The Amazing Radio London Adventure
Ben meets more major US acts in London
It must have been in the spring of 1965 that Burt Bacharach and Hal David came to England to promote Burt's recording of 'Trains and Boats and Planes'. Decca held a big reception for them in their hospitality room. I had previously met Burt at Aberbach Music, but I had never met Hal. Nor had I met Burt's gorgeous new wife, Angie Dickinson. At the beginning of the reception, I was introduced to Angie. Knowing I was American and perceiving that I would do her no harm, she edged over to me and said, "Ben, do you mind if I hang out with you during the reception? The event is for Burt and Hal, and I don't want to upstage them with the press." I told her that I didn't mind at all. Angie and Burt had married only a few days before. So, I always laughed and told my friends that Angie had married Burt, but had spent her honeymoon with me.
Angie had an interesting background. She had left her home in Kulm, North Dakota and had arrived in Hollywood at an early age. She had done well in the movies and at one time had been the 'apple' of Frank Sinatra's eye. They had broken up and had moved on to new horizons, but Angie still spoke in glowing terms of Frank. He apparently had been a big part of her life when he was a member of the 'Rat Pack'.
It was also in the spring of 1965 that I was given a record by Sonny and Cher called 'I've Got You Babe'. I had a lot of vinyl to put on the Big L playlist at the time, so I put the record in my desk and forgot about it for a few months. One day in the summer, Johnny Wise, Pye's exploitation manager, asked me if I had given any thought to the Sonny and Cher song. I admitted that I had forgotten that I had it. When Johnny asked if I could give it a few plays, I told him that it was an excellent record and that it would be no problem getting it on the list. The record became a #1 smash!
(Editor's note: 'I Got You Babe' held the Fab Forty top slot on August 22nd, while a rereleased Sonny and Cher single from 1964, 'Baby Don't Go', was picked as the Radio London Club Disc of the Week. Cher's solo 'All I Really Want to Do', was tying with the Byrds' version at #2, while Sonny's 'Laugh at Me' was up from #25 to #16. 'All I Really Want to Do' was the first of these four singles to arrive in the Fab Forty, at #25, on August 1st. 'I Got You Babe' followed it into the chart on August 8th while Sonny's solo was chosen the same week as Stewpot's climber.)
With this great success, Pye leased the ballroom at the Hilton Hotel and gave one of the biggest receptions ever in pop history. It was some affair! All the Fleet Street press were on hand, as well as representatives from all the radio stations. As I arrived on the scene, I was introduced to Sonny and Cher. Sonny had been in the business for some time and he knew how to handle himself with the press, but Cher was only nineteen years of age and had not been exposed to the press very much. She was frightened to death of the London press corps, and rightfully so. I was in the 'hot seat' with several writers from Fleet Street and I found it rather uncomfortable, so I had an idea how Cher felt when presented with the thought of being interviewed by this august body.
Upon meeting the pair, Sonny asked me if Cher could stay with me throughout the reception and he explained her apprehension at being interviewed. I said I would take good care of her and try to keep the 'wolves' away from her: decry. Cher seemed to be a very shy girl. She had not been in the business for long and I suppose she had not yet caught on to the tricks of the trade. However, several years later when she and Sonny had their TV show, I was totally knocked out at how outgoing she was. It was like she was a totally different person from the the one I met in London.
'I've Got You Babe' was a very important disc to Radio London. It had been released for several months before we played it. This meant that the BBC, Luxembourg and Caroline had the record for all this time, but it had never taken off. It was not until Radio London played it that the record got into the national charts and became a hit. This was just another measurement of the power of Big L.
Not long before Ronagh and I married, Paddy Fleming of Philips Records introduced me to Norman Petty. Norman was from Clovis, New Mexico up on the Llano Esatacado. Because of this 'home territory' connection, he and I immediately became soul mates.
