RADIO GOLDEN GATE:
"You OK for your show this afternoon ?"
"Of course, why shouldn't I be ?"
"Just a thought."
"I haven't missed a show since I've been back so why would I miss today ?"
"I'm alright." But I was not, far from it. I did not think I would be alright ever again.
"There's a supply boat coming in later."
"Today ? There's not one due today."
"It's an extra, Hull says there's a special cargo."
"Really ?" I was not particularly interested.
"It's due to arrive when you are on the air so I'd not worry about it."
"Then why tell me about it ?"
"Just making conversation."
I did not care about about supply boats, with or without any special cargo on board.
Everyone on the boat was being kind to me but I did wish they would stop being kind and just leave me alone. I was giving serious thought to resigning my place on Radio Jolly Roger and finding a different job, something I could do for the rest of my life. I hoped it would not be a long life. I was just twenty years old and had lost my reason for life.
"There is someone on the supply boat who has made the journey to see you."
"What do you mean ? You said it was a special cargo ? Then you said the boat was coming in when I would be broadcasting so it was not anything I need be concerned about. So who is on board then ? Brother Jimmy ?"
"Please not my father. Tell me it is not my father."
"No, it's not your Dad."
"Then who ?"
"I am not absolutely sure."
"Then how do you know it is not my brother or my father ?"
"Just a hunch."
"Well I am going into the studio."
You are now going to think this strange but I do not remember which of my team was playing the records. I sat there for close to two hours waiting for my turn to take over the microphone and yet I can not recall who the DJ was. No, it is not the passage of time, not a fading memory in an old man muddling my brain that has lost my memory. There just is not anything for me to remember. At that moment as I opened the studio door I was not giving anything in life the attention needed to form a memory. Then what happened shortly after the supply boat had docked obliterated the few hours before it, tossing aside events before they could be wrapped into the cloak of memory.
My playlist for that show all those years ago, for that broadcast is long gone. I have no idea what I had played before the studio door opened but I will never, however long I've, forget that I was then playing a record by The Seekers. As I looked up these were the words leaving the turntable at Radio Jolly Roger and heading for our audience:
But if I should lose your love dear I do not know what I'd do....
I had lost my lover but I had not lost her love. I never would love again. Romeo had lost his Juliette.
I recognised my friend, how could I not, but he was different. His hair was not waved and held in place with with whatever his stylist used but hung about his head. His clothes belonged to my father's generation and not our own. His stance, his demeanour was relaxed and casual. Even his voice was different. I cued the next record. I would play it back to back with the microphone closed.
It was DJ Pirate Morgan who first came into the studio but I hardly noticed him as my friend totally eclipsed him.
"What are you doing here ?"
"I came to see a friend."
"On a boat in the middle of The North Sea ?"
Elvis Presley smiled. "Yes, I came to see a friend and to take a friend away from his sadness."
I could feel my friend's presence lifting me just a little. before I could say anything Pirate Morgan said, "You two go, I'll take over."
To this day it is said that Elvis Presley, The King, never came to England. Perhaps not but he did come to a pirate radio station on a small boat anchored in the North Sea.
"I am not able to find the words to say what it means to me to have you here. I have been so terribly sad."
"And I can not find the words to express the sorrow I felt when I heard the news."
I tried to smile.
We were in the record store of The Jolly Roger.
"Do you have all of my hits in here ?"
"It's good to see that smile. They have told me just how badly you have taken everything."
I did not answer and the smile on my face faded.
"Max, you have outgrown Pirate Radio Jolly Roger. Keep your memories, treasure them but leave your sadness behind. leave them here and come with me."
"Where to ?"
"Another film ? I mean movie."
"No. Stop being Max And His Magic Microphone, come to America and become Britmax. I'll get you a job on any radio station anywhere in the country."
"I like that idea."
Had the world's greatest rock and roll star honestly traveled half way round the world to cheer me up. Yes, my spirits were lifting.
"I do not think that even Elvis Presley could open a radio station on Alcatraz Island but there is Radio Golden Gate, you could join that operation. I know the station and could fix it. Hey, I'll be a guest on your first show."
Yes, I would go to California. I would never love again but I would take only the happy memories with me, sadness could stay behind in England and the North Sea.
"When should I leave ?"
"I'm going as soon as I have had something to eat. Come with me."
"I can't do that. I can't just walk out, I have responsibilities."
My friend smiled. "I have spoken to your boss, he understands. Pack your bag then leave when I do."
Elvis Presley, in the record store of Pirate Radio Station Jolly Roger burst into song with California Here I Come.
We may have departed on the little boat which brought the supplies to Jolly Roger but that was where transport systems used by mere mortals ended. A chauffeur driven car took us the short distance from the port to a helipad. From there a chopper flew us down to London where a private plane was waiting to take The King of Rock and Roll to Memphis. The words private plane may make you think of something small but no, this was a full-size airliner. The aircraft with its crew and flight attendants had been parked up and waiting ever since Elvis first arrived in England on his way to see me.
