Saturday, February 21, 2015

P.D. James and the Mystery of the ‘Apollo’ Jacket

I was working at the British Museum in 2001 when the invasion of Afghanistan took place.  Horrified by the plight of the people caught up in the conflict, I decided to hold a ‘Bring and Buy’ at the museum to raise money for the Red Cross campaign to help refugees.  Needless to say, the museum wasn’t really used to this sort of thing, but they gave me permission and let me use the old lecture theatre. Lots of kind and generous people brought things in for us to sell and I recruited my neighbour, Frances Powell, to help.

One of the things that I donated was a very unusual jacket. I had bought it in Nauplion in the Peloponnese several years before, in a shop that sold handmade ‘one-off’ designs. It was cream, with a profile painted on to the jacket in black, which was clearly meant to look like the sort of face you might see on a Greek vase. My friend Andrew and I loved it, and called it my ‘Apollo’ jacket. He and I both used to wear it – I have a photo somewhere of him wearing it at a wedding. It was extremely distinctive and used to get a lot of comments whenever either of us wore it.

However, by 2001 I had decided the style was looking a bit dated (it had 90s shoulder pads) and so I donated it, amongst other items, to the Bring and Buy.  I was in two minds about letting it go, as it was still in very good condition, and I remember being a bit wistful as I hung it on a clothes rail. Thanks to the generosity of British Museum staff, Frances and I raised £500 for the Red Cross Appeal, and we took whatever didn’t sell to the charity shop. I was so pleased with the amount raised that I didn’t even look to see whether the jacket had gone.

I thought no more about it until the staff newsletter appeared. I was looking to see whether the Bring and Buy (which had only been open to staff) had been covered in the newsletter, and stopped in my tracks when I saw a photo of P.D. James, who had been doing a public event at the museum on the evening of the Bring and Buy, wearing the jacket at her reading.

‘She’s wearing my jacket’ I told everyone, who of course thought I was mad. We couldn’t imagine P.D. James somehow getting in to the Bring and Buy and snapping up a jacket to wear that evening at a public event. But to me there was no doubt that it was my jacket. How could there be two? I had bought it in the early 90s in an obscure and local Greek shop. The designer had told me it was a one-off. What were the chances, a decade later, of there being another? Anyway, I obviously couldn’t prove it, but it provided an amusing dinner party story that I used occasionally to tell.

P. D James in the 'Apollo' jacket Picture: Peter Payne 

One day I was telling all this to a friend who remembered my jacket but doubted my story, and so we decided to do a Google image search. There we found a few photographs of P.D. James in the jacket on different occasions (see above, but the best one is here: However, suddenly we noticed that there were photos, more recent, of her in a similar – but not exactly the same – jacket with a classical style outline face on the front. The colours and style were the same, but the face was less classical, with a front-facing rather than profile eye. She clearly likes this one a lot too as it is in a number of photos. Now I was really intrigued.
P.D. James in 'the other' jacket! 
How appropriate, I thought, that we have here a P.D. James mystery. There was, apparently, not one jacket, but two. ‘Apollo’ is in older photos, the other one in more recent shots. Did she like the ‘Apollo’ jacket so much that, when it wore out, she had a new version made? Or did she just manage to find another that was similar in colour and style with a black outline face on it?

But perhaps I am making too much out of all of this. It is entirely possible that the first jacket wasn’t ‘mine’ at all: it could be that my jacket wasn’t unique and that I fell for the marketing ploy. Then it would just be a coincidence that both jackets were at the British Museum that day. P.D. James might have been shopping in Nauplion and bought an identical ‘Apollo’ jacket (maybe they told her it was a ‘one-off’ too?) and then went back to the shop years later and bought something similar.

None of this matters of course. But it does cross my mind from time to time. So if anyone out there can shed any light please do so. Do you have an ‘Apollo’ jacket too? Do you know if P.D. James bought mine? And if so did she like it so much she had another one commissioned? Let me know and put an end to the mystery.