Real Life: What makes teenage girls SCREAM?: Allison Pearson looks at Take That and sees David] Donny] and Frankie]

'IT'S just a rehearsal for orgasm,' says Irma Kurtz. So that's what I was doing that night in 1974 with 3,000 other girls, cooing and yelping through the support act and waiting, waiting for David.

I had, of course, been in love with David Cassidy longer than anyone else in the audience. My friend Nicky, swaying beside me, had also loved him for quite some time, but she had recently lost all credibility by owning up to warm feelings for David Essex. My own devotion to the true David was immaculate: I got up early on Saturdays to catch his sublimely amiable Keith in The Patridge Family ('Hey, that'll be groovy'), I knew the name of his mother (Evelyn) and his stepmother (Shirley), and all his lyrics ('Nothing in the world could bother me/I was living in a world of ecstasy'). He had a red setter and his favourite colour was brown. Brown] How subtle he was compared to Donny Osmond. Donny liked purple.

I told myself that I would maintain an intimate silence when David and I finally came face to face. But, when he leapt on to the stage in a white catsuit with sequins picking out a sun on his right buttock, I screamed along with all the other aspirant Mrs Cassidys till my lungs were sandpaper. Reader, I harried him.

So, what was a bookish 14-year- old doing yelling in public? Well, there was the companionable thrall of the stalls, and a strange but pleasurable new feeling, like the scuttling of claws across the floor of my stomach. Looking at pictures of David Cassidy now it's easy to spot what should have been plain then: he was the prettiest girl we had ever seen. That slow, feline smile, thick lashes curtseying over dewy hazel eyes, the slight, Kate Moss figure and not a hair out of place. Not a hair in place, actually: with his waxy torso Cassidy was a depilatorist's dream of androgyny.

David's one redeeming flaw was his complexion: apricot panstick was smeared over a face with more craters than Mercury. But that was OK, I reasoned; when we finally met I could let him know that I didn't mind.

Such scenarios are minutely plotted. An 11-year-old fan of the identical Bros twins recently confessed that she planned to marry one, and have an affair with the other. There would be no problem: if she had a baby nobody would be able to tell who the father was. These endlessly rehearsed dramas get their live performance at a concert. What onlookers might see as emotion of the moment is the discharge of years of dreams. These dreams were being vociferously unleashed last week when Take That, five cheery lads, pelvic- thrust their stuff at Wembley.

The fans are a little more forward these days, still relishing their heroes but with a side-order of irony - one carried a banner insisting 'Fuck me, Robbie,' with a canny insurance policy on the other side: 'Fuck me, Mark'. But looking at them in black and white photos they are unmistakably descendants of those Beatles fans who stretched out their arms as if in supplication, their faces damp with seemingly helpless grief. Take That are more macho than David Cassidy, but then only Pee-wee Herman isn't. Still, the most popular members of the group have the familiar inchoate puppy face, low body hair and, in the video of their greatest hits, reveal the same polite eagerness to furnish details of their favourite food. They may have started stage life in gay clubs but, like all teen idols, they are about as sexually threatening as a Muppet.

THE TEEN scream has a short but shrill history. It began with the young Frank Sinatra and the bobbysoxers in what US papers dubbed the 'National Teenage Love Affair'. It came to a messy climax in October 1944 at New York's Paramount Theater where there was an all-day film and Sinatra show. The rule was that you could hold your seat as long as you stayed in it. Only 250 out of 3,600 girls left, inspiring the 30,000 queuing outside to begin the defenestration of Times Square. Inside, the rest hollered and defied the increasingly hoarse calls of nature: there was not a dry eye, or indeed seat, in the house.

This frenzy was inexplicable to adults, not least because of its object. The young Sinatra looked like Bambi on a stick: huge beseeching eyes set in a gaunt face perched on a glad-rag-and-bone frame. Social critics queued up to offer explanations: 'Escapism and substitution for love', said one; 'primordial mothering instinct,' opined another. They all noted that Frankie 'sent the girls wild', but that was a mistake: it presumed that the girls were tame in the first place.

Years later, a fan would write: 'The sociologists? What yo-yo's. Whatever Sinatra stirred beneath our barely budding breasts, it wasn't motherly. We loved to swoon. We would practise. We would take off our shoes, put on his records and stand around groaning for a while. Then the song would end and we would all fall on the floor.' So much for spontaneous emotion: from the start the relationship between the teen idol and his fans was deeply complicit. Sinatra admitted using the microphone 'like a Geisha girl uses her fan'. The contract might have read: I flirt, you scream, and nobody gets hurt. Safe sex for virgins.

