Tag Archives: benny hill

January 6th 1975

“Went Southampton. Went to Francis Records. GOT A NEW JOB!”

First, a little back history about the city of Southampton. Musically it has (somewhat sadly) proved to be something of a cultural wasteland. In 1975 the biggest musician to have emerged from within its boundaries was…. erm… Benny Hill. And that’s ‘musician’ in the broadest possible sense, and only on the basis of his 1971 number one single “Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West)

(As if to emphasise the point, since 1975 the only notable names Southampton can add to its musical roster are Coldplay’s drummer Will Champion and R&B singer Craig David)

So it’s perhaps no wonder that given this relative (at least to other provincial cities of its size) dearth of inbuilt creativity it was never very well blessed with record stores.

In 1975 the city boasted just three independent shops;  Henry’s Records, Who Dat & Francis Records. There was also one chain store in the shape of HMV, plus a handful of department stores – like Edwin Jones, Owen Owens, Boots and Woolworths – all of which had areas dedicated to records, tapes, accessories and sheet music.

Henrys Records was – without question – THE big player in town. It’s reputation was second to none, and in 1975 it had already been a city institution for almost two decades. Henry Sansom, the son of a Welsh miner opened the store for less than £500 in 1956. It was located in the St Mary’s district of the city, an area which was ethnically diverse but which suffered from nearby problems such as prostitution and street crime.

In the early 70’s Sansom’s preference for opera and classical music was supplemented by the addition of John Clare to his staff. John was a die-hard ‘music man’ with an apparent encyclopaedic knowledge about pop music, and these attributes took the store to new heights. I think it’s fair to say Clare was – and remains – a legend in any Southampton record collector’s memory, certainly mine. (Both he and Henry himself stayed behind the counter until 1988 when, sadly, the shop finally gave up the ghost)

Perhaps peculiarly – given its reputation – I never actually purchased a lot of records from Henry’s. To be frank, the store – and the area it was located – always intimidated me a bit. Somewhat perversely I probably bought more LPs and singles there after I’d started working in the music business than I did before, mainly because once my ‘habit’ was on a roll they were able to get imports (Jamaican reggae mainly) I was unable to source even at my own places of employment!

Who Dat was the newest indie in town. I believe it opened in the early seventies. It traded above (as I remember) a trendy clothes store in Above Bar, almost opposite Southampton’s Watts Park. It was, for want of a better phrase, a ‘hippy shop’, hanging on to post-Woodstock, post-Vietnam ideals.

Alongside its record and tape offerings, it also sold stuff like beads, badges, silk scarves, perfumes and incense sticks, as well as magazines from the UK’s ‘underground press’ – such as The International Times, Ink and Gandalph’s Garden. I think  Who Dat was the first place I ever saw bootleg records. I never bought any of them – mainly because the majority were live recordings (and, as regular EFA70sTRO will know, I have never been a fan of live albums) – but a proportion of my record purchases were made at Who Dat. Unless I am very much mistaken it was the store where I bought that ‘erotic’ Saturnalia picture disc album back in March 1973? It was certainly their kind of thing.

Which brings us neatly to Francis Records, my new employer in 1975 and my start in what was to become a lengthy career in the music industry.

I’ll be honest and say that back then I was initially unaware of Francis Records as any kind of a ‘record buying destination’. It was tucked away in Southampton’s Pound Tree Road (6a to be precise), off the main drag and not immediately identifiable from the street as a record shop.

My awareness of it stemmed from the fact that a college chum, Niles, got a part-time job there in November 1974. Needless to say I and many other friends then started popping in there to see him, browse the racks and make a few purchases. It was something of a ‘peculiar’ record shop… but more on that a little later.

Around Christmas time, Niles told me that the owner was looking for another Saturday person and suggested I should apply for the job. Which I did. Niles had also told another college friend, Derek, about the job and he applied too. Derek and I both had interviews on the same day.

In what transpired as a cruel twist, the owner offered both me AND Derek a job – which we both snapped up – before firing Niles! I’m not sure she realised we all knew one another or not, but it certainly created a certain level of awkwardness when we all convened at Barton Peveril the next day.

Francis Records started business in 1965 and was well-placed to take full advantage of the ‘Beatles era’ with everything else that came with it. It was a joint venture between a Mr & Mrs Francis and their middle-aged son, John. Mr Francis (Sr) died (I believe) sometime in the late 60’s. I should point out that Mrs Francis – who interviewed me for the job, and who ran the ‘pop’ side of the business, was well over 60 years old, maybe over 70? – so her enterprise was something she started quite late in her life!

