TAKE A GIRL LIKE ME—Life With George.

By Diana Melly.

Chatto & Windus. 280 pages.


By George Melly.

Viking.  244 pages.


Ian Whitcomb is a highly respected performer, composer, and music historian. You can find all of his CD's, DVD's, Books, and Songbooks by clicking here.

You can find Ian's main website at




       Here we have the strange case of a husband and wife of forty five years—a team well-known to the chattering classes, beloved by local media, yet invisible to the world beyond the Isles, exemplars of a privileged bohemianism noted for its unbridled, incestuous satyriasis, inevitably trailing a sad string of bewildered children—who have chosen, perhaps because they have nothing better to do and perhaps because of cocktail connections to London publishers, to let it all hang out in a double act confessional, a sort of hard copy Blog of jokes and careless tragedies, much of which—the husband’s diarrhea and the wife’s masturbation—is more testimony than we need to hear. But, like prattling couch patients, at least they’ve got it off their chests.

       We will examine Mrs Melly first:  she was married with children when she met George, also married, and a cartoon strip writer and belter of off-colour blues, at a Soho drinking club in the early 1960s, on the eve of the destruction of English gentility. “Who’s the sexy mouse?” he asked. In a flash he was in like Flynn on Hampstead Heath.

Just as she had her baggage he had his: a sexual Hoover for androgynous boys and girls, he loved to be loved, especially by the customers at the jazz clubs he played. Madly in love, Diana got on the bandwagon only to put off by the jazzmen’s traveling game of giving awards for running over the helpless: “Six points for a blind man and eight if he was on crutches, and the same for a pregnant woman”. She herself got a low grade in the big breasts stakes. “Not much happening on the tit scene” remarked George’s bandleader.

Ignorant of George’s passions, Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey, (even in this book she spells the latter as “Rainie”) she retired to breed more beautiful children while neglecting the ones already present, have affairs with unsuitable men—a dentist, a sociologist—and every now and then falling for a pretty boy. Max, a teenage blond bombshell, complicated matters by attracting George’s libido too.

       Although the open marriage should have told her that anyone was fair game, Diana couldn’t control a debilitating jealousy of George and his redheads in bed with their socks on, of his knee tremblers that might start in a Soho jazz club dressing room and climax behind a factory in Camden Town.

 “Why can’t you just have fun?”, proposed an exasperated George when she expressed her upset. Of course, her angst wasn’t helped by pot smoking and acid trips taken to the conventional soundtrack of Bob Dylan and Sgt Pepper. Nor by young lovers who complained of her slipping bottom and wrinkles. “She is opening my mind…I dig her so much”, wrote hippie Billy in an unposted letter. But after being refused entry into two Welsh pubs with a decent sense of dress code, the shoulder-length blond with the silver jewellery, found the scene all “too heavy”.

       When the going got rough she could always descend on well-to-do or famous friends in their Sussex cottages, or on Corfu, or adventure into Sri Lanka where she was so taken in that upon returning to London she expressed her disgust with the decadent West by restricting her diet to curry without cutlery, and to endless sleeping on the floor. Poor George, interrupting a string of “important affairs”, valiantly struggled upstairs with trays holding wine and Valium (“on a pretty saucer”).

       There was also the solace of the medieval tower in Wales which she’d fallen in love with. Here was an idyllic respite from all their dear London friends—and they knew everybody, whether it be Jonathan (Miller), Alan (Bennett), Freddy (Ayer) or Kingsley (Amis). Did you know that Martin (Amis) answered her advert for a lodger who might help with the children? And what about when George shocked Lenny Bruce by exposing his balls at a party? Or when, at another party, Brian Epstein stalked out after George’s description of semen-stained knickers in the Metropolitan Polices’ Black museum?

       But she was so often betrayed by her friends. Why, why why? Take Molly Parkin, a dear friend and famous writer, who, invited to stay as long as she liked at the Tower while Diana was on holiday, went and fired housekeeper and gardener and, to cap it all, tried to get George to shack up with her. George’s obsession turned out to be a creature far worse than this Parkin woman. Mistaking her for a waiter, he’d fallen immediately for Greckel whose sexual wildness and alcoholic consumption were monumental. Drunk, she became a werewolf and, when George dared to call off the affair, she left phone messages threatening to chop up Diana. She also threatened suicide and this Diana knew all about, having had the same tendencies herself. Oh, and she’d lost the use of her legs once and no amount of doctors and therapists could help, not even Bob Dylan.

       So it’s not surprising that the offspring in this unfortunate farce have not fared well. One of them, a heroin addict, overdosed at twenty-five. “Patrick’s dead”, George announced, and, feeling she wasn’t getting sufficient sympathy, she shot off for Wales and her current businessman lover. “No tears, end of story”, he greeted her.  So she took to her bed and a regimen of masturbation.

The end of Diana’s story has George still seeing the Greckel monster and she determined to care for her husband right up till the dribbling end. Yes, she cares for Good Time George, but unlike the local media, she has ceased to love him.

       Now we turn to Mr. Melly’s testimony which arrived on my California doorstep endearingly spiral bound, riddled with spelling mistakes, and with the author sitting on the cover like Max Miller as a gargoyle---thus informing us that we are in for a naughty schoolboy’s notes. And it is a gorgeous gush, a well-lubricated stream of consciousness, like comprehensible Joyce or inelegant Proust. Refreshingly unlike Mrs. Melly, he has few complaints or regrets about his past, a chortling road of screwing, boozing and bawdy song shouting. Nowadays, impotent and incontinent, worried stiff about being taken short at the V&A (where once he had to deal with soiled garments in the ladies lavatory) his complaints are about ailments and treatments: “pee pills”, psoriasis suppressors, incipient emphysema and a procedure involving a nozzle “inserted into my arsehole”. Once an active bugger, he had never enjoyed being the receiver.

 No doubt some of his health troubles are the result of a hedonist life style but he doesn’t want sympathy and he exults in skulking off after a severe wigging from his doctor (concerning the mortal dangers of booze and fags) to a basement bar, feeling the packet of Marlboro Lites in his pocket and “salivating at the thought of a large G with ice and lemon and the mouth-watering clink as the tonic hits the ice”. But, he writes, in the capital letter fashion of JK Rowling, “IT WAS SHUT FOR THE EASTER WEEKEND”.

       Like many seniors he is over fond of detailing past sexual escapades so it’s a relief to hear about his present pleasures: climbing into bed (“It’s almost erotic), eating puddings, watching “The Antiques Road Show”, attending memorial services when there’s lunch to follow. But his favourite treat is attending “Oldie” lunches at Simpson’s.

And here is where I must drop my guise of therapist and tell you how much I envy Mr Melly his London times with good food, drink and conversation, and how I wish I could be there to thank him.

       For he gave hours of his time when I was researching a chapter on trad jazz; he stuck up for me on the BBC radio programme, “The Critics” when a nasty journalist attacked a film about my life as an expatriate in L.A.

 Also, I understand that Mrs Melly’s instability and subsequent authoritarianism (he calls her “The WingCo”) stem from a rotten childhood. In short, both these blog books are guaranteed page-turners and I wish this Darby & Joan a long life and good health.




Ian Whitcomb is a highly respected performer, composer, and music historian. You can find all of his CD's, DVD's, Books, and Songbooks by clicking here.

You can find Ian's main website at