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All Creatures Great and Famous: Interviewing Stars of the '70s

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ALL CREATURES

GREAT AND FAMOUS

 

Interviewing Stars of the ’70s

 

 

By

Graham Higson

 

 

 

PUBLISHED BY

Old Barsey Press

 

Shakespir Edition

 

Copyright © 2015 by Graham Higson

Original photographs © 2015 Graham Higson

 

 

http://www.grahamhigson.com

 

 

To my English teacher, Gordon Normanton, for his encouragement.

 

 

 

 

Also available

 

 

 

The big boys are intent on world domination in this amusing tale of running a small town DIY shop. Packed with anecdotes, larger-than-life characters and oodles of camaraderie, this chronicles one man’s struggle to keep his head above the leaking water of life.

 

 

 

 

[]Contents

 

 

A bit of an intro

Part One

 

Zoe Spink

Austin Mitchell

Gilbert O’Sullivan

 

Part Two

 

Noel Edmonds

Anne Aston

Dana

Esther Rantzen

Final words

Thanks

Further interest

Also by Graham Higson

Connect with Graham

About the author

 

 

 

 

A bit of an intro

THIS LITTLE BOOK was inspired by a 2-part article I wrote in 1979 that told about my behind-the-scenes exploits whilst interviewing famous UK celebrities. Some readers of my novels (well, two of them) have suggested that I make these stories public again, which gives me the opportunity to include stuff that there just wasn’t room for in the original magazine articles.

 

These are just the memorable meetings, particularly those which helped shape my development as a feature writer. You’ll be relieved to know that this isn’t a thesis on changing technology and its effect on societal attitudes over the past four decades. Oh no, it’s not my intention to reduce readers to a wilting bunch of overripe daffodils, but when some people look back to the 1970s it’s usually with a mixture of smugness and shock horror, partly because of the flared trousers, high heels and permed hair – and that was just the men. Yes, things were different back then.

 

When Austin Mitchell, well-known television personality and later MP, read my article about him, he said:

 

“If you can get that much sense out of an idiot like me, you should do well with real people”.

 

It was only my second interview and this particular celebrity had identified the very aspect that I’d touched upon in that second article. He must have been a very perceptive gentleman because I have to admit that, up to that point, I wasn’t even aware of it. I only wanted scoops, but from then on the search for “real people” was to form the premise of all my future interviews. In fact, it was Esther Rantzen who expanded on this when she told me:

 

“An awful lot of the entertainment industry is devoted to making so-called stars into remote, glamorous, exotic creatures.”

 

Hence the title of this book.

 

I saw it as a challenge to demolish any façades that my subjects may have been hiding behind. Okay, so perhaps “demolish” isn’t the right word; maybe “gently break down” is better because I wanted to discover the essence of their true characters, if they’d let me. But I didn’t want to be awkward, aggressive or upset them just so they’d become angry and allow me to make a killing in the nationals as I showed them in contradiction of their public personae. Nor did I want to pretend to be their friend and trick them into dropping their guards. I certainly didn’t relish the thought of being chucked out of places, or being pursued across car parks by hefty security men. I wanted them to be honest with me, and I’d show them in as honest a way as possible. That was the deal.

 

So, what exactly made them different to the rest of us – the celebrities, that is? They were, when it came down to it, just people, like you and me – but ones who were in the privileged position of being well-known through entertainment and television. And celebrity status carried with it a great responsibility – more so than today.

 

If this may seem a little unlikely, here and now in the twenty-teens, we need to rewind to the 1970s when there were just three television channels in the UK, and programme viewing figures could easily run into many millions because the audience wasn’t squandered and lost amongst the hundreds of satellite and Freeview channels that we have today. Playing a film at home from a tape or disc wasn’t yet possible, nor were there any games consoles, so for moving picture entertainment in the household there was the telly in the corner, and that was your lot.

 

In fact, there was a body of thought that said watching TV could be damaging, both culturally and to one’s eyesight! Fancy that! There were no domestic video cassette recorders, so viewers either watched a programme when it was being broadcast or they missed it and waited for the repeat. Viewers often complained there were too many repeats. Ha! If only they could have glimpsed into the future and seen just how many TV series are endlessly repeated on satellite channels and also purchased on discs and downloads, fuelling an industry that now is worth millions. Some programmes were never repeated, so there was a strong emphasis on not missing something you were interested in. So in 1977, when The Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show was watched by over 28.8 million viewers – a figure unheard of these days for a single programme, despite the present UK population being around 8 million higher – you’ll see that being a celebrity was rather special, you were in one hell of a privileged position and the responsibility for not leading people astray was enormous.

 

The celebrities, be they presenters, actors or musicians, were invited into your living room, and because of this, in truth, they were the privileged ones because the viewers were choosing to spend their time with them. But this wasn’t the image presented by the machine; instead, you were made to feel honoured that they were visiting you. It was this attitude that fed that very machine and encouraged the remoteness and glamour that Esther Rantzen railed to me about.

 

Since those days there has been a discernible shift in the remoteness aspect. Celebrities are now contactable, approachable and more willing to contact their followers. This is largely thanks to the Internet and social networking processes whereby celebrities can be in touch via websites, Facebook, Twitter and the like. They see it as a means of keeping the faithful … well, faithful. Maybe they are taking their lead from George Takei (Star Trek: the Original Series), who once told a friend of mine that you have to look after your fans because they’re the people who put you where you are.

 

Perceptions of stardom have changed and now are perhaps more realistic, but I remember all too well the thrill of the chase and the burst of adrenaline as I stepped into the unknown and met them face to face.

 

 

 

Part One

The First Three

 

Zoe Spink

Miss TV Times 1972

Interviewed 16 February 1973

 

 

PEOPLE USED TO ask how I got to meet celebrities, almost as if they were fascinated by how I managed to break through some unseen barrier. My first interview was easy: all I had to do was walk across the road, nervously post my carefully written letter through a door and escape as quickly as I could before getting caught.

 

I was still at school and our house faced a new, architecturally-innovative bungalow. It had a massive gable and a doorway beneath a huge sweeping arch. And that was the new home of the Spink twins. It didn’t take long for word to get around that a couple of celebrities were now living in the village.

 

Zoe and Gay were beauty queens – in fact, Zoe was Miss TV Times. This magazine was sold by the millions every single week, listing the ITV programming schedule and no one else’s. Well, there was only the BBC, and its programmes were listed in the Radio Times, a much less-glossy publication – hell, come to think of it there was no gloss at all! Even the inside pages seemed to be designed or destined specifically for second use as something to wrap up fish and chips. Okay, so by 1973 it had scraped itself into the 20th century by having a front cover printed in colour. But to TV Times colour was nothing new, and in its quest to reach out to its readers it ran its own contest of young women parading in swimming costumes for the title and crown. Oh, there was also money, opportunities for travel, media exposure, trips to the US, appearances on TV, opening galas and supermarkets, and of course working with under-privileged children.

 

Until this point, my school magazine had been prepared and edited by the head of the English department but, because I had demonstrated an interest in writing and journalism, he offered me the post of editor. Yes, I know it was only a school magazine, and that since then many schools have dumped the job onto some unsuspecting pupil or editorial group, but to me – at that time – I was over the moon about it; it was an honour, as if I’d passed all of my “O” levels at Grade 1. And, to make the magazine, Blot, extra special, a celebrity interview would be just the scoop. That hadn’t been done before. And one of the said special people lived just twenty yards from me.

 

Both of the Spink twins held titles, but I chose Zoe, probably because my mother only ever bought TV Times, but that’s another story. She was 20 (Zoe, not my mum), tall, blonde and had loads of confidence – a quality that comes with putting oneself out there, scantily-dressed, on a catwalk, with a bunch of other attractive women, every one of them striving for that coveted title.

 

 

I couldn’t believe it when she sent me a letter accepting my request. I hadn’t read it since then, but seeing it now reminds me that I had “two helpers”. Yes, it’s coming back to me. Two older girls had offered to come with me, being keen to meet Zoe. I would be armed with my portable reel-to-reel tape recorder so that we wouldn’t need to write anything down. At the time, such a technique was fairly modern. But if I’d really been up to date I’d have had a cassette recorder (one of those came later). There were nerves and trepidation because it could all go horribly wrong, and with two older girls spying on me, there would be no way that I could contain my shame. I’d be unable to show my face again in school and I’d be forced to leave home and join the Foreign Legion.

 

At the specified time, we went across the road and knocked on the door. A massive old English sheepdog called Beauty barked and we were let in.

 

It was like wandering into another world. The hallway was huge, with a deep-pile carpet that felt like my feet wouldn’t be the only bits to get swallowed up. And there were vents at the floor edges, with warm air gently wafting from them. Then the lounge – it was enormous, with acres of thick carpet and, somewhere in the distance, a real stone fire surround. The two girls and I sat on the large settee, with Zoe in front of us, stroking Beauty, answering our questions and generally chatting. We were taken seriously, at no point did I get the impression that we were being treated as anything less than professional journalists. She was brilliant. Her mother, Betty, made us coffee (again, a type that was unfamiliar to us, maybe because it wasn’t instant!). In fact the China cups and saucers didn’t look as if they’d been taken out of a display cabinet like ours would. Chatty and informative, Mrs Spink was herself a beauty queen in 1948. She still lived across from my parents’ house until she died in 2015.

 

Once we’d left, I had the bright idea of including some photographs in the school magazine. This would really spice it up! So, now that I was on familiar terms with Zoe (or I fancied that I was), I phoned to ask if she would be up for some modelling (getting braver, you see). One Sunday, my school friend Andrew and I went along to do the shoot. Zoe was the first real woman who ever asked what I wanted her to wear, and I chose the red trouser suit that she had been wearing on the front cover of TV Times, and whilst she got ready Mrs Spink showed us into the lounge. That was when I came across Gay’s disc jockey boyfriend, sitting on the settee, telling me that he couldn’t wait to see this marvellous magazine that I was producing. I remember Mrs Spink giving him a sharp word or two.

