Thursday, 25 December 2014

Merry Christmas to all our readers!

Probably "viewers" is more accurate!  Anyway these enticing ladies are from exactly sixty years ago!  Even older than me!

Friday, 5 December 2014

Sheena Easton

The Legatus' poster at  college photographed by Brian Aris.  Who wouldn't want this in your bedroom?

The Legatus has been subjected to much derision because of the appearance of a poster of Sheena Easton in a photograph of his room at university.  I remember a similar thing happening when Giles spotted a box of Howard's Way DVDs on my shelves a few years ago!  Fortunately I am now too old to worry about the tyranny of cool which pervades much of British attitudes to popular culture these days.

Sheena Easton, for those who don't know, was a very early example of a manufactured reality TV (it wasn't called that then) pop singer.  Back in 1980 the BBC produced a short series of documentaries called The Big Time, fronted by the terrifying teeth of Esther Rantzen.  In this episode, which I remember watching at the time, they followed a young singer, Sheena Easton, as she recorded some singles, took advice from others in the pop industry and generally tried to promote herself as the next big thing.  Nearly every music professional in the show said she had no hope of making it. When her first single, Modern Girl, was released it reached the far from dizzying heights of number 53 in what I would have still called the Hit Parade, at the time.  

However, such is the power of television, after the programme aired her second single, 9 to 5, reached number 3 and the re-released first single reached number 10 giving her two top ten hits simultaneously.  When 9 to 5 (called Morning Train in America) was released in the US it went to number 1.  The following year she sang the theme song of the James Bond film For your Eyes Only (1981).

She moved to the US and had a successful career there, winning two Grammy awards and working with Prince.  A song he wrote for her, Sugar Walls, was actually banned because of its dubious lyrics.  She also did quite a lot of acting, appearing in five episodes of massive eighties show Miami Vice.  Later on she also had two shows at Las Vegas casinos.  She has consciously retired from public life and lives quietly in Las Vegas, having divorced her fourth husband.

Although she was a very pretty girl with a curvy figure (which was why the Legatus had posters of her on his walls) the really interesting thing about her story was showing how TV could turn an unknown into a star overnight.  This was contrary to all the received wisdom about how to make it in the music business at the time and was a foretaste of what was to come in the nineties with the likes of Pop Idol and X-Factor.  

The redoubtable Millsy suggested that Pat Benatar would have been a better choice for a female lust object at the time.  Now, while Benatar may have been a superior singer (I have no idea) we would take issue here and say that her looks do not approach Easton's in her prime.

Now I had never heard of Pat Benatar (well I knew the name but thought it was a man!) as in 1981 my listening tastes were almost entirely classical and jazz, apart from Mike Oldfield, post-1977  Rick Wakeman and ELO.  

ELO's Time (their last big hit album) was released during my third year and was a favourite at that point and is what I am listening to as I write this post (I actually don't like Sheen Easton's music). It completely reminds me of that year (along with Mike Oldfield's Five Miles Out).  Now, my best friend, then as now, Bill, was a big ELO fan and he didn't like the very electronic Time, whereas I didn't like most of the earlier ELO records (except Out of the Blue).  But then my favourite ELO album is the even later and even less well-regarded Balance of Power, which is inevitably tied up (literally in her case) in my mind with another girlfriend, SA.  Time was unavailable on CD for many years (there was a legal problem relating to Dave Clark's Time concept album) but you can now get it with a number of bonus tracks which were recorded at the time but didn't make the original album.

So the Legatus makes no apology for having the lovely Sheena on his wall at university.  Sadly the poster is no more, as some years later, when I was living back at home, a squirrel broke into our loft and gnawed it to bits, along with my Kim Wilde posters, several boxes of Matchbox AFV kits and some Christmas tree lights.  Tragedy!

Friday, 14 November 2014

Viking Shield Maiden Katheryn Winnick

We haven't posted a lady on the site for a while but who better than a Viking shield maiden in the lissome form of Canadian actress Katheryn Winnick, who plays  the wife of Ragnar Lothbrok (Loðbrók means "hairy-breeches"), Lagertha, in the TV series Vikings.

