Nicking Jung : TOYAH

There was a time within living memory when a walk down the King's Road was an enjoyable experience, a remote period of girls trying to look like Julie Christie, and Italian restaurants decorated with clean, white lavatory tiles, in which film producers in gold bangles and safari suits weaved and twittered harmlessly at each other.

For some years  I had avoided the thoroughfare, and a return to it came as a shock, for a journey down the King's Road now seems like a trip on a ghost train in an extremely tacky and ill-kept provincial fairground. It was not only the bedraggled, whey-faced and lethargic punks, disconsolately lobbing beer cans at each other among push-chairs on the benches in the square; it was not even the fact that the waxwork models in the windows of the clothes shops were smoking joints; what finished the King's Road for me was the Hitler T-shirt.

It was in the window of a shop presided over by a gently smiling Indian matron. She was doing a brisk trade in chains, spiked manacles, armoured garters and such-like lingerie; clothing decorated with barbed wire and the words 'No Future' were apparently doing well. But the T-shirt had a flattering portrait of the Fuhrer on it and the words 'European Tour' with the dates 'Holland and Denmark 1939, France, 1940, England 1940 (cancelled)'.

So, after gazing in a sort of numb despair at the unacceptable end of the youth culture, I went into the office of the Music Management company next door. Among the golden discs and soft-spoken secretaries, I found Toyah Willcox, whose records turn over about a million pounds a year and whose hair has sunk from bright orange with black roots to a kind of discreet and reddish mahogany. We sat alone in the boardroom together because out in the King's Road she might expect a united onslaught by her fans.

'These shops full of manacles and Hitler T-shirts,' I asked her. 'I mean, how can you put up with the aggression of your sort of world?'

'It's all about playacting really, isn't it?' Toyah said hopefully. 'I mean, I used to wear a loo chain when I was young and that didn't mean I was a toilet.

'I was born in King's Heath, Birmingham in 1958,' Toyah said. 'My father was very prosperous with three joinery businesses. He called me Toyah Pepita; I think he liked the sound of the word. I was terrible to my mother. She didn't want me to play with the kids in the street in case I got a Birmingham accent. I was quite a violent child. I used to drink a lot of sherry I nicked from the booze cabinet at home, and from the head teacher's room at school. I was almost dyslexic, but I was very bright in Maths. When I became a woman, round about the age of eleven, I studied satanism and alchemy, black magic and Jung.'

'How did you get to read Jung?'

'By shop-lifting him round bookshops. My sister was a nurse and we both had bad poltergeist experiences. She used to see apparitions of people who died of cancer, and my father in the next room saw the same apparitions. Mum didn't believe in them. Of course, she slept in a seperate bedroom from my father. My sister and I both felt we were being strangled in our sleep. At the age of fourteen I offered myself to be christened.'

'What did the vicar think?'

'He thought I was an absolute nutter. But the Bishop of Canterbury confirmed me. It was quite a thing really. I knew the Devil existed and I didn't give a damn.'

Toyah left the Edgbaston C of E college with one O-level in Music. She had been hanging around with 'bikers' in Pershore since she was fourteen and in one Maths lesson the girl in front of her told her that Nick, Toyah's first boyfriend, had been killed on his motor bike.

'Nick was older than me. Nineteen. He was very brainy. He knew all about physics and he was a perfect gentleman. I was rotten to him really.  He was the first person I loved who died. Now most of the friends I met biking are dead - heroin or car crashes.

'Nick and I never had sex.' Toyah seemed genuinely shocked at the idea. 'I mean, I was a virgin 'till I was twenty. I've only had two boyfriends since then. I'd never be unfaithful to Tom, my present boyfriend.'

'You're against love affairs?' I thought for a moment, nostalgically, of long-past dinners among the white lavatory tiles of vanished King's Road restaurants.

'I can't abide promiscuism. Searching for something you never find. Young people are all faithful now. They're very pure.'

'But how did you avoid sex among all those bikers?'

'I just frightened them off.' She smiled, a sensible, middle-class Birmingham sort of smile which I thought she might have inherited from her mother. 'I used to foretell their futures and freak them out.'

In 1975, the 'Early David Bowie period and just before the Sex Pistols', Toyah went to act in the old Birmingham Rep. She performed in Shakespeare and Noel Coward, worked in wardrobe, got a part in a television play and ended up in Tales from the Vienna Woods at the National. Lately she was acting in Trafford Tanzi and returning to the house where two of her band lived, to work through the night and record all day.

She finds it hard to sleep now; when faced with the fans who wait patiently outside her home, she finds it difficult to think of things to say to them. Sensible and extremely businesslike beneath the stolen thoughts of Jung, she realises that she can't stay trapped in a glaring hair-do and must provide for her future by acting.

Meanwhile we sat in the boardroom and I asked her about the punks on the benches outside.

'They're really quite gentle. They don't want trouble. Sloane Rangers want more trouble than them.'

'Do you care about politics?'

'I believe in education, of course. Oh, and dance, and the body perfect. All homes can be linked by computer. Music can be piped in like computer games. I mean, people will be able to answer the music back, mix it like you mix tracks in a recording studio, and dance to it. All these kids out of work, they can be into the body beautiful. Anyone can do it.'

'You don't think it would be better to cure unemployment?'

'You can't do that. You can't change society. Not without a revolution and England doesn't want a revolution.'

'What about the women of Greenham Common?'

'Oh, I support them. I'm tired of the press putting them down for being lesbians. After all, the public can choose Boy George, who's quite an androgynous person, to be Number One.'

'Do you think we're all going to be blown up?'

'Oh no.' Toyah smiled, I thought for a moment, optimistically.

'Disease will get the world before then. Disease spread by all the sexuality.' She gave a brisk, Birmingham tut of disapproval. 'Mother Nature'll sort the people out! After that we'll probably need a bomb to clean up the disease.'

And then one of the soft-spoken secretaries came to usher Toyah out of the boardroom into her car. Miss Willcox was, as always, businesslike and unfailingly cheerful. I was left peering uneasily into a future where sex is a killer and the unemployed dance incessantly to the computerized music piped into their homes, and the massacres in Beirut are no more than a sick joke on a King's Road T-shirt. Of course, by then Toyah Willcox will have left the scene and be back acting in the National Theatre.

Character Parts by John Mortimer - 1986
Originally from the Sunday Times -1983