A Personal History of the British Record Business 43 – Syd Gillingham and Max Clifford 3 and conclusion

Carrying straight on from where we left off last time. I found another photo of Syd and Max – with me at my EMI retirement party in 1998. Read on – there are some controversial comments about The Beatles coming up!!

Syd Gillingham and me 2.jpeg

Were there journalists who were particularly influential?

Pat Doncaster on the Daily Mirror carried a lot of weight. Before the days of The Sun the Daily Mirror was the major tabloid. Pat had a whole page and I would always see to it that if there was good story, Pat would have it first.

M.C. The people who I remember – it would be a few years later- would be Don Short at the Mirror, Jack Bentley at the Sunday Mirror, Mike Housego at the Sketch. Dougie Marlborough was at the Sketch first, then  the Mail, and there was a guy on the News of the World called Weston Taylor. There were just a dozen or so and that was it. Because Syd had worked out this network of provincials we did tremendously well in terms of cuttings from all these people. Syd built all up at EMI, so when I came into the press office there was a whole network set up ready for us to plug into.

I used to go out to the (Heathrow) airport each Christmas with LP’s because all the photographers out there thought they were forgotten. I also got very friendly with the Chief Customs Officer there, because in those days you could go into the customs hall and see them coming through. The Chief would be there and I’d introduce him to all the American stars and he’d just take them through. I once met L.G. Wood when he was coming back from America and there was the Chief Customs Officer standing beside me. ‘Oh, this is Mr Wood. ‘Oh, hello Mr Wood, just  come through.’ Marvellous. The big danger was that the guys at the airport and the guys out on the provincial dailies thought we were only concerned with the nationals, but that wasn’t true – we got a lot of space from them. I liked L.G. enormously – he was always good to me. If I had any questions I had the right to bypass everyone else and go straight to him. If I was home at night and the first editions (of the morning papers) had gone round the office and someone got on the phone to me about EMI, I would get straight on to L.G.

Did you get support from the company on that? I was told radio was considered more important than press.

M.C. That was the instinct I got, that you (press) had a constant battle with the others and were almost isolated – more tolerated than appreciated.

I tumbled on that very early on in Great Castle Street. We were getting a lot of cuttings. I used to get them all together and compiled a list with L.G. Wood at the top and I made sure they went round to everyone. They had so many cuttings that I think they got pissed off having these full folders. I used to tell my secretary ‘this is a rainy day insurance’ because one day they’re going to turn round and say ‘you haven’t got much press’ and I would reply ‘have you seen all the press we’ve had?’

What about the argument about the cost of editorial versus advertising?

M.C. That’s something I use to this day

But look at the papers and magazines today, not much is devloted to records.

Not reviews, but artists get more good publicity in newspapers than they ever did. What persuaded you to then do it on your own?

Because I had an offer from Chris Hutchins.


He wanted me to go into partnership with him. I was on one of my provincial tours and I phoned the office from Cardiff station and they said Chris had been on the phone and would I phone him. He was setting up his PR agency and was looking after Tom and Engelbert, Bee Gees – he had a good roster of artists and he he asked if I’d join him, so I thought about and said I would, and I took Max with me and Nick Massey and my secretary – almost the whole bloody office! After I left, Ron White took me out to lunch twice and asked me to go back. I asked Max and Doreen and they weren’t keen to go back, and nor was I. They (EMI) even offered me a car. That was August 1968. We had a year, then I decided to split for reasons I won’t go into. I then went into partnership with Brian Gibson and we went over to Pye for four years. Then I went back to newspapers as a freelance. Max went off on his own.

M.C. Why Syd left, that’s what finished it for me. I didn’t like Hutchins

He had an attitude problem

So when you set up on your own, were you starting with music clients?

M.C. For a long time it was music clients. It was people like Paul & Barry Ryan, which was Harold Davison, which was how Sinatra came along, and Joe Cocker via a guy called Nigel Thomas. I really started out with Harold Davison behind me. Syd was never suited to independent PR – he’s much too nice a guy, and Hutchins was the other way. He was a good little operator but a miserable individual. The company was a success commercially but Syd didn’t like it.

I wanted to get back into journalism. Even at EMI I worked like a journo writing stories.

M.C. Also, your clients were the kind of people who were used to paying peanuts and had you working all the hours God sent doing all sorts of things. You get all the lip service but they’re taking liberties because most of them are like that. PR is the poor relation to the English entertainer. Right from early on I always concentrated on the Americans. PR in the music industry is still miserly. When I hear what PR’s earn from major stars it’s laughable. I’m very glad it’s many a year since I was there – £2,000-£3,000 a month for the Rolling Stones. Max Bygraves phoned me up and said ‘I’ve got as tour coming up and I thought maybe you could do some work for me’. When I told him what I charge he said ‘well, I’ll have to talk to Blossom about that.’ I never heard from him.

I remember you suddenly got involved with American actors like Steve McQueen

M.C. The key to it all was Sinatra. Once Harold Davison got me involved with that sort of situation, he was the man all over the whole (American) area. I also discovered early on that if you had stars you could represent anything…restaurants, clothes. Seve Ballesteros came along and then I tapped into Slazenger’s. I finished up taking over Slazenger’s PR – they had a whole department but they didn’t know what they were doing. Of course, good-looking young Spanish guy winning everything.

Enterprising is the word for him

M.C. Corrupt is the word Liz (Max’s late wife) uses. Those EMI times, it was a much kinder friendlier era.

