Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Winona: The First Interview

To celebrate the 17th anniversary of my biography of Winona Ryder this week, here is the very first interview I did for the book, which I did with Neil Milner for his quarterly published Winona Fanzine. The interview appeared in Issue #9, one month after publication of the book. In the interview, I talked to Neil about how the book came about, some of the people I interviewed for the project, and what I thought of Winona herself... 

 
NM: I suppose the most logical place to start is, why a book on Winona? What gave you the idea to do a book on her?
Nigel: The initial idea came from Hannah MacDonald, then the publishing editor at Virgin Publishing. We were discussing another project when the possibility of a book on Winona came up. To write about the actress whose career I had followed with interest and admiration ever since watching her in Lucas in 1986 simply excited me. Not only that, but it would be entirely different from the type of books I’d done before. At that time, I was writing works of references, but now I had a vision of writing, what I hoped would be the first book about Winona Ryder. So that gave me the idea. I submitted a proposal for what I wanted to do, but all of a sudden, several books were announced for publication in the States. Dave Thompson’s book was the first straight biography and was, I thought, a very accomplished one, and one which sort of encapsulated some of my own ideas.

NM: Was it difficult to get a publisher interested?
Nigel: Yes, because it’s a very erratic market. Believe it or not, most rejected the idea in their belief that Winona, although ranked among the top ten box-office stars, and certainly one who encourages millions of fans, still didn’t have the profile to warrant a book. I remember one publisher telling me that most bestselling film biographies were the ones about the male heartthrobs, or if female, the ones with a reputed gay fan following, and as Winona didn’t fall into either category, I didn’t find anyone rushing to do my book. Even when I did find a publisher, they were only interested if it was authorised, which always scares me because I know how difficult it is to encourage someone like Winona to become involved with a project like this. And although some publishers take the view that it is best to co-operate and/or authorise a biography to ensure accuracy, not many Hollywood stars share that view. Nevertheless I had a go. In fact, I approached Winona’s public relations firm several times with several ideas asking for Winona’s co-operation and an interview, but as I have explained in my author note, her publicist made it clear that they were uncomfortable with the idea of a biography at this stage. I even remember when Hannah moved from Virgin to Andre Deutsch, she came up with the idea of Winona writing her own film dairies for a year or so, but even that was a no-no. Still Smith Gryphon did come back to me months later with an offer for an unauthorised work, and so, I began writing in the early part of April 1997, and quickly got up to speed as the manuscript had to be delivered at the end of June for publication that October to coincide with the landmark release of Winona’s twentieth film, Alien Resurrection. But about two weeks before it was due to go to print, Smith Gryphon sadly went into liquidation and my book on Winona was cancelled.

NM: And this was only the first delay…
Nigel: Yes, but I was really pleased that Blake Publishing were now going to publish Winona in April 1998. the icing on the cake was that they were going to put it out in hardback with two picture sections – one in black and white and one in colour. But their attempts to rush out my book didn’t really work out. The shops were reluctant to order a hardback and they also felt that they had not been given sufficient notice of publication which was really strange since Virgin’s sales teams had already been out selling the title for Smith Gryphon. Reluctantly Blake put publication back to September, and also decided to produce the book as a large format trade paperback instead of a hardback. Only differences were the price and that one was in soft covers and the other wasn’t. But there were advantages. I now had the opportunity to ensure that my book on Winona would be the most up-to-date published, which I think it is since it ends with Winona and Matt Damon. But it also allowed me the opportunity to do some fine tuning and polishing to the body of the text. Even the picture spreads got a re-working.

NM: Who did you interview for the book, and did they give you much material?
Nigel: Everyone at the Polly Klaas Foundation was extremely helpful in checking the chapter on the Polly case and guided me to write that part of the book more accurately. I spoke to them a number of times because one of my prime concerns was the sensitivity of the story and I didn’t want to cause any distress to Polly’s family and friends. The public relations associate as the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco was equally helpful for commenting on the accuracy to the background of the A.C.T and to Winona’s time there, as well as supplying me with details of Winona’s honorary degree that they awarded to her in early 1997.

