A Candidate For The Terrible Mother Hall Of Fame


We didn’t know much about Lotte Berk,” the 1960s fitness guru to the stars known as “the ogre of yoga,” until now:

German-born Lotte Berk was a British fitness phenomenon whose patented blend of yoga, ballet and orthopedic exercise toned everyone from Joan Collins to Barbra Streisand. Says the Daily Express,

Her quirky, women-only classes were conducted to pop music long before Jane Fonda popu­larized the aerobics work-out. Insisting that her clients – stars, aristocrats and housewives – exercise together at her basement studio off London’s Oxford Street, the bohemian German Jewish émigrée gave her exercises risqué names such as “the prostitute”, “the French ­lavatory” and “the peeing dog”. She encouraged devotees to perform pelvic tilts with added sexual frisson. Although she was a hard taskmistress who used a riding crop to slap anyone not doing the right moves, classes took place in an atmosphere of hilarity.

She was also, according to her 76-year-old daughter Esther Fairfax’s new memoir, My Improper Mother And Me a terrible parent. And by “terrible,” I mean “shockingly negligent” and “abusive.”

When her father got into bed with her when she was 12 and tried to play sex games, her mother seemed indifferent. Three years later Lotte offered Esther a shilling to perform a sex act on a man with whom she was ­appear­ing at a theatre. And when the same year Esther was raped by the producer of a show in which her parents were dancing, Lotte told her: “Forget about it. We could all lose our jobs.

These are the sorts of stories that never cease to shock, and yet come up again and again in tales of parents whom the world loved. That these experiences can impact on a child’s entire life is unquestionable, and Fairfax says as much: “I catch sight of my reflection in a mirror or a shop window and I see her. I respect, admire and love her, but I don’t want to feel her character blending with mine.” She also, to this day makes her living teaching her mother’s method; a mixed legacy indeed.


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