Jane Birkin re­mem­bers lark­ing around in Ox­ford with Serge Gains­bourg, 1969

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I WAS MAK­ING a re­ally bad film called May Morn­ing in Ox­ford. I was stay­ing in the Bear Ho­tel with Serge, my daugh­ter Kate, who must have been about two, and my brother An­drew, who was al­ways with us with a cam­era round his neck, record­ing every­thing. All these very set-up, coy scenes were made to look im­promptu. I think the hot-dog seller was given some cash to go and have a cig­a­rette while Serge posed in his van.

Our song Je t’aime… moi non plus was climb­ing the charts, and they were heav­enly times. I re­mem­ber pic­nics on the river and the san­gria par­ties that Serge threw for the crew of this ap­palling film. The whole era seemed such fun and so wonderful, then it all came crash­ing down with the news that Sharon Tate had been mur­dered – our hippy heaven just van­ished overnight. Noth­ing would ever be the same again.

I met Serge when I au­di­tioned for a film called Slo­gan, which he was star­ring in. He didn’t seem in­ter­ested in me at all, and in ret­ro­spect there was no rea­son why he should be. He had been made to do screen tests all day long and had just fin­ished one with Marisa Beren­son, who could speak French, and was ar­tic­u­late and lovely, so he prob­a­bly didn’t un­der­stand why this toothy English girl who didn’t speak French turned up. I thought he was ar­ro­gant, with his mauve shirt and sar­cas­tic ex­pres­sion. Ex­cept when I got into trou­ble over some of the lines he helped me, which was kind. Then I cried an aw­ful lot be­cause I had messed up my life – it was a dis­as­ter be­ing mar­ried to John Barry, who’d left me with a baby and gone off to Amer­ica. I cried in one of the scenes – I think Serge thought that was re­volt­ing.

Be­ing the star, he could have in­sisted on an­other ac­tress, but I got the part so he must have thought there was some­thing there – the mak­ings of an ac­tress, or some­body who cries very well.

It was par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult to do love scenes with him – for Slo­gan I had to sit on the edge of a bath, naked, while he was safely in the bath with an enor­mous pair of bathing trunks, look­ing at me sar­cas­ti­cally. I told the direc­tor that Serge didn’t like me and he said, ‘No, he’s per­fectly sweet, you just don’t know him.’ He fixed up a din­ner, where I pulled Serge on to the dance floor at Régine’s, then to my de­light I re­alised he couldn’t dance and stepped on my feet. His bad be­hav­iour was be­cause of him be­ing so shy – he was very pudique [mod­est]. He was a dar­ling and I ended up be­sot­ted by him.

Serge also loved An­drew and we went off as a three­some for lots of hol­i­days and week­ends – some­times my mother and fa­ther came, too. He adored my fa­ther; they used to take their sleep­ing pills to­gether and I would watch them go down at the same time like old owls.

In Serge’s obit­u­ary, Bernard Levin wrote, ‘We’ve got a great writer, but is he also a clown? We have a clown, but is he also a singer? We have singers, but are they all the things that Serge was? No, de­cid­edly, no. We do not have a Serge Gains­bourg.’ — In­ter­view by Jes­samy Calkin Jane & Serge, pho­to­graphs by An­drew Birkin, is on show at the Musée des Beaux Arts in Calais un­til 4 Novem­ber, calais.fr

I re­mem­ber pic­nics on the river and the par­ties Serge threw. The whole era seemed so fun

Above Birkin and Gains­bourg play cus­tomer and hot-dog seller for her brother

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