Tag Archives: Judith Frankland

1980 ➤ Why Bowie came recruiting Blitz Kids for his Ashes to Ashes video

40
YEARS
ON

❚ TODAY WAS THE DAY in 1980 when London’s now fabled Blitz Club was blessed by a visit from David Bowie. He came with a purpose – to whisk away four of the most outlandish Blitz Kids to strut with his pierrot through the video for his new number, Ashes to Ashes, from an imminent new album. It earned each of them £50, helped Bowie to No 1 in the singles chart the following month and boosted demand for black ankle-length robes among trendsetters.

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Ashes To Ashes video 1980: Blitz Kids as chorus to Major Tom

Every Tuesday for 16 months, king of the posers Steve Strange had been declaring a “private party” in the cheap-and-cheerful Blitz wine bar near Covent Garden, along with his co-host Rusty Egan who was pioneering Elektro-Diskow dance music as deejay. Your Look was everything and outrage ensured entry. Inside, precocious 19-year-olds presented an eye-stopping collage, preening away in wondrous ensembles, in-flight haircuts and emphatic make-up that made you feel normality was a sin. Hammer Horror met Rank starlet. These were Bowie’s offspring, individualists who had taken him at his word to be “heroes just for one day”, living amusing lives, creating disposable identities, and wearing looks not uniforms. Now, on this day, their god came among them with the very serious mission of paying homage to some of his bizarre principal characters and moving himself on into the next phase of his life… Unwittingly the Blitz Kids would become his little helpers.

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Bowie at the Blitz Club 1980: Russ Williams, John Lockwood and Andy Bulled papped by Tommy Crowley

Memories of Tuesday 1 July vary. The 21-year-old Steve Strange found himself requesting extra security to stem what the soon-to-become pop singer Andy Polaris also records in his diary as a “minor riot”. In contrast, the coolest heroes in the club refused to pander to the great star and merely contemplated their drinks.

Strange writes in his autobiography, Blitzed: “We had no prior warning, and [Bowie] arrived with two other people and his PA [Corinne] ‘Coco’ [Schwab], whom I didn’t think was very nice.” The guests whose names Strange forgot were, according to the Polaris diary, singer Karen O’Connor (daughter of comedian Des) and painter-photographer Edward Bell, who designed the cover artwork for the imminent Scary Monsters album and singles.

Strange’s book claims: “We managed to sneak them into the club the back way to avoid a fuss and usher him upstairs to a private area. David himself was charming and asked if I would join him upstairs for a drink when I had finished on the door. I wanted to go straight away, but, annoyingly, I had to do my job first and stay at the door.”

The book continues: “Word soon spread like wildfire that David Bowie was there. He was probably the reason most people at the club had got into pop music in the first place. He had changed his look and his sound so many times, there were more than enough images to go round. The alien from Low and The Man Who Fell To Earth, Aladdin Sane, Diamond Dogs, Ziggy Stardust. He was the one person that everyone there would cite as an influence, even more important than punk.

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Bowie’s chorus near Hastings, July 1980: Polaroid snapped by a crew member on the beach during filming of Ashes to Ashes with Blitz Kids Steve Strange, Darla-Jane Gilroy, Judi Frankland and Elise Brazier keeping warm in a mackintosh between takes. When they got back to London, they all went clubbing at Hell

“He said it was a great scene and asked me if I would like to appear in the video for his next single, Ashes To Ashes. He also asked me if I could suggest a make-up artist for him, and I recommended Richard Sharah, the man who did my make-up. He said: ‘I’d like it left to you to pick the clothes you are going to wear, and to choose three other extras for the video.’ This was the most important moment of my life. I rushed around and found Judith Frankland, Darla-Jane Gilroy and another girl [Elise Brazier] for the video.” Here, as with so much of his flaky book, Strange’s memory leave the rails. Other witnesses suggest subtle variations to his account…

