MY BROTHER JIMMY:
You have never heard of me but unless you live on the dark side of the moon you will know who my older brother is.
He is still around you know, my brother. He will be eighty years old next birthday and has been retired for half of his life. Yes, decades of spending money and living the high life while I still have to work, with no pension I have to put some money into my pockets. I guess I am lucky in that I still enjoy what I do.
1959, Birmingham England. Having failed the eleven plus examination then never having excelled in secondary modern school my parents refused to let me stay on at school to sit GCE examinations.
"You can get a job," Dad said. "A proper job, not like your brother."
The number one record in the current charts would earn that older brother of mine more money than my father could possibly make as a wages clerk in a factory. It would take him two, perhaps three or more, years to match it.
Parents in those days were never close to their children. At the end of the decade with austerity still controlling everything and teenagers starting to discover lives of their own the gap widened between the generations. My brother and I were friends, not bosom buddies but we got along well enough. Neither of us understood our parents.
Brother ? As I write this story I cannot keep calling him brother but I do not want to give his identity away. My brother the rock and roll star. I had better invent a name for him. I am Max, that is my name, let me call my brother Jim, or Jimmy.
My friends would boast that they had a mate whose brother was a rock and roll star. The teachers at school, I am sure, held it against me. I enjoyed the adulation from my peersand smiled at the scorn of our school with its small minded teachers. I envied my brother and his success but Jimmy and Max were never destined to become Don and Phil Everley. I could not sing. I still cannot sing.
"I can give you a job Max," Jimmy said.
Dad glared at us both. It was one of those rare times when Jimmy was at home and not playing his guitar somewhere or other in the country. The whole family was together.
"I have employment for you my lad," my father said.
"And what would that be Dad ? Sweeping the factory floor ?"
"To start with but there are prospects. He may be able to get an apprenticeship."
I just kept quiet but when Jimmy and I were alone later I started to explore my options.
"So what would I have to do if I worked for you ?"
"Strictly speaking it would be the management company you worked for."
"So what would I do ?"
"Fetching and carrying, working with the road team to set up and break down all of the stage and equipment."
"Sweeping the floors ?" I smiled.
"It's hard work being a pop singer you know, nobody realises that, but it is a life of fun. You would be a part of that fun."
Be it a factory floor or be it a pop singer's stage, I was not sure if sweeping either had any fun in them ?
But FUN my life was.
I left school on Friday 24th July 1959. That week-end Bother Jimmy was part of a two night concert in Birmingham Town Hall. We all then moved the show to Liverpool, Stoke on Trent, Manchester, Newcastle, Blackpool, London and finally Brighton. Seven locations, twelve shows in two weeks.
"How old are you son ?"
"Sixteen in November."
"Just a kid. You are a good kid, I've watched you at work. Do you have a passport ?"
"Better get one, you are going to need it."
I am not sure which weighed more, the speakers or the amplifier. Both were heavy. I was always pleased when they were in place and working to Mike, the producer's satisfaction. He would have us move them, adjust them then move them again. If it took his fancy he would have us move the entire setup again and again until he was satisfied it was just right. He was not an easy man to please but he was an easy man to work with if that makes sense.
When it came to setting up the microphones, please do not ask me why, I was assigned the job of testing them. Everything was tweaked then when Jimmy and the others came on stage to rehearse I would make the final adjustments.
If the sound equipment was heavy, and it was, getting it ready for the show was so much easier than the less heavy but far more complex lighting rig. It would have taken the nerve and the skills of an agile monkey to match the way we climbed up and swung about the scaffolding.
Finally, and I mean finally, when all came together, when Jimmy and the others took to the stage to perform, I was proud to be a part of it all. Only a stage hand, a small stage hand but I was proud.
The moment the audience was allowed into the hall we all had to keep well out of sight. This was the time for the stars, not for we small and insignificant grafters. I would so much have loved to see close up the faces of those who had paid to see my brother sing and play is guitar. Without us all and our hard work they would be nothing. If I were on stage anything I did could not match the adulation of Brother Jimmy. I often wondered what it felt like for him.
Girls were an enigma to me. I had been to an all-boys school, I do not have a sister so have little knowledge of the opposite sex. I understood, or thought I understood, the mechanics but only in theory, nothing at all in a practical sense. I did wonder constantly, as does every adolescent, what it would be like.
The pay for my job was good. It was far better sweeping a music stage than ever it was sweeping the factory floor were my Dad worked. When we were not on tour I was still paid. When my rock and roll star brother had a recording session I would sit and watch but the whole process was long and if I am honest boring. I did not understand that side of the business, it was not of much interest to me.
Times at home with my parents were always delicate for me although Jimmy managed to rise above them. Even Dad was slowly begin to accept that his oldest son was a star but he knew little Max would never achieve anything with his life.
"I think it is time you stopped just testing the microphone and started using it."
What did he mean ?
"I cannot sing," I explained.
He smiled. "I know that but it is your birthday so today I am going to give you the job of announcing your brother and the other acts on stage. You have a good voice so let's use it."
The night of my sixteenth birthday we were in Sheffield.
"Here," Jimmy said, "You cannot go out on stage in your overalls so here's a birthday present for you. Wear this."
I looked amazed at the gift. "Thank you."
In the dark at the back of the stage a drummer beat out a roll followed by a crash on the cymbals. I leaped onto the stage as the lights came up then grabbed the microphone from the stand to deliver the words I had so carefully rehearsed.
"Bop bopa-a-lu a whop bam boo."
I paused nervously as I waited for the applause. The audience erupted. Dare I say my next line ?
"You've heard," I said bravely, "of Marty Wild, The Teenager In Love. I am Max, the teenager not in love so any of you ladies who would like to change that, today is my birthday so I'll see you after the show."
I blew kisses and flung my arms wide. Girls screamed.
Although I could not see him anywhere I could sense my brother smiling and saying "Get on with it !"
After the warm up act it would be Brother Jimmy. I waited in the wings for my next stage appearance.
"That was quite something," He whispered behind me. "What's next ?"
"Wait and see."
"Don't you upstage me !"
"As if I would." I had every intention of doing just that.
For a second time I danced across the blowing kisses and taking bows. "It's my birthday girls, see me after the show and help me celebrate."
Sheffield, that was where I was celebrating my sixteenth birthday. Being allowed to compare the show was my best possible birthday present. Mum and Dad did remember to send me a card and gave me a book token, how exciting.
"Max," Brother Jimmy said, "I have another birthday gift for you. Use that book token Mum and Dad sent you to buy a travel book for America. I have won a singing part, just a supporting part, in a movie being filmed in America next year. You are coming with me. you did get that passport ?"
"Hurry up and do it !"
"America ? Movie ?"
"Yes, a singing part but only a supporting role. I am not the star."
"And I will raise your pay," Mike said walking to join us. "You did OK tonight, from now on you will introduce and compare every show."
My own part in the touring show. AND I was going to America. Some birthday. In the excitement I had forgotten all about my invitation to the audience to celebrate my birthday, it was not a serious invitation anyway.
"Hello Max, I am Julie. This is Tina and her boyfriend Richard. I don't have a boyfriend."
"I've got a car," Richard explained. "The girls have an idea for a birthday treat. You up for it ?"
"Sure," I said excitedly.
Richard had a Ford Consul. My Dad didn't own a car, he did not earn enough as a factory wages clerk to drive one. Jimmy had passed is driving test but was always taken everywhere he wanted and needed to go. As soon as I was old enough I would learn to drive.
"Where are we going ?"
"We thought we would drive up to the moor," Tina said.
"But it has been snowing," I protested. "There will be a lot of snow on the moor."=
"We hope so," Richard smiled. "We are going to have a snowball fight."
"A naked snowball fight, "Julie giggled.
When we got out of the car the ice cold air hit me. Surely we were not going to go through with this ? It was a joke. The November moon was bright, I could see my new friends clearly. If we did as Julie had suggested we would be able to see each other as clearly as if it were midday. No darkness to cover us up !
"Come on," Richard said taking his jacket off and placing it with care on the snow. "Max this is not a for ladies first, here and now gentlemen lead."
Surreal is not a word I knew or understood when I was sixteen years old. The meaning came with age and experience. Experience ? Another word, three words, experience would teach me but that night high on the moor above Sheffield they meant little to me Rite of passage.
I copied Richard and took my coat off. "Everything ?" I said.
"Everything," a trio of voices said before someone added, "even your shoes and your socks."
Richard and I started to look like something you may find in Health and Efficiency Magazine. It was strange, I felt warmer standing there dressed only in my pants than it had been wearing all the clothes I had on when we left Sheffield Arena.
"Off ! Off !" Was that Tina or was it Julia ?
I looked at Richard, in the moonlight our eyes met and there was a transfer of thought. As one we turned to present our backs to the ladies before removing our final items of clothing. As I bent forward to step out of my pants a snowball hit me hard on the bottom. That was cold !
I scooped up a fistful of snow to retaliate, turned and threw it. Soon Richard and I, neither of us phased by our nudity, were firing volley after volley at Tina and Julie. Neither took any notice of the bombardment as they danced taking off their clothes to be as naked as we were. As naked as the day they were born.
This was the first time I had seen a girl naked. I tried to look at what this represented without actually staring at the two bodies. Were Tina and Julie staring at me ? No, not staring but looking.
The four of us leaped about throwing snowballs and ducking the ones aimed at us. We chased one another but deliberately the pursuer failed to catch any prey. We were having great fun. This was not sexual, this was not dirty. Naughty perhaps but it was fun. For the first time in my life I had seen a girl naked and she had seen me naked.
My birthday present delivered, my rite of passage walked there came the moment, not planned and with nothing spoken, when we knew it was time to get dressed again. It was colder with our clothes on ! In the car Richard turned the heating up as high as its primitive engineering would allow.
"Happy birthday," Richard said.
"Happy birthday," Tina said.
"Happy birthday," Julie said but not before she had kissed me.
Surreal, that word again. "Are you sure, Jimmy, that is who the star of the movie is going to be ?"
"Of course I am sure. It is in the contract I have signed. You will meet him, you are coming with me."
Today it would be said that I was to be my brother's PA but there was no such thing then as a PA, Personal Assistant, back then. I was to be is secretary for the duration of is filming.
"Secretary ? You don't look like some hot chick with a typewriter, not from where I am sitting.
"No Sir. I am here to help my brother."
"Sir !" He looked about him then smiled kindly at me. "Sir ? I am far too young to be called Sir. I do have a name you know."
Of course I knew. The whole world knew the name of the greatest rock and roll star. Even my dull parents could not claim ignorance where this man was concerned. He was talking to me !
My dull parents. Christmas moved slowly. Christmas with Mum and Dad, dull old Mum and Dad. Surely a pop star and his microphone jiggling younger brother should not be spending Christmas with Mummy and Daddy.
"You be careful in that America ! It's not a country I would want to trust. You mind out for those Red Indians. Why do you have to go there anyway ?"
"They do not have Red Indians in Hawaii Mum. It's for work, you know that."
"Funny kind of work if you ask me," Dad said. "Haven't I always said so ? How much are you getting paid ?"
That question was directed to Jimmy but I answered it telling my parents what I would be receiving. That silenced my father but I was not going to leave it there. "Better than sweeping a factory floor !"
Christmas and the New Year at my dear old parents Birmingham home, stuck as it was in the mindset of World War Two, was a long and drawn out process. It was, however, short compared to the time I felt it took us to complete the complex journey to America.
A car pulled up to collect us. I could sense pride in my Mother as she saw the uniformed driver open the doors for us. I knew she was hoping the neighbours were watching. Dad, of course, was at work fixing the wage packets for those who swept the floor at the factory where he worked. Even the factory's managing director did not travel in a car like this.
We drove towards London Airport. There was the new M1 Motorway which had opened the year before. Riding along its wide carriageway was exciting.
"Can this car do one hundred miles an hour ? Can it do the ton ?"
"A Bentley can do anything," our driver said, "and this model is called The Flying Spur."
Jimmy turned his head round to look at me then said, "Let her go."
Jimmy was sitting in the front next to the driver. I was in the back so leaned forward to look at the speedometer. I watched as it climbed quickly to ninety then continue upwards to ninety five, ninety eight, one hundred, one hundred and five, one hundred and ten. I glanced away from the dashboard to look as the countryside sped by. I found myself wondering if the aircraft we would soon board could match the cars speed.
