Rocky Horror Picture Show is 40 years old

Rocky Horror 2

The ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show’ celebrates it’s 40th anniversary today.

The much loved cult film first screened in the UK on August 14th 1975, it’s US debut came a month later.

Back in 2012 OUTinPerth has a chat with the fabulous Patricia Quinn who played Magenta in the original stage production and starred in the film.

In our chat we discussed the original play, making the film and how the world of Rocky Horror has continued to be part of Patricia’s professional career.

Scroll down for new content where we chat to Patricia about her appearing in classic TV show ‘The Bill’ and performing with queer artist Patrick Wolf.  

Forever Magenta

A few months ago actress Patricia Quinn was waiting behind a giant movie screen in the middle of a circus ring. At the request of circus impresario Gerry Cottle Jnr she’d come to one of the UK’s largest and oldest circus’ to introduce a late night screening of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, for Quinn who played Magenta in the film, finding herself in a circus brought a smile to her face as she remembered where her Rocky Horror journey started.

In 1973 Quinn’s agent had called her and said, “There’s something upstairs at The Royal Court they’d like you to audition for”, the actress pressed her agent for more information. “You have to sing some sort of rock and roll song and it’s something do with a circus or something,” the agent replied.

It began as a three week theatrical production almost 40 years ago and it has become a worldwide entertainment phenomenon with both the theatrical and the film version of The Rocky Horror Show continually growing in popularity and being discovered by new audiences.

Quinn played the role of Magenta in the original stage production and reprised the role for the film version. Today Patricia Quinn is Patricia, Lady Stephens through her marriage to fellow actor the late Sir Robert Stephens. OUTinPerth spoke to her from her home in London’s Primrose Hill.

“I actually turned the film down.” says Quinn who left the stage production after its short run to play suffragette Christabel Pankhurst in a BBC TV series. The Producers took Quinn out to lunch to persuade her to join the film’s cast.

When the producers mentioned that the opening of the film would be different to the play revealing that the Usherette who walks through the theatre singing the song Science Fiction would be dropped, the meeting headed in the wrong direction.

Quinn recalls, “I said to them ‘So I’m not singing Science Fiction?’ because that’s the only reason I took the part in the first place, not for Magenta, but for that song. The usherette sings that and then I become Magenta, she doubles up… they said “no, it won’t work”, so I said, “Well I’m sorry then, I don’t want to do this film’.”

The producers managed to talk her round though and soon Quinn rejoined most of the original stage cast for the filming. While American actors Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick took the roles of Brad and Janet, Tim Curry continued as Frank n Furter, Little Nell carried as Columbia and the show’s creator Richard O’Brien remained as Riff Raff.

Quinn is full of praise for Director Jim Sharman who stuck with the original cast despite interest from more established names.

Rocky Horror“Mick Jagger was interested in Frank”, says Quinn “Bowie loved Frank, they all wanted to be Frank and he [Sharman] stuck to his guns and said ‘No, I want Tim Curry’, also me and Nell who’d never made films, I have nothing but admiration.”

With the less famous cast attached the films budget was reduced. At the beginning of filming Quinn and Australian cast mate Little Nell were given instructions on how to catch the bus to the studio, as the tight budget didn’t allow for a car to be sent for the actors. Quinn laughs as she tells us that the pair spent the rest of the day chanting “No Car, No Film” on the set until arrangements were made for the actors to share.

Quinn recalls that it was on one of these shared car trips to the set she found out what had happened to her favourite song. “I was sitting in the car with Richard and Tim, one day Tim said “Oh, by the way who’s singing Science Fiction?’ and that’s when Richard said, ‘Oh, me’, that’s when the shit hit the fan. I said, ‘Oh you! Whatever you are…Bastard!'” While Quinn was furious that her favourite song from the show had been reassigned she says that O’Brien has since told her that it wasn’t his choice.

While the film version has O’Brien singing the opening tune, Quinn’s did however end up being the iconic lips that sing the song over the opening credits. After the film was finished Director Jim Sharman invited her back to film the opening sequence.

“He got in touch with me and said there was no money left in the pot, there was no money left for the mouth and would I come out to Estree… I never got anything.” Quinn is grateful though that she ended up being the arguably the most famous lips in cinema history, “I love it”, she laughs, ‘Patricia Quinn is to lips what Elle McPherson is to the body.”

Quinn’s work outside of Rocky Horror has included guest spots in well know television programs including The Professionals, Minder, Doctor Who and The Bill, where she tells us she portrayed a lesbian axe murderess. As well as regular appearances on stage and screen.