The store itself was crammed in between a Ladbrokes bookmakers and (I think it was) a tiny ‘greasy joe’ cafe and was often hidden from the other side of the street by the sheer numbers of municipal buses stopping outside on the their way to various suburbs of the city. As I said, it did NOT look like a record store at all. A narrow shopfront revealed one small window and a glazed front door which, when you opened it led to two more doors – one to head upstairs and one which took you off to the left.

John Francis, the son, ran the classical department downstairs. Yes, the least fashionable music was in the prime location. I will probably talk about John in a later post because he showed great trust in me as 1975 panned out.

The design of poster racks – with those big flappy ‘pages’ really hasn’t changed much in 35 years!

The pop department was up the narrow stairs where you had to cross a small hallway before you discovered the racks, staff and counter. The walls were a long-unpainted shade of cream, dotted with a handful of promotional posters. There was one long-abandoned listening booth (all the rage in the 60’s) surrounded by wooden handbuilt racks containing record sleeves – just the sleeves – lined up in various categories and (if memory serves me correctly) one or two poster racks whose ‘pages’ dominated the sunlight that streamed in through the vintage sash windows.

In those days many record shops – uncertain how to safely stock and sell (the newer-fangled) cassettes – stored them in flapping ‘page’ racks, each page featuring maybe a couple of dozen tapes and locked up to prevent any theft. I always remember that most cassettes bought from such a system back then almost always featured heavy scratch marks top & bottom, back & front where the framework had rubbed against it.

The counter took up the entirety of one of the longer walls and offered quite an inviting space to loiter and talk to the staff (one of which I was about to become!). The actual stock itself was stored in cardboard (what were known as ) “masterbags” in square wooden racks/cubicles behind the staff area whilst there was a set of smaller racks that housed extra cassettes and accessories.

Mrs Francis had her own office at the interior end of the counter, fully glazed so she could always be sure to see what was going on in the whole store. This was where she did all the company paperwork or where John would occasionally come upstairs and go into to smoke a cigarette. (No risk of lawsuits from ‘second-hand smoking’ back in 1975)

I know I’ll talk more about Francis Records in future posts. It’s difficult to describe just HOW excited I was by this opportunity back in 1975. What I think I can say is that I suddenly felt like the proverbial ‘kid in the candy store’.

There are NO online references to “Francis Records” anywhere (at least before this one), nor do I have – or does there seems to exist – any photos of it either. But thanks to Google’s streetview I can show you what the property looks like now. Yes, ugly as sin. Looking completely different, that “First” shop – hidden behind what seems to be a hideous onstreet public toilet? – was the premises for Francis Records

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June 2nd 1973

“Sad all day becos of the departure of Sue. Sue wearing a dress so we fondled her arse. She gave us a goodbye, um, kiss”

Now, in my defence your honour, can I just say that “political correctness’ did not really exist in 1973.

Indeed, sexism – overt sexism in fact – was rampant.

Rampant apparently being the operative word?!

I blame it all on that smutty ‘filth’ that was paraded across our TV screens on a weekly basis. Stuff like The Benny Hill Show (every Wednesday night at 8pm after This is Your Life and Coronation Street)

Because we had no VCRs, DVRs or Tivo’s in 1973, and thus were physically unable to fast forward any element of the show, we were instead FORCED to watch every single degrading moment of Benny’s comedy routines featuring semi-clad women in compromising situations…

Like that one (featuring Jane Leeves aka “Daphne” from the hit show “Frasier”, btw)

On behalf of everyone involved in the harassment-in-the-workplace scandal, I retrospectively apologise unreservedly to Sue. However, surely you must have led us on with that, um, kiss?

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Number Ones of 1972 (Part 4)

… [continued from Part 3]

With 1972 already seeing the likes of Donny Osmond and Marc Bolan at Number 1, it was shaping up to be “the year of the teen idol”

As if to cement the notion, along comes David Cassidy and the (IMHO) awfully turgid “How Can I be Sure

The son of actress Shirley Jones, Cassidy had already appeared on TV shows like “Bonanza” and “Ironside” before landing the part of Keith Partridge in “The Partridge Family“.

The Partridge Family was a kind of pseudo-reality sitcom that MTV would kill for these days. It was about a musical family who played together to stay together, touring America whilst trying to maintain a semblance of normal life.

Cassidy, initially happy about the success of The Partridge Family soon grew weary of its constrictions, not least being his requirement to maintain a squeaky-clean lifestyle in keeping with his character in the show.

