pang in my gut, like when you realise you’ve just shut your front door with the keys still left inside! And if I have no paper, I am always writing on the palm of my hand.

But there are plenty of other ‘artefacts‘, including:

- the perfect cappuccino; the remembered aroma (like vanilla talcum powder) of the original Calvin For Men, their very first cologne they stopped manufacturing almost thirty years ago; a particular recording of Walter Piston’s 2nd Symphony (the Boston Symphony / Michael Tilson Thomas version); the Paul Simon Songbook; Side One of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bookends”; the first albums of Tim Hardin and Joni Mitchell; Leonid Kogan playing the third movement of Shostakovich‘s First Violin Concerto; Tom Rush singing “Driving Wheel”; everything by Little Richard on Specialty Records; everything by Wynonie Harris. Each work a major impact on my growth. Oh, and I collect risqué and naughty Music Hall (Variety) songs. And lastly (at present)… moustache wax.

- a book of photographs by Rene Burri; and my collection of framed photos (various photographers), mostly B&W; selected photos of family and friends.

You see, the thing is: we spend the first half of our lives accumulating things - money, cars, houses, people, etc. - and spend the second half trying to divest ourselves of the extraneous crap in our lives and concentrating on the important things: family, friends, good health, quality of life and ‘what makes Me happy?’. You suddenly realise that everything else is, after all, just “stuff”.

What is your favourite clothing article or accessory? Without doubt, a black 100% cashmere overcoat by Stein & Bloch I bought in a warehouse sale in New York, Christmas, late 1970s. It was about $85 then - I dread to think its’ worth now. It envelopes me and is so warm I could be naked underneath and not notice the cold. The deep-pile quality of the cashmere is so wonderfully tactile, you can’t stop touching it!

Second is a silk top hat I bought earlier this year, through a friend of a friend. Later, the seller sent me an e-mail telling me she’d read my blog. “You’d probably like to know the provenance of that hat. One careful owner: Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman”. He was Prime Minister of the UK 1905-08 and died in office. It’s a beautiful artefact to simply hold in your hands - and even more comfortable to wear. Of all my four vintage silk toppers, this is still my favourite.

Where is your favourite or dream vacation spot? Without a doubt: Bermuda. If I had the money I would live there permanently, but that ain’t gonna happen. There’s still an aura of 1950s British Empire about it, and everyone is so civilised with impeccable manners - and you cannot buy that. [I first visited when I was 18 in 1970 (on the Caribbean cruise) and it really was love at first site. I return as often as I can afford].

The only other time I’ve ever felt similar to that was in 1973, I was 21 - teaching in Vermont. I stood on the Green in front of Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire and just wept. I knew this was the start of a life-long love affair with America. Again, I return to the North Eastern Seaboard whenever I can: from the 24/7 hysterical vibrancy of NYC to the quiet civility of Upstate or New England. (Taking the journey from New York City to Boston is like taking off a tight-fitting pair of shoes and slipping on a comfortable pair of slippers).

I was last there a few years ago, just sitting outside a coffee shop in Harvard Square watching the world go by - I do a lot of that - (and discussing with a Bostonian architect at the next table where he bought his bow tie) and felt a zen-like sense of bliss. A cappuccino (or iced tea) + space to relax and think + intelligent conversation with good friends = what more could one ask for?

Tell us the best kept secret in your city. A, a terrific website listing events, walks, talks (mostly free) in London and the UK is: B, a recent discovery. Across London there are dotted a number of huge cemeteries (Highgate, Kensal Green, Brompton Road etc.). Once a year they will have an Open Day, which not only includes guided tours of the cemetery itself but also a visit underground to the catacombs - huge tunnels and archways housing extraordinary coffins and funereal tributes and trappings. (I’ve had some marvellous photo sets taken, with permission, in the Kensal Green Catacombs). I know I shouldn’t say it but I would love to organise an all-night Rave down there! C, another well-kept secret is the “hidden” dimension to Savile Row. If you know any of the tailors there, many of them are happy to do “private” work (done in ‘down-time’) and probably charge you at least a half, maybe one third, of Savile Row prices. And in these harsh economic times, who can blame them! It really is a matter of getting that initial introduction and, above all, whether you get on well together. A number of my tailoring contacts have come about by coincidence via things like facebook or myspace.

