The Amazing Radio London Adventure
Ben meets actress Susan Hampshire, and creates hits for US musicians
It was a Saturday in late spring or early summer of 1965. The North Sea was calm and the sun was out for a change. I had been out on the Galaxy to meet with the deejays and to go over the charts with Tony Windsor.
The tender came over from the Mi Amigo, Radio Caroline's ship, to collect me. As I jumped on board, I immediately espied a gorgeous young beauty. Alan Crawford, one of Radio Caroline's owners, was also on the tender, so on our way back to Parkstone Quay, I asked Alan who was the good looking 'bird'. He asked me, did I really not know who she was? I told him no I didn't. Alan said it was Susan Hampshire and that she was an actress who had appeared on British TV. She had also starred in a Walt Disney movie called 'The Three Lives of Tomasina' and had just released a single. Of course, I had not been in England for long, and Walt Disney films were not on my priority list, so I had no idea who Susan Hampshire was.
During the course of our voyage to port, I had a few words with Susan. She told me that she had been out to Caroline for an interview. I had not properly introduced myself, and during our conversation, Susan told me that she had to go into the Radio London offices on Monday to see Ben Toney. She said she was very nervous about the whole thing and didn't know what to expect. I assured her that Ben was not such a bad guy and that he treated normal people much better than he did the deejays. (Only joking, guys!)
On Monday, Susan showed up on time. Robin Casey, the receptionist called my office and told me that a Miss Hampshire was there to see me. I went to the reception area and there was Susan. She was beautiful and looked as though she had just stepped out of a fashion magazine. When Susan saw me, she asked what I was doing there. I told her I was there to meet her. She asked, "Are you Ben Toney?" I told her I was. She laughed and said if she had known it was going to be me, she would have not gone to all the trouble of getting dressed up.
We went to my office to listen to her record, 'When Love is True". While we were there, I asked if she would like to have dinner with me sometime. She said that she would, but her schedule was pretty tight. However, she gave me the number of her answering service and told me to give her a call in a few days and we could set something up. I figured at the time that the whole thing was a put-off, but I thought I would play it out and find out where it would go.
I called Susan several times and each time she would return my call. She seemed to enjoy chatting with me on the phone, so we would end up talking for quite a while. However, we never came up with a dinner date.
The phone calls that I had received from Susan had made Robin the receptionist very suspicious. She revealed to Don Agnes, my friend and exploitation manager of Leeds Music, that something was going on between me and Susan Hampshire. Before I knew it, everyone in the music business was asking me what was going on between me and Susan. I would tell them there was nothing to it, but the more I protested about my involvement, the more I was disbelieved.
Later, when I started dating my future wife Ronagh Clark, the whole Susan thing went away. Susan Hampshire was later cast in the role of 'Fleur' in the massively-popular TV drama, 'The Forsyth Saga'. More recently, she played Molly in the series, 'Monarch of the Glen'.
Our Mistakes Come Back to Haunt Us
Circa 1962, I had been program director of KREC in Abilene, Texas. I walked into the studio to do my morning show and found my music director had changed the 'Pick of the Week' to a song by Cathy Young called 'A Thousand Stars'. I played it and thought it was awful, so I took the record out of the studio and put it in my office until I could have a word with the music director. Meanwhile, he had discovered the disc missing and went to the station manager to complain that I was interfering with his job. The station manager called me into his office and asked me about the record, so I told him how I felt about it.
When the music director pointed out that Cashbox magazine had also picked 'A Thousand Stars', I learned my lesson well. It takes more than just gut feelings to detect mass appeal for records. One has to stay very close to popular demand and choose records accordingly. By the time I arrived at Radio London, I had become quite good at predicting the success of records.
One evening in the summer of '65, Maurice King, manager of the Walker Brothers, invited me over to his flat to listen to the Walkers' (unreleased) new album, with the object of selecting a song for their next single. I listened to several of the better tracks, then Maurice asked me which one I liked best. I told him there was no contest, it was definitely, 'Make It Easy on Yourself'. Maurice thereupon reminded me that I had always told him that the uptempo discs had a better chance of being a hit than the slower ones and told me that he and Philips Records had decided between them on 'Dancing in the Street'.
