Brian Gibson, who combined a life in journalism with his love of music, film and theatre, has died at the age of 65.
Brian was the main advertising and feature writer of Argus Property, the property supplement of The Argus, Brighton, until his retirement in May.
Working for Newsquest in Sussex was his final full-time job in a career which saw him mix with pop, theatre and film stars and gain friendship and respect everywhere he worked.
Brian died of heart failure at the Royal Sussex County Hospital, Brighton, on 4 February after being treated for throat cancer diagnosed in November.
He had been looking forward to retirement at his Worthing home with his partner, Pam, and continuing his friendship with many showbusiness friends.
One of his closest friends was actor Chris Ellison, who plays DS Burnside in the TV series The Bill.
Ellison, who visited Brian in hospital days before his death, said: “I have lost a friend and a source of great knowledge. We spent many hours together. He was such a wit, who lived such an interesting life. He was a great guy and great company. Mention any name from the Sixties and Seventies and the chances are that Brian would have met them. I am in deep shock. It is terrible he has died before he could really enjoy his retirement.”
Brian joined the Leader, the sister series of The Argus, as a freelance reporter at the old Argus House in Brighton, in 1987. He moved on to The Argus as a full-time writer two years later.
He wrote many showbusiness features and a weekly eating-out promotion in the Leader.
Brian’s journalism career started in Fleet Street in 1952 at the Evening Star and News Chronicle. He got his first job as an office boy by going into the reception areas of the main newspapers and asking if there was any jobs available.
Having gained as much knowledge as he could about the newspaper business, he became a reporter at the London bureau of Frank Packer – the father of Australian media magnate Kerry – where he had his own column. He also began to write about the pop scene for Disc and Music Echo.
He became the chief press officer at Decca Records at the time of the Sixties explosion in the pop scene and was responsible for promoting bands such as The Rolling Stones and The Moody Blues.
He then became group press officer of Pye Records at ATV House near Marble Arch, where he loved to entertain journalists from the bar in his office.
He became known as “Dr Gibson” because of the copious amounts of alcohol and free records dispensed.
He was responsible for looking after the PR for artists such as Max Bygraves, Des O’Connor and the pianist Russ Conway, who also moved to Sussex and kept up his close friendship with Brian.
He later worked for Georgie Fame, Tamla Motown Records and many small record labels before joining The Argus.
John Deighton, former showbiz editor of the Sunday People, a close friend who regularly used to commute to London with him said: “Gibbo was a very amusing and amiable man. I took him as my guest to a Mirror Group function recently and Brian knew more of the people there than I did.
“It is a great shame. I and many others will miss him terribly.”
How did you start?
I was working for Australian Consolidated Press, Frank Packer’s news agency. Then I saw an advert for a freelance writer for Disc. Alan Walton was the editor then. I applied and got the job, working in tandem with ACP. ACP was at 107 Fleet Street and Disc was 161. I freelanced for Disc for about five years until Ray Coleman replaced Alan. I was doing pop interviews – myself and Dick Tatham were the freelancers. But when Ray came in, he didn’t want freelancers and Dick and I got the heave-ho. I think Don Nicoll was freelance there as well. While at ACP I met Chris Williams who was press officer at Decca Records. I used to go Decca receptions and Chris phoned me up one day and said that a guy who’d gone for the job at Decca to replace him was someone from the aircraft industry, didn’t understand the music business and was making a complete mess of it. Why didn’t I apply? I said I didn’t know anything about PR and Chris said ‘oh, you’ll easily do it.’ So I wrote to Beecher Stephens who was then head of Decca under Ted Lewis, working with Bill Townsley and Colin Borland. I applied out of the blue asking if there was any chance of a job going, knowing full well there was.This was in 1966. Beecher Stevens hired me and I stayed there until 1969
Howe long had you been writing about music for Disc?
Since 1961-2. I was writing pop stuff for Australian Consolidated. I joined them as a tea boy from the London Evening Star where I was also a tea boy. Then I was working in the telephone room and the phone used to ring and someone would shout ‘copy boy’ and I used to race copy through to the newsroom. One of the guys on the news desk at the time, Jimmy Green said to me ‘look, this company’s going to be sold – you want to get out if you want to do something.’ Sure enough, the Cadbury Brothers sold the Star and the News Chronicle, and I saw an ad for an office boy for Australian Consolidated and went there. I really got started when I said I wanted to write. Neil Kelly was the news editor then and he sent me out on a job at a church in the Strand and I managed to get something in the paper. They said ‘you’ve still got to be an office boy but you can write as well.At AMC I wrote for the Sydney Daily and Sunday Telegraph and had a column in a magazine called Everybody’s, called ‘From London to Liverpool.’ which ran from 1962 to 1965.
