A Personal History of the British Record Industry 66 – Bunny Lewis 4

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(Apologies for repeating the same photo for every episode, but as with so many of these legendary figures from the British Record Industry, Bunny was largely ignored by the media so photographs are very limited)

To state the obvious, this interview was conducted long before the events, but…take a deep breath and..

Tell me how you first got to know Jimmy Savile?

Jim of course I knew about when he was operating in Leeds and Manchester for Mecca with his heavies, and the sales manager, Peter Stevens from Decca said ‘this fellow’s bloody good..why don’t you put him into your Luxembourg programmes, he’d be very good.’ I said ‘OK Steve, fine. If you think so I’ll put him on.’ So I bunged him on and it worked. I got to know him better on Juke Box Jury because I did a lot of them. At one time I was on about once a month. And Jim used to do them, and still in those days he kind of wasn’t acceptable to the establishment. Jim used to flirt outrageously with any women around – he was really quite harmless but people kind of believed his publicity in those days. We became more and more friendly and I discovered underneath all this tra-la-la and palaver and crap actually was an extremely nice and very decent man, and I came to admire him enormously. I became virtually his agent although he wouldn’t tell you that – he would say I was his friend. He didn’t like to admit it. He used to say ‘you’re my friend, you’re not my agent.’ I said ‘at times I’ve been a very friendly friend when I’ve got you the biggest commercial the country’s ever known – British Rail.’ It wasn’t as big as David Niven doing one of those coffee things, but that was worldwide. The biggest in the UK was Jimmy Savile’s British Rail. I don’t think people get as much (for doing commercials) today as he did then – twelve years or whatever ago. We’re now very close friends – rarely a day goes by that we don’t have a chat. I still look after his work – he doesn’t accept most of it. He was 19 years on Jim’ll Fix It. I sent him three charitable things in the post today. With help from other people he raised £11,750,000 (and we’re talking some years ago) to build the Spinal Wing in that hospital (Stoke Mandeville). And I can tell you nobody charged the charity anything, not one penny, not even for letters and stamps. We all did it for absolutely nothing. Some of the nurses up at the Leeds Infirmary where he used to work as a porter – they gave him their luncheon vouchers. People forked out left and right and the Prince of Wales opened it. A few years ago I had a bad batch of cancer operations, three in a matter of six months or something, and I nearly kicked the bucket. Since then I tried to help people who are fairly young in the cancer business, called CCC – Colon Cancer Concern and I go round begging for them, and Jim’s been marvellous. He’s given me a grand for them.

He was very influential on Top of the Pops

Yes, and he was on Radio 1 for ages. He was always very smart. When they slung him off Radio 1 he wasn’t pleased, but he wasn’t going to let anyone know. He got himself on the Overseas Service and said he’d moved because his audience was so much bigger. He’s a great guy. I’m very fond of him. He’s extremely generous but extremely mean to himself – never buys anything. Everything in his flat and so on has been given to him. Whenever I do a biggish deal for him, I’ve always had to tag on at least one box of Havana cigars on the end of it. You know he has more Havana cigars stored at Dunhills in Jermyn Street than Dunhills have! And now of course he lives in a penthouse in Leeds; he’s got a small flat just off Regent’s Park, he’s got what was his mother’s (who was known as the Duchess) house in Scarborough. He’s got a couple of caravans down Bournemouth way that he puts poor or ill people into for a week in the summer. He’s also got a room at the hospital and another room at Broadmoor. He goes down to the hospital and he’s there all day, and sometimes I say ‘would you like to come down the road and have a drink?’ and he says ‘I can’t.’ ‘Why?’ ‘I’ve promised this fellow who normally sits in with the corpses that he can have the night off’ People don’t know this about Savile. All they know is that he’s eccentric, sometimes rather rude, a bit of a joke, and they have no idea about the serious side of it, but if you walk round the hospital then you know the serious side, because they all adore him. He’s the only person allowed to smoke his bloody cigars, which he keeps in his sock. He never spends too long with them and he never cries on their shoulders. It’s always ‘How are you?, getting better? Good, that’s the stuff!’ and so on to the next. And he is still, through all these years, paying for a whole lot of things in that hospital. I think I’d be correct in saying that it costs him £4,000-£5,000 a year providing little things in there that they can’t afford under the National Health. I used to cadge records from the companies and I also used to write a record column for Reveille for about 14-15 years so I used to get sent all the records and being at Decca, of course I could get what I wanted so I used to go up to the hospital with a bunch of these and distribute them to the younger members up there, Because there are a lot of people who go to the hospital there – girls largely through falling off horses and fellows falling off motorbikes, I haven’t been much lately.

Whose idea was ‘Jim’ll Fix It’?

Jim will tell you he did, the BBC will tell you they did and I keep my nose right out of the bloody way.

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I associate you with Craig Douglas and the Ritz logo.

I made all his hits. Just after I left Decca, Dick Rowe left, for the same reason. They were giving him even less money than they were giving me. He (Dick) got the chance to run Top Rank and we’d always been buddies, so I said ‘do you want Craig? Decca aren’t interested in him.’ So I put Craig with Dick. There was one hit with an American duo and Craig scrambled in at the bottom end of the top 20 with it. And then came A teenager in love. Marty had the big one, but we barged in and got in the top 10 with it. Larry Parnes always said to me ‘I’d have had No.1. with Marty if it hadn’t been for Craig Douglas.’ He would have. Marty got to about 2 or 3 with it, and we got to number 6. And then we had Only sixteen which was one of the biggest records ever.

