My Fair Lady
In the mid 80s
June Simmonds was an apparition left over from
the 70s. Visualise her for a moment. Long black
straight hair in a heavy fringe, nose prominent
and semitic. White cowboy leather boots with
fringes so typical of the 70s, wearing a baggy
white shirt over her tight black pants. Short and
busty with a heart of gold. Loud and brash with a
heavy gold charm bracelet and a multitude of
rings. That was June, Jewish mother of the child
TV star Ricky Simmonds known in 1978 for his
performance in 'Grange Hill.'
Martin and I met June and Phil Simmonds at a
stage hypnosis evening given by a friend of
Martin's. I forget the Goan magician's name but
we all had a fun evening and in the mid 80s
became firm friends always going to their house
for lunch or dinner on a Sundays her sacred day
off. They liked to stay at home especially
on Sundays when the flower shop was shut - her
only day off to be with her beloved Phil.
June and Phil lived in a small house in an award
wining community near Hampstead Common and if
they went out, it was to New York where one of
their sons was a partner in a trendy restaurant
in Manhattan called 'NW3' (the postal code for
Hampstead), or Fort Lauderdale, Florida to visit
June, like myself, was a cat lover and despite
working with her hands cutting flowers, she had
long curved claws. They were not false nails but
real claws like the Thai dancing ladies, painted
shocking pink to match her lipstick!
My fair lady was a flower seller in the famous
movies and Professor Higgins would have had his
hands full, teaching Eliza Doolittle to correctly
pronounce a word or two. June, originally from
Birmingham, actually had a good clear speaking
voice with the typical Jewish lilt and intonation
that was unmistakeable, indicating her heritage.
Her hobby was calligraphy and every Christmas or
birthday, I would receive a wonderfully penned
card, written carefully in black ink.
They were happily married and very close to their
2 sons. It was the family first through
thick and thin. June was the boss and Phil was
hen pecked but had a wonderful sense of humour
with a full repertoire of Jewish jokes that had
us in stitches every time we got together.
So how did June end up owning the constantly busy
flower shop to the left of the entrance inside
the Royal Free Hospital when it was rebuilt in
I lived at 2 Warwick Mansion, Pond Street,
across the road above the famous Prompt Corner
cafe where George Bernard Shaw owned the bookshop,
wrote books and my old friend the artist Maurice
Sumray played chess on the clock almost daily
with his cronies. Julian Huxley had lived in Pond
Street and written his books from his house.
I watched the hospital being built and
recall the dust that would creep in to my cozy
intimate room full of Polish textile wall
hangings, Brazilian na´f paintings and wood
framed trays made out of rare blue iridescent
extinct butterfly wings behind glass from Brazil
hanging on my purple fabric love nest walls.
Those were the days of life with Anglo-French
Philippe Amos, my fiancÚ.
I never ventured into the hospital and so did not
glimpse the formidable June at the helm in her
tiny well stocked flower shop tucked away in the
left hand corner. She later confessed she had,
like an East Ender, been selling flowers from a
barrow in all weathers outside in the street and
had to be 'removed' when the building works began
in 1974. Thus popular cheerful June was invited
inside and given premises by the management.
There always has to be a flower shop in a
hospital with a direct link to the undertakers.
June filled that gap perfectly! And so that
was June's routine life, selling, buying and
doing her style of floral arrangements that
Constance Spry would not have approved of!
One day her life changed. It was just before she
closed her shop around 6.00 pm when a dark
swarthy unusual looking man rushed in. He quickly
took stock of her red and yellow Dutch roses and
announced he would take every one! June had never
had it so good. He also asked for three vases and
to do her displays. All she had were rather
vulgar plastic yellow ones. Red and yellow, the
colours of Spain, looked good to June's eye. She
prepared the red and yellow roses to match the
vulgar cheap vases but overall the visual effect
looked good! She was pleased with her big
profit even though she was puzzled as to who this
man could be. Not one of her boring regulars that
was for sure and he paid cash peeling off the
fifties from an overflowing brown leather Coutts
The following week he was back for more and
wanted three flower displays of mixed roses with
other colourful flowers. This time he confessed
he was the personal secretary of the Sultan of
Brunei who had a house in St John's Wood for his
three wives, each one loving beautiful flowers.
Yet again the order was hurried as they were
arriving at short notice that night and the
flowers had to be there to welcome the wives! For
good money June was on the ball and quickly did
her displays and off the man went into the night
with his booty leaving an exhausted June with
another pile of hard earned undeclared cash.
Then he was back again the following week. The
wives loved her bold vulgar colours and now
wanted only June to supply their flowers! No
boring Constance Spry floral arrangements from
Mayfair for them! Sometimes at short notice, June
would be up most of the night spreading her
flowers out on the empty hospital reception floor
to get the job speedily finished. The Sultan,
always hush hush for security, would never
announce in advance his travel plans. This was a
24/7 speedy service but she was well paid for
working overtime and always paid in cash.
Phil would be her chauffeur and drive the
displays to the back entrance of the prestigious
St John's Wood, London NW8 house to deliver her
masterpieces. She never once met the wives or the
6th Sultan who had been in charge of his Kingdom
since 1967 and continues to rule today. Brunei
gained independence from the U.K. in 1984 and no
doubt this was the period when he was coming
regularly for political discussions.
Soon it was clear the Sultan was her number one
client but she had to be at his beck and call 24/7
until the day she nearly collapsed and was so ill
from exhaustion that she had to refuse a delivery
for the first time in 10 years.
She was dropped like a hot potato at once. No 'thanks
June for years of good prompt service.' Just
dismissed! 'Just like that' as Tommy Cooper
would have said! At least she bought a holiday
home in Fort Lauderdale with the cash and still
has it to my knowledge even keeping it after her
beloved husband's death from cancer. Today, in
2017, she has retired and stays in the same house
in Hampstead, surrounded by her cats and visiting
loving children and grandchildren.
There will never be another character and old
friend like June, my fair lady, with apologies to
George Bernard Shaw's Eliza Doolittle in 'Pygmalion.'
in the breakfast room of Casa de los Bates,
Motril, Spain on 4/2/17.
Wikipedia - The Royal Free Hospital, London
Wikipedia - The Sultan of Brunei
Wikipedia - Ricky Simmonds
Wikipedia - Tommy Cooper
Wikipedia - Pygmalion - George Bernard Shaw
Wikipedia - Constance Spry