In the summer of 1975, I was a football-loving, music-loving, teenager, staying at home with my parents in Westerton spending my weekends either playing football, following Partick Thistle or browsing through the album sleeves in Glasgow city centre record shops.
Armed with the wages I had garnered from my post-school job in banking I’d habitually visit Listen, Bruces or 23rd Precinct, searching for the missing link in my burgeoning record collection…. the Holy Grail like recording of Eric Clapton on Tour with Delaney, Bonnie and friends.
Fast forward 12 months and I am a 20 year old married man living in Edinburgh with a wife, a house, a mortgage, a washing machine, a tumble dryer and a baby on the way.
My weekends were no longer spent kicking a ball, watching an under-achieving football team doing the same nor spending hours in darkened record stores looking for an album that no-one seemed to have heard of. This was the quantum leap to beat them all as my weekend routine now revolved around trips to the supermarket, the untold joys of assembling MFI flat-pack furniture and exciting new experiences such as paying electricity bills, wiring plugs to electrical appliances and arguing with neighbours as to whose turn it was to clean the common stair that week.
‘How did this happen?’ I hear you ask. A question I’ve asked myself many times over the past 46 years.
As Bob Dylan once described in song, major life changes can often occur due to a simple twist of fate. My twist of fate happened during a lunchtime respite from the humdrum life of a bank clerk. One of my colleagues had noticed in the daily circulars that the company was offering an ‘exciting opportunity’ to work at a newly formed department in Edinburgh. It was a temporary post…… twelve months in the unknown waters of the capital then back to civilisation which began at the Baillieston lights. “It’ll be great” he said, “we’ll get a flat” he said, “get pissed every night and pull loads of birds“, he said. This rather fanciful notion of Utopia tipped the scales for me and we both duly applied for the advertised role, got accepted and began to prepare for life in the far east…. well, the east, any rate.
A few days before we were due to head along the M8 however, he phoned to tell me he was pulling out (oo-er matron). He’d met a girl. He was crazy about her and didn’t want to risk the relationship by moving 50 miles away. Fair enough, I thought, but by this time I was hell bent on this new adventure even if it did mean flying solo.
Initially my time in Edinburgh was a life of grubby bedsits, takeaway meals and the odd snog-and-grope short term relationship, a million miles from the Utopian dream which I had bought into…then came the ‘Thunderbolt’.
Im sure most readers of this blog will have seen The Godfather and be aware of the effect the Thunderbolt had on Michael Corleone when he first met his wife -to-be, Apollonia whilst hiding from American justice in Sicily. In Sicilian folklore, the Thunderbolt is described as ‘a powerful, almost dangerous longing in a man for a particular woman’. I was hit by the Thunderbolt on my first day in Edinburgh when I saw Pamela walk across the office floor. For the next nine months I was tormented by a desire to ask her out but a lack of confidence held me back.
When I did eventually mumble an invitation to suggest meeting for a drink outside work, she responded… ‘I thought you’d never ask!‘ Three short months later we were married and fortunately Pamela didn’t suffer the same fate as Apollonia who died shortly after her wedding to Michael in an exploding car following a revenge attack by enemies of the Corleone family.
We had been together for over 30 years when she sadly passed away, with a son, daughter and two lovely grand-daughters left behind.
Me? As a result of that simple twist of fate, Im still in Edinburgh. I did eventually kick-start my footballing career (see what I did there?) and played until I was 61. I still occasionally find my way to Firhill like a homing pigeon. I still listen to the same music I listened to in the mid-70s but…I still haven’t managed to get a copy of Eric Clapton on Tour with Delaney and Bonnie and Friends.
No matter what you achieve in life, there’s always something else to aim for. Can anyone sell me a copy?
I always associated Wimbledon with school summer holidays. I never played tennis. There was what I assumed an ancient tennis racket hanging up in my Dad’s garage (it could have been a snow shoe come to think of it.). We would dislodge it from it’s rusty nail and blow off the cobwebs. As there was only one (from a one legged Inuit perhaps ?) we were more likely to use it in our improvised interpretation of rounders than tennis. It was also too heavy to lift above our heads (unleashing the huskies might have helped !)
Tennis wasn’t for the likes of us anyway. It was for posh Laurel Bank girls called Catriona and Ffiona who wouldn’t look at comprehensive school adolescent boys sideways. There was a tennis club hidden in a leafy lane near Bearsden Cross but they would set the dogs on you if they thought you were an outsider from Courthill or Castlehill.
Tennis was the telly for us so in the summer in 1971 I sat there watching as two Australians were competing in the Wimbledon ladies final. One was the dour faced Margaret Court (now Pentecostal minister and public homophobe) and the other, 19 year old Aboriginal girl Evonne Goolagong.
I wasn’t sure what an ‘Aboriginal’ was back then but I thought she looked quite cute and I must admit, had a bit of a teenage crush on her. The rest is history and ‘my girl’ took the trophy.
She was prominent in finals and semifinals for the rest of the decade and won her second Wimbledon in 1980. Six years later I was to land in the country of Ms Goolagong’s ancestors and I’ve lived here ever since.
This week Australians celebrate NAIDOC. For those of you north of Darwin, it stands for National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee. It has its roots in the 1938 Day of Mourning, becoming a week long event in 1975. If I was cynical I would say it’s a week were privileged white folk pretend to be concerned about the plight of the first nations’ people and then ignore their issues for the next 51 weeks but the official line is it celebrates the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Straight Island peoples.
It’s fitting that Ash Barty, a proud Ngaragu woman should pick up the mantle from Evonne Goolagong Cawley, a proud Wikadjuri woman, some fifty years later.
……….and haven’t snow shoes improved over the last half century !
One of my early memories is of being in a cool motel room with my parents and two older brothers, David and Dale, when I was very little – perhaps four or five years old in 1964 or ’65 – padding across the tiled floor in bare feet drinking an ice cold glass bottle of cola from a vending machine through a straw. We were in America’s Deep South, in Savannah, GA en-route to visit my grandparents, who lived on a semi-tropical island off the coast of Georgia.
Dad drove the near five hundred mile trip from our home in Virginia to Jekyll Island through the night to avoid the midday sultry, humid 100+ degrees Fahrenheit heat which made the back of my bare legs stick to the vinyl seats. The boys and I would ask to stop for a cold drink before we’d even left the end of our street – “are we there yet?” The seven or eight hour drive was still ahead. As night wore on, we’d settle to sleep on the back seat of the Oldsmobile in our cotton pyjamas, leaning against the side of the car doors on pillows; our heads wet with sweat as Mom and Dad talked quietly and listened to the radio. On and on through the night, through the high passes of the Smokey Mountains of North and South Carolina: Johnson City, Asheville before dropping down along the Eastern seaboard past Hilton Head to Savannah.