That Pan Am Boeing 707 probably did go faster than the car yet as magnificent as it was it took forever to reach New York. I got to use my new passport but saw nothing of America other than Idlewild Airport before we had to board another Boeing 707 to Los Angeles.
Not a Bentley this time but eventually on the ground a Cadillac Fleetwood drove us to Paramount Studios in Hollywood. The cast members all had their own rooms in the studio compound. All these years later I still get tired when I recall those flights. As I write my story I keep speaking of words we use today which had no meaning when I was a teenager, jetlag is another to add to my list.
"Elvis Aaron Presley's the name," he said.
The two of us were sitting on the terrace of the artists' lounge at Paramount Studio, Hollywood, California.
"It's my real name. Your brother sings under is real name doesn't he ?"
"Not like that Cliff Richard fellow you have in England. He is Harold Webb if I am not mistaken."
I had no idea what is name was.
"You don't have to look at me like that you know, just because I can sing a bit. My legs end up in an arse the same as yours do. Although I expect my arse is a bit older than yours is."
"I am sixteen."
"Lucky you, I'm twenty-six myself."
I wonder now if those reading this story believe the conversation took place, it did.
"Your brother is quite a star back in England."
"It is good to have him here, having a limey in the movie will make it more appealing in England."
Good as he was I did not think Brother Jimmy could do that.
"You don't sing yourself ?"
"Can you mime ?"
I could but I was not about to confess to the king of rock and roll that I would mime to his songs in front of my bedroom mirror. "Never tried," I lied.
"Here's a deal," the great man said. "I can sing and I have no problem remembering the words to a song, I have only to hear it once and I have them permanently in my brain. But when it comes to the words I have to learn for the film, words in between the songs I just can never remember them. I get scared in front of the cameras."
Surely not. I did not say it aloud but I did think it. Surely not.
"If you will help me to learn my words, you become my stage buddy, and I will fix it for you to be in the movie and sing with your brother. Only you can mime."
My mouth fell open.
"Is it a deal ?"
He took my hand and shook it firmly. "Now what kind of beer would you like to drink ?"
"I'm only sixteen, I'm not old enough to drink."
"Listen, if you are old enough to be in an Elvis Presley movie then you are old enough to have a beer with your new buddy Elvis."
I have drunk many beers in my life and that one at Paramount Studio was by no way my first but I have never tasted better, before or after.
I do think that Jimmy was pleased for his little brother Max, I am not sure. Perhaps he was. "Eat your heart out Don and Phil," was all he said.
In the story for the movie Elvis Presley played the part of Chadwick Gates who returned to his home in Hawaii after military service to pick up his surfboard and start is life again.
"You don't have military service in England any more do you ?" Someone asked us the next day.
"Not any more. We used to call it National Service." Jimmy explained. "My Dad did National Service, he was in the army at El Alamein."
"A war hero."
"I don't think so," I explained. "He cleaned Montgomery's boots."
That first day at Paramount Studio we had costume fittings, script sessions, make up tests and everything anyone could come up with.
I would still have to do all the menial duties for my rock and roll star brother but now I was to become a star in my own right. Max Robinson appearing in Blue Hawaii alongside Elvis Presley. Would my name appear in the credits at the end of the movie ? Probably not.
"When do we actually go to Hawaii ?"
"In six weeks time."
We worked from early in the morning until late afternoon. How much was there that had to be done for British pop star and is tone deaf younger brother to be prepared for small parts in a Hollywood movie ?
There were times away from work, special times to relax. The studio thought it would be a good idea and spared no expense to show two British boys some of the sights. We were taken to Tijuana in Mexico, I was not keen on that place. I wanted to go to San Francisco but was told it was far too cold at that time of year. I doubt it would have been any colder than Birmingham in January.
Elvis avoided joining us on these trips, he could not go anywhere without fans mobbing him. That did happen a bit to Jimmy back home but there were ways to step round his identity and fame. When Paramount said it was taking us to Arizona and Nevada on a three day trip Elvis said he wanted to come along with us.
It was in the Nevada Desert, somewhere between Reno and Virginia City our friend climbed on to a rock, held out is arms and said, "There is not a living soul as far as I can see."
Even at the tender age of sixteen with my limited adolescent life experience I did not envy him his fame.
Finally, finally in March we were ready to move from Hollywood to Hawaii where the real work would start.
All of the tracks had been recorded in the Hollywood studio. These would be added to the master film during editing. On the set the tracks were played through speakers but the cameras did not pick up the sound. We all sang along. It did not matter that my voice was off key. When everything was eventually brought together it looked natural and convincing.
While I have been typing up my scribbled notes for this story I have been playing the album. Jimmy and I are somewhere in each song but my favourites are: Blue Hawaii, Rockaula Baby and Aloha Oe.
In late April we returned to Hollywood and Paramount Studio.
"Well that is it," Elvis said. "Went quite well at the end of the day if you ask me. Thanks Max for your help with my lines. I appreciate it."
Everyone involved in the production came together in the theatre to watch the film. Yes, it was good. Jimmy and I may only have had small parts but we were in every scene where Elvis sang, as this was a musical we were on camera for most of the movie.
The film was not going to be released until November. Paramount had carefully selected the date for maximum impact to try and get the album into the number one spot for Christmas.
"So I guess you are off home to Limeyland."
"Max wants to see San Francisco before we fly back to London, England." Jimmy put emphasis on the word ENGLAND. "We thought we would take a Greyhound Bus up there then fly from San Francisco to New York and finally home."
Elvis nodded. "I have never been to San Fran. Hey, when you get to New York how about you stop off and join me on the Ed Sullivan Show ?"
I wondered what the Ed Sullivan Show was.
"I will get my people to talk to his people then we can fix a day to suit us all."
San Francisco ! What an important part that city was to play in my later life. I will tell you of that further on in the story. I do not know why I wanted to make that first visit but I did.
We were two movie stars but nobody knew who we were. I liked that. As we walked over The Golden Gate Bridge in comfortable obscurity I smiled at just how easy it was to be famous.
I looked out from The Golden Gate Bridge towards the hills of San Francisco but before my eyes could properly see the shoreline the scene was dominated to focus on the island of Alcatraz. Neither Jimmy nor I had ever heard of the place before arriving in the city but were told it was a national prison housing some of Americas hardest and most dangerous criminals. Why spoil a beautiful place with such a small yet horrible thing on that small island ?
Chinatown was a funny place I have to say. Until that visit to San Francisco I had never seen a Chinaman before, few Englishmen had. We learned why they were originally imported to California to work on the railway, a bit like the way our ancestors imported Irish navies to build our canals.
We did not have such things in Birmingham but London had trolley buses which were powered by electricity from a network of overhead cables. San Francisco had the strangest system of public transport, still has the strangest system of public transport, I had ever seen. Thick wires ran in slots down the middle of the road. Wooden boxes with wheels hooked on to these cables to be dragged up and down the hills and carry passengers throughout the city.
One of these hills was called Nob hill. Nob ? In England that is a rude word. Could you ever think of Birmingham calling a road Cock Mountain ? Oh well, America !
Time to make our way back to Birmingham and home. After Hawaii, after Paramount Studios and Hollywood, San Francisco was a bit of an anti-climax. At least there was not an earthquake while we were there.
I tried to sleep on the aircraft but close my eyes as I did slumber would not overtake me. It was exactly the same on the Boeing 707 to London. Perhaps I could sleep in the car back up the M1. We never did appear on the show Elvis wanted.
Car ? We were not met by a Bentley or any other kind of car ! We were met at London Airport by a shining bus from the Midland Red Company. Reporters and photographers were there to welcome us home and report on the Brummie Rock and Roll Stars. To my utter amazement Mum and Dad were on the bus.
"You actually met Elvis Presley ?"
"Of course Mum."
"What was he like ?"
"Shall I tell you what he said about himself ?"
"Oh yes please !"
"He said," I smiled, "his legs ended in an arse just like yours do !"
Mum made to slap me across the face but thought better of it. Just as well, too many camera lenses were pointing at us !
Of course the newspapers were primarily interested in Rock and Roll Star Jimmy but one ran a special feature all about me and my friend Elvis Presley. When I gave that interview on the Midland Red Bus I did not talk about legs and arses.
There were no tour dates but Jimmy spent the next six weeks in the studio recording a new album. Did we call them albums back then ? Or was it LP, Long Playing record ? Why was making a movie so much fun and making an LP utterly dull ?
Another birthday. I was eighteen years old when Blue Hawaii was released. Then the real work started over again. We were both to make appearances in cinemas up and down the length of Britain. There was a new Jimmy Robison Fan Club organising it all. There was not a Little Brother Max Fan Club but my role in Blue Hawaii was the same as Jimmy. OK, I did not sing but I was excellent at miming.
It was the cinemas in the evening and the record shops by day. Signing autographs, smiling and promoting the music of Blue Hawaii and my friend Elvis Aaron Presley.
He sent me a birthday card, Elvis did, signing it Your Buddy Elvis.
We went down to London, to the Odeon in Leicester Square for the opening night of the film. The second night planned for us to be in the foyer of The Geaumont Cinema in Birmingham. We were to be there for a full hour before the film was due to start. The moment the doors opened and the crowd pushed their way inside one person separated herself from the dash to Brother Jimmy. I recognised her of course.
“Happy Birthday Max,” she said. “I am sorry it is a bit late but I wanted to give you the card myself. Can I give you a kiss as well ?”
“Yes, please Julie. Yes please !”
The crowd pushed her aside as people decided they may as well have my autograph in addition to Jimmy’s. She was gone.
As we travelled round the country, cinema after cinema, record shop after record shop, I wondered if she would come again. I hoped I would see her again.
Blue Hawaii was the number one album, or LP, for Christmas. We gained nothing from these sales. Even though the film was a huge success we were paid no more than the flat fee Paramount had paid to us.
New Year 1962. I had spent not very much money at all ! I had not had the chance. A new tour programme would give Max and his Magic Microphone wages as I introduced each act on stage. I decided I would treat myself. I would learn to drive. Enthusiastically I went out and bought myself a car. I had it delivered to my parent’s house as I had yet to have my first driving lesson. Triumph Motors delivered it on the back of a truck from their factory in Coventry.
“How much have you spent on that ?”
“Not that much.”
“You have not got it on hire purchase have you ?”
“No Dad I haven’t.”
“So where did you get the money from ?”
“Paramount Pictures ?”
“There’s plenty more in the bank Dad.”
“How come ? You were only a lacky, Jimmy’s the one who is the star.”
I never did like my Dad.
RADIO JOLLY ROGER:
“I do not want to lose Max and his Magic Microphone but I have a friend who has an idea. I think you should speak to him.”
British pop music was changing and while Jimmy could still get his records into the charts his were not any more the immediate choice of the teenagers. Cliff Richard, Harold Webb, was appealing to a wider audience. Adam Faith, his real name was Terrence Nellhams, had lost his popularity. He only ever released two LP albums. Jimmy did not disappear from the pop music world as did Adam Faith but he was no Cliff Richard.
I never met The Beatles, even today I have never met any of the Fab Four. There’s only two of them left now of course, Paul and Ringo.
I knew Keith Richards and I met, let me try to remember; Gerry Marsden, Cilla Black, Dave Clark and even Freddie Garrity of Freddie and the Dreamers.
“That friend of mine,” Mike said, “he is coming to the show tonight.”
We were in Rotherham, wherever Rotherham is. It was so easy to forget where we were at any time. We would arrive, set up, perform, breakdown, sleep and move on. I do, however, know for certain we were in Rotherham.
“So who is this man and what does he want ?”
“His name is Carl and I will let him explain face to face what his idea and plan are.”
“So you are Max and his Magic Microphone ?”
“Quite a mouthful that. Why not Max’s Magic Microphone ?”
I shrugged my shoulders. I did not feel like saying much. Carl was a domineering man, I sensed that immediately and I did not like him. What was it he wanted ?
“Do you have any money left from what Paramount paid you ?”
“Most of it.” I had only spent money on the car. I had not had even one lesson.”
“I am starting a radio station,” Carl started to explain. “I have sold my house and put all of the money into buying an old fishing trawler.”
What was he talking about ?
“The ship is to be called The Jolly Roger, we will anchor her outside the three mile legal limit then broadcast non-stop pop music all over the country.”
