Dancing On the Edge (2013) s01e06 Episode Script

Episode 6

1 During my friendship with Louis Lester - and I think I can call it a pretty remarkable friendship - I made several attempts to interview him in my official capacity as Deputy Editor of Music Express.
After all, I had championed his music and his band, given them a lot of publicity and rave reviews.
What was more natural than to follow this up with a really major interview? I never got a chance to finish it though, before the terrible events that engulfed us all happened.
But I firmly believe the fragments I got are worth publishing - especially as the conversation took such an unexpected turn, one I could never have predicted.
However, there was a problem with interviewing Louis, as you will see.
So, are you ready to do this? That depends.
Depends on what? A few conditions.
Conditions? What conditions? When I say something is not to be published, that means it's not to be published.
You understand? I don't know, we'll have to see about that.
Depends how exciting you are on the record.
Well then, forget it.
I've changed my mind.
That was a joke, Louis.
When I say - and listen to this, Stanley - that you're not going to print something, that's what it means.
And you'd better not.
You start by threatening me? I don't believe this! No, we start by making my conditions absolutely clear.
Why don't we do it like on the wireless? Is that what you want, all the questions and answers written out, like some ridiculously stilted interview? "It must be exciting to be a well-known coloured musician in London, Mr Lester"? Now you've promised not to write anything I don't want Did I promise? We both know that one of us is going to come out of this interview deeply regretting they agreed to it, and it may not be me, Stanley.
You're trying to scare me now? You think I can't? I know you can't.
I know I can.
My parents were both from Jamaica, my mother's family had come to England 15 years before my father.
He was a merchant seaman, travelled all over the world.
That's what I started doing too, as you know - before I formed the band.
I got my first job at sea, when I was 17 You're in a bit of a hurry to leave your parents there.
Let's just stay with them for a moment.
Your mother - what happened to her? My mother was in service.
She was lucky.
She had a job in a great house where there had been a tradition, on and off, of having coloured servants going back to the 17th century.
There was a big picture somewhere in the house of one of the dukes, at the time of Charles I, with his black page standing behind him.
Why was she lucky to be there? Because the lady of the house took an interest in her, which was very unusual - still is.
And no, I'm not going to name her, because they're still very much around at the moment, not the lady in question, but the family.
I read about their social engagements in The Times newspaper.
Hmm, maybe they're about to have a great party and they'll ask for your band to play there, and you can return in triumph to where your mum worked.
The thought had occurred to me.
How did this duchess, or whoever, take an interest in your mother? Just in small ways, of course.
She gave her books to read, she gave her Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray.
My mother couldn't read, but didn't dare tell the lady of the house, so she taught herself to read, and then she read the whole of Vanity Fair and she gave it to me just before she died.
Have you read it? I have, yes, although I have to admit I did have to start it three times.
Anyway, your mum and your dad - were you close? No, that's all I want to say about them.
Let's move on.
That's twice you've tried not to talk about them.
Is that all you're going to give me - your mum and Vanity Fair? Yes, this is off the record now, Stanley, and not to be printed.
You're only allowed three.
Who says? I'm telling you, you're only allowed three "off the records", and I'm counting.
Are you sure you want this to be one of them? Yes.
My mother had problems - especially when my father was away at the war.
She was in a state of constant fear.
She often screamed when she saw the postman walking down the street, or the telegraph boy.
Yes, God, most hated boys, the telegraph boys.
I thought about doing that after the war started.
Watched them coming down the street, and I remember thinking, no, no.
I never want to be one of those boys, constantly bringing news of death.
You look surprised.
I was surprised, that's, er A bit serious for me? I didn't say that.
You meant it though.
Leave it.
I should never have interrupted when you're talking about your mum.
My mother Well, her moods became more and more frequent.
She went mad? That's why we're off the record, yes, but I wouldn't say she went mad - she was locked inside her own world.
Every night she yelled out at God, had this passionate conversation with Him.
She thought that a black soldier, for some reason, a black soldier was more likely to be killed.
I sometimes came across her, in the kitchen, quite naked, on her knees, praying, praying.
I've never prayed in my life, Stanley, and I certainly never intend to do so.
But her prayers, it did bring him back.
Her great love.
She only had eyes for him, always just for him.
But then my father, he never really spoke about the war.
Nobody wants to talk about the war.
I know.
It's as if, at the moment, there isn't a single person who wants to remember the war.
We were lucky, so bloody lucky, to be young enough to just miss all that.
I remember going down the river one day, just after the war had started, sunny afternoon, went down to the beach at Battersea where at low tide you can wade out into the river.
The boats were all going past, still a lot of young men on them, taking their girls out on the water.
And there was this one girl standing on the river bank, just above the beach.
She had a young man with her, and her dog, and she tied the dog to a tree.
And then they were kissing really passionately, just near me, and touching each other all over.
I was only 11, it was a tremendous free show.
And I I watched it all.
She says goodbye to him.
He was in uniform, he was going to the war.
And then he leaves her.
She turns round, and the dog was gone, it'd managed to get free, so she starts running all over the park trying to find the dog.
I decided to help her.
I mean, after that wonderful show, that was the least I could do.
And I remember so clearly, when I was helping to try and find her dog, how joyful she was at what had just happened, because he must have said how much he truly loved her, and yet how sad she was at the same time because he'd gone.
She was so full of both those things at once and I could feel it so strongly because I was right next to her.