NM: Where there many people who turned you down, who said that they didn’t want to be interviewed?
Nigel: There were a few, but that was understandable since people can be very suspicious about co-operating with unapproved biographers. Long before I spoke with the public relations associate at A.C.T, I called the director of their Youth Conservatory, who had been there when Winona was a student, but he was reluctant to talk with me about Winona’s time at the A.C.T unless she called him to say it was okay. I respected that. Not only for the fact that he remained close to Winona and her family, but also because Winona continued to be very supportive to the conservatory. And from that point of view, without Winona’s blessing, I understood his reluctance. He did however tell me, that if I did ever manage to talk to Winona, I should be prepared for the fact that she didn’t really like talking about herself as she was very shy.

NM: Where there people you interviewed who perhaps hadn’t spoken at length about Winona before?
Nigel: I’m sure there were, but I wouldn’t claim great credit for that, you know, it’s not like ‘Hey! I interviewed this person for the first time!” because it’s not like I did any great thing. As I have already said, the Polly Klaas Foundation and A.C.T were extremely helpful, and maybe it was the first time they got involved in anything like this. I have to be thankful for that. That they allowed me to speak to them a great number of times, they’d go over the same ground for me, and they put up with me asking what probably sounded like stupid questions because I wanted to clarify so much.

NM: Was there anything that didn’t end up in your book?
Nigel: Yes, but that was to do more with legal reasons than anything else. I was very disappointed to lose the story about Winona being asked to leave Kenilworth Junior High because she was a distraction. Our libel report, essential to any biography, pointed out that this, as with a few others, could be taken with defamatory of living, identifiable individuals, and also alerted us the the fact that it should not be assumed that quotations or source material is necessarily accurate. So I’m afraid some passages of the manuscript had to be withdrawn.

NM: I heard that you also had difficulties with obtaining to use certain photographs. Is that true?
Nigel: Yes! Unfortunately, most of the film companies were reluctant to grant permissions because the book was unauthorised which is understandable in a way, and I respect that. We lost a lot of movie stills that way. You know things like Mermaids, Edward Scissorhands, The Age of Innocence, The House of the Spirits, Reality Bites, Little Women, The Crucible and Alien Resurrection. It was very disappointing, but we managed to replace them with some relevant pictures, something that still had a connection wherever possible. For instance, we used Winona receiving her Golden Globe for The Age of Innocence, and Winona and Daniel Day-Lewis at The Crucible premiere in place of the actual stills. In fact, I think we ended up with a selection of pictures that are perhaps not so often seen, so I hope that will please the fans. I think we’ve got some really good ones, and a few surprises too!

NM: I understand that the local newspaper in Winona’s hometown, in Petaluma, were very helpful. How much material did they give you for the book?
Nigel: Yes – the Petaluma Argus-Courier have definitely been helpful, in fact, I’m doing an interview with them in November which I’m very excited about. Nothing pleases me more than that because it’s Winona’s hometown – just hope she’s home when I’m in it! But I really appreciated their help in supplying me the article and interview they did with Winona around the release of Lucas in April 1986, which we have been able to include in the book. It features a wonderful picture they shot of Winona in her classroom at Petaluma Junior High. They also sent me an article and interview from the San Francisco Chronicle that Winona must have done around the same time. The picture that featured in the article of Winona stretched out across a railway track with her hair cut boyishly short, and wearing a lace scarf over a beat-up Levi jacket, and equally beat-up jeans, was another wonderful picture, and must be one of the least seen, but it was impossible to get hold of. We were unable to negotiate a permission fee, but there are always going to be photographs that you can’t use for one reason or another. I suppose you’d never finish a book if you wait until you’ve got hold of every picture you want. It’s just impossible to do. I remember we also wanted to use the one of Johnny Depp kissing Winona on the nose that was an official shoot for Vogue, taken by Herb Ritts, and was not available for unauthorised projects, but I’m glad we’ve got what we have in the picture spreads. I think they sort of depict what I’ve written in the text.