 

 

Anyhow, I got one good photo, taken in the lounge, and another, unusable one (poor camera exposure) with Zoe against the curved entrance. I think this was the first time that someone told me that such-and-such a pose wasn’t comfortable, or even possible. Then we went into the nearby cricket field and my dad took one with my friend, Zoe and I pretending to look cool and casual. I mean, this sort of thing was an everyday occurrence, no sweat. Zoe was the only one who pulled it off, but she was, after all, the professional model. She and her sister still are.

 

For technical reasons, the photos weren’t included in Blot (the school couldn’t afford the extra printing costs). Here’s the one with my friend Andrew. I scanned this a short while ago and posted it on his Facebook page. His reply:

 

‘Last year’s model’ Striking a pose. Respect Graham!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Austin Mitchell

TV presenter

Interviewed 3 November 1973

 

 

NOVEMBER 1973: at the recreation ground in Elland a crowd gathered. Beneath the cloudy evening sky, which may have been smoke from other bonfires, swathes of mist clung to walls and trees as if attempting to fence in our revelry. But I wasn’t there to celebrate the ritual burning of an effigy: armed with my clipboard and tape recorder, I was after the other guy – the one who had been asked to perform the ceremonial spark-up for the festivities. It may have been a Round Table fund-raising event, but I’m not certain. I have some vague memory of phoning Yorkshire Television from the school office and getting the okay for the interview. By this time I was getting used to phoning people and getting where I wanted to be.

 

Back then there were two daily regional news programmes on TV in the north of England. The one on the ITV channel was Calendar, with its catchy theme music and titles, and two iconic presenters. One of these was Richard Whiteley, the original presenter of Channel 4’s Countdown, who has since been seen by millions of viewers around the world as the presenter with the ferret’s teeth clamped relentlessly to his finger. The other presenter was Austin Mitchell.

 

I’m trying to think about what Austin Mitchell meant to the region’s viewers back then: he wasn’t quiet and he had plenty to say, being a proficient communicator, which I suppose comes in handy when you’re a TV presenter. Also, he was quick-witted, amusing, precise, spoke with an educated Yorkshire accent and seemed up for most things – including visiting a steam room and running outside for a roll in the snow.

 

The organiser pointed me in his direction. I was concerned that Austin might disappear after lighting the bonfire so I got hold of him beforehand and said I’d spoken with his secretary in the Calendar office and could we do the interview afterwards. I remember being amazed by how tall he was. So this was what was meant by “larger than life”. After doing the thing with the matches, and joking about it (a bit of a people expert, you see), he crouched on his haunches, well away from the roaring flames, and we did the interview. A crowd of people quickly gathered around us, laughing and applauding so much that the experience was reminiscent of the studio audience on a Michael Parkinson show.

 

I don’t have the article to hand (but it will turn up one day), nor can I play the old 3-inch tape it was recorded on (not yet I can’t), so I’m trying to remember what came of the meeting. Well, he explained what it was like working as the presenter of a regional magazine programme and the hours involved, even though it was supposed to be only a 5-day week job and how the news always came first. It was then he mentioned about being on-site for some few days at the Lofthouse Colliery where there had been a tragic loss of life when a tunnel flooded. I still remember seeing those horrific scenes on television.

 

Austin told me about his having lectured in political history at a university in New Zealand. I remember that this talk of universities and degrees was new stuff for me and I would need to look into it. I didn’t know at the time that he held a PhD. Anyhow, talking with me and making jokes, as was his TV persona, the interview was exciting and satisfying, with the faces of the audience glowing with the flickering reflections of the bonfire. Again I was treated as a professional.

 

I sent him a copy of the school magazine, and he was one of only a few who took the trouble to send a reply.

 

 

And afterwards …

 

Austin Mitchell became MP for the Great Grimsby parliamentary seat for almost 38 years. In 1984 he made his mark on road safety issues by pushing for the compulsory fitting of rear seat belts and provision of anchorage points for child restraint systems in all new cars. If only all MPs could be as useful, eh?

 

 

Yes! The technique was in place, I was on a roll. First a regional beauty queen, then a regional TV presenter – what next? How about an international singer? So I went one better and applied to interview one who also wrote his own songs.

 

 

 

 

 

Gilbert O’Sullivan

International singer/songwriter

Interviewed 13 January 1974

 

 

THE DATE: JANUARY 1974. The place: Batley Variety Club, Yorkshire, with its bright neon signage reminiscent of a Las Vegas night attraction. It feels like you can’t get any further away from America than the industrial north of England, yet here are the glittering lights and the absence of vandals to smash them out. I make my way into the foyer. It’s packed with people out for a great evening with drinks, the rare delicacy of chicken in a basket … and topped with international star entertainment. There is no casual clothing, oh no; the men are in their best suits, the women in their evening dresses, make-up and recently-done hair. There’s a heady scent of aftershave, cosmetics and perfume concoction. With my bag on my shoulder, containing the much-travelled tape recorder, clipboard and, for good measure, my copy of a collection of piano scores, I step through the famous club door and into this unknown territory. Oh, I almost forgot to mention my Visitor’s Book – an autograph book reserved specifically for the great and famous.

 

 

And since 1967 this particular venue has seen loads of them including: Shirley Bassey, Acker Bilk, Alvin Stardust, Ken Dodd, Neil Sedaka, Tommy Cooper, Cleo Laine, The Three Degrees, The Drifters, Dusty Springfield, Tom Jones, Cilla Black, Cliff Richard, Lulu, Jimmy Ruffin, Harry Secombe, Val Doonican, Max Bygraves, The Bee Gees, Roy Orbison, Del Shannon, Gene Pitney, and Jayne Mansfield.

 

I head straight for the bouncer. He’s easy to spot with his impeccable evening jacket and Mohican hairstyle. He was someone famous in his own right, I’ve been told, maybe an ex-boxer or wrestler? I ask to see the manager because I have a letter, though it’s not for him. It’s in a sealed envelope and it’s for the tour manager who’s accompanying the cabaret act. Before long, the club manager, Alan “my body is not for sale” Clegg, emerges from the sea of suits. I show him the letter I have for Gerry Maxin. I’m holding it in my hand and I’m not going to let go of it. But I’m in a bit of a quandary because he wants to take it. Sensing my hesitation, he says that he will see that Mr Maxin gets it, and I can go into the club and enjoy the whole show … Yes! I’m not being treated like an underage schoolboy (which is exactly what I am and, thinking about it now, that’s exactly how I looked). He takes the letter, tells me to find him after the show (just ask one of these men, he says) and to go inside and enjoy the show. In the auditorium it’s standing room only because the place is packed.

 

 

My first attempt at getting into the club hadn’t been too successful. Oh, I’d managed to get in okay, through the stage door at the back, and from the wings could see one of the well-known supporting acts – a bloke wearing biscuits tins on his feet and singing He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother. Yes, the back of the club was left open for any Dick or Tom to plainly wander in. But from back there I couldn’t see anyone to speak with, which is why I went round to the main entrance. “Play it by ear,” Rita had said in her letter. Yeah.

 

The auditorium is largely made up of circular tables in pods. Every seat is taken. A large bar at the back is busy serving drinks to an endless crowd and people are weaving in and out, carrying glasses on trays. Waitresses in uniform deliver baskets to the tables (The Bee Gees’ Maurice Gibb is later to marry one of these women). By this time there is no one on stage and the noise of the talking is like a constant, throbbing hum.

 

Then the lights dim, the crowd falls silent. You can hear the hiss of audience expectation. The compére announces the name of the star turn … and Gilbert O’Sullivan – having done away with his working-class boy image with striped tie, flat cap and too-short trousers – is now at the grand piano, dressed in velvet suit, open-neck white shirt and his customary mop of hair. This is big bucks music: memorable lyrics and melodies that fuel music charts around the world, and it’s right here. At that point I know that this isn’t a dream.

 

No indeed! With three chart-topping albums behind him, he performed hit after hit … Clair, Get Down, Nothing Rhymed, We Will, No Matter How I Try, Alone Again (Naturally), to name just a few. I remember that during his unflagging performance, the audience wasn’t absolutely silent; drinks were being served, people were talking, but the electrifying display of talent and genius was enough to subdue them so that they could take most of it in. We shouldn’t confuse this venue with that of a theatre concert; this was a nightclub, after all, and part of the deal is that people eat and drink whilst the act is playing.

 

A photo taken at Batley Variety Club that week can be seen online:

 

[+ http://www.theguardian.com/stage/the-northerner/2014/dec/04/northern-variety-clubs-archive-1971+]

 

Getty Images wanted £246 so that I could use it for a limited number of downloads, but I turned down their kind and very reasonable offer.

 

Back to Gilbert: I had all the singles and albums, knew all the lyrics. Hell, I even knew most of the harmony chords! To me, a mere 16-year-old, it was electrifying. And I was going to meet the star!

 

The last song was played. Gilbert left the stage. The audience soon got a rhythm of applause going and he came back on. I don’t remember what he sang for his encore; it’s still a bit of a blur. I think that I may have been making notes, but the file is temporarily misplaced, so I can’t check.

 

Finally, he went off. A group of women collected around the adjoining door to the backstage area. It seemed to be taking ages for the audience to leave. The bouncers were gently urging people to go, but for some reason none of them was in any hurry to go home. And then the dreaded announcement came over the PA: “It’s time to go home, everyone. Gilbert is no longer in the building …”

 

My stomach sank. I quelled the rising panic. I had to find the manager – he would know what was happening. He had my letter, for god’s sake!

 

Back in the foyer, some people were leaving, but not so quickly. I spotted the bouncer with the Mohican and asked where the manager was. There was a lot of jostling going on: mainly women, all of them togged-up, looking quite stunning (to one so young and inexperienced) and I was told where to find the office. The next I remember, I was looking up a flight of narrow stairs. At the top was an open door. There were voices up there: a man and some women. As I went up, I detected the unmistakable tones of conflict, unrest, heated exchanges. What a time for someone to be having a domestic argument!

