Wall to wall entertainment

Music was very important to me growing up.  The bedroom wall in my Balham flat was bedecked with singers cut out from Fab 208.  The life-sized picture of Clodagh Rogers did dominate the wall; this didn’t leave much room for Melanie, Aretha Franklin or Nancy Sinatra (nothing wrong with having eclectic musical tastes).

I’d inherited some records from my grandparents: the 1939 classic “Underneath the spreading chestnut tree”; “Caruso’s greatest hits” and a full set of Gilbert & Sullivan operettas.  Therefore, the desire to have my own music was paramount.

I bought a cassette player.  I also bought several C60 tapes to record on.  I declined to buy a reel-to-reel tape as I believed this would make my bedroom look like the IBM building. 

I’d plant my microphone in front of the TV during Top of the Pops – sadly I’d not only record the song, but I’d also record my mother asking “what’s this bleedin’ row?” .  DJs on the radio would interrupt the songs by talking over the start and finish of songs.  At night, I’d try and record the Radio Luxembourg top 20 underneath my candlewick.  My mother would enter my room (without knocking) and say “I hope you’re not doing what I think you might be doing?”  I was ten and my eyesight was bad enough.

Eventually, as I got older, and with more pocket money, I could buy actual records.  I’d buy the Top of the Pops and Hot Hits albums.  My mother knew why.

Hello, my darlings!

I was lucky as a kid as my Dad would frequently take me “up West” to the pictures and the theatre.

Soon after it was released in 1966, Dad took me to see “The Professionals”

There were mixed emotions for me throughout during the film: the highlight being when Claudia Cardinale appears – washing topless.  This then followed with the feeling of mortification, as I realised my dad was sitting next to me!  I didn’t know, as my Nan used to say, whether to laugh, cry, pooh (not her actual word) or have breakfast.

On the Tube back Dad asked which part of the film I liked best?  This was probably a trick question; I suddenly became the Northern Line’s answer to Barry Norman and suggested that they could have given Lee Marvin more song numbers?

But this world of nudity had peaked far too quickly for me as Dad and I then travelled to see Charlie Drake in panto – not exactly “Oh! Calcutta!”; we then saw “Ice Station Zebra” – no women allowed on board the submarine, let alone any having a wash and finally a walk up Balham Hill to the Odeon to watch “Patton” – I was more likely to see Rommel naked in that film then any Hollywood star.

Growing up I watched TV with my Nan.  As TV programmes got riskier, there was the ever-increasing chance of seeing some nudity; any desire was soon quashed as my Nan would shout at the TV, in a style of a more common version of Mary Whitehouse, “get some bleedin’ clothes on, love”.

Stage fright

In the late ‘70s I joined an Am Dram group (still have shirts with stage make-up on).  We’d mostly perform in a Balham school hall, where there was more a smell of rotting plimsolls than greasepaint.

Having started with one line, I worked my way up to be given larger parts.  This impressed some of the younger girls in the group.  Well, one in particular.

We’d just performed a revue at the old Tooting Bec (Mental) Hospital.  Tough gig as many of the audience couldn’t clap as they still had their straitjackets on.

During the revue I’d sung, danced (albeit in a ballerina costume) and acted.

It was at this time when I’d started my career in advertising and earlier that day had bought the book, “Teach yourself advertising”; still haven’t finished it nearly fifty years on.

The show finished, and Tooting’s answer to Nurse Ratched had returned her cares to their rooms, we left the hospital to return to our respective homes.

As we approached Hurley’s on Balham High Road there were just two of us left.  Me and a girl in our troupe.  As we got to her house I was invited in for coffee, except it wasn’t for coffee it was for “coffee”.

With a fear of girls even now, being alone with a girl filled me with dread, especially after the door had been locked, the pet Alsatian, Himmler, tied up, no obvious sign of a percolator and the announcement of “mum’s out for the evening” I went into blind panic.

I stood up, announced that I had bought a new book and needed to read it before the morning and left, coffee-less.

Oddly I have three children, but back then, you could get all sorts of things off the Freeman’s catalogue. 

