Rocky Horror Show: ‘They’re the most famous lips in the world’

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“Those lips have outdone Jagger, they’re the most famous lips in the world.”

Fifty years on from its stage debut in London, one of the Northern Ireland-born stars of The Rocky Horror Show has been sharing her memories.

Patricia Quinn played the original roles of Usherette and Magenta on stage in 1973, and is the owner of the sultry lips from the opening number of the 1975 film adaptation.

Getting the famous shot was hard work.

“I got a call to go to Elstree Studios to record the lips,” she told BBC Radio Ulster’s Talkback programme.

“They had no special effects at the time and every time I sang the song, mimed to it, my lips moved out of frame.

“There was an art lamp in a clamp. They said: ‘Take that lamp out of that and screw her head into that.’

“So they clamped my head so I wouldn’t move.”

Fishnets and corsets

The road to cult classic status was not straight one.

“The film was a complete sleeper and nobody wanted it. They didn’t know how to promote it,” said Patricia.

“There was a boy at 20th Century. He said this should be put on at midnight on every campus in the States… and then a strange crowd arrived and they’ve been arriving ever since.”

Richard O'Brien and Patricia Quinn pose as Riff Raff and Magenta in the finale of The Rocky Horror Picture Show

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From Mick Jagger to Princess Margaret, there have been many famous fans of the movie and stage show over the years.

Patricia has met many celebrities over the years but she says one of her most memorable encounters was with King Charles III, who was Prince of Wales at the time.

“I invited him to see the show but he said he couldn’t really go because of the fishnets and suspenders,” she said.

“I suggested he come as Brad, the nerd who wears a doctor’s coat and Y-fronts. I don’t think he was impressed.”

It all began in Carrickfergus

Born in Finaghy, County Antrim, Patricia says she discovered a love for using her voice at a young age.

“When I was a wee girl, my mummy used to put me in for verse speaking festivals,” she said.

“It was in Carrickfergus. I remember loving it. That’s when I got a taste for all of this, that’s where I began.”

In school, her interests turned to drama.

“I remember my Latin and French teacher, Miss Crone, said: ‘How is it you can memorise the whole of Shakespeare and you can’t memorise 10 words of French vocabulary?’

“And then she proceeded to say: ‘Of course it is where the interest lies.’

“She wasn’t wrong.”

Patricia Quinn, Richard O'Brien and Tim Curry as their characters Magenta, Riff Raff and Dr Frank N Furter at the dinner table in the Rocky Horror Picture Show

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At 17, she moved to London to pursue a career in acting.

It was there that she first crossed paths with Richard O’Brien, the writer, composer and lyricist of The Rocky Horror Show.

Patricia reminisced on her first audition for the project, where she fell in love with the opening number.

“Richard O’Brien and Jim Sharman were there and I sang them a song. Well I tried to, and they looked a bit sceptical because I was singing Jessie Matthews Over My Shoulder instead of a rock and roll song,” she said.

“Richard played me Science Fiction and he said: ‘Do you think you could sing along with this?’

“I went skipping down the Kings Road after that song. I just knew it was special. I was so excited.”

She later accepted the job with the promise of being able to sing the opening number, Science Fiction Double Feature, in the role of the Usherette.

Two years later, she almost dropped out of the film over not being able to sing it.

“Jim Sharman invited me to lunch and to discuss making a film. He said we can’t have an usherette. It won’t work,” she reminisced.

“And I said: ‘So you mean, I’m not singing science fiction?’ And he said: ‘No.’ And I said: ‘Then I’m not doing the film.’”

The show’s creator, Richard O’Brien, took over singing duties for the opening number, but they made sure Patricia could still put her stamp on the song – miming the number in bright red lipstick.

You can hear more from that interview on Talkback on BBC Radio Ulster on Monday 28 August from 12:00 BST.

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