By nine o’clock the following morning as the searing heat was already beginning to climb, Mom and Dad would check us all into a motel room near Savannah, so Dad could sleep through the day. Mom took me and my brothers swimming in the motel pool before we too had a nap in the air-conditioned room. Later that afternoon after lunch – and probably an ice-cream – we’d pile back into the old Oldsmobile and continue the last hundred miles or so of the trip until we could see the famous and terrifying Sidney Lanier vertical lift bridge across the Brunswick River
We reached our grandparent’s beach-front house during the early evening. I can remember stepping from the intense humidity and sound of crickets into their air-conditioned home which felt like stepping into a fridge.
In the autumn of 1970, my parents upped-sticks from rural Virginia and moved our family to the UK, alighting a train at New Street Station in Birmingham, West Midlands on a cold, wet , grey September morning to follow their romantic dream of English life.
As an historian with a special interest in English history, Dad looked forward to walking in the footsteps of his boyhood hero’s: Robin Hood, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table or Elizabethan explorer, statesman and poet Sir Walter Raleigh.
Mom had notions of finding adventure like the heroines of the romantic novels of her youth: Daphne Du Maurier’s protagonist and narrator Mrs. De Winter in ‘Rebecca’, Emily Bronte’s gothic and ethereal Cathy Earnshaw in ‘Wuthering Heights’ or Jane Austen’s bright, intelligent Elizabeth Bennett in ‘Pride and Prejudice.’
The fact that they had three children in tow didn’t seem to cross their minds.
With no home to go to and twelve pieces of good luggage (Mom had insisted on “quality luggage for international travel”- and one suitcase was just for my dolls), our first port of call as aliens was an Edwardian house B & B in Birmingham city centre. The handsome Victorian pile was now faded – its halcyon days long gone. Mom was hoping for the charm of an English country hotel, but the reality was cold and sparse; more Jamaica Inn than Brown’s Hotel.
David and Dale shared a bedroom on the landing and I shared another with Mom and Dad further along the corridor. My parents imagined we would quickly find a house to rent, but being so alien to this new metropolis, they didn’t know how or where to start. So here we found ourselves, embarking on this madcap adventure with no home on the horizon.
Dad embraced our plight with good humour and his pipe as the B&B became our home for the next nine weeks; Mom was less enthusiastic. The boys and I started school and Dad began his new teaching post as Head of History in a grammar school, all in opposite ends of the city. I quote now from my diary, which I kept during that fateful year:
SEPTEMBER 24TH, 1970
“Seven months ago today Daddy rezined from the college in Bristol, VA. Now we are in a bread and breakfast waiting for a house.”
Let me explain about B&B’s in the 1970s. Unlike American motels which boasted air conditioning, a TV in every room, king sized beds, en-suite bathrooms, vending machines and a pool; they offered somewhat more spartan accommodation.
Typical of their ilk, this one only had one toilet on the landing with a wooden seat that scratched your arse. In fact my brother’s named it ‘Scratch’ (father to several ‘Sons of Scratch.’) The chain was so high I couldn’t reach it and believe me – having to shout for help down the landing at ten years old was so just too embarrassing! Whoever heard of a chain to flush the toilet? We had handles where I came from.
Our rooms had an old fashioned washstand and bowl in the corner where we carried out our daily toilette; despite there being an old, stained, communal cast iron bathtub in a small room off the landing. Mom was worried about us taking a bath in it, fearing for our health,
“You never know what you might catch in there!”
I thought that toilet seats had paper already on them because Mom would always get in there ahead of me and wrap carefully lain sheets of Izal over the seat – especially if we were caught short anywhere in public. The only exception to this was in the large department store Ladies Cloak Room on the Sixth Floor, where – according to Mom “attendants clean the sanitary ware after each flush.” (How do mothers know this kind of thing?)
The waxed Izal toilet paper was an anathema to us because a) it was so slippery it would slide straight off the toilet seat and b), it was so thin, you had to use a wadge of it. We were used to four-ply in the States.
The toilet door had a sign on it which said, W.C. What on earth was this? The Manager explained to Dad that it meant Water Closet.
“Water Closet? What the hell is a Goddamn Water Closet?” Dad laughed, “A closet where you keep water? Son-of-a-gun! Did ya ever hear of such a thing kids?” Dad laughed so hard he had to stoop and grab his knees. The Manager put his shoulders back and stiffened his upper lip.
We soon became aware that people here spoke in another, strange tongue called Brummie:
“Can Oi cum in? Can Oi cum in?” asked the chambermaid, as she tapped on my brothers’ door to make the beds. I’m sure she heard the strains of stifled mirth and peals of laughter from under the blankets on the other side of the door. And of course the staff couldn’t understand our Virginia accents either which led to some funny exchanges.
Our first encounter with 1970s English fast food had disastrous results. Remember – we had come from the home of the hamburger: coke with crushed ice, side-orders of coleslaw and great fries – and great service, “Have a nice day!”
Our hopes ran high when we discovered a burger joint in the city centre near our B&B but were soon dashed when we became acquainted with the lukewarm beef burgers, room temperature flat cola and slow service. It was just our luck that a well-known burger chain didn’t open its doors in the UK for another four years in 1974. Our position in the UK as aliens was assured.
Well, of course my brother got sick with a terrible bout of diarrhoea, blocking the toilet; which Mom blamed on the ‘germs’ in the meat. (To be fair, our family had a history of blocking toilets; Dad always said he was ‘a-roll-time-man’.)
Finding that it just wouldn’t shift, Dad resorted to his time-honoured solution: he rolled up his shirt sleeves, flexed his hand, crouched down on all fours to get a purchase on the bowl and, with a quick flourish of his fingers just plunged his arm in there! After pulling out wads of paper, Dad shouted down the public hallway:
“Someone get me a wire coat hanger, would ya?”
“Shh! Someone might hear you!” whispered Mom, as she looked nervously up and down the hallway.
“I don’t give a Goddamn who hears me – I’ve got this honey – just get me the hanger please.”
Mom trotted away furtively down the hall and returned; miraculously producing said hanger, at which Dad deftly unwound the hook and began scraping the bottom of the toilet bowl (he had done this before),
“Dadggumit! Son-of-a-bitch, cheap toilet paper! How much did ya use Son? Honey – can you get me a bucket? Whhaat? There isn’t one? Goddammit!” Sweat was trickling down his sideburns.
“Shhh!” Mom suppressed a giggle.
Dad then did something which has long remained a family secret. Looking around for a suitable receptacle, but finding none, he put all the waste material – handfuls of it – into a little wastepaper bin and put it out on a window ledge outside the boy’s bedroom window. Mom was now giggling hysterically.
From the Beatles to Bowie every great artist has recorded a cover version of someone else’s songs.
In many cases you won’t even know it’s a cover, it usually depends on your musical knowledge and whether you’ve heard the original before.
For instance, until recently I had no idea that Adele’s ‘Make You Feel My Love’ was a Bob Dylan track and had previously been released by Billy Joel and Garth Brooks, well before Adele’s version attained over 200 million hits on streaming services.
