Thursday, November 25, 2010

Gray Jolliffe's Article on "Chloe & Co"

Wonderful Gray Jolliffe, creator of Wicked Willie, has recently won the Cartoon Art Trust Award for comic strip of the year for his long standing cartoon strip in the Daily Mail "Chloe & Co". Here he has written an article on the origins of this amusing character:

MY FRIEND CHLOE - the girl inside the cartoon strip.

Chloe Nicholson was the last thing I was expecting when she shimmied into my office one sunny morning in 1984. Photographer's agents were not supposed to be sexy blondes with lissome figures, wearing bright orange mini suits - with acid green stilettoes. But who's complaining I thought. She is an agent, she's lovely, and she's here. She'd made an appointment to show us her folio of some of London's hottest photographers. At the ad agency where I worked as creative director, the art buyer had assembled the usual suspects - mostly surly, cynical, impatient, mean, critical art directors and copywriters. They'd seen it all. Madmen, only twenty years on. Chloe certainly made an impressive entrance. A moment after she came through the door she managed to trip, probably over one of our tongues that were hanging out. The bulging folio she was carrying flew from her grasp and dozens of large laminated photos cascaded onto the polished floor, which made them skitter all over the place. We shouldn't really have collapsed with uncontrollable giggles - it was her expression of anguish mixed with disbelief that did it. As we bent to help her pick everything up, she said, "What a nightmare!" In a posh accent that was sort of a squeaky Leslie Phillips with breathless Lumleyesque overtones. A fine wine of a voice.  "Well," she continued, "Now you've seen all the photos, will you be giving me any work?"  Well it would have seemed churlish not to. Silly accidents like that tend to bond people. Times were good in those days and bank managers were kindly old codgers who only wanted a good lunch. So there was plenty of work around and a lot was pushed in Chloe's direction. She organised great photo shoots and her boys produced some excellent pics. Chloe was bright. She was fluent in French and Spanish. She had a cute nose, blue eyes and a dazzling smile. And she was fun. And funny. She couldn't open her mouth without saying something wacky. The kind of thing even a professional comic wouldn't think of. It came from her eccentricity and her innocence, borne out by the fact that she had no idea why you'd be laughing. Chloe soon became a good friend and often came over to the house with one or other of her train of admirers. She was stunningly attractive, but thin, and because I only like curvy girls I didn't fancy her - and I'm pretty sure it was mutual. My family liked her too so that was cool.

One day after work, propping up the The Zanzibar in Covent Garden she told me she was off to spend the weekend in the country with her new boyfriend, Serge. " He has a tennis court," she said. So I asked her if she played tennis. " No, I've never had to", she said.

Chloe's flat in Fulham was chaos. She had wonderful taste, wore wonderful clothes ranging from business smart to hippie chic, but her flat contained too much of everything. The polar opposite of minimal. Once she called in a panic to tell me that she thought her sofa had been stolen. A couple of hours later she phoned back to say that she'd found it under 'some other stuff', so I could stop worrying.

In the seventies when she was a fashion model, Chloe spent most of her time in France and Spain. Her father was a high ranking army officer who was stationed in Europe so her parents sent her off to a toffs boarding school in England. Not Roedean but something like that. That's how she got her accent, because aside from school she never really lived in England till the eighties. She lived in Ibiza for a while and once shared a house with Kate Hudson's famously kooky mother, Goldie Hawn. They were really close friends and were so similar in the way they looked and acted that people couldn't tell them apart. As one of Chloe's other Ibiza friends, Patsy, put it, "They were always trying to out-ditz each other".

Soon after the 1986 Chenobyl nuclear disaster Chloe informed a crowd of us at lunch that her mother had got the 'flu'. " It's the Russians you know - my mother never gets flu, and it would be too much of a coincidence". We said the cloud never reached western Europe and anyway, radiation doesn't cause flu. But she wouldn't have it. So then someone started on about radiation sickness when they dropped the bombs on Japan in 1945 killing hundreds of thousands. Chloe was wide eyed with horror. "What a nightmare," she said. " Haven't you ever heard of Hiroshima?" We asked. "No", she said - then added, "But you see, I've lived abroad most of my life".

Soho was Chloe's kind of manor. It was very different in those days and she wanted to live there because of the dangerous sleazy aura that only sexy Soho could provide. She loved the existentialism of the Colony club and the raffish scruffiness of the French house, although they were seriously at odds with her stiletto - chic outfits. One day she told me how she'd been to see a flat to rent in Romilly street. 'It was disgusting' she said. "The kitchen was was full of those awful MI5 units". "Was there a spy in every cupboard"? I asked. " No, silly, they were all empty", she said, " But there was a horrid dead mouse in the bedroom. If I was prime minister I'd round up all the mice and send them to the coalmines". "Why? What coalmines?" I said. " Oh, didn't you know", said Chloe, " In the mines they use mice as human guinea pigs". Later that week she admitted she'd got it wrong. She said, "I think it must have been something I heard at school about canaries."

So I started to collect Chloe-isms knowing for sure I'd find a good use for them one day. Whenever we met or talked on the phone I was waiting for her to say something utterly daft. She never disappointed. And it wasn't only me she tickled. One evening I strolled past a restaurant , looked through the window, and could see people jack-knifing around, knocking over tables and rolling on the floor, and I knew Chloe was in there. Once, at Kettner's, she came out with something so absurd that we had to rush outside and hang on to parked cars, tears streaming, gasping for breath, in physical pain. And what was even funnier was the way she'd crack up too, without really knowing why.

There was a short period when she flirted with Buddhism. "Its such a nightmare! I didn't get a wink of sleep cos I was up all night chanting". "Chanting?" " I'm a Buddhist you know, and you can get anything you want if you chant for it. And I want a yellow Volkswagwagen like the one I used to have in Ibiza". "I had no long have you been a Buddhist?" "Since Thursday", she said. "I went to this meeting". I said I doubted you could get your heart's desire simply by chanting for it. "Well, that's what it it says in the BROCHURE," she insisted. When after a week the yellow Volkswagen didn't show up, poor Buddha got dumped. She could be fickle. But she loved to dabble in alternative stuff. When my buddy Al Cluer broke his finger she promised the only cure was acupuncture. "It's the world's oldest form of medicine", she said. "It goes back to the beginning of time. Maybe even before that. They're not sure".

So when my friend Shack suggested a cartoon strip about a couple of girls sharing a flat, there was my lovely Chloe waiting to be picked off the tree.

That was fifteen years ago, which is how long she's been living in the Daily Mail, being daft on a daily basis. And as I write this, blow me if she hasn't gone and won us the Cartoon Art Trust Award for comic strip of the year! The real Chloe is now living in Thailand, chirpy as ever and married to big John, a kind of dangerous looking American, but actually a very nice guy. We've always stayed in touch because I need the gags for one thing. Chloe admits she's no spring chicken now. "But thirty is the new sixty," she says. "Or is it the other way round?" The last Skype conversation I had with her a week ago she complained that her eye was hurting because of a cup of coffee she'd just had. " Coffee doesn't give you eye trouble", I said. " No, I forgot to take the spoon out", she said.

Gray's book Chloe and Co is out now.

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