They were my happiest working times. There was no hassle – we just got on with the job; we got the cuttings and I met all these marvellous people

When I started work as a freelance journalist, I enjoyed that and met some great stars and had some marvellous jobs to do. I went down a Polaris submarine, on a Concorde flight deck, to Bahrain, on the QE2. I interviewed Maggie Thatcher, Elizabeth Taylor, but my ten years at EMI were my happiest. Shortly after I left the Sex Pistols came along and I don’t think I could have coped with them!


THE classic Sex Pistols photo –  by EMI’s house photographer Peter Vernon who only earned his retainer from this iconic shot, taken in the company’s basement garage

M.C. If I remember rightly you were never excited about The Beatles

I’m still not excited about The Beatles. I still don’t think they had a lot of talent. Song-writing talent – great, But performance-wise I don’t think they were great. Everybody said how great The Beatles were, people who didn’t know B flat from a K sharp. It was hype, and you and I were responsible for the hype.

M.C. Well, no. I’m the first to put my hands up for a multitude of hypes over donkey’s years, but I never saw that. I think The Beatles were responsible for The Beatles and we just happened to be there and went off the back of it.

So how come everyone turned them down?

The Beatles weren’t going to get signed to anyone. It really came down to ‘well, if there’s nobody else, there’s this guy who does the comedy records…’

M.C. I know what you’re saying, but I don’t subscribe to that. I remember thinking right from the start that there was something exciting about this. To me there was something special about them. The rawness was part of the excitement, and it’s not a question of being wise after the event. We also had The Beach Boys’ God only knows at the time, and Cliff was churning them out

We had exciting homegrown singles, but we had great LP material, mostly from America. We had Sinatra on Capitol, Basie, Jazz at the Phil, Ella Fitzgerald. We went to Ronnie Scott’s for a reception for Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd…fantastic days (you can tell where Syd’s music interests lay!)

Were you involved when the Motown Revue came over.

M.C. You would remember better than me Syd. I seem to remember Berry Gordy and Smokey Robinson coming over and being introduced to us and then it all started. If I’m right, there was one white guy called R. Dean Taylor. Didn’t Doreen (their secretary in the days when you could call them that!) get quite friendly with Smokey Robinson.

I was in the studios when Cilla Black made her first record. I was used to Nancy Wilson and Peggy Lee…it was awful. I still think it’s awful. I can remember her sitting in the office and Bess Coleman doing her biography. I was in the studio when George (Martin) made the record, and when that voice cracked I thought George would stop and do it again but he left it in, and George was a very nice man.

Bess Coleman

Did it upset you when Brian Epstein started to take the press away from you?

I couldn’t care less. What did upset me when I went into the studios once and Brian Somerville tried to turf me out. I said ‘I’m the press officer here and I’m staying.’ and I told him to piss off.

M.C. There weren’t enough hours in the day to do all that had to be done.

The secret was to think like a journalist.

M.C. The whole point about it is that where we were lucky was that we made it up as we went along. There was never anyone to show you, which suited me fine. The wonderful thing was that you could say they sold 50,000 albums one week, even if it was 5,000 and where could they go to check it? You could get away with it and you did. I didn’t tell Syd because  because he wouldn’t have been happy to know what I was getting up to all the time.

I didn’t know this until tonight – bloody marvellous isn’t it. I trusted you! A lot you didn’t have to make up. Take Mrs Mills, she was a lovely plump lady, marvellous lady. She was in charge of the typing pool in the Paymaster General’s office somewhere up the Tottenham Court Road, and I used to take her to lunch with national newspapermen at the Lyons Corner House near the Dominion and she had a wonderful time and a marvellous laugh. She had lunch out virtually every day and we got the publicity, all because Norman Newell went to a hop one night and she was the semi-pro musician playing piano. Like Don (Partridge), discovered singing on the street. We only got involved once a record had been accepted at the supplement meeeting, and then we had to do the photographs and biogs.

M.C. When I was at EMI it was something that was developing and growing under your feet; it was like a magic carpet that took off. I was just ever so lucky because I went into a framework that Syd had built up, which was very successful. He allowed us the freedom to be irresponsible and as long as it worked it was fine. And it did. The people that you were working with were nice people so we were lucky to tap into a really nice professionally organised situation and we reaped the benefit. I don’t think there were many record companies that had that.

People contrast the industry now with what it was then and that moment will never be repeated.

M.C. It’s not rose coloured glasses. Socially, it was also an exciting time. Suddenly there were clubs and tours starting. When I grew up aged 13-14, on Sunday you went to church and that was it finished, and that started to change, shows and clubs, the whole way of life was exploding.

There was a Monday and Friday radio broadcast recorded in Manchester Square for Radio Luxembourg.

Luxembourg was hugely important


I went over to Cologne when I was in Great Castle Street. We had a thing called Record Mail for pop and Record Times for the classics. I had to produce that as well. I made it like a tabloid newspaper and I enjoyed doing that. I did all the headings and sub-edited it. We had Dickie Attenborough doing a record column which I wrote and he just okayed. Record Mail was a freebie for shops, and I went out to see Bill Crozier and do a feature on Two-Way Family Favourites. I also went to Luxembourg to do a feature and Pete Murray and David Jacobs met me – they were working at the Luxembourg studios

At which point the conversations petered out and into some potentially libellous comments on the sexuality of well-known individuals!!!

Next time – Jeffrey Kruger, part one of many!

Text ©David Hughes, 2017. Illustrations gleaned via Google search are just to liven up the copy!


About dhvinyl

Lifelong obsession with music, 33 years in the music business, 43 years immersed in selling old records, 20 years very happily retired!
This entry was posted in A Personal History of the British Record Business, Life at EMI, Stories of the British Music Business and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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