Skip to main content


“We played it cool, we jived and blew smoke rings”

Birkin in La Piscine, 1969

Jane Birkin’s brother Andrew and I were “illicit smoking buddies” at Harrow, says Upstairs, Downstairs actor Simon Williams in The Oldie. We had plenty in common, but best of all, he had a sister, Jane, “who I fell in love with before even meeting her.” I had a sister too, Polly, and we quickly became a foursome. “We played it cool, we jived and blew smoke rings, we played kick-the-can.” The Birkin household was in Chelsea. Jane would take me stomping up and down the King’s Road pointing out all the “long-haired beatniks” and everyone in their bright colours “determined to forget the war”. One evening I arrived to find Jane and her “heroic” father David, who had been a spy during World War II, giggling and drinking champagne together. Only later did I find out they were celebrating her first period. She had been the last in her year at school to get it.

We moved to Paris about the same time and would wander along the Seine “trying to work out how to become movie stars.” When she got her first part in Blow-Up, Jane was nervous about the nudity. “My tits are just miniscule,” she laughed. But in the end, she said, it was a piece of cake. “I walked about all day totally naked and nobody seemed to even notice.” She tapped easily into the zeitgeist of Paris life and became an icon, but never took herself too seriously. People said she gave up on love in the end and was happy living alone. But I’m not so sure. I remember her once quoting the Tennyson line: “It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” We shook our heads – “we weren’t so sure about that.”