NM: What’s the publication date in the States?
Nigel: November in the States, it’s being distributed by Seven Hills, but I’m not sure of the exact date. I assume it’ll be out in the early part of the month. It’s been a labour of love – more so than any of my other books, but that’s because I think Winona Ryder is such a very, very, special actress, and it’s from that perspective that I was writing. I hope I don’t disappoint anyone! My ambition is that’ll it reach a readership of people who feel affectionate about Winona. People it’ll mean something to. I set out with the thought that this is such a great, great story and she is such a great actress. I have tried not only to tell her story but also to offer a sense of the world that she grew up in, and the excitement of the world she entered into – and it’s pitfalls.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Elvis Today / From Vinyl to Legacy

Although I don’t usually write reviews as I don’t consider myself a critic or reviewer, when the opportunity came up to write a review for SDE (Super Deluxe Edition), I jumped at the chance, because it’s not something I usually do, and it also offered me the perfect excuse to write about Elvis Today, one of my own personal favourite Elvis albums. My review, reproduced below, includes a history of the original album, the sessions, the new Legacy Edition, and some long forgotten images that didn't make it into the latest package!   


Elvis Today was never one of Elvis’s biggest selling albums. At best, it could only be called a mediocre hit, one which only managed to reach #48 in the UK album chart, and did even worse in the States. Released at a time when the pop scene was swamped with the robotic sounds of Disco, and country music had become besotted with the countrypolitan age, perhaps it was no surprise that the first single from the album, a new rock song called T-R-O-U-B-L-E didn’t really have the impact that was hoped for, and yet it had everything going for it. As Stuart Colman notes, “Uptempo rockers that twinned a fifties feel with a contemporary lyric were by no means easy to come by at this stage of the game, and it suited Elvis to a tee.In the UK, oddly enough, considering it was a return to everyone’s favourite Elvis style, it just missed the Top 30 and nowhere matched the success of his earlier 70s hits. The second single in the States, Bringing It Back didn’t perform any better, but the second single in the UK, Green Green Grass of Home, a cover version of the Tom Jones chart-topper, was easily the biggest single from the album when it charted inside the Top 30 in November 1975.

In Britain, the release of Today was squeezed in between two compilation albums of old material. The first was the budget U.S. Male on Pickwick, and the other, was the mid-priced Sun Collection on the then new RCA Starcall label, which actually performed better than Today in the album chart. But that, perhaps, was no surprise and no accident. The recordings Elvis made at Sam Phillips’ famous studio in Memphis had always been among his most popular, and as this was the first time, they had all been placed on one album, it was almost written in stone that it would score well in the UK album chart. It peaked at #16 just two months after Today had been and gone and missed the Top 20 boat altogether. 

Unlike those famous Memphis sessions 20 years earlier, Today was recorded over three nights between March 10 and March 12, 1975, at RCA’s Studio C in Hollywood, California, the same studio where Burning Love and Separate Ways had been laid down in 1972, and served as the rehearsal location for Elvis’s MGM movie Elvis on Tour that same year. Now, three years later, Elvis returned, armed with a recently won ‘Best Inspirational Performance’ Grammy for his 1974 concert version of How Great Thou Art, and some material for recording a new album, which unknown at the time, would be the last time he would lay down tracks in a traditional recording studio. The result was one of the most diverse albums of his career with Elvis interpreting songs previously recorded by artists such as Don McLean, Perry Como, Billy Swan, Faye Adams, the Statler Brothers, Charlie Rich, The Pointer Sisters, and as already mentioned, Tom Jones. In some ways, the Today album was like Elvis’s first - made up of songs he chose and loved. But of course, to be fair, it was no first album, and neither was it an Elvis Is Back, His Hand in Mine or From Elvis in Memphis. It was, nevertheless, a fine album, and arguably one of his most underrated, and although some may argue that point, this 40th anniversary Legacy Edition goes a long way to prove otherwise. 


