Interview with Derek Boshier

A conversation between Derek Boshier and PaulineBoty.org, Los Angeles, November 2019

PaulineBoty.org: Thank you for taking the time to talk with us about your friendship with Pauline Boty and your time at the Royal College of Art.
Derek Boshier: No problem!

PBO: Do you remember when you first met Pauline?
DB: Yeah. At the Royal College of Art. To put this in context, in the Painting school, the time that the students associated with British Pop were present was 1959–62 and there was this thing that if you needed a job, you could get work acting as a stagehand at the Royal Court Theatre in Sloane Square, so that’s what several of us did.
I think this was originally set up much earlier by Roddy Maude-Roxby who had some connection and he, like Pauline Boty, was in the visual arts but was also an actor.
Anyway, because of this association with the Royal Court, somehow it came about that the week before the Royal College broke up for the Christmas holiday a group of students put on a review – a satirical, slighly political review. And the students came from all different departments – industrial design, textile design, fashion design – and of course Pauline was in stained glass and she came. And she really became the pivotal point within these stage productions
We often wrote things and performed in them – I remember I wrote a piece about a conversation between Errol Flynn and Beethoven, they were in Heaven and they were talking to each another – and as I say Pauline was very prominent within the review overall.
So this was the first time I met her and later she used to come and eat at the painters’ tables so we got to know her there, but initially I got to know her through these reviews, which is interesting because of her later association with acting.

My first impressions on meeting Pauline were the same as almost everybody. She was a very vivacious, glamorous intellectual

PBO: And what were your first impressions when you met her?
DB: My first impressions on meeting Pauline were the same as almost everybody. She was a very vivacious, glamorous intellectual. You know. And a lot of fun – the fact that she should have died so early aged 28… I mean, she loved life – and she knew how to live it. She was just good to be around really. And that aspect of her, knowing how to live life, really fed her paintings too.
Another thing that comes to mind about her that made her different in one respect was that David Hockney, Patrick Caulfield, Allen Jones, Peter Philips and myself were all working class kids that happened to be around at the time of cultural change in England that finally led to Swinging London but Pauline was middle class.

PBO: And your friendship continued after you left the RCA?
DB: Yes it did. After I got to know her at the Royal College I left and went to live in India for a year on a scholarship in May or June of 1962 and then I got to re-establish a friendship with her after I got back in May 1963. I renewed it I think via friends of hers, a lot of whom were writers. And I then introduced her to people like Christopher Logue and John McGrath and other people that became very firm friends. And then she married Clive Goodwin who himself was an actor who later worked for Kenneth Tynan – he was Kenneth Tynan’s assistant – and after that he was a writers’ agent for film and television.

PBO: Who were her friends, other than yourself, obviously?
DB: Well, there was Natalie Gibson, Nicola Wood who was in the textile department and went on holiday with Pauline to Spain, Zandra Rhodes I think might have known her later, John McGrath and his wife, Christopher Logue, Roger Smith the writer, Tony Garnett the film and television producer, Celia Birtwell. She also knew Tony Messenger and Helen Messenger and Phil Harrison who was in the Temperance Seven, and then there was Rosie Boycott and Marion Foale and Sally Tuffin.

PBO: As an aside I spoke to Phil Harrison recently about Pauline as it happens and he mentioned remembering a series of works she was creating based on The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. You don’t recall them by any chance do you?
DB: I’m afraid not.