 

“No, you bloody can’t! I’m not letting you! So get out!” came the man’s voice, with some suggestion of what they could do next, but not in so many words. There were some female retorts, some more harsh words, quickly followed by a rumbling, maybe feet scratching on the floor, and two women in evening dresses came hurtling down the stairs. Their high heels were maybe not the best footwear for a quick escape, and they tripped and skidded past me, almost dislocating my right arm as they caught on my shoulder bag. They were doing a fair bit of swearing and cursing as they went down, one of them on her backside, and finally landed at the bottom in a heap on the floor. I remember seeing that their exposed, tangled legs went all the way to the top. That was a first for me; I’d never seen up an evening dress with most of its occupant in disarray. And here were two of them.

 

Swallowing hard, and determined, I ventured to the top and sort of strayed into the office. There was the manager, talking with another man.

 

“They’ve been up here most of the bloody night,” one of them said. “They’ve missed all the show, the silly …” (I don’t remember the precise noun that he used).

 

On the office wall behind the desk was a giant carved plaque of a fairground carousel. Later I would recognise this as being symbolic of the Corrigan ownership that had begun with fairgrounds. And here was the latest venture: a northern variety club attracting the top names in worldwide entertainment.

 

“It’s alright, he’s still here,” the manager told me.

 

“But you said—”

 

“Yeah, that’s what we have to say. Don’t worry. Look, come with me and I’ll take you backstage.”

 

We went downstairs and back through the auditorium. There were still a lot of people in there, and the gathering around the stage door was even bigger and they were going wild. It was Beatle mania all over again. They were all women, I should add, just in case you were wondering. The two of us can’t have gone through that lot by ourselves – not and survived, we couldn’t, so there must have been a bouncer alongside. Someone used their hands to peel the women apart and …

 

“He’s getting to see Gilbert,” one of them screamed. The voices got louder, like a hungry pack of hounds.

 

I’d never been in a rugby scrum (I like my teeth and the rest of me far too much to risk irreparable damage) but this must have been worse, much worse. The mix of scents, the hot breaths, pushing, squeezing, being held for odd seconds like in a vice against hips and breasts. And all the time the clawing, groping, the attempts to get in my bag, the attempts to get into me. Instinct told me to get my head down, as if that would take me out of reach from the fingers and their lethal nails, not forgetting the teeth. But I was sinking fast and I wanted to reach out to brace myself before hitting the floor, but it was all legs and footwear. Someone grabbed the back of my shirt and hoisted me back up.

 

We reached the door. Someone banged his fist on it. There was some sort of unintelligible exchange of shouts with the other side, and it open just a crack, then wider, just enough for me to be scraped through and the door was eventually pushed closed. There were at least five blokes behind, shoving their weight against it. I felt the cool air from the stage door at the rear against my chest. My shirt was unfastened and pulled out of my trousers. My tie was partially undone. My trouser belt was loose. Someone asked if I was all right. You bet I was! Could we do it again?

 

I remember the manager steering me towards another bloke in a grey suit. I remember the trousers: there was something about the cut and trim that wasn’t like anything I had seen before. Same with his jacket lapels. This was expensive gear. I was told that this was Gerry.

 

“Now, I understand you have a letter for me,” he said.

 

I froze for a second. What had happened to my letter? The manager said something to him like, “You know, I gave it …” and Gerry nodded. He led me into the outer dressing room and told me not to take too long because Gilbert was tired. Then I went through into the star dressing room. The traditional coloured bulbs were lit around a mirror. This was the first time I’d ever seen an inset sink. At the back were a pair of louvre doors, western saloon-style. A black velvet suit was hanging limp from a hanger and, sitting facing me, was Gilbert O’Sullivan.

 

I still remember his look, and wonder what he thought about them letting in schoolboys to do interviews. Thinking about it now, when I’m twice the age that he was then, I can get some idea of his surprise.

 

He was wearing jeans and a dark shirt that wasn’t tucked in. He looked so ordinary, and much smaller than he appeared on stage or television. Softly-spoken, he answered every one of my questions. One of the last-minute additions to my list was something I’d read in a newspaper, where someone had accused him of writing “banal” lyrics. Not only did I not know what banal meant, I didn’t even know how to pronounce it. But I thought I’d throw it in and see what happened. I wasn’t the only one. Gilbert asked Gerry if he knew this word, so that made three of us. And that was an important lesson for me: do the research first.

 

By this time I’d wanted to get interviewees to chat away and reveal stuff about themselves, just like they did on the chat shows hosted by Michael Parkinson. But there they had a studio audience to play up to, and I realised this but hoped that the intimacy of my meetings might somehow compensate.

 

Anyhow, I got a load of information about him – material that I hadn’t come across elsewhere whilst reading about him in magazines, pop papers, record sleeves and whatever else was available in prehistoric – sorry, make that pre-internet – times. I even spotted where some of the professional journalists had intentionally misquoted Gilbert to suit the lame point they were determined to make. Well, as far as I was concerned, all of my material was prime source and would be honestly reported, and that couldn’t be bettered.

 

I did ask, trying to prompt some conversation, if he had any girlfriends.

 

Gilbert replied non-committally, “Sure, I have girlfriends.” Well, there was a gang of admirers not twenty feet away, scratching at the backstage door, but at least the club staff were holding them back.

 

Throughout the interview, at no point did anyone prompt me to finish early, and again I was treated with professional respect. Gilbert signed my visitor’s book and also the piano score, using the very Parker ballpoint pen that is sitting right next the keyboard I’m using.

 

My parting shot as I thanked him for his time, was to hold the pen that he handed back to me and say, “Now I’ll be able to say that this pen has been used by Raymond O’Sullivan.” I’m certain that I saw the hint of a smile.

 

Outside, someone pointed me towards the door leading to the car park. The cold night air hit me and I was back in the ordinary world.

 

 

Over the years, I went to see Gilbert perform at various theatres, and in 2007 I was able to meet him again and we talked about that first time 31 years before.

 

 

© A M Rothery 2007

 

My local newspaper did a feature about me, entitled Scoops for School Mag. Back at school, word quickly got around and I became a bit of a celebrity myself, followed for the rest of my time there by a group of younger, adoring, sweet girls who used their pocket money to buy me little presents and greetings cards, bless them.

 

 

Part Two

Some of the rest

 

 

Noel Edmonds

BBC Radio 1 disc jockey and television presenter

Interviewed 7 August 1975

 

 

 

IN 1975, BBC RADIO 1 was the most-listened-to radio station in the UK. Its eclectic band of disc jockeys included Tony Blackburn (who was the first ever DJ to broadcast on Radio 1 in 1967), Dave Lee Travis, Simon Bates, David Hamilton, John Peel, Johnnie Walker, Noel Edmonds, and others. The catchy jingle claiming it was “the station of the nation” said it all. Playing current chart hits and pop music throughout the day, it was responsible for high sales of 45 rpm records and its DJs became almost as big and famous as the singers and bands they played.

 

The coveted top programme spot – the Breakfast Show – was occupied by 26-year-old Noel Edmonds and was listened to by 16 million people. This was the prime time to catch the largest audience: people like me who would wake up to the show at 7am and catch its transition from Radio 2, which had been transmitting on the Radio 1 frequency during the night. There were the parents getting their kids ready for school, those setting off to work, school kids holding their trannies (slang for transistor radios) to their ears, or people travelling on the roads with their car radios on. And whoever they were, The Noel Edmonds Breakfast Show set millions of us up for the day with a magical concoction of humour, stories and features that became as essential as getting dressed and cleaning our teeth. If we didn’t have these, then something was very wrong with the world. People liked a bit of silliness in the morning.

 

 

Noel’s show included interactions from characters such as Desmond Duck and Flynn the milkman. There was a feature where someone would be nominated to receive a copy of a newspaper’s front page from the day they were born, amusing items from the news, a spot called Girl Talk … and each at roughly the same time every weekday morning. Even the way he played Radio 1 jingles was different, often combining them with an underlying music track. All of this stuff was taken for granted and I’m certain that many listeners wouldn’t have thought about how this all worked, how it all went together. People just accepted it. But such was the popularity of the show that they realised this was so good; none of the other presenters was providing this same degree of sparkle, inventiveness and attention to detail. It was pure quality.

 

By this time I was a mere freelancer and getting to interview Noel Edmonds would be tough, if not damn near impossible …

 

 

But as you can see from the above letter, my request was granted.

 

I had my Observer’s Book of London with me, and the ubiquitous map of the London Underground network. Oh yes, I was prepared! I had decided that it would be a good idea to take someone (a female) along with me when doing interviews so away from home. Why? Because if for any reason the travel arrangements went awry and we weren’t able to get back the same day, then at least I’d have someone with whom to share body heat whilst sleeping rough on a park bench. Don’t mock – I was merely covering all eventualities.

 

The 7th August 1975 was the hottest day in London ever recorded in August, rising to 32.3 degrees Celsius. For me there was no such thing as claiming expenses, so we travelled down to London (why is it the convention to always travel “up to London”? I’m sorry, but almost everywhere is downhill from Yorkshire) by overnight coach, and bloody uncomfortable it was; coaches didn’t have toilets and drinks machines in those days. In fact it was the very coach that tramped up and down the M1 ferrying holidaymakers to the airports and back.

 

Emerging from Victoria Coach Station at 5.30 in the morning didn’t exactly present a good picture of our revered capital city. Of the few people about, most of them were still sleeping in cardboard boxes in shop doorways. We didn’t have that sort of thing in Yorkshire, not then we didn’t, yet in those days it was still considered that everything up north was rough: clogs, flat caps, outside toilets and racing pigeons in the back bedrooms. Yes, London was a bit of an eye-opener.

 

The demands of the job and the non-existent expenses allowance had meant little or no sleep on the downward journey, and working out ways of killing three hours until the appointment would be a test of ingenuity, resourcefulness and inventiveness. Would I be able to operate my brain having suffered extreme sleep deprivation?