And did you find the dog? Oh, yes, I found the dog.
"Here it is!" I said, and she gave me a little kiss on the top of me head and she was gone.
Funny Often think about her, what happened to her, and if, er well, if he ever came back.
She was a beautiful girl.
Sweet little story, really, isn't it? It is.
So why are you looking at me like that? You tell me a story of your own, Stanley, hoping I'll open up to you.
But you're going to open up to me anyway, Louis.
So, no brothers or sisters, and you're all alone living with your deeply religious mother? Yes.
Do you have any brothers and sisters? I don't.
That's a coincidence.
Both of us being only children.
Might explain something, of course, although I don't know what.
And both your parents died in the flu epidemic - that must have been a devastating time.
Are we still off the record? For heaven's sake, you can tell me about that.
Both your parents die, you're incredibly upset.
We are still off the record.
Oh! Go on, if we have to be.
It was in a way, devastating, of course.
But in another way, I was already on my own.
I had naturally seen very little of my father during the war and when he came back, he really didn't speak to me very much.
And there was a time, shortly before he died, when we were walking along the street, and he stopped to buy toffee apples for both of us.
I was a little old for toffee apples, I thought, but I realised that he wanted one, and he was pretending it was for me, the reason why he was buying them.
We walked along a little way eating our toffee apples and I did think, here is a chance to talk to him about the war - got to try and talk to him about it.
So I asked him about sleep.
Was it easy to sleep in the trenches? Did he ever get used to it? And what did he say? He said he didn't really remember, even though it was only a year after the war.
He didn't really remember about sleep.
And we walked along together eating our toffee apples and that was the last time I ever spoke to him.
Shall I tell you the brutal truth? The brutal truth? That sounds promising.
Tell me the brutal truth, Louis, just as long as it's on the fucking record.
This is on the record, but you won't want to print it.
I'm sure I will.
No, I know you won't.
Thanks for providing the sandwiches, by the way.
There's champagne.
But at this rate, you're not going to earn it.
Don't rush to judgment, Stanley.
What is the brutal truth? It is that people don't like the idea of me being English, not even you.
What have I done to deserve that? It's true, they prefer to think of me as an American.
The most frequent question I get asked is, "Are you going back to America soon?" Yes, but that only proves what a novelty you are, not a minstrel band.
I'm not sure that's what they mean when they ask that.
Of course, many people are prejudiced, but there are many that aren't, and those numbers are growing.
Is that Stanley Mitchell's own research? In a way, yes.
It is my considered opinion as a professional observer of the current scene.
Is that what you are, a professional observer? Anyway, if you were American, and you were there now, in quite a few states they'd put you in jail for sleeping with a white woman.
I'm just going to sit here and eat your sandwiches until you move on to something else.
I'm certainly not going to comment on that.
Of course I'm not going to write about your personal life! D'you think I'm that kind of journalist? I'm quite offended.
I will make one observation, however.
It's that you, Stanley Mitchell, have never been to America.
You are deeply fascinated by it, of course, but you have absolutely no idea what it's really like.
I haven't been to America, yet, no.
My mum hadn't heard an American accent until a couple of years ago when we went to the talkies.
That was the same for most of the country.
They hadn't heard it either.
She said, "Oooh, so that's what they sound like!" Yes.
To state the obvious, I have seen more of the world than you.
So, Mr Lester, what's it like being a coloured musician in London now? This is off the record now, Stanley.
Oh, for When you are a coloured person, you are very visible, of course, and people make remarks all the time, you get used to it.
Sometimes you can't ignore them, most of the time you find a way, or at least I do, of letting it slip past you.
But at the same time you are invisible.
Because you are coloured, you are obviously not a person of consequence.
"Of course, how could he be!" So even if you hear something very private, people think you'll never know anybody important enough to repeat it to.
And if you are a musician that is doubly true, because you are just providing the background sound to all these people's lives, so they often behave as if you don't exist and you get to hear some very intimate things.
For instance, on some of the big ocean crossings, just after the financial crash, when I was playing in first class, I heard people talking about killing themselves right in front of me.
And I heard other people laying out all their business plans, exactly how they were going to destroy their rivals.
So I feel quite lucky in a way to have been able to eavesdrop on so many people, as part of the furniture of their lives.
And now, because I have had success, people don't talk like that in front of me any more.
Give me some more examples of what you've heard.
You think I'm mad? I'm not sure about all this invisible, visible stuff.
It's all a bit over-prepared for me, it's a bit too polished.
But isn't that who I am, Stanley? A bit of polish is good.
Oh, right, yes, the old Louis Lester polish - I forgot, of course! Well, answer me this then, Mr Louis Lester.
Do you consider yourself a radical person? Somebody who has left-leaning sympathies? Well, generally I'm not a political person.
Of course, we live at a time when there is a huge gap between the rich and the poor, and naturally like most reasonable people, I don't believe that's right, but I'm not a communist.
I suppose I believe that there's never just one solution to any given problem.
God help us.
You're not talking to the Daily Express, you know.
I'm very aware of that.
They would have prepared for this interview a lot better.
So what's your conclusion about how things are, from all this invisibility? The position you've been in, which you seem to regard as quite a lucky position? And you're going to yell at me, because it's so obvious.
My conclusion is - there's a hell of a lot of ignorance about people like me.
From most people? From everybody.