Dylan’s song is now deemed to be a ‘Modern Standard’ and has been recorded by over 460 different artists, and all the while I thought it was an Adele original.
Nowadays of course I want to know every detail about the music I’m invested in, but when I was younger I couldn’t tell you if a song was a cover version or an original and to be honest it didn’t matter. I loved Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da by the Marmalade and cared not that it was a cover and the Beatles version had come before it.
In the early 70s, Bowie with Pinups and Bryan Ferry with Those Foolish Things brought credibility to the concept of ‘cover albums’, sharing their musical influences and displaying their penchant for covers like a badge of honour.
The topic of cover versions came into my mind recently when I was listening to ‘California Dreaming’ by Bobby Womack. I wondered how many people knew about this version and it got me thinking about my favourite ‘cover versions’ and how I categorise them.
So here’s a ‘not so deep-dive’ into the concept….
When you think the cover is the original:
I think the first time I was caught out like this was with Rod Stewart’s ‘Reason to Believe’, the B side to Maggie May.
It was one of those singles where the B side got almost as much needle-time as the A side (in fact as you can see from the image, it was the original A side, and Maggie May was the B side), but I had no idea that it was a cover version that had been released previously by Tim Hardin.
Rod went on to become quite the cover specialist…. Cat Steven’s ‘The First Cut is the Deepest’, Hendrix’s ‘Angel’ the Sutherland Bros ‘Sailing’ and Carole King’s ‘Oh No not my Baby’ were all big hits for Rod with most of his legion of fans unaware of the original versions.
Similarly, for several years I had no idea that ‘All Along the Watchtower’ by Hendrix was a Dylan song or that ‘Whiskey in the Jar’ was a traditional Irish folk song recorded by The Dubliners before Thin Lizzy made it their own. Ditto the Isley Bros ‘Summer Breeze’, a Seals & Croft recording and Nilsson’s ‘Without You’, a Badfinger track.
The common thread here is that from Hendrix to Adele there are always tracks that I’m shocked to discover are covers. I’m not suggesting the fact that they’re covers devalues them in any way, indeed, you can argue that there’s a great skill in identifying a ‘hit’ that nobody knows about and making it your own.
When the cover is better than the original:
This is a subjective point and totally in the ear of the beholder. There’s obviously lots of examples where a cover version is more popular than the original (see Adele above), but I wanted to shine a light on a select band of elite songwriters who are great performers in their own right but for some reason or another there’s a pattern of other artists consistently improving upon some their material….
Bob Dylan: All Along the Watchtower by Hendrix, A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall by Bryan Ferry, George Harrison’s version of ‘If Not For you’ and The Byrds classic, “Mr Tambourine Man’, just a small selection of tracks that other artists have borrowed and updated from Dylan.
Bruce Springsteen: Patti Smith’s ‘Because the Night’, Manfred Mann’s ‘Blinded by the Light’ and ‘Fire’ by the Pointer Sisters. Three tracks buried beneath Boss anthems that became defining tracks for the artists who covered them
Leon Russell: Donny Hathaway’s ‘A Song for You’, George Benson’s ‘This Masquerade’, Joe Cocker’s ‘Delta Lady’ and The Carpenter’s ‘Superstar’. Not one of these tracks charted for Leon but they were huge hits for the acts who covered them.
These are all great songs, written by iconic artists so it’s strange that the definitive versions of all of these classics are by other acts and not the original artist.
In some cases it seems that artists can come along, pick up a gem, give it a polish and make it shine even brighter.
Artists who make covers their own:
When Mick Jagger was asked about his favourite Stones cover he said it was Otis Redding’s version of ‘Satisfaction’, which is not a surprise as artists tend to compliment acts that reinterpret their music with a different take on the original… and this is what Otis Redding did, utilising Booker T and the MG’s and the Memphis Horns to give ‘Satisfaction’ the full Stax treatment.
Otherwise, it’s just karaoke….
It’s logical then to be able to love two divergent versions of the same song, particularly if the act covering does it in a manner that breathes new life into it.
Joe Cocker’s ‘With a Little Help from my Friends’ would be a prime example but to be fair there’s lots of candidates…
For instance, Elton John’s ‘Your Song’ is a classic but Billy Paul’s jazzy, Philly-infused rendition completely updates it and takes it to a different level. It’s well worth a listen if you haven’t heard it before….
Likewise in the early 70s Isaac Hayes went through a phase of taking middle of the road classics like ‘Walk on by’ and ‘Close to You’ transforming them into big orchestral masterpieces lasting up to 12 minutes long. His versions weren’t necessarily better than the originals, but they were just as good in their own way and they were unmistakably Isaac Hayes. Listen to them and you’ll see where Barry White got his schtick.
In a similar vein, Wilson Pickett’s version of Hey Jude, featuring Duane Allman’s first recording session on guitar, is also a bit special and worth checking out on the playlist.
Of course, you can also add Clapton’s version of Bob Marley’s ‘I Shot the Sheriff’ and the Hendrix versions of All Along the Watchtower and Hey Joe to this list.
Nowadays of course we’re awash with tribute albums and cover versions and songs with samples that sound like old songs, so it’s hard to sort the wheat from the chaff, but if you dig deep enough there are always some diamonds.
As is my wont, I have made up a playlist of some classic 70s based covers, many of them mentioned in this piece which you’re welcome to dip into.
It would also be good to hear about some of your favourite covers on the FB page….
Our parents would often demand it, but soon as they got it, they became suspicious. Worried, maybe.
And so it would be. I’d be playing quietly and thoughtfully in my bedroom on a wet and miserable day, and Mum would poke her around the door:
“You’re awful quiet,” she’d say, the distrust in her tone strikingly obvious even to a ten year old. “What are you doing?”
“Building a fort,” I’d reply in all innocence, draping a bedsheet over the two stools I’d earlier hauled up from the kitchen. Another blanket would be hanging over a couple of empty boxes, retrieved from the garage. “So’s I can repel the hordes of marauding raiders who are trying to steal my pots of gold.”
My vocabulary and imagination were infinitely better than my construction skills.
“That sounds like fun, dear.”
And it was.
For that’s how we rolled in the late Sixties and Seventies. It was the era of making our own fun.
It was the era for making everything.
From a very early age, my sister and I were encouraged by our parents to become involved with tending the garden.’ Modern day slavery,’ is how I think it’s now referred to.
We’d each be allocated a little plot to tend. We’d have to plant seeds, grow flowers and vegetables and learn the ethos and rewards of hard work.
I hated it! Rona’s plot always looked way tidier than mine. ‘Outside’ was for playing in, not working, was how I looked at it. I was rubbish.
Our garden wasn’t all that big, but my dad had it organised to maximise the space, and so we had a few rows of redcurrant bushes. These produced loads of fruit every year and of course my sister and I would be roped into the ‘harvest.’