Quinn often returns to the world of Rocky Horror appearing at fan conventions, screenings and live performances. For the 21st anniversary of the production she reprised the role of Magenta, an experience Quinn found very different from the show’s original run.

“We were upstairs at the Royal Court for three weeks and by the time that finished I’d had enough, ‘Thanks, all very jolly.’ Magenta’s much bigger on screen than she is on the stage… when you’re playing Magenta on stage [in the original production] for me that was quite boring…because when we first began nobody used to talk to us. To do Rocky Horror twenty one years later it was like entering a football stadium, you have to fight the audience and it’s exhausting.”

“Rocky Horror was being made while we were rehearsing”, recounts Quinn, “It was like ‘Bring in another song Richard, it’s too short.’ ‘Touch a Touch Me’ came in overnight. Julie Covington [the original Janet} said ‘I’m not singing this, this is disgusting.’ I mean she was really very shocked by that song. He [Richard O’Brien] and Richard Hartley had done it the night before and brought it in…Eddie’s Teddy came in the next day. Because the show was too short, when people don’t talk to it and there’s no interval the show’s one hour, one hour twenty minutes, but when people talk to it, it goes forever.”

Later this year Quinn can be seen in Rob Zombie’s new film Lords of Salem. Quinn admits at first she didn’t know of the White Zombie lead singers music and film directing career. On receiving the offer she recalls, “I said ‘What’s it about? Who is He?’ and then everyone of thirty and under, and a little bit over said, ‘Oh God, Oh God, you’ve got to do that!’ so in came all the tapes of House of a Thousand Corpses and suddenly [White Zombie] music was playing.’

After Quinn finished filming her big scene the Director came on to the set wearing a classic Rocky Horror T-shirt, “He came in with a Rocky Horror t-shirt on which is from the stage show and it’s quite unusual to have that t-shirt because it’s the girl with the hoop earring and the black hair, a lot of people have everything but they don’t have that one. Rob Zombie’s collection of t-shirts is quite fantastic actually.”

Graeme Watson, This article was originally published in OUTinPerth’s January 2012 edition


When we had our chat with Patricia back in 2012, we couldn’t include everything we discussed in our article. Here’s some more of our conversation.

On playing a Lesbian Axe Murderess in the classic UK television series ‘The Bill’ 

I was looking over the different roles you’ve played during your career and it’s such an amazing range of things, you’ve done all the big TV programs ‘Doctor Who’, ‘The Professionals’ and ‘The Bill’ and ‘Minder’. What was it like appearing on those now iconic programs?

‘The Bill’!

‘The Bill’ is huge in Australia.

Yes, I know but ‘The Bill’ was half an hour long when I did it, it was a half hour thing and everyone said “Oh, do you know what’s happened, Dorothy Tutin has done ‘The Bill'” Well Dorothy Tutin is no longer with us, she’s in heaven, but Dorothy Tutin was a wonderful Shakespearian actress, and much more, and it was like “Oh God, how the mighty have fallen.”

That’s what they used to think of ‘Coronation Street’ and ‘Eastenders’, if you went into that you would hide. In the early days one thing you didn’t do was soap and the next thing you certainly didn’t do was adverts.

How the world has changed, nobody left but bloody soaps and adverts. All those amazing big series that I had my profession in at the BBC have all been completely…, there’s no money to do those anymore and the BBC doesn’t run the way it used to. Everything’s put out from the BBC. If you go to the BBC now, to the rehearsal rooms, it’s empty. There’s one man manning the wig department, when he used to do everything for us.

Anyway the thing is about The Bill. I was with my late husband Sir Robert Stephens, well he wasn’t a Sir then, Robert Stephens from Stratford, and we were on our way  down from Stratford coming back to London for a few days, thank God because it’s a boring place Stratford, and my agent called and said to me “They’ve offered you The Bill”, and I thought ‘Oh God! [laughs]. ‘The Bil’l was filmed then at The Oval and one had to go to, what do you call it, a kind of, an estate place, not an estate, but out of town to go, like shopping, I can’t think what you call it.

Like a Shopping Centre?

Yes, but no.

An industrial Estate?

Yes, that’ll do. So I got off The Tube at The Oval, I got the Tube cause it was quite a way from here, and I thought “Where is this bloody place, ‘The Bill?'” and arrived at this industrial estate, you know what I’m going to say before I say it, I arrived there and I couldn’t d find anything that looked like a studio or whatever.

There were just people working, selling planks of wood.  I thought, “I don’t know where I am here”, and then I saw a police station and I thought “Oh good Lord”, so I went in there to ask where it was and it was completely empty and I thought ‘”Oh my God, this is a set”.