From everybody? Well, fucking hell Louis, it's a good job we're doing this interview then, isn't it? Come into the warm, it's Christmas Time for you to toast your toes The feeling in the ballroom of the Imperial Hotel when the band played used to vary wildly from night to night.
From high excitement to complete incomprehension.
The performance I really wish I'd been there for was when they played to the old dowagers on Christmas Day as they tucked into their puddings, the old ladies looking to see if they'd been lucky and got a sixpence in their portion.
Never had there been a more unlikely audience for jazz music.
And yet, I'm told, there was a feeling of reasonable tolerance in the room, broken only by the shocking spectacle of members of the German Embassy walking out in protest.
Which just helps to prove how powerful the right music can be when it confronts the wrong audience.
Come ye faithful, come, it's Christmas For some reason, you're not asking me the question you really want to ask.
Oh, how very idiotic of me.
And why am I not asking that question? I don't know, Stanley.
I don't know why you're pussyfooting around.
What is that question? This is off the record.
That's three down, now.
Come on, you've had your lot.
We'll see about that.
The question you're not asking is why are so many upper class people No, not so many, that's quite wrong.
Why are some upper class people, including royalty, so interested in jazz music and black musicians? Ah, well, I don't have to ask that question, for the very simple reason, I know the answer.
You know? Yes, it's easy - cos they find it very sexually exciting.
So that's the reason, is it? You can look me in the eye, and tell me that's not the reason? Go on, try.
Some of that is true.
What do you mean? It is the truth.
If you're talking about Prince George.
Certainly the princes, but not just the princes.
It is exotic for them, that is the attraction, and a change.
From the ghastly Jack Paynton, and all those terrible foxtrots! I agree about that, but if you want my opinion That is why I'm here.
They find in the music a chance to escape, for a minute or two, from all the rules and codes of behaviour they have to live by.
But you love all that, don't you? Love what? Royalty.
And all the rules of etiquette.
Having to bow to them.
Having the chance to talk to them for a few precious seconds, having to play for them, having to answer their dumb questions.
I'm right, aren't I? It is an exciting challenge, putting on a performance for a royal audience, yes.
Come on, I can't believe you just said that.
You're not on the bloody wireless! And an honour too, of course, a great honour.
"Mr Louis Lester says it's a great honour playing for the Royal Family!" Well, fuck me, Louis, that is the scoop of the century, right, Louis? Trucking along and I'm happy to see you Ain't right or wrong if I do or I don't I'm holding on for a dance at the Voodoo Crazy in the mood for love Never say you won't be leaving You can buy me time and teasing You can show me ways of pleasing Crazy in a mood for love Crazy in love and I'm looking to make it Do you consider yourself famous? No.
But you are quite famous, right at the moment.
The band has had success.
Jessie, our lead singer, has had great success, yes.
So the band is famous? The band is well-known, at the moment, yes.
What's the biggest change that fame has brought you? What can you do now you couldn't before? Well, being able to use the front entrance at the Imperial Hotel.
Being able to call for a taxi, having some money, not having to worry about members of the band being deported because we have regular work.
So you feel much safer, much more secure? Of course, as much as anybody can at the moment.
Do you think you've had to be quite ruthless to get where you are? No, I don't think that, no.
But your manager, Wesley Holt, was deported over a year ago, ending a long association between you, and that didn't seem to affect you that deeply.
On the contrary, it was a very difficult time.
Didn't seem to throw you off your stride at all.
I wouldn't put it like that.
We had many months when I felt the band was making no progress and we were going nowhere.
As you well know, Stanley.
And Wesley Holt? Do you know what happened to him? We've lost touch.
You've made no attempt to find out what happened to him? Of course I have.
I've made several attempts.
There was a serious court case pending in the state of Illinois, wasn't there, for him? I believe so.
I'm sure he didn't go back there.
Do you know if he's dead or alive? I'm sure he's alive.
So why haven't you heard from him? Because I think he may have felt that I could have done more about his situation.
I'm not sure I could have done.
Would you like me to find out what happened to him? Of course, if you think you can.
Maybe I'll try my own line of enquiry.
My point is, how has success changed you? Your personality? In my experience it changes most people.
So how has it changed you? You've got to answer.
You've got to allow me underneath the surface otherwise all this is pointless.
How have you changed? I will answer that.
Go on.
But in this way, Stanley.
And it's not what you're expecting.
Surprise me, Louis.
There has been a very interesting side to the little bit of fame we've had, something you could never guess at.
And it'll give you a story.
But you've got to do a bit of work for it first.
You've got to speak to Carla, and to Jessie, and then you might know what question to ask.
You're setting me tasks now? I am.
Is this because I've started asking you awkward questions? No, it's not, it's because that's all the time I can spare you now.
Jessie's impossible to talk to.
She won't talk about herself, absolutely refuses to! Get Carla on your side and maybe she will.
What's she going to tell me? Oh, you infuriating bastard.
Fog on the river, mist in my heart Carla always got very nervous before she sang.
She had extraordinary presence but didn't seem to realise the effect she had on people, how much they were drawn to watch her.
Did Louis say this was all right? He did.
He said I had to talk to you.
I can't see why.
What are you going to find out from me? Well, I'm trying to do a really full interview about Louis and the success of the band and Louis believes strongly that you should be in the article.
So do I, of course.
I see.
I'm interested in how success has changed you and the band, if it has, that is? Well, we've been so lucky, so very lucky, in all sorts of ways.