With the berries collected, mum would then boil them and add ‘stuff’ then pour the mix into what looked like an old sock hung from the washing pulley in the kitchen. The smell was so sickly sweet, I wanted to barf for days on end. Gradually though, over the next day or so, the liquid would drip into a bowl, then scooped into jars onto which a handwritten sticker was adhered.
‘Redcurrent jelly’ it said – as if we needed reminding.
To get away from the smell, I’d try to spend as much time as possible in the living room. But that wasn’t easy either. I’d have to tip toe through acres of tracing paper spread over the floor. And listening to the television was well nigh impossible. The volume controls back then barely went to ‘five’ never mind ‘eleven’ and so offered no competition to the constant ‘takka takka takka’ of the Singer sewing machine as mum rattled out another bloody home-made trouser suit for wearing to the neighbour’s Pot Luck / fondue party that coming weekend.
Crimplene was the favoured material, I believe.
I think I’m right in saying that girls at my school were offered sewing, if not dress making as part of their Home Economics course. Us blokes weren’t given the option – just as at that time, girls were not thought to be interested in woodwork and metalwork.
My four year old cousin, Karen, certainly wasn’t interested in my woodwork, that’s for sure. I made her a boat, all lovingly painted and everything. It sank in her bath. Sank! It was made of balsa wood for goodness sake!
It takes a special type of cretin to make a balsa wood boat that sinks.
And metalwork! Whose whizz-bang idea was it to have several classes of fourteen year old boys make metal hammers to take home at the end of term? The playground crowds quickly scattered that afternoon, I can tell you.
My effort was dismal.
“Thanks very much,” said my dad, in a voice just a little too condescending for my liking as I presented it to him. But that was okay. We both knew I was total pants at making things.
Having evidenced my cack-handed attempts at simply gluing together several pieces of labelled and numbered bits of plastic to form the shape of a Lancaster Bomber, his expectations were naturally low.
I know – how hard can it be to assemble an Airfix model? To be honest, while I enjoyed looking at those my dad made on my behalf, I had more fun from letting the glue harden on my fingers and then spend ages peeling it back off to examine my fingerprints.
Yup – THAT’S how much I enjoyed making things.
It came as no surprise then, that Santa never brought me a Meccano set. By the age of ten, it had become obvious spanners and me would never get along – no need for me to screw the nut.
For a while, I did consider there was something wrong with me. Every other kid I knew was into making stuff. It was The Seventies – it’s what children did; it’s what they (I’d say ‘we’ but I’d be lying) were actively encouraged to do.
The top children’s television programmes told us (you) so. They even showed how make stuff.
I tried that once. A Christmas decoration it was. A decoration to hang over the Christmas table; made from coat-hangers; and candles. And you’d light the candles. It would be joyous.
“Hark!” The herald angels would sing.
“FIRE!” The herald angels actually screamed.
I know NOW I should have used fire-proof tinsel. I’m almost sixty-three. I’m not stupid. But then I was ten. And impatient. Ten year old boys cut corners. And anyway, how was I supposed to make a surprise for the family if I was to give the game away by asking my folks if they had / could get some fire retardant tinsel?
At least they still got a surprise of sorts.
Valerie Singleton, John Noakes and Peter Purves had a lot to answer for.
Other than pyrotechnic Christmas decorations, they encouraged us to make models with Lego; less structured and more wobbly ones with plasticine; scrap books; hammocks for dolls; cakes for birds; puppets from old socks; pencil cases from washing up liquid bottles and even cat beds from washing-up bowls.
I did try, truly I did. But I was hopeless. A lost cause. Never has anyone said to me,
“Wow! That’s awesome!” when I’ve showcased my handiwork.
Just the other day, I prepared a meal. I threw some leftover corned beef, potatoes and onions into a pan and fried them through. I didn’t think it was burnt as such, but my wife screwed up her face and stared at it rather disapprovingly.
Without even the merest hint of irony she looked up and said …. well, I think you probably know what she said!
The Lone Ranger, Sherlock Holmes, Batman, Dorothy… fictional characters I grant you, but all universally feted and admired.
But they didn’t do it alone, and although we all know who their sidekicks were, no one talks much about them, because at the end of the day, they’re the flunky’s, and who’s really interested in the support act? Unless its Queen supporting Mott the Hoople at the Apollo…. and that was nearly 50 years ago!
The sidekick’s are the perennial betas to the main event’s alpha’s… the show-stoppers who always seem to have greater powers, more charisma, and most importantly, bigger ego’s, than the supporting cast. Like a beloved pet the sidekick’s greatest attributes are typically noted as being devotion and loyalty.
Spare a thought then for the Tonto’s, Doctor Watson’s, Robin boy wonder’s and Scarecrow’s. In other words, the Diddy Kong’s of the world…..
There’s an old (and now probably, un-PC) saying that ‘behind every great man there’s a great woman’ and the same can be said with sidekick’s, think about it for a second…. as great as he was, would Bowie have been as good and as cocksure in the Ziggy era without Mick Ronson? Likewise, would Ricardo Montalban’s, Mr Roarke have been as suave and sophisticated without Herve Villechaize’s Tattoo ringing the bell tower whilst bellowing “The Plane, The Plane!” in Fantasy Island?
As this is predominantly a 70s blog the aim of the exercise is to identify the most impressive 70s sidekick, fictional or otherwise, so I’ve listed 5 nominees below which you can vote for on our Facebook page as well as putting forward any of your own nominations….. https://www.facebook.com/groups/onceuponatimeinthe70s
1) Kenickie Murdoch (Jeff Conaway) –Grease, (sidekick to Danny Zuko)
In Grease, the movie, Kenickie was played by Jeff Conaway of Taxi fame and was part of the original Broadway cast of Grease – where incidentally he played the lead role of Danny Zuko whilst his good mate Travolta played Doody, one of the putzy T-Birds.
Although Kenickie was cast as the sidekick it could be argued that he was cooler than Zuko… borne by the fact that not only was he the proud owner of Greased Lightnin’, but he also didn’t mope about a kids swing-park greeting about getting chucked by someone who must have repeated 4th year 5 times!
Plus with a name like Murdoch he obviously came from good Scottish stock!
2) Igor (Marty Feldman)– Young Frankenstein (sidekick to Dr Frederick Von Frankenstein)
Played by the brilliant Marty Feldman, Igor was the hunchbacked, bug-eyed servant who when asked by the good doctor why his hump kept changing sides, answered “what hump?”.
‘Eye-gore’ as he liked to be known was Dr ‘Fronkenshteen’s’ hapless assistant and was responsible for the mayhem that ensued by collecting a brain labelled ‘Abnormal’ rather than the brain of the revered and brilliant historian, he was sent to secure.
If his star turn in one of the funniest movies of the 70s wasn’t enough, Feldman’s further claim to fame was that his ‘Walk this way’ line from the film was adopted by Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, who saw the movie, went back to the studio and wrote a song…. the rest as they say is history.
