The designer rebel who slept in our spare room: Julie Burchill brought white bread, old-fashioned values and angst when she moved in with her in-laws. Jay Landesman remembers

Jay Landesman, 73, came from St Louis, Missouri. He ran a night-club there which made its name with early performances by Woody Allen and Barbra Streisand. For 30 years he has lived in north London with his wife, the poet Fran Landesman, establishing a place on the London literary and cultural scene as author, publisher and raconteur. Along the way he also acquired a lethal daughter-in-law . . .

ONE DAY about 10 years ago my son, Cosmo, planted a time bomb in our life - its name was Julie Burchill - and I couldn't have been more pleased. I had always lived close to the edge, so looked forward to having someone in the family to carry on my lifetime habit of upsetting the Judaeo- Christian applecart.

Next to her husband, I was her biggest fan. I had been reading her notices of public executions in her columns in Time Out and the Sunday Times, wallowing in her witty, outrageous but incisive views on the manners and morals of her time. It reminded me of my youthful days as a destroyer of the taboos in America when I was publisher and editor of Neurotica, a magazine that was the voice of the cultural changes taking place at the beginning of the Fifties.

Their move into our north London house was temporary; the only space available was an old workroom that had been turned into a storage area for broken things. Although it overlooked the garden, the view was hidden by a tangle of ivy. Bars across the window gave it a jail-like atmosphere, perfect for the new prisoners of love.

With two professional critics on the premises, Fran and I felt like the homosexual couple in La Cage aux Folles who try to clean up their act when the son brings his girlfriend home for a visit. Cosmo had already warned us that Julie knew all about us. She hated hippies, ex-hippies, food freaks, open marriages and, worst of all, old people. The only thing she liked about us was that we were Jewish.

It didn't take long to discover that this raving revolutionary was an old- fashioned girl - a designer rebel who yearned for bourgeois respectability. I had to make sure.

'Do you get down on your knees when you scrub a floor?' I asked.

'Yes, it's the only way to do the job properly.'

'Do you know the secrets of polishing?'

'Yes, I do it every day.'

I deliberately sounded like a KGB interrogator to play up to her Stalinist leanings. For a wedding present I had given her 13 volumes of the works of Joseph Stalin. With four writers under one roof, the house was alive with the sound of clashing lifestyles.

Julie's vocabulary (at the time) consisted of two words - 'rubbish' and 'horrid' - both intimidating conversation-stoppers. She made it plain from the start she intended to make Cosmo over into a working-class hero. When he went out to the pub with a friend, leaving her home, she simply said: 'I'll be waiting up for you, dear - with a rolling pin.' I asked her what would happen if she went out and left Cosmo at home. 'Girls shouldn't go out. That's what boys do.' With our unconventional lifestyle, I realised we were harbouring a spy who would one day bring us up on charges of wanton libertinism.

The first sour note was her introducing white bread into the house. Cosmo, who hadn't seen white bread since puberty, thought it was exotic. Our first dinner with them was almost a success. We got a rave review from Cosmo on the artichokes but not from Julie, who had never seen one before and who said it looked nasty.

Julie's biggest success was with Marlene, our cat. 'We're great friends,' she bragged. I complained about Marlene's lack of appetite; Julie offered a solution: 'Get her a companion. Not a young cat who will only want to play with her, or a tom who will bring up territorial problems, but one her own sex, age, and spayed.' As if I didn't have enough problems with them on the premises, I now had to find a lesbian relationship for Marlene.

Worried about their lack of social stimuli - they never went out - I gave a party for them, much against their wishes. Julie relented when I said there would be some teenagers she could relate to. She had let us know early in the relationship how she felt about being in the same room with anyone over 30. I didn't dare tell her Fenella Fielding and Sylvia Syms were coming, too.

The wild-haired, leather-clad anorexic poet John Cooper Clarke went into shock when Julie walked in with Cosmo. 'I hate him,' he growled. He was green with envy that Cosmo had snared the one girl he admired above all others. 'Don't introduce me to her, I can't talk to her,' he told Fran. Julie was too shy to meet anyone, retreating next to the record player to hide behind the mouldy collection of 45s.

Julie's vocabulary had widened to include some new words inspired by the party - 'nightmare', 'shameless', 'grotesque' and 'ugly'. The next day, on the way to my office in the basement, I had to pass their love nest. Despite accusations that I had no respect for privacy, I always ignored the exotic noises coming from their cell.