I mean, not having to worry about food, about being hungry, for a start.
Have you ever been hungry? On occasions, yes, like walking home after school.
You've never been hungry, have you? Well, not like you, Carla, no.
Well, the biggest difference for me, the very biggest difference success has meant to me, was going into Fortnum and Mason's and having three Welsh Rarebits, one after another, in a place that I could never have gone into, not in my wildest dreams! Never, ever, ever.
Three Welsh Rarebits! It's rarebits by the way, not rabbits, which is a piece of cheese on toast - I know what Welsh Rarebits are, Carla.
D'you know why it's called that? I don't know that, no.
No, nor do I.
I forgot to ask.
Well, that's the biggest difference, three Welsh Rarebits, one after another.
And that's it? That's why Louis wanted me to talk to you? To hear about cheese on toast? I thought you wanted to talk to me? Yes, I do, of course.
Go on.
Well, that's the biggest difference, that's what success has meant to me.
What happens if it goes? Of course, I'm not saying that it will, but sometimes in showbusiness things don't go on for ever.
How difficult d'you think it would be to go back? Go back where? To your life before.
It would be easy.
Would it? Yes, and I expect it will happen.
One day.
But before then, do you have a sort of dream where you may end up? Your own West End show? Hah! What does that mean, "Hah"? Louis told me if you asked me that question I should tell you about the man in our street.
Louie's been coaching you how to answer my questions? He talked to me, yes.
He said if you wanted to know the answer to that question, I should tell you about the man and the room.
Well, I think I would have anyway, because that's what I believe.
In the street where I grew up Which was where? I'm not going to tell you that now, am I, Stanley? Why ever not? Because it's private.
But it was in London? You can tell me that much.
Yes, it was in London.
Good! We didn't have much space.
We didn't have very much space at all.
There were six of us, my brothers and sisters and I, and we all slept in the same room.
So a room of your own was a really special thing.
So one day across the street, a man arrives.
Mr Dunwoodie, he was called.
He was from Scotland, although he didn't have a Scottish accent really.
He was a short man, and he was so full of energy and life.
And every time he passed us on the street he'd say "Hello children, what a day it is today.
A lovely day, a day for great ideas!" So Mr Dunwoodie had two rooms of his own across the street, all to himself.
And we soon found out that Mr Dunwoodie was working on this wonderful invention that was going to make him his fortune, and he said he was going to show it to us as soon as it was ready, and that's why he needed the two rooms.
So when we saw him on the street, we'd call out to him.
We'd ask him how it was going, if it was nearly ready yet.
And he would always answer, "Nearly there, children, nearly there!" But after a few months, we couldn't wait any longer.
You know what kids are like, we had to see this great invention.
So we ran across the street and we knocked on the door.
"Can we come in?" And he shouted, "Go away, children!" Well, we didn't go away.
We tried the door handle, and it wasn't locked, and the door flew open and in we went.
And all over the floor were these bits of metal, a terrible mess, little pieces and big pieces.
Everywhere you looked, there were pieces of scrap metal.
And Mr Dunwoodie, he was screaming at us.
"Go away, you terrible children, go away right now!" And of course we ran away.
And for days we didn't see Mr Dunwoodie.
And when he did come out into the street, he looked so different.
Pale, and older looking.
His face was so, so terribly sad.
And he never smiled at us again, not once.
A little while later, he went away, disappeared, he took all of his bits of metal on an old cart.
But I learnt from that a big lesson.
You can have a dream, but you must never describe that dream to anyone, or let them see too closely inside of it, because one day they might burst through the door and you may have to see your dream through someone else's eyes, how it might seem to the world, and that can destroy it for ever.
How strange.
What's strange? Well, that Louis should coach you like this, make you tell me some kind of a fable.
It's not a fairy story, it happened.
I'm not saying it didn't happen, but I don't know who I'm meant to be in this story.
I'm not going to try and destroy your dreams of success, for goodness' sake, quite the opposite.
You know, I thought this was going to be easy, interviewing Louis and you.
It's proving quite the bloody opposite.
Well, I'm sorry I didn't give you the answer that you wanted.
No, no.
If you want to talk about things changing people, maybe you should talk to Jessie, of course.
D'you think she'll talk to me? We'll see.
If you could be gentle with her, and not get too impatient, Stanley.
But do you think you can do that? Stars burning brighter, I'm on an all-nighter Serenading to a tune I've popped the bull's eye in a celestial night sky I'm dancing on the moon I always found Jessie unknowable, a mysterious little creature who seemed to have emerged into the world fully-formed without parents, brothers or sisters, or any past she would talk about.
Life is a glass of champagne A silver souvenir will never cost me dear In a starlit avenue Her tragic death has only deepened the mystery, of course.
But I knew, the morning I spoke to her, I had to try and relax her if she was going to open up to me and give me a lead.
So I encouraged her to bring some of her family out with her, and I tried to ask her as little as possible and be patient, something I find it very difficult to be.
The letters I get are such a mixture, such a strange mixture.
Everyday I wake up and think, "What surprise will there be today in the box?" I put them all, each new lot of letters, in this blue box - and then I go through them, without opening them, just looking at the writing on the envelope, deciding which I'll open first, and which maybe I'll never open.
A lot of them, of course, are saying nice things about me, usually very nice, about how pretty my singing is and what a good dancer I am.
I am a good dancer, I think.
