Martin Newell’s Joy of Essex: Twinkle was more than a one-hit wonder
The names of the people who made the soundtrack to the 1960s keep appearing on the Reaper’s dance-card. Last week it was Lynn Annette Ripley, better known to some as Twinkle. Those papers who managed to mention her untimely death at 66 usually referred to her in the next breath as a one-hit-wonder. Twinkle was rather more than that.
At a casual glance you might say she was an archetypal mid-Sixties pop star. A pretty statuesque blonde, with a sulky veneer, she sang in winningly adenoidal estuarine fashion. As a stuttering, ink-smudged 13-year-old, I thought she was perfect, with all the distantly-attainable qualities of a school-mate’s big sister.
Twinkle came from a privileged background. Her father, Sidney Ripley, a wealthy businessman, was also leader of the Conservative group of the Greater London Council. The talented Miss Ripley attended the private Queens Gate School in Kensington with one Milla Shand – later to become Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. The two girls did not get on. Twinkle wore “way-out” clothes and wanted to be a performer. Camilla wore twinsets and pearls and was a sword fencer who liked hunting and shooting.
The young popstrel didn’t like her school and reportedly smacked her headmistress in the face after being reprimanded about her clothing. Her father had to work hard so she could complete the term before leaving, so she didn’t bear the stigma of expulsion on her CV.
Anyway, with such an attitude, Twinkle was destined for nowhere but pop stardom. Her elder sister, Dawn, a journalist, had connections in that world and by 16 Twinkle had her first single released. Terry was a doomed teenage anthem, in the mould of Tell Laura I Love Her. The synopsis of Terry runs thus: Girl goes out with motorcycle bad boy. Girl has row with bad boy. Bad boy roars angrily off into the night, crashes bike. Dies. Amazingly, the record, which preceded the arguably more famous Shangri-Las’ hit Leader of the Pack, catapulted our bolshy teen queen into the charts in late 1964. This success was aided substantially by the dependable old BBC, who immediately banned it, thereby guaranteeing its immortality. Death, it seems, even in the Swinging Sixties, was still a big taboo. The row spread further when there was a complaint in Parliament about the banned disc.
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A few months later, after the fuss subsided, it transpired that the demon blonde was actually a lovely well-brought-up girl from leafy Surbiton.
Despite her one-hit-wonder tag, Twinkle did have one other minor chart success with the exquisite Golden Lights. Two decades later The Smiths covered the song after Morrissey declared himself a fan. There was reportedly some acrimony within the band itself about it. Thus did Golden Lights to some diehard fans become “The Disc which Split the Smiths.” Twinkle was thought of in certain quarters as the poor little rich girl who crashed the pop charts. By the mid 1960s, though, archaic British class barriers were breaking down, allowing lupine urchins such as The Rolling Stones to hob-nob with aristocrats.
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Equally, however, some traffic went the other way as a few scions of the wealthy and well-bred ventured into the pop biz. Pop music today retains this open-door policy, as the continued presence of James Blunt, Florence Welch and one or two others attests.
The one really extraordinary thing about Lynn Annette Ripley, however – the talent which set her far apart from contemporaries such as Lulu, Dusty, Cilla and Sandie – was that she wrote her own songs, which she had been doing since she was very young.
In the 1960s, if you were a British female pop singer, you generally sang only what the chaps in charge ordered you to. In the more egalitarian US they had Carole King, Carole Bayer Sager, Jackie de Shannon and others. Here we had only Twinkle flying her lonely flag for the girls.
On the surface, she was a tough little cookie; underneath, though, she was less sure of herself.
Fame being the toxic substance it is, she retired from the business in 1967, a veteran at all of 19. She made sporadic assaults on the pop charts in years to come but with no major successes.
A casual listener might well receive the impression that Twinkle burnt out early. Yet there existed a mysterious “lost” album made in 1973. Michael Hannah – the Lost Years was a tribute to the beautiful male model with whom she fell hopelessly in love but, heartbreakingly, lost. She had a breakdown over the affair. Shortly afterwards, in a tragic coda, Michael perished in a plane crash in France. The tribute album she made to him is imperfect but its highlights are moving, sometimes wonderfully so. The album lay in the vaults for three decades before being released in limited amount in 2003. I have a copy. You can’t borrow it.
RIP Twinkle. Never forgotten.