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Confessions of a celebrity collector

Cat James

When I was a nipper it was not unusual to see old Teddy Boys in the street, slicking back their hair into a silvery ducktail the way they had for twenty years – a reminder of the days when they’d been vital young men. Similarly, I’m trying to grow my hair into the feathercut of my glorious seventies childhood. It’s currently at the stage of early Robin Askwith, star of Bless this House and, more famously, the Confessions of films.

Having googled Robin Askwith pictures to see if my hair was, indeed, anything like his trademark shag, I discovered that he would be celebrating his 68th birthday in the New Forest. And, for a modest sum, fans were invited to join him. A party with the one and only ‘Timothy Lea’, cheeky protagonist of the Confessions of… franchise? I’m in! And, sensing she’d enjoy the outing, I invited an actress friend to come along.

It was an intimate affair; twenty or so of us in a Girl Guide headquarters (comedy gold in itself!) gathered to hear Mr Askwith’s showbiz anecdotes. The audience members were surprisingly intense; I discovered that many of them collected star encounters like Pokemon. One lady showed me a picture of herself perched on a stool next to Starsky and Hutch actors Paul Michael Glaser and David Soul. Starsky and Hutch! Let that sink in! I mean, they practically defined the 1970s police buddy franchise – and here I was sat with her just like she had sat with them. Could I feel their vibrations through time and space?

Robin threw open the floor to some questions. “What was it like to work with Sid James?” asked one fan. “Did you ever meet Keith Moon?” enquired another. It was as if Robin was being used as a portal to these dead stars; a celestial telephone plugged into Heaven’s exchange. With the replies came an ephemeral connection tying the questioner to Robin and onwards to Sid then back again in defined steps of separation.

My actress friend revealed that she had been in a film with Robin back in 1978. He, of course, remembered her and they had a good old reminisce. The celebrity chasers in the audience smelt a fresh conquest and soon her filmography was being examined. Appearances in The Return of The Saint and Crown Court made her a valuable catch and she was photographed and catalogued like an exhibit.

As we ate a slice of Robin’s birthday cake and he signed some photos – mine cheekily inscribed, “Hi Cat, thanks for coming!?” – I wondered about what drives us to seek these close encounters? Even Robin Askwith himself, on discovering that we’d travelled to his birthday party from the Isle of Wight, threw in a few Geoff Hughes stories for good measure, keen to close the loop – and, of course, I knew someone who had known the erstwhile ‘Eddie Yates’.  Proof that it’s part of the human condition to hunt and gather, and create these endless threads of connectivity.

This article first appeared in print in the Isle of Wight County Press on 19 October 2018, and also online.

Cat James

Graphic designer, creative director of Pinkeye Graphics, Isle of Wight County Press columnist, Cat out of Matt and Cat

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