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Jim Haynes, Citizen of the World - Thanks for Coming

It was Jim Haynes’s voice I recognised first. Warm, mellifluous and pulsed by an understated old school American Deep South burr, Jim’s avuncular tones had charmed their way throughout assorted Edinburgh encounters I’d been lucky enough to be around for the last few years. Now here he was, this ubiquitous Zelig-like legend who had not only survived the pleasurable excesses of the ‘60s, but lived to tell the many tales he’d absorbed into his DNA along the way, while all the likes of me could do was hang on his every name-dropping word. But what was he doing on my TV?

 

Was I on some psychedelically enhanced trip, or was that really the ultimate counter-cultural elder statesman, socialite in excelsis and incorrigible old rogue advertising After Eight mints? With Jim speaking straight to camera amidst a busy kitchen, it was a scene that looked like an art director’s reconstruction of one of the legendary Sunday night dinners Jim had been hosting in his Paris atelier every week for the last forty years. As it turned out, that was exactly what it was.

 

As Jim told me later, someone working for an agency with the contract for After Eight showed up at one of his dinners, and mooted the idea of doing an ad at Jim’s place. As with everything else in his life, Jim said yes. Which was why Jim’s apron-clad presence at the centre of a kitchen-load of beautiful people was being beamed into my living room. 

 

It turned out Jim’s atelier was too small to house all those guests as well as a high-end production crew wielding cameras and other TV ad paraphernalia. It was rebuilt in a studio, with everything of Jim’s transported there in order to look as authentic as possible. And it worked, as gorgeous an image of internationalist nouveau bohemian hospitality as a wafer-thin after dinner mint could muster.

 

 

 

Jim told me all this while we were sat in his living room. It was late December 2009, about a month after I’d first seen the ad, not just on TV, but at the Pictures as well, and I was visiting him while I was in Paris for something else. I arrived just as he was returning from a shopping trip with a trolley load of ingredients for that Sunday’s dinner. He was accompanied by Steve Gove, who runs the Prague Fringe festival, and who I knew from Edinburgh.

 

After Steve left, Jim and I sat in the main room, and he told me the full story of his After Eight connection as we ate up some of the chocolaty swag the company had gifted him for his efforts. On one side of the room, copies of assorted books written by Jim were lined up like they were there to be opened and read rather than filed away as something untouchable. 

 

Our conversation would occasionally be diverted by the unannounced appearance of some young person or other who happened to be staying with him wafting into the room. Without missing a beat, Jim would introduce them as if they were already part of our conversation, before they evaporated back into wherever it was they were invariably doing something creative. 

 

I couldn’t stick around for that weekend’s dinner, and after a couple of hours hearing some more of Jim’s stories, went off to do whatever I had to do, with a great big hug and a kiss on each cheek to send me on my way. There had been no noticeably profound exchanges between us, but there was something comforting about being there, that felt like a shelter from the everyday bustle beyond. 

 

This was a long way from what was probably my first encounter with Jim. That had been a lifetime earlier, at some point in the mid-1980s, when someone showed me a copy of his book, Workers of the World, Unite and Stop Working! As a callow youth with one eye on becoming a gentleman of leisure, I liked the sound of that. But those were the times, and in the years between Jim writing and publishing his gloriously utopian little volume and his words landing in my lap, those times had changed. 

 

Jim was well into his 70s by the time I sat eating After Eights with him in Paris. Looking at that trolley load of supplies for the week’s dinner, I wondered where on earth or anywhere else he found the energy to have open house week after week the way he did. I pondered too on how delightful it must be, but how exhausting too, being Jim. 

 

 

Nothing remarkable happened that day. A million people like me have been inadvertently cast as bit part players in Jim’s lifelong great adventure in ways similar to the above, each with their own story. And there are almost certainly a whole lot more than a million more stories too that Jim has told about some of the more notable connections he helped foster.

 

It’s like the time in Edinburgh a few years after I’d been to see him in Paris, when he asked me what I’d seen so far at that year’s Edinburgh International Festival. I told him I’d been to see choreographer Michael Clark’s company the night before, and how Clark had his dancers performing his new work to music that included Heroes by David Bowie, with the song’s seminal video beamed behind them as they danced.

 

Jim nodded sagely, taking it all in with the glimmer of a smile peeking through his moustache as his memory bank rewound perhaps a little creakier than it used to.

 

“You know,” he said quietly, his eyes sparkling with perennial amusement. “I introduced Bowie to Lindsay Kemp….”

 

Of course he did. Who else possibly could have done something so simple, and so life changing for all involved?

 

 

Some of Jim’s similarly celebrity strewn tales were gathered up in Thanks for Coming!, his knowingly titled memoir published in 1984. Wrapped in a garish pink cover, the book was introduced by a dedication lasting several pages, and which listed 

 the names of what could easily have been an encyclopaedia of pop culture luminaries and peers of Jim’s. 

 

Was it of everyone he ever slept with? Or just those he got to hang out with? I can’t remember for sure. I loaned out the copy I’d picked up for 50p somewhere years ago, and it was never returned. In the spirit of Jim’s libertine spirit and carefree notion towards possessions, I try not to mind, and hope the book has been passed on again several times over, travelling the world as the freest of spirits. In my selfish materialist heart, however, I wish I still had it.