“Oh I can do it, nobody can stop me, Radio Jolly Rogers will be a pirate radio station.”
“That sounds illegal.”
“It is but nobody can do a single thing about it. We will make money broadcasting adverts and nobody can stop us.”
“What about the BBC ?”
“Least of all the BBC !”
“So what do you want me for ?”
Carl hesitated as he gathered his thoughts. He had been very pushy and speaking with a force behind his words, now he was changing his tone. “I would like you to be a presenter on the station, bring your magic microphone and be a DJ.”
“A DJ ?”
“A jockey rides a horse,” he explained. “A presenter will ride the records and become disc jockeys.”
I knew what a DJ was.
I would like you to be one of our DJ’s, to be Max’s Magic Microphone.
I liked that idea a bit.
But then this Carl continued. “I need two thousand pounds to finish equipping the studio. I do not have two thousand pounds left and I can hardly ask the bank to lend it to me to start up a pirate radio station !”
Was he really about to ask me to lend him the money ? Ridiculous ! Never !
“If you invest money in Radio Jolly Roger and become a shareholder I will make you a director, Director of Music.”
“I’m only eighteen and a half,” I explained.
“And I am thirty-eight and a half, do you think we could make a good team ? Two pirates ?”
This was crazy. Almost as crazy as being in Blue Hawaii with Elvis Presley. As crazy as buying a sports car when I could not drive. I did not like this Carl man but I fancied myself as a radio DJ.
Mike came into the room followed within moments by Brother Jimmy. Their arrival made me pause in telling Carl the last person who would give him any money would be me.
“So am I going to have to be man of the microphone again, Mike of the Microphone ?”
“Having you play my records may save my career,” Jimmy smiled.
How come they both knew Carl ?
“I think I’ll ask Dad for advice.” What a stupid idea ! Why did it ever come into my head ?
The scorn Jimmy then heaped upon me made me feel utterly stupid. Even Mike was laughing but Carl did not understand.
“What will happen with Radio Jolly Roger if I say no ?”
“Take Dad’s advice you mean ? If I had listened to our father I would be sweeping up rubbish from the factory floor, either that or putting pennies into envelopes along side him as a wages clerk.”
“I do have a Plan B,” Carl said.
“And I am that Plan B,” Jimmy said. “I will give Carl the money but I can not become a DJ on the country’s biggest radio station. You can. You can be the biggest DJ sensation in the world. Stop following behind me, get out there and become a star in your own right.”
“Stop the buts Max.” Jimmy was almost shouting. “Get on with it. Bring Elvis Presley to England and have him live on Radio Jolly Roger !”
“How much of a share will two thousand pounds get me ?”
“I’ll give you two thousand five hundred and you will give me a one third share.”
"Twenty-five percent is a quarter, not a third."
"I know. I will give you two thousand five hundred and you wil give me a one third share."
Elvis Presley never did come to England but Max Robinson did become Director of Music at Pirate Radio Jolly Roger
Carl stretched out his hand, shook mine firmly and smiled. It was not just the money really, he wanted me to be part of his radio station. OUR radio station. My attitude towards him changed completely.
The boat and the intended radio station were called Jolly Roger but the company owning everything was Brandon Lewis and Associates. There was no Brandon Lewis but it was of that company that I was a shareholder and director. We had a one room office above a flat in Hull where Carl lived. There were two bedrooms, he slept in one while I crashed on the floor of the other which doubled as our office.
From that office I started to recruit my disc jockey team. I knew enough of the music scene to directly approach the kind of people the station needed.
Randy Raymond, he signed up quickly, I knew he would be good. Nicholas whose tag line I set as Knickerless girls should not climb trees ! Tiny Tim whose trouser waist size was almost the same as the boat.
“Only guys,” Carl said. “No girls.”
I had presumed a DJ would be a lad but why was Carl saying No Girls ?
“You don’t want me to recruit homos do you ?”
“Don’t be silly, of course not but this is to be a music boat not a shag tub !”
“Perhaps we should call it Radio Wank !”
“We can put stuff in the tea,” Carl laughed, “like they do in prison. Shagging will be perfectly permissible but only off the boat, ashore on dry land.”
Shagging ? I was heading towards my nineteenth birthday and had never had a shag. Was I normal ?
Sebastian Thoroughgood, Seb Goodie, I added him to the team. That made three, four if I counted myself. Carl said we needed a team of eight. While I was busy recruiting he was busy selling advertising.
Number five, Ponytail Pete. Twenty-two years old, he must have been growing his hair since the day he was born to get it that long. I had met Pete somewhere when my brother was playing. He sold tickets in the kiosk at the theatre, I can not remember which theatre it was.
“I’ve got a mate,” Pete said. “His name is Joshua Morgan.”
Morgan, wasn’t that a pirate name. Pirate Morgan. Number six.
Oswald Charles Bainbridge. If you ask me, the moment I first saw him I decided he was a homo. With a name like Oswald Charles Bainbridge he had to be a poof didn’t he ? Number seven.
Carl brought in a guy to look after all the radio stuff, we called him Wireless Willy. Did he have a wireless willy ? I had no idea.
The fisherman who Carl had bought the boat from agreed to come back and sail her. Not that we were going to sail anywhere.
DJ number eight. I could not find number eight. “I think we could manage with just seven,” I said to Carl.
“The Magnificent Seven,” he smiled.
I did not like Max’s Magic Microphone. I was nineteen and still a teenager, I changed my name to The Eternal Teenager. Marty Wild’s song Teenager In Love would be my theme tune.
Would I ever be a teenager in love ?
A birthday card was sent to the office of Jimmy’s fan club. It was three weeks later when I got it. The card was signed Love Julie but there was a letter inside it. She had been to the show that night in Rotherham. I had not seen her. Julie said she had waited outside for me. I was inside with Carl. She gave up waiting, left and went home.
Oh Julie !
Radio Jolly Roger went live on air at one second past midnight on Monday 1st April 1963. Carl had been very clever telling the press there would be a special April Fool announcement broadcast on 703 metres on the medium waveband. Even the totally stupid BBC picked it up and told the country. Pirate Radio was born.
The Eternal Teenager became the very first pirate radio DJ, playing Marty Wild and Teenager In Love.
The second record played was for my friend in the snow, Julie – Juliette by The Four Pennies.
Of course I played something from Blue Hawaii, the wedding song. Elvis Presley was not able to listen, the signal from 703 on the medium wave, would not reach so far but I did hope that Julie was listening. Julie who ? I did not even know her second name.
The law really was strange. Broadcasting without a licence was a crime but there were no licences to have. Only the BBC was allowed to broadcast radio. We were outside the three mile legal limit where British Law had power so there was no way we could be arrested. When we went ashore we had broken no laws on the land so we were quite free. The office in Hull was not broadcasting so everything there was perfectly legal.
Our audience figures went up and up and up. We could tell this from the ever increasing demand for advertising space and the number of bags of fam mail arriving in Hull. Those bags of mail inundated my DJ team with requests to play. The BBC was a good friend to us ! Carl called it the Bullshit Broadcasting Corporation, their news reports never stopped telling people what we were up to. Thanks entirely to The Bullshit Broadcasting Corporation Carl was able to put up the advertising rates.
The Christmas 1963 number one record was I Want To Hold Your Hand by the Beatles. I so much wanted to hold Julie’s hand. 1963 would be my last Christmas as a teenager, Would I always be a teenager NOT in love ? In November I received my usual birthday card from Elvis Presley but there was nothing from Julie.
I was famous, I received fan requests every day asking for my autograph. I was the star of pirate radio. I was Director of Music at Radio Jolly Roger. But I was nineteen and I was a virgin.
I decided I would organise a party on Wednesday 1st April 1964 to celebrate our first birthday as a pirate radio station. The Beatles were again at number one with She Loves You.. Would Julie ever love me ?
The year began with The Beatles and was dominated in the charts up to April and beyond. Of course Radio Jolly Roger played The Beatles but I instructed my team not to make us a Beatles only station.
I hope my letter reaches you. I am not sure if all of the letters I have been sending to you through your brother’s fam club have found you in the North Sea. Now I have found your radio station’s office in Hull I will try writing to you there.
I listen to Radio Jolly Roger all the time. I am so proud when I tell my friends I know DJ Max’s Magic Microphone.
Do you ever get any snow in the north Sea ?
She had put her address at the top of the letter.
I wanted to write back to her, of course I wanted to write back to her. I honestly did not know what love was. Being in love ? Before my twentieth birthday I so much wanted to be that teenager in love. What was being in love like ? What would it be like to be a teenager in love ? I had less than seven months to find out.
From the ship letters had to go to Hull via the supply boat which came in twice a week. Those letters would then be posted but they were not a priority to the office staff. The next boat was due the following day, not my letter but I would be on it.
“You deserve a shag break,” Carl said. “You’ve not been off the boat since day One.”
“I am not going for a shag !” I protested.
“Well you can play with your joy stick here, you do not need to go ashore for that !”
“Get knotted !”
I did wish that I had learned to drive. That car of mine was still sitting in Mum and Dad’s driveway, new but no longer worth the money I had paid for it. How was I to get to Sheffield from Hull and then when in Sheffield how was I meant to find Julie’s home ? Could I just turn up and knock on the door ? It was not going to be easy. I will spare you the details but, no, it was not easy.
I moved to press my finger on the door ball, hesitated then pulled my hand back. I went through the motion again. On the third attempt I would press the bell, I determined I would. I would force myself. While I was still plucking up the courage the front door opened.
“I am sorry,” the lady said, “I keep telling him to fix that bell. Did you knock ? I saw you from the window.”
“Sorry, no,” I said. “is Julie at home ?”
“You’re Max from the radio, Max and the microphone thingy.”
“I listen to you, I love your show. Can I have your autograph please ?”
I could feel my face going red.
“Is Julie at home ?” I asked again.
“Julie,” she turned and called. “You will give me your autograph won’t you ? Please.”
Julie appeared. “I see you have met my Rock and Roll Mum,” she giggled.
Put me in front of a microphone and I can speak to the world but trying to find the words I had so carefully prepared for Julie left me dumb struck.
“How long have you worked at the radio station ? At Jolly Roger ?”
“I don’t actually work there, “ I said trying to impress. “I part own it. I am Director of Music.”
I did impress. I wish I could find the words now all these years later to adequately describe to you the look on her face.
“So I have a wealthy businessman as a boyfriend,” Julie said.
“Is he your boyfriend then ?” Her mother said excitedly.
“I hope so, or I hope he will be.”
Was I really, truly about to become The Teenager In Love ?
“I thought we could go somewhere for a meal, that is if you are free,” I said nervously but excitedly.
“Can I come as well ?”
“No Mother !”
“Do you have a car with you Max ?”
“No, it’s in Birmingham.”
“Take mine. Are sure I can not come as well ?”
“I know it is a little unusual for women of Mum’s age to drive,” Julie said as she backed the car out of the drive, “but I don’t have a Dad.”
“My Dad was a GI. He and Mum were married when he was stationed here during the war. They then went back to America where I was born. Dad never left the army, he went to fight in Korea where he was killed. I was small at the time. Mum and I moved back to England.”
“To Sheffield ?”
“Yes, I am a Steel City Girl.”
“A Steel City Girl who has a driving licence. I’ve got a car which I don’t drive, you can use it if you like.”
“It does not drive well on the North Sea, the tyres keep getting stuck in the waves.”
I guess that is what people call making small talk. It was the first time I had ever used small talk, it was the first time I had ever tried to chat up a girl.
“I came to see you and your brother when you were in Rotherham.”
“Yes, I waited outside for ages after the show but you never appeared.”
“Where are we going ?”
“You said we were going to eat.”
“Yes, but you are driving, where are you taking us ?”
We went to a pub that had a very good steak bar. As we ate Julie told me she was training to be a nurse. “I am a couple of years older than you. Who looks after you boys on the boat ? Who renders first aid when you need it ?”
“We don’t get that many broken legs,” I smiled.
“So The Jolly Roger is not looking to appoint a Ship’s Matron ?”
Carl, he’s the boss and co-owner, does not allow girls on the boat. Only male DJ’s”
“Perhaps you need a nurse to take care of all those sprained wrists,” Julie giggled.
I blushed. How did girls know about these things ? I suppose she was a nurse !
“You said you owned Radio Jolly Roger so why can’t I come and work as Ship’s Matron ?”
