The Pirelli Calendar - It's All On The Table
Tuesday, December 01, 2015
|Pirelli Calendar - November 1965 - Photographer - Duffy - Location - South of France - Designer - Colin Forbes - Art Director - Derek Forsyth|
When my wife, two daughters, and I arrived in Vancouver in 1975
I had my sights of becoming a photographer. I remember going to London Drugs
and telling the man who was interviewing me for a job in the photo department
that I was a portraitist. He dismissed me with a, “ I graduated from Ryerson
and I don’t call myself that!”
The only job I was able to find was washing cars at Tilden-Rent-a-Car
on Alberni Street. After about 6 months I was promoted to counter clerk and
when answering the phone I had to say, “In Canada it’s Tilden. How may I help
I hated my job and for distraction I took a stroke
improvement (swimming) at the YMCA on Burrard. A French Canadian lass, when she
found out I was a photographer she asked me to take her pictures. I did not know
that she worked in the gift department of Holt Renfrew. I did not know that she
had placed my colour portraits in the expensive frames of her department. I was
soon gone from Tilden but not before my fellow workers gave me a lovely present
– The Complete Pirelli Calendar Book –Introduced by David Niven.
The book was special in several ways. By 1976 I had already
seen ads in the January Vancouver Sun of people selling the 1975 Pirelli
Calendar. I had always had soft spot of admiration for David Niven as my father
not only resembled him but he had a similar voice and accent.
The dedicating card wished me many a session with beautiful
women. I must assert here that I did everything possible to make that wish come
Niven who was so sorry to note that after ten years the
Pirelli Calendar was no more would have been pleased that the Calendar came
back in 1984. From my NT Times I have now learned that the 2016 Pirelli Calendar
has another dramatic
change courtesy of photographer Annie Leibovitz
The new direction of the calendar in b+w and featuring the
portrait warms my heart with excitement. In the new house that my Rosemary and
I will be occupying mid-January I have installed a smallish studio where I,
too, will take my portraits in b+w and preferably with film.
Below is the wonderful introduction by David Niven and a
reproduction of his favourite November 1965 is above.
Complete Pirelli Calendar 1964-1974
by David Niven
When it comes to an auction, I am a chicken…I don’t have
the guts to pull my earlobe or pick my nose in order to signal to the
auctioneer that I’ll bid another twenty guineas for a dilapidated snuff box. I
am, however, drawn to auctions like a moth to flame, particularly to auctions
of contemporary art. One day such a sale was taking place at Christie’s, and standing
in the doorway, hands firmly in pockets and eyebrows anchored in case an
involuntary move on my part struck me with something by Andy Warhol, I beheld a
brisk bidding for some Pirelli Calendars. I thought it encouraging for the future
of the world that the venerable House of Christie had thus publically
proclaimed what many of us had known since 1964 – that the Pirelli Calendar was
an Art Form. The Calendar was the brainchild of designer Derek Forsyth, and for
ten years, as mounting waves of pornography swept over one and all, discerning
denizens of boardrooms and bar rooms clung to their Pirelli Calendars as they
raised their beautiful and erotic heads above the swill.
When I heard that the denizens of Pirelli’s own boardroom
had suffered a traumatic lapse and decided to discontinue the making of their
Calendars I was appalled, and wrote to the Chairman of the Board, telling him
so. The upshot of the ensuing interchange of views as that I was invited to
write an introduction to their Pirelli Calendar Book and not, let it be said,
and obituary for the Calendars.
If you have to have an image – and with actors it is
almost delivered with the first Equity card – then I suppose I cannot complain
about mine. I was never altogether sure how I came to be regarded as suave and
sophisticated, but it does have its incidental advantages.
For one thing, men are disinclined to pester you with
detailed stories of the deficiencies of their troughing, and in the age of the
do-it-yourself man that is an immunity to be cherished.
More positively, other men who like to consider
themselves S. and S. constantly offer fine wines, and invitations to highly
superior parties. They also ask advice about women; and listen to the reply
like hungry punters around a loose-tongues stable-lad.
Now it so happens that I know all about beautiful women. That
isn’t quite the distinction it may sound, because I don’t know a single man who
doesn’t believe that he knows all
about beautiful women. It is the one province where ignorance never precluded
It’s quite true that I have spent much of my life
surrounded by lovely ladies, but that is like an electrician saying his life is
beset with wires, or a traffic warden claiming he is perpetually immersed in
ingratitude…it goes with the job, that’s all.
The image sticks, however, and if that means that for a
little while I have to pose as a consultant on femininity, I’m quite happy to
go along with it, for the honour alone.