The scream crossed the Atlantic in 1955. English teenies cried for Johnnie Ray whose fey fragility anticipated Marc Bolan, the Bay City Rollers, Wham's Andrew Ridgeley, Jason Donovan and a host of other wispy boys who looked as if they had been conjured from the pages of gay porn mags. One newspaper could barely contain its indignation: 'They scream. They yell. And he's just a little man with a weedy torso and a hearing aid.' Suspecting foul play ('Is Johnnie Ray a mass hypnotist?') it sent a doctor along. 'There is no doubt,' this shrewd medic concluded, 'that the effect of Ray on his fans is physical.' He found the girls 'rapt, flushed and entranced'. But there was good news for parents: 'It is unlikely Ray does any harm. I think the girls feel better after a session with him.' Which brings us back to orgasms.

The prime teenage scream period occurs between 11 and 16, coinciding with puberty, that Cape Canaveral of the hormones. Elizabeth Howell, a child psychologist, says: 'It's a stage when the body is being geared up to sexuality and a pop concert provides a forum for a release which is safe. Teenage girls also giggle a lot, and the hysteria is an extension of that nervous energy that they don't quite know how to handle.'

Sheryl Garratt, editor of The Face magazine and former Bay City Rollers fan, recalls the sense of almost drunken abandon she had at a concert in Birmingham in 1975: 'I was on the bus and more girls got on at every stop. Strangers, but we'd start talking straight away: 'Which one do you want to marry?' Someone would shout 'I love Les,' and we'd all scream. Then we were pelting down New Street screaming, about 60 of us, and I remember seeing fear in some coppers' faces. I'd never felt that power before, it came from all being together. Boys get that chance to make a noise all the time at football matches. I don't remember the concert at all.'

It's not often that a former David Cassidy fan gets to feel superior, but really Sheryl, the Bay City Rollers? 'Yes, but they didn't look like they'd force themselves on you, they looked like they'd hold hands and fall in love.' That sense of safety is crucial. Younger girls fight shy of more obviously raunchy males like Mick Jagger. Joan Smith, feminist writer and sometime Walker Brothers besotee, remembers thinking Jagger was 'too rough. He looked like if you actually met him you'd have to do something about it'.

The same went for the Beatles. Cherubic Paul McCartney was the universal darling, while the sulky and dangerous John Lennon attracted the boys and the more daring girls. Irma Kurtz, Cosmopolitan's agony aunt, feels that the ambivalent sexuality of many of the teen idols suits both sides: 'Some of the boys would probably prefer to turn on girls who can only scream]'

Wholesome, almost neutered, the teen hero makes screaming feel safe, but it's being in a crowd that gives you the confidence to macerate your vocal chords. Manwatcher Desmond Morris recalls being at a party in the Sixties with a young Beatles fan when John Lennon walked in: 'She was completely silent and showed no emotion - it just wasn't an appropriate context.' In fact, Morris believes that the teen scream has little to do with the love object at all: 'Essentially they scream for each other, to share the emotion. The ritual of screaming is to signal that they are sharing the sexual excitement. It says, 'Like you, I have become sexually interested'. It's a sort of coming of age.'

I passed through my screaming rite of passage after a couple of years, moving on to the more mature pleasures of weeping to Joni Mitchell. Sensing my defection, David Cassidy retired, claiming he had been scared after a concert at Madison Square Garden. 'I was used to the girls getting hysterical, but this was different,' he said. 'The entire building seemed to rumble with their emotions. I wondered if I'd get out alive.'

I went back to the scene of the scream just once, for a 10CC concert, and felt glad to be with a boy of my own. I didn't even whimper, but there was certainly no one there that night who better understood what Eric Stewart was singing about: 'I'm not in love, so don't forget it / It's just a silly phase I'm going through . . .'

(Photograph omitted)

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
Voices
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Sport
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
sport
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

    £600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

    Commercial Litigation Associate

    Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

    Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

    £65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

    Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

    £40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

    Day In a Page

    Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

    The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

    What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
    Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

    Finding the names for America’s shame

    The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
    Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

    Inside a church for Born Again Christians

    As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
    Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
    Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

    Incredible survival story of David Tovey

    Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little