3) John Oates– Singer/musician in Hall & Oates (sidekick to Daryl Hall)
Hall & Oates were often described as….. ‘the tall, blonde, good looking one with the unbelievable vocal range and the wee guy with the curly hair and moustache’.
There’s no doubt then that Oates played second fiddle to Daryl Hall, but as sidekick’s go it was a pretty decent fiddle.
Oates wrote or co-wrote many of the pairs big hits including She’s Gone, Sara Smile, You Make my Dreams and I Can’t Go for That, and whilst he didn’t have Hall’s vocal range or stage presence, his harmonies, co-vocals and guitar playing were key to the band’s success (see clip below).
Hall & Oates may not have been equals in terms of talent and their partnership wasn’t as egalitarian as Lennon & McCartney, but Oates was certainly no Art Garfunkel.
4) Dennis Waterman– Perennial sidekick: to Jack Regan in The Sweeney and Arthur Daley in Minder.
A seasoned thespian who performed with the Royal Shakespeare Company at 13. Waterman was 27 when he appeared in The Sweeney as Detective George Carter, the hard-drinking, brawling, womanising, good-cop to John Thaw’s caustic Regan.
Waterman’s next big role in Minder, as a brawling, womanising ex-con who becomes a personal bodyguard wasn’t too much of a stretch then.
In a cruel twist of fate, Minder was actually devised post-Sweeney as a star vehicle for Waterman who relished the chance to shine after three seasons of playing the sidekick in The Sweeney. Cole’s part as Arthur Daly was meant to be a secondary/supporting role, however after a few episodes it was evident that Daly’s character was playing big with the audience, so the scripts and storylines were revised, leaving poor Dennis to fall back into his customary role as a sidekick once again.
5) Chewbacca– Wookie (sidekick to Han Solo)
Enforcer, body guard and loyal soldier, Chewie is Han Solo’s co-pilot and best buddy.
The character was inspired by George Lucas’ dog so it’s no surprise that one of Chewie’s greatest attributes is the talent most associated with sidekick’s – loyalty. Although he enjoys bringing the cocksure Solo down a peg or two every now and then, prompting the “Laugh it up fuzzball” retort, he is a faithful companion and would lay down his life for Solo…. a true sidekick!
Why are there no female sidekicks on the list?? I tried really hard to think of some but in almost all cases…. Sonny & Cher, Ike & Tina Turner, The Krankies, it was the bloke who was the sidekick!
I did think of one….. Peter Pan’s Tinker Bell but that was made in 1924.
(Post by Colin ‘Jackie’ Jackson of Glasgow – June 2021)
Views expressed in this article are of the author himself, founded more on observation alone and with no forensic analysis of statistics whatsoever. Please don’t send abusive letters and dog poo through the post, should you be offended by the non-inclusion of your favourite ‘Page Niner’- or indeed by the inclusion of one you consider a Front Pager.
(Other Teen Heartthrobs are – or at least, were – available.)
From what I read in my sister’s copies of Jackie magazine, my sister told me about Jackie magazine, I believe the most popular teen heartthrobs of the early to mid Seventies would have been, in no particular order: Donny Osmond; David Cassidy; David Essex, Marc Bolan, Rod Stewart, David Bowie and each of the individual Bay City Rollers.
A weekly magazine featuring only those stars would still have sold in tens of thousands.
Who, though, were the others? Who were the stars that didn’t make the front, back on centre pages so often? Who were more likely, the Page 9 ‘fillers?’
OK – so we’re almost fifty years too late, but let’s show some love for the Teen Heartthrob ‘also rans.’
You can comment and vote for your favourite from the following list of ‘second division stars’ in the poll which features on the
Attracting fame for his starring role in the hit Seventies TV series ‘Starsky & Hutch,’ he actually set out to be a musician. He first came to the attention of American TV audiences as ‘The Covered Man’ – a 1966 ‘Masked Singer’ feature on The Merv Griffin Show.
The TV detective series quickly established itself in USA and UK, and his partner in (anti) crime, Paul Michael Glaser also became a bit of a pin-up in girls’ magazines.
However, it’s David Soul’s additional musical output that sees him make our poll.
In total, David Soul spent fifty-six weeks in the UK music charts, hitting Number One in both the UK and US with ‘Don’t Give Up On Us’ and matching that in the UK with ‘Silver Lady.’ Both were released in 1977. In the same year, ‘Going In With My Eyes Open’ reached number two, and ‘Let’s Have a Quiet Night In’ managed number eight. The following year, ’It Sure Brings Out The Love In Your Eyes’ was held up just outside the Top Ten at number twelve.
PETE DUEL & BEN MURPHY
Pete Duel (Hannibal Heyes) and Ben Murphy (Jedediah ‘Kid’ Curry) were the stars of the hit TV comedy / western, Alias Smith & Jones. The series ran to fifty episodes over three series, though the final seventeen saw the character Hannibal Heyes recast after Pete Dual had sadly taken his own life at the end of 1971.
Merely watching the introduction in the following video reminded how much I loved this programme – I still knew it almost word for word.
Like ‘Starsky & Hutch’ and ‘Happy Days,’ ‘Alias Smith & Jones’ succeeded in harnessing cute looking actors to a dynamic and entertaining story-line, thereby appealing not only to teenage girls but to action focussed boys and adults alike.
Pictures of both actors will have adorned the bedroom wall of many a young girl. I may be wrong here, but my perception was that Ben Murphy slightly edged it in the ‘hot’ stakes?
Having already played the lead role (alongside Jodie Foster) in the film version of the hit kids’ musical, ‘Bugsy Malone,’ the now sixteen year old Scott was introduced to fans of the fantastic ‘Happy Days’ television series as Chachi Arcola, the young cousin of The Fonz. He then went on to star in the spin-off series, ‘Joanie Loves Chachi,’ in the early 80s.
It’s for the former role that I remember Scott … and why his Jackie or Look-in magazine photo adorned the bedroom wall of many a young girl in the Seventies.
Straight outta left field, this one! Although he had toured with Rocky Horror Show and appeared in ‘Tommy’ as Tommy’s vicious cousin, ‘Cousin Kevin,’ Paul Nicholas was largely unknown in UK … until he set out to conquer the UK music charts in 1976 with three single releases: ‘Reggae Like It Used To Be,’ ‘Dancing With The Captain’ and ‘Grandma’s Party.’
I suspect it was more his smiling, cheeky-boy looks than delivery of cheezy Seventies pop songs that prompted the swooning and cut-out photos stuck onto school jotters. For eight months in 1976 though, Paul Nicholas owned the pre-mid / post-mid pages of Teen magazines everywhere.
(Greater fame was of course to follow though, in the Eighties, when he concentrated on acting, starring first in the short-lived TV sitcom ‘Two Up, Two Down,’ and two years later in the hugely popular ‘Just Good Friends.’ And more recently, of course, ‘Eastenders.’)
