We left Norman as he was about to move from EMI to the newly formed Philips label, lured by the thrill of meeting Doris Day (?)
They (Philips) asked me who I wanted to be the sort of marketing boss and I said I thought it might as well be Leonard Smith because we’d worked together all this time. But unfortunately it developed into a tremendous jealousy thing later on. I left under a cloud and CBS went mad and tried to sue Philips because in their contract (with EMI) they insisted on having me. They paid me compensation as they had no chance of winning the case. At Philips we had Winnie Atwell, Norman Wisdom. It was a new company and they (the artists) came to me from other companies because of the reputation I’d earned . Two people I thought were coming with me, Ray Martin and Norrie Paramor, both decided at the last minute to sign with EMI and stay. I started Ray, can’t remember why – I must heard an arrangement of his somewhere, and Norrie did an arrangement for someone – could have been Pet Clark – and I admired him so much I signed him to a contract with Columbia. Ray had success with Blue Tango – I recorded that and most of his..that’s why I wanted to take him.
I had always admired Bette Davis and thought ‘if only I could get her to make a record where she spoke the lyrics’, like Rex Harrison, whom I recorded later on). I went through her agents and everyone who knew her, and always got the same answer. When I finally did meet her and told her how hard it had been to get to her, she said ‘I’ve wanted to make a record all my life. It (your calls) never got to me or I’d have been over right away.” We became great friends and she made an album, not a good one, but it represented a great actress.
I think it’s always better to go to the fountainhead. Generally in those days there wasn’t an entourage around the stars that there is today. You could usually get the artists with too much problem. I don’t think the value of records was recognised so much in those days. We sold a lot but nothing like they do today.
We always paid a royalty. It was a penny (1d) royalty for Russ Conway for instance and we’d make a whole album in one day. That was the starting point. Later on I became known for original cast albums, and I always tried to make an album that conveyed the show to the person who couldn’t get to see it live. I always remember one record of Camelot (I think I made three – the original, one with Richard Harris and one for Music for Pleasure which was a cover job)
It was Goddard Lieberson’s idea to start Philips in this country. Leonard Smith was basically in charge – I concentrated on the artists. We started in an empty office in Great Portland Street opposite The Shaftesbury Theatre – not even a desk in it. Johnny Franz had done the early recordings with Shirley Bassey (on Philips), then suddenly I got a telephone call from her manager asking if I would be interested in recording her. I nearly fell on the floor, so he said ‘well let’s have lunch at the Caprice and meet her.’ Not only did I make albums with her, and several big hits, but I wrote several hits for her….this was all on Columbia.
I decided to go to America to learn my job better. I thought they were better at recording that we were and I was right then. I always had the ambition to write a musical. I wrote one over there with Michael Carr and someone else, called ‘The Hot Rock,’ based on the Stone of Scone being stolen, but nobody wanted to know. You had to audition to get money over there, so I travelled all around America with the man who wanted to produce it and we never got enough money to put it on, but there were some good songs in it. I was kept going through the royalties on my songs, as now, though it’s less as they’re played less frequently.
I was offered a job in Hollywood by Dory Shelley ( I can find no trace of anyone with a vaguely similar name), head of MGM – his sister was a big agent – and he said ‘would you like to sign up with me and come over and write for films?’ and all that kind of thing. That was a great big temptation, but temptation doesn’t take me away from my family. I had a conscience about it. It was a big gamble and I think now I should have taken it. The one thing I am conceited about is that I know I can write lyrics and there was an opportunity staring me in the face. I hadn’t been back here for five minutes when I got a phone call from Sir Joseph Lockwood who took me to lunch and asked if I’d go back to EMI. I said ‘well, I had this offer from Hollywood’ but he said ‘I’m making you a definite offer – you don’t know what would happen if you went out there’. He had a good way of talking, but I said ‘You’ve got George Martin on Parlophone, Wally Ridley on HMV and Norrie Paramor on Columbia – where would I fit in?
He said ‘well, you would put your records on any label you like.’ That was another tempting offer. It wasn’t very popular with the other people, but they couldn’t argue – this was a rule from the boss.In fact it was ridiculous and sometimes two people would record the same song for EMI. Then of course, shortly after that Shirley Bassey came on the scene and became one of their biggest artists. I always loved recording Vera Lynn -she was marvellous. She’s definitely the favourite person I’ve recorded. I think she was recording when I first started at Decca, but she came to EMI on Columbia and we had a lot of success with ideas like Hits from the Blitz – all that kind of thing.
I think this was a Norman Newell celebration lunch with Dame Vera as special guest. We certainly dressed up for it!!
I walked into a club one day and saw two boys singing. I thought ‘all of show business has come to this club – why hasn’t someone recorded them?’ They were called Peter & Gordon. I never knew at the time that Paul McCartney was interested in one of their sisters. In fairness, I can’t remember whether I made the record myself of whether John (Burgess) did. I was extremely lucky in the people I employed as my assistants. First of all I had John. Strangely enough I always believe you know someone’s got a personality as soon as they walk in a room. You can talk to some people who look right but are absolute bores. I got in the lift at Manchester Square and John was there, and a couple of girls and they were laughing and joking and I thought ‘this boy’s got a terrific personality.’ He was working in the company so I went to L.G. Wood and said ‘look, I’ve found someone who I want to be my assistant.’ He proved to be so good; he was especially marvellous at handling people that it was ridiculous of me just to have him as an assistant. I recommended he become an artist producer in his own right. The first thing I think he did was Adam Faith and John Barry – I had signed them because I thought John Barry could do anything. We fell out in the end but that’s another story.
When I was in America one time, Elvis Presley was all the rage. I thought to myself ‘I must find someone over here who can try and give him some competition. The only person who faintly reminded me of Presley was Tommy Steele. I went to Blackpool to see him, but he was already under contract, but accompanying him was John Barry. I thought immediately he had tremendous talent. When he started he was with the John Barry Seven and he came to me one day and said ‘I’d like to do more ambitious things like record with a big symphony orchestra.’ So I got EMI’s agreement to spend that kind of money. If we went in for big things like that you had to ask somebody, but they never said ‘no’. I don’t think they made big hits for EMI. John Burgess always says I get the credit for Adam Faith. I don’t, actually – I think it was John Barry who thought of the pizzicato thing. Adam had recorded with other people and I had a call from his agent who took me to lunch at the Dorchester and offered me part of his contract – but I never took anything like that.
(This comes across a little garbled, but maybe Adam was also in Blackpool….whatever!!)
The thing that really annoyed me in those days was that we (the producers) got no credit. So many of my records people don’t know I was the producer and we certainly got no royalties. We owe all that to George. When I went independent (funded by EMI) they didn’t offer to pay me any royalties for past recording.s I got a solicitor….
I’m guessing Norman chose not to complete that sentence, but we can guess EMI prevailed. Certainly it was George who persuaded EMI to give credit to the producers, both with name checks, and more importantly with royalty payments. Up until then all house producers were employees paid the same monthly salary whether they produced hits or not!
More meandering, name dropping and lunches from Norman in the final episode, coming up when a couple of hours present themselves!
©David Hughes, 2019. Photos Googled for illustration only.