 

We had two bags – well, a large sports bag and an attaché case. I had a new ITT SL75 combined radio/cassette recorder (still got it and it still works), my notes, the above appointment letter (just in case they didn’t believe me at the BBC), sandwiches for lunch (yes really, but a bit squashed and soggy in all of that heat). I remember that we left the sports bag in a luggage locker at the nearby Victoria Railway Station, so as we walked along Regent Street we had only the case. In that heat it was enough, and the temperature was set to get worse.

 

 

Broadcasting House, taken on the day

 

By about 8.10am we were lurking round the side of Broadcasting House, across the road from All Souls Church, and right where the courtyard for New Broadcasting House would be forty years on. Listening to the Breakfast Show, thinking that it was actually coming from only a few yards away, was a little surreal, No, I can’t explain it, either. Maybe it was the lack of sleep. The SL75 in my case was recording the show … only it wasn’t too successful: it appeared that the only place one couldn’t get good Radio 1 reception was anywhere near the actual studio where it was coming from. Fancy that.

 

At 8.25 we went through the famous bronzed doors and into the BBC’s huge reception with its high ceiling and 1930s’ styling. At the shop there were all sorts of memorabilia for sale: posters, calendars, books. A uniformed doorman pointed us towards the desk. I told the lady who I was, that I had an appointment with Noel Edmonds. She called someone over, asking them to show us to the studio. I don’t remember who asked me to open my case, for security reasons, but it took only a second to get the all clear (we must have looked okay, which was a relief), and we were led up the steps on the left, sweeping round to follow the classic curve of the building.

 

At that time I was unaware of Art Deco architecture, but I knew that the styling was special. I’m not certain where we went although, since researching this recently, we may have gone up to the 2nd floor and down some steps at the eastern end of the 1961 extension, which can be seen to the right at the rear of Broadcasting House on the above photo. I do remember walking along the narrow corridor leading towards the studios. I was shaking with anticipation, if only very slightly. I mean, this sort of thing didn’t happen to many people, and certainly not from my town. Stepping into the unknown isn’t so bad when you know that the box of delights awaits you.

 

Okay, so it sounds like I was something of a fan of Noel Edmonds, but it wasn’t that; it was being aware of the Radio 1 machine, that it was like a personality in its own right, its influence and how it affected so many millions of listeners. And yes, I enjoyed listening to the Breakfast Show, and I could be accused of failing to provide objective articles about my subjects if they just happened to be my personal favourites. Yet we should remember that an interviewer’s determination to find fault and dwell on the negatives is destructive for all concerned. Maybe that has become particularly true in recent times, where positive means pathetic and negativity rules, but that sort of journalism was not for me. It still isn’t.

 

Anyway, not all of my subjects were my favourite people, and a prime example was “he who must not be named”. And I don’t mean Lord Voldemort.

 

So let there be no doubt that, had I found the captain of the iconic Radio 1 Breakfast Show a right pig (no disrespect to real pigs), there would have been no doubt in my write up. Yes, I'd have been disappointed but then gone on to mention the plusses, making subtle references to the not-so-good stuff. After all, I was wearing blue- and not rose-tinted spectacles that particular day.

 

At that time Radio 1 was using two continuity suites, so named because that’s where the various sources are formed for the continuous output. These were in the extension to Broadcasting House that was built around 1961. We entered the engineer’s cubicle, with its bank of gauges and dials. This was where the studio’s output levels were checked before being sent to the transmitter. Through its soundproof window Noel Edmonds could be seen, sitting facing to our right. The sound of the broadcast could be heard through speakers, and when Noel put on a record we were able to go through the door to the left of the window, and we were in Con B. It was surprisingly small. So much power; so little space.

 

 

He welcomed us and asked us to grab a chair. I sat on his left so I was facing the engineer’s window, and with an excellent view of what Noel was doing to create the amazingly smooth output.

 

There were three record decks (sorry – grams), on which he cued the next record whilst one was already playing. I’d seen John Noakes doing this on Blue Peter. By placing the pickup arm down with the turntable not revolving and then winding the record round by hand until the music just began, then winding it back until the stylus was bang on the very start, this was how they got records to begin playing right on cue, leaving out the silent lead-in at the beginning. Every record was prepared this way on pre-fade (so the audio was not being broadcast). There were no such things as CDs in those days, nor computer software to smooth the processes; everything was analogue, done by hand and it was all live. And the final result was amazing. Today, we should marvel at just how smoothly everything went.

 

If a fast piece was being followed by a slow song, then an appropriate jingle would be used to put a hold on the pace so that listeners would be switched to the right mood, or at least prepared. Just subtle little things perhaps, but all part of the magic.

 

When possible, in between speaking on air, Noel explained to us what he was doing.

 

“When people are critical of disc jockeys I don’t think they appreciate exactly what is involved,” he said. “I reckon to be doing the job of a technical operator, announcer and a producer – three jobs in one.”

 

At one point, he began to sort through a pile of BBC sound effects records. “Usually the one I want is at the bottom,” he said. And it was. After he had played this “snoring” sound effect – the speed was 33 rpm – he exchanged the disc for a 45 rpm … and failed to change the turntable speed.

 

“I’d be surprised if anybody noticed, “ he later said. “Things like this happen all the time, and I think one of the exciting things about the job is to have a disaster happen and not let on. There’s a terrible temptation to comment on the air, and I think that up to a point people like to know that you are fallible. This is the fascination of pop radio of this kind. However, I like to pride myself that on a really bad mistake I can get out of it without making it obvious.

 

“I’ve done them all. The most irritating for any disc jockey is to pick up the record that’s playing.”

 

A bloke propped himself in the doorway and they had a conversation about a fault with Noel’s wife’s car phone. It was a few seconds until it dawned on me just who it was – Tony Blackburn. He would be taking over at 9 o’clock.

 

At around that time he was regularly seen on a television advert in a supermarket, persuading a little girl’s mum to change her washing up liquid to Fairy because it was kind to your hands. At the end he signed his autograph on a bottle of Fairy Liquid. Nice touch, I thought. But right there, right then, he didn’t look at me, nor did he acknowledge my presence until he was about to leave – and only then because I asked if he would sign my Visitor’s Book. And, for good measure, I told him that I didn’t have a Fairy Liquid bottle with me. Funny, eh? He scribbled his signature and sort of flung the book back at me. “I don’t work for them any more,” he said and left. Noel looked a little embarrassed and later told me that it was a sore spot with Tony.

 

 

I wasn’t a fan of Tony Blackburn, but I do believe that, especially in recent years, he’s come on a bit since then, and now I would give him the time of day.

 

Another visitor to the studio that morning was Derek Chinnery, the Head of Radio 1, who did say hello. This man was a celebrity in his own right, albeit unwittingly, as he was responsible for compiling the BBC Top 20 chart in the 1960s – the very one that became Britain’s leading pop chart.

 

After passing Radio 1 over to Tony Blackburn, Noel’s engineer came in and handed him a reel of audio tape. I got the impression that this was a recording of that morning’s show. I spoke with Noel in the studio over the next hour. Being interviewed on tape must have been a new experience for him and he wanted to make certain that it was just for my own use. Neither of us could have believed that it would be listened to again over forty years later. Anyhow, he talked freely, answering my questions and generally chatting, which is exactly what I wanted: natural and unforced.

 

I’ve already mentioned how privileged were the presenters to have millions of listeners. I mentioned this to Noel and asked how careful they had to be.

 

“One has to be very, very careful about getting up on a soapbox,” he said, going on to mention one of the other disc jockeys who had slammed a famous pop group the day before. “That sort of thing alienates the people who feel happy with you.”

 

I asked him how much freedom he had to play his own choice of records. The answer was very little. His record and album of the week were chosen by him, but all Radio 1’s music was chosen by a panel of six producers from a playlist of sixty records, although weekends were exempt from that. This led me to mention those records that I felt certain had been made successful by the BBC, and especially by him.

 

“Various people in the BBC try and deny it. I know that I can help a record to be a hit by the [number of] plays and by what I say, and there have been occasions when I have really wanted a record to be a hit, and I’ve thought ‘god, that isn’t going to be’ and I’ve felt that it would be good for the charts, if that doesn’t sound too pompous. And I just felt that a certain artist really ought to have success.”

 

At this point, Noel noticed someone in the engineer’s cubicle. Opening the door, he apologised and asked if she wanted to come inside to empty the rubbish bin. He continued:

 

“I mean Ralph McTell stands out, classic example, Streets of London, which I wanted to be a hit record at Christmas, and by playing it and making certain comments about it I was able to assist that record. All radio stations like to claim they can make a hit record. I don’t think that I alone can make a hit record. I think the programme can make a good record a very big success. We can’t make a bad record a hit.”

 

Listening to the tape, I realised that we began taking the photos just fifteen minutes or so into the interview. Strange. I thought that had been done at the end. Noel asked if he could comb his hair. For the photos we used my Kodak Instamatic camera. He told me how impressed he was by the economy measures (if only he’d known just how far they didn’t go), then I began directing him in various poses.

 

 

Economy camera

 

To say the photos were not taken with top quality equipment, I think they came out rather well. Noel also mentioned that Tony “usually goes spare” with all the flashes that bounce off the adjoining studio window.

 

You’re not sitting on my knee,” he warned when it was time for the two of us.

 

 

To make the photos look less posed, I asked him to tell me how he got into broadcasting.

 

“And I’m supposed to look at you while I’m doing all this?” I told him yes and, like the professional, he carried on.

 

 

“When I was at school, I was very interested in doing a bit of disc jockeying and I wanted to get into broadcasting. I think that was the main thing, and at that time the pirate radio stations were going and it seemed very much the in-thing to be a disc jockey – and it’s bloody difficult trying to talk at the same time as taking a picture with me trying to look into a camera!” We laughed. “It’s not like television at all because I’m waiting for the flash to go!”

 

Speaking of which, I burnt my forehead on one of the hot flashbulbs. Yes, those damned things could only be used once and remained bloody hot for some minutes afterwards. The type I used were in a block of four and the cube had to be turned round to set up for the next shot.

