The funeral of a very old friend, Steve Fletcher, was on Monday. We hadn’t met for decades, but kept in touch; a few email exchanges every year, a card at Christmas, fragments of news of family and friends, shards of memory. Steve and I met in the late 1950s when we were both working at The Wellcome Foundation in Euston Road. I was in the basement, unpacking returned medical supplies: he was on the top floor — a photographic studio. He had been one of the select few National Servicemen to be sent to Hong Kong to learn Chinese. We spent a lot of time zooming about on his scooter, hanging out in Soho. Steve lived in Notting Hill. Elgin Crescent. Not the Notting Hill of now, but the place of race riots, of slum landlord Peter Rachman and his nasty (with dog) rent-collector Michael de Freitas (who tried to re-invent himself as Michael X and was hanged in Port-of Spain). David Jenkins, a painter friend, lived nearby in Powis Square in a room you had to reach up a ladder through a hole in the ceiling. We drank and ate in Old Compton Street. In a long-gone cafe known as “The French”. In the Star Restaurant. For a while Steve worked on the door at Cy Laurie’s jazz club, opposite the WIndmill Theatre. I’d sometimes stand-in for him there. Without Steve, there possibly would have been no “outburst” magazine, no Matrix Press — even no Goliard. The treadle press I had by the very end of the 1950s had to be somewhere permanent and not dragged from flat to flat. Out in Edmonton I’d met Steve’s family. I remember his father had shares in the Channel Tunnel — the old one that was proposed; not the present. I met his brother Syd and his wife Elvira. Syd was an engraver and shared a workshop with Dick (a letterpress printer) and Stan (a die-stamper) on the top floor of a building off Oxford Street. Thanks to Steve and Syd the press found a home there. Steve got me interested in photography. I learned what “reticulation” is and found the work of Irving Penn and Edward Steichen through him. Both Penn and Steichen were in “outburst“.
The Foundation was a good place to work. We hung out with Nigel Black; with Ken and Pat Lansdowne (Ken back from the Navy and Suez where, directing the landing of supplies, he’d bawled out a dim Major who now turned out to be his boss); with Peter Burns (a mod from Woolwich who, wearing his no-longer-fashionable collar-less jacket to work, had noticed the then almost unknown Beatles being photographed in front of the National Union of Mineworkers building and had gone over, so allowing John Lennon to copy the already-defunct-in-London style); and with Peter Bradley, a bright bio-chemist.
Then Steve met Wendy from Hoxton (again, the Hoxton of then, not the art-trendy now). I remember Stan the die-stamper taking Aikido classes and demonstrating moves to Wendy’s brother Tommy who looked quizzically, shrugged, and said “Well Stan, all good, but like we say down ‘Oxtonâ€¦ there’s no substitute for a shooter”. Steve and Wendy’s wedding was the best ever, and my most drunk.
Lives drifted apart in the late sixties. We moved out of London, and then to the USA. Steve and Wendy had three sons. Steve taught photography, then pottery. Wendy taught show-biz children off set; then ran an agency for child performers. They retired. Went to live in Spain.
In Southend on Monday the crematorium was packed. Wendy spoke movingly of their almost fifty years together. Their son Graham simply listed things his father liked: music, people, places, food. An excellent thought that had Steve present in the room. In the sunlight outside I thought how Steve would have enjoyed this juxtaposition. He was seventy-four. There’s a scrap of newsreel from 1957. Steve with beard and glasses.