Saturday, 18 December 2010

A drop of the hard stuff indeed

Still basking in the joy of meeting a camp icon, Miss Molly Parkin (read more over at my daily blog Give 'em the old Razzle Dazzle), I sought out some of her writing - and came to a sudden halt to find this!

For I had indeed forgotten that none other than Miss Parkin wrote the sleeve notes to a cherished LP we have - by the wonderful and sadly-missed seminal drag queen Mrs Shufflewick!

Here they are, reproduced in full:
‘Mrs Shufflewick is a dirty old woman. She is 60, maybe 70, weak-willed and easily led. She has usually just had a few, you can tell by her big red conk and boss-eyed way of walking. She loves a gossip but can never stop long in case her next gin gets cold on the counter. Everybody laughs at her. They call her ‘Shuff’, they whistle and poke fun and cheer when she hoicks up her skirts. They always shout for more, though she doesn’t need encouraging. She is a terrible show-off, whether she is tiddly or not. There is no holding her when there are sailors around: she has a weakness for the Navy. The last sailor she met was French, he kissed her on both cheeks. She was doing up her laces at the time.

She calls herself Missus but has never been married. She tells terrible stories of what she gets up to – she has been telling them for the last 20 years, all over the place, at the Windmill, music halls, working-men’s clubs, Mecca bingo halls – she has even told them on telly, but had to clean them up a bit.

One Monday she appeared at the Mecca Dominion, Walthamstow, the same night as Miss World. They both went to entertain the bingo-players. Shuff got the most laughs, mainly from madams who looked just like her. She had thought of hiring a bathing costume and going on as Miss Courage, riding 14 white horses from Whitbreads, not to be outdone.

She won’t even be outdone at Christmas. She has written her own panto – a skit on Cinderella. She plays Cinders, or course. (She is still trying to decide whether to make Cinderella’s slipper into a bovver boot or a pair of panties).

Mrs Shufflewick is very familiar with the Cinderella story. It happens to her every night. After the last laugh and when the clapping dies, she disappears too, into an old brown leather suitcase. And where she stood stands Rex Jameson. He is an elf. A five-foot, 40-year old with a face like Buster Keaton. And a little green cap on his head and a coat that is a bit too big.

He gives the feeling of being a foundling, which he was. He was dumped when two weeks old on the doorstep of Trinity College Hospital and spent his childhood in Southend with a foster mother. He is a classic clown and as different from his creation, Mrs Shufflewick, as it is possible to be. Small and shy and painfully unsure, he is lonely in love and agonisingly unlucky with his choices. He is protected in his bad patches by the loyalty of his friends and sustained by them, too, through his bouts of insecurity and deep depression.

He is shockingly difficult to manage, like a Hancock or Keaton or W.C. Fields. It is a full-time job. But then Mrs Shufflewick knows she has the audience before she even starts.

It is as painful and personal as laughing at your mother when she has had one too many. And, of course, as far as Rex Jameson is concerned, his mother might be in the audience laughing unknowingly at her son."

"Shuff", aka Rex Jameson was a tragi-comic character - stalwart of the Black Cap and many other early drag and gay venues, his private life sadly began to merge with his on-stage alcoholic persona. He was recognised in the profession, however, as a briliant comedian - lionised by comedians such as Bob Monkhouse, Barry Cryer, Danny La Rue and Barry Humphries - and probably could have made the big time if he/she had cleaned up his/her act. However it was not to be.

In addition to the three "Shuff" albums we possess, I recently purchased and read the fantabulosa biography The Amazing Mrs Shufflewick: The Life of Rex Jameson by Patrick Newley, which charts the whole bizarre and chaotic story - a highly recommended read! Buy a copy from Amazon.

Read Simon Callow's review in the Guardian.

Unfortunately I never got to see the great performer on stage; he died in 1983. But here he is:

RIP, Shuff.

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