“I only own one third, Carl owns two thirds. And I suppose your Mum will want to come as Ship’s Cook ?”
“My Mum has a job, she works in a department store. She is manager of the lingerie department selling knickers to fat women.”
“So she didn’t sell your knickers then ?”
“Cheeky. Besides you have seen my knickers. That night up on the moor. Remember ?”
“And you have seen my pants !”
“I have seen a lot more than your underwear.”
“Do you mean my socks ?” I smiled. “Do you want another drink ?”
“Yes please, I will have a snowball !”
Who was chatting up who ? I needed to be the one in charge, after all I was the man.
“When do you qualify as a nurse ?”
“Oh for goodness sake Max and your silly microphone, can’t you tell I fancy you rotten ?”
“And I fancy you,” I said clumsily.
“So that officially makes us boyfriend and girlfriend.”
At last I was that teenager in love. “Is it far to the moor ? Could we drive there ?”
“It’s not far if I drive quickly. Perhaps another snowball would help.”
“Don’t drink and drive and don’t drive too quickly in the snow.”
“There’s no snow this time of year,” she giggled. “Only in the mind.”
In my mind it was a raging blizzard of emotion. I wanted to say it, dare I say it, should I say it. I changed the sentence slightly. “So it won’t be cold then when we -,” I hesitated.
“When we get there you mean ?” Julie smiled.
You know what happened next, of course you do. I am going to keep that special moment private and to myself. You can use your imagination if you wish.
Back in the car we turned the radio on. “Who is that ?”
“Pirate Morgan, I put him in charge while I am away.”
“Is he your deputy then ?”
“I don’t have a deputy, this is the first time I have left the boat since we came on air.”
“Max Robinson, you naughty DJ. I can see that Matron Julie is going to have to smack your bottom !”
“Yes please,” I thought but did not say it !
The Jolly Roger did not have a ship to shore telephone. We may have been the world’s most sophisticated radio broadcaster but when it came to personal communications RMS Titanic was more advanced. The Hull office had a telephone, of course it did. People would call there then messages would be relayed by radio. It was not possible to call the ship direct. I smile now, writing these words. I hope my younger readers can understand a world without computers, mobile phones and the internet.
That night I hoped Julie, MY Julie, would stay with me in Hull but she said she had to get home. Surely we had both planned a night together. We had, hadn’t we ?
“I want to stay with you, honestly I do, but Mum will probably want the car back.”
“Oh Max I would like to.”
Did her mother really need the car ? It sounded like an excuse to get away from me. Did Julie really love me ? If she did then why would she not stay ? Was ours to be the shortest teenage love affair in history ?
What ! I could hear the door opening. Someone was coming up the stairs. Julie looked at me. It had to be Matty, Scatty Matty, who ran the office but was he doing at such an hour ?
“I saw the light,” Matty said. “I hoped beyond hope that it would be you.”
I looked puzzled. I was puzzled. “This is Julie,” I said.
He nodded politely towards Julie. “I’ve come in to sort something for you. I was going to do it in the morning before you came back but I was so excited I could not sleep and just had to come back.”
What was he talking about ?
“He phoned !”
“Who phoned ?”
“It was him who phoned, he phoned himself. Not a manager or an agent. He phoned.”
What was he talking about ? What was so important to bring Scatty Matty back to the office ? Even if I could persuade Julie to stay what was the point now with Scatty Matty making us into a trio ?
“Who phoned ?”
“Elvis Presley phoned.”
“Oh him. What did he want that brings you back into the office ?” Damn you Elvis Presley you are messing things up for me with my girlfriend.
“He wants you in New York.”
“New York ? I don’t want to go to New York.”
“He said it was for the Ed Sullivan Show. He said you would know about that.”
“It’s an American TV show,” I explained.
Julie looked incredulous. I liked the effect.
“Tell Mr Elvis Aaron Presley I will only come to New York if my girlfriends can come with me.”
I turned to Julie.
“You do have a passport Julie ?”
She nodded. “Mum and I went to France for a week-end.”
“Good. Matty Sort it. You can tell that Mr Sullivan the same as Elvis Flippin Aaron Flippin Presley, Max’s Magic Microphone is only coming to New York if my girlfriends can come with me !”
“Is this a joke ?” Julie asked. “Are you two scheming to tease me ?”
“Matty get it sorted.”
“Pan Am’s London Office is open twenty-four hours, I will call them and book seats.”
“Get on to it. My girlfriends and I are going to bed. We do not want to be disturbed.”
“I do not sing,” I tried to explain.
“He’s right, he doesn’t,” Elvis confirmed. “the magic in my friend’s microphone is as a DJ and, trust me, not as a singer.”
“But he was in Blue Hawaii.”
“Trust me Mr Sullivan, Max will not be singing on your show.”
He thought for moment, he stroked his chin and looked to the floor as he pondered the mistake of inviting me onto his show.
“We’ll skip the singing into,” The Great Ed Sullivan said. “I’ll introduce Elvis as an American rock star then he can introduce Max as a British DJ.”
“Elvis will sing and then you can show me how you would introduce him in the style of a British DJ. That should work. The song Elvis will sing, what will it be ?”
“Blue Hawaii, it has to be Blue Hawaii.”
“Then I will show you how to be an American TV host. After that Elvis can sing again.”
“Rock a Hula Baby ?” Elvis suggested.
“Do you dance Max ?”
“That little girlfriend of yours,” he looked towards Julie sitting at the side of the studio. “does she dance ?”
“So in the second number you two will both dance,”
Ed Sullivan again pondered, rubbed his chin and studied the floor. When the idea was fully formed he continued speaking. “You start off the dancing then as many of the studio hands as can be spared will come and join you.”
“Let’s give it a try,” Elvis said.
“Are you sure you do not need me to rehearse your lines with you ?”
Elvis feigned a punch.
Julie thought she was in a dream. When I was with Julie I was permanently in a dream. Max Robinson, the teenager so deeply, deeply in love. I never wanted to wake up.
Ed Sullivan, America’s greatest by far TV host, Elvis Presley the unquestioned world’s greatest rock and roll star could not even stand in the shadow of my very own Julie.
“What is a Matron ?” Elvis asked during the break between rehearsal and our going live on TV, live to the whole of the United States of America,
“A matron is the head nurse in a hospital.”
“Really ? Matron, I like that name. I guess we just call it head nurse in our hospitals. Matron ? So are you going to be a matron ?”
“Perhaps, one day. But not for years yet. I do not even qualify as a nurse for a few weeks yet. I have to pass my examinations.”
“So what is this all about you becoming Matron on The Jolly Roger ?”
“I wanted to be the ship’s nurse but Max said women are not allowed on the boat.”
“Garbage ! Max you fix this for Julie.”
“But Elvis my big toenail ! You take Julie on as ship’s nurse or I will ban Radio Jolly Roger from playing any more of my records.”
Elvis was not smiling. “Max, I mean it.”
“Did you try to get him to change his mind ?”
“Yes Carl, I did, but he is not an easy man to argue with.”
“From a letter he sent me I can see that. It arrived today. Special delivery.”
I had a lot to do. I had not been away from the boat for long but there was a mountain of work waiting for me. Julie was back in Sheffield with her mother and her final examinations to pass in order to qualify as a nurse.
“Pete’s been getting a lot of fan mail,” Pirate Morgan explained. I have a bit of an idea, why don’t we name a DJ of the week based on the fan mail ? We could get people to write in.”
It was a good idea but where would I come in such a game ? How many would vote for me ? It could be embarrassing if I were permanently in last place.
“Do any of the boys have girlfriends,” I asked, changing the subject.
“I wondered what the reaction would be if I brought Julie to live here with me on the boat.”
“What about Carl and his no ladies policy ?”
I explained about Elvis. “He was joking, I think, about banning us from playing his records.”
“There is a way round it.”
“How ? What ?”
“Bring Julie to live on The Jolly Roger not as your girlfriend but
as your wife !”
RADIO GOLDEN GATE:
"You OK for your show this afternoon ?"
The flight from Memphis to San Francisco was lonely. There were so many people on the aircraft, three in the cockpit and half dozen in the cabin whose sole purpose was to take care of me and yet I felt alone.
I ate even though I was not hungry. I drank though I was not at all thirsty.
“How much longer ?” I continually asked.
On a commercial flight that would have tested the patience of the flight attendants but no doubt on a private charter aircraft a higher rate of pay tempered patience towards their sole passenger.
“Would you like to spends some time on the flight deck ?”
“Could I ?”
I wondered if the capsules in either American or Russian space craft were less complicated. I was fascinated. The pilot, co-pilot and flight engineer explained everything but I failed to understand all but a very tiny percentage.
Would man ever land on the moon ? Was the Apollo space programme really to open the moon for people to live on ? Perhaps in years to come I could spend my retirement years broadcasting on Lunar Radio. That could be fun. Would Golden Gate Radio be fun ?
The aircraft eventually landed. The car took me to the studio where my new friends threw a surprise party. I was made to feel welcome. Golden Gate Radio was indeed going to be fun, lots of fun. But it was not going to be fun when I learned my broadcast schedule.
“You’ll be doing the early morning show Monday to Friday,” my new boss and programme controller Mike explained to me. “Six to eight ahead of the breakfast show.”
“Each day the show has a different theme. Monday it’s the latest chart, Tuesday it’s country music.”
“I don’t know all that much about country music,” I explained.
“You’ll soon pick it up. Wednesdays are rock and roll with Thursday broadcasting music from the movies. Friday it’s classical, Wake Up With The Classics.”
“I know nothing about classical music,” I said. “Nothing at all.”
“You’ll pick it up.”
“No I won’t, I know nothing about classical music. Can’t we change it ?”
“No, the listeners tune in specially for it every Friday and the advertising is fully booked up.”
“I can’t do it.”
“Of course you can. A bit of orchestra, a bit of opera and some ballet. Classical pieces are much longer than a pop single so you will fill the two hours without much difficulty at all.”
Should I resign there and then on Day One ? If I did not I would more than likely be sacked within a couple of weeks. “What happens on Saturday and Sunday ?”
“Saturday is sport, Sunday is the god-squad.”
What ever was I going to do ?
The studio for Golden Gate Radio was high up on one of the hills looking down on the city, the transmitter could reach all of the Bay Area.
“The folks will love you,” Mike smiled. “A Brit from the Old Country and a buddy of Elvis Presley. You will make Golden Gate Radio the number one station across the entire West Coast !”
“Playing music from Mozart and Beethoven ? I doubt it.”
“There you go, you know their names. You are half way there.”
“Was I heck !”
The station had rented a flat for me, although they called it an apartment, on the edge of the city. Does San Francisco have an edge ? These days, writing my story so many years later, it rather sprawls in every direction save for the Pacific Ocean ! I was also given a car but I could not drive. I would have to learn Early morning shows, public transport is not a phenomena familiar to America and to walk would be impossible. I wanted to get out and about into the city, to tell people about my shows and develop my audience. I would just have to learn how to drive.
San Francisco, the world famous City By The Bay. Now, of course, known for The Summer of Love and the hippies but as I joined Radio Golden Gate that was still in the future. It was still rock and roll together with the British Pop Invasion we were working with. But what about country music ? What about classical music ?
I did walk to the station on my first day, it took a full two hours. After broadcasting that first show, quite easy simply playing the billboard hits, I ambled out of the studio feeling happy but nervous about the pending country music show and terrified beyond measure about having to play classical music. I found my way to the waterfront in search of somewhere to eat, somewhere that did not serve fish. Was fish the only thing people ate in San Francisco ? Was not America all about cowboys ? Beef steaks ? Where were the steak restaurants ? Yes, so it was breakfast time but I was hungry and could have eaten a piled high plate of steak and chips.
What ever was I going to do about that Wake Up With The Classics show ?
Salvation. Possibly. Could it be ? Was my luck in ? Was the early California sunshine smiling at me ?
With my knowledge of San Francisco’s geography, writing today it was probably the most unlikely place in the entire world. At the far end of Pier 39 there was a music shop. In the window was a trumpet, a violin, a clarinet and a display of LP records I simply did not recognise. There was one name I thought I knew.
Mozart, he wrote classical music didn’t he ? If I paid the four dollars I could claim it back on expenses. I ventured inside.
“That Mozart record in the window,” I began.
“Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, is that the record you mean ?”
“Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, it means a little bit of night music.”
“Does it ?”
