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Warp this way! Patricia Quinn and The Rocky Horror Picture Show

Come up to the lab and see what’s on the slab... or just catch Patricia Quinn talk about The Rocky Horror Picture Show at Primrose Hill Library

01 December, 2017 — By Dan Carrier

Little Nell, Patricia Quinn and Tim Curry in The Rocky Horror Picture Show

IT is one of the top five biggest grossing films of all time. And it has never been off screen since it was first released – meaning in the past 43 years, somewhere on the planet, every single day, you could watch it in a cinema.

Understandably, then, it is considered to be the biggest cult film ever made. Yet it started life as a rather rag-tag stage show upstairs at the Royal Court with a three-week run.

No one could predict The Rocky Horror Show would become a cultural giant with millions of fans around the world.

Primrose Hill-based actress Patricia Quinn played key character Magenta – and this week will present the film at a screening at Primrose Hill Library.

Belfast-born, she headed to London aged 16 to audition for Rada. “I didn’t get in,” she recalls.

But Patricia wasn’t turning tail and heading back over the Irish Sea.

“I sat in Trafalgar Square with a newspaper looking for jobs,” she says. “There was a post going at the Strand Palace Hotel. It was an amazing place to live. I woke up every morning listening to the market at Covent Garden open.”

Her father was a bookie and put her in touch with Isaac Morris, who ran a bookmakers from Beak Street in Soho.

“At first Isaac thought I had run away from home – he couldn’t believe my parents would let me come to London alone,” she says. “He set up accounts for me at a pub and at Blooms restaurant to make sure I could eat every day.”

She went on to train at the Drama Centre in Prince of Wales Road, and worked across the UK in theatre.

She recalls when Rocky first came into her life.

Richard O’Brien and Patricia in The Rocky Horror Picture Show

“It was 1973. I had an audition for a musical upstairs at the Royal Court for £18 a week,” she says. “My agent said: ‘You’ll have to sing a rock and roll song.’ I asked what it was and he said: ‘I think it is something about a circus.’ He was not wrong. I have been involved in this circus now for 40 years.”

At the time, her husband Don Hawkins, a feted drummer, was involved in The Who musical Tommy.

“He was on the road in Australia,” recalls Patricia. “Don sent me a jacket with the Taj Mahal painted on the back and leopardskin sleeves. It was wild. I wore it to my Rocky audition, not knowing who I was going to meet. They could have been in suits.”

Thankfully, as any Rocky fan will know, this was not likely.

“I walked in and saw these guys – Richard O’Brien, director Jim Sharman, musical director Richard Hartley – and I thought: they look OK. Long hair, printed teddy boy coats, white wedge shoes… I thought: They look interesting.”

But she nearly came unstuck that day.

“I couldn’t sing rock and roll,” she remembers. “They asked what sheet music I had – and I didn’t have any.”

A guitar was produced and they asked if she could sing a song they had ready.

“It began: Michael Rennie was ill, the day the earth stood still… I sort of sang along and I thought this is great. I went skipping down the Kings Road and thought: Oh my gosh, this will be a great show. Half an hour, my agent phoned and said: ‘They want you to do the part.’ I said: ‘Yes!’ He said: ‘What do you mean? You haven’t read the script yet – it may be one line…’ I had to go Royal Court’s stage door and pick it up. There wasn’t much of a script – all they had was a couple of songs and a page. We all had to find our characters and songs would come in overnight for us to learn the following morning. I remember Belinda Sinclair, who was playing Janet, was given the lyrics ‘Touch me, I want to be dirty’ and she said: ‘I’m not singing that, that’s disgusting.’”

Patricia in civvies

They were also allowed leeway in terms of how their individual characters sounded.

“I remember Tim Curry finding Frank’s voice on his way in. It was Kensington-speak, because he had heard people on the bus and he thought he’d give it a go. I knew I was meant to be Transylvanian so I did that, while Richard O’Brien did his deep-toned servant’s voice and Little Nell decided to be Australian. No one except me paid any attention to the fact we were meant to be Transylvanian, and Jim Sharman never said a word about it.”

The first night went well and it seemed they would enjoy the short run and then move on. Little did any of them suspect what would happen next.

“We were in a 60-seat theatre,” she says. “I do not use the word lightly but there were geniuses around this thing. It was all word of mouth and it was unbelievable how suddenly we were the talk of the town.”

When the run finished, there was talk of it being extended – but Patricia was spending her £18 a week on childcare for her young son.

“I was a bit fed up and ready for it to end,” she recalls. “I had no cash but then they said they were going to move it to the West End, so I stayed on.”

The film was produced two years later.

“I went to lunch with Jim and producer John Goldstone. They told me I would not be singing the song Science Fiction, so I said: ‘I am not doing your film then.’ They then showed me the sets and there was this pink laboratory, and lifts, and wonderful new costumes, and Transylvanians and motorbikes… I thought: Oh, this is wonderful – I am doing this!”

Primrose Hill Community Library Film Club is screening The Rocky Horror Picture Show, presented by Patricia Quinn, on December 5. Introduction 7.45pm, film 8pm. £8 including a glass of wine. Tickets, up to two per person, on sale at the Library, Sharpleshall Street, NW1 8YN (Friday, Saturday and Monday), or on the door. 020 7419 6599.

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