Wednesday 10 August 2011

LIFE IN LONDON: She's My Lois Lane

I lived in London for about 13 years altogether and for most of that time I worked at the Serious Fraud Office, which is based just off Grays Inn Road. This means that quite often I could be found at lunchtime in the local bookstore that was not far from the corner of Theobalds Road. This shop had quite a good selection of books on the craft of writing itself - some of which still grace the 'bookshelf of Babel' of previous posts. In addition, somewhere in the back of my mind I've always equated London with the Metropolis of the Superman stories; I was conscious that I'd grown up in a small town (Smallville!) and I wouldn't be staying there forever nor indeed for long. So one lunchtime I was pretty surprised to end up in conversation with Lois Lane...or rather I would've been surprised had I known who she was. I was just trying to be a literary Good Samaritan since she seemed very disappointed that the store could not obtain for her a copy of Richard Condon's The Manchurian Candidate. Indeed, it seemed that the book was out of print and in those far off pre-internet, pre-Amazon days, pre-e-bay days that was pretty much going to be the end of it unless I loaned her my copy. Well I guess she could've spent the next few weeks looking for it secondhand but she needed it in a hurry. I told her I had a copy I'd be willing to lend but I must have it back. She explained that she was appearing in the play of the Manchurian Candidate that would be running that summer at the Lyric Theatre Hammersmith and that her name was Lorelei. Lorelei was blonde, American, impossibly classy, mid-thirties-ish and with a confidence that was reverbing off the walls of the small bookshop like 5.1 surround sound. Her voice was something like Kathleen Turner's and everything she said was delivered like dialogue. The arrangement was that I'd drop off the book to the bookstore but that she would return it to my place of work when she'd done with it. Frankly, I've lent books to close friends and never seen them again so I think the purpose of this was to let her know where I worked (er not sure to what end now.. The implied threat that the whole thing would be turned over to the Serious Fraud Office unreturned book division presumably...). Anyways, while dropping off the book the bookstore staff referred to Lorelei as Mrs King. And at that point I slapped my forehead. How many American actresses called Lorelei could be working in London? This was Lorelei King who I listened to on radio all the time. She played all the female roles in Flywheel, Shyster and Flywheel, the Marx Bros show on Radio 4 and she had played Lois Lane in the Trial of Superman radio show. Subsequently she would even play Sue Storm in the Fantastic Four. I hadn't lived in London that long and it felt like the first person I struck up a conversation with was Lois Lane! When she returned the book it was with a Manchurian Candidate postcard with her phone number on. I rang her to try to blag a couple of complimentary tickets to the play - I'd developed a sense of entitlement to something free since she'd borrowed my book. Looking back I probably sounded like the kid from Robot Chicken who's in the elevator with George Lucas (You're George Lucas!). "Hey," I commenced, "I know who you are!"
"Really?" She intoned in her hushed, crushed velvety, best Jessica Rabbit impersonation. "Who am I?"
"You're Lorelei King off the radio. You're Lois Lane! Can I have a coupla free tickets for me an' my girlfriend?" Well at least I didn't try to hit on her...and frankly, nothing could've been further from my mind. It was her tickets I wanted and Lorelei pronounced that I was worthy of a single ticket "I don't get comps" so I'd have to pay for the girlfriend myself. Regular readers note that my wife and girlfriend are the same person, separated only by the passage of the years.

I haven't retained the ticket stubs but my best guess is that we went to see the play on 10th August 1991. Which would make it exactly twenty years ago today. In the bar afterwards we had a couple of drinks with Lorelei and chatted about her radio work and in particular Flywheel, Shyster and Flywheel. We were very briefly joined by Sian Phillips as she said goodbye to Lorelei - but perhaps most strangely Lorelei told me that she had recounted to Richard Condon when he visited the set the tale of how she obtained her copy of the Manchurian Candidate from a member of staff at the Serious Fraud Office. Lorelei bade us good night in a "You kids be careful on your way home" kind of way and that was almost the last I ever saw of her. I saw her from a distance once in Leicester Square a few years later, but mainly I saw her on TV - she's in an episode of Not Going Out, a couple I think of Jonathan Creek and was also in the movie Notting Hill.

Lorelei, a fellow shopper from 1990's London salutes you!

Now the slightly un-gentlemanly bit which has me hoping Lorelei never finds this post...I checked wikipedia for her age regarding my guess that she was in her mid-thirties at the time and was surprised to discover that we are roughly the same age (so I was just barely 25 - which seemed younger then than it does now and she was 28ish). Well, I'm not going to demand to see the long form of her birth certificate. The confidence and maturity were adding years to her...


  1. See? Some of us do know how to return books. Thanks for the trip down memory lane! x

  2. Hi Honey! You are just about the last person I expected to be reading this blog...I hope you are thriving!