The character of Lagertha first appeared in the Gesta Danorum, a 12th century history of Denmark (from which the story of Hamlet also originates) by Saxo Grammaticus, although she was called Lathgertha in the chronicle. Much more mythology than real history the work draws on sources like the Icelandic sagas and presents Lagertha as a rather more formidable creature than we have seen so far in the TV series (but who knows what is to come?).

Rather than just being a woman who can fish with a spear, weave a nice decorative piece of cloth and occasionally wield a sword, the Lagertha of the chronicle was a formidable warrior leader able to command 120 longships to get her husband Ragnar out of a spot.  

In Book nine of Gesta Danorum the king of Sweden invaded Norway, killed the king and put his women into a brothel.  Ragnar, who was the grandson of the murdered Norwegian king, brought his army to avenge his death.  Freeing the women from the brothel, including Lagertha, many of them put on men's clothes and fought on Ragnar's side.  Lagertha fought right in the first rank of the shield wall.

Ragnar decided that such a fierce woman would make an appropriate bride but she was no pushover and when he went to her home she set a vicious dog and a bear on him.  Only once he had killed them did she consent to be his wife.  It has been said that the character and activities of Lagertha owe more to the Ancient Greek tradition of Amazons than anything in Scandinavian history.  It's amusing to see the cast of the series, when talking about their characters, claiming they were real people rather then the rather more legendary figures (especially Lagertha) they were but then the series is made by the man who made The Tudors.

Splendid though Miss Winnick looks as Lagertha, her costumes owe rather more to the Lord of the Rings school of dress.  TV and film costume designers really are the worst transgressors when it comes to historical accuracy in film.  As I mentioned on Legatus Wargames Armies the Viking houses in the series are very good and look like the best recreations that have been done by Scandinavian historians but the costumes!

The costumier for Vikings is the dreaded Joan Bergin, also responsible for the costumes for The Tudors and Camelot.  She discussed her approach to the costumes in a an interview and she sounds exactly like every other costume designer when taking on a historical subject.

"I started researching mainly at Scandinavian museums, which are exemplary in the way they show all the great findings, and although a lot of the fabrics have rotted, there are a lot of artifacts and jewelry...I built up a very general picture of how they looked, but I discovered that perhaps there wasn’t enough there to sustain visual interest for nine episodes. I had to take a leap of faith. Overall, I think you just try to be as true and as original as you can and take some liberties to make it interesting...The final thing I did was to work every single garment with threads, silver lines, metal, strange twists that look like hair and a buildup of fabric. This tactile texture in the clothing suggested the complexity of these people’s lives. They had a very fascinating culture and I wanted to express that."

So yet again, the costume designer looks at the historical evidence and throws it out the window to produce something more visually interesting and, the worse crime of these people, something that reflects the characters.

Anyway, enough faux-Viking costumes, what about the woman under the leather?  Well, when she is not covered in authentic Dark Age dirt I have to say that the 36 year old actress actress scrubs up very nicely indeed.

Although she was born in Ontario, her family was Ukrainian and she was born Katerena Anna Vinitska and did not speak English until she was eight years old.

She got into acting through martial arts.  Having started in gymnastics as a child she took up martial arts at the age of seven, gained her first black belt at the age of thirteen and had set up her own martial arts school at the age of sixteen.  She has black belts in Karate and Taekwondo. She was ranked number two in Canada at the latter and was asked to train for the Sydney Olympics but went into acting instead. 

She got the job of training Jennifer Jason Leigh in martial arts for her role in the David Cronenberg film eXistenZ (1999) which was filmed in Toronto, where she lived.  Following this brush with the film world she decided to pursue acting roles.

She was immediately successful (I wonder why?) winning a role in Canadian TV show Student Bodies at her first audition.   She was then chosen to be one of 12 up and coming actors who were the subject of a documentary series looking at their attempts to get cast.  

In the last fifteen years she  has notched up roles in over 30 films and 20 TV series, including House, CSI and seven episodes of Bones.  Her role in one episode of House was enough to get her a Fox contract.

As the Vikings would have said -Prúðr!

Friday, 18 July 2014

The Athena Tennis Girl Dress

The Depressive Diplomatist recently posted about the sale of the famous Athena Tennis girl dress and wondered if I might be the sort of person who would have bought it.  It would certainly make a nice addition to a modern "cabinet of curiosities"; something the Legatus has always wanted to have!