Not many people have written about that, Stanley, you know.
Hmm! Then of course, there are the letters which are simply disgusting, about people thinking about me without my clothes on and that sort of thing.
I wonder if Jack Paynton gets letters like that? I expect he does.
It's not something one wants to think about, a naked Jack.
I'm sure even Mrs Paynton has a problem with that! Sorry - I interrupted.
Yes, well, there's one thing about these letters I really wish.
It would be so much better if people sent pictures of themselves with the letters.
Because I often think, after receiving a very peculiar letter, who could have written a letter like this? I wonder what he looks like? Or what this woman looks like? Because lots of women write to me too, it's not just men.
I wish I had a picture of the man who sent me three boxes of peaches last week.
Yes, I got three boxes of peaches.
They were delivered to the hotel with a note saying "In Admiration".
And a few weeks ago I got a little dog.
I got sent a puppy! Couldn't keep it, of course - we're not allowed pets in our rooms at the hotel.
But somebody is looking after it for me, and I will get it back one day.
And sometimes, you know, Stanley, people write about their lives to me in such a way, all the most private things, and asking me for advice, and you can't really help them at all - I mean, I can't.
No, you can't read them.
I didn't say anything, Jessie.
No, but I'm just making clear, nobody can read them, not even my letters from the Prince, and I've had several letters from the Prince, and those, of course, are the most special of all.
And, er, your parents? They must be very proud of you.
Do they write to you often? I don't talk about my parents.
My dad disappeared when I was three, I never knew him, I think he's dead now anyway.
He was white.
I think he worked in Covent Garden, you know, in the market.
My mother, I'm not talking much about my mother either.
She left, as well, when I was little.
I was about eight when she went.
She was a bit of a singer, too, as it happens.
One of my few good memories of her is her singing to me when I was tiny as she said goodnight, but she didn't do it that often.
She had many admirers, many men.
Nearly all of them were white.
They came and knocked on the door and gave me a little pat on the head.
Really? She sang at Collins Music Hall, the one in Islington, so she can't have been that bad, can she? Did you ever go and see her in the theatre? Yes, I saw her once.
I think it must have been at Collins.
There were three of them, with my mum in the middle, singing a silly song about bananas.
And I knew at once I wasn't going to be a singer like her.
I was going to be a singer, I knew that much, but I was going to be completely different.
She left us, anyway, me and my aunt.
She left us.
Suddenly, one night, she was gone, never was in touch.
I haven't seen her for years.
Maybe she's dead, too.
You think I sound hard? I didn't say anything, Jessie.
I know you didn't say anything.
I'm asking you, do I sound hard? You sound like you haven't forgiven her.
I haven't, no.
I don't think I've forgiven either of them, but that doesn't mean I'm hard.
After all, I owe everything to one man, and I always say that, I always make that clear.
You mean Louis, I take it? Well, Louis too, of course, but no, I didn't mean him.
I meant before him, there was my teacher in the East End, Mr Rabinowitz.
He gave me singing lessons.
Of course, I couldn't really pay him, not what he usually charged, not what he charged the others.
My aunt paid what she could.
He did a special rate for me.
I wish he could see me now.
I wish he could have been there when I sang for the Prince of Wales, and heard me singing on the wireless.
I'd have given anything for him to be there, to be here still.
But he died three years ago.
His heart was broken.
Who broke his heart, Jessie? Well, it certainly wasn't me.
There was one girl who had lessons with him called Well, I'll call her Annie, though that's not her real name, because you'll know her real name.
She was very pretty, now she's beautiful.
I don't know where she lived.
Not round us, anyway.
She came and had lessons with him twice a week.
She was very good and he was really taken with her.
I mean, he was in love with her, but he never would do anything with her, you know, which wasn't proper, wasn't right.
He never took advantage of any of us.
He was in love with her talent and how amazing she was when she sang, so he loved her.
Anyway, Annie, the person I'm calling Annie has become very successful.
She's starring in a revue right now in the West End.
I probably shouldn't have said that, now you'll probably guess her name.
I won't guess that, Jessie.
Although she owed him everything, owed Mr Rabinowitz her career, she never answered his letters.
And when he went to see her the first time she was in a West End show, she kept him waiting for ages at the stage door, and then she didn't even come down to see him.
Instead she sent down a box of chocolates, and when he opened them, half of them had already been eaten! Imagine doing that to your old teacher! What a terrible thing to do! It broke his heart.
He was my friend.
I could never behave like that.
I could never change towards people in that way, no matter what happens.
People who have helped you.
However much you get your head swollen by what people say in these letters, you mustn't believe them, you mustn't change.
You know, some of them run down the street after me blowing kisses, just like Julian said they would! But I'm not going to change.
Of course, just like the letters, the people that wait outside the hotel for my autograph, outside The Imperial, are such a mixture, too.
But you can see their faces, so whatever they say to you, and sometimes they do whisper things that are a shock, whatever they say it isn't as strange as some of these letters.
And you can smile at them and talk to them, and be friendly enough so it doesn't become anything worse.
You understand what I mean? Yes.
Oh, has Louis told you about the woman? What woman? No, he hasn't.
He hasn't? I'm pleased to see today we're starting with champagne.
Last time it never showed up did it? Well, today it's a bribe.
I realise that.
So I've been on the little mystery tour you wanted me to, and Jessie told me to ask you about the woman.
So I'm hoping you're not going to muck about.