Disc one features the entire original album plus 10 undubbed mixes from the sessions, providing an alternate mix of the album. Although previously issued on the 2005 Follow That Dream (FTD) edition, this is the first time these versions have seen the light of day on a commercial release, and with fans favourite, Vic Anesini, at the remastering helm, they are certainly an improvement on the sound quality of the FTD version. It is very refreshing to hear the unvarnished performances of these songs, in such good sound quality, and freed from the controversial “countrypolitan” overdubs that Felton Jarvis did for the original 1975 release. If you compare them to the more polished versions of the finished album, they certainly provide an entirely different listening experience. If there is anything missing from this new Legacy Edition, it surely has to be the 3-minute warm-up jam session of Tiger Man that was a highlight of the FTD edition. With a running time of 67 minutes on disc one, there was certainly room to fit it on as a bonus track.  

Disc two features live performances from May and June 1975. Originally issued as The Concert Years in the 8 LP Elvis Aron Presley 25th anniversary silver box set, in August 1980, it included, for the main part, Elvis’s show from Dallas in Texas on 6 June 1975. Originally recorded direct to cassette tapes from the mixing console for reference purposes only, it was never intended for record release in Elvis’s lifetime, and as such, it was necessary to replace damaged or missing songs from this show with other performances from the tour to present an album that mirrored a complete show. For this 40th anniversary Legacy Edition, the entire constructed concert, which includes a first-ever live performance of T-R-O-U-B-L-E, has been reassembled and remastered from the original sources, again by Vic Anesini, and thereby offers improved audio quality. And despite what some fans may think, these restored live performances provide the perfect companion to Elvis’s last official studio recordings, especially as they all come from the tour that surrounded the release of the album. Listen out for the drum roll on Hound Dog that echoes the original drum roll from the original hit, not often featured in Elvis’s live versions of the song in the 70s.

The packaging is the usual Legacy Edition packaging we have come to love and respect. Like the previous On Stage, Aloha From Hawaii and Recorded Live On Stage In Memphis Legacy Editions, it comes in a six-panel digipak with decent front and back cover art reproduction, and is a huge improvement on the repro quality of the FTD edition which lacked definition and looked more like a third generation copy. Housed behind the discs are excellent repros of the T-R-O-U-B-L-E singles bag, albeit it being the wrong side featuring the B-side as its main title, and the QuadraDisc version of the album, which seems a bit pointless as the cover art is exactly the same as the standard album release, as used on the digipak and booklet front covers. The obvious alternative would have been to include the picture singles bag for Bringing It Back or the UK generic RCA bag and label for Green, Green Grass of Home. Another option, of course, would have been to feature the cover art of the original 1980 sleeve or label from The Concert Years LP (shown below). In many ways, it also seems a shame that disc two didn’t settle on representing the label of the original 1980 vinyl. 
 

The glossy 24-page booklet features an excellent essay by Stuart Colman, who gives a good historical narrative about the sessions and the songs, with some good footnotes to the not-so obvious, such as the story of the final mixing and overdubbing of the original album, recorded with musicians outside of Elvis’s usual live band, which would become a point of contention between Elvis and RCA to the degree that it caused Elvis, at one stage, to blow his top, and probably encouraged his decision about recording his future output either live in concert or in his home studio at Graceland.

The booklet also includes a batch of first rate quality photos, many not seen before, and as was the norm for Elvis official photos and record sleeves during this time of his career, all are concert shots. For this release, we are treated to a number of various shots of Elvis in different jumpsuits and outfits that were taken during the tour of the bonus disc. There is also the usual batch of memorabilia that we have come to expect with Elvis reissues, and this booklet is no exception. Included are the usual record labels, sleeves, cassettes, letters and RCA ads. Once again there are no images from The Concert Years album, either front or back sleeve, the box or labels, and no repro of the UK singles. Although that may seem like a niggly point, their inclusion would have added to the completeness of what is otherwise an excellent anniversary edition of Elvis’s last official studio album and the collectible live recordings taped just a few months after the sessions.