"Tennis Girl" was taken by Birmingham based photographer Martin Elliott in 1976 at the University of Birmingham sports ground in Edgbaston (which was, coincidentally where my first serious girlfriend - a striking redhead, C - hailed from).  It was also, appropriately, where the modern game of lawn tennis was invented in 1859.  Elliott was nearly thirty at the time but his girlfriend and the model for the shot, Fiona Butler, was just eighteen.

Martin Elliott

The racket, shoes and dress were all borrowed (the balls belonged to a dog).  Fiona wasn't paid anything to pose but the canny Mr Elliott, when he sold the image to Athena for a poster calendar, kept the copyright and took royalties from it from then on.  The following year Athena issued the photo as a plain poster, without the calendar dates, and it went on to sell 2 million copies (you can still buy it today).  Sadly. Mr Elliott died in 2010 at the age of 63 after a long battle with cancer, but his wife continues to collect the royalties from his most famous image.

When I went to university, in 1979, almost the first port of call was to go and get some posters for my room.  They didn't have "no posters of the walls" rules then, so my room was wallpapered in them. Oddly, although I bought a lot of posters at Athena over the next three years, I didn't have this poster, as by then it was so well known that it had become a student room cliche.  I was always surprised how many copies I saw on the walls of girls rooms.

Originally founded in Hampstead in 1964, Athena went on to have over sixty shops around Britain.  It went bust in 1995 although continues to exist online, where you can still buy a limited edition canvas mounted print of the poster, signed by Martin Elliott, for £300. 

 Fiona Butler in 1978

As for the cheeky model, Fiona Butler, she went on to become a mother of three and a freelance illustrator.  She has been quoted as saying "I think it's the light that makes it so appealing".  She certainly is nicely haloed by the sun but we think she is not taking enough credit for her pert posterior.

Fiona Butler in 2011

In 2011 Fiona attended an exhibition on Tennis in Art at the University of Birmingham, where she was reunited with a copy of the poster in its original calendar format.  The exhibition curator, Professor Ann Sumner, said at the time that the image was the one most associated with tennis by the British public.  

The picture was even used for the cover of the June 1980 issue of Lui, the French Playboy

Despite what the subject of the picture thought, it  is not the best selling poster of all time (that is Farrah Fawcett's famous red swimsuit poster with 12 million sales) or even the best selling poster in Britain (that is Spencer Rowell's photo l'enfant of a shirtless man and a baby).  It's not even Athena's biggest selling poster, which is the one of Tutankhamen's burial mask.  It is, however, an iconic photograph that takes us back to a time when students put favourite images on walls, not just download them as a desktop on a computer, as today.  Even if they can put up a real poster these are often smaller as they have to fit university provided cork boards. The visual impact of a large poster is that much more striking.  A poster was a financial investment, especially for hard up students, and was cherished in a way easily replaceable digital images are not.  Very few were as cherished as much as Fiona Butler. 

On 5th July 2014, the day of the Ladies Final at Wimbledon,  the dress was sold at auction and made £15,500, way above the estimate of £1,000-2,000.  It was sold by the lady who made it, Carol Knotts, a friend of Miss Butler, who used a shop-bought Simplicity pattern; something the Legatus was very familiar with as our redheaded girlfriend C was a keen dressmaker and we seemed to spend hours being dragged around shops looking at the blessed things.  Butler borrowed both the dress and Miss Knotts' racquet (which was included in the lot) for the picture as she did not play tennis herself.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Pirate Women by Norman Lindsay (1879-1969)

Captured (1938)

Anyone who has seen the enjoyable 1993 film Sirens will be familiar with the work of Australian painter Norman Lindsay (as depicted by Sam Neill in the film) but perhaps less so with his pirate paintings.   Given I  have just signed up for the North Star On the Seven Seas pirate pre-order I thought that presenting some of  Lindsay's pirate paintings would be appropriate.

Macpherson (right) in Sirens

Lindsay scattered voluptuous naked women across his canvasses like so many ripe fruit on a Caribbean market stall.  Who can forget the sumptuous Elle Macpherson (who, as we have mentioned previously, was largely responsible for me paying out £1700 to join Cannons gym in the City back in the nineties) in Sirens having put on 20 pounds in weight to look more like one of Lindsay's curvaceous models?