PBO: She loved reading, including Proust, and the films of the Nouvelle Vague among others I believe. Do any other of her influences come to mind?
DB: Well what I do remember more specifically was the influence on her and all of us at the Royal College at the time of the student film society. It wasn’t just that you went once a week to the society and met people from other departments [as with the Christmas reviews and the student run bar] but they selected the most amazing films, including some of the films she liked and was turned on to. And the graphic design department got involved because they published a sort of newssheet every month describing the films and talking about them so there was also the theoretical background to watching the films – and they were a great influence on everyone.
One person though that as I recall, right or wrong, she most talked about – she talked about her European film stars of course – but the person she most talked about was Marilyn Monroe.
There’s also a lot of talk about RB Kitaj being a big influence on the Royal College of Art students. Yes he was, but as much for his professionalism, and his dedication to the work aspect was also very important.
And, whilst I think of it – I can’t remember how it came about but we all had copies of them – some of the books I know Pauline had and that influenced her early collages were published by Far Out Publications and she used these as source material. Some of their titles were “Is That You Simon”, “Fuzz Against Junk” and “The Hero Maker”.

Derek Boshier with Far-Out Publications used as source material for collages by RCA students

The point about her is that she said her mind – not only in paintings with sensuality and sexuality – but she said it with architecture.
I mean she was very direct

PBO: Did Pauline express her frustration at having to study stained glass instead of art as she’d originally wanted to?
DB: No. Mainly because she wasn’t a complainer. Politics though – yes – but not her personal life. The Anti-Ugly March she organised for example, which I went on – she was the figurehead for that. The point about her is that she said her mind – not only in paintings with sensuality and sexuality – but she said it with architecture. I mean she was very direct.

PBO: Why do you think it’s taken so long for her to be recognised as a pioneering British Pop artist?
DB: This is an interesting thing for me – why Pauline wasn’t better known, neglected in fact. While it is obviously true that she suffered because she was a woman in the art world at the time, there are nuances, and they have to be stated:
If you look at “Pop Goes the Easel” directed by Ken Russel – which took the form of recording a day in the life of us “young bloods” Peter Blake, Peter Philips, Pauline Boty and myself – who were these young people doing this stuff called Pop art? But in the film the paintings Pauline was doing at the time are shown and are not Pop art.
Another factor I think was the press. Because she had, you know, this glamorous side, that’s what the tabloid press concentrated on and she was portrayed as you know as “the Wimbledon Bardot”. So this aspect was not good for her and although she did in some way partake in it they would take the worst aspects – they talked about her sexuality and sensuality rather than talk about that aspect within her work – so she wouldn’t get serious coverage.
Now the other thing is that even the serious press couldn’t make up their mind whether she was an actor or a visual artist. So this is very important in regard to the more serious press – you know, because she was between the two.
So I think all of these small elements contributed, and of course the most important thing, sadly, was her death – she died four years after that film came out.
The other aspect that’s not talked about too is that she was not the only person who was neglected within the Pop art sphere. And I’m thinking for example of who you know, Adrian Henri, the Liverpool artist who was a poet primarily and he probably suffered from the same thing as Pauline – “Is he a poet, or is he a painter? Pauline Boty: is she a painter or is she an actor?” And I’m also thinking of other people at the Royal College who I can’t even think of their names – you know – you’ve never heard of them.
You and I went to a talk by the artist Penny Slinger, who was actually in the same mould as Pauline Boty. She talked about the notion of how her feminism – you know the early feminists were sort of rejecting the body and that feminism was all political – whereas Penny Slinger and Pauline Boty are both artists that pursued the representation of the female body. It was notable too that Penny Slinger who started working at the latter end of the 1960s said she’d never heard of Pauline Boty until recently.

PBO: That’s very interesting. I certainly saw the parallel with Adrian Henri. Did you collaborate at all with her? Did you ever work on any pieces of art together?
DB: No. But in the film “Pop Goes the Easel” you might note that there’s a scene where we go to Pauline’s flat. She had this one-room apartment in this beautiful house and I had a very small room next door which was my studio and I shared it with Peter Blake who used it for storage. And I used to see Pauline almost every day. She’d knock on the door: “Want some coffee?” and it was always instant coffee! And I’d go next door and sometimes people would be there, like Celia, but mainly she was painting away and we’d just take a break for half an hour and have a chat.
And in the film the only piece that she talks about in detail, with Peter Blake, is the piece of art that I own that I traded with her which is different from the very early collages. And again it’s interesting the parallels between Pauline and Penny Slinger, because both were initially influenced by the collages of Max Ernst.
But then Pauline and I went out socially you know – she and I used to be dancers on “Ready Steady Go” with Cathy McGowan where all the great pop groups had to perform. I mean if you were going to go anywhere in the pop music world you had to appear on “Ready Steady Go”. You were actually less than six feet away – I remember seeing both the Rolling Stones and The Beatles performing.