With thanks to Sara Irvine at Sony Music, Paul Sinclair at SDE, Tony King for The Concert Years LP sleeve and label scans, and George and Linda Athans for the full size unedited and uncropped version of the booklet back cover photo. (Please note that George and Linda's credit in the booklet is misspelt as George and Linda Nathans, which is to be corrected in all future pressings).

Monday, 23 February 2015

The Restoration of Kylie


Earlier this month, the long-awaited re-issues of Kylie’s first four albums on PWL were finally released after a delay of three months. Each album is now available in three collector editions, but the most interesting, without doubt, are the ones that include the DVDs of original promo videos, bonus material and BBC footage. Although I had seen some of the material on VHS when I was researching my biography of Kylie in 2002, and later, on the DVD releases of Kylie Greatest Hits and Ultimate Kylie, for which I co-wrote the album liners, they were never in such outstanding picture and sound quality as they are on the new PWL re-issues. Intrigued to find out more, I recently spoke to video director, editor and restorer Dan Hall about the challenges of the work involved in restoring Kylie.

What brought you to work on the Kylie videos for the PWL reissues?
I was first approached at the conception stage by PWL archivist Tom Parker. He had followed the work of my company Pup Limited on the Classic Doctor Who DVD range. I had commissioned the high-profile DVD range for several years. The releases contained restored episodes as well as new documentaries. Tom’s original idea was to apply the Classic Doctor Who DVD model onto the Kylie releases.

Are you a fan of the Kylie PWL era?
Indeed I am. I must be one of the few PWL / Springsteen / Suede fans in the UK! Pete and the team made some absolutely smashing melodies, and it has been an honour to be a part of bringing them back to audiences. The PWL concert a couple of Christmases back was one of the best nights of my life. I lost my voice for two weeks after.

Restoring the videos then, must have been like a work of love.
Absolutely a work of love. We were unable to go down the same restoration route as for the Doctor Who DVDs because of budget. And so Pup developed a whole new series of restoration techniques. These were designed more for short-form content like music videos as opposed to longer-form television shows. There is always some more work to do, always another piece of drop-out that can be improved. The more you fix these things the more errors begin to show. And of course nobody wants to let content out that could be improved. So you do go on and beyond budget, but with a willing heart.

Did you play a part in finding any of the footage, like the original and location-based versions of Got To Be Certain, or were these in the PWL archive?
All the footage was sourced and found by Tom Parker whose passion for the project drove us on. He has a fantastic knowledge of Pete Waterman’s legendary barn in which many of the masters are stored. Tom had the key knowledge about different versions of videos and where they might be found. We did have one fortunate find towards the end of production. A couple of videos had been missing from Tom’s original masters delivery. When getting these transferred we uncovered superior quality versions of many of the titles. By this point we all but finished restoration, so much of the earlier work was scrapped. But the time was by no means wasted as our improved techniques could now benefit the new masters.

Was there any other major restoration work done apart from what has been seen in the Pup showreel?
Absolutely! Every single one of the videos averaged two or three days’ work. The promo only shows the “greatest hits”. Although these videos aren’t hugely old, it is alarming how quickly videotape begins to fail. Information is lost causing what is called “drop-out”. These are brief flashes of lost data, usually shown as a bar of colour. There are also dirt and scratches which we remove. Grading is always controversial. This is where you alter the colours in the picture to give a mood. It can have a massive effect on audience’s perceptions. For example Loco-Motion was too yellow, which we fixed resulting in a more natural skin-tone. On Je Ne Sais Pas Pourquoi we took a gamble and completely regarded it. The original was super-80s in colouring and brightness, and yet it was set in 1940s France. So the re-grade played on this with a more brown austerity grade to complement the fantastic sets. For Finer Feelings we found the beautiful photography was undermined by a low-contrast master. So the blacks were pumped down a tad to give it more gusto. Out of all her videos this is the one that I feel deserves our reappraisal most. The photography and editing really is first rate.