Pirates Reward

Pirates were one of Lindsay's favourite subjects but, of course, he couldn't resist filling his canvases with gorgeously curvy women as well.  So, in his paintings Lindsay's pirates seem more interested in collecting women than loot.

Pirates Return (1940)

Lindsay said of his pirate pictures:  "The pirate is a colourful ruffian and I have frequently got good subjects out of his sacking of cities for plunder in gold and women. He also gives me shipboard scenes to paint which call for a good deal of technical knowledge of ship construction. Also, there is this peculiar appeal in the pirate as the scoundrel adventurer, risking his neck if the law catches up with him... I have never painted a piratical subject that has not been snatched up by buyers when exhibited. I am constantly asked to paint pirates. As I never take commissions, I only paint pirates when a composition suggests itself."

Norman Lindsay and his mistress Rose Soady. Kensington 1909

Lindsay took the maritime technical aspects seriously and spent many hours making and rigging model ships, which he sometimes used as source material for his paintings.  This was something he became interested in after sketching ship models in museums in Kensington, during a trip to London, in 1909.

Lindsay's home in Faulconbridge New South Wales

As Sirens showed, he had plenty of source material for his women at his home in the Blue Mountains in New South Wales, about fifty miles from Sydney, which is now a museum and gallery of his work and was actually used as the location for the film.

Rose Lindsay (1885-1978)

One of his principal models was his second wife Rose, who had modelled for him from 1902 before becoming his mistress and then later his wife, when he divorced his first wife in 1918.

 Ladies for Ransom (1938)

These two paintings were done in 1938 and 1940, coincidentally (or perhaps not) at the same time some of the biggest Hollywood pirate films were released.  The pirates here have coralled a positive cornucopia of female loot, from haughty Spanish Donnas to feisty dusky-skinned locals.  Lots of biting and scratching is predicted from this lot.

The Pirates Return (1940)

In contrast, this picture sees the pirates' women welcoming back their men after an expedition on the high seas.  If these ladies were captives then we seem to have seen a Caribbean equivalent of Stockholm Syndrome (Santo Domingo Syndrome?) here.  You can bet that the blonde in the centre just has to be the English Governor's daughter (they're always the worst) although her Spanish equivalent on the right is obviously keen to supplant her in the pirate captain's affections.

The Legatus is very jealous of Lindsay's life; spending your days drawing lovely women in your beautiful home in the countryside, making model ships and living to the age of ninety.  A pirates life for me!

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Estelle Skornik

You only have to exclaim "Papa" to people of a certain generation in Britain for them to immediately answer "Nicole!"   These were characters in a successful series of TV commercials (as only people in the TV industry call them) for the Renault Clio, which ran from 1991 until 1998. 

Skornik in 2003

They were prototypically (not to say caricature) French characters, engaging in "typically" French romantic behaviour.  The commercials were later voted the most popular car adverts on British TV ever.

Loosely inspired by the characters played by Audrey Hepburn and Hugh Griffith in the 1966 film How to Steal a Million, "Nicole" was played by delicious French actress Estelle Skornik.


The beautifully put together Miss Skornik ("small but perfectly formed" as the advert narration said of the car, while the camera lingered on Miss Skornik) started the series in a sundress that played to her perky assets beautifully.  

In fact, the nineteen year old Skornik hadn't passed her driving test when the first advert was filmed so a professional driving double had to be used.

The sunny, Provence setting and guitarist Martin Taylor's engaging Django Reinhardt-style take on Robert Palmer's Frankie and Mary made the eight adverts a huge hit.  In 1996 a survey showed that Nicole was recognised by more British people than then prime minister John Major.

Skornik was at the beginning of her acting career when she started the Renault adverts but went on to have a number of film and TV roles in France.   Her last film role was in 2011. 

In 1999, after the Renault adverts had finished, Skornik appeared in the Hornblower TV series, featuring in The Frogs and the Lobsters episode.  Sadly, it was her only non-French TV appearance.

What a lucky Welshman

Skornik with Ioan Gruffudd in The Frogs and the Lobsters

Skornik plays the part of Mariette, a schoolteacher, who becomes the romantic interest for Hornblower, although the character was invented for the TV show and is not in the original book by CS Forester.

Skornik today

Skornik is still only 43 now and still absolutely gorgeous but hasn't done any English language work since the 2001 film From Hell.   A lady who we should, by rights, have seen much more of on British screens.