PBO: How did “Pop Goes the Easel” come into being and how closely did it reflect what you were doing as a group of young artists?
DB: How it came about was that we were first selected, the four of us – Peter Blake, Pauline Boty, Peter Phillips and myself – and then Ken Russel interviewed us by ourselves and talked to us singly about what we thought we were all about. And then he interviewed us later as a group several times and, from that, set out a plot.
For instance we were all shown at the wrestling but it was really Peter Blake who was the wrestling fan. But we did go to Portobello Road every Saturday, most of us to buy source material usually or the actual objects to make art with. And a group of us used to meet in a pub on a corner of Portobello Road, because we all lived in the same area of west London.

PBO: Did you ever get to meet her family? Her parents, her brothers?
DB: I never did, no.

PBO: With regard to the acting, how important was it to her do you think?
DB: She talked about it, a little, but from my recollection she talked a lot more about art. Maybe it’s because I’m an artist and she talked more to actors about acting though. I suspect that might have been the case.

PBO: There’s a series of photos of you and Pauline with a piano, by Geoffrey Reeve. What was the story behind those?
DB: Totally posed, because I didn’t play the piano! Geoff was a good friend of the group that we hung out with. He set up the photos as he did with the famous one of David Hockney and me in the studio standing with our brushes like we’re in the miltary. Geoff was in the textile department but hung out with the painters. He was a very good guy, a very kind-hearted and interesting guy.

She was a sort of magnet and she made things happen really – and she was very much an entertainer

PBO: I remember seeing you interviewed about Pauline Boty and you described her as “an enabler”. I was wondering if you could expand on that a bit?
DB: Well, I think because of her work and because of her intellect and because of her dialogue she drew people into her circle. She was a sort of magnet and she made things happen really – and she was very much an entertainer. And she intitiated things such as the Anti-Ugly Society we talked about earlier. She made art based on what she was interested in. She was doing things that were unique really. I can’t think of any other artist which she purloined from or was influenced by – except herself.

PBO: What were your impressions of her husband Clive Goodwin? How did you find him as a person?
DB: He was good. He was very interesting and they were like a team in terms of getting people together. I always thought they were a good match intellectually, spiritually, and so forth – everything.
When she lived in Holland Park there was a very tight bunch of us. And later Clive and Pauline were always asking people round for dinner. You went there at least once a week. And they later moved to Cromwell Road.
Near the end Clive was so upset – obviously his wife’s dying and he knew and he sometines just couldn’t go in to see her and I saw her right up to the last day or so before she died.
She also smoked a lot of dope, in hospital. We all did with her. For some reason, you know, maybe the hospital let her. Well of course at the time and later cannabis is now recognised as a form of medication for pain relief with cancer. The hospital had a very nice garden so I used to sit with her in the garden and we’d chat away – I mean she didn’t seem to be a distressed figure, even a few days before she died.

You know, I always think of Pauline and what she did and I’m often reminded of her when people write to me and ask me about her

PBO: And your painting “Pauline Boty Goes Digital [for Pauline Boty]”. How did that come about?
DB: Well it’s a very large painting that I made in 2011. You know, I always think of Pauline and what she did and I’m often reminded of her when people write to me and ask me about her or “Pop Goes the Easel” and I remember my friendship with her. I was about to start a new series of paintings about smartphones and I just thought before I do that I’d like to do a homage to Pauline as it were, just to help keep her in people’s memory really.

PBO: It’s been a pleasure talking with you. Thank you for sharing your recollections with us.
DB: You’re very welcome.