Godspeed, Georgy Girl, Good-Time Guru

doonan 13 Godspeed, Georgy Girl, Good Time GuruLynn Redgrave changed my life. I don’t care how bananas that sounds. It’s true. She was my unwitting guru, a patron saint for me and for intrepid, glamour-obsessed optimists everywhere. She died last week, leaving us, her flock of adoring disciples, feeling sad and unmoored. A certain bizarre phrase keeps looping through our brains. …

“I’m going to Carnaby Street to get a flat and a modeling job, and I’ll be back in half an hour.”

These words were spoken by La Redgrave in the 1967 movie Smashing Time. The basic plot of this unsung cinematic mistress-piece revolves around the arrival in London of two adorably common trouts named Yvonne (La Redgrave) and Brenda (Rita Tushingham). Their goal? The same as yours and mine and everyone else who escapes naffsville and shleps to the big city: fame, fortune and beaucoup de pooblicitay.

The advertising campaign that lured me to this movie at the age of 16 used the slogan “Two girls go stark mod!” I wasn’t disappointed. When the lights came up at the shabby Gaumont movie theater back in Reading, Berkshire-lo those 40 years ago-I knew that I had found a raison d’être. I decided that I too would go in search of a trendy Carnaby street pad and, in the absence of any modeling offers, a switched-on, groovy, pace-setting occupation.

When my childhood best friend, Biddie (a.k.a. James Biddlecombe), and I simultaneously flew our respective coops, we hung out of the train window, in conscious imitation of Brenda and Yvonne, singing the Smashing Time theme song:

“Going down to London, going down to London, we’re going to have a SMASHING TIME!!!”

We rented a squalid bed-sit and set about the task of clawing our way to the middle: I dove into the mad-cap world of window-dressing, and Biddie vamped his way into the spangled West End drag/cabaret circuit. Like Brenda and Yvonne, Biddie and I were two idiotically naïve, glamour-starved funsters who were mesmerized by the fashion and fabulousness that shimmered on the horizon. And, guided by visions of our two irrepressible heroines, we quickly learned that the best defense against any disappointment/rejection is humor.

Lynn Redgrave’s portrayal of the tall, loud, brassy Yvonne is memorable and utterly hilarious-YouTube the scene where she performs her hit record, “I Can’t Sing but I’m Young”-but also poignant. The ability to inhabit a character so dripping with emotional ineptitude and imbue it with genuine vulnerability was Lynn’s great gift. She did the same thing in Georgy Girl and was rewarded with an Oscar nomination. Vanessa’s younger sister was an empathetic thespian who, despite the gravitas of the Redgrave dynasty, instinctively understood that inside us all lurks a totally uncool, bleached-blond Yvonne screaming for a bit of love and attention.

I met Lynn Redgrave at a Tina Brown-hosted do in the mid 2000s. When I gushed, she surprised me by matching my deranged Smashing Time-ophilia with equal enthusiasm. She was only too happy to talk about this under-celebrated movie and was at pains to assure me that she and Brenda, as she still referred to Rita Tushingham, had remained the best of pals. During lunch, Lynn chuckled and self-deprecated about her chemo wig and her burgeoning career as a playwright. I was left with the distinct impression that here was a woman who, despite baroque family dramas, eating disorders and cancer, still believed it was possible to zip off to Carnaby Street to get a flat and modeling job and be back in half an hour.

R.I.P. Yvonne. You will be missed.

sdoonan@observer.com