I followed Paula in to the most chaotic room I have ever seen. The walls were covered with black and white photos – mainly men – she was noted for her stable of excellent male models, and some glamorous women. Marta had pride of place looking very sophisticated with her cheeks sucked in. Two long narrow windows looked out over the Circus and Paula’s desk was placed so that her face was away from the light which illuminated whoever else was in the room.
Her desk was covered in papers, directories, notebooks and a large diary. The two phones on her desk were constantly ringing so there was plenty of opportunity to look round. One of the photos of a long legged beauty looked familiar and further scrutiny revealed it was Paula, a decade or two and a few gallons of gin earlier. In spite of the chaos it was clear as she answered each call that she was superb at what she did and subtly changed her approach with each call, depending on whether it were a client or a model, who could be either in or out of favour. I soon realised you really didn’t want to be the latter.
‘Dawn the studio have just been on the phone and they said you were half an hour late. I’m not having anyone on my books who is unreliable. I have queues of beautiful girls outside waiting for an interview. (pause) It’s no good saying the bus was late - for God’s sake get a taxi – you’re paid enough! Anyway I’m far too busy to argue with you – this is your last chance!’
She slammed the phone down which immediately started ringing again.
‘Paula Day Agency. Robert how are you darling?’ Paula was positively purring.
‘How did it go, did they like you?’ (pause) ‘I should think so. I told them you were the best I had. Lunch? Marta’s coming. (pause) No I didn’t think you would. Ring me tonight sweetie.’
In between the phone calls Paula peppered me with questions about my age, my marital status, where I lived and what training I had had. She thought I looked younger than my age and that being older and married was an advantage. She didn’t want any more silly young things going off the rails. The nursing training didn’t impress her but she latched on to the fact that I had done some am dram which in agent speak would be translated into my being a very experienced actress.
The door burst open and in breezed Marta – surprised that I was here already (she was half an hour late). There were kisses all round and she suggested we went to lunch as the phones never stopped. I gathered myself and prepared to leave them.
‘Pat where do you think you are going?’ Marta looked amazed.
‘Well I …’
‘It’s alright Pat – don’t take any notice of Marta – you’re invited and we can finish getting your details over lunch.’
I blessed William for giving me some spare cash – in case of emergencies. We arrived at a smart Italian restaurant where both of them were obviously known and respected. Marta had a campari and Paula a gin and tonic. I wasn’t sure about campari so settled for a G and T and found myself relaxing and enjoying myself. They gossiped about other models, photographers and actors – some of whom I had heard of so I found it fascinating. At one stage Paula was talking about a society osteopath and suddenly said.
‘Look out Pat. He collects young girls from the provinces.’
I didn’t take it seriously as I felt I had my head screwed on and I wasn’t that young.
Paula certainly was astute but I think even she would have been surprised a few years later when the Government was rocked by scandal, a cabinet minister was disgraced and Stephen Ward committed suicide on the last day of his trial. That was the Profumo affair with a Russian spy, Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice Davies who immortalised the phrase ‘Well he would say that wouldn’t he?’
Paula told me that the first thing I should do was get some decent photos – some good head shots. Then she would give me a list of all the studios and I would have to take the photos round and introduce myself. Marta was late for an appointment and had to rush off. Paula gave me the address of a photographer in Soho and said I should get started as soon as possible. Nervously I asked her if she thought I would be any good.
‘I wouldn’t be wasting my time on you otherwise dear. You’ve got to start believing in yourself. As long as you do as I say you’ll be fine. Phone me morning and evening. Got the phone number?’
I couldn’t help wondering if Marta always did as Paula said. Some how I couldn’t quite believe it. As for the phone number – my memory isn’t what it was, but if I live to be a hundred and ten I shall never forget that Temple Bar number