A blog about well-known people of my acquaint – how very Christopher Biggins of me. I admit that I thought twice about this article before I started it. After all, ‘name-dropping’ to this degree can come over as a bit arrogant can’t it? Not that I claim to be the friend of celebrities. These are just luminaries that I happen to have met along my journey through life. Surely everyone does? And ‘met’ is a very loose term too; mind you, so is celebrity although it’s a darn sight looser these days than it was when I were a lad!
So who was the first person of renown that invaded my personal space? I’m not sure I remember. Some boxer opened the Goffs Oak Fete one year. Billy Walker I think but I was just a kid in the crowd, waving at someone I didn’t know from Adam as he drove past in an open top car surrounded by Carnival Queens and Princesses.
Maybe it was at a different procession; as a Sea Cadet I was lining the route of the Battle of the Flowers in Jersey (no not single-handedly, I was still slim in those days). One of the dancer’s on the Seaside Special float was gesticulating her requirement for a bottle opener. Being well-prepared I had one hanging on my lanyard and indicated that I could oblige. She jumped of the float and gratefully came over and allowed me to remove the cap of her beer bottle. I expect she was quite famous.
But we have to fast forward to November 1981 for the first real contact with a true public figure. This was my oft written about meeting with Tim Rice that led to my tenure as Editorial Associate with GRRR Books. Tim was my gateway celebrity! Before long I was meeting well known personalities most days. I could handle it. My fellow GRRR book associates Mike Read and Paul Gambaccini were regular fixes of course but there were others. I bumped into several Radio 1 DJs when running errands for Mick Read (Andy Peebles was dead dull). For the first few months I worked in a garret in Wardour Street and Annie Ivel (David Bowie’s one-time publicist) used to come in from time to time. It might have been for a nap as there was a small bedroom at the back of the attic – I kid you not!
Then we moved to Shaftesbury Avenue and the coming together of all Tim’s various business ventures. Here, entering the door to reception in the morning I would often meet the publisher Leo Cooper (Husband of Jilly). We had taken over his old offices and he used to come and get his post. OK, a C-lister but another very nice man. I also used to pass the late Terry Jones on the stairs quite often as he was a director of Pavilion Books, a publishing firm Tim was involved with. As I have said in previous blogs, he was incredibly shy. I was also a very unworldly 19 year old so we just exchanged an indecipherable grunt and the merest nod of our heads as we passed.
I’m only going to skip through many of the next names as the stories have all come up before. In the late summer of 1982 I started office sharing with Tim’s new PA. She had just come off being the Stage Manager on Cats which made her a teeny bit famous in showbiz terms. Of course, Judy Craymer went on to become very well-known and very, very wealthy. Hey doll, lends us a tenner.
One afternoon in the summer of 1982 an old friend of Judy’s came looking for her. Judy wasn’t in but Sarah Brightman and I spent a lovely hour or two chewing the fat. She didn’t mention she had the hots for Andrew though so that came as a surprise the following year.
And speaking of Andrew Lloyd Webber – no I never met him. Between you and me, him and Tim weren’t really talking at that time. I did meet Tim’s squeeze, Elaine Paige a few times though. I also met his wife Jane but thankfully never at the same time.
A few others called in at the offices on various occasions. Notably Benny and Bjorn when Tim was writing Chess with them. I met them briefly (It was all a bit Swedish chefs – much nodding of heads and Hellu Benny und Bjurn. Fery nice-a tu meet yuou. I can be such a dickhead sometimes). This was also Judy’s first fateful meeting with them. Less well known but a truly delightful man was Stephen Oliver who wrote with Tim the only Rice musical I have actually been too, namely Blondel (Very good too). Oh, and there was also the one I didn’t meet. Judy and her co-conspirator Fay were setting up a blind date for me and Bonnie Langford. For some reason it didn’t come off but that could have changed my life forever…..or not.
So in late summer of ’82 we started organising a big party to publicise the launch of our new book. Initially my ‘meeting’ superstar invitees was done over the phone as they called into RSVP their invitations. Benny Hill was the most memorable – he made Terry Jones seem gregarious. I remember Mike Read taking Eve Graham’s (New Seekers) call. To this day I like to believe she thinks Mick is my secretary. Mike D’Abo was another decent chap. I may have met him in the flesh at one of Tim’s cricket club dos at the Ivy (Just dropped that in!) but I can’t actually remember.
And so to the party. The first ‘famous’ bod I met that night also became a personal friend for a few years. None other than the legendary Buster Meikle, formerly of Unit 4+2. Maggie (More infamous than famous) and I met him at Cuffley station and escorted him to the party as a special guest. Regular readers will know that we didn’t return with him as planned as sometime towards the end of the party he wandered off and fell asleep in a recording booth somewhere deep in Abbey Road studios.