What can you tell me about the restoration process and did you have any say on what videos should be included and ones that shouldn’t?
Tom and PWL very much led the editorial of the release, although of course they were happy with my input. But frankly they were one and the same. We all wanted to make a definitive set of releases that showed the passion of those who had put it together. As for the restoration process, we vestigated investing in automated technology. But it was quickly apparent that it was no match for careful human eyes and hand-crafted fixes. Music videos are available, pirated for free all over the internet. If we are going to persuade people to part with their money we have to provide something special. And I do not think pumping a video through a rough, computerised clean-up is going to cut the mustard.

Were there any videos that you were given to work on that you felt wouldn’t benefit from restoration?
Every single video was restored. Even later ones like Word Is Out, which had very little dropout, suddenly had huge green splodges on several frames. Each video was their own challenge with their own unique set of solutions. 
 
How good or bad condition was the BBC footage that you worked on? Did the BBC give you any other footage that is not included in the sets?
The BBC material was in okay condition. The sound isn’t fantastic on some of the Wogan episodes, but I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. Part of the texture of archive is its faults, and sometimes you make a judgement call to leave things as they are. In the case of Wogan the music wasn’t replaced as people are watching it for the archive, rather than the song. However, almost all the BBC footage had a lot of what we call noise. This is lots of tiny dots that look a bit like a slightly off-tuned television. So we cleared those away and gave the colours a bit more punch. Everything that the BBC provided for us was placed on the discs. And great it is too! I loved the old Top of the Pops graphics so much that they were recreated for the albums’ four promos.

Who initiated the restoration work on the videos? Did you have any say in it because you felt that the original videos could do with restoration?
It was Tom Parker who first approached me, and he had previously done fantastic work for both companies. Without realising it I’d been buying Tom’s fantastic reissues for quite a while! I imagine the whole thing was driven first by him. Later on Ian Usher took over the reigns and led the project to completion. I have a lot of self-interest in wanting the videos to be restored! So quite rightly I wouldn’t have a say in whether they should be done or not.

Most of the video promos have been released before on various DVDs. Did you wonder why they had not been restored to the picture quality you have now given them?
I can absolutely understand why, because there may not be the demand. But now videos are pirated all over the internet labels and artists have to take quality to the next level if they are going to persuade people to part with their money. This will hopefully encourage people back to official sources and off YouTube. In addition, a scratchy and unattractive video does undermine the song and the audience’s perception of the material. We do live in a very visual world, even those of us in music. 
 
Would you say they are near enough Blu-Ray quality? They look like they are.
That’s very kind of you to say! The first part of Pup’s restoration process was to boost the standard-definition masters up to high-definition. This is where very computer software “guesses” the extra pixels that are needed by an HD picture. Our restoration work was then carried out on these new HD masters. It was only the very end of the process where the HD was scaled back to standard definition for DVD. From your question I’m guessing our specially developed restoration technique worked! 
 
Are there any more videos and footage that could be restored?
Oh, goodness yes! I look at the wonderful work of artists like Kate Bush, David Bowie and the Pet Shop Boys and long to get my hands on their material. Bush’s Cloudbusting is a stunning video, but it desperately needs cleaning. Same goes for the wonderful Pet Shop Boys feature-length concept video, It Couldn’t Happen Here. Bowie’s Ashes to Ashes is iconic, but covered in dropout. And Queen… who wouldn’t want to get those fantastic promos looking sharp?

What visual and audio quality were the original promos in?
The audio wasn’t brilliant, and a tad muffled and quiet. But this was fixed with wonderful new audio masters from PWL. Visually the conditions varied a lot. Loco-Motion, Got To Be Certain and Never Too Late were particularly bad. The PWL masters of If You Were With Me Now had an eight second section that was unplayable. For this I sourced another copy from a different source and compiled a new master. What this showed was that often it is believed that somebody else is looking after the master. The TV companies think the labels are, the labels think the agents are, the agents think the producers are, etc. If we are not careful we’re going to lose some of the iconic promos of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. On Better the Devil You Know we discovered one single frame of a shot that had been left in by accident way back when. So this was removed as it is “illegal” for broadcast. There’s an exclusive! The restored Better the Devil You Know video is actually 1/25 second shorter than the original. 
 