Enter the next witness, Ravensbourne graduate Judith Frankland, designer of Steve Strange’s Fade to Grey outfit and of two gowns worn in the Ashes video which were inspired, she says, by the nuns in The Sound of Music and coincidentally had been unveiled in her sensational degree collection “Romantic Monasticism” at the Café Royal during June. She says: “In a wonderful twist of fate, Steve was resplendent in my black wedding outfit that night and was chosen straight away. He was asked to select people he felt could be right. Bowie did see George O’Dowd but as I remember he was wearing his big leather jacket look that night, so he was out. I was invited as was Darla up to the table where David and Coco were sitting and offered a glass of champagne. Darla and I were both dressed in a similar ecclesiastic style, Darla in her own black outfit with white collar, and we were also asked to take part for what at that time was a decent sum of money for penniless, decadent students.

“We were told Coco would call us the following day with the details. I woke the next day thinking I’d dreamt it and you know I guarded that communal pay phone on the landing like a rottweiler until she did: be outside the Hilton the next morning, Thursday, she said, at some ungodly hour, fully dressed and made up the same way I had been at the Blitz, and to get the coach to a secret location.

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Ashes To Ashes video 1980: Blitz Kids as Greek chorus (© Jones Music / EMI Records Ltd)

“When we arrived at the beach near Hastings [not Southend, as Strange reports], the crew was set up and David Bowie greeted us dressed in the pierrot outfit he would be wearing. He coached us for a few minutes on the words we were to mime and then the day was spent in what we Lancastrians call sinking sand, sloppy sand, and the further out we got on the beach the messier and sloppier and muddier it was. I wore flats which was a wise choice. Then we were up and down that field with the bulldozer and every time we had to do a take it had to back up and the field got muddier. The bulldozer wasn’t that close but if he’d stepped on the gas we would all have been gonners.

“We were finally told we had all ‘done well’ and set off in the coach straight from the shoot to Hell [Strange’s Thursday club-night with a sacrilegious flavour] – well, home first to get freshened up. Steve dropped off his very muddy wedding dress and Hell was a rowdier night than usual. Steve brought one of the labourers from the bulldozer site with him and dressed him up in a Modern Classics suit. The poor guy was disturbed by it all, to say the least.

“We’d also been asked to go to the Ewart Studios in Wandsworth that weekend to shoot another scene – the kitchen with Major Tom in the chair and us providing the chorus. This involved an explosion behind us four as we faced the camera. We were told to duck out and run after we had mimed our lines or we could be hurt. This was difficult in a hobble dress, so I hoisted it up as high as I could and got ready to run. Quite a sight for the superstar sat behind me! Health and Safety would be all over that now.

“May I add that at the studios David Bowie joined us mere mortals in the canteen. Yummy. What a nice man he was, well he was to me, very kind and patient with us all.”

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London’s Cafe Royal, 1980: Judith Frankland’s graduation show climaxed with a wedding dress in black and white taffeta, brocade, velvet and satin. All crowned by Stephen Jones’s veiled head-dress. As worn by Blitz Club host Steve Strange in the Ashes to Ashes video. (Niall McInerney’s slides scanned by Shapersofthe80s)

CRUCIAL MOTIFS DECODED

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St Martin’s Alternative Fashion Show in May 1980: Stephen Linard’s “Neon Gothic” collection modelled by his most stylish friends, Myra, George and Michele, with Lee Sheldrick in white as a space-age pope

❏ Co-directed by Bowie and David Mallet, location scenes for Ashes to Ashes were filmed on 3 July 1980 at Pett Level, a stony beach on marshlands about six miles east of Hastings in East Sussex, known to Mallet since he was a boy. The drama of waves splashing against a towering cliff excited him. The video was the most expensive music video made to that date, costing £35,000 (about £151,000 in today’s money). The whole dreamscape was enhanced with effects from the then novel Quantel Paintbox to create a visual enigma, echoing a distant past, yet suggesting “nostalgia for the future” in Bowie’s own words.