“That’s an Australian accent, you are a long way from home.”
“I’m English,” I replied. “I would like to buy that record if I may.”
“Do you like the music of Mozart then ?”
“I don’t know yet.”
“Eine Kleine Nachtmusik is a good place to start with Mozart.”
I decided it was time to confess. My confession found a friend. I left the shop not only with the Mozart LP but also clutching a copy of The Mikado by Gilbert and Sullivan, whoever they were, and a ticket to a performance of The Mikado the following week by The San Francisco Gilbert and Sullivan Society.
Those early days in The City By the Bay were times of contrast. In the studio I was surrounded by other people but at home in my apartment I was a hermit living a solitary existence. I was a stranger in a foreign country. Radio Jolly Roger was a small space where living and work combined. At Radio Golden Gate I was just a DJ. I played the music each morning then had the entire day to do nothing. I needed to learn to drive then at least I could get out of the city and explore. I looked forward to my visit to the theatre to watch The Mikado. I listened to the LP and fumbled my way through it as I played it on the radio. I liked it but did not properly understand it. What was it all about ? Why was it called The Mikado ?
“You are the guy from the radio ?”
“Golden Gate ? Yes.”
“I thought I recognised your voice. Can I buy you a beer ?”
A group of people had gathered in the theatre bar during the interval.
“It’ a bit odd,” someone said, “how the Mikado as a character does not appear in the opera until the end of the first act.”
I wondered that evening if I should return to the music shop on Pier 39, buy myself a trombone then join The Titipu Town band to find my own Yum Yum. No, I would never find anyone to love again. Teenager not in love. I was destined to become an old man never in love.
I did return to the music shop, not to buy a trombone but came away with a book telling the story of William Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan. It was fascinating.
“Of course,” the shop owner explained, “Gilbert and Sullivan is not strictly opera.”
“Oh, is it not ?”
“It’s a little bit like Rogers and Hammerstein musicals we know today and, of course, we Americans love Gilbert and Sullivan because it is so British.”
“Set in Japan,” I smiled trying to sound as if I knew what I was talking about.
“An Anglicised Japan,” my friend smiled back.
Friend ? I did not even know his name.
The truth is I was actually finding it harder to master country and western music for my broadcasting on Radio Golden Gate than I was with classical.
Most weeks my friend Elvis Presley would telephone for a chat. I always looked forward to our time together courtesy of AT & T Pacific Bell.
“It’s not looking good for you Limeys,” he said one day. “That communist government of Harold Wilson is going to shut down Radio Jolly Roger and all stations like her. You still a shareholder ?”
“You’ll be losing your investment then ?”
“I guess so.”
“Perhaps I had better sort you out a part in my next movie.”
“Just so long as it’s a non-singing part.”
“You do make me laugh you Limey SOB !”
“What’s a SOB ?”
“You do not want to know.”
I am still not sure why Americans consider a SOB, Son of a bitch, such an offensive term.
Every day the news was filled with happenings in Vietnam. I had little understanding what the fighting and killing was all about. My father and his generation had a very clear and purposeful war to destroy Adolf Hitler but what was Vietnam all about ? I did not understand. I doubted much of America understood. Writing this account decades later history has not brought any clarity.
“Hey Dave,” It was Jake who did the daily request show, “there’s a new food counter open near Fisherman’s Wharf, just up from the cable car terminus.”
“Fancy checking it out ? Perhaps we could get them to buy some advertising with us.”
“Sure. What’s it like ?”
“That’s the point of our going, to find out.”
The American attitude towards food is something I have still failed to come to terms with.
“There are places like this all over,” Jake explained, “but this is the first McDonald’s in California.”
“Sounds like something from Scotland. Please do not tell me it sells fish.”
“Yuk ! Yucky, yuk, yuk ! Beef burgers were the ultimate punishment in school dinners. We never ate them, they went straight into the pig bin.”
Food in that McWhaterver it was food counter was different.
“These smell good.”
I had to agree. “I think it must have been the gravy they soaked everything in at school, that and the lumpy mashed potatoes.”
“These fries are great.”
Fries ? Americans do muddle their words. Jake meant chips but to an American chips are crisps. Those served did not match the quality of the beef burgers, they were far too thin and crispy.
My first impression of this American food chain was that it may be working on that side of the Atlantic Ocean but people would never eat beef burger in bread rolls with silly thick chips in England. It would never catch on.
No, England would never eat American food. England had caught the American music of Elvis Presley, The Everly Brothers and others but the British Invasion of pop music dominated the world. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Herman’s Hermits. Cilla Black, Freddie And The Dreamers, Cliff Richard and more. How would American music try to fight back ?
“The Royal Ballet Company may be the top in Europe but here we have in the State of California The San Francisco Ballet Company. Time to continue your education."
Ballet ? Nutcracker ? San Francisco Ballet Company ? What was that all about ? How was I going to feature that on Wake Up With the Classics on Golden gate Radio ? I was to spend a day watching rehearsals then be in the audience for the opening night of something called The Nutcracker.
“Have you got a book a bit like that Gilbert and Sullivan thing ? Something I could read before I go, something to stop my showing my ignorance ?”
“I do not I fear.”
“Perhaps I could fix for Larna Pierce, she dances the part of Clara, to meet with you and talk you through everything before you go to the rehearsal.”
“Could you ?”
“I’ll call her. She is my cousin’s daughter.”
I still did not know the name of the man who owned the music shop.
“Here’s my card. Give me a call this afternoon and I will have it organised for you.”
Steve Johnson, so that was his name.
It took me three or four attempts to correctly pronounce Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and even today I can not spell it without the aid of a computer. The story of The Nutcracker as explained to me was nice enough and easy to understand as Lara took me through the fairy story. We met for breakfast at the rehearsal room before my appointment to watch preparation for the opening night. I will avoid here the complexities of an American breakfast menu, just to say it would better suit English afternoon tea back home.
Larna. I tried hard to put Julie out of my thoughts as we talked but she refused to go away. My lost love was never, ever out of my heart but that mooring it was my head she was filling. She was not saying anything to me but I could feel her smiling warmly.
Lara was kind. Lara was sweet. Lara was lovely.
Watching the dancers during their rehearsals it was not easy to pay much attention to any cast member other than Lana. I liked the music even if was only played at the rehearsal on a piano, above all I was impressed by the athletic skills of the dancers. The story Larna had told me did not come through as I watched the dancers, the choreographer and director moved at random from scene to scene, or so it appeared to me. How would all these dances make up The Nutcracker ?
I would go to the opening night performance, of course I would go and was looking forward to it but could not see how I was going to enthuse about it on Wake Up With The Classics.
I did not need to visit the shop to buy an LP of The Nutcracker as the San Francisco Ballet Company gave me a complimentary copy. Listening to it at home I could see nothing but Larna but though all the time of Julie who had never danced a step of ballet in her short life.
My mind drifted back to the time when different elements were carefully brought together then slowly edited into a final production. Music, setting, costume, characters – all carefully brought together in an award winning film, Blue Hawaii. A chemistry so carefully blended over the production to achieve the director’s vision. On stage The Nutcracker achieved all of this simultaneously without retakes, no editing or enhancement of any kind. The music, the dancers, the choreography, costumes, lighting and the set so perfectly brought together into a single and stunning event.
Working on stage with my brother at live gigs we came nowhere close to what The San Francisco Ballet Company did that night with the Nutcracker.
Playing pop music on the radio the next morning I could not get the March Of The Toy Soldiers, The Russian Dance and The Dance of The Sugar Plum Fairy out of my head. I also could not get Clara, Larna out of my head . I wanted to see her again. I needed to see her again.
“Would it be possible for me to leave a message for Larna ?” I said to the theatre the next day.
“She danced the part of Clara in the Nutcracker last night.”
The operator became evasive, I could sense she wanted to end the call without taking any message from me.
“It’s Dave from Radio Golden Gate, I was at rehearsal and in the audience for last’s night’s performance.”
“Oh, I am sorry, I did not recognise your voice. I should have.” She became more friendly. “You mean Alarna, Alarna Bivens,” she said. “What message would you like to leave ?”
I asked if Larna, Alarna, could be a guest on my Wake Up With The Classics show.
“Can she call you back ? Give me your number.”
Putting the phone down a thunderbolt hit me. No, I should not have contacted her. I needed to call back and say it was all a mistake. Her boyfriend, her husband, she was certain to have one or the other. Julie smiled at me, I felt guilty but the smile made me know it was alright to have called.
Christmas carols were making their way into every playlist of every show in every radio station. I played my friend Elvis’s Christmas release. It was not destined for number one in America over Christmas, that was taken by Tom Jones with The Green, Green Grass of Home.
My first Christmas in America. Who was Santa Claus and how did he climb down the chimney pots of central heating in San Francisco ? Mail to England was slow, I sent Christmas cards to Mum and Dad and Big Brother before the end of November.
Alarna, Larna – what kind of a name was that ? It had to be American, I doubt anyone in England had the name. Perhaps it was Red Indian.
“It was my great grandmother’s name. Her family came from Denmark four generations ago. They settled in Michigan and the family is still there. I only emigrated to California for the ballet.”
“Not for the gold then ?”
“My family was still in Copenhagen during the 1849 Gold Rush. What about you, why are you in san Francisco ?”
“I am English, of course. I am only here on a work permit. I could be deported any day.”
“Oh, I do hope not.”
“I think you will be safe just so long as people like the music I play.”
“I like it. I listen to you most days but I have to confess I am not much of a country fan.”
“That makes two of us,” I smiled.
“I would love to go to England,” Larna said. “I would love to join The Royal Ballet Company.”
“Are they good ?”
“Second only to The Bolshoi in Moscow but no American would ever be allowed to work in The Soviet Union.”
I needed to steer the conversation towards what we could talk about when Larna joined me on the radio. That was supposed to be the purpose of the meeting even if it was not my reason for asking to talk to her.
“Do you have a girlfriend ?” she said suddenly.
I blushed. I could feel Julie smiling. How could I answer ? Julie’s smile put the word into my mouth. “No,” I said.
“Nor me, a boyfriend I mean. I do not have a lot of free time being a dancer.”
“Neither do I being a Radio DJ and I am only twenty-one years old.”
“Twenty-one years old and a radio star, someone told me you were in a film with Elvis Presley.”
“I was, Blue Hawaii.” I tried to explain then threw in, “Elvis is a good friend of mind.” I hoped the boast would have effect. But it was not a boast, it was true.
“What’s your favourite song from the movie ?”
“Eato Eats,” I said. “I didn’t sing in that one. In fact I didn’t sing in any, I only mimed.”
“Perhaps you would like to meet my friend, I mean Elvis, some time.” That was also said for effect.
Was Julie still smiling ? I thought she was, smiling at my less than fortunate chat up lines.
On the radio the conversation was more structured. I asked Larna how she had started to learn to dance, why she came to San Francisco, why she liked the role of Clara. I asked which was her favourite ballet. Silly question, I only knew one – The Nutcracker.
Off air Larna looked at me and asked, “So how do we go from here ?”
“Perhaps you could teach me some ballet steps.”
“Perhaps you could team me some Rock and Roll steps.”
At Radio Jolly Roger I was a shareholder, one of the bosses, but at Radio Golden Gate I was just a disc jockey, the limey Dave Maxwell-Robinson who did as he was told.
“In 1967,” one of the bosses was saying, “we need to physically get the station out more right across The Bay Area, to engage with the public, develop a wider audience. A wider audience means more advertising revenue which means more money in everyone’s pockets.”
There was a significant sound of agreement from all at the meeting.
“To that end,” the programme controller said, “we are going to appoint an Audience Development Manager.”
I was listening but not paying a lot of attention, my thoughts were on Larna.
“Dave, we want to offer you the job.”
Me ? Dave there was only one Dave at Radio Golden Gate and that was me. Audience Development Manager ? What was he talking about ?
“There will be a pay rise of course.”
“Will there ?” I assumed there would be but what was this all about and why me ?
“And you will become part of the senior management team. You are very young but you were a senior manager on your boat.”
I was and I part owned it but this was different.
“We will, of course, have to revise your broadcast schedule.”
“I don’t want to give up my classical music show,” I said quickly thinking of Larna.
“No,” I was assured. “You are doing a good job there, perhaps the country music.”
“Yes please.” As the words left my mouth I wondered what Larna would say, did she like country music ? “No, can I stick with it for a bit longer ?”