In May 1972 he gave a revealing interview to Rolling Stone magazine where he expressed his unhappiness at playing Keith Partridge. As if to underline his point he also posed nude for the cover, shocking the show’s producers whilst simultaneously titillating his young fans.

EFA70’sTRO would like to briefly leap out of the Partridge Family closet and openly admit that one of his favourite romantic ditties of all-time is “I Think I Love You“. As fine a pop song as it is, he just wishes it wasn’t by The Partridge Family.

Quiz time….. Name all the bands you can think of whose band members feature a mother and her son playing together. (The Partridge Family don’t count because they were fictional).

I can think of one – Lieutenant Pigeon – and their hit “Mouldy Old Dough“, a ramshackle pub-singalong slice of nonsense that was Number 1 for a staggering 4 weeks.

The song is held together by the ragtime piano of Hilda Woodward, mother of band leader Rob whose vocals consist of throating just three words…. “Mouldy”, “Old” and “Dough”

Somewhat staggeringly, this song was the SECOND biggest selling single of 1972 (after that crappy bagpipe bollocks). I LOVE it and often find myself ‘singing’ it in the shower! (If it was at the local bar’s Karaoke night I would definitely grab the mic!)

Oh, btw, the correct pronunciation of the band’s name is LEF-tenant Pigeon and not LOO-tenant Pigeon. Thought I’d just clear that up for my American readers otherwise ignorant of English *giggle*

Claire was Gilbert O’Sullivan‘s 6th UK hit single in two years, but his first Number 1.

The whistle-infused song was written about his young niece, the lyric “Will you marry me Uncle Ray?” referring to O’Sullivan, whose real first name is Raymond.

It’s sad that Gilbert never gained the worldwide popularity I personally feel he deserved. His lyrics, melodies and vocal style are all as assured as, say Billy Joel’s or Elton John’s, and his notions of ‘whimsy’ and ‘romance’ are always evident.

His relative lack of success compared to his peers can actually be blamed on a massive mid-70’s court case he got embroiled in. He discovered that his contract with MAM Records was skewed heavily in favor of the label’s owner, with Gilbert earning next to no royalties for the hits he had created, including his massive USA Number 1 “Alone Again (Naturally)“. The case rumbled on for over 5 years, during which time he was unable to record a note, so the hits – and his visibility – just fizzled out.

In 1980, he was awarded £7m in damages. A large sum of money, but doubtless FAR less than his earnings otherwise could have been had he remained in the public eye.

I picked up the (terribly-titled) “Berry Vest of Gilbert O’Sullivan” a year or so ago, which obviously contains “Claire” and 19 other songs, most of which are surprisingly recognisable and memorable. A great singer-songwriter.

Chuck Berry is one of the pioneers – if not THE pioneer – of Rock & Roll. It’s even been said that he invented it.

Think of all the classic songs he’s been responsible for… “Johnny B Goode“, “Rock and Roll Music“, “Sweet Little Sixteen“, “Roll Over Beethoven“, “School Days” and so many, many more.

The antithesis of all his classic songs is the horrendous “My Ding-a-Ling“, sadly his ONLY UK Number 1.

Recorded live at a concert in Coventry, “My Ding-a-Ling” is little more than an exercise in Benny Hill-style double entendre, so it’s astonishing in retrospect that many radio stations refused to play it!

I guess because it always forms a backdrop to office parties and family get togethers, the UK Christmas Number 1 has always carried an air of ‘reverence’ about it.

Well, christmas parties in 1972 must have been REALLY scary affairs, with everyone living in fear of having to hear Little Jimmy Osmond with “Long Haired Lover from Liverpool

Younger – and spottier – brother of Donny, this scored a big 10 on the “crap-o-meter” for many people, myself included. Even my aural fondness for a “novelty hit” refuses to acknowledge this as worthy.

[continued in Part 5]….

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An Aside (V) – Telly in 1972

“Three Channels and Nothing On”

Unlike today, when my wife and I have 200+ channels to choose from and almost unlimited programming possibilities (thanks to the advent of TiVo), in 1972 I had 3 channels to pick my viewing from; BBC 1, BBC 2 and ITV.

We had just ONE television in the house. A small black & white set, my parents did not ‘convert’ to colour (together with it’s necessary, but far more expensive, TV license) until I gifted them a Sony brand 26″ for Christmas in 1976 or 1977. (I had promised myself that as soon as I started earning any decent money, I was going to buy them this ‘luxury’)

Maybe unlike other children of my age at that time, I have to be honest and say that my Mum & Dad did allow me to watch many of my favourite programmes. Actually, between us we shared quite a few faves, although in the case of The Benny Hill Show I am sure my Mum was watching a different element of the show than me or my Dad were!