At the time Bowie dropped in on the Blitz, the fashion mood had darkened for post-punk no-wavers. Black was back in gothic style without that word being applied, mostly. One exception was Stephen Linard who stole the annual Alternative Fashion Show in his second year at St Martin’s with his “Neon Gothic” collection in May 1980, when the event was coordinated by Perry Haines. Fellow Blitz Kids modelled a stylish collision of Space 1999 meets liturgical gothic, strutting to the Human League’s newest release, Empire State Human. Among them, Lee Sheldrick, the gifted eminence gris behind so many other students’ creations, had also shaved his head bald to become the embodiment of Nosferatu the Vampyre. The following week Steve Strange teamed up with fellow Welsh soul-boy and Camberwell student Chris Sullivan to open a no-holds-barred club-night at Hell with the invitation “to burn in Hell – demoniacal dress is desired”. Bowie knew what he was looking for.

One of Bowie’s long-standing collaborators, Natasha Korniloff, designed his pierrot costume for the video and Gretchen Fenston his hat, while he gave Richard Sharah a free hand to design the make-up. On the night of Bowie’s visit to the Blitz, Steve Strange and Judi Frankland were sporting her graduation garments, Strange in the black wedding dress crowned with a Stephen Jones head-dress and veil made of stiffened lace on a metal frame. Judi recalls: “The wedding dress was the reason Steve and I got close. He called me up wanting to buy pieces of the collection. He also bought a jacket he wore on the cover of Fade to Grey and gave me a credit on the sleeve. That dress, all sand, sea and mud, ended up in the bottom of Steve’s wardrobe. It had a stand-up collar that was caked in his makeup. Never wore it again though he got some money off the video people to get it cleaned. The veil also got squashed in his wardrobe.”

Darla-Jane Gilroy wore an ecclesiastical black velvet dress designed and made by herself, silk grosgrain coat and white collar with crucifix, plus a Stephen Jones hat. Elise Brazier personified a ballerina in a party frock plus tantaliser in her hair. This and another hat came from Fiona Dealey and Richard Ostell. All would soon be finding fame in the fashion business, with Elise becoming one of Premier’s leading models.

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Stephen Linard: sporting a wooden cross by Dinny Hall and the rabbinical outfit that caught Bowie’s eye in July 1980

Stephen Linard supplies his own footnote to that great Tuesday at the Blitz. “Bowie actually sat at the bar next to my sister Bev, with me on the other side of her and I told her “Don’t look. Be cool.” So of course she looked, she was only 17. So did I. I was only 21. I was in all my Jewish rabbinical gear and Bowie’s PA Coco asked if I would be in the Ashes to Ashes video, but they wanted us up at the crack of dawn and were only offering £50! Anyway, I was on a warning at St Martin’s over attendance, so I had to say No.”

Steve Strange has the last word: “It seemed like a very long day for a three-minute film. I was delighted when I was handed my wages of £50 by a member of the production team. I didn’t tell them, but I would have paid them to have appeared in a video with David Bowie.”

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Storyboard for Ashes to Ashes, 1980: The opening scene of pierrot on the beach sketched by Bowie to guide his co-director David Mallet

BOWIE’S OWN VISION WITHIN THE ASHES

❏ Bowie’s brief to David Mallet for the video was simply: “A clown on a beach with a bonfire.” Yet you can be sure Freud would have a field-day turning over every mortal motif in Ashes to Ashes, which was originally titled People Are Turning to Gold… Bowie storyboarded the visuals himself (“actually drew it frame for frame,” he said) to include the pierrot of his Lindsay Kemp era, the number of “Madmen” in his own family symbolically in a padded cell, his first hit Major Tom the spaceman now in an exploding kitchen with his own Greek chorus, the images of mourners round a funeral pyre, the JCB bulldozer (that Bowie had spotted parked up near the beach and hired on impulse) to signify “oncoming violence” and seemingly pushing along the Blitz Kids in the pierrot’s wake like a funeral procession pulsating with a mother’s invocation “to get things done…” Not to mention the song’s title itself, derived from the burial service in the English Book of Common Prayer which commends: “earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust”.