 

 

Noel’s USP, apart from his wit and inventiveness, was his smart appearance. He told me that in the days when he was trying to get a decent job (in radio), Alan Freeman gave him a piece of advice: “Whatever happens, be yourself.” He’d never been conscious of trying for an image, yet he was aware some of his colleagues liked to wear jeans and T-shirt.

 

“It’s the least you can do to look smart,” he said. “I decided that by wearing three-piece suits on Top of the Pops I would look a bit different to everybody else, because Savile was wearing anything that seemed to cover him, and Tony was looking very casual, and Travis tended to wear strange things. And I’m fortunate that I do look quite smart in a suit. I wore one on Top of the Pops and I got 500 letters the next week from people saying ‘Gosh, didn’t you look smart?’ So I thought I’d stick with suits.”

 

 

Then we spoke about his transition into television and his reluctance to ditch radio, which had been very good to him. Radio was still a very exciting medium, he told me, and went on to explain that with Top of the Pops, for example, his input was pretty much limited by the existing format of the show, whereas with his radio programme he could say pretty much what he wanted between records. It has struck me in the years since the interview that eventually he found his Saturday evening TV shows such as The Late, Late Breakfast Show and Noel’s House Party as perfect outlets for his trademark inventiveness and wit that made his Radio 1 Breakfast Show so special.

 

Wellie stickers? Remember them? That was an idea that came off the top of the head. It was raining so hard one morning that Noel said no one should submit their wellies to anything like that.

 

“Wellies have a really hard time, they ought to be loved, and so we thought wellie stickers to brighten up your horrible black wellies. We launched the Breakfast Show wellie sticker and I had a wellie spot and made awful wellie jokes. And we had 5,000 letters in the first week from people wanting wellie stickers. We were only giving two out on each programme! And that sort of idea, that just happens, you could never ever sit down and think of.”

 

This was typical of the behind-the-scenes stories that he told.

 

Source: unknown

 

Desmond Duck? This was a character that Noel had little conversations with – or pretended to – and rubber ducks were sent out to listeners. The idea came about because the Greater London Council was spending thousands of pounds to cut steps in the Grand Union Canal to prevent ducklings from becoming waterlogged.

 

 

Flynn the milkman used to drive his milk float with its rattling crates and bottles to the studio every morning at around 7.50am and have a short conversation with Noel on some topic of the day. I had suspected for a long time that these character parts were pre-recorded and were, in fact, Noel himself playing the other part. Before we left, Noel asked if I wanted to meet Desmond Duck and he produced a kazoo from a shelf by where I was sitting. It was one of my claims to fame that Desmond Duck personally said “good morning” to me. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking.

 

I tell you, this was ALL amazing stuff and I marvelled at the amount of planning and preparation that was involved in producing a show like this. Although his programme began at 7am, Noel was in the studio at 6am recording such bits and pieces.

 

“And in that hour I read all the newspapers and pull out any bits that I think might be of value to the programme.

 

“I like to be well-informed of what’s happening in the news because there can be some horrible coincidences in some silly joke I might make.”

 

When I asked him about the jingles, he demonstrated how they worked. There was a large rack of these and I’d noticed that they were on cartridges, similar to, but not quite the same as, the 8-track ones that some people were using for in-car music. Using cartridges for jingles and station idents meant that no rewinding was required as these were looped tapes. Noel inserted one into a cart machine and waited a second or two for the ready light to come on. Then he said it was cued and, pressing the play button, the jingle would play instantly: “Radio One … the friendly station…” I’ve recently found that these were made by a US company called JAM and they are so memorable.

 

 

One of the last-minute questions (like the “banal” one with Gilbert O’Sullivan) caused some embarrassment on my part. It concerned Simon Dee, a past DJ whose popularity had led to his being one of Britain’s highest-paid TV presenters, for who things went wrong and whose rise to superstardom was matched by his spectacular fall from grace. Someone had suggested that, in view of Noel’s break into TV presenting (in addition to Top of the Pops, that was), did he think that he might become like Dee …?

 

My professionalism had been thwarted by a lack of meticulous preparation. Do you realise how uncomfortable it is for me to remember that piece of tactless rubbish? This is what happens when you don’t think carefully about every detail of an interview.

 

“Thank you very much indeed. Did you have to choose him?”

 

From this point I felt that things could only get better.

 

However, listening to it again after 40 years, I have to say that it’s nowhere near as bad as I’ve remembered. Noel relieved my embarrassment by answering the question straight away and I think I got away with it. Maybe I’m being too hard on myself. Lesson learnt, though.

 

Pushing 10 o’clock, we got ready to leave and Noel walked us along the corridor. Stopping outside the toilet, he shook our hands and we said goodbye to him.

 

“Well, thanks for coming to visit me,” he smiled. “I’m just going into my office.”

 

A few minutes later we were back in the outside world, baking in the bright sunshine on the pavement at Portland Place, and the inside of Radio 1 seemed very far away.

 

 

 

Postscript

 

As I’ve been thinking back to my 100 minutes or so in this most impressive of media buildings, I must admit to having developed an interest in the design and layout of Broadcasting House as it was at that time. I’m not the only one who has such an interest in this iconic edifice and there’s a website run by Roger Beckwith, Old BBC Broadcasting Equipment and Memories

 

 

 

 

 

Anne Aston

Actress, TV presenter

Interviewed 27 January 1976

 

 

ANNE ROSE TO STARDOM by being the hostess of the TV game show The Golden Shot that ran on Sunday afternoons from 1969-75. Its popularity was in no doubt due to its presenters who, over its eight-year run, included Bob Monkhouse, Norman Vaughan (who, incidentally, devised the TV game show Bullseye) and Charlie Williams. The show’s premise was that viewers at home phoned in to the live show, directing a blindfolded cameraman with a crossbow attached to his camera to fire at a target and win prizes. The selling point about live shows is that things can so easily go wrong, yet no one phoning from home ever directed the cameraman to run amok and cause mayhem. If they did well, like hitting the prescribed target and not injuring anyone, then they would take part in the next round the following week at the studio. This is where “left a bit … right a bit … right a bit more …” came from. Oh, and contestants hadn’t to forget to say “Fire!” or the show would simply stop. Anne’s job was to do the scoring (where exactly the bolt had landed), which she did in 181 shows [Imdb.com (not the most reliable source, I’m afraid)].

 

Her USP (not that the abbreviation existed back then) was that she had problems working out the numbers; simple maths didn’t appear to be one of her strengths, and the audiences loved it. It wasn’t true, of course, as she explained to me when we met in her dressing room at the Bradford Alhambra theatre. She was playing the part of Goldilocks, starring alongside Terry Scott and Jackie Pallo.

 

Now, when I say “we met her”, I don’t want you to imagine that I thought there’d be any danger of having to kip down on a park bench in Bradford, but my assistant just happened to own a matching ITT SL75 to use as back-up.

 

So yes, as well as a presenter Anne was also an actress, having appeared in comedy plays in theatre (such as There’s a Girl in My Soup) and an episode each of Jason King (1971) and The Adventurer (1973), as well as a feature film with Frankie Howard, Up the Chastity Belt (1972). She’d not done any further films since then, she told me, because the ones offered had “been such rubbish”.

 

 

I’ve found these unfinished notes that I made on 28 January:

 

The walls were covered with newspaper cuttings, a poster advertising her fashion company, a rack of her costumes for the pantomime, greetings cards of all sizes and one or two carefully selected letters from the younger members of the audience. The lights surrounding the dressing table mirror glowed and, relaxing in a chair at the far end of the room, was the girl who was [END]

 

The problem back then was that background information couldn’t be accessed at the click of a mouse; everything had to be obtained from books, magazines and newspapers, usually in a reference library. And it was time-consuming, especially as information about Anne seemed a bit thin on the ground – and that was putting it lightly – so getting her to chat would be the best way and see what would come out. Yes, I had a few leading questions to get the conversation going, just in case, but I was to learn much about interviewing with this particular victim.

 

Having spoken with her on the phone (“This is Miss Aston,” she said, after I’d mistaken her for a PA), we arranged to meet after the matinee performance of Goldilocks late one Tuesday afternoon. She wasn’t at all like the “dippy” persona (and I use the term with respect) that she used on The Golden Shot, and was pretty much in control. The word “astute” also seems appropriate, as you’ll see.

 

The first thing she did was to show me what is known in the trade as a “press handout”, that an interviewer can take away for factual assistance. The problem was that this was the only one that she had, so I couldn’t keep it. Fast-forward forty years and I would take a photo of it with my phone. In fact, I’d be able to download it or at least get it by email. Okay, so I had a camera back then, but not one of sufficient resolution to be able to read text. I could have done with one of those matchbox-sized spy cameras that The Saint, Danger Man and The Man from UNCLE always seemed to have handy. It would be a doddle photographing full-sized documents with one of those. Ah well.

 

Listening to the tape, my voice is so much stronger than it was for previous interviews. I seemed to be more confident, despite not having much in the way of material. Maybe I was compensating.

 

Having broken all box office records, the pantomime had been extended, so we talked about being on stage, working with a live audience, the repartee. And, now that I can put my interviews in some sort of perspective, it’s interesting that Anne mentioned what it’s like going out to meet a pantomime audience, saying “ ‘Hello, how are you,’ and all that sort of chat, and getting them all enthusiastic. And that’s how it starts, that’s what you have to do with pantomime. You have to talk to them, you have to get them to answer back, and that’s the whole secret.”

 

Yes, and that was the very technique I was developing now whilst interviewing her.

 

I appeared in a couple of pantomimes many years ago, and maybe she sensed my sympathetic vibrations and opened up to me. When I mentioned that things could go wrong, she came out with lots of little anecdotes – including one when she was appearing in Cinderella with Tony Blackburn. He began singing and the scenery started to fall down. Yeah, I remember getting a little warm glow when she told me that story.