I can’t ever remember getting stroppy with them because they didn’t let me watch a particular favourite, although I am convinced it must have happened a few times when programming clashes occurred.

It is weird to think that we had to watch everything “live” without any opportunity to record/timeshift/replay/rewind a show. If you missed a scene by visiting the loo, you missed it. If a joke wasn’t heard, you missed it. That sudden plot twist? Missed it.

Also, unlike today, there were no ‘instant repeats’ either! If you missed a show because you were out or busy doing something else, you never had the chance to “catch it again” later in the week. Indeed, repeats of anything were quite rare, the whole clichéd “here’s another opportunity to see” not yet in the TV lexicon.

So, what did I watch in 1972?
(By the way, be warned, this is the first in an irregular series of lengthy observational asides about life in the 70’s).

Here’s a merest selection…..

Are You Being Served?
OK, I admit it. I know I watched this awful show in 1972 and I know I laughed. Hey, I was 14 years old, Pauline Fowler looked like hot stuff and jokes about “pussies” had me giggling like a very giggly thing.

I was ‘gayly’ naive regarding the awfully homophobic jokes about Mr Humphries’ overt sexuality, but not so stupid so as to believe Captain Peacock would secretly teach me everything I needed to know for my later career in retail.

Even then the show was a little cringeworthy, so years later surely you could never admit to watching this comedic tosh? … oh, unless you are an American.

Since living in the mid-west I have seriously lost count of the number of people we’ve met who – once discovering I am British – have asked me if I have seen – or like – “that English TV show Are you being Served?“, adding “we simply luuuuurve it” and “it is sooooooo funny“. Yes, 36 looooooooooong years after first being broadcast in the UK, PBS in the USA continues to schedule regular reruns of the show (along with similarly anachronistic “Keeping Up Appearances” and, more recently, “Last of the Summer Wine“)

I am convinced therefore that many Americans believe “Are You Being Served” represents some kind of embodiment of British society. Nothing can be scarier. When someone asks me “are you free on Saturday night?”, I always wonder what response they expect!

Clangers
1972 sadly saw the demise of this classic kids TV show.

What can be more engaging for children than a bunch of hand-knitted puppet aliens who spoke only in penny-whistle noises and breathy whoops? 

Were they supposed to be anteaters? Pigs? Whichever, they subsisted on green soup brought to the surface of their bizarre planet from underground wells by the inimitable aluminium-clad soup dragon.
(No, Mr American spell checker, aluminium IS spelled that way, OK?! There IS an extra “i” in there…. look, we gave you the bloody langauge, please try not to ruin it)

Contrary to what I said earlier, I think The Clangers was often repeated, episodes shown weekly at tea-time on Sunday evenings just before the “god slot” (all things church and other prayer-based nonsense). Despite my ‘rebellious youth’, I watched The Clangers on a semi-regular basis, and it may have scarred me for life…

If you have 9½ spare minutes in your life, please try and enjoy the following brief spectacle…

… and I watched it (then) withOUT drugs!

A year or so ago, hit by a wave of ludicrous (mid-life crisis) nostalgia, I purchased a DVD collection of Clangers episodes. I watched two of them before giving up, deeming them “childish and stupid”. I subsequently gifting the set on to a friend in England who continues to indulge in ‘otherworldy’ substances. I’m sure – in fact I KNOW – he got more of a kick out of seeing the show again than I did?!

Show such as Monty Python’s Flying Circus, The Goodies and Top of the Pops were die-hard staples of my weekly viewing and I suspect I will continue to comment on them in regular Efa70’sTRO diary postings, as well as the ‘educational’ (for me) show The Old Grey Whistle Test. So, what else was there?……..

We had American ‘imports’ – easily as much a part of UK TV programming back in the 70’s as it is now. The ones I can remember getting hooked on include:-

Columbo – One-eyed man in shabby old flasher mac catches the killer
• Mission Impossible – They always solved the mission, so why wasn’t the show called Mission Entirely Possible?
• Hawaii Five-O – Fact. Back then I told myself that I would NEVER visit Hawaii as I was convinced there was always too much crime there. (The theme tune to Hawaii Five-O remains one of THE best ever American TV openers!)
• Land of the Giants– One of my favourites without a shadow of a doubt. I can remember being as amazed by the sets the producers built for the actors to work in as I was the story lines.
• Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea – This series about a futuristic nuclear submarine which trawled the seas of the world solving the mysteries of nature (like land of the Giants, an Irwin Allen production) felt quite believable to me back then. However technology & discoveries in the past 3 decades have subsequently rendered the show carbon-dated as ‘silly’

Most of these USA shows were broadcast on Sunday afternoons, which must have been one of my weekly rituals before going out to those TIB’s classes or… whatever else it was I did on Sunday evenings that I can’t remember.

