Syd’s recent death prompts me to bring you an interview conducted in a fish restaurant in Walton-on-Thames with his buddy Max Clifford. Max made his start in PR with Syd in EMI’s Manchester Square offices, and has always acknowledged that Syd taught him everything. After Brian Gibson’s memories of working with Syd post EMI, it seems a perfect link. All the comments are from Syd unless indicated MC
When did you start?
I started on the Surrey Herald in 1941. I went in the air force – went to France Belgium and India and came back to the Herald in 1947-49. Then came the Evening Echo in Bournemouth in 1949-1951, the Daily Telegraph in Fleet Street from 1951-57, and a very unhappy year in a PR agency from 1957-58, trying to figure out what to put in cornflake packets and things like that – an awful job but one of the accounts I worked on was the The Arthur Murray School of Dancing in Leicester Square. That suited me fine; it was a bit more user friendly than the other accounts we had, and I met a guy there called Harry Walters, who was Ted Heath’s band boy. We worked together on something about the School of Dancing. Harry was probably there giving them some records. I had such an unhappy year with this agency that I went to EMI and said ‘any chance of a job?’ It so happened – this was through Harry – that the guy who was the press officer, Doug Geddes, had just handed in his notice, but they didn’t see how someone from the Daily Telegraph would know anything about pop music. I showed them some cuttings from the Telegraph – shows I’d reviewed like Louis Armstrong, Woody Herman ( the first Anglo-American band exchange), Bill Haley. Pat Brand gave me a marvellous reference so I got the job. I had to take a pay cut of £1,000 a year. I told L.G. (Wood) two or three times after that that I ought to be paying him – I was like a kid in a chocolate factory – with my love of music and all those records. I think I joined on April 1, 1958.
Wally (Ridley) reminded me – we were talking about Ron Richards and John Burgess who worked with George Martin, Peter Sullivan who worked with Wally, and he said ‘who was Norrie Paramor’s assistant?’ I couldn’t think. It was Tim Rice – I don’t remember that at all. He was Norrie’s gopher.
Tim Rice and Norrie Paramor
Did you inherit staff in 1958?
Peter Prince was in the press office then – this was in Great Castle Street.
Did this include Capitol?
Capitol was down in East Castle Street. Dolly East was the press officer and Arthur Muxlow started with Capitol. John Philips was the promotion man at Great Castle Street and Harry Walters was his deputy. John was a lovely man but I think the record business made him a bundle of nerves. I used to go to airport sometimes to meet the Americans and John would drive with the radio on full blast. He seemed to be a very nervous man, and he had a heart attack and died quite young. It could have been the job.
1958 was Cliff Richard
Yes, I can remember The Shadows getting their gear into the lift at Great Castle Street and going up to Norrie’s office, and I was in the studio when Cliff made his first record in August 1958
Do you have any memories as to who decided that ‘Schoolboy Crush’ shouldn’t be the A side?
No idea. We used to have a weekly supplement meeeting and I was there for the press office, and the pluggers would be there. We would all go into the various sales managers’ offices and play the demos that the A&R men had made.
There were no marketing men then?
They were sales managers in a way. Ron White was HMV sales manager, Leslie Reynolds was Columbia and Parlophone. They were really the three labels. I dealt with all three and all the America stuff. The first big American star I had to deal with was Connie Francis. She came over not long after ‘Who’s sorry now‘ and then there was just a procession of them
In those days as far as press was concerned there was no such thing as anindependent
Independent PR – Les Perrin.
Do you remember a guy called Al Hunt (I don’t but Google tells me he was Bernard Delfont’s PR). He was the archetypal press agent. He was a big man, everyone’s idea of a press agent. I can remember going out to the airport when the arrivals were right on the A4 – just a glorified large Nissen hut. We met Shelley Berman. Al was representing him in this country – what an objectionable little man he (Berman) was. Shelley Berman was well-known for the aircraft sketch and it was lifted by Bob Newhart. We had this press conference in the Nissen hut and one of the reporters asked Berman some question about Bob Newhart and when we got outside he gave poor old Al Hunt such a bollocking – quite extraordinary. I can only remember Al Hunt and Les Perrin as independent PR’s.
Now the record company press office wouldn’t get a look in
At the airport there were loads of agency and national newspaper photographers. They were stationed there all the time and we used to get a lot of publicity (on people arriving by plane). Now you’ve got to be very big before you get an airport picture.
The world of the media was that much smaller – you probably knew everybody
It wasn’t that so much, but the media in those days was very record conscious – the big features were about records.
M.C. The guys that were the showbiz writers then became the pop writers – Don Short, Mike Housego, Pat Doncaster, Dougie Marlborough, Jack Bentley, Peter Dacre. We always did a lot with the provincials
The provincials were very strong on records. We used to send press releases to all the provincials and I would do a Scottish tour – Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee; then I’d go to the North West and do the evening papers in Blackpool, Preston, Manchester; down to the south, all over the country, Marvellous skive that was for me – I’d do that twice a year.
Brian Mulligan said there was a press release for everything
When we moved to Manchester Square we were producing so many singles – it could be between 25 and 30 a week – and you had to do a biography on every artist. I can remember the embarassing situation when we had the Christmas party in the big No.1 studio at Abbey Road and I had to stand at the door with L.G. and introduce him to all the artists coming in. There would be those whose biography I’d written maybe two weeks earlier and I’d forgotten who they were. That’s how many records there were.
Bunny Lewis said you made two or three recvords and if they didn’t work you said goodbye.
Because Max had been in newspapers, I had been in newspaper and Brian Mulligan was a newspaper man, we could recognise a story when you saw one. We had some great stories among these artists, Mrs Mills was a lovely story as was Don Partidge, the one-man band, great story, discovered singing in the street. There were some tremendous stories.
M.C. We made most of the stories up – well I did!
I first met Russ Conway when he was doing his first-ever summer season at the St. Anne’s pier south of Blackpool- that was in 1958
Were you working on Cliff Richard’s press all the time?
Yes. Of all the people I can remember working with, not only at EMI, but since, Cliff is the one person who hasn’t changed. He’s got no star mentality about him at all, yet he’s been one of the msot successful recording artists in the world. Every record release he’s had has been a Top 10 or Top 20 hit.
M.C. Not for a long time Syd, but he used to. He can’t get played now. He made a record under a pseudonym and they played that.
But look at his concerts – sellouts. When I went into journalism I did his life story on three different occasions in magazines.
I gather no one looked outside London for artists
M.C. The original tape tape that The Beatles sent to EMI was rock’n’roll and it was turned down.
I can only remember the supplement meeting when they played The Beatles’ first single – Love me do – and nobody round the table – there were lots of us there – leapt about and said these are going to be the biggest things. We were told to get behind the record because Brian Epstein was an important Liverpool record dealer
M.C. My understanding was they submitted a tape of rock’n’roll which was turned down; then they went to Decca with the same tape – that was turned down by Dick Rowe. Then Epstein submitted a tape of Lennon & McCartney songs and they scraped in. I’ll tell you who told me that story – the guy I met on that Caribbean cruise, Jack somebody. He was the guy who first heard or signed Solomon King. I’ve been looking for someone to blame all these years and there we were in the middle of nowhere!
Max and he (Solomon King) were very close. It was Max who was responsible for getting Solomon to the top of the charts. Solomon was very grateful – lent him his car.
We’ll leave these two there – they’re just getting going and the interview turns into a dualogue which will be completed next time…with lots more about Solomon King!!
Text ©David Hughes 2017. Photos courtesy Google search for illustration purposes only