Radio Review: I first became aware of Jane Birkin in a 1967 copy of King Magazine that my sister Kath had acquired or bought – I wasn’t sure which. It was a glossy mens’ publication with articles on sixties’ celebrities, hifi, movies, fashion and photo spreads. One of which was on Jane – entitled if I recall, ‘who’s afraid of Jane Birkin?’

The model, actress and singer died aged 76 in July this year – meaning another one of my teenage crushes has passed away – although will live on in countless photographs on Google Images and clips on YouTube of her 60 or more movies.

BBC Radio 4 has been broadcasting a biography of Jane in Je T’Aime: The Legendary Love Story of Jane Birkin & Serge by Véronique Mortaigne, read by Jane Slavin and abridged in five parts by Polly Coles.
It’s more of a family history tracing the relatives and forebears rather than an expose of the English woman who crossed the Channel for a new life in France and her relationship with Serge Gainsbourg
First broadcast in 2019 the serialisation of the book has as its signature their chart topping 1969 hit Je t’aime… moi non plus which was played on almost a continuous loop in my fifth form common room while breathless couples snogged behind the curtains during wet lunch break times at Colyton Grammar School back in the early 1970s. It was also banned by the BBC, the Vatican and several European broadcasters.

“In December 1971 an article appeared in Le Figaro announcing Serge Gainsbourg had reached his cherry season,” recounted Jane Slavin, “The middle of life’s journey.” Not a bad situation for a man of 42 who had hooked up with 23-year-old model, actress and singer Jane. He was as the story goes now a ripe cherry and the envy of countless forty-something men and numerous teenage boys like me.
Everyone wondered what did Jane see in the slightly podgy lethario with a face that looks like he had been hit by a bus.

Véronique Mortaigne explains the reasons which are many and varied but essentially it was a good career move. Jane moved in wealthy social circles in London and Paris with a privileged upbringing that meant she mixed with the rich and famous marrying the composer John Barry in 1965 but divorcing him just three years later before hooking up with Gainsbourg shortly afterwards. He had been in a relationship with Bridget Bardot who he had originally wanted to sing the famous love duet with.

Jane said she agreed to sing the hit record with Serge ‘out of jealousy’ of Bardot. Serge was a successful composer, singer, actor and director who championed the chanson style of music wrote songs for the likes of Petula Clark and sound tracks to movies and had much to do with the early days of Eurovision.
A sharp dresser Serge made the most of himself and during the shooting of a film in 1968 he met and fell in love with Jane. The headstrong posh English girl who had already appeared in Blowup who wore flared jeans and an army jacket and had a certain look that became her trade mark – leading to countless fashion spreads in glossy magazines like King was a catch – for them both.

Jane’s background was easier to understand than Serge’s – in some ways it was about a beautiful, clever woman making the most of her opportunities and being in the right place at the right time. Serge’s past was more interesting and more perilous as a Jewish schoolboy forced to where the yellow star in wartime France.

After the war he had a stint in the army, sang songs in bars, tried his hand as an artist, changed his name from Lucien Ginsburg to Serge Gainsbourg and found success as a nightclub pianist. From there his musical creativity was to flourish with a string of albums and chart hits to his name as his main career was launched – and then his meeting with Jane was to seal forever his and her fame with the song Je t’aime… moi non plus that bookended the serialisation of Véronique Mortaigne’s account of their relationship.
Harry Mottram

The programme was on BBC Sounds at

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