Muck about? Yes.
Hope you're going to tell me about her straight away.
I will, in a moment.
In a moment? Here we go again, bloody off the record business! What tiny bit of this interview am I actually going to be allowed to publish? I'm not saying this is off the record.
You're not? Why not? It can't be that exciting then.
It's just I know you won't have the guts to publish it.
I'm not going to rise to that.
You know, I've been very stupid now, and you don't often hear me say that.
That's true.
I forgot for a moment that you're a musician, and you're treating this interview a bit like your jazz music.
You seem to be improvising, talking about this and that, and all the while I'm being led somewhere, aren't I? You are, yes.
To the woman.
To the woman, yes.
What I meant by the interesting side of fame.
This will never be in your magazine.
I'll bet you £100.
I don't bet, but who knows, if it's worth it, I might pay you something.
Now, where did you meet this woman? I was dressed like this, getting ready to play in the ballroom.
It was about two months ago.
I was in a little room near Schlesinger's office, he lets me use it sometimes to get away from the band.
'I was in a rather good mood, I remember.
' 'There's a telephone call for you, Mr Lester.
' Thank you.
'Hello?' Hello? 'You don't know who this is, do you?' I have to admit I don't.
'You've never noticed me, then?' Noticed you? Where? 'But if you have to be told, then you haven't noticed me.
' Well, if you told me your name, it might help.
'You want to know my name? 'How would that help if you haven't noticed me?' 'Well, if you described yourself.
' 'Describe myself? 'What if I told you I was naked? 'Does that help?' Excuse me, I'm just getting ready for tonight's performance, so I will 'I'm sorry, don't ring off' I shouldn't have said that.
That was plain stupid, Mr Lester.
I apologise.
There's no need to apologise.
'No, I do apologise, first of all because' Well, I'm not naked, so it was pointless me saying that.
Though depending on how long we talk, that situation can always change.
I really must go now.
I'm sorry, that was just a poor joke, and actually, I do have something very interesting to tell you, so I should stop spoiling it, shouldn't I? The point is, I'm, of course, a great admirer of your work, and I've sat in the ballroom at the Imperial and heard you play many times, and maybe I was there last night, sat quite close to the stage, wearing a rather revealing dress, and maybe you did notice me? When I'm playing, I don't see much from the stage.
Oh, well, I'm sure you're concentrating on your music, Mr Lester, of course! I was just explaining what a devoted follower I am of your band, and perhaps at this very moment I'm telephoning from somewhere in the hotel, so I'm not too far from you.
'But before you reply to that, let's leave all that vague, shall we? 'Because I don't think I should tell you too much.
' I think it's probably better that you don't know my name.
I think it'll be safer for you, and a lot safer for me, if you didn't know my name.
Safer? In what way safer? Oh, I keep saying things I oughtn't, things that make me sound bonkers, and that is precisely how I don't want to sound.
'But yes, I think it would be much safer for both of us 'if I remain anonymous.
' I hope you don't think that's too cowardly.
Do you think it's cowardly? I'm sure it isn't.
But now, whoever you are, I really am in the middle of doing some work here, 'so intriguing as it is to talk to an anonymous lady who may' or may not be naked, I'm sorry, but I'm going to ring off now.
If you ring off, you won't stop me.
Blimey, I can't believe you did that! Why did you ring off? I had work to do.
Of course, I forgot, you're always working.
The next day, at exactly the same time, about an hour before we were going to play, the telephone rings again.
And I warn you, Stanley, you're not going to like this.
Why not? Because it's going to affect you personally.
I left this bit out when I told Jessie.
I'm flattered I'm getting it all.
'How very unimaginative of you to ring off last night.
' Well, I explained, I had work to do.
Oh, you sound just like my husband, whom we will soon be talking about.
Please don't ring off, it's important, promise me.
I won't ring off, yet.
Now, are you wondering what I'm wearing? 'Well, that was a long pause.
' Come on, I'm rather an attractive woman.
I can't believe you're not wondering how much or how little I'm wearing, especially as I hear you're rather partial to white women.
'So, what do you think I'm wearing?' Before you tell me that 'Yes? What do you want to know, Mr Lester?' What do I call you, since you won't tell me your real name? Oh, good, I'm so glad you're not threatening to ring off yet.
You can call me Josephine, 'as in Napoleon and Josephine.
' So, Josephine, 'what are you wearing?' I'm sitting here in my petticoat, waiting for my husband to come back and take me to a very boring dinner party.
So why did you call me? 'I'm coming to that.
' But I realise before you can take me seriously, you need somebody to vouch for me, so I'm going to hand the telephone now to somebody who you know, 'but on one condition.
' What condition is that? You must never make her tell you who I am.
Do you promise that? I promise that.
If you break your promise, it could be fatal for me, you understand? I understand.
Oh, it's going to be Pamela, isn't it? It's going to be one of her nutty, upper-class friends on the phone, isn't it? Hello, Louis.
You've got to promise you won't try and make her tell you who this lady is.
Oh, now I've got to promise, do I? What is this all about, Louis? Unless you promise I won't tell you.
I'll have to promise, then, won't I? And mean it.
I mean it.
I mean it.
Good evening, Pamela.
I'm here with the person you know as Josephine.
And she's got something to tell you which she hasn't told me, and which she won't tell you until I've left the room, but I'm letting you know she's not batty, not batty in any way, and I think what she's got to tell you might make you understand something.