“Driving ? You don’t drive do you ?”
“No,” I mumbled apologetically.
“You are going to have to learn and pass your test.”
“I will, I promise I will.”
“Soon but until then we will provide you with a driver. Only short-term.”
“So what does this new job entail ?”
“That is up to you to decide. Just so long as you increase the audience meaning advertising revenues increase. Twenty percent would be good.”
Larna could drive and she had a car.
“Everything is in the melting pot,” I explained.
“Could you get away for a few days ? Take some time off ?”
“Yes, I suppose I could.”
“Take a break and give yourself time to think about this new job.”
I pondered the idea but did not see a lot of point in not working, no doing anything. How would that help me think about being Audience Development Manager.”
“I have got three days off myself, they want to give my understudy a chance to dance Clara. Why don’t we do something together ?”
I liked that idea.
“Have you seen much of The Golden State since you have been here ?”
“I’ve not been out of the city.”
“Time to change that.”
I could feel Julie smiling.
As the car drove up onto the bridge I said to Larna, ”I’ve walked across The Golden Gate Bridge of course but never been here until today. Which is older, the Golden Gate or this ?”
“They are both from the same time but Oakland Bay opened a few months earlier than Golden Gate.”
“Really ? How did people get across the bay without either of the bridges ?”
“Swam !” She laughed. “No, they used ferries.”
Being with Larna was the important thing, where we were going was secondary but I knew we were heading for Sacramento, the capital city of California.
With Christmas approaching Sacrament was in festive mood, more than back in San Francisco.
“Are you dancing over Christmas ?”
“Christmas Eve and on the twenty-sixth but there is no show on Christmas Day.”
Dare I say what was in my mind ? Julie was telling me to but I did not have the courage, Instead I totally changed the subject. “I must learn to drive ?”
“It’s not difficult.”
“At home in England perhaps but here ? The roads are so wide and the cars so big, and you drive on the wrong side of the road. Look at this car you are driving. What is ? I mean what make ?”
“It’s a Chevrolet Caprice.”
“It’s so big and it’s so – yellow,” I laughed. “It reminds me of custard.”
Larna joined me laughing. “Let’s christen the car our custard car.”
In Sacramento we parked our custard car near to the Governor’s Mansion. It was not of much interest to me as Larna explained the American state government system.
“Pat Brown is Governor of California.”
“Pat ? A woman ?”
“Women do have the vote here in America you know ! Pat is Patrick, Patrick Broan.”
“Brown ? I wonderppp if he drives a brown car or perhaps a chocolate custard car !”
Perhaps I could invite Governor Pat Brown to be a guest on Golden Gate Radio. Maybe not a good idea.
I thought back to my nature study lessons in junior school but could not recognise many of the trees. In Sacramento’s Capitol Park a tree had been planted from every country in the world. Now I can use the Internet and send signals from my shows all round the world but in December 1966 the signal from Golden Gatpppe Radio did not reach the ninety miles from San Francisco to the State Capital of Sacramento.
As we walked I reached oupt and took Larna’s hand. She squeezed my hand while Julie smiled down on us.
In those last weeks of 1966 I was not a lot of good as Golden Gate Radio's Audience Development Manager, not not at all. My thoughts were primarily of Larna and I could bring The Nutcracker Ballet into all of my shows. I did try playing dedications for each member of the England World Cup team but America is confused about football. England won the Football World Cup not a soccer tournament. President Kennedy said man would walk on the moon by the end of the decade so I tried to look forward to the Apollo Programme which was scheduled to start in the new year. Once a launch date was given I would invite advertisers to sponsor dedications for the astronaughts.
Things were looking bad in the Vietnam War. In October Secretary of Defence Robert McNamara said that communist forces were suffering a predicted sixty thousand deaths for the year but with no signs of an impending break in morale. Forces deployed and casualty figures were obscene. We played dedications for those fighting, lots of them, But had to be careful not to criticise the war. There were songs protesting about the war but it was station policy not to play them.
Smarty phones ? I do not use a smart phone ! These devices are compensatory aids. A man with a broken leg is assisted by using a crutch. A person who is dull and stupid, not smart, uses a smart phone to compensate. My phone is a Dorro - you know Dorro, mobile phones for the elderly ! Even my Dorro phone can call a number anywhere in the world and connect in seconds. In the 1960's calling San Francisco from England required a trans-Atlantic call to be booked in advanced and manually connected by an operator.
"Max it's Carl," the phone crackled. Who was Max, yes that was me. Who was Carl ? "Max are you listening ? The government has made an offer for Radio Jolly Roger."
"Is the BBC going to buy it ?"
"It's compensation. You invested two thousand pounds in the station."
I did. I assumed that was lost.
"You are going to get twenty times that in compensation !"
Forty thousand pounds ? How long would it have taken me to earn that sweeping floors in Dad's factory ? The average working wage back then was £25 a week. Perhaps I could buy the factory and have my Dad working for me !
The BBC offered me a job on its new station Radio One but I was not interested. My heart was with Larna in San Francisco.
The Marine Offences Act silenced real radio and The Jolly Roger for good. I was not sorry, Radio Jolly Roger was Julie. I still loved Julie and always would. Larna knew of my love for Julie and respected that love. Julie approved of and encouraged my love for Larna.
There was something going on in the Height-Ashbury area of the city, some kind of arts festival but it was not of any interest to me. Larna, Carla and her Nutcracker doll were at the heart of my cultural experience.
In the week after Christmas Golden Gate Radio's Audience Development manager capitalised on the demise of British Pirate Radio and Max's Magic microphone. The audience loved it and we made a packet from advertising.
I wondered about bringing some of my former Jolly Roger DJ's to California: Pirate Morgan, Seb Goodie, Ponytail Pete and even Oswald Charles Bainbridge but they had all taken jobs with Radio One. Traitors !
The Move, Flowers In The Rain.
Woke up one morning half asleep
I'm just sitting watching flowers in the
What was that all about ? Trust Tony Blackburn to chose such a nonsense to play as the first song broadcast on Radio One. I played it on Golden Gate Radio but only to make a two fingered V sign to the BBC and Radio One.
Flowers in the rain ? Didn't the BBC know there are no bloody flowers in England in January ? In the rain or not ! Marine Offences Act - Radio One - Radio Bloody Boring ! What was it Elvis said about Harold Wilson's government and The Marine Offences Act ? Communist ! To call someone a communist was the biggest insult and American could give to another. One day communist itself and the hate of communism would destroy this world. Barry McGuire was right with his hit from two years earlier On The Eve Of Destruction.
Armageddon ? Did Armageddon have a radio station ? What music did it play in Hell ?
"Governor Brown, is there any way I could go to Vietnam, as a reporter then come back and play music for our boys over there ?"
He thought for a moment, ran his tongue across his wobbling dentures then said. "Vera Lynn, you Limeys did alright with her didn't you ? Quite a moral booster. Could Dave Maxwell-Robinson do something similar for us ? Can you sing ?"
"Then there won't be a nightingale singing in Golden Gate Park or blackbirds over the Oakland Bay Bridge."
The tongue ran over the dentures again.
"Short back and sides."
"That's what you Limieys call it isn't it ? Short back and sides ? You'll have to get your hair cut, we don't allow Beatle mops in the United States Army !"
I wasn't joining the United States Army. I did go to Vietnam. I did not have my hair cut.
I left for Vietnam on Wednesday 11th January 1967 and was back in San Francisco on Saturday 14th January, in all a total of five days. Five terrible days but days with a beautiful ending that changed my life. Five days which are as real to me now as I write as they were back in history.
"You will be fine," Larna said gently kissing me. "We'll have a party when you get home."
Party ? When she said the word it felt highly inappropriate but what was it she knew ?
I thought I knew what to expect. I was wrong. The visit was to help develop the audience at Golden Gate Radio. As I boarded the tranport plane I wondered how something so terrible as a war could be used to assist which we all regarded as fun and good ?
I do not believe in the futility of war, not entirely. Dad's generation fought to save the world from evil tyranny. I do not think that history, no matter how far you push it into the future if that makes sense, will ever change that opinion. What will history, what has history, regard as the futility of The Vietnam War. Writing decades after my time in South East Asia I do not think that history has given its final verdict.
It was a terrible thing to look down on. There was no apparent sign as to where his eye socket was. The young man was unconscious and snatching for breath even though there was an oxygen mask trying to rest on the raw flesh. His right hand kept twitching. A medic cut away the tunic as a white suited doctor waited. The burn of charred yet open flesh waited his attention.
"One unit of blood, keep the saline running. How much morphine has he had ?"
"Not enough. Give him ten more."
There were many, many questions I wanted to ask. How old was he ?
"His pulse is going doctor."
Immediately a stethoscope was placed on his chest. The burning was confined to his face, there was no sign of injury to his chest. The hand, the fight hand, continued to twitch.
How had this soldier sustained his injury ?
Would he survive ? Would he be able to live with just one eye and hal;f a face ? What about his mouth ? Could he eat ? Could he swallow ?
The doctor fired the injection into the soldier's body.
"No pulse doctor."
All of my questions were answered in that moment. He was dead. Thursday 12th January 1967, the futility of war. What a shame North Vietnam did not have nuclear weapons then everything could be brought quickly to an end with the single push of a button !
"You can play something for me by Buddy Holly."
How could this man who commanded so many, commanded them in a war and death be so cheerful ? "Anything in particular Colonel ?"
"No, you chose. Just make sure you play it for Lieutenant Colonel Harold, Harry, Soffran from Boston Massachusetts."
Boston ? This was no tea party. I had no intention of playing his request.
"What did you do before Vietnam Captain ?"
"It's George, forget the captain stuff. I was a used automobile dealer. All a bit pointless really but I would swap it any day for this job."
I would find something suitable to play for him.
"I like country music."
"Do you corporal ?"
"I was in a country band. We were quite good but I doubt we would ever have been stars. Is it true you know Elvis Presley ?"
"What can I play for you ?"
"Anything. Could you say hello to my Mom for me ?"
"And to Rachel. One day we are going to get married." He paused then added, "I hope, if I survive I mean."
Back in the tented waiting area there were three children. Children ? What were they doing there ? Two brothers and their sister. Billy J Kramer's song Little Children ran momentarily through my mind.
"They will be alright," a nurse assured me. A broken arm, twisted ankle and concussion. The little girl banged her head."
"Physically OK I just hope they have strong minds."
"How come ? What do you mean ?"
"They have lost their parents."
"What will happen to them ?"
"They are going to an orphanage as soon as transport is ready."
"I want to go wqith them."
"I will ask."
"Just make it happen. Please. Do you know their names ?"
"I can ask for you."
"Just make it happen that I can go to the orphanage with them. Please." She saw the tears in my eyes.
"I want to adopt these children."
"All of them ? All three ?"
I was told there were around sixty children in the orphanage, an orphanage run by only five nuns, things were stretched. American nuns I learned came from somewhere in Texas.
"Have they got names ? Are you going to give them names ?"
"They have only just arrived, they arrived with you, we've still got to process them."
"They are Billy, Geoffrey and Little Lily, that's their names."
"They could be," a black gowned nun said.
"Are you sure you want to adopt all three ?"
"They are brothers and sister," I said. "You can not split them up. Billy, he's the one with the broken arm, Geoffrey has the turned ankle and Little Lily's got the headache."
"All three ?"
"All three, yes. Can you arrange that ?"
"You are British but that should not be a problem."
"My wife is American," I explained.
The sister smiled. "She must be a special lady."
"She is." Max Robinson made Larna his Mrs Robinson on Monday 30th January 1967. Billy Robinson, Geoffrey Robinson and Little Lily Robinson completed our family on Saint Valentne's Day, Tuesday 14th February. I left Vietnam with all of its hatred and tragedy to bring love home to San Francisco.
"I will give up my career to look after our children," Larna said.
We used the money so generously given as compensation by Harold Wilson's socialist government to but a large house on Mission Bay. I was the happiest man alive. Larna was an amazing mother. Julie cried with love. Elvis Presley insisted be become godfather to Billy, Geoffrey and Little Lily.
Every TV network, every newspaper and every radio station across the USA ran the story of a radio DJ and ballet dancer adopting three Vietnam orphans. It even made the BBC news back home. It did Radio Golden Gate no harm, advertisers could not pay enough to be a part of the music played by Dave Maxwell-Robinson.