Australia was pop hungry but the only people who had been there were Winfred Atwell and David Whitfield – people who had come to the end of their careers here. Of course when The Beatles broke through, that really opened the door.
Did you get to talk to these people through the record companies?
The press officers of the companies were the ones who controlled it. There were a few independents like Brian Somerville, but mostly you went to people like Syd Gillingham at EMI, Pat Pretty at Pye, Chris Williams at Decca and Annie Ivil at Philips. Artists didn’t have PR representation to the extent they do now. Sometimes you’d go through their agent – I got to know them well and I liked that side of the business. But the record companies used to push their artists largely through the press office.
There was so much coming out each week
There was a regular pattern of singles every week and LP’s every month. You’d write a lot of press releases, send them out – the provincials were a valuable ground for getting publicity – and the record company press officers did work very hard on the artists.
Was there a pecking order? I’d have thought working for an Australian agency would have been bottom of the list.
I had a good column in London to Liverpool and bear in mind I was also in tandem with Disc . They both knew of each other so I was getting a good measure of interviews which benefited both companies. Alan (Walton) would sometimes come up with ideas and sometimes I would. If an American artist was in town he’s send me along to interview them. He sent me to interview Bing Crosby. It was the only interview that Bing Crosby gave to a music paper and he agreed to do it at Claridges. Alan phoned me and said ‘can you get to Claridges in half an hour and see Bing Crosby for us?’ I did and it was one of the great moments for me.
Alan also came up with a idea around Marty Wilde who was running out of hits. Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn were in London to launch the Reprise label and Alan said ‘why don’t you phone them up and say ‘could you write a hit for Marty Wilde?’ I think I found them through the Savoy Hotel press office and went to interview them which was a great thrill and they said “yes, we could write a hit for Marty Wilde, we could write a hit for anyone’ They mixed me a very lethal dry Martini. I’d never had a dry Martini in my life and I knew it when I left the hotel. They gave me an autographed copy of High Hopes – it’s a real treasure. Great guys. Alan would also come up with ideas about jazz, like inventing a war between Chris Barber, Acker Bilk and Kenny Ball. Disc was a good paper, in competition with NME but very different.
The record companies were always having receptions..
You could go the two or three receptions a day in those times, and they were very lavish. One I went to which Decca threw for Sonny & Cher at the Hilton – they had an iced horse as a centrepiece. That was the first time I met Jonathan King. The nationals used to flock to them; you had people like Pat Doncaster, Don Short, Weston Taylor of the News of the World, Tom Merrin of the Mirror and Mike Housego from the Sun, Dougie Marlborough – a whole pack of them. They didn’t interview the artists at these receptions – sometimes you got future interviews – but they were basically goodwill gestures to the Americans who’d come in and were having a bit of success. Kind of celebrating the hits. You’ve got to remember that the record companies here were only licensing the product from America, so they were anxious to do their best to keep them (the American labels) before they set up on their own (in England).
Did the little independent labels have any impact?
Not really – Joe Meek went through Decca, didn’t it? Jeff Kruger’s label (Ember), Oriole, Saga (Monty Lewis), Woolworth’s Embassy…there weren’t many independents. At Decca we had Coral, Brunswick, London, RCA, Monument. When I was at Pye we had 20th Century, Buddah, Stax. EMI had a huge roster of American labels.
You were at Decca from 1966-1969
We had Tom Jones, Engelbert, The Stones, plus the American stuff. Bob Angles looked after RCA, Geoff Milne looked after some of the American labels. A lot of in-house hits like Los Bravos’ Black is black and Whistling Jack Smith, who was dreamed up in the studio by Noel Walker and Ivor Raymonde. I remember it (I was Kaiser Bill’s batman) being brought into the A&R meeting and someone saying they’d been playing around in the studio and come up with this, what shall we call it? And Tony Hall said Whistling Jack Smith after Whispering Jack Smith.
(real name John O’Neill)
Decca had the West Hampstead studios. They used to record the jazz stuff through the pub next door; they bused to trail the cables from the studio into the pub. Gus Dudgeon was a Decca producer then. When I was there the house producers were Tony Clarke, who did The Moody Blues; Noel Walker who sis The Fortunes with Ivor Raymonde; Dick Rowe who did The Bachelors, Tom Jones, Engelbert; Tony D’Amato who did Phase 4 – he was the only American on the staff; Ray Horrocks who did all the Anthony Newley hits and the Lionel Bart staff; Mike Vernon who did jazz and blues.
That was a big in-house cost
A huge cost, the maintenance of the studio, the engineers, the producers.
Probably explains why so much repertoire came out, to justify them all?
More soon as we finish the Decca chapter and move to Brian’s time at Pye and beyond.
Text ©David Hughes, 2017. Photos for illustration only, courtesy Firefox search.