 

Then we got talking about her interest in fashion and the fact that she owned a dress manufacturing company … I mean, this was completely new information. The upshot was that she wasn’t investing everything in the fickle show business. And the scoop was that she had finished recording a new television programme for Saturday mornings, all about bicycles.

 

I got her age wrong; I thought she was 27. Then we tried to work out where I’d got that from.

 

“I think it said in the TV Times I was 27 – because I was furious!”

 

And then the information ran dry like a tap in the Sahara, at which point she was literally scratching her head and saying, “What else can I tell you about …?”

 

There was much more to the real Anne, despite the fact that all she was wearing was a dressing gown, slippers and a few metal hair clips. Hmm, it wasn’t looking too promising for some photos then, was it? But I asked anyway.

 

“I’m not really made up for pictures,” she said. “I’ve got too much make-up on. I look like a doll.” When I explained that a photo was an important aspect of the published article, she said, “I’ll have a chat to my manager and see what he suggests about that. You just sit there a minute.”

 

She returned with her manager, Eddie Trevett, and said she had some composites that I could have.

 

Courtesy of Eddie Tre-Vett T-V Managements

 

It’s strange that for almost forty years I have remembered this as being a bit of a messy interview, but living through it again I can say that I’ve been very much mistaken. It went well and Anne was charming and helpful, even to the point of saying as I left that, should there be anything else I’d like to ask, all I need do is call the theatre and she would come to the phone.

 

I left with:

 

*
p<>{color:#00f;}. forty-odd minutes’ worth of material. much of it new

 

*
p<>{color:#00f;}. a selection of publicity photographs

 

*
p<>{color:#00f;}. lessons that were put in place and ensured guaranteed success for future meetings, such as the Dana interview.

 

I’ve re-read the finished article and it reads fine. Looking over stuff I’ve written many years ago is a bit like reading someone else’s work, so I look at it critically. I have no idea why I’ve been beating myself up about this one for all these years.

 

 

And finally …

 

An article in the Express dated 18 July 2015 tells that Anne actually married Eddie, her manager, whom she met whilst in pantomime with Tony Blackburn.

 

Silly links

 

Anne worked on The Golden Shot with the popular British comedian and TV presenter Bob Monkhouse, who also appeared in the very first Carry on film, Carry on Sergeant (1958), in which was the actress Shirley Eaton, who I met in 1999.

 

She was hiding a glowing cigarette beneath the table (this was before the ban on smoking in public, but it wasn’t allowed in that particular building). She told me that she preferred Sean Connery as James Bond – Shirley was the girl painted from head to toe in Goldfinger (1964) – although she worked with another actor who later became Bond, Roger Moore, in three episodes of The Saint (1962), including the very first. I remember pointing this out to her, just to show that I was hot on research.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dana

Singer and Eurovision Song Contest winner 1970

Interviewed 11 March 1976

 

 

UNTIL I RE-READ the magazine article for this particular interview from 1976, I’d forgotten just how difficult it can be to pin down some celebrities, although there can be perfectly good reasons for their elusiveness.

 

Dana’s Have a Nice Day album cover, 1975

 

Dana was still at school in 1970 when she won the Eurovision Song Contest for Ireland, singing All Kinds of Everything. Other young singers have done the same since then, maybe attempting to cash in on the youth aspect, but not quite able to form a prolonged professional singing career like Dana has done; she was not a one-hit wonder. By 1976, she was an entertainer of a high standard and was doing cabaret at Batley Variety Club. And I wanted to meet her. Maybe I was looking for a chink in her image, something to assure me that perfection doesn’t really exist.

 

I arranged with Dana’s father (you can’t go far wrong if you make friends with one of the parents – that goes for celebs as well as girlfriends), who was also her manager, to interview this attractive young woman (she was actually older than me) at her hotel.

 

But I arrived there only to be told that she had moved out. Have you any idea how crushing that was? It felt as though the door to my international journalism career had been firmly slammed in my face. The lady on reception took pity on me and, not wanting to have to call in a firm of industrial cleaners, she told me to which hotel Dana had moved. I don’t think you’d get that sort of help nowadays, where people seem to take sadistic delight in claiming stuff about data protection.

 

The new hotel was closer to the club, so I suppose it made sense, and after a trip up the M1, I parked down the side of what was then the Dragonara Hotel in Leeds. There was some building work going on around the back and the road had suffered a spillage of sand. There were no parking restriction signs, and there were indeed other cars parked there, so I went into a spare space from where another car had just left.

 

Inside the hotel, there was no sign of the singer. Every fifteen minutes or so I enquired at reception, but she hadn’t returned. After two hours I was pretty disappointed. Failure was an alien concept to me, yet here I was sitting in a hotel reception and watching the hands of a clock, thinking that maybe I was aiming too high and just needed to lower my sights a bit. But doing that wasn’t at all what my articles were about.

 

I would ask just one last time and if she wasn’t there, then I would admit defeat and give up. The lady at reception picked up the phone to call the room, then looked towards the lift: its doors were open and there was Dana, dressed in boots, a winter coat and hat. Apparently, the lift had stopped there to let out her father, Robert Brown. I was over to him like a shot and reminded him about the appointment.

 

He nodded. “Come back same time tomorrow. We’ll be here,” he said.

 

Outside, I was greeted with a parking ticket, yet somehow the other cars had been spared. When I scraped away some of the sand, that’s when I saw the double yellow lines. Yes, they must have been under those other cars, too. But then I was just a stranger, not one of the builders who, I assumed, had made some illicit arrangement with the local constabulary.

 

That evening, Dana was on the local TV news programme, visiting a hospital, I think it was, and wearing that very coat and hat. It occurred to me that when you’re a celebrity in town, everybody wants a piece of you. Fair enough.

I didn’t have to wait at all the next day because there was a message waiting for me at the reception: I was to go to the club that evening and meet Dana after the show. At last! The project was working out fine, and I would get to see her performance.

 

I don’t remember much about getting into Batley Variety Club that evening so it can’t have been difficult. I probably told the doorman that I had an appointment with Dana. Yes, and it runs in my mind now that her father had left a message to let me in.

 

The show was superb; it had to be seen to be believed – that’s what I remember thinking at the time – and made all the more special with it being, well, in real life rather than on television. It’s the atmosphere, the immediacy, the realisation that the audience is reacting to the star being there that makes the difference. The range of musical tastes was extensive; there was indeed something for everyone.

 

A couple in the audience was emigrating to Australia the very next day and one of the parents requested that Dana sing All Kinds of Everything which, she said, she had stopped including in her live sets, but she would do it now as a special request. And she made it an extraordinary rendition.

 

During her performance she changed outfits a few times, all very quickly, sometimes offstage and, on one occasion, onstage, with the help of a man, I think (‘cos I wasn’t really watching him) who sort of got her into a blue, low-back dress. It was very well done, with plenty of humour and daring, and got cheers from the audience. One of them was me, caught up in the spirit of the performance.

 

At 24, there was no sign of the schoolgirl who had sold over 2 million copies of her winning song – apart from the voice, that is. She finished with her latest hit record, It’s Gonna be a Cold, Cold Christmas, complete with sparkling musical climax, and then thanked the audience. Crikey, I had the little hairs up on the back of my neck.

 

Afterwards, having shaken hands with Mr Brown, I was taken to the outer dressing room where Dana emerged, wearing pink trousers, a red top and white woollen jacket. I shook hands with her and she put me at ease by feeling my jacket and joking about my being lucky that they let me into the club wearing leather. She asked how long the interview would take. About twenty minutes, I said, so she asked if it would be okay for her to see to the people who were waiting for her outside. Yes, there did seem to be a large congregation and I mentioned this.

 

“They’re all my family, shipped in from all over England,” she said, joking.

 

Some of her close friends were there bringing her gifts which they’d been made to open before being allowed inside the club.

 

Whilst Dana met her fans, I was sitting across from her pianist, whose name I didn’t get. I wouldn’t make that mistake again. Also playing for Lulu, he would be worth interviewing in his own right, so interesting were his anecdotes. On one occasion someone (I think it was the other band members) used Sellotape to stick all the piano keys together, so that when he played the first chord of the overture … well, you can guess how it sounded. I’ve since discovered that this sort of prank was typical of Batley Variety Club. Another story tells of when James Corrigan, the owner, invited Shirley Bassey out for a meal, for which she dressed for the part, as you can imagine. But Corrigan and his wife took her to a nearby roadside fish and chips shop.

 

Eventually, Dana returned and I was shown into the dressing room where she sat facing me, just where Gilbert O’Sullivan had done a couple of years previously. Drinking a glass of milk, she asked if I’d received the message okay. It was then I noticed the most striking feature of this Irish girl was the deep brown of her eyes.

 

She did, however, look rather tired. Putting my prepared questions aside, this was my lead-in to a Parkinson-style conversation, by asking how exhausting was that type of work. She told me she had been getting to bed at three and four o’clock and getting up between seven and eight. That’s when I asked if it played havoc with her voice, which led to me mentioning that Karen Carpenter had said that the only therapy for her voice was sleep. Dana agreed with that, and our chatting went on.

 

Incidentally, Dana began as a nickname at school, she told me, and is Gaelic for mischievous.

 

All the time we were speaking there was a water heater or some piece of clapped-out machinery humming and rattling away in the shower area behind her. At one point it ceased, only to crank up again a couple of minutes later. I don’t think I got to mention all of the points I’d prepared, but that didn’t matter because the meeting was so natural and relaxed, and the information I was getting on tape was rather special. She signed a few bits and pieces for me because I liked autographs and messages to be reproduced with the text, which wasn’t always possible; magazines were good, but newspapers in particular were somewhat behind the times in those days.

 

Then it was time for the photographs. “Shall we just move the towels out of the way,” said Dana, shifting them from the shower door. It sounds as if I took some of her, which I only vaguely remember, although the one of us together is reproduced here.

 

 

As I packed up to leave, she complimented me on my technique, mentioning how intelligent were my questions, and railed against other interviewers who, having done no research whatsoever, turned up with set questions that they would ask everyone, no matter how inappropriate. On my way out I thanked her father.