California Dreaming, was released by The Mamas and The Pappas in December the previous year. Larna was Mamma and I was Pappa. All five of us were California Dreaming.
"How old are the children Mrs Robinson ?" the reporter asked.
"Nobody can be certain, Doctors think Billy is four with a year separating Geoffrey and then Litle Lily."
"You do not know their birthdays ?"
"No but we will celebrate all three with birthday's on the day Max first met them."
I think that reporter was from The New York Times. I can not remember, there were so many. I wanted everything to calm down even if the bosses at Golden Gate Radio hoped it would continue for ever. I wanted it to calm down, I did not want my children to be international celebrities. We would ride the course but there had to be an end. I allowed the interviews and photo sessions to continue to raise awareness of what was going on in Vietnam but it had to end.
The Mamas and The Papas came to meet the children and sing California Dreaming with them. That was fun a a step towards their learning English. I loved my children, I was proud of them and loved my darling wife.
"The flight is on time Mr Robinson."
Easter 1967, Thursday 23rd March.
"Welcome to The United States," Hubert Humphrey said.
"Thank You Mr Vice President," my father replied.
Let me step aside from this narrative for a moment. 27th January 1967, a huge national tragedy. I had been looking forward on a selfish personal basis to the Apollo Moon Programme. I had plans to dedicate records to each member of each flight crew. Friday 21st February and the first Apollo launch did not happen. A fire during routine testing of Apollo One ahead of the launch killed Gus Grisson, Ed White and Roger Chaffee.
the government played down the tragedy, Apollo was meant to be something positive, something of national pride to obscure the war. I do know that Nikita Khrushchev and Yuri Gagarin both sent messages of condolences to the families but none were reported in the media, including Golden Gate Radio.
I'm A Believer by The Monkees was number one in The Billboard Chart at the time. I had every DJ when they played it dedicate the record to the crew.
"Mum, Dad allow me to introduce you to your grandchildren." My eyes defied my inept father to say anything out of place in front of the Vice President of The United States of America.
My lovely little daughter stepped forward to give my mother a bunch of flowers, Mum cried. Billy and Geoffrey held out their hands to shake my father's hand. Dad shed a tear.
The flight from Detroit as on final approach, shortly the ceremony would be repeated with Larna's parents and her sister. Big Brother Jimmy was not with us, he stopped at home running his business empire. Was it ten or eleven shops he owned ?
With the Vice President off on his way to his next engagement we all mad our way to our home.
"Put something on the record player," I said to Billy.
The three were learning to understand English fairly quickly but were a bit reticent when it came to speaking.
Billy put Wayne Fontana and The Mindbenders on the turntable, Groovey Kinda Love. Playing a pretend guitar Geoffrey picked out the notes of the introduction. Little Lily started to dance.
"You take after you Mummy," my Dad smiled.
"Love Mummy," Little Lily smiled.
Wayne Fontana and The Mindbenders had released Groovey Kinda Love in 1966, Phil Collins covered it twenty years later but his version was not anywhere as good as the original. There were some good songs in the Spring of 1967, I played them all on Golden Gate Radio. Many songs from those weeks I associate with my childrens' development and becoming Americans. Harry Nillsen, Everybody's Talking, that was not released until 1969 but in my mind it represents how all three little ones learned to speak fluently. Albatross, Fleetwood Mac. Albatross, the greatest piece of pop instrumental music ever, rminds me of Lovely Little Lily dancing and gliding around the room.
"Something is happening in Golden Gate Park."
"So I've heard." I wondered if I could spot an opportunity to further develop the staton's audience. "I think I will take a ride over." Yes, I had passed my driving test, I never told you that did I ?
Golden Gate Park is vast. As I drove into the area there was no evidence of anything out of the ordinary. Everything was normal. I ran my hand through my hair, perhaps I should get it cut. In protest to the Vietnam War, Governor Brown sayng I should get it cut and Colonel Whatever-His-Name-Was, no I did not play his request, I let it grow.
To my right, way down in a little valley I could see a gathering of people. I pulled the car off the road, got out and made my way towards them. There was a group of thirty, no more.
"Welcome Brother, are you going to join us ?"
I smiled. "Just coming to se what's happening."
"Don't SEE. don't use your eyes. FEEL, feel with your heart."
Feel what ?
He was eighteen, possibly nineteen but no older. All of the little group were of a similar age.
"I'm Pete. My brother was killed in Vietnam. Do you believe in Vietnam ?"
A complex question which invited a complex answer. I just said, "No."
"I'm Julie," a girl of similar age spoke. She kissed me on the cheek then reached to take the hand of Pete. "We are here to make love and to pray for the war to end."
"How many of you are there ?"
"Where are the rest ?"
"On their way. On their way once school is out. Come with me, come with us."
We all walked up to the road, crossed over and sat down by the side of a bank of flowers. "Are there any flowers in Vietnam ?" Julie said.
I had not seen any, Julie ? That name - Julie ? My Julie ?
"If you pick a flower," she explained, "the plant gets stronger and grows. It's not like that with people is it ?"
"No," Pete added. "My brother is dead, that did not strengthen our family it made us weaker."
"You are not an American are you ?"
"No, I'm British."
"God save the Queen. You will not have to go to Vietnam."
"None of us are going to Vietnam." There was a strong but gentle murmur of agreement across the group. "That is why we are here, to tell the world we are not going to Vietnam."
Julie picked a flower and threaded the stalk into my hair. Each member of the group picked a flower and placed it into the hair of another. still had the flower in my hair when I got back to the studio.
"What did you find in Golden Gate Park ?"
"Nice people," I replied. "Some very nice people."
"Daddy flower," Little Lily said as she gave me a flower picked from the garden.
Little Lily Robinson, the youngest hippy in all of San Francisco.
Lovely Little Lilly, Queen of the Hippies ? What is a hippie ? I was confused.
"I thought you went to Golden Gate Park."
"The people you met there are Hippies."
"The flower people ?"
"Yes, they are Hippies."
"Like The Hippy Hippy Shake, you know the song by The Swinging Blue Jeans ? Once upon a time Brother Jimmy wanted to cover that song."
Larna looked sympathetically at me. "Yes, your hips. The people of Golden gate Park are people of love. Where does the physical act of love come from ? Your hips !"
They were nice people but only kids. The word was the authorities planned to stop their flower-power protest against the Vietnam War. A bit of a sledge hammer to crack a nut, there were only thirty or so of them in the group I saw.
Every radio station received advance promotion copies of records which were about to be released. There was something from Columbia records, a song from Scott Makenzie whoever he was. I played it to myself then ten times during my show the next day. No authority anywhere was going to stop the hippies of Golden Gate Park.
"I gave him all of the money I had in my pocket, eleven dollars. I don't know what I thought eleven dollars would do to help m,y brother in his draft but I gave it to him. I never saw him again."
Within a week of Scott Makenzie's record being released that group of thirty in Golden Gate Park had increased to an estimated ten thousand. Golden Gate Park was renamed Hippie Park and San Francisco the focus became of the world. Transport networks clogged as young people from all over the nation came to San Francisco to wear flowers in their hair.
The individual identities of my many shows merged into one as Golden Gate Radio became the Hippie Radio of the world.
"We should take the children down to see it all."
"I don't think so Larna. They all may wear flowers in their hair but not all wear clothes !"
Geoffrey knew every word of If you are going to San Francisco be sure to wear some flowers in your hair and could sing them all in perfect tune.
If you're going to San Francisco
Let's Go To San Francisco by The Flower Pot Men. No doubt my dear brother sold many copies of that group's hit even though the Hippie Movement did not reach Birmingham England.
Too too too
Too too too
Let's go (let's go) to San Francisco (let's go to San Francisco)
Where the flowers grow (flowers grow)
So very high (so high)
Sunshine (sunshine) in San Francisco
(Sunshine in San Francisco)
Makes your mind grow up to the sky.
Lots of sunny (lots of) sunny people
Walking hand in hand(walking hand in hand)
Then a (then a) funny people (funny people)
They have found (they have found) their land.
Let's go (let's go) to San Francisco
(Let's go to San Francisco)
Let the wind blow right through your hair
Go down (go down) to San Francisco
(Go down to San Francisco)
See the love glow (love glow)
On people's face.
Radio One favoured The Flowerpot Men as they were a British group. Naivety and ignorance big time ! FLOWERPOT - Flowers, those in the hair of the hippies. Pot, cannabis, whacky-backy. I laugh to think that to this day Radio Boring has never worked that one out !
Cannabis is legal now in California but in that summer of 1967 it was a sin. Billy Graham preached against it but I tell you there was more love in one flower in the hair of a single hippie than in all of Billy Graham's mass revivalist rallies put together ! Billy Graham lived to be ninety-nine years old, I guess god felt he simply could not cope with him in heaven.
Before you even think about it, no I did not smoke any cannabis myself although my friends in Hippie Park offered it to me every day.
I would broadcast my show, spend the day with my friends in Hippie Park then relax with my lovely family in the evening.
"Max, how would you feel about my going back to dancing ?"
"That would be wonderful !" I was so pleased. "I can look after the children, Billy will be starting school soon."
"It's not quite so simple Max."
I did not understand.
"If I dance I would not be returning to The San Francisco Ballet. I have been offered the chance to join The Royal Ballet in London."
I screamed with joy then punched a fist into the sky.
History says that one hundred thousand hippies gathered in Golden Gate Park during The Summer of Love. That Summer of Love never extended to The Autumn of Love, or as the Americans would say - The Fall of Love. It was all over so quickly. as quickly as it started. The hippies went back to school and back to college. We were also saying goodbye to The City By The Bay and Hello to London.
San Francisco and The 1967 Summer of Love changed pop music for ever. Radio One now had a DJ who had been a part of the whole scene. Never mind the rest of the station, the music I played on Radio One would never be boring.
Today it would take one hundred reams of red-tape paperwork. A British man married to an American wife with three adopted Vietnamese children ! Not back then, besides my wife was a famous ballet dancer and I was going to play records on Radio One. I can not say that I was looking forward to playing those records but it was a job and the money was good.
We found a house south of the river and close to Clapham Common. That actually is only part of the story, I'll tell you ,ore later. It needed modernising, there was no bathroom and the toilet was in a shed in the garden. Thirty-two Venn Street, Clapham, London SW4. If you think I am writing a work of fiction go and check it out. Thirty-two Venn Street, Clapham London SW4 is there. It exists, it is still there. As is number thirty next door !
At Radio Jolly Roger I was part owner. At Golden Gate Radio I was the audience development manager and the Hippie from Golden gate Park. At Radio Boring I was just another DJ, a well-paid, even over-paid DJ. I am smiling now as I remember the jingle from those early days:
RADIO ONE IS WONDERFUL - B - B - C !
We all knew that listeners adapted that to:
RADIO ONE IS WONDERFUL - MIGRAINE HEADACHES !
Geoffrey could sing, he had a lovely voice. Billy wanted to learn to play the guitar. Max and Jimmy Richardson had never challenged the harmonies of Don and Phil Everley. Perhaps my two sons would.
Little Lily, Lovely Little Lily - she was growing and wouldn't be little for much longer.
The beautiful blue skies of San Francisco, the smog of London. The smog came early in 1977, in October. Do you know what the smog was ?
SM = smoke. OG = fog. When the fog came the smoke from the city's coal fires could not escape into the air. The result was a filthy stinking air which obscured vision. you literally could not see a hand in front of your face. A slimy deposit was left behind on everything outside. Breath the air and it deposited itself inside your lungs. Buildings right across London were filthy and black from the smog. London was known as The Smoke.
I missed San Francisco but San Francisco was in America, America had the Vietnam War. Harold Wilson may have closed down pirate radio but he kept Britain out of the Vietnam War. My childrens' lives would not have that sword hanging over them. Would the Vietnam War still be murdering American youth when my sons were old enough to fight ? Of course it would.
The Royal Opera House at Covent Garden was not immune to London's smog nor was thirty-two Venn Street. Also thirty Venn Street !
The Robinson Family of Maxwell (Max), Alana (Larna, Billy, Geoffrey and Lily lived at 32 Venn Street, London SW4. I should have said that Mr and Mrs Robinson Senior lived at number 30 Venn Street London SW4. Dad, having retired from whatever it was he did at that damn factory of his, gave in to Mum's wish to spend time with their grandchildren. My Mum and Dad living next door - scary or what ! Actually it made life so easy with Larna's and my careers, if you can call being a DJ on Radio Boring a career that is. With Mum and Dad on hand we could wrap work around the family and our wonderful children.
