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Marlborough Times (13/Dec/2013) - Bertie Golightly: the towns magnet for ladies who want Holly Golightly style standards




Bertie Golightly: the towns magnet for ladies who want Holly Golightly style standards

Bertie Golightly's shop front masks a highly successful and glamorous fashion business. It also masks her first career in the glamorous world of film and television drama. But Bertie – aka Roberta Gibbs – had one of the least acknowledged and dangerous roles in the making of movies. She was a stunt woman.

Just now it's a bit like Christmas in her shop at the bottom of Kingsbury Street - No. 4. Lots of exciting parcels are arriving. But, as ever in the fashion business, the seasons are a bit out of joint: it's not Christmas gifts arriving but next Spring's designer clothes.

Inside No. 4 there's a veritable Aladdin's cave of cliché free, beautiful clothes, shoes and accessories. Not so much for the principal boy, more for the princesses and the princesses' mums. And they come to Marlborough to buy at Bertie Golightly from London and many parts of the British Isles – and some fly in especially from overseas.

Throughout her 33 years in the business, Bertie has been known for her carefully selected collections of pre-owned designer outfits – clothes and shoes that put the phrase 'second hand' to shame. Many of them are party dresses and ball gowns and some are turned into wedding day dresses.

All pre-owned items are lightly worn and in immaculate condition. The timeless styles of the big designers long outlast their original season. It's a shop where you can not only buy but you can sell – just make sure that evening dress still has its precious label.

But 50 per cent of her sales are new clothes. She's the agent for some of the top designers such as the Spanish couturiers Presen and Carina who specialise in stylish outfits for the bride's mum: "I chose them as they provide comfort as well as gorgeousness."

She also sells long and opulently coloured dresses by Terani and the sensuous floating dresses by Diane Frés.

Fresh onto their hangers when Marlborough News Online visited the shop were some fabulous new twenties-style dresses from the Los Angeles designer who won awards with the clothes for that most popular of movies The Artist.

These are top quality dresses, beaded and often both metallic and daringly see-through dresses. Ideal for a quick Charleston or even, for those who fancy themselves as Jane Fonda or Susannah York, a long dance marathon. We will meet the late and lovely Ms York later.

Ninety per cent of the ball gowns Bertie sells need to be altered – and sometimes altered quite fast. She uses two expert seamstresses: "If you're taking a Chanel to pieces it has to be done perfectly."

In 1981 Roberta Gibbs left her bruising roles in films and established Bertie Golightly in Bradford on Avon – one of the first top designer re-sale boutiques. She soon won an international clientele selling her trademark mix of new designer styles and pre-owned dresses by the big name couturiers.

Then in 1996 the Council closed the car park opposite her Bradford on Avon shop, and business plummeted.

Nothing daunted, she moved her operation to Beauchamp Place in Knightsbridge and thrived there until the congestion charge and parking fees made life impossible for her clients who like to come and browse, try dresses on, get advice and buy something to match what they've chosen.

So in 2006 Bertie moved back to Wiltshire and set-up shop and home in Marlborough where, she says happily, "We live above the shop."

Roberta Gibbs was brought up in Bridport where she swam in the sea, rode horses and was taught classical ballet by Miss Fairbairn whose claim to fame was that she had taught Moira Shearer. Miss Fairbairn used a cane to punish wayward limbs so Roberta got quite used to some painful bruising: "Imagine a teacher doing that these days!"

Her first job was at the UK Atomic Energy Authority's research plant at Winfrith near to her home. It was while she was on holiday from Winfrith that she was picked as an extra for the film of Tom Jones – with Albert Finney, Susannah York, Edith Evans and a long list of once and future stars.

The film crew found out Roberta could ride side-saddle and she was signed up for six months work on that iconic sixties film.

Captivated by the film world, she left her job and at the end of her Tom Jones contract became a stunt woman – using skills from her youth, especially swimming off the Chesil Beach and riding, but also using the timing and balance she learned at those somewhat violent ballet classes.

Her business card told film directors she could offer them "Horses: training/side-saddle/falling/rearing. Cars: crashing/broadsiding/racing etc. Heights: falls/stair falls. Fights: judo/wrestling/unarmed combat/knife. Fire/firearms/explosives. Animals: lions etc." (See below for some 'action stills'.)

And talking of lions, a feature about Roberta in the Guardian included the memorable line: "She kissed a lion and it licked her back, taking off a layer of skin."

She began this new career when stunt women were a bit of a rare breed: "I was plastered all over everything – newspapers and magazines." The headline in one American newspaper read: "Drowning is routine for stunt girl".

She was making her mark in the industry at a strange time of transition. Feminism was strong enough to allow her to negotiate an agreement among stunt actors that men should never double for actresses.

And yet it was a time when a hard-nosed newsman writing for an American news agency thought it wise to write of Roberta as "a brown-haired beauty" and to give his readers details of her 'vital statistics' (remember them?)

It was just after her landmark agreement with the stuntmen that a six foot stuntman working on the Dr Who instalment The Stones of Blood was injured. Roberta stepped in for him – a role reversal she still recalls with pleasure.

She also had to step into his boots – "They came up to here". Indeed they were so huge that when she had to swim for one scene they filled with water and she nearly did drown.

Among Roberta's many 'credits' (names of stunt doubles only whizz past on the credits in the smallest of small typefaces) was a role demanded byAlfred Hitchcock for the trailer of Frenzy (1972) – his thriller about a serial killer murdering women in London with a necktie. She had to float naked in the Thames at Westminster Bridge in the winter.

Her mother knew Roberta sometimes had to take her clothes off in the studio, but she was pretty alarmed when she had to do in front of the Houses of Parliament.

And there it is in the Frenzy trailer: one of Hitch's almost subliminal shots showing a naked stunt woman floating in the Thames' cold – and in those days pretty filthy – water, another victim of the necktie killer.

"The most battered I've ever been was falling down a flight of rough plank stairs for Karen Black in The Great Gatsby. They needed about 12 takes to get the dialogue right and by that time I had almost no skin on my legs."

It is a little tricky to connect Roberta Gibbs' two careers. Asked about the stunt work she told Marlborough News Online: "It was wonderful – you worked a few months and made a fortune and then did not have to do much for the next few months."

Her second career requires constant hard work, constant judgments about what will sell and giving constant help to clients who may not always know what they want to look like.

You cannot hide when you are floating naked in the Thames. But you can persuade someone they would look quite wonderful hiding behind that sparkling blue mask.