 

The delay in getting to meet her had worked out well as I had got to see her performance – but did I get to see the real Dana? At the time I was certain of it, and now, almost forty years on, I’m even more convinced.

 

It’s rather strange, but I’m writing this in 2015 and suddenly I am remembering the perfume she was wearing. Would you believe it, after all that time? She was simply a joy to be with and, having left her, I felt good, enriched by the experience, my feet hardly touching the wet Batley tarmac. I was learning all the time, building a sixth sense, feeling the vibrations, detecting sub-texts; it was organic.

 

Walking back to the car, I remembered what her pianist had said to me:

 

“It’s very nice to work with someone who is very successful and who also has the talent.”

 

Yeah, and I knew just what he meant.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Esther Rantzen

Television presenter

Interviewed 18 January 1977

 

 

THAT’S LIFE WAS a BBC 1 magazine-type programme, dealing with a mix of serious investigations – usually consumer disputes – satire, and a touch of light entertainment. In other words, consumer quirks and quibbles. Running for over 21 years, its presenter throughout was Esther Rantzen.

 

 

In January 1977 the show was into its fifth season and had become something of a British institution, with viewing figures for the 1976 series reaching 10 million – not bad going for the Sunday evening peak slot.

 

I don’t remember what spurred me to enquire about interviewing Esther, but I was a viewer of the show and particularly liked the odd odes performed – and often written by – the show’s resident comedian Cyril Fletcher. His catchphrase “Pin back yer lug ‘oles” accompanied his very precise, yet pleasant, English speaking voice. For some time I’d been writing little silly poems (and, like Fletcher’s, always in rhyme and always in meter).

 

Screen cap of Cyril from That’s Life

 

I remember being impressed with the issues that the show tackled, and its ability to balance tragedy with humour. It was indeed a talking point amongst many. Maybe I fancied visiting the iconic BBC Television Centre; I don’t know. But I received a letter from one of the production assistants, Janice Livingston, who asked me to call and make an appointment. Her name appeared on some of the show’s end credits, but I’ve not been able to find any trace of her online.

 

The whole thing was organised so perfectly. I was to meet Esther in the BBC Club at Lime Grove Studios, so no Television Centre, then. Apparently, the show was recorded at Lime Grove in Shepherd’s Bush, and that is where the That’s Life office was based.

 

 

Now, it wasn’t until many years later that I learnt a few things about this particular BBC outcrop. It was the first building in the UK to be constructed in 1915 solely for film production. The Gaumont Film Company made some great classics there, including The Wicked Lady with James Mason and Margaret Lockwood. After the BBC bought it in 1949, it was where the early series of Dr Who were produced in Studio D during the 1960s; in the 1950s the BBC Watch with Mother series were filmed there – yes, my childhood friends Andy Pandy; Bill and Ben; Rag, Tag and Bobtail; The Woodentops all “lived” down Lime Grove, as well as the lovely lady who looked so much like Maid Marion in The Adventures of Robin Hood – my first case of celebrity spotting – who just happened to present Picture Book.

 

This was now January 1977 and I was totally oblivious to how much that building had been so instrumental in my early life. It was demolished in 1993, by the way.

 

It was another full day in London. There was more money this time, so we (I had another bench-sharer accompanying me) went down or up or wherever on the train. If August 1975 had been the hottest day, this one might easily have been the coldest. At least I got to call in to see my editor, which I did without making an appointment, but was made very welcome all the same.

 

I had to be at the BBC by around five o’clock, I think it was, so we got to the dark, narrow street that was Lime Grove in good time. I remember how odd it felt that the BBC’s building, which was large and imposing, was shared with terraced houses. Arriving with around half an hour to spare is one thing, but it wasn’t as if there were any shops to look inside (and keep warm), so we tramped up and down Lime Grove, blowing into our hands, waiting for the right time to go into the reception.

 

My assistant seemed rather concerned that I hadn’t prepared any questions. I’d been joking with her that I would be doing this one off the top of my head, but at one point it looked as if she might leave me if I didn’t own up to being fully prepared. I don’t remember just how long I stretched out the pretence. It was, in fact, my very next interview when I went without any notes, just to see if I could, yet I had actually done the research, so that one turned out fine.

 

Nevertheless, I never knew what would be waiting for me with these interviews, and so different did it feel to normality that it was almost like stepping through the television screen.

 

The BBC reception was quite small. The lady there said she would let Esther know that we had arrived, and we sat on the right of the desk, facing some steps to the left of the reception desk, against which a man was leaning, watching us. For some reason he seemed curiously interested. It was another Tony Blackburn moment: this was Barry Norman, presenter of Film ’76, although no doubt he was now working on Film ’77. The presenter of Nationwide, Sue Lawley, also passed through. Then a woman in a fur coat appeared in the doorway to our right, then went back again.

 

I nudged my bench companion. “I think that was her,” I hissed, fearing we’d blown it. But the receptionist came to our rescue, saying something like, “Oh, Esther! She didn’t know it was you,” and she said she’d ring through, then asked a man to show us the way into the BBC Club.

 

Now, this was a sort of pub or meeting and relaxation place for the BBC workers, situated at the back of the North Block in Smith’s Yard. Apparently, so I’ve read from the online descriptions of the building, it was an intricate route from the main reception to the club at the rear, and I don’t remember any of it, though I’m told by Martin Kempton, lighting director, who worked there on occasion between 1976 and 1991 (the studios, not necessarily the Club), that it would take less than a minute to walk from Reception to the Club. But it’s a bit of a blur, I’m afraid. My memory, usually so precise, has failed me.

 

We were shown into the large, dimly lit room, which made it hard for celebrity-spotting, but there was no mistaking Esther Rantzen – TV producer, presenter and journalist specialising in consumer affairs – sitting at a table in her dark fake fur coat: the very one that she wore on the show’s opening titles as she marched through the streets of London’s Shepherd’s Bush, leading a growing army of followers. If you can picture the scene, I’m sitting at 6 o’clock, Esther is 2 o’clock. There was someone at 7 o’clock, but I didn’t notice who he was until Esther introduced me to him – it was Cyril Fletcher! I mean, how amazing was that? To his left was the young production assistant, Janice. This, said Esther, was the one who had arranged everything, and I thanked her. Another at the table was Henry Murray, who produced the show alongside Esther.

 

Cyril had also done some acting

 

There was lots of noise: people drinking, the clashing of glasses, talking, some revelry, the occasional public announcement. My tape recording of this is like a little pocket of time, captured for eternity. If only more of it was audible!

 

I had the cassette recorders switched on straight away (you never knew what you might miss), but Esther asked if we were okay for time (yes, we were) and if we could leave the actual interview until some people had left. At that point she switched off my cousin’s recorder (the standby machine) and I switched off mine.

 

 

So there we were, sitting around a table about thirty inches in diameter (760cm in new money), as various things were discussed about the programme, but mainly it was a celebration of the latest viewing figures for the previous Sunday’s show: it had attracted eleven and a half million. The That’s Life team were astonished, so Esther told me, and that was only the second show in that series. The previous season had reached ten million. This was top Sunday night entertainment. Okay, so many people these days like to go on about the show’s unlikely mix of tragedy with features about talking dogs and humorously-shaped vegetables, yet these armchair experts fail to see that this eclectic mix mirrored what life is all about: light and dark, loss and gain, sadness and hilarity, and so on. That was the show’s very essence, why it worked. That is not official, but just how I saw it at the time. It wasn’t difficult to see this, yet the whiners are still going on about it being an unlikely and unfortunate combination (I believe these people are actually copying from one another, perpetuating a myth, some of whom weren’t even alive when the show was on). The viewing figures spoke for themselves.

 

Cyril bought a round of drinks, and my friend and I were involved in the conversation. Did I have any ideas for the programme? What – me? Did I have any …? You see, back in those days, people on that side of the TV screen tended to be kept separate from those of us on this side; there was a discernible divide. But right then, right there, these were not untouchable people: they were real, tangible, as ordinary as you and me. But they were in that very esteemed position, like I mentioned in the Noel Edmonds story, of being able to communicate with an audience running into millions.

 

The previous weekend on the Michael Parkinson Show, Esther had experienced a bit of a run-in with comedian Bernard Manning, in which she had taken him to task about making racist jokes. He had, skilfully – I think Esther would agree – controlled the audience, using it as a weapon against her so that when he described her as a “trainee corpse”, they laughed. I told her that I had felt bad watching it. I mean, I’m not a supporter of political correctness, and back then the term may have been around, but was not bandied around, branding comments and humour that might make some laugh whilst others cringed. Nevertheless, Esther made her point, and instead of Manning – who had, after all, presumably been invited on the show to be himself and not to do a turn – went for her with cheap, below the belt remarks.

 

We talked about this until it was time for Cyril to leave. He was wearing a fawn jacket-type coat and trilby. Grabbing the Visitor’s Book, I said:

 

“Er, Mr Manning, would you please sign the Visitor’s Book?”

 

I distinctly remember the nose and eyes peering down at me, and that voice so long associated with Odd Odes saying, “The name’s Fletcher, my boy.”

 

That page in the Visitor’s Book reads “To Graham. Dreaming of thee. Cyril Fletcher”.

 

 

For a time I believed it said, “Dreaming of them”, and might be some comment on my embarrassing mistake with his name. But my editor said something about Cyril Fletcher being famous for quoting “I’m dreaming, oh my darling love, of thee”. I can’t put my hands on that very letter, though I am a pathological hoarder and will still have it somewhere, but I’ve remembered it and now, with the benefit of all this wealth of information that we have, literally, at our fingertips (or at least that’s what we use to click the mouse button), I’ve found that this quotation, from a poem by Edgar Wallace, is what “made” Cyril Fletcher, so he claimed, when he was persuaded to broadcast this in 1938. It was performing it with a caricature Cockney accent that made the difference, no doubt because it would be so much at odds with the very precise tone normally used by him, as well as the other voices using the well-pronounced BBC English of the time. So that’s a piece of broadcasting history I managed to obtain.

