Artsbitching – Sasha Selavie on the Breathlessly Camp Fenella Fielding

She’s whispery and witchy!


Who can possibly resist a velveteen voice whispering absolute filth? Not me! Unlike the vast majority of biological males, with sex-drives instantly detonated by seeing sexually desirable objects, my inner, transsexual tart’s always been instantly seduced by liquid honey linguistics! Far more than sight, sound and arguably touch, an insinuating voice in one’s ear is often shockingly intimate, because the most erotic organ we have – our minds – is being directly, aurally fondled! It, (even in an era absolutely swamped with sexualised, multi-media visuals) helps explain the relentless rise of the phone-sex industry. Why else would punters pay extortionate, prime-time phone-rates except for a thrillingly intrusive experience that totally co-opts our most private, erotic interiors?

But in every endeavour known to humanity, the amateurs and simply inept learn from the pre-existing, consummate masters and mistresses, and no-one in the field of breathy suggestiveness – the nudge-nudge and wink-wink tendency of pop culture – comes more accomplished than stellar, sensual siren Fenella Fielding.

She’s best, if unjustly, known for her incandescent performance as Valeria the female vampire in the double entendre masterpiece Carry On Screaming, but – as her just-published memoir makes clear – there’s a whole world of camp hilarity lurking in Fenella’s adorably quirky mind-set. Quite unintentionally, and in common with the far less voluptuously-voiced Marilyn Monroe, Fenella’s helped to inspire a vast raft of erotically-panting, tranny hookers, each fascinating spellbound punters with spunk-provoking vowel sounds.

You can, of course, easily join the T-girl phone princesses if so inclined – all you’d need is an apt ear for mimicry and a crash course in Fenella’s Carry On and Doctor comedies – but frankly, on-tap, fluent sauciness is merely the hot, fricative tongue-tip of Fenella’s art.

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Me, I most adore her performance as Gwendolyn in Oscar Wilde’s Importance Of Being Ernest, where she epitomises both pure sexiness and stunning, Jackie Onassis panache. But most often – whether in live theatre, guest-star TV slots or archival video – Fenella acts, looks and behaves as if she’s just been beamed down to Planet Earth from some completely other reality!

Partly, that’s down to her almost Martian take on the everyday and ordinary, of viewing pedestrian human acts with the dispassionate scrutiny of a research scientist. If initially, her memoir seems alarmingly thin on facts, its texture is a thick, steaming evocation of Fenella’s finely-focused demi-monde, her luscious intersection of showbiz, sleaze and lucrative, pimp-tastic criminality.

So as a child, for instance, she completely deflates a neighbourhood flasher who asks ‘would you like to see me make milk?’ with absolute indifference, setting a future pattern of being totally underwhelmed by men, and sexuality generally. We meet a nervous fetishist who’s too timid to beg that Fenella trample him in her high heels, and overhear professional whores sneer at amateurs; ‘Ladders in their stockings and hair all over the place, and they’ve got the nerve to call themselves prostitutes!’. Then there’s the incompetent gangsters demanding protection money from posh, West End club-owners, in a laughable, mutually incomprehensible exchange of crassest Cockney and exhaustively-enunciated Etonian. Yes, readers, once upon a time, London society was completely facilitated by one’s perceived class intonation! Hard to believe, perhaps, in an era wallowing in Joe Swash-style, estuary English, but a world gorgeously conjured – in all its’ crassness, xenophobia and inequalities – by Fenella.

Not that it’s unappealing. A marvellously seductive hostess, Fenella chronicles the comprehensive disintegration of class deference, and being invited by über-louche degenerate Jeffrey Bernard to Soho’s legendary Colony club, where she fascinated gay, globally-acclaimed artist Francis Bacon, and inherited the club’s unwanted piano!

Charmingly insouciant chapters note Fenella’s inconsequential, altered-states experiences, her rejection of a film offer from Fellini, and her playing a flirtatious, late-career granny in Skins ‘explaining her nephew’s attempts at homosexuality’. But why be satisfied with the printed page? Instead, worship Fenella’s voice live next year! She’s absolutely, thrillingly unmissable!

Fenella Fielding reads excerpts from her memoir at Phoenix Artist Club on Feb 10th, 17th, 24th and March 3rd (all at 2.30pm).

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