As that aircraft took off and climbed high into the sky an idea came into my head. As soon as we reached our cruising altitude I shared it with my friend.
"Your real name is Elvis Presley, you don't use a stage name ?"
"Yes, Elvis Aaron Presley."
"Mine is Maxwell Robinson but some do use stage names."
"I hate Maxwell, I've never been called it only Max. I've been thinking a new job in a new country, perhaps I should take on a stage name."
I could see that Elvis Presley was thinking. He then started singing, singing a song I had never heard before. Bang bang Maxwell's hammer came down upon his head."
I looked puzzled. "It was a bit of a flop," Elvis explained. "I was asked to cover it but it's not my style. Four lads from your city of Liverpool have paid for the rights, perhaps they will record it. Bang, Bang Maxwell's silver hammer came down upon his head."
"Cliff Richard is really Harry Webb and Adam Faith is Terrance Nellams."
"So who are you going to be ? Harry Nellhams ?"
"I like the name Dave or even David."
"So it's to be David Webb or is it Dave Nellhams ?"
"Neither." I paused. "Dave, Maxwell hyphen Robinson. Dave Maxwell-Robinson, I like that."
"A moment ago you said you did not like the name Maxwell."
"Not as a christian name but it is kind of groovy when double barrelled into a surname. Dave Maxwell-Robinson."
So it was, somewhere up above the Atlantic Ocean between London and Memphis that Dave Maxwell-Robinson was born.
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.
“Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.”
“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 and 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 S-O-B !”
“What’s a S-O-B ?”
“You do not want to know.”
I am still not sure why Americans consider a S-O-B, 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 isn't it ? To find out.”
The American attitude towards food is something I have still failed to come to terms with. I guess I never will.
“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, 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 at McDonald's 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 a eat beef burger in bread rolls with silly thin 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 Everley Brothers and others but the British Invasion of pop music now 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 ? Not with beefburgers and skinny fries, that was or sure !
“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 so 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 morning 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 of Larna but though all the time of Juliette 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. Juliette smiled at me, I felt guilty but the smile made me know it was alright to have called. Was I still her Romeo ?
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 to 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 one day,” Larna said. “My ambition ? 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 Juliette 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.” Eato Eats ? Was that my favourite ? I had never said before that it was, I had always quoted different tracks.
“Perhaps you would like to meet my friend, I mean Elvis, some time.” That was also said for effect.
Was Juliette still smiling ? I thought she was, smiling indeed 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 on earth 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 learn to drive and pass your test.”
“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, not 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 Bridge 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 ! Actually Pat is Patrick, Patrick Brown.”
“Brown ? I wonder 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 such 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 Gate Radio did not reach the ninety miles from San Francisco to the State Capital of Sacramento.
As we walked I reached out 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, no 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 victorious 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 astronauts.
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 on the American side, 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.
Smart phones ? Today 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, oh yes that was me. Who was Carl ? I remembered. "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 it 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
With all my blankets in a heap
And yellow roses scattered all around
The time was still approaching four
I couldn't stand it anymore
Saw marigolds upon my eiderdown
I'm just sitting watching flowers in the rain
Feel the power of the rain making the garden grow
I'm just sitting watching flowers in the rain
Feel the power of the rain keeping me good
What was that all about ? Trust Tony Blackburn to chose such 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 on the rain ! 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 one 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 they 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 was to change my life. Five days which are as real to me now as I write as they were back then 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 that I didn't ?
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 transport plane I wondered how something so terrible as a war could be used to assist music 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 all these years 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 eight 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 half 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 in 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. Will I ever go back to that life again ?"
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 really true that 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 with them."
"I will ask."
"Just make it happen. Please. Do you know their names ?"
"I can ask for you but I doubt anyone will know."
"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 who 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 buy 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 Little 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 I 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 on 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. Yes he did, my Dad actually did shed a tear.
The flight from Detroit was 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 made 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 near 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, reminds 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 station'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 saying 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 see what's happening."
"Don't SEE. Don't use your eyes to see. 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." Julie - Juliette ?
"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 Juliette ?
"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. I 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 and nobody was going to stop me playing the on the radio.
"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 my 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
Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair
If you're going to San Francisco
You're gonna meet some gentle people there
For those who come to San Francisco
Summertime will be a love-in there
In the streets of San Francisco
Gentle people with flowers in their hair
All across the nation
Such a strange vibration
People in motion
There's a whole generation
With a new explanation
People in motion
People in motion
For those who come to San Francisco
Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair
If you come to San Francisco
Summertime will be a love-in there
If you come to San Francisco
Summertime will be a love-in there
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.
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 having 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 at that time saying goodbye to The City By The Bay and Hello to London.