 

Everybody knew Jim. Or rather, Jim made a point of knowing everybody else. Whether that had been the mission of the young American GI stationed in Kirknewton outside Edinburgh in the late 1950s or not isn’t on record. Either way, by the time Thanks for Coming! came out when Jim was still barely into his 50s, he had already changed the cultural landscape several times over. More than that, he was a living embodiment of Marshall McLuhan’s voguish notion of the Global Village. In a pre-internet age, Jim joined the dots between what was then considered to be a radical underground and the mainstream it opened up like no other. In short, Jim made things happen.

 

In Edinburgh, by founding the UK’s first paperback bookshop, Jim helped blow the dust off the tightly bound chastity belts of the literary canon and its Calvinist guards, and made even seemingly scurrilous tomes by William Burroughs and D.H. Lawrence affordable to all. With the Traverse Theatre, originally founded in a former brothel in a tenement down a close off the Lawnmarket, he helped introduce the European avant-garde to a younger audience eager to see on stage what they’d previously only been able to read about, in the flesh and close enough to touch. This spirit continued, albeit in more formal ways, at the Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference of 1962 and the Drama Conference the following year, both of which Jim had a hand in.

 

In London, Jim was at the centre of everything that swung, from counter-cultural bible International Times, to the Drury Lane Arts Labs that took culture out of the hallowed halls to somewhere more intimate, just as he had done with the Paperback and the Traverse. In Amsterdam, he embraced the sexual revolution by way of Suck magazine and the Wet Dream Festival. And finally, Paris, where Jim landed at the fag end of the ‘60s, took root, and, to some extent, appeared to settle down. Sure, there were plenty more globe-trotting adventures chasing the next piece of enlightenment, but through his Sunday night dinners, he also let the world come to him. And come they most certainly did.

 

 

But there was a more vulnerable side to Jim as well. This became clearer as he got older, and the questing bravura that saw him race around Edinburgh in August seeing seven shows a day in-between a whirl of parties, dinners and catching up with lifelong once-a-year friends, eventually gave way – reluctantly, resistingly - to something more resigned. 

 

When Jim got out of hospital in Edinburgh after his second heart attack, us arts writers at the Herald newspaper decided to give him one of our Little Devil awards. 

This was usually a one-liner of an award, given to artists or shows who had survived collapsing venues or technical disasters to get their work on no matter what, and we ummed and ahed over whether it was appropriate to give this to Jim or not. In the end, we decided there was no-one else we could think of who had been such a little devil in Edinburgh over the previous half century. Nor was there anyone who would receive it with such good grace and humour, so, in Jim’s words, why not? 

 

Jim’s response accepting the award was emotional. He perhaps recognised, as it becomes clear to us all eventually, that, while he had survived this time, he wasn’t as invincible as he thought he was. I hope as well he felt the surge of love in the room that might help him keep going.

 

 

Even late on, Jim remained in the thick of things. Back in 2009, the same year he did the After Eight ad, Jim visited Glasgow for Taking Liberties, an exhibition of 1960s photographs by John ‘Hoppy’ Hopkins presented at Street Level Photoworks. Jim took part in panel discussions alongside fellow ‘60s survivors Barry Miles and Jenny Fabian, ably chaired by John Cavanagh. 

 

In 2013, Jim co-produced two shows in Edinburgh. Broadway Enchante was a solo homage to American musicals performed by French chanteuse Isabelle Georges. The Surrender was what Jim called “a sexual autobiography” by dancer Toni Bentley about how she found liberation through anal sex. In the opposite direction, Haynes championed the Paris run of Morag Fullarton’s slightly scurrilous stage version of classic movie, Casablanca, originally seen at Oran Mor in Glasgow.

 

 

The last time I saw Jim was in 2018, at the Edinburgh International Film Festival premiere of Meeting Jim, a documentary that follows his travels between Paris, London and Edinburgh during 2016. The film was made by Istanbul born Ece Ger, who was pointed in Jim’s direction while studying in Paris. Having fallen under his spell, Ger met the film’s core creative team – of course – at various Sunday night dinners at Jim’s. Like its subject, Meeting Jim has travelled the world at various festivals, and was shown on BBC TV.

 

Jim looked frail at the launch, but once he saw a familiar face was as alive and as full of questions as ever, asking how people were, what they were up to and if they were still around in Edinburgh. Jim also looked delighted by the attention. And who can blame him? After a lifetime of mischief, making things happen and bringing people together, here was something that was all about him. 

 

Of course, for all the genuine humility, he must have been aware of how adored he was. He certainly knew how to play to the gallery, be it in a panel discussion, in one of his books, or just talking in a bar. Now he could sit back and bask in his own legend beaming out at him from the big screen. Here was Jim, a citizen of the world, surrounded by beautiful young people, and not an After Eight mint in sight.

 

After the screening, we said our goodbyes. Engulfing my hand with both of his, Jim said the same three words he had that afternoon in Paris. They were the ones he’d said a million times before to everyone who ever entered his orbit, however fleetingly. “Thanks for coming,” he said. “Thanks for coming.” 

 

 

Jim Haynes – November 10th, 1933-January 6th, 2021 


Bella Caledonia - January 2021

 

ends

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