The Pirelli Calendars have been described as
sophisticated erotica: in a sphere where anything on shiny paper can pass for
sophisticated, and erotica is all too often an unpleasantly bulbous woman in
Wellington boots, it is a real pleasure to find a product that lives up to it
For me the charm of the Pirelli Calendar story is that it
was all so very unlikely. The manufacturers of tyres and slippers…a mundane
device for remembering your wedding anniversary – it could scarcely have
sounded less exciting, but what elevated a thoroughly commonplace exercise was
excellence. It was as simple as that. A gifted art director, the finest
photographers in the world, the loveliest girls, the most exotic and perfect
locations – and from its inception the Calendar became known as the Rolls-Royce
of its class.
What made it even more remarkable was that by refusing to
sell the calendar – it was a gift to customers and friends – Pirelli gave it an
exclusivity, a mystique almost, and they did for the humble calendar what
Chippendale did for chairs. A black marked sprang up (in the For Sale columns
of only the smartest publications, of course) and Calendars changed hands for
up to £100. One businessman kept his securely locked in a glass fronted wall
cabinet, after having one stolen. It succeeded at all levels: denim-clad
designers lisped about its remarkable chiaroscuro while oily mechanics
muttered: ‘You don’t get many of them in a pound.’
Now it is over. There will be no more Pirelli Calendars.
At first, as I said, I was appalled at the prospect, and the calendar will no
doubt revert to tradition: pictures of disagreeable little terriers wearing tartan
bows, and misty views of Ann Hathaway’s cottage. Yet on reflection, I can see
their point. After ten productions of flawless excellence, there is nowhere for
Pirelli to go but down. So they are quitting while they are ahead, and at least
we now have this complete collection to prod us into drooling nostalgia.
Who cares about the date anyway? I am perfectly content
to stay for ever in November 1965, if it means I can always look at that
sulphurous blonde, elbows on table, hand crooked to light a cigarette,
nonchalantly aware that the concealed but no doubt splendid contents of her tee-shirt
are resting on the table top. Whew!
With the lightest touch, the most sensitive hint, the
Pirelli pictures flamed with sensuality. Perhaps it was only a shadow across
the eyes or a sunbeam on a strand of hair, but the pictures showed that
sexuality is coarse without romance, and romance maudlin and hollow without
sexuality. Pirelli caught both together, and brought our fantasies to life.
That really was their achievement. For the most part, man’s
attempts to portray the woman of his imagination end with the outmoded
blandness of the pin-up, or the unsubtle crudity of gynaecologist’s homework. That
half of the human race which shaves in the morning has for centuries struggled
with drawings, carvings, paintings and pictures of the half that doesn’t, and
it has never been entirely satisfactory.
The classical artists gave us dozens of recumbent
goddesses who looked like nothing so much as a heap of prizewinning marrows.
The only really admirable point about these ladies was the unbegrudging use of raw
materials that went into their manufacture. I distinctly remember on my first
visit to an art gallery wondering if children could have half-portions.
I remember, too, my first reaction at seeing a saucy
photograph. It was at boarding school, and you must remember that what lay
between knee and neck of girl hockey-players had been the subject of a great
deal of dormitory speculation. So quite a crowd gathered when one boy produced
a crumpled magazine which escaped the censorship of the time by reproducing
photographs of naked ladies under vaguely therapeutic title of ‘health’. Then the adult bookshop
was still pre-natal. It did, in fact, show a naked lady. She was playing whist
with several other naked ladies, apparently in thick fog, and with the cards
unluckily obscuring the interesting bits. What we could see of the ladies
suggested half-set jelly more than the buoyant bodies of our dreams. It was a
bitter disappointment, and I can only put it down to my indomitable curiosity
that I continued my researches.
Times changed, and those who thought that the new
freedoms of the permissive age would save us, found only that we shot from
prudery to prurience. That fresh-faced young girl, wearing a skipper’s hat,
sweater and shorts as she posed jauntily on a yacht deck, was replaced almost
overnight by her younger sister-laced in leather, aiming a flame-thrower at a GI’s
throat as she commanded: ‘Scream for my kisses, Amerikaner soldat!’ It wasn’t
much of a choice was it?
Right behind came the tide of hairy-chested magazines
with gruntingly monosyllabic names like ‘Thrust’ and ‘Poke’, and the girls were
of such pneumatic plasticity that they looked as though one touch would reduce
them to a burst valve and a pool of silicone. Worse, they were almost all
I may not be able to articulate the woman of my dreams,
but I am fairly certain that she is not playing whist and virtually positive
that she does not carry a riding-crop. Like all men, I suppose, however suave
and sophisticated, we don’t quite know what turns us on until we see it:
Pirelli gave our dreams form, and once we saw them we knew that standards had
been set which would last us a long, possibly a life, time.