How painstaking was the restoration and what were the primary technical processes/tools you used?
Very painstaking! Each video has at least ten passes, and for some we slow it down to 50% in order to allow us to extrapolate every possible piece of visual data. I won’t go into exactly what we use or how we use it – it’s our magic formula! – but suffice to say the technique was developed by Pup using a Computing Science PhD wizard.

Is re-mixing sound for a DVD a completely different process to the remix of a CD set and did you work on any of the CDs?
Sometimes one can get too close to a project and forget that at the end there is a consumer – and hopefully one that is smiling. This is a brand new restoration process that Pup has developed especially for music videos. I sincerely hope that we’ll get to cast our magic on more titles. The sound was provided to us from PWL, remastered and sounding fantastic. For DVD we simply put a small amount of compression to keep it from going too loud. But really on the sound the hard work was done by Tom and PWL. All we had to do was match the old sound to the new. That said, it was tougher than it first seemed as the sound on those videos didn’t run at a consistent speed. These errors had to be forced back into the remastered audio in order to keep things in sync!

Was there a specific rationale for the video tracks that were chosen for the new DVDs?
From my understanding the only rationale was: “Is it relevant” and “Is it available”. With those two simple criteria PWL and Cherry Red were able to pull together a brilliant set of releases. 

Do you know if Kylie has seen any of the restored videos? If so what was her reaction?
I don’t know whether she has, although I’m sure Pete would have made sure she knew about them. As an artist I’m sure she’s wary about spending too much time looking back, when there is an expectation always to move forward. That said, I hope it reminds her how much people value and enjoy her fantastic back catalogue.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

The Fabulous Elvis


Just over four and a half decades ago, in April 1969, I was working at Caffyns in Eastbourne, when RCA Records released Elvis Presley’s new album. On the day of release, during my lunch hour, I walked into town and headed to the record department at WHSmith, where they still had listening booths where one could ask for records to be played without any intention to purchase until the staff got irritated and chucked you out. By the time I got there to listen to Elvis, the soundtrack album from his 1968 NBC-TV Special, there was only one copy left.

You wouldn’t have to be reading Elvis Monthly or be among Elvis’s community of British fans to realise that the TV special had received unprecedented significance in the music press and elsewhere. Most of us had heard about it, which at the time, was being hailed as Elvis’s comeback from his Hollywood years to once again retain his position at the fore of popular music. Anyone who had seen his last picture Speedway, would know and understand why every Elvis fan and music journalist was genuinely excited about the special, and why it was so important to see the show that had all America raving, but what most couldn’t understand was why we had to wait over a year to see it on British TV.

What was perhaps strange is that when it did finally get an airing in the UK, on New Year’s Eve 1969, with a title change to The Fabulous Elvis, it was relegated to BBC2, which most people didn’t have access to, as its 625-line colour broadcasts could only be received on newer TV sets, so most people didn’t have it. I was living at home with my parents at the time, and they certainly didn’t. Like many other households in the UK at that time, our TV could only receive black-and-white broadcasts for what, at the time, were the two main channels, ITV and BBC1, which meant that not only did I have to wait over a year before the Elvis special was broadcast, but I wasn’t even able to see it when it was. I had to wait a further six weeks after its showing on BBC2, until it was repeated on BBC1 on Wednesday 4 February 1970 at 8.00pm. But why the hold up in showing it in the first place! It seems Elvis’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker, was partially to blame.

