Ilsa Colsell

Fake the Nip


An American friend describes a family holiday to Disneyland in the late fifties. Walking along holding his mother’s hand, he gazes upwards at the brightly coloured wonder around him. As his eyes fell he saw a side door bounce open on its latch. In the small room now visible, Goofy stood partially disrobed. The character’s orange and blue suit gaping open at the back reveals a perspiring actor taking his break and breathing deeply. The surrounding room was sparse – ordinary clothes slumped on the backs of perfunctory furniture, locker-room rubbish scattered on the floor. Goofy’s eyes met his and the door, in its return momentum, swung closed.


Linda (Kim Novak), rehearses My Funny Valentine on a nightclub stage in the 1957 film Pal Joey. An orchestra begins to play, the curtain opens and Linda walks forward into the spotlight to stand behind a large, frilled, pink, satin heart. Linda is a chorus girl and this number will be her first at the club that won’t involve removing her clothes. The film is in soft focus. She sings the opening lines and the camera pans behind her. Joey (Frank Sinatra), sitting in the audience is now visible over Linda’s shoulder. He’s watching her intently. The padded heart is also now seen from behind. The structure is crudely nailed together, the pink satin clipped and stretched around a wooden base itself strapped together from mismatched wood. The heart moves as Linda gently leans against it.


In 1984, magician Tommy Cooper performs his act to a full house on the stage of the Her Majesty’s theatre, London. He’s helped by an assistant who hands him the objects he uses as props for his routine. He’s a comic who masterfully fluffs his delivery, gets his tricks wrong but makes his audience laugh, willing him on to get at least something right. As Cooper puts on his magic cape he falters and leans back on the house curtain. He falls lower and lower until he’s sitting, then lying on the stage, his top half obscured by the heavy drapes. Half on stage, half off. He makes gurgling noises. The audience continue to laugh. London Weekend Television cuts to an advert and comedian – Jimmy Tarbuck steps out and begins a 3-minute set. While Tarbuck performs, the remainder of Cooper’s body is pulled back behind the curtain.


Nancy Reagan is being interviewed by a television journalist at home in the late sixties. They are discussing what, as the wife of California’s governor, she’d usually be doing at that moment so that they might film her candidly during the interview. While they decide on cutting some flowers in the garden the writer Joan Didion makes notes on the mornings events for her own essay. Reagan and the interviewer head outside followed by the cameraman. Didion joins them. Preparing to rehearse their first question and answer, the interviewer asks Reagan to nip the buds off the flowers as she replies. The cameraman suggests that while they rehearse Reagan should only ‘Fake the nip’. Didion watches Reagan as she plays at cutting the flowers and the cameraman lines up his shot. Didion includes the moment in her essay ‘Good Citizens’, later published in her book The White Album in 1979.


Ilsa Colsell is an artist and writer. Having grown up in Orkney, Scotland, she now lives and works in London. Her physical and written works navigate amongst the layers of death and collage.

She is the author of Malicious Damage: The Defaced Library Books of Kenneth Halliwell and Joe Orton (London: Donlon Books, 2013).