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Berlin Bromley

By Bertie Marshall

‘As the sun went down on Bromley South shopping mall – the shadow of the last shopping trolley passing across the expanse of concrete – S.S. and I met at Bromley South station. I was in my red pants and ski slacks, S.S in her fifties skirt and high heels….’

Bromley, South London, in the mid 1970s. A teenage boy is excluded from school for wearing mascara and high heels with his uniform, so he spends his days in a blur of amphetamines and nicotine, trawling the charity shops and listening to Yoko Ono, The Velvet Underground, and Patti Smith, in his bedroom. Inspired by the movie Cabaret, by it’s atmosphere of decadence and sexual ambiguity, he rechristens himself from Bertie to Berlin. One day he encounters a vision walking down the street – ‘a shimmering thing in catsuit, and red glitter platform boots’ – alongside a middle aged man in a pinstripe suit. It is the young David Bowie, or Jones as he was then, with his manager. Bowie’s mum gives Bertie’s mum her son’s record, Life on Mars. “He’s doing ever so well,” she says.

Next he is taken up by the woman who would become Siouxsie Sue – S.S – and she introduces him to the group who would become the notorious ‘Bromley Contingent’, including Siouxsie herself, Steve Severin of her band The Banshees and Billy Idol. He escapes from the suburbs to London’s King’s Road where the gang are adopted by Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren and soon find themselves at the heart of the punk explosion.

Written with cool detachment this unique, elegant memoir has become a cult classic since its original publication in 2006. At times brutally honest, it is a coming of age tale like no other, as Berlin dives deep into London’s gay underworld of aristocrats, rent boys, drugs and debauchery.

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