Complete and utter…

pneumatic tube

On January 22nd 1966, These boots were made for walking entered the charts; to celebrate this fact, I erected a life-size poster of Nancy Sinatra, sporting (there is no other word) a pair of pink boots, across my bedroom wall.
This was, in my nine-year-old opinion, arguably the most artistic thing hanging in SW17 that year; next year Nancy was usurped by a picture of Julie Andrews confronting the Gestapo.
A nine-year-old interested in thigh-length boots, I hear you say? Not what you’re thinking. At nine I was still recovering from seeing Action Man naked (my parents had taken the cheaper option and not ordered any uniform) and was quite content playing with my Hot Wheels (this is not a euphemism) to worry about leather-clad women. No, the real reason is that I wanted to work in a shoe-shop.
Clark’s in Tooting High Street had a pneumatic money carrier, which, as a nine-year-old, I assumed launched you into space. The woman who worked in there also looked a bit like John Glenn, so my assumption seemed valid. Although, given the sandals my mum forced me to wear, defying gravity was going to be tricky, there were more holes than shoe. There was also this secret desire to be able to say (without being smacked) “Uranus”, should anyone ask me where I was heading.
As I got older, nude Action Men and Hot Wheels took a back seat and thigh-length boots came to the fore. As did increasingly more frequent trips to the opticians.
I never worked in the shoe-shop, but, ironically, throughout my career in advertising, I have talked a load of old cobblers.

Cheap, cheap

top of the pops

When people are asked to name their favourite album, no one ever mentions Top of the Pops – Volume 18.

I would play it endlessly in my south London flat, listening to the songs which were in the charts at the time. I’d listen to them under my eiderdown on Radio Luxembourg. But, on these records, none were by the original artists.

I was fourteen in July 1971 and had the lowly weekly income of 50p, these LPs quenched my musical desire cheaply (which was ironic given one of the songs on the record was “Chirpy, Chirpy, Cheap, Cheap”).

During this time there was a proliferation of impersonators on the TV. It was my naive belief that if they could mimic Harold Wilson, they could also do Harold Melvin. I did not appreciate at the time that these covers were done by professional session musicians who were as good at doing Ted Nugent as Mike Yarwood was Ted Heath.

During these times there were rivals to the Top of the Pops LP series: Hot Hits being one. However, you tended to be loyal to one, bit like either preferring Monty Python to The Goodies, Max Factor to Rimmel or Harry Potter to anything by Dostoyevsky.

But, dear reader, I bought these LPs purely for musical pleasure and not because the album covers showing women in provocative poses. I was 14 and still thinking about which new I-Spy book to get. Honest, guv.

Geneva unconvention

pink boots

Whenever I see the spurting fountain of Lake Geneva, I don’t think of many a closing scene of the “Confession of” film series; I think of Alexandra Bastedo.

She was my first crush.

Sadly, for me, when she first appeared in front of me (albeit through a small black & white screen playing Sharron Macready in “The Champions”) she was already 22, I was barely 11.

I loathe to use the word rousing in a public forum, but there was something about her which made me instantly regretting having started at my all-boys grammar school in Tooting two weeks prior, coupled with being a member of an all-male choir.  When was I ever going to meet someone like Sharron Macready?  I learned, after a few weeks at Bec School, that this kind of person wasn’t going to be teaching geography (let alone biology – I would have to make do with learning about the reproduction system of amoebas, rather than getting sex education in an after-school class from Alexandra Bastedo).

I would watch “The Champions” avidly, every Wednesday evening during 1968 and 1969 with my nan in her south London flat whilst we ate Bird’s Eye’s Cod Fillet and chips (as only nans can make chips). I often wondered what it would have been like having Alexandra Bastedo bringing my cod and chips?  If she smoked copious amounts of Player’s Weights and had no teeth – quite similar!

This new-found affinity with girls had clearly kicked in. I procured, and stuck across most of my bedroom wall, a gigantic poster of Nancy Sinatra wearing pink, thigh-length boots (in which I assumed she’d walked).

I look back and feel I could have got lucky with Alexandra Bastedo as she’d dated Omar Sharif. Sharif was famed for his Bridge-playing ability – I was rather good at Beat Your Neighbour.   No brainer, Alexandra.

“The Champions” ran for thirty episodes and was used in several other countries. In France, it was called Les Champions – which was, coincidentally, the name of the bloke who ran Nemesis, the organisation for whom Sharron Macready was employed as a spy-cum-doctor.

Next week: Why I tried to learn Italian in case Claudia Cardinale ever moved to Balham!