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Fantoni’s Sixties

Fantoni Beatles

It’s fair to say that Barry Fantoni had a good Sixties. Now we can read all about it in A Whole Scene Going On, his memoir of the time when he wrote gags for Private Eye, appalled the Royal Academy with a pop-art painting of a Pope, a judge and a general, created the visual backdrops for Ready, Steady, Go!, had a girlfriend who shared a flat with Jane Asher, presented a TV youth programme of his own (from which his book adapts its title), had an abortive stab at becoming a pop star, became a brilliant cartoonist, and did all the other things that people did in that blessed time. He mentions finding an address book from 1966 that begins with Annie (Nightingale) and ends with Zoot (Money).

Others who passed through his life during that period, with varying degrees of intimacy, include Paul McCartney, Marianne Faithfull, Ray Davies, Ralph Steadman, Peter Osgood, John Mayall, Terence Donovan, Pete Townshend, Jimmy Page (and his mum), and Felicity Innes, who wore a mini-skirt before Mary Quant. There are great stories about all of them, and about the early Private Eye gang: Ingrams, Booker, Rushton, Cook, Wells and so on. I loved the affectionate evocations of the brilliant designer Robert Brownjohn, the journalist Penny Valentine, the Nova art director Harri Peccinotti, a bloke called Bob who invented Gonks, the art critic John Russell, and Keith Goodwin, Fantoni’s press agent.

Goodwin also looked after Paul and Barry Ryan, Donovan, Cat Stevens, the Temperance Seven and Dusty Springfield, the subject of a chilling vignette: “You needed to know Dusty offstage to get the real picture. To see the face beneath the heavy makeup, back-combed hair and black eyeliner. What I saw was a rather frightened and plain-looking girl from the London suburbs with a bad temper and a desperate need to be loved.” Among those also sideswiped along the way are Tariq Ali, Robert “Groovy Bob” Fraser, Jeff Beck and Gerald Scarfe. The grudges, as is usually the case, add significant value: his resentment of David Hockney’s success is nothing short of epic.

I met him at the very end of this period, when he was contributing cartoons to accompany the wonderful Melody Maker column in which Chris Welch chronicled the adventures of an imaginary pop star called Jiving K. Boots, who was usually either getting banned from the Speakeasy or getting it together in the country: it was Spinal Tap avant la lettre, with a dash of Beachcomber’s random whimsy. I remember greatly coveting the Fantoni portrait of Denis Law that another friend, Geoffrey Cannon, had on the wall of his house in Notting Dale. Apparently that’s now lost, like the large quantity of Barry’s early paintings — including the famously scandalous “The Duke of Edinburgh in His Underpants” — taken off in 1963 to be shown in Los Angeles and never returned. “I have no idea where my work is now,” Fantoni writes of that episode. “Covered in goose shit, I expect.”

This was the Sixties, so not all the detail of Fantoni’s recollections is 100 per cent accurate. But that doesn’t matter. He brings alive a world in which dinner would be at a King’s Road trattoria one night and the all-night Golden Egg on Oxford Street the next, and when making art and having fun seemed to be all that mattered.

* Barry Fantoni’s A Whole Scene Going On: My Inside Story of Private Eye, the Pop Revolution and Swinging Sixties London is published by Polygon. His painting of the Beatles, first exhibited in January 1963 and reproduced above from the book, is now owned by Paul McCartney.

10 Comments Post a comment
  1. Richard Harris #

    The Sixties are a sprung trap from which there is no escape. I’d forgotten about Jiving K Boots.