All of which suggested a surreal sweeping away of the past, capped by the unleashing of the dove as an emblem of ritual cleansing, and so paving a way for the future. In September 1980, Bowie revealed his thinking to NME: “The sub-text of Ashes To Ashes is quite obviously the nursery rhyme appeal of it and for me it’s a story of corruption. When I originally wrote about Major Tom I thought I knew all about the great American dream and where it started and where it should stop. [Now] the whole process that got him up there had decayed and he wishes to return to the nice, round womb, the earth, from whence he started. It really is an ode to childhood, if you like, a popular nursery rhyme.”

Years later, Bowie told author Nicholas Pegg that with Ashes to Ashes he was “wrapping up the Seventies really” for himself, which “seemed a good enough epitaph”. On Bowie’s death his lifelong friend George Underwood called him an emotional, passionate person: “He had created this fierce storm, but he was the only one in it.” Take your pick.

➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s: The year the Blitz Kids took their first steps into the headlines

Ashes To Ashes, David Bowie, video, pop music,Ashes To Ashes

Ashes To Ashes video 1980: Bowie’s pierrot getting out of his depth

FURTHER READING

➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s: The Blitz Kids WATN? No 37, Judith Frankland

➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s: The Blitz Kids WATN? No 28, Stephen Linard

➢ Blitzed! The Autobiography of Steve Strange (2002)

➢ Edward Bell’s Connection

➢ The future isn’t what it used to be, by Angus MacKinnon
in NME, 13 September 1980

➢ Chris O’Leary’s impassioned survey of the Bowie catalogue

Ashes To Ashes, David Bowie, video, pop music

Ashes To Ashes video 1980: Bowie’s pierrot at Pett Level in Sussex with “mum” (© Jones Music / EMI Records Ltd)

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➤ Day Two of Terry Smith’s unseen photos inside the Blitz Club, exclusively at Shapers of the 80s

Nik & Trick Photo Services, Folkestone

“Double, double, toil and trouble” . . . Mandy d’Wit, Judith Frankland and Darla-Jane Gilroy await the casting call in case Mr Bowie drops in at the Blitz

➢ DAY TWO:
CLICK HERE TO VISIT OUR
GALLERY OF TEN MORE FAB IMAGES
OF THE BLITZ IN COLOUR

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A SURPRISING NEW CACHE of photographs of the Blitz Club in colour has been discovered from the spring of 1980 when TIME magazine asked British photographer Terry Smith to turn his lens on the nightlife posers at Covent Garden’s Blitz Club. They were to become feted as the New Romantics.

Tuesdays at the Blitz were all ritual. Everyone supped and danced on the same spot every week according to some invisible floorplan: downstairs near the bar stood the boys in the band (no make-up), their media and management by the stairs, credible punk legends such as Siouxsie Sioux along the bar, suburban wannabes beside the dancefloor.

Deep within the club, around Rusty Egan’s deejay booth, were the dedicated dancing feet, the white-faced shock troops, the fashionista elite – either there or near the cloakroom, ruled first by Julia Fodor (still going strong as deejay Princess Julia) and later by George O’Dowd (known today as ex-jailbird Boy George). Downstairs, the women’s loo was hijacked, naturally, by boys who would be girls. Upstairs on the railway banquettes might be respected alumni from an earlier London: film-maker Derek Jarman, artists Brian Clarke and Kevin Whitney, designers Antony Price and Zandra Rhodes…

➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s:
1980, Just don’t call us New Romantics

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1980 ➤ Unseen photos inside the Blitz Club, exclusively at Shapers of the 80s

Nik & Trick Photo Services, Folkestone

Never before published: Steve Strange, co-founder with deejay Rusty Egan of the legendary Tuesday night at the Blitz in London

➢ DAY ONE:
CLICK HERE TO VISIT OUR
GALLERY OF TEN FAB IMAGES
OF THE BLITZ IN COLOUR

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AN ENORMOUS NEW CACHE of photographs of the Blitz Club in colour has been discovered from the spring of 1980 when the UK media started to take an interest in the Tuesday-night antics of the nightlife posers at Covent Garden’s Blitz Club. They were to become celebrated as the Blitz Kids by some and as New Romantics by others. Until this moment it has been easy to count the number of surviving professional pictures ever taken inside the Blitz during its 20-month life – all of them in black-and-white – and the total doesn’t even approach 100.