Norman had originally fronted his own group, The Norman Petty Trio. He later discovered a singer named Buddy Holly, whom he managed until a fatal plane crash took Buddy's life in 1959. After that, Norman came upon a young singer named Jimmy Gilmer, who had a smash hit with a song called 'Sugar Shack'. He also managed a young folk singer named Caroline Heston, whom he had gotten on the Ed Sullivan show a time or two, but he had little success with any of her recordings.
(Right) l to r, EMI's Norrie Paramor, with Johnny Franz and Paddy Fleming from Philips Records at the Brighton Song Festival (see Part 11)
Norman had brought Jimmy and Caroline over to England to exploit their recordings, so to get me well acquainted with the pair and their manager, Paddy Fleming set up a dinner date for all of us at a raving Irish pub called Flannigan's. Of course Norman and I wanted to talk to each other, but the music was so loud and the publicans were all singing at the tops of their voices. Through all the noise, I could hear Norman ask me if I missed anything from Texas, or if there was anything he could send me. I told him that I couldn't find a decent Mexican restaurant in London. I said that I couldn't even find a can of chilli. So, Norman said he would fix me up.
A few weeks later, I received a whole case of Wolf Brand chilli from the States! Shortly after this, Ronagh and I married, and on occasion, I would go to the grocer's in Marylebone High Street with her. I was wandering about the shop when I came upon a whole tier of shelves stocked with every kind of Mexican food you could imagine... chilli, enchiladas, tamales, salsa picante, tortillas... it was all there. I only had one problem. My young wife hated the stuff! However, she would every once in a while fix me a special Mexican meal while she enjoyed a couple of lamb chops.
(Right) Ronagh and Ben Toney with Philip and Elizabeth Birch. Photo courtesy of Brian Long.
One afternoon I had returned from a lunch date when my secretary Mary passed the phone to me and said, "Ben, I think you will want to take this call." The voice on the other end said, "Ben, this is Eddy." I said, "Eddy who?" He replied, "Eddy Arnold" It occurred to me that Eddy and Roger Miller had both attended the same PR school. They would throw out their given name and let you guess their surname. Nonetheless, when Eddy revealed who he was, I recalled what a fan I had been some twenty years before, when I was in my mid-teens. A flood of memories of his great hits came to mind: 'Any Time', 'Molly Darlin'', 'Texarkana Baby', and 'The Cattle Call'. Eddy was not a 'flash-in-the-pan' as were many other artists of that time. He had been a country and western superstar for many years.
Eddy asked me if he and his wife could take me and Ronagh out to dinner that evening. As Ronagh and I already had plans, he suggested that I came up to the Mayfair Hotel for a drink or two with him and his manager, Jerry Purcell. I agreed and after office hours, I walked over to the Mayfair. It was such a pleasure to meet this man who had entertained America for so many years. He was a truly down-to-earth person with no pretences whatsoever. He was a very big man in the music business and had nothing to prove to anyone.
As I talked with Eddy and Jerry, they asked me if I could play Eddy's new release, 'Make the World Go Away'. I told them that I had already heard the record and I found it to be borderline country, although we did play some country records of this style. We had played Jim Reeves and Val Doonican, both of whom had much the same style as Eddy. In the end I told them that I would put the disc on the playlist for a week and see where it would go from there.
As I remember, we ended up playing 'Make the World Go Away' for several weeks, but at that time, country music was not very popular in England and it never caught on like it did in America.
(Editor's note: 'Make the World Go Away' had somewhat strange journey up the Fab Forty. Eddy Arnold entered the chart on December 19th 1965 and spent three weeks there, sharing the second two on equal footing with Dodie West's version of the song. Putting several versions of the same song in the Fab Forty was a common Radio London practice. The peak position shared on this occasion was #20. However, after a seven-week absence, Eddy Arnold's version of 'Make the World Go Away' suddenly reappeared in the Big L chart at #22. on February 20th 1966. It remained for another five weeks, reaching #7 on March 20th. Dodie West was nowhere to be seen.
'Make the World Go Away' spent a total of 17 weeks on the UK National chart, peaking at #6. Eddy was, however, unable to follow this success in the UK charts. His singles did, in fact receive more airplay on Radio Caroline than on Radio London.)