It’s very easy to be dismissive of Barry Green (real name) as a bit of a watered down version of ‘he that shall not be named.’ His two biggest hits, ‘(Dancing) On A Saturday Night’ and ‘Do You Wanna Dance’ were both from 1973, his three other lesser successes coming the following year. Resultantly, he would have hovered around Page Nine of Jackie etc, for only a short period of time.
However, prior to that he had co-written ‘Sugar Me’ with Lyndsey de Paul and played bass in the rock band Spice … which later morphed into legends, Uriah Heep! And then, subsequent to all that, he wrote a million seller for Brotherhood of Man and penned hits for artists as diverse as Diana Ross and Andrea Bocelli.
He may have been a good deal older than your average Teen Heartthrob of the time (thirty-one, when he scored his debut hit ‘My Coo-Ca-Choo’ in 1973) but as I recall, he was all over the popular magazines throughout 1973 and ’74.
There’s a lot to be said for the leather and studs look, I guess.
Formed initially as Salvation in 1970, they played the local clubs and bars of Glasgow, before changing some personnel and name to Slik around four years later. I’ll bet I’m not the only one reading this who saw them play a least once in the famous Clouds Disco, above The Apollo venue.
Probably more famous now for being Midge Ure’s first band of note, they never-the-less scored a Number One hit with ‘Forever And Ever’ in 1976, followed later in the year by ‘Requiem.’
They were quite obviously targeted for the teenage girls market, but though I didn’t stare longingly and doe-eyed at a poster on my bedroom wall, like many lads of my age, I harboured a grudging admiration for Slik.
And there you have it – the Once Upon a Time in The ‘70s list of Teen Heartthrob also-rans. Is your second, third or even fourth favourite in there?
**JOIN OUR FACEBOOK GROUP TO VOTE IN THE POLL FOR YOUR FAVOURITE, ALMOST-FAVOURITE.**
As I look forward to tonights match between Scotland and England I realise that some years just seem to stick in your memory more than others. It’s probably no coincidence therefore that some of my most vivid memories come from years when the football World Cup was being held.
As a kid the first football match I ever watched on TV was the 1966 World Cup Final.
By the time the next World Cup rocked up in Mexico 1970 I was a football obsessive spending all my spare time kicking a ball around with my mates.
By 1974 I was training a couple of times a week, playing Saturday mornings for the school, Saturday afternoons for the local boys-club and Sundays for the youth club.
Truth be told my club allegiances in those days were probably secondary to my support for the national team. I watched Scotland religiously in my youth, but I had never seen us beat England.
That was all about to change in 1974.
1974 is one of those years that’s etched in my memory…. Apart from leaving school, starting work and going on my first ‘lads holiday’… 74 was the year that Scotland were making their first World Cup appearance since the year I was born (1958).
A big part of social life back then was the Youth Club….. a bi-weekly haven of sport, music and social interaction. Approaching 16 I was now old enough to go on some of the organised youth club trips, the first one being a day trip to Butlins in Ayr on Saturday May 18th, 1974.
I remember the date because it was the day I finally got to see Scotland beat England and oh yeah, the day I got chased by a bam-pot with a sword and beat Alberto Juantorena’s 800 metre record.
The day started off well enough with an early morning coach ride to Ayr and was followed by time spent at the Butlins amusement park, a mini-pleasure beach, before we followed some of the older lads into the spectacular Beachcomber Bar.
The Beachcomber Bar at Butlins was probably the most exotic and glamorous place I’d ever seen, it was like something from South Pacific. Of course, looking back now it was a mishmash of bamboo furniture and plastic plants with a few paper lanterns, paper-mache artefacts and hanging baskets thrown in for good measure, however it seemed very avant garde in 1974.
The game was being shown on a tv in the bar and even allowing for the watered-down lager…. the combination of event, location and community spirit, made for an intoxicating atmosphere.
Every year we approached the big game against the auld enemy with ambition and hope, usually to be left in despair, but in 74 there was cause for optimism. Unlike England we had qualified for the 74 World Cup plus our team was full of top players and big personalities.
One of those big personalities was wee Jimmy (Jinky) Johnstone fresh from his ‘Largs Boat Incident’.
For those that don’t know… wee Jinky and a few teammates went out for a refreshment in Largs three days before the England game and whilst staggering back to the team hotel wee Jinky decided to jump in a boat that got pushed out to sea by Sandy Jardine for a laugh, there was only one problem, there were no oars on the boat. Knowing Jinky couldn’t swim, Davie Hay a teammate tried to help by setting sail on another boat, which duly sprung a leak and sank!
With Jimmy sailing into the distance and heading for the North Star the coastguards were called by his beleaguered teammates and Jinky’s exploits were splashed all over the front pages of the Scottish press, with most pundits calling for him to be sanctioned and dropped.
In the end Jinky had the last laugh. 95,000 fans watched Scotland win 2-0 that day. Jinky gave a man of the match performance and famously gave the V sign to the press after the game.
The punters in the Beachcomber went mental at the final whistle and nobody wanted to leave that bar except the coach driver.
On the way home I sat beside a girl I’d known since I was 7 years old who was not in the best form as she was having major boyfriend trouble. He was a few years older than us and a renowned psycho. As far as her friends and family were concerned she’d finally come to her senses as she wanted to break up with him, but she knew it wouldn’t be that simple. I tried to take her mind off things, talking about goofy stuff from our past 8 years as friends and classmates, however, when we got back to Westerton the guy was waiting and her face just dropped.
On a high from the day’s events I hung out with my mates for a bit, reliving the highlights of the day before I decided to head home, I was about half a mile from my house when I heard this guy shouting and running towards me, he was about 200 yards away but I could still see the huge blade he was brandishing, it was the mental boyfriend…. I’ve never ran so fast in my life.
My friend had attempted to split up with him again that night, which he didn’t take well. He’d heard that I’d spent the coach journey home with her, put 2 and 2 together… and decided I was dead!
Cut forward 6 weeks…. Scotland had been knocked out of the World Cup in Germany despite their valiant effort in remaining unbeaten during the tournament.
With the World Cup over, and proof if needed that German efficiency trumps everything…. even Johan Cruyff and total football, I headed off on holiday with my family to Majorca.
We were staying at a quiet part of the island so I thought I was seeing things, when on the beach, I spotted Dennis Law, one of my footballing hero’s, fresh from his participation in the World Cup with Scotland.
Law was footballing royalty; he’d been a member of the all-conquering Man United team along with George Best and Bobby Charlton and was jokingly referred to as having the reflexes of a mongoose, ‘and the haircut to match’. Indeed, with his spiky feather cut and gallus approach Law was footballs answer to Rod Stewart… who also idolised the ‘Lawman’.
I had never asked anyone for an autograph before, but I wasn’t going to let this opportunity pass, no matter how starstruck I was
Before I approached the Lawman however I had to do one thing… I nipped back to my room and in the absence of a Scotland top I put on my ‘Roary Super Scot’ t-shirt, like some weird fanboy. Roary, for the uninitiated was the rather juvenile mascot of the Scotland 74 World Cup team.