Now a call to Shapers of the 80s by the British photographer Terry Smith has unearthed probably 300 more images, commissioned by Time magazine. Many of them are in glorious colour, shedding extra light on the creativity of the night-owls who were in the throes of transforming the fashion and pop landscape of Britain in the Swinging 80s.

Shapers of the 80s today showcases the first of four batches of Terry’s pictures capturing the Blitz in colour, while a selling exhibition of his black-and-white images is preparing to open on 7 June in St Leonards-on-Sea.

➢ Terry Smith/Blitz and Pieces: Unseen Blitz Club Pictures
& 80s Bands runs 7 June–21 July 2018 at Lucy Bell Gallery,
St Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex TN38 0EJ.
Preview 7 June, 6-8pm

Nik & Trick Photo Services, Folkestone

Blitz Club 1980: Can you name these early New Romantics in the frilly-shirt posse?

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➤ The Blitz Kids WATN? No 37, Judith Frankland — Aufwiedersehen Geordieland, pet

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The Great Escape, 2011: Judith Frankland prepares to break out from Newcastle at dawn this morning within the 20kg baggage allowance. Photograph by Joanne Lodge

❚ MOST OF BRITAIN MAY BE SWELTERING in a historic autumn heatwave. Yet Judith Frankland, the ex-Blitz Kid fashion designer, flew out of Tyneside this morning to establish her business in Germany swathed in vital garments she couldn’t pack within the 20kg baggage allowance. “This is my idea for getting as many clothes onboard as possible,” she said. “I’m wearing three topcoats: first a black full-length fake-fur, then stuffing myself inside a black lightweight down to the ankles, then the grey mountain-goat shortie. On top, loads of jewels of course, and in the pockets loads more bling. Down below, I’m in leather biker’s pants, heavy and warm, plus Harley Davidson boots.”

Biker leathers, darling??? “No of course I’m not going bikey, don’t be daft! They are simply so warm and cost only 50p brand new in a car-boot sale. I know I’m going to get beeped at security for my jewellery — changing planes last time at Schiphol, my steel-tipped stilettos set off the alarm. But if they stop me, I’ll be prepared for them, like Maria von Trapp. I’m going to say I’m anorexic and feeling the cold.”

This is how an upstart style princess prepares herself for Berlin, plus new-look hair, cut last night and freshly rinsed pink. She means business. A modest container is already being shipped by Voovit, bringing Judith’s sewing machines, her dramatically retro promotional collection for The Woman Who Likes To Say Hello shown this year in Newcastle upon Tyne, plus a ton more bling (she does have a way with black baubles and gilded chain). Yes, this is the great adventure to build a new life for one of the wild children of the Swinging 80s whose best break came the month she graduated from Ravensbourne art college when David Bowie dropped in at the Blitz Club and chose to put her and her clothes in his landmark video for Ashes to Ashes. [And which Shapersofthe80s displays as the picture heading this website. The New Romantics were utterly in thrall to Bowie.]

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Having taken the temperature of Berlin on an exploratory trip this July, Judith has been scouting the smart district of Prenzlauer Berg for a workshop-cum-living quarters, with another eye on up-market boutiques through which to retail in the short-term.

Judith says: “My main plan is to create high fashion for women who love clothes that are beautiful but avant-garde and might even be called art. I’ve left England to seek fresh inspiration and shall be presenting my outfits next season in Paris in order to re-establish links with buyers who don’t visit London — from Japan and the Far East, for example.”