May make me understand what? Well, I'm guessing, of course, because I don't know what special thing she has to tell you, but I'm sure it has something to do with the world of my parents and their friends, and their country house parties and all the things they hate.
'You know, of course, already, how they hate what they call niggers, 'and they hate Jews, and they hate the Irish, and they hate the French 'and the Americans, everything American, 'and they hate musicians, and they hate actors, and they hate gypsies,' and they hate homosexuals, even though some of them are queer themselves.
So many hates, and they find new ones all the time! And the funny thing is, and I mean funny in an awful way, they spend a lot of time in their beautiful houses with the most wonderful gardens, but they never look properly at what they've actually got! They move around their lovely, lovely properties with so much loathing going through them.
My father, he had a good education, better than the one he provided for me.
And do you know what he says? "Too many fucking pictures!" '"Too many fucking pictures on our fucking walls!" That's what he says.
' Of course, I know I shouldn't talk about all the families whose houses I've been to like that, and probably I'm being so unfair, because they can't all be like that, can they? But, actually, I want to be unfair, because I want to make you listen to Josephine.
I'm going to leave the room now.
I'm handing the phone back, and I'm leaving.
'She said all that to you?' She did.
More than she's said to me.
I bet.
You will keep your promise, though? Not got a reason to break it, not yet.
Are you still there? Yes.
We're alone now, just you and me, Mr Lester.
What do you want to tell me? Well, what I have to tell you is this, and God forgive me.
I know - I'm not sure that I'm meant to, but I do know - that Pamela's brother Julian showed you a little hole that allowed you to spy on the freemasons in their temple in the basement of the Imperial Hotel.
'Is that true?' 'Oh, come on, Louis, because obviously I do know.
Is it true?' Yes.
It was in a linen cupboard.
A linen cupboard? How wonderful! You, in a linen cupboard, spying on the masons! And, I think I can assure you, it's all right, they're not going to come and slit your throat for that, for spying through a hole.
Well, not today, anyway.
So, this is what I've got to tell you, Louis.
My husband is a mason, just like Julian, and members of the government and Civil Service, and not forgetting all sorts of rich people from the City of London.
And my husband is a member of the lodge in the basement of the Imperial Hotel.
And of course they have their silly rituals and they exchange gossip, and I'm sure raise some money for charity, too, because, well, that is what they say they do.
And so there are a lot of very important people down there in this basement, and in other basements across the city, because they like basements best.
And it goes without saying it is a very powerful group, these lodges, a very powerful octopus, with its arms stretching out all over the place.
And these people are not easily impressed, Louis, do you understand? I'm sure they're not, no.
Not easily impressed at all.
But just before the great financial crash, in the lodge that is in the basement of the Imperial, there was a new member who'd just joined, a little man called Mr Luke.
And he did the most extraordinary thing.
He prophesised the crash, and not just that, he was right about every firm that went under and every firm that managed to survive.
He was advising all the other members of the lodge what to do with their stocks and shares, but nobody listened to him.
'But Mr Luke was right.
' He made money when everybody else was hurt by the most grievous losses, and naturally, everybody was amazingly impressed, because a lot of them had lost their whole fortunes.
Of course, most of them still had their country estates, but life looked, for a time, rather uncertain.
And here was Mr Luke, the wizard, whom nobody had listened to.
But after a time, because he was such a funny little man, and his manners were very abrupt, they stopped holding him in such awe, and started referring to him as the Fluke.
And even though we are in the middle of a great depression, most of the people found that they were still quite rich, that they could sell a few of their assets, and life was good again.
And so not only did they not look to Mr Luke for advice, they began to ignore him, wish he wasn't part of the lodge, that he would go elsewhere.
They began to refer to him as the Complete Fluke.
And so he has remained, the Complete Fluke, who nobody really talked to, until a few weeks ago that is.
'Are you still there?' Yes, I am.
I'm sorry.
I just had to stop for a moment.
I thought my husband was coming back, and if my husband finds me telling you this, I shall be in terrible trouble.
'No, it was somebody else, they've gone past,' although I ought to keep an ear out.
My husband has very small feet, he creeps up.
It's all right, I can go on.
Do you want me to go on? If you want to go on, Josephine.
Well, what kind of an answer is that? I am risking things to tell you this.
Of course I want you to go on.
So Mr Fluke is ignored in the basement temple.
"He was always so vulgar", people say to themselves.
"He comes from trade, how did he ever become part of the lodge?" And then, suddenly, one day Mr Luke appears and says "I've joined another lodge, I won't be here anymore".
And people are very relieved.
But then he adds, "It's in a basement just like this, "but it is the most beautiful basement I have ever seen.
"That is where my new lodge is.
" And of course everybody there is rather curious, and some want to know more.
"You can come with me if you like," he says.
"You are welcome to come.
" And this splits the lodge down the middle.
And some think, "Well, what does he know that we don't?" And others think, "Good riddance, go away, horrid little man!" But this special temple really does exist, Louis, and it is extraordinary.
'I can tell you where it is, its exact location,' but I think I'd better not.
But, what I can tell you is, during the war, because of the airships and their bombs, there were some wonderful, subterranean apartments created in the City of London, where a few very rich families could scuttle down when there was a bombing raid.
And out of these luxury apartments below the street is where the temple has been created.
And that is where the Fluke has been going.
"Come and follow me," says Mr Luke, "to this new lodge.