Since my old tailor (in the East End of London) retired a few years ago, it took me a while to find another who really understands my quirks. Indeed, he not only works at a Savile Row house, he’s just finished a suit for Prince Charles. I like to think I can spot rising talent.

At which establishments would you consider yourself a regular? My local coffee shops. I don’t even start to function without a cappuccino inside of me. Indeed, a few years ago my doctor restricted me to 2 or 3 coffees a day, as it was starting to affect my kidneys. (Interestingly, when at home I only drink tea).

Clothes-wise, it would be most of the shops along Jermyn Street and St. James’s plus legal outfitters like Ede & Ravenscroft.

What would you be doing ten years from now? At 57, I find myself at a crossroads. My second parent recently dead, I now own the family house (renting out; it‘s not worth selling in the current market). I’m an only child with no ties (and disillusioned with the present-day UK) with the long-held intention to relocate. From now on, this is ‘Me’ time.

So, assuming I am still alive in ten years time, I should like to be split between: for the Summer in the USA (north-eastern seaboard?) with my Green Card, running a Victorian-themed Boarding House / Bed & Breakfast [I have my eye on a few suitable properties] or as a resident in some Living Museum - as long as it’s within walking distance of a local coffee shop.

Winter-time, I would snowbird down to a small bolt-hole in the Caribbean (at my age, my body doesn’t ‘do’ winters), probably living out some “Jungle Jim of the Islands” fantasy!

If there’s anyone out there who wants to join me in my US adventure, please do get in touch. But where in the USA would one be able to walk around wearing the clothes I do and not be regarded as some freak? I’ve been recommended New York City, San Francisco and some places in Pennsylvania. Any more suggestions?

I mean, I have plenty of friends in NYC who would love to see me there - perhaps they see me as some “Englishman in New York” - but why should I be seen as some kinda second-division Quentin Crisp, when I’m a First division Ray Frensham!

So - who’s gonna join me and make my vision happen? [I must admit I’ve recently been rather tempted by some splendidly cheap property opportunities in Berlin, but I really must concentrate on your side of the Atlantic].

In ten years time I’ll still be involved in some capacity with the screenwriting side, probably still Script-Doctoring and giving the odd workshop session at some College institution in some foreign country as Visiting Lecturer. And, no doubt, still regularly updating Teach Yourself Screenwriting.

I would love to have my own line of bow tie designs, based on my collection of art-deco ties from the 1930s (on every one of my visits to the States during the 1970s and 80s I would plunder the thrift stores and vintage outlets). And I do like sourcing the silks for, and designing, my own waistcoats….And I have some strange designs and ideas for cufflinks and ascot pins but I can’t draw to save my life!

…and hopefully with a life-partner, however elusive that dream may be!

What is your current obsession? I’ve been thinking about getting made-up a three-piece frock-coated suit in a light silver-grey, with silver-grey silk facings on the lapels and matching waistcoat. There’s a painting of Robert de Montesquieu by Boldini that is something near it.

And for some reason I slowly seem to be having my pants / trousers re-pressed so that the creases are sideways rather than front-and-back. (It’s how they did it in Victorian times and also the Duke of Windsor).

My other obsession is planning to leave the UK, but I’ve mention that elsewhere.

Regarding ‘obsessions’, here is a good place to mention the addictive nature of wearing and collecting bow ties. It’s something I’ve discussed with some famous bow tie wearers, and we all agree: even after all these years, when your tie collection runs into the hundreds, and you’ve decided ‘enough is enough’, I guarantee you will Still see that new design that you just have to buy and wear! All I’m saying is: just be aware of it, that’s all!

