Bette Davis

I lately had the pleasure of watching 'All About Eve' uninterrupted for the first time and was once again reminded of just what a marvellous actress Bette Davis was. Two qualities leap off the screen: intelligence and elegance. Head held high, eyes flashing “full of fire and music”, Margo Channing is Bette at her most compelling, most articulate, cigarette case-snapping best. Her poise, diction and deft movements always make for a riveting performance, as ever underpinned by immaculately tailored clothes (three cheers for Orry-Kelly).

Back in the olden days when terrestrial channels showed “proper” B&W films in the afternoons, nothing could match the delight of coming home from school on a chilly Autumn day to discover 'Dark Victory' or 'In This Our Life' was just starting on Beeb 2. Then Ivy Wood and I would sink down with a tray of tea and a plate of buttered malt loaf. Heaven. “Don't let's ask for the moon...”

Bette Davis
Rita Hayworth

Rita Hayworth

My favourite of all the '40s Hollywood stars: gorgeous, glamorous, great gams… and boy, could she dance! Little wonder Orson Welles fell madly in love with her. I remember being called in to watch 'Cover Girl', specifically for the finale number where well-known models of the day come to life by stepping out of their respective magazine covers. Fabulous frocks throughout, natch - plus the not inconsiderable talents of Gene Kelly, Phil Silvers and a characteristically hard-boiled, wisecracking Eve Arden who sports one razor-sharp ensemble after another (just check out the hats, gals).

But ultimately, it has to be the noirish 'Gilda', (“if I'd been a ranch, they would've named me the Bar Nothing”). Made in 1946 it features exquisite wardrobe (by Jean Louis) and breathtaking chemistry between Rita and co-star Glenn Ford. The 'Amado Mio' Montevideo nightclub sequence should be mandatory viewing, as should Gilda's 'Put The Blame On Mame' striptease. Thank goodness for YouTube!

Ivy Wood once told me that when Rita Hayworth married Aly Khan, he filled the pool of the Château de l'Horizon where the wedding reception was held with Chanel No.5. Apparently the intoxicating scent was carried on the breeze around the hills above the Cote d'Azur for days on end. I'm not sure if it's true (Ivy Wood was always prone to romantic embellishment) but I've since learned that two enormous interlocking initials - an “A” and an “M” (for Margarita) - made from white carnations floated in the pool, creating an opulent and presumably fragrant centrepiece.

Esther Williams

When I first learnt to swim I wanted to be Esther Williams. Not for me the indoor municipal pool with its headache-inducing acoustics, throat-rasping fumes, and dread prospect of verrucas or worse: the horror of inadvertently treading on a discarded plaster. No. I wanted to swim in a fresh water lagoon, with a hibiscus flower tucked behind my ear and a school of friendly seahorses at my side. I wanted to bask beneath blossom-laden vines in a Tiki paradise, to the squawks of tropical birds above and curl up in a conch shell for a snooze. I still do. The closest I've come to recreating this is slapping Martin Denny on the hi-fi and donning my classic two-piece swimsuit ( to take the waters at Tooting Bec Lido.

In 2007 Diane Sawyer interviewed the remarkable Esther Williams, then in her eighties and surely no better advertisement for the benefits of a life spent swimming. In recounting her miraculous recovery from a stroke, Esther was reminded of something her mother had instilled in her: “Work as if there's no prayer, pray as if there's no work.” Salutary stuff.

Esther Williams

Marguerite Patten

Marguerite Pattern

I adored Marguerite Patten for her joie de vivre and encouraging approach to cooking. Far removed from the attention-seeking antics of today's so-called celebrity chefs, Marguerite was an inspiration to women during WW2, helping them turn meagre rations into enticing meals with her innovative and practical recipes. In that pre-Magimax world, she was on the housewife's side, not grandstanding from on high. English Monkey, scones-without-fat - where would we have been without her? Reaching for the Bile Beans, I suspect.

Occasionally Ivy Wood would tease us with a story of a fantastical chocolate pudding she used to make for her father during the war. Apparently it contained nothing - well, nothing one would expect to find in a chocolate pudding - and was the best pudding ever, no less! When we'd ask her to conjure up this culinary slight of hand (usually on a Sunday afternoon when we 'd discover the sweetie drawer had been looted and the nearby garage with its dubious Mars bars was closed - yes, once upon a time everything used to close on Sundays), she would demur, feign a failing memory (as if) and make vague references to carob and prunes. Defeated but determined to have our fix, we'd repair to the kitchen to make chocolate cornflake nests - a lamentable substitute to be sure, and one that wrought treacly chaos in its wake.

Doris Day

In the long, dark teatime of the soul, Doris never fails to brighten the day with her fresh-faced freckliness and glorious smile. And with her button-up-the-back jackets, flowerpot hats and trusty cohorts like Thelma Ritter and Ann B. Davis at her side, who could rain on her parade? In roles that echoed her own life as working mother, Doris was often cast as the archetypal modern career woman ('Lover Come Back' is by far the best example of this) who manages to succeed in a man's world by never compromising her feminine values (Bette Davis' Margo Channing alludes to the importance of this in 'All About Eve'). Given her dedication to animal welfare (, I'm certain Doris would make a great study for the Conscious Feminine movement (

Far from being anachronistic, Doris Day remains a source of constant inspiration for any gal who's ever had the misfortune to experience her own “Jerry Webster” near miss.

Doris Day and Rock Hudson
Doris Day + Rock Hudson + Tony Randall x (Oscar-nominated) script by Stanley Shapiro & Paul Henning / (divided by) gowns by Irene + music by DeVol = 107 minutes well spent.

With thanks to Dr. Linus Tyler for harnessing that formula!

More inspiration coming soon...