I explained to Maurice that although what I had said previously was basically true, there are exceptions to the rule, especially when you have a super, slow song. I told him that he would be making the mistake of his life if he didn't pick 'Make It Easy on Yourself'. Maurice - and Philips - finally did pick that track and in September 65, the record went to number one nation-wide.
(Right) John, Scott and Gary. None of them had the surname Walker.
When the album was released under the title, 'Take it Easy With the Walker Brothers', the cover contained complimentary notes from both Dave Cash of Radio London and Tony Blackburn of Radio Caroline. This was the first time a major record company recognised the pirates and their influence.
(Editor's note: Surprisingly, although the Walkers' UK cover of the Bacharach and David song spent nine weeks in the Big L Fab Forty, its highest position - on August 29th - was #4.)
After their major success, the Walkers and I became rather friendly. One day I ran into John on the street. He said, "I'm going back to the States to get married. You may know my fiancée. Her name is Cathy Young and she had a big record a few years ago called, 'A Thousand Stars' Hoping not to get into a discussion about Cathy Young, I said, "All the best to you and Cathy, John", as I excused myself and went on my way.
There was an equal opportunity clause in the immigration policies of the U.S. and the U.K.. For every artist that came to the U.S. from the U.K., America was allowed to reciprocate by sending an artist to the U.K. This meant that in my time at Radio London, a good number of American artists walked through my doors.
Before Radio London went on the air, the deejays had found on the KLIF tapes that were aboard the Galaxy, Roger Miller's recording of 'Dang Me'. Although it had never been released in Britain, the deejays played it often once the station started broadcasting. I believe it was Philips that caught onto Roger's popularity. They released his single 'King of the Road' and watched it go right up in the charts. This success prompted the record company to bring Roger over to England for a promotional tour.
One morning, I got a call at my office. A voice said,"Ben, this is Roger." I said, "Roger who?" He replied, "Roger Miller". He told me that he and his manager Don Williams (Andy Williams' brother, not the country singer) would like to take me out to lunch. As I already had plans for lunch, he suggested that I might come over and have a drink or two later in the afternoon at their hotel, so that afternoon, I found my way over to the Mayfair Hotel.
(Left) Joe Meek makes his own, only partially-successful attempts to get his records played on Big L. 'Early Bird' was placed in the lower reaches of the Fab Forty for two weeks in June '65, but Lord Sutch failed to touch the Radio London chart till the following year. Ben, presumably, was unimpressed with the pirate pioneer's record 'The Train Kept a' Rolling'.
The letter scan is courtesy of Brian Long and his book 'The London Sound'.
The Roger I met at the Mayfair in London was not the same Roger that I had encountered previously in Fort Worth at the Cowtown Hoedown. Six years earlier, when he was playing lead guitar for Ray Price, we couldn't even persuade him to go out for a drink with us. Roger had changed drastically since then and was obviously very high on something. Some years later, he confessed on TV that he was addicted to some sixty different pills per day, which was a figure I had a hard time wrapping my mind around.
Roger and Don asked me if I would like to go over to the BBC with them that afternoon, as Roger was scheduled to do a live performance. As I had never been inside the BBC studios, I told them I would like to join them. Whatever brand of pills Roger was on, they didn't seem to disturb his act. He gave a stellar performance.
While waiting backstage for Roger, Don and I met Dionne Warwick, who was next on after Roger. Dionne was a delightful young woman with a lot of God-given grace and charm. We all chatted as we waited for Roger to conclude his part in the show. Then Dionne stepped on stage. It is my belief that I had never heard any artist sing so effortlessly. It seemed that those Burt Bacharach and Hal David songs came floating from her on one long breath of air.
It was during this trip to England that Roger Miller got his ideas for his hit song, 'England Swings'. As it turned out, he had a very successful run in the UK and spent many weeks in the Radio London Fab Forty as his zany style caught on throughout the country.