The Royal Ballet, the 1967 production of The Nutcracker had Alarna Robinson dancing The Sugar Plum Fairy.
Our children had never heard of him and were confused that Mummy called him Santa Claus while Daddy referred to him as Father Christmas. That confusion in young minds was expanded by Granddad saying his real name was Saint Nicholas.
Saint Nicholas, Father Santa Claus Christmas had no issue with London's smog. Rudolph the famous red-nosed reindeer navigated the sleigh successfully to thirty-two Venn Street, London SW4.
On the sleigh was a guitar for Geoffrey and another guitar for Billy. Godfather Elvis Aaron Presley sent Billy, Geoffrey and Little Lilly an autographed copy of his album Blue Hawaii. Blue Hawaii, that felt a lifetime away. It was a lifetime away.
There was another gift for Little Lily.
Moving from San Francisco to live in England we were to enjoy the benefits of the National Health Service, something America never has managed to introduce for its people. Registering with a local doctor's surgery we were all given the courtesy of a medical check up. Just a formality but for Little Lily it was not a formality but good fortune.
"Your daughter," Doctor Reeves explained, "has a weak heart.
"What can be done about it ?" I asked. Larna started to cry.
"We can all take care of her," Doctor Reeves said. "There isn't any medicine and no operation that could help but we can all make sure here lifestyle works round and supports her condition. We can safeguard her from anything that may harm her and then she will be safe."
"I will pay any money to get her treated by the world's top specialists," Elvis said but no money would give our Lovely Little Lily a new heart.
"It's like driving an old car," Doctor Reeves tried to explain. "You do not slam your foot on the accelerator and force the engine while it is in first gear. you work up gradually through the gears them cruise at fifty miles and hour, not eighty."
There was, of course, the question we all wanted to ask but did not. Now I can not even bring myself to type it.
Radio Jolly Roger and Golden Gate Radio were commercial business enterprises which had to make a profit. Expenditure had to be balanced against income from advertising. That was not the way with Radio One and the BBC's unlimited finance pouring in from a licence fee the law demanded every household pay. I did not like this carefree attitude towards money.
"We are going to try something different this summer," the station controller said. "The Radio One Roadshow." As he explained the plan I liked it, liked it more with every word he spoke.
"Put me down for Newquay in Cornwall," I said. "We will have a family holiday there."
Larna was to appear in Swan Lake but once that was over rehearsals for The Nutcracker would not start until September.
"You can not wrap her in cotton wool," Mum said.
She was right, of course, but how could I possibly agree with her. Christian Barnard performed the world's first heart transplant the previous December but the patient died. Lily could never have a heart transplant.
"Listen," my Dad said - he had changed from the father I knew as a kid. "You saved the lives of three children. You are a special man Max, your wife is a wonderful lady. With you both as her parents Little Lily wil be fine, well and live a long, happy life."
Was that really my Dad speaking ? How fortune was smiling on my kids to have him as their Granddad !
Where was I in telling my story ? Oh yes, Christmas - Christmas 1967. Let's leave that shall we and move on. 1968 was not the best of years you know. For our family there were good times, happy times and Lily was well but for the world there was Apollo One disaster. There was the assassination of Robert Kennedy and the assassination of Martin Luther King. To say that I grew to like Radio One would be an exaggeration but the Radio One Roadshow was great. Great fun.
We had a lovely family holiday in Newquay, Cornwall. The weather was kind. Thousands of pop music fans packed the beach and the sand dunes. There was a terrific cheer as I took to the stage.
"Go for it, "Smiley Miley said. Smiley Miley, the road manager for the Radio One Roadshow. You know Smiley Miley made those roadshows, the last thing Radio One was when he was around was boring.
The kids came up on stage with me, the boys sang along to the records and Little Lily danced. I have racked my brain as this old man, The Geriatric DJ tries to remember the records I played. Sorry but I can not remember and will have to let Google help me.
There was the Bee Gees with I've Got a Message For You, there was Do It Again from The Beach Boys and at number one Mony Mony.
1968 will not be remembered around the world as a good year but Apollo Eight orbiting the Earth at Christmas united the world. I am not a religious man but I remember with a tear in my eye astronauts Frank Lovel. James Borman and William Anders reading the opening verses from Genesis, that was special.
The sun is shining, it's a lovely day. It always is a lovely day on this beautiful island. I am looking forward to sharing theses days with you here in my autobiography, my later years but right now I need to get back to the story and to where I was, the end of the decade,
I recall a sad feeling as life entered 1969, that fabulous decade was coming to an end. The 1960's had taken me from being a nobody destined to work in a factory to become one of the country's top radio presenters. The swinging sixties, I do not think they were called the swinging sixties in the sixties. What would the 1970's hold ? They would be the years when my children grew up. Happy years ? How would Lily be ? What about the world ? What about music in the 1970's ?
I am rambling, I am sorry but real life rambles around doesn't it ?
You know I never thought I could adapt to a life of doing nothing, no microphones, no top ten, no records. I love it. As I scribble these words I am looking out on a vista of pure beauty, a beauty I never want to exchange for another. I lifestyle I would be happy to live for ever.
It was not like that in 1969. In 1969 Billy would be seven years old and Geoffrey would be six. Both were at school and in September Lily would also be at school.
How old were my Mum and Dad ? I would have to work that out but it honestly does not matter to this story. I am wondering if I need to go back and edit the words in the early part of this story. Have I been a bit unfair to my Dad ? No, he changed so I will leave the writing as it is.
1969. It was not a cold, winter start to the year. January and February were mild. We had a quiet family party for the kids birthdays. Looking at Lily it was hard to believe she was ill at all. Her monthly doctor appointments showed she was stable so perhaps, strictly speaking, she was not ill.
Hey, Billy and Geoffrey were doing well learning to play the guitar. I wanted to pay for them to have lessons but they taught themselves. That is not exactly how it was: Billy was teaching Geoffrey and Geoffrey was teaching Billy. Does that make sense ?
Larna would have another season as a leading dancer with The Royal Ballet Company but we knew that could not go on for ever, at some point her career would have to change. Perhaps she could teach others to dance and bring on new talent.
I have not written for a while about Julie, Julie my Teen Angel. She is here as I write, she is always here. Teen Angel, our Guardian Angel. I do love her so and I always will.
1967, The Summer of Love. 1969, the summer we went to the Moon. WE went to the moon. All of mankind went to the Moon. Three spacemen went to the Moon, only two walked on its surface but every human being on Planet Earth went with them. I have wondered what it would have been liken to live in America - in San Francisco, in July1969 but the thrill, the excitement and the anticipation were the same anywhere and everywhere in the world.
I speculated about having my part in the 1969 Radio One Roadshow coinciding with Apollo Eleven but decided against putting in a request to change the broadcast schedule. As the rocket took off and Neil Armstrong subsequently walked on the moon I was at home watching everything on a flickering black and white television set. I had the microphone from my Grundig wheel to wheel tape recorder microphone pressed hard against the TV speaker. I could, of course, have made a professional recording in the studio but doing this at home was for the kids.
"I would like to be the first woman to walk on the moon," Lily said.
No woman has ever walked on the Moon and I doubt ever will. It has been decades since any human being walked on the Moon. The will to return is not going to happen in my lifetime and not in the lifetime of my children. How sad is that ? The laptop computer I am using to type these words has more power than all of the computers in Mission Control combined and yet today we could not send a man, or a woman, to the moon.
That laptop computer tells me I have now typed 20,980 words telling this story so far. I doubt anyone will read them and if by chance they do I wonder how many typing errors they will find. Life can be a typing error, the more you make the better you are living it.
"I am a radio DJ not a TV star !"
"But you were in a film with Elvis Presley."
"No, I am not going to do it."
So it was I never did present Top Of The Pops on BBC Television. I did do a guest spot on Blue Peter, it was great fun but was as far as my TV career went.
Christmas 1969 I left Radio One and Larna left The Royal Ballet Company. At the end of their summer term in 1970 Billy was eight, Geoffrey seven and Little Lily six years old. We left London.
"I never did like London," Dad said. "It's not a patch on Birmingham, what's this new place like ?"
NEW CITY SOUNDS:
Larna was going to train to be a teacher. With slender academic qualifications she was offered a place at North Buckinghamshire College of Education. I had no idea what I would do in the area where we were going to live but one thing was certain I would not work again in radio.
"She wants to teach Music Dad," I said. "Because she is older she can do a two year course instead of the normal three."
Money was not going to be a problem for the family. We had both earned well and built up extensive savings. I did not need to work, I probably would not walk and Larna was planning to work for fun more than for a salary. We paid for both Billy and Geoffrey to attend the preparatory department of Bedford Public School. For an Englishman reading this story it will be understood that a public school is not open to the public, for those who do not comprehend let me explain. A Public School, the like of Eton, Harrow and Bedford, is a fee paying school where only the sons of the wealthy can have places. Fortunate we were wealthy enough to be able to send our two sons there.
I wondered for a brief time about going into politics but that was not my style. If I were younger I think could have been a doctor and developed a cure for Lily's heart condition. Lily also went to a fee-paying school, a lovely little place run by two sisters. Should I go into business like my brother ? He now had a nationwide chain of record shops but business had not given him the time for life as it had given to me. He was not married, never would be and would not know the love of children Larna and I had.
I am being a bit melancholic as I tell this part of my life. The future for us all felt as if it was an enigma, what troubles me now is that back then I did not care. Does that make sense ? I ned to snap out of the melancholy as these were good times for our family. Max, get on with the story.
There were new towns planned and developed to house the country's growing population but this was to be a new city. Where the city would one day stand there were then fields, farms and villages. The villages would merge into the city. Looking out from the manor house we had taken as our new home it was all something of an enigma.
"Will you sit on a committee to help plan the station ? You have a unique experience."
I do not like committees. I had never heard of a community radio station, that was an enigma.
"This will be a central tool to build a strong community as the city develops."
"I don't like committees. There was a bit too much of that at Radio One."
"Then take it on and do it on your own."
My radio days were over. I loved Radio Jolly Roger but I was too old now for that to be repeated even if it were legal. Golden Gate was unique, I was in the place at the right time, San Francisco was fun but it would never again be what it had been in The Summer Of Love. Radio Boring ?As you can tell I am not a fan in any way of the BBC, state controlled media belongs in the province of totalitarian states not within the mother of democracy.
So what was a community radio station ? As I understand the idea funding would come from the city's development corporation. The station would have complete control over programming and content.
"I'll think about it," I said.
Christmas again. Billy and Geoffrey were politely sceptical about Christmas. Lily was not so naieve.
One term into her course and it was obvious Larna was going to be a great teacher. What was she going to teach ? I didn't tell you that did I ? I can't remember. Oh yes, I did tell you, she was planning to teach music.
No, I was certainly not going to go into politics. That was only a momentary silly idea. Something common sense said was a big no, no ! Conservative party leader, Edward Heath, was safe for the time being. I pondered the idea of being a writer, well here I am with my autobiography but as you can tell I am never going to become a best seller. Radio was what I knew. Sod it, I would take on the project and so New City Sounds was born.
What do you think, was the music of the 1970's better than the music of the 1960's ? No contest, of course it was. I had some whipper-snapper journalist come t interview me about New City Sounds, he kept talking about the decade gone by.
"Just wait," I said to him. "In ten years time The Swinging Sixties will br be shown to have only been a warm up act to the Rocking Seventies."
New City Sounds blasted with a rock that set the tone for the entire development of the city We were a pop music station, we were a local newspaper, we were central to the community.
One of our DJ presenters going live with a two hour show each week was a servings police officer. A GP from a local surgery had a show Doc Rock. We had teenagers from three different youth centres popping in and out of the studio. Radio Boring may have had its roadshows but New City Sounds had its own disco we took into the schools.
DISCO, yeh that was a phenomena from the 1970's wasn't it ? I made sure my big brother gave me a discount for all records we purchased.
Proof reading my notes from ahead of typing them up I said my radio days were over. My words there are lethargic and melancholic, New City Sounds changed all of that ! Radio Jolly Roger gave me my start. Radio Golden Gate made me famous. Radio One made me rich. New City Sounds was going to be fun.
© Max Robinson