Looking back now I’m embarrassed that I disturbed the guy on his holiday when he was probably just looking for a bit of peace and quiet after a tough season, but he was really friendly and approachable and made a point of coming over to talk to me and my Dad whenever he saw us. He was staying in the hotel next door to ours, and even asked me to mind his son on the beach a few times whilst him and his missus went for lunch.
Despite being an Aberdonian he was a good tipper and always gave me a couple of hundred Pesetas, which in 74 was enough for a couple of beers and a few plays on the jukebox where Santana’s Samba Pa Ti and Oye Como Va were on heavy rotation….. unfortunately or perhaps fortunately the 1974 Scotland World Cup song wasn’t on there .
I remember a lot about 1974 as I do with 1978 and 1982, something big always happened for me in those World Cup years, 2021 isn’t a World Cup year but I hope I can remember it as the year we beat England and got through to the group stages of the Euros for the first time (along with our English cousins of course).
After the 1821 census, Glasgow’s population was greater than Edinburgh and so it appointed itself the moniker “Second City of the Empire”. Statements of it’s great power, wealth and confidence could be seen all over the city in it’s fine Georgian and Victorian architecture. No more so than at Charing Cross, about a mile from the city centre.
In the 1960s the wise men of the Glasgow City Council and/or the Roads department thought it would be prudent to obliterate the Grand Hotel to the left and all the buildings to the right to dig a gigantic pit so that a major roadway could plough it’s way through the centre of the city. Thankfully Charing Cross Mansions (circa 1891) and the fountain were spared and are still standing today (below).
In the mid 1970s, I would stroll up Sauchiehall Street from my workplace at Cuthbertsons in Cambridge Street to visit a school chum of mine, Colin, who worked in a hi-fi shop. This wasn’t your cheap and cheery discount warehouse sort of place. This was a top end salon for the discerning of supreme sound quality who had big spondulix to throw around. All woofers and tweeters and I’m not talking nature lovers. Think Bang & Olufsen and the like. This meant that Colin only saw one or two customers a day and welcomed my visits and wee chats. We might even slip out for a pint of real ale at the Bon Accord along the road. A warm and cosy little hostelry until you staggered outside to look down into the abyss as six lanes of motorway trundled by under your feet.
What were the planners thinking ? Surely some sort of ring road around the city centre like other UK towns and cities would be preferable to the near destruction of an architectural gem a mere mile from the city’s heart ! “All those in favour of changing the motto from ‘dear green place’ to ‘trust in tarmac’ say aye.”
They even constructed an overpass which just halted mid air in front of some tenement buildings. Decades later ‘The Bridge to Nowhere’ was converted into offices but it still doesn’t disguise the folly.
Compare that to another of my 70s haunts about 10 miles away (and less than 5 from the family home) on the A809 to Drymen. The Carbeth Inn stood alone by the road in what I suppose was the gateway to rural Scotland even being that close to the city. Opened in 1816 and mentioned in Sir Walter Scott’s ‘Rob Roy’ in 1817 it was a favourite with both bikers and hill walkers.
Every weekend it was wall to wall leathers or cagoules. Abercrombie and Kent versus Harley Davidson. A juke box tussle between ‘Get your motor runnin’….’ and ‘I love to go a wandering….’. I think I fitted into the latter category – I certainly wasn’t a biker as I couldn’t drive back then.
When I say bikers, it wasn’t gangs of tattooed knuckle dragging mouth breathers with matching sleeveless denim jackets…. no, it was more quantity surveyors and tax accountants called Torquil and Farquhar who squeezed themselves into tight leathers and revved up for the weekend. As some sort of right of passage motorbikes would scream pass the pub, some doing wheelies, before back tracking to the car park. There would be a lot of engine envy going on. I remember one poser running alongside his bike, hands on handle bar about to jump on when the bike stalled and he flipped over his machine much to the cheers and laughs of those congregated. He ‘tummled his wilkies’ as they may say in these parts.
Many years later as a student nurse in orthopaedics, I looked after a lad who took the bike bravado a bit too far and mistimed a corner near Carbeth. He carried a macabre folder of photographs and x-rays taken whilst in casualty. If you think part of a femur can’t pierce leather and stick out at 90° from the hip then I can assure you I’ve seen the grizzly evidence. And that was the leg the doctors managed to save. The other was amputated just below the knee.
I think I was part of the Venture Scouts although I don’t remember any initiation ceremony or sewing patches onto any uniforms. We did various activities including hill walking and sailing but inevitably ended up 6 to 8 of us crushed into the back of expedition leader Alan’s Jaguar XJ screaming along the A809 at breakneck speed (maybe that was the initiation ceremony). I remember the nervous laughter as I watched the trail of sparks as Alan launched his Jag over yet another bump in the road and the feeling of relief as we cruised into the Carbeth to take our place among the throng.
There were another group who mainly kept to themselves. The Hutters. After WW1 the local landowner Allan Barnes Graham permitted campers to set up on his land. Huts were developed after WW2 mainly for displaced people after the Clydebank Blitz and these were passed down to family members. Although very basic without electricity or running water these must have been havens for the working people of Glasgow and surrounds. I wonder what they thought of this intrusion to their local.
I hear now that the Carbeth Inn is no longer and has been replaced by a drive thru coffee shop. What with a clamp down on drink driving it was inevitable that such an iconic country pub would be a casualty.
I continued my walking into the 80s and would often traverse close to Carbeth. I’d like to think my love for the countryside (and real ale) was fostered on some of those walks now that I’ve got my own little bit of acreage far from the madding crowd – and a lifetime away from any motorway !
(Post by Andrea Grace Burn of East Yorkshire – June 2021)
I was lucky to grow up in 1960s America during the space age where technology was developing fast and some household gadgets embodied futuristic designs.
Take the humble telephone, for instance. One of my early childhood memories was being in my next door neighbour’s kitchen, where my friend’s mum had a white wall-mounted telephone, with a curly flex. I wasn’t yet tall enough to reach the phone (nor would have been allowed to use it) but I remember clearly thinking that this was the very by-word in modernity. Better still, I had a friend whose older sister had a telephone in her bedroom!
Of course Captain Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise had ‘communicators’ which looked just like modern flip phones. My first mobile phone was a pink Motorola flip phone in the mid 2000s which made me feel uber futuristic. It got nicked at a party and I mourned its loss for weeks.
When I was nine years old in 1969, I heard about a swanky space-age phone that also had a screen where you could actually see the person you were talking to – just like they had in the Jetsons! Dad thought it was merely science fiction but I fantasised about having one so that I could see and talk to my cousin who lived three hundred miles away near Atlanta, GA.
It only took another thirty years before Skype technology was invented. (Dad never got to grips with technology.)
