A Fashion Show Where Charles The First Lost His Head

Many years ago, I found myself working on a fashion show, in, of all places, the Banqueting House in Whitehall – which is chiefly noted for being the place where poor old Charles the 1st had his head chopped off.


He had his appointment with eternity on a scaffold that had been built outside one of the huge windows that the hall had, overlooking Whitehall, so he had had to walk through the Banqueting Hall to get to the place where his head was going to be hacked off…  A dismal idea and an odd place to hold a fashion show I felt!

Anyhow, I was asked to help with the lighting of this show by a good friend of mine, Robie Simpson, who was the technical manager of the Roundhouse Theatre where I was the Production Manager at this time, so we were both moonlighting.

I had never had anything to do with the world of fashion, so this was an eye opener for me.   The designer in this case was Zandra Rhodes, who at the time was a young and somewhat revolutionary designer, who even I had heard off.

So, on the appointed morning (the show was due to be held in the evening) we turned up at the Banqueting House with all our considerable piles of lights, cables and control systems and started to set it all up.    While we were doing this, all the models turned up and started to sort themselves out.

For them, it was all a normal matter, so they set up their dressing area in an adjoining room and started sorting out who would wear which outfit.

By this time, the catwalk (as I learned to call it) had been constructed by a team of carpenters, so the girls and Zandra began to rehearse the show.

For me this was extraordinary, the girls sort of minced along that catwalk in all manner of what I thought were really odd clothes and sort of stopped once they got to the end of the catwalk and sort of twirled and posed for a few minutes, and then minced back the way they had come, and duly disappeared into their dressing room, and then the next girl came out and went through the same actions.

One thing that I noticed about the models was their unbelievable thinness, they all looked like they had escaped from Belsen or some similar place. A more unhealthy bunch of girls I have never seen.  The other thing that was very obvious, was that they were mostly extremely young, about the same age as the groupies we had each Sunday at the Roundhouse.  Altogether surprising I found, as I had assumed (on what basis I don’t know) that they would mostly be in their 20’s.

While all of this was going on, Zandra Rhodes and her various assistants were rushing around, fussing over all manner of tiny details and generally getting in everyone’s way.

In due time the actual show started, and I was busy working one of the follow spots, following the various girls along the catwalk in various colours and enjoying the show – well, sort of……..

The audience fascinated me as much as the girls did, a more raddled bunch of men and women I had never seen.   They were all buried under layers of make-up and jewellery (both genders) and, of course, were dressed in the latest modes.   Actually, the audience were as much part of the show as the girls in their costumes I felt.

A very odd experience in a “normal” way.