    December 3, 2019
    • GuitarSlinger #

      Ahhh … the sixties . Though not without its faults and foibles still beyond question the MOST influential decade of the 20th century .. musically … artistically… literarily .. technologically etc etc etc

      Suffice it to say every time some little snot gives me an OK Boomer ( has that one gone viral in the UK yet ? ) I respond with a laundry list of what I’d accomplished by the time I was his or her age as well as all we as a generation accomplished ( despite our faults ) including creating that stupid little device in his/her hand they’re so addicted to .. the internet which it depends on … as well as the majority of the music they’re still either listening to or desperately trying to copy / emulate

      So a trap ? Hmmm … nahhh .. more like a foundation badly in need of revival in this age of overly homogenized snowflakes

      Now .. about that book … looks interesting to say the least . And I do remember Mr Fantoni from his Melody Maker days . So maybe that needs to go on my shelf for even little more perspective of the British view of the sixties ( Suffice it to say Michael Caine’s documentary which is finally available in the US was quite enlightening )

      Question is .. will it be available here in the ( not so ) good ole US of A

      Rock On – Jazz On – Remain Calm ( despite all the bs worldwide ) – Keep Flying the Trump in diapers ballon … and do Carry On …


      December 5, 2019
  2. Peter Flanagan #

    You’ve sold me the book, Richard – has gone straight to my xmas presents list. The ‘Kings Road trattoria to the Golden Egg’ reference rang a huge bell with me, so very familiar. My odd pairing would probably have been From Just Men, off Kings Rd, to Horne Bros, corner of Oxford Street and TCR, for a shirt fitting.

    December 3, 2019
  3. Mike Gavin #

    Barry also taught himself to play various saxes to a pretty good standard and I believe made his million from Tarot cards. He was brilliant at deflating the more preposterous hippy memes too. One cartoon featured a long hair flailing in the sea with the caption (from memory) ‘Hey man, I’m in a drowning situation.’

    December 3, 2019
    • Matthew Wright #

      Mike has overlooked the fact that Barry was a close friend of his Dad, the late Bob Glass, and used to come into Collets Jazz & Folk Shop (later Ray’s), where we worked (and where Mike was later to work and continue the dynasty). I think Barry met Bob through their mutual friend Len Templan, who went to Camberwell Art School with Barry. Also at Camberwell was John Wellard, cousin of Chris Wellard whose Jazz & Blues Shop was just along at New Cross. And thanks, Richard, I now know what to ask Santa for.

      December 3, 2019
  4. Paul Crowe #

    I certainly have not forgotten Jiving K. Boots. Nearly worth the price of Melody Maker alone – apart from your own pieces, of course, Richard ……….

    December 3, 2019
  5. Penny Valentine and Keith Goodwin in one paragraph – such a wonderful evocation of those heady days in the late 60’s. And the extraordinary thing about Squelch is that, although I’ve not seen him in the flesh for over 20 years, in the photos that hit Facebook from time to time, he looks exactly the same happy chubby chappy. Keith Goodwin’s Denmark Street office seemed to be a weekly destination for me…his portfolio wads extraordinary and Ray Coleman’s policy of interviewing anyone going up the charts on a fortnightly basis, often made wonder if I should just move in!

    December 3, 2019
  6. Paul Tickell's #

    Thanks for the prompt, Richard – will seek out the book… As well as some of Barry’s own work it is a pity that editions of A Whole Scene Going On have also been lost. Not sure how much of the TV series is on You Tube but what remains in the bowels of the BBC is fascinating stuff – whether it’s Pete Townsend’s interview in ’66 lamenting that pop music is getting too polished, or a film item covering the trials and tribulations young women face finding decent accommodation in London. Indeed!

    December 4, 2019
  7. Ah, Keith Goodwin. We used to call PRs who rang us up constantly ‘lumbers’ did we not? I seem to recall us all vacating the office tout de suite and hiding out on the flat roof outside when one was spotted in the corridor. And on another occasion all of us phoning KG’s office at the same time, so that his switchboard was jammed and hanging up whenever anyone answered, then dialling back immediately. We kept doing it for about 10 minutes until we got bored. Anyway, you’ve sold me on Barry’s book. Thanks Richard.

    December 11, 2019
  8. I can remember exactly where Keith Goodwin’s office was, and even more vividly remember interviewing Ozzy Osborne there for the first (and probably only) time and noting the Love and Hate tattoos on his knuckles! I also remember going with him up, probably the M1 as I don’t think any of the other were yet built, in a car to interview someone . On the way back he told the driver “Stop here”, on the hard shoulder.”I live just up there”, and was last seen scrambling up the bank!!

    December 11, 2019

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