On this occasion their door was open. Cosmo was in bed reading the Sunday papers, smoking a fag, having a cup of coffee, his breakfast tray by his side. 'Get yourself a working-class girl, mate, they know how to treat a man,' he said. They seemed deliriously happy, even though Cosmo hadn't touched a typewriter since she had come into his life. When I asked how his work was going, Julie jumped to his defence. 'He's too beautiful and too talented to work,' she said, gazing at him with a look she usually reserved for images of Stalin.

To keep up the illusion that we had something in common, I suggested we go on a double date - dinner at the Ritz to see our friend, the cabaret artist Steve Ross. For Julie, it was an evening of high embarrassment. The table setting had such a variety of silverware it left her no alternative but to eat with her fingers. During the cabaret her small fists were clenched so tight her knuckles turned white.

I refused to recognise the fact that we didn't have something to attract their company socially. Worried, I told Julie of Fran's depression. Julie responded sympathetically with a short history of the politics of angst. 'Where there is stability there is happiness; where there is happiness there are no problems; where there are no problems people develop angst.

'It is a sensual pleasure that only happy people can afford. People with problems don't commit suicide. There are no suicides in El Salvador where people are fighting for their lives every minute of the day.' Reassuring as this sounded, I recalled that angst had developed around the height of the Habsburg empire, when people developed the fine art of the waltz and suicide simultaneously.

Fran and I were surprised and nervous when we heard that Julie was pregnant. As her pregnancy advanced into its last month, Fran's daily visit to the spastic shop in search of baby paraphernalia became the high point of her day. At times it became a contest between us to find out who could be the most creative in collecting the artefacts we imagined a baby would require.

When I saw the baby carriage Julie's mother had bought her, I almost went into a depression. It was about the size of the Queen Mary. It didn't matter to Julie that she couldn't get it and herself into the lift of their new flat at the same time, she knew it was the best and biggest money could buy. 'It's traditional for working-class parents to see their children have the best,' she claimed.

We visited Julie in the maternity ward of the Middlesex Hospital during her confinement early in 1986. I took her a foul collection of teenage magazines and some organic fruit juices. I saw that the 'Julie Burchill' nameplate on the clipboard at the foot of her bed had been replaced with 'Mrs Julie Landesman'. A small step for mankind, but a giant one for Landesmania.

We were eating dinner when the call came from Cosmo announcing: 'It's a boy.' 'Thank God it's a baby,' someone at the table said. Fran and I rushed out of the house with a bottle of Dom Perignon for the kid and nothing for Julie.

When we arrived at the hospital there was the little boy, sleeping peacefully next to Julie, being watched over by a proud Cosmo. A more unlikely picture could not be imagined. For a baby born only a few hours previously, he looked mature enough to recognise his over-excited grandparents.

Julie invited Fran to pick Jack up, but she was too scared. The baby's scream, clear and loud, convinced Fran he was healthy and had lung-power to spare. Julie was pleased about that, too. She smiled peacefully as she held a crying baby aloft for us to admire. We only stayed five minutes, but we knew that we were going to see a lot of baby Jack for the rest of our lives.

'Hello, Gramps,' Fran said as we climbed into the car to return to our empty house.

Copyright Jay Landesman.

The second volume of Jay Landesman's memoirs, 'Jaywalking', is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson at pounds 15.99.

(Photographs omitted)

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
Arts and Entertainment
Neil Young performs on stage at Hyde Park
musicAnd his Hyde Park set has rhyme and reason, writes Nick Hasted
News
Women have been desperate to possess dimples like Cheryl Cole's
people Cole has secretly married French boyfriend Jean-Bernard Fernandez-Versini after just three months.
Arts and Entertainment
AKB48 perform during one of their daily concerts at Tokyo’s Akihabara theatre
musicJapan's AKB48 are one of the world’s most-successful pop acts
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
News
The headstone of jazz great Miles Davis at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York
news
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Extras
indybestThe tastiest creations for children’s parties this summer
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Paolo Nutini performs at T in the Park
music
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
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

    Software Engineer - C++

    £35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Software En...

    Software Team Leader - C++

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Software Tea...

    Sales Executive - Central London /Home working - £20K-£40K

    £20000 - £40000 per annum: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Sales Executive - Ce...

    Graduate Java / C++ Developer

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Graduate Java / C++ ...

    Day In a Page

    Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

    Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

    Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
    Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

    The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

    Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
    Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

    Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

    Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
    Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

    Meet Japan's AKB48

    Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
    In pictures: Breathtaking results of this weekend's 'supermoon'

    Weekend's 'supermoon' in pictures

    The moon appeared bigger and brighter at the weekend
    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor