Charles Radcliffe, former Situationist

Extract from Charles Radcliffe, Don’t Start Me Talking: Subculture, Situationism and the Sixties, Bread and Circuses. Kindle Edition.

Our final visit, to Paris to meet Guy Debord and other Paris-based Situationists, would decide whether Chris and I would join L’Internationale situationniste, as we hoped, or whether we would be dismissed, hurled centrifugally into pro-situ orbit, like countless others before and after… We spent most of our time in a typical, old Paris apartment in rue St Jacques, small, comfortable and over-crowded with Situationists. Wine was poured immediately and often. Whenever you stood your head was thrust into a richly aromatic Gauloise cloud. Guy, no longer the studied left-bank dandy of the much-used early photograph with Pierre Feuillette, had put on some weight, was noticeably more jowly and had adopted an altogether more anonymous sartorial style…

Guy, revelling in being the centre of devoted attention of assembled Situationists and would-be Situationists, was at his most urbane, amusing and charming. His talent for vituperation was evident. Most denizens of the French left and cultural avant-garde seemed, almost to a person, to qualify as “stupid, completely cow-like, little cunts”, “cretins” or “imbeciles”. In London it tended towards ‘peace and love, man’, so this flood of scurrilous epithets was both slightly shocking and undeniably refreshing, particularly since the squibs were delivered with a sense of humour. He meant it, but they were also delivered as lines for assenting nods and laughter of the attendant gallery, which included not only his former long-term companion and co-worker, Michelle Bernstein, and his current companion Alice Becker-Ho, a beautiful French-Chinese woman, but Mustapha, René Vienet, Donald Nicholson-Smith and his very attractive girl friend Cathy (Pozzo di Borgo). (There was no sign of Debord’s ‘austere cell’ so elegiacally rhapsodized by the aesthete Tim Clark in his introduction to Anselm Jappe’s Guy Debord.) Much, but not all of what Debord said was too quick for me but was invariably greeted with rapid assent or appreciative laughter from the assembled Sits.

We drank a lot, ate well, talked a great deal (in my case mostly with Michelle Bernstein, who spoke good English and was highly sympathetic, intelligent, widely interested and attractive, and Donald, the bluff, bearded and affable established English member of the group), and wandered around Paris. We enjoyed potato and onion soups at Les Halles and ate horse steaks and cous-cous in Algerian restaurants near the Gare du Nord. Perhaps it was the wine, but I began to feel more relaxed in this strangely rarefied world. I would have loved a joint, though.

Charles Radcliffe at Housmans bookshop, London in 2012

 

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