Though Pirelli now go back to tyres and slippers, we at
least don’t have to revert to whimsical terriers and thatched cottages. Every
month can be November 1965 if we want, with this splendid collection. It was as
a they say, a very good month.
The First Little Bastard Who Calls Me An Elitist...
Sunday, November 29, 2015
often told me, “Hay poca gente fina como nosotros.” This does not
entirely translate correctly into English as, “There are few people with
manners and good taste like us.” The problem lies in the Spanish word “educacíon”
which not only means what you think it might mean but also it has the added
Thus gente fina would send flowers in lieu of not showing up
for party, would know when to thank you and most important would never offend
Gente fina my mother would also add liked Mozart and
Beethoven, good books by established writers and admire paintings by the
In a late 20th century epithet now seen as a
damning insult, my mother was a elitist.
In 1994 I wrote a book review for the now defunct city
business magazine Equity. The book was a posthumous publication by William A.
Henry III. It was called In Defense of Elitism.
His first paragraph reads:
Somewhere along Bill Clinton’s path to the White House it
dawned on me that the term “elitist,” which I had matter-a-factly applied to myself and most of my fellow
liberal Democratic friends for decades, has come to rival if not outstrip “racist”
as the foremost catchcall pejorative of our times. Once I began consciously looking,
I found evidence everywhere – from tabloid newspapers to scholarly journals,
from smirky game shows to sober academic discourse, above all in the public
rhetoric of liberals and conservatives alike – that belief that any sort of
elitism, and in the all-important hierarchy of values that must underlie such a
belief, has been pushed outside the pale of polite discussion. The very word,
used as a label, seems to be considered enough for today’s rhetoricians to dismiss their opponents as
defeated beyond redemption.
All the above went through my head at a recent book
launching by author/poet/extraordinaire Bill Richardson and illustrator (one of
supreme good taste) Roxanna Bikadoroff. The book is a slim. It is called The
First Little Bastard to Call Me Gramps
and it was launched at Barbara-Jo’s Books to Cooks.
I know that my mother would have felt comfortable
surrounded by the mature women (sparsely sprinkled with mature men) in a place
that was well lit, with many books on book shelves and served with lovely
little things that melted in one’s mouth or when not washed down by premium
sherry. I would have been amazed if any
of the women present might have sported tattoos in parts unknown. But I could
I have always had admiration for Bill Richardson and in
particular for his CBC Radio program (it lasted long enough for me to despair at
its loss) Bunny Watson.
Last night (Saturday) my daughter Hilary, her daughter
Lauren, 13, my wife and I watched Walter Lang’s 1957 Desk Set with Katharine
Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Gig Young, Joan Blondell and (yes!) Dina Merrill
(supremely elegant in my books). Katharine Hepburn’s name in the film is Bunny
Watson and she could associate numbers and places to other numbers and places
like no other human being in film. It was only a week ago that I taught my
Lauren about association which I consider the supreme and defining difference
between humans and other living things. I asked Lauren why it was that I always
smile when I look at my 2007 Chevrolet Malibu. Her answer was expected but
pleased me, “You smile because the Malibu reminds you of Abi’s (my wife) gray
Bunny Watson: Just for kicks. You don't have to answer it
if you don't want to. I mean, don't dwell on the question, but I warn you
there's a trick in it. If six Chinamen get off a train at Las Vegas, and two of
them are found floating face down in a goldfish bowl, and the only thing they
can find to identify them are two telephone numbers: one, Plaza Oh-Oh-Oh-Oh-Oh
and the other, Columbus Oh-1492. What time did the train get to Palm Springs?
Richard Sumner (played by Spencer Tracy): Nine O'Clock.
Bunny Watson: Now, would you mind telling me how you
happened to get that?
Richard Sumner: Well, there are 11 letters in Palm
Springs. You take away two Chinamen, that leaves nine.
Bunny Watson: You're a sketch, Mr. Sumner.
Richard Sumner: You're not so bad yourself.
Bill Richardson’s little book, so elegantly illustrated
by Roxanna Bikadoroff who has contributed to all kinds of magazines (The Walrus) including
(yes!) The New Yorker has poetry that is accessible, funny and challenging in
some assertions. Bikadoroff is a pro who knows how illustration, when wisely
done, can enhance type. Her illustrations have all kinds of Buny Watson
moments. You can see something different every time you look at them that you
might have overlooked before. But there is one that is my favourite. The
illustration to the story The Night We Found the Riding Crop I associate with a
famous photograph that Helmut Newton took of one woman riding another on a
saddle in a living room. Newton’s photographs were erotic, but always to me
they were done with elegance. Elegance is something that Bikadoroff, Richardson
and Barbara-Jo have in spades.
This blog's (and most of my blogs
) apparent randomness is a direct result and influence from Richardson's program Bunny Watson.