I told Decca ‘if you want Craig or anything of mine, you’ve got to give me a logo deal and a producer’s royalty and I’ll pay the artist.’ It took time. I can see during my career most people find that. When I wrote a lot of my songs I just went along to the music publishers and they published them and that was that. Then I suddenly discovered what they did with the foreign royalties. By the time it had been round three countries and then come back to you..there was bugger all left. They halved it all. Eddie Kassner was a genius and what he used to do, and he did it to the Americans too – he did it to Mike Stuart who ended up as managing director of CBS Records, but when Eddie was a publisher he did it to Mike and took him to court. He would buy a song from an American and then publish it in England, so the writer only got half his royalties because the other half went to the English publisher. What he should have done was publish it in America and then sub-publish it everywhere.  He didn’t; he re-published it everywhere, so when that song went to France, the same thing happened over and over again, but this time the writer didn’t get a half, he’d get a quarter! Then it might go to Belgium and he might get an eighth. By the time it had been around four of five of these there’d be nothing left. I caught on to this eventually. We were all a  bit slow in those days. There were only the Eddie Kassners and few other peopole making millions through being faster and more experienced than we were. With Cara Mia, which I thought was frightfully clever, nobody at that stage had thought of going to a music publisher and saying ‘look, I want my company with you – Lewis Music and I’m prepared to pay you 15% off the top to administrate it.’ which is what they’ve been doing for years now. But in my time no one had thought about that. I had Dennis Preston, who was the first independent producer in the UK and, I think, Ireland,with Robbins Music here. I published it in the United States and Canada with one of Robbins’ music companies, but direct over here so I always got the full writer’s royalty wherever I was. I made a half step forward – that’s how Ritz came about really. I was fed up with making hits for other people. All that money I made for Decca with David Whitfield, then when Top Rank packed up, which was a disaster because it was doing so well, but they were amateurs in the record business. They did a deal with good old EMI who slaughtered them so they were losing money below the line. If you’re losing money above the line there’s something you can do about it- you can cut the artists’ royalty, or cut this or cut that. But if it’s below the line there’s bugger all you can do about it. EMI were charging them so much to manufacture each record they couldn’t make any money. It only lasted a couple of year. Only Sixteen sold 750,000 in England alone.

 

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My wife found Craig Douglas. Robin Britten (we called  him ‘Old Thing’ and he managed The Hollies as well as doing PR for Gene Pitney and many others. Sadly he escaped my microphone and MiniDisc) lived on the Isle of Wight and wrote to us, and she went down to Ryde where he had entered Craig for a local talent competition in the cinema. She came back and said he was jolly good, so we took him on. He was the first person I produced independently. I had him up until about four months ago (this interview dates from October 1998) when I decided that I had no right to take commission from him any more. One of my professional problems is that I have never been greedy enough. I’m serious,  I could have been a millionaire now if I’d been a bit greedier. Craig is still working, playing all these clubs and things and I decided a) it wasn’t really my bag and b) I wasn’t very good at it. I don’t think I was getting him enough work. I said to him ‘we’ve been chums for so long. I’ve known you since you were sixteen, why not give Kenny Earle a chance! Maybe he can get you more work’ I’m sure he’s doing very well, because I was doing next to nothing. I didn’t like it, you see. I didn’t like these bums who ran all the clubs. I’ve been too used to the more glamorous side of the business, compared to what ity’s been latterly. Even playing the Moss Empire circuit was more glamorous than Batley was umpteen years ago, and now there’s not even Batley. Civic Halls now, not my cup of tea at all.

Any other artists from that era?

The Mudlarks. I found The Mudlarks. Someone told me to go and hear them in North London. I thought they were great and came running back to Norrie Paramor. I was at EMI then because Len Wood came to me when Top Rank went bust and said that all their artists automatically come over to us. So I said ‘I’m not automatically going over to anyone, Len!’, so I got taken out to lunch two or three times. Evetually I thought, “I’ve got to go somewhere I suppose.’ I got the deal I wanted. I insisted on going to Columbia under the aegis of Norrie. We started writing songs together because he needed a lyricist and I needed a composer. He took over Craig about that time, at the same time roughly as Cliff Richard, and I found The Mudlarks. They knocked off a couple of quick hits, then bust up through no fault of their own…the army insisted on one of the boys. They were a threesome, two brothers and a sister, so that mucked that up

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Another one I found was The Avons. Went to Columbia and they had a couple of big ones – Seven little girls sitting in the back seat – with Norrie. I was co-producing. We were a couple of old-timers even then. All we were interested in was success and a few bob – that’s why we had all those different names.

Norrie chose to stand apart from the royalty fights the others had because he made a lot of money elsewhere. He had BBC bands and things, he was writing away, etc. George didn’t have anything else at that time and they were paying him nothing – much less than I was getting at Decca. Absolutely ridiculous. Norrie was one of the better-to-do people, as indeed I was at the time because of my association with the agency. And a bit of luck with some of the songs – I’d had three big hits which helped.

One more episode to go

Text © David Hughes, 2018. Photos etc., courtesy Google search to break up the copy and stimulate a few memories

About dhvinyl

Lifelong obsession with music, 33 years in the music business, 40 years immersed in selling old records, 18 years retired!
This entry was posted in A Personal History of the British Record Business, Stories of the British Music Business, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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