As an aside – I walked into our study one evening back in about 2003, where our son was listening to iTunes (or so I thought.). Harry looked up at me and said,
“Mum, you know my friend can see you in your dressing gown.”
I was horrified and dropped to the floor, thinking he must have a friend secreted under the desk! Harry laughed and said,
“No mum, he’s not in the room – he’s on the Skype camera on the PC!”
I didn’t even know we had a camera on the computer – never mind one which allowed my son’s friends to see me in my own home.
By 1970, my neighbour’s mum had a cream Ericsson Ericofon ‘Cobra’ phone that was ultra cool: it had one plastic handpiece which stood upright with the dial on the bottom. I longed for my parents to get one but they were ‘old school’ and had a standard black shiny phone with a rotary dial.
Other than hand written letters, the phone was central to sharing family information during my childhood. It is where my twelve year old brother sat for two agonising hours in the hallway one Saturday afternoon in 1969, trying to pluck up the courage to ask Loretta Hart on a date. Each time he reached for the phone, he would practice what he would say, then hang up. I got into trouble with Mom for spying on him from behind the bathroom door at the end of the hall and teasing him,
“Ooh Loretta, I love you,” followed by peals of laughter and sniggering.
He finally asked her on a date, where they sat in the living room on the sofa together listening to records and holding hands. Loretta’s kid sister Stella and I hid behind the sofa and kept up a running commentary before being found out.
After we moved to the UK in 1970, my parents had an old Bakelite phone in the narrow hallway of our semi. It sat on a small Half Moon ‘telephone’ table which only had three legs. The telephone book and Yellow Pages were placed reverentially next to it, with well-worn pages and thumb marks on the cover from the countless times my dad had to find the number for an electrician or plumber.
Remember, there was no internet and as far back as 1962 in America you were encouraged to “Let Your Fingers Do the Walking.” These days we still do via swiping and scrolling. Phone books had other useful functions, such as propping up wobbly tables or balancing the ‘rabbit ear’ antennae on top of the TV.
Mom and Dad would only allow us to make phone calls after six o’clock in the evening when the call rate was cheaper. I used to ring the Speaking Clock just for the fun of hearing the person say, “At the first stroke, it will be eleven fifty- four and thirty seconds…” but even more fun was listening-in on the shared party line. I would regularly hear a neighbourhood woman chatting with a friend:
“And I said to ‘im, I said, I won’t ‘ave ‘is mother telling me ‘ow to roast a joint of pork. I’ve been married twenty-six years so I think I know sommat about it. “
“Goo on Bab – what did she say?”
“Well, she said she didn’t mean no offence so I said none taken.”
If I really wanted to have a laugh, I’d interject into their conversation:
“Goo on – clear off!”
One of the happy side effects of the move between Virginia and Birmingham, West Midlands were the often hilarious long distance phone calls we would occasionally receive from my grandfather, Papa. Remember, this was before the digital age, so a long distance call had to be put through an operator. Papa never did get used to the time difference of some five or six hours between Georgia and the UK, so he would phone us at two or three in the morning, which would have been between eight or nine o’clock in the evening for him – probably after he and my grandmother had just finished their dinner.
Dad would jump out of bed, startled by the “ring, ring” from the hall downstairs. Standing in his BVDs in the cold hallway, I would hear him shouting down the receiver:
“Who? Yes, I am Dewey Scarboro. SCARBORO – B.O.R.O. No – not Scraberry!”
The operator would ask for a Mr D.D. Scraberry, Scarburgh, Scarry-Dewborough – anyone but Scarboro. Once Dad had established who he was and to whom he was speaking, the conversation would commence, complete with time-lag. Both Papa and Dad shouted (well, it was long distance) which made it all the more enthralling as a listener.
“Hey there Dewey!”
“Son. is that you?”
“Yes Dad, it’s me, Dewey.”
“Hey there Son!”
“How are you Dad?”
“Dewey, I want you to know that I love you Son.”
“I love you too Dad; how’s Mother?”
“Your Mother? Hello? Dewey? I’ve lost you Son!”
“Dad? Hello, Dad? I say, how’s Mother?”
At this point, the operator might say:
“You have one minute remaining Mr Scarberry.”
“I know it! Dadgummit! Dad? Give Mother my love!”
“I love you too Son. How’s the family?”
“Dad – you’re breaking up!”
By now Dad had woken the whole house.
“Click, click, click”.
The one occasion when Papa telephoned me was on my eighteenth birthday in 1978.
“Hey there, Honey!”
“You’ll be getting married soon Sugar!”
“No, Papa, I won’t be getting married soon!”
“Sure you will Honey! Why, your grandmother married me when she was just nineteen!”
“Well, I won’t.”
“He he he , sure you will Honey, he he. You precious thing. You know I love you Andrea.”
Time lag pause…
“I love you too Papa.”
“Click, click, click.”
Amongst the plethora of ’60s and ’70s songs which featured telephones – Wilson Pickett’ s “634-5789”, City Boy‘s “5-7-0-5” and E.L.O’s ‘Telephone Line’ to name but three – Meri Wilson‘s 1978 hit ‘Telephone Man’, which reached Number 6 in the UK charts, sent me and my school friends into paroxysms of laughter with its double entendre. Naturally we would burst into the chorus every time we walked past a person in a public phone box: You can show me where to put it…”
It took the dream team of composer Jimmy Webb and singer-guitarist Glen Campbell to produce two of the era’s greatest, most beautifully crafted songs (in my humble opinion) which used phones to convey the drama of their poignant love stories: ‘By the Time I Get to Phoenix’ in 1967 and ‘Wichita Lineman’ in 1968. Webb’s lyrics still make me cry when I think of my grandparents who we left behind in America; I didn’t see them for eight years and when I did – aged eighteen – they didn’t recognise me and walked straight past me at the airport.
Albuquerque may as well have been Atlanta, GA.
One evening as I was doing my homework, Dad was watching the Western movie ‘Shane’ on TV. ‘Shane’ happened to be Papa’s favourite movie and Dad was reminiscing;
“Boy, I sure wish I could watch ‘Shane’ with Papa, honey. You know it’s his favourite movie.”
Suddenly, the phone rang, but as it was at a normal time during the evening, neither of us suspected that it could be Papa. The operator told me that she had a “person to person long distance call for a Mr. D.D.Scraberry.” Dad was dumbstruck. He and Papa shared tears down the wire.
Dad never forgot that ‘uncanny’ occurrence; or the time when he was listening to Ray Charles’ ‘Georgia On My Mind’ on the radio; one of his favourite songs. Once again, Papa phoned in the middle of the song which sent Dad reaching for the Kleenex. Maybe there was more to it than coincidence?
Today I’m surrounded by technology: smart phones that do everything and AI technology smart assistant in the kitchen which can tell me recipes, weather forecasts, the news, play music and provide me with a shopping list – all the futuristic features I never dreamed I could realise – and yet nothing can replace the anticipation and thrill of that sudden long distance phone call from Papa.