Wednesday, 4 March 2020

Fantasies Of A Geriatric DJ - Chapter Four

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 more 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:


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 Of Damocles 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 it was 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 her 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 have to confess 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 will 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 actually 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 ? Nothing goes in straight lines does 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.  At least that is how old we think they were. We never knew their true dates of birth. 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 to 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 Juliette, Juliette 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 July 1969 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 ?"

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