You were on it already,

[laughs] I thought “Where are the police?” So I found it, I stumbled across it and then it was unbelievable to find out that they actually used the canteen that they ate in as part of the set.

The Director of that, he was Australian, I’ve forgotten his name but he was Australian or a New Zealander guy. I didn’t know why I was specifically asked to play this part, I wasn’t auditioning or being interviewed.  It was offered to me. It turned out the Producer had been involved in when I played Christabel Pankhurst, so I don’t know why he thought of me for this but it was to play as Lesbian Axe Murderess.

Well, there not roles that come along everyday

There was a marvelous moment in it, because all those guys in ‘The Bill’ at the time had been in it for years, you know the policemen.  There was one Irish policeman, who actually never knew his lines, and I was too quick for him, you know my character was quite sharp, as axe murderess have to be, certainly lesbian ones.

I was too fast for him and he didn’t know his lines and then actors start blaming others and all the rest of it, he kept fumbling about and got really annoyed with me and I thought “you don’t bloody well know your lines.”  He just kept muttering about this and that and everything was wrong.  Then suddenly when the big line came, the main thing when I went towards the fireplace and said, “I loved her.”

I suddenly thought ‘Where’s the camera’ and it was on him.

So the whole plot, she went off with another woman or something. It’s tough to become a Lesbian Axe Murderess in half an hour, I mean that’s hard going, you’ve got to be good to do that.

So I’d dragged her across the road and buried her under the cherry tree in my garden.  It must have been exhausting.

Then when I got to say the main thing at the end, the why, the why, the why… and the why was, “Because you see, I loved her.” Ta-dah – Oh God she’s a lesbian! – apart from murdering someone, and then  the camera wasn’t even on me it, was on the Irish guy!

That’s a bit of a rip off for your big moment.

Precisely, so I said “Excuse me, just a minute, why is the camera on him at this moment?” and he said, “Because this is where the money is love.”  – meaning he was the star of the show.

And it was wonderful, this is the best bit, then my father and all my relatives are in Belfast in Northern Ireland sitting around the telly watching Patricia in The Bill and Daddy said at the end, “Why did Pat murder that woman?”, because the camera didn’t capture it.

On performing with Patrick Wolf

We saw a clip on YouTube of you performing ‘Accident and Emergency with Patrick Wolf.

Oh great, he’s great. Well I’m not very proud of that night, it was very under rehearsed. We did Club Myra, no Patrick’s great because Patrick’s worked with Marianne Faithful and was looking for another kind of Marianne, do you see what I mean, it kind of works. Because Marianne Faithful that’s who Magenta was kind of written for.

Extraordinary. She made out that she was kind of interested in Rocky Horror. O’Brien told me there was originally only one character, Columbia, just one girl. So then they made it two girls, for Marianne but Marianne had gone to India, you know, off on a trip. So they were auditioning for it.

So he did it with her, cause she’s got [deep voice] the voice like that. So he was looking for another one, so my friend John Jenkinson, who’s a friend of his, said – “Pat Quinn would be great for that”.

So I did the afternoon rehearsal, and it is on YouTube, it’s dreadful, but I don’t care. But the main thing I did with him was they said, “Patrick’s on at The Astoria tonight, would you go and do the song with him.” I kept ringing up I needed a sound check and everything, but I didn’t get one, and you can’t go on without a sound check.

I was in The Astoria, which has now been pulled down, thank god I did it, it was amazing, it was a wonderful venue for rock and roll in Tottenham Court Road and it’s no longer there, so at least one did it. Thanks to Patrick Wolf.

And I’d have never been there had it not been for him. I mean never. I was upstairs in the dressing room, the place was… You couldn’t move for the audience, they were going wild by the end of his thing. And my song was at the end, and I was sitting alone in the dressing room upstairs and I could hear the screaming and shouting and I thought, “I’m off my head doing this”, I thought, “I’m going to walk now, I’m going.” Because they were all on stage and I was alone, and I thought, “I’m going out the back door, I can’t do it.”

So I went downstairs and I watched them downstairs and I said, “Where are they at now?” and they said, “You’re on next,” and I thought, “Oh My God”, because I was going to leave.

I had this Vivienne Westwood suit, I look like a clown actually and I couldn’t hear a thing, the mike wasn’t working, I didn’t have any sound, nothing. So I had to pretend, I couldn’t even hear him. But I just bounced around, a lot, and the people went wild, it was wonderful, nobody knew who the fuck I was, it was amazing. So I’m very grateful to him, Patrick Wolf I think he’s amazing.

Check out Patricia’s crazy performance with Patrick Wolf below. 



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