For the full roll call of well-known people at this fabulous party see previous blogs. Better still have a peek at Maggie’s signed copy of the book. The only ones I spent quality time talking to were Linda McCartney and Johnny Logan. I also had that run-in with Andy Summers I have previously mentioned and I was quite taken with Billy Fury and Ronnie Lane, both in very poor state of health but determined to be there. Less said about Stiff Pilchard the better but a quick mention for Demis Roussos, Paul McCartney, Sting, a bloke out of the Royal Scots Dragoon guards and one of the little girls who sang on There’s No-one Quite Like Grandma. Ricky Valance (who brought his lawyer and threatened to sue us for something we wrote about him), George Martin……….the list goes on.
So the 196 Shaftesbury Avenue Christmas party a few weeks later paled into insignificance really and all I have for you is Paul Jones – who charmed and held a captive audience including me, in the tiny kitchenette in the basement, and Michael Parkinson who bored the tits off me at the bar.
On my pub crawls around the area I met my second well-known boxer namely John Conteh. Unlike the public friendly Billy Walker, Conteh was standing on a pub table, drunk as a skunk and preaching about the wrath of God or some such drivel. I understand he’s been sober for years now – good lad! I shared a tube carriage with Geoffrey Palmer and stood behind Marc Almond in the till queue at the Virgin Megastore. I was trying to see what he had bought and he made a point of turning his back on me. It’s OK Marc, that doesn’t put you in the same class as Stiff Pilchard.
And then my days on the fringes of showbiz ended and I was thrown back into the hinterland of Hertfordshire. My next brushes with those who had had or were having their Warholian 15 minutes would come as I served them on the forecourt of Cuffley Motors. I recently mentioned the imposing figure of Bernard Bresslaw who got out of the car to pay and towered over 6’2” me. I was actually a little in awe of him. Not for his roles in the Carry On films but because he once played an Ice Warrior in Dr Who!
Frank Bruno came in one day and as I also said recently, insisted in thrusting a signed photo at me even though I didn’t really want it. His manager Terry Lawless also came in at least once and Frank Warren several times.
Other garage regulars were Shogun customers like Dave Peacock out of Chas and Dave (Another genuinely diamond geezer) and several Spurs footballers who lived nearby. Ally Dick was always in although it was normally the offy where I bumped into Gary Mabbutt.
Local residents who had a modicum of fame and were garage regulars included photographer Leslie Bryce, famous for his collection of shots of the Beatles; and a former dancer turned choreographer Nigel Lythgoe. He and his wife both came in the garage and also had kids at the Youth Club. In all honesty I was more interested in Bonnie as she had once appeared in the film To Sir With Love, an all-time favourite of mine. I recall Nigel liked a drink but that’s enough of that. Oh, he later became quite well-known for some or other TV shows.
After three years at the garage I headed back to publishing and as editor and writer for Spiral Scratch and Music Collector, I interviewed some class acts. Well, they may not mean much to you but Don Crane (The Downliners Sect), Twink (Pink Fairies and tons of other bands), and Robert Lloyd (The Prefects) meant a lot to me. I finally landed a PiL interview and waited for them to call me and tell me when I was going to meet Lydon. Instead I spent a dull hour in a West End hotel with Allan Diaz, who had just arrived in the band from Sun Ra or some other jazz-funk mob. He cycled to the hotel and drank orange juice. He was not impressed by my Marlboro Red and several pints of Guinness style of interviewing. I didn’t even run the feature it was so boring. One day I’ll steel myself and listen to the tapes.
Thankfully the Godfathers were more receptive to my methods and after running through their entire set for me in the rehearsal room we retired to a pub in the Holloway Road for the interview and few beers. Wednesday’s Children were OK and the Macc Lads fibbed throughout, as was their style. They were doing fake news way before it was trendy.
Post Scratch and post sobriety, my life began to take a slightly less abnormal course. In the years since I recall few celebrity encounters. Several MPs in my charity work, none nearly so honest and hard-working as Sir Norman Lamb. Last week I met his successor – Duncan Baker – he has his work cut out to achieve anything close to what Norman did in North Norfolk. There, that was very diplomatic of me.
I was a steward at the Holt Festival one year and had to tell off Roger Lloyd-Pack (Trigger) for trying to go somewhere he shouldn’t. Generally Norfolk is quite low key about its stars. We have a few live here but we keep quiet about it. One who resides in the county for part of the year is the Queen but it was at her London home that I met her and her old man when I was invited to a reception for the Year of the Volunteer. She was OK, we had a brief chat about Toc H and Tubby Clayton but that day will more be remembered for Phillip elbowing me in the ribs!!
Finally the one I have been trying not to mention now was the chap I got to a Toc H party in Cuffley one year. He was the only famous person I got to pose with me and have a photo taken. Sadly his name rhymes with Vimmy Ravel!
So apart from Buster, who was a drinking buddy for several years, and those that I worked with for a while, most of these famous people were just ships passing in the night. It’s the rest of you that mean something to me. Some of you I’ve known for 50 odd years and some are more recent acquaintances but you’re the ones that really matter. Friendship trumps fame every time. Love ya.