 

A man came through the doorway behind me and kissed my assistant in the middle of her head. Then he stepped round and apologised, explaining that he thought she was Jo Murray (the wife of Henry Murray, maybe?). Esther laughed. Did she shake her head as if to say, “Well, I don’t know what he thought he was playing at…” I seem to have a vague memory of that. Anyhow, he kissed Esther – and it wasn’t a quick peck in the middle of her head. Then he bought some drinks (a lager and a Martini for me and my assistant) and joined us at the table.

 

There were other members of the production team there, including the programme’s researchers. “Yobbos like that lot,” Esther said, motioning to her colleagues, and went on to explain how marvellous was the research on That’s Life, and how creative and thorough it was. She really appreciated her team and I envied them being part of something so worthwhile and satisfying.

 

She spoke at length to me about a television programme being unable to change people’s minds, but it could sometimes add information. On That’s Life they were doing this drop by drop, doing it acceptably, with an easy formula so that people could watch for pleasure and come out at the end with a bit more information that might come in useful. I’m not certain if this was meant to be part of the interview as it sounded very much like a one-on-one conversation, with everyone else at the table otherwise engaged.

 

After signing the Visitor’s Book and an autograph for the article, she asked if I had enough, and told me to “relax and have a drink”. Then she invited me to tell her about me, which was a bit of a shock. I think I might be surprised now, at this age, but at the time, listening back to it, I was not at all fazed, and gave an immediate answer.

 

Telling her that I was trying to break into bigger and better journalism, she said, “You’ll make it.”

 

“Pardon?” I said. She repeated it, following with some advice and suggesting that I make a scrapbook of my articles and show my work to certain people … and maybe some television programmes …

 

When there was talk of Esther and her team going somewhere for a meal, I thought it was time for us to leave. It was already late and we needed to make our way to Kings Cross Station. I think we were told we could get out through the glassed area to my right, and not by the way we had entered.

 

Looking through both Martin Kempton’s website and one by Arthur Dungate, it is very likely that we left via Smith’s Yard and along a passage at the side of the studios’ North Block and back into Lime Grove.

 

Afterwards, as we were walking through night time London, my assistant spoke up.

 

“Did you recognise the man who kissed me?” No, I didn’t. Had I missed something important? “It was Desmond Wilcox.”

 

The name rang a bit of a bell, I thought, but later I learnt that he was a well-known documentary maker, television producer and presenter.

 

“And he’s married,” she said.

 

“Well,” I said. “Whatever it is that’s going on – if there is, you know— “

 

“Oh, there is,” she said; women know these things.

 

“Well, it has nothing to do with anyone else, has it?”

 

We agreed and continued on our way.

 

Ten months earlier, Dana told me that a newspaper reporter had once seen her out with a man, a very dear friend, and the very next day the headlines read “DANA IS ENGAGED TO [fellow’s name]”, which left him in what she described as “a terribly embarrassing situation. It was so rude [of the papers].”

 

It was so late that it was the milk train that transported us back to West Yorkshire. It had been a long day.

 

 

Nowadays it is possible to see exactly where this fitted in the lives of Esther and Desmond. When she became pregnant with his child, his first wife agreed to a divorce, and he and Esther were married late in 1977. They had three children and were together until his death in 2000. Their relationship, when I met them, was certainly no secret to the insiders at the BBC, but may have been a secret from the tabloids, and I’m so very glad that I did nothing to rock any boats or cause any upset. I have always counted myself a breed apart from the gutter-press rats, and I mean no disrespect to rodents.

 

 

Final word on Lime Grove Studios

 

Like with Broadcasting House, there is much interest in these old iconic television buildings, and some amazing websites prepared by people who worked in them. These are mentioned in the Thanks and Further Interest sections at the end of this book.

 

 

Final words

 

Listening again to these old cassettes has been something of an enlightening experience for me. For one thing, the actual quality of the recordings has not deteriorated over the forty or so years, which is surprising. I’ve not yet been able to listen to the older tape reels, but I intend to get that sorted.

 

The other thing that occurs to me is that whilst doing these interviews I recorded lots of voices, both the main subjects and also ones in the background, capturing people at those precise moments in time as they went about their business. At no point did it occur to me that I was creating little time capsules – but not in the sense of a buried box of objects, of course – and playing them is almost like reliving those meetings, with odd thoughts popping out of the mist as I remember what I was thinking at the time, how I was feeling, what the next spontaneous question might be, and then I hear my younger self asking it. When I open my eyes it’s like whoosh! – and four decades have shot by.

 

Yes, technology is marvellous, and whilst making recordings on audio cassettes might seem somewhat clunky in today’s world of hi-tech digitisation, these old tapes have helped me to go back in time and re-live those moments; they have served their purpose, both for then and for now in helping me to recreate in my mind what happened, what was said, my thoughts and feelings in my quest to discover all creatures great and famous.

 

 

 

 

Thanks

 

 

First of all, a big thank you to the show business professionals who gave me their time so I could meet and write about them, and to their various secretaries and personal assistants who were invaluable in making it all come together. I hope they all agree that my articles made the effort worthwhile.

 

Also:

 

Roger Beckwith: Old BBC Radio Broadcasting Equipment and Memories

http://orbem.co.uk/index.htm

 

Martin Kempton, lighting director – memories of Lime Grove Studios:

The BBC’s TV Studios in London

http://www.tvstudiohistory.co.uk/old%20bbc%20studios.htm

 

Damien Scallon – for Dana.

http://danaofficial.com/

 

 

Further Interest

 

Lime Grove Demolition

http://www.bbctv-ap.co.uk/lgdem01.htm

 

 

 

 

 

 

Connect with Graham Higson

 

Before you go …

 

Thank you for reading

 

ALL CREATURES GREAT AND FAMOUS

 

If you enjoyed it, I would appreciate you helping others enjoy this book too.

 

Recommend it

 

Please help other readers find this book by recommending it to friends and discussion boards.

 

Review it

 

Please tell other readers why you liked this book by reviewing it online.

 

Visit me at grahamhigson.com

and click Keep me updated

 

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Also by Graham Higson

in paperback and eBook formats

 

HOW MUCH FOR A LITTLE SCREW?

TALES FROM BEHIND THE COUNTER

 

 

 

 

Strippers, grippers, knickers, knockers,

nippers, nipples and ballcocks

 

You can buy anything in the local hardware shop—well almost. It’s the legendary Aladdin’s cave with fixes for everything from a leaking pipe, a shattered groyne, a wobbly bladder (—er, that should be ladder) to a broken heart. And some remedies are not so easy to find, such as the cure for a case of the potentially lethal hardwareman’s embitterment disorder.

 

But in the provincial town of Little Sniffingham the predators are looming like scheming forces of evil, determined to pillage and plunder the town centre, smashing shopkeepers aside in their wake.

 

There are multiple layers to this book and it reflects so many aspects of our changing society.

 

This is one man’s memoir—a treasure trove of anecdotes, some tinged with humour, others with disappointment, some are downright bizarre.

 

I very much enjoyed the conversational style and the strong down to earth Yorkshire voice … It gave the anecdotes such realism and humour.

 

An intriguing and fascinating book which you cannot fail to enjoy.

 

This is Graham’s guide to observing life from behind a shop counter, with intimate and amusing characterisations of the people, with

 

humour so visual and the gags just keep a-coming.

 

It is as cheeky as its title!

 

At the end of this book I was smiling from ear to ear.

 

 

 

 

 

OAK SEER

A SUPERNATURAL MYSTERY

 

 

Jack Briscoe has two passions – woodwork and womanizing. Suddenly he can no longer enjoy either as visions from the past threaten to take over his life.

 

Whose past is haunting him? Is an ancient oak carving of a monstrous face the key? When the “curse” attacks two of his former female friends, he has to act. Briscoe must exorcise the past – but maybe the past is exorcising him.

 

FLITHER LASS

 

 

 

It’s 1915: conflict comes ashore, and a girl becomes a woman.

 

Readers who cherish idyllic ideas about English village life will have those notions challenged by Higson’s gritty portrayal … Louise Titchener, author

 

Amy’s world is a cold and inhospitable one of treacherous cliffs and lethal tides that can trap the unwary. The hostile villagers think that she doesn’t understand much, but she knows more about that coastline than anyone else there.

 

The unpredictability of the sea brings both loss and discovery into Amy’s life that changes it forever. The storm takes the one person she truly loves and yet brings her a stranger that transforms her childhood innocence into the passionate reality of a young woman.

 

The danger is, the year is 1915, England is at war, and the stranger is German.

 

With an ending that was impossible for me to predict, this makes a pretty perfect read. I thoroughly enjoyed this book by Graham Higson and am looking forward to reading more by this talented author. – Susan Navas, author

 

 

 

About the author

 

GRAHAM HIGSON hides in an outlying Pennine village and shares this blustery environment with a growing collection of books, a workshop piled high with offcuts of oak, his understanding wife and one mean mortgage. His two grown-up children are among his best friends.

 

 

He has a BSc degree in technology (in which he managed to sneak a course about playwriting), and an MA in Professional Writing. Having written professionally for over 25 years (and then some, he says), OAK SEER: A SUPERNATURAL MYSTERY was the first of his published novels, followed by FLITHER LASS, a historical novel set during the First World War.

 

He lists his hobbies as swimming, reading, watching lots of screen drama, helping to republish the novels of Leo Walmsley, and searching for that elusive moment of self-discovery.

 

http://www.grahamhigson.com

 


All Creatures Great and Famous: Interviewing Stars of the '70s

Meeting them was like stepping through the television screen... A childhood fascination with television and radio turned into a teenage reality when Graham Higson began writing celebrity interviews for his school magazine. Would his lack of years and experience be a drawback or advantage in getting to the real people behind the public façades? This little book reveals all.

  • Author: Graham Higson
  • Published: 2015-11-30 14:05:12
  • Words: 17221
All Creatures Great and Famous: Interviewing Stars of the '70s All Creatures Great and Famous: Interviewing Stars of the '70s