Currently inspired by? Pretty much everything that surrounds me. I‘ve recently discovered a (2002) German TV series called “Unter den Linden: das Haus Gravenhorst” - I rather like the clothes therein (go to my myspace page and follow the link). And series like Sherlock Holmes (the Jeremy Brett version) , Poirot, Jeeves & Wooster, The Forsyte Saga and various BBC period dramas are always worth examining (and endlessly repeated on various digital TV channels in the UK). I just wallow in it all but get so jealous - I want all those outfits. And movies: from Buddenbrooks, Lyndsey Anderson’s If…. or Visconti’s The Damned to Singin’ In The Rain and Titanic.

What else do you want to tell us? Some guaranteed and recommended guidelines for life:

Learn how to tie a bow tie, it will stand you in good stead for the rest of your life.

One thing I try to impress upon the younger guys is this: when you’re young, especially during those difficult teenage years, it’s all about peer-group approval and ‘fitting-in’ - am I wearing the right this or am I saying the right that. But the great thing about ageing is: the older you get (and the more you grow into who you will become) the less and less you care about what other people think or say about you. And when you get to that point, it’s fantastically liberating.

Certainly, when younger guys (proto-dandies, I guess) ask me questions, I think part of my role is to support them and give them that extra boost of self-confidence to go out and wear whatever they feel like wearing - to bring them to that point of “hey, you don’t like what I’m wearing? - Not my problem“. Or to suggest something that might give an ensemble a twist or a lift, like wearing an ascot / cravat with a polo top, just to give their head a kind of creative tap on the side; or to recommend some websites that might supply off-the-wall designs they might like (from cufflinks to bow ties).

Also, young beaus say to me “how can I afford a wardrobe such as yours?”. I tell them remember this: I’ve been collecting for over thirty years now…you will get there someday. One tip: when I was a teenager intent on starting a basic wardrobe. each sales time (winter and summer) I would concentrate on one garment; one sale buying only shoes, the next only sweaters; the next jackets etc. And always buy the best quality (I’m not obsessed about labels) and going for classic styles, because they never go out of fashion. After a few years you find you’ve got the bedrock of your future wardrobe. And in the US you also have your Outlet chains now, which are a marvel.

And check out the end of season sales at Formal Dress-Hire stores, you might find some excellent bargains there.

Moisturise daily - we all reach a point in life when a man’s best friend is his moisturiser. Start early.

Never deny the joy of silk against skin, from an ascot or pocket square to silk boxers.

Somebody said to me recently: “you know that goths, steampunks and the like really admire guys like you and look up to you; they regard you as ‘hard-core’”. Well, I thought that was funny.

And in the same way, I’ve never considered myself to be an eccentric, even though earlier this year somebody (I’d like to know Who!) nominated me for Eccentric of the Year. Anyway, the Eccentric Club gave me their Special Prize. []

I keep returning to this idea about never having considered myself as coming under any tag or label - except perhaps Individualist. I just try to live my life the way I want to live it, without frightening the horses.

I guess you could sum it up like this: whatever you feel makes you happiest, try it - as long as it’s not drugs or hurts or harms other people. And if you ever get a set-back or a disappointment, just say: “Oh well, at least it’s not life-threatening”.

Be an individual, that’s all. Just be yourself - listen to that Different Drummer!

I say in my book: “original screenwriters don’t follow trends, they Create trends” - I guess you can transfer that to life itself.

top image: Niko Lindgren
image above: Nik Bartram


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Ray Frensham said...

Many thanks for putting this out, chaps.
Ray Frensham sounds amazing - I must get to meet him sometime!

Anonymous said...

I would be interested to find out more about the biography of Gus Elen which Ray Frensham refers to. Any chance of passing this message on?

Charles Henry said...

Sure Anonymous. How should I have Ray contact you? Email us at

Ray Frensham said...

As far as I know ther's never been a published book biog of Gus Elen. The two sources I have are an old edition of the magazine from the Music Hall Society (about 20 years ago) - not even sure if it is still going [each mag. devoted an issue to a single artist]. The other source are the sleeve notes of an old vinyl 12" album of Gus Elen tracks on UK Topic Records. I hope that is of some help,

Charles Henry said...

Thanks Ray!

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