" And so some of the people, including my husband, from the Imperial lodge do follow, a few, just to have a look.
And they go down the steps, below the pavement and into this special temple and it is indeed exquisite.
And Mr Luke says, "If you join me here now in this lodge, "you must promise not to repeat what you are about to hear "to anybody, ever.
" And those that have followed him down there, look around them, see how special it is and feel they have to agree.
They promise.
I think my husband is the only one to have broken this promise by telling me.
My husband is often rather drunk and thinks that I forget everything.
'Josephine?' I'm still here.
And then, after they have all promised, they say, "But what is it we mustn't repeat?" And the little man says, "Come next door," and they go into the room next door which has the black and white Masonic floor, but there is nothing else in it except an enormous travelling trunk.
And my husband and the few that followed Mr Luke stare at the trunk as the door is shut behind them.
And then the man they call the Complete Fluke says, "Something extraordinary is going to happen, very soon, "worse than you can ever imagine.
"Many are going to die.
"Many, many millions will die.
"Old horrors will be repeated, and completely new horrors "beyond your wildest nightmares will start to happen.
"Whole cities will be destroyed.
"Families you know will die, your brothers will die, "their houses and businesses wiped out.
"But since we here at this temple know it is coming, we can find a way "of staying alive, of protecting what we've got, "and of taking advantage of what will follow.
"Because even in disaster, there is opportunity.
" "We can, and we will be, the lucky few, "if we do the following things.
" 'Sarah, who are you talking to? 'Nobody, darling, just having a good gossip.
' Oh, God, Louis, my husband is back.
I don't think he heard anything.
'What's that? 'Are you still on the telephone?' He can't have heard, can he? Louis? 'I hope you hear from me again.
' 'Josephine?' 'Hello.
Who is there? 'Hello? 'Are you going to tell me who is there? 'I would strongly advise you to tell me who you are.
' So, what happened to her? I don't know.
She didn't call back? No.
Well, she was obviously completely barking.
She must have been.
You know, the masons hold special dinners for installing their Worshipful Master in the Imperial Hotel, and they sometimes have music, too, would you believe.
Maybe one day they'll ask for you! I doubt it.
But I'll certainly go and play to them if they do.
I'm really curious now.
Course, it isn't the Imperial masons that have this special temple, the Imperial masons Are all perfectly jolly fellows! Well, I doubt they're that, but they're not the people she was talking about.
I wonder who they are? Wouldn't it be amazing to find that special luxury temple? At least, discover exactly where it is.
It would be.
Be careful of these people though, Louis, you don't want to cross them in any way.
Yes, I realise that.
How could I ever cross them, Stanley? So you're convinced she was just a crazy person? Yes.
Having thought about it a bit, yes.
I think she found it rather exciting, to try to scare me.
She was one of your aroused aristocrats.
Maybe, an aroused aristocrat.
Have you told me everything? Yes.
Almost everything.
There was one last phone call.
There was? A very short one.
'There's a call for you, Mr Lester.
' Thank you.
Pray for me.
Will you pray for me, Louis? Josephine? Josephine? 'Josephine!' And that's the last I heard from her.
So where was she? In some asylum somewhere? Is that what she was suggesting, that they'd locked her up? People don't do that to their wives anymore, surely? Who knows what goes on in those big houses, Stanley? Hmmm.
But it was that last call that convinced me that she wasn't genuine.
I'm pretty sure it was just a game on her part.
A strange game to play, isn't it? Yes.
But what I've worked out is this.
I think she probably loved watching the band.
She loved the music, all that is true.
She wants to escape the life she has, but she knows there are several women in the ballroom that feel the same.
She wants to be noticed, so she summons up a sort of nightmare, so I'll remember her.
And you have.
I have, yes.
And I know one thing, Stanley.
You are never going to publish this.
You're right, she must be merely some mad aristo, some upper-class nutcase who simply wants to sleep with you.
Why else would she choose me to tell this to? But just in case she isn't a complete madwoman, you're not going to try to find out more from Pamela? I gave Josephine my word.
No, I promised, remember? See you in a few days, Stanley.
And then you can show me how much of this you've dared to write.
And then, of course, events engulfed Louis, very soon after our conversation.
A matter of days, really.
And quite a big part of what happened to him was connected to the masons and their ability to look after their own.
Or at least that's my view of how Julian Luscombe was protected.
And that would have continued if Julian hadn't killed himself.
And as I write this, I'm not at all sure Louis wasn't right.
I may not have the guts to publish Josephine's story.
After all, Louis is safely out of the country now and I am not.
I am still here and have every intention of staying.
The masons have fled the Imperial at the moment, because of its loss of reputation.
And that great big crumbling palace of a place, which, for a couple of years, really burst with life and was so full of possibilities, is just hanging on like a beached creature, hoping the next tide will make it buoyant again.
And if that happens, will the masons return? One thing I can't stop thinking about is, does Mr Luke really exist? Or was he a figment of this woman's imagination, as Louis believed? At the moment I've kept the promise not to try to make Pamela tell me more, anything that might lead me to Josephine.
Or at least, I've half kept the promise.
I've asked her in a roundabout way and she said she hadn't a clue what I was talking about.
After her brother Julian's death, it is obviously an impossible subject for me to really press her on.
But if Mr Luke does exist, does he really know something we don't? Or is he a complete fraud, the Complete Fluke? I think I might just try and find him.