Shows that wanted to be American, but weren’t, and which I also enjoyed were The Saint and The Avengers, both of which I will still watch and get a kick out of.

There’s some wonderfully old-fashioned ideals floating around in The Saint, Roger Moore’s Simon Templar character being permanently macho around women and feeling he has to protect them all the time whilst he solves the latest crime caper.

The Avengers, by total contrast, was supportive of the female role with all the women co-stars (Honor Blackman, Linda Thorson or the delectable Diana Rigg) being as – if not moreso – action-packed and formidable than Patrick Macnee’s John Steed character. I never realised it back then, but The Avengers was (and, watching repeats, still is) a very dark & often bizarre show. Some of the plots feel so blatantly surreal that I sometimes wonder what audience the producers were aiming for.

The show is often described at “kitsch”, but I never really see that. It’s very groovy and very 60’s/70’s for sure, but the scripts often appear fresher than any of the nonsense that calls itself ‘sci-fi crime’  these days. If that makes me sound like an old fuddy-duddy that might be because I am?!

Colditz debuted in 1972. Cleverly cashing in on the continuing popularity of the 1963 “bank holiday” classic movie “The Great Escape“, this series took the premise of POW’s (prisoners of war) one step further.

Why not give all the prisoners completely rounded characters and lock them in a supposedly impregnable German castle from which there is also, apparently, no means of escape? Then make the series more about a battle of the minds between the captors and the captives, than mere tunnel building. It was, therefore, a kind of World War II version of The Prisoner.

I was pretty hooked on this series as a teenager. My folks were too, making it something none of us missed. The series ran for just two series and for two years apparently, but it feels like we watched it much longer than that? (Maybe there was just no escape from it? *heh*)

Another show – a soap opera – which debuted in 1972 was Emmerdale Farm. A TV rip-off of the BBC Radio’s The Archers, a long-running radio saga about ‘everyday country folk’, Emmerdale Farm continues to, …erm, entertain 36 years later.

Now called simply Emmerdale, and broadcast five evenings a week (instead of a couple of lunchtimes as in 1972), my father still watches it.

OK, by way of sad disclosure, I’ll admit I still watch it too, but only – I hasten to add – whenever I go and stay with him in the UK or, as recently, he flies across and stays with us. (I think he was secretly impressed he could still catch up on his little guilty pleasure thanks to me finding daily downloads)

As a 70’s teenager you had a definite choice to make. You were either a Blue Peter fan OR a Magpie fan. There’s was no mixing and matching. Blue Peter was the BBC’s long-running (STILL running now) magazine-format TV show for ‘young people’. It went out twice a week and featured all kinds of things including activities, crafts, cookery, toys & charity events. It is one of the Beeb’s most iconic TV shows, with early presenters such as Peter Purves, John Noakes and Valerie Singleton (the trifecta of PERFECT hosts) 100% assured of their place in TV history.

Personally, I always found Blue Peter to be a little po-faced and ‘immature’, those gifts made out of toilet paper rolls and washing-up bottles somewhat twee and entirely unnecessary. So I gravitated towards Magpie, ITV’s far superior imitation. 

With an easier-going attitude to stuff, Magpie just seemed a much trendier, cooler show. The sets were all sci-fi like, the presenters (including Tony Bastable, Mick Robertson, the weirdly attractive Susan Stranks, and the – to me, back then – stunning Jenny Hanley) generally seemed more laid back  and the subjects discussed more relevant to a hormonal teenager.

I’ll own up to writing in to the show from time to time, just so that they would send me one of the badges they gave away. Each badge was based on a line from their singalong theme tune (sung by later musical faves of mine, the Spencer Davis Group). I still have the badges somewhere amongst the pile of junk I brought across the ocean with me. If I can find them, I will scan and share them with all my readers.

Another geeky favourite was Mastermind, a weekly quiz-show presented by ice-cool Magnus Magnusson. In this, 4 contestants would slug it out as to which was the brainiest by first taking questions on their specialist subject and then answering a bunch of general knowledge questions. All whilst sat in a comfy leather chair and under the spotlight in a dark-foreboding studio. I’m sure that I probably answered no more than one question every 4 or 5 episodes of this, but it made me feel clever watching it.

Magnus used to have a catchphrase which seems apt to use here….

I’ve started so I’ll finish

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