Judi’s lesson learnt in July: in Berlin an umbrella is no protection from the elements. Photograph by Shapersofthe80s

It is eight years since Judith’s previous bespoke design business blew up in her face. She has described on her blog at The Swelle Life how the American backer behind her Paris-based atelier suddenly got cold feet and hot-footed it back to the States, leaving Judith as the designer holding the baby. This more or less coincided with her mother’s health failing, whereupon Judith returned to Tyneside to care for her.

In Berlin, Judith has not been short of advice from friends made during her ten-year spell in Milan in the 90s designing and hosting nightclubs. Several friends are now relocated to Berlin, including photographer and videographer Sandro Martini. The Dutch costumier Eppo Dekker, who has a boutique called Prêt-à-Couture in Friedrichshain, has also been helping Judith make contacts in the city. Immediate plans include designing stage-wear for the underground performer Antal Nemeth.

“Meanwhile,” Judith says, “this weekend I’m heading down to a vintage Zupermarket run by the Sameheads brothers — they say rich ladies bring in their sparkly clothes for sale and nobody goes away unhappy.”

London’s Cafe Royal, 1980: Judith’s graduation show from Ravensbourne college of art caused a sensation with a glamorous evocation of the 50s in black and white taffeta, brocade, velvet and satin. Its climax was this black wedding dress worn by Sheila Ming, gloriously crowned by Stephen Jones’s veiled head-dress made of stiffened lace on a metal frame. Blitz club host Steve Strange was later to wear it in David Bowie’s video for Ashes to Ashes. Photographed © by Niall McInerney

Judith’s 1980 degree collection shot for Viz: these taffeta and satin outfits in medieval romantic mood were dubbed “Balenciaga hears the Sound of Music”. Photographed © by Adrian Bradbury

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➤ “Warrior of the night” Frankland bounces back with London Fashion Week in her sights

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Punk power: Judith Frankland models her own design Dare To Wear Fur from her collection for The Woman Who Likes to Say Hello. Photography by Denise Grayson. Above left, Pink Power, for the woman who holds her own in a man’s world. Illustration by Manny More

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❚ THE GLOVES ARE OFF. Onetime Blitz Kid Judith Frankland aims to return to the couture fashion scene at London Fashion Week in September. During two decades spent abroad, she mixed bespoke design with nightclub promotion which in Italy won her membership of i guerrieri della notte — the warriors of the night.

Today in her fashion blog at The Swelle Life, she declares that ultimately “my passion is for fashion” as she unveils yet another outfit in her new collection designed for “The Woman Who Likes to Say Hello”.

She writes: “The seven outfits are part of a work in progress to be finished very soon in anticipation of presenting a small collection next Fashion Week in London. It is the first I have undertaken in eight years.”

Alongside Judith’s latest chapter in her progress back into fashion, Denise Grayson shoots her in the bold jacket (above) that eyeballs the woman who dares to wear fur (or at least, who dares to fake it).

Regular readers know Judith as one of the faces in the masthead atop Shapersofthe80s — grabbed from Bowie’s 1980 Ashes to Ashes video when she was dressing like a singing nun. So it’s no surprise that the new fur-woman silhouette evokes a more subversively punk spirit in contrast to previous separates in the new collection which combine power motifs with hints of romantic vulnerability. Manny More’s delicious illustration (above left) affirms the feminine bows and understated lace dress of a powerbroker’s outfit for the woman in a man’s boardroom — while the tightly knotted kipper tie provides a slap in the eye for the male chauvinist who is deceived by the notes of pink prettiness.

Judith’s designs demand high standards of tailoring and her ambition is to collaborate with an experienced cutter. She says: “I want to explore the possibilities this can create. I would love to work with a professional pattern cutter and, frankly, I feel they do not get the applause they deserve. We can all play with and drape fabric, but boy, it takes talent to bring that to life.”

In the short-term, Judith’s mini collection is likely to turn a few heads during Newcastle’s first Fashion Week (May 14–21), a citywide initiative to champion the Tyneside Business Improvement District. Then it’s London’s turn.

➢ Review: Judith Frankland experiments with power and femininity

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