According to a cutting in the New Musical Express on 1 March 1969, “There are still no plans for the special to be screened in this country. BBC-TV executives have expressed great interest in the show from the outset - and because of the Corporation’s special relationship with NBC-TV, asked to see a copy of the film, with a view to purchasing British screening rights. However the copy has still not arrived in this country. The NME understands that rights to the special are held by Elvis and his management, and the delays in making it available for world distribution is primarily the responsibility of the Presley organisation. Meanwhile BBC-TV is maintaining its effort to secure the film.” And then two months later, in May, the NME ran a story that fans would definitely see the special sometime in the near future. “Colonel Tom Parker revealed this week that he has now signed the necessary clearance, enabling for it to be seen in this country. Both BBC and ITV are interested in securing it, and says the Colonel, the show will go to the highest bidder.”

In the end, when the show finally made it onto BBC1, 45 years ago this week, it was very exciting to think that after all the ifs, buts and maybes, I would finally get to see it, along with the thousands of other British fans, who either missed it when it was on BBC2 or couldn’t watch it because, like me, their families didn’t have the right kind of TV set. And in those days, before we had the luxury of video recorders and Sky boxes, we couldn’t tape it to watch again later. We would have to wait for it to be repeated and the likelihood of that was, well unlikely. 

I watched it with my parents at home, on their old black-and-white TV, along with my sister and her husband, and after the end credits had finished rolling, I remember my dear late father saying, “Shame he didn’t have guests on like Tom Jones does!” Quite disgusted with the comment, I told him, I was now going to my room to play the album at full volume, and was immediately asked why, “You have just watched it on TV... don’t you think we have had enough Elvis for one night!” Guess what my answer was! 

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Step Back In Time

 
As a teaser to my forthcoming article on PWL’s long-awaited Kylie album reissues next month, I thought it would be fun to take a look back at her second album, Enjoy Yourself, one of my own personal favourites of the soon to be released special editions, and reproduce a feature written about the original album by Chrissie Camp for Kylie’s official 1991 annual…

With her second album Enjoy Yourself, Kylie had something to prove. She was determined to show she was serious - very serious - about her music. The results speak for themselves. Enjoy Yourself debuted at number two on the UK charts, hitting the top spot the following week. Within six weeks of release, the album had sold more than one million copies in the UK alone. The success of Enjoy Yourself was even more heartening to Kylie considering she had faced the daunting task of following-up the phenomenal Kylie album.

Every performer will tell you the pressures and expectations of topping a successful record are enormous. There’s the dilemma of keeping to the style that fans have grown to love, while at the same time allowing the artist to mature. In Kylie’s case, she was nearly eighteen months older when she recorded Enjoy Yourself and she wanted that to show.

The resulting album is more mature and more ambitious than her debut. It has more diversity and touches on everything from soul to 1940s big band tunes. The songs showcase how Kylie’s vocals and her confidence sparkles off the record. With more experience under her belt, she felt confident she could play a greater part in shaping the record and so this time had more input into the production process. It’s a practice she definitely wants to continue in the future.

Kylie is adamant her music - pop music - has a valid place in today’s music industry, even if some high-brow journalists think to the contrary. “I sing pop songs aimed at kids, with subjects like the girl with the crush on the guy at the end of the road who doesn’t know she exists. That sort of thing is important when you’re 14,” she says. “I know my music probably means nothing to somebody experiencing a midlife crisis, but people shouldn’t dismiss something just because it is not relevant to their own lives. Kids come up to me and say wow, at last somebody who understands my problems. That for me justifies the sort of songs I sing.”

To Kylie, a song shouldn’t be judged on how profound or high-minded its themes are. She says: “Alright, so my music is not political, it’s not heavy. It's just fun. Is there anything wrong with fun?” Well said Kylie! 

Enjoy Yourself includes the singles Hand On Your Heart, Wouldn’t Change A Thing, Never Too Late and Tears On My Pillow, all rocketing to the top of the charts. Several of the tracks have special meaning for Kylie lyrically, too. “Heaven and Earth runs parallel with my view on the environment and what I, along with everybody else, can do to help conserve and protect it. As I may be a position to influence some people, I feel the song has a valid message.

“I don’t want to preach to anyone, and I don’t think the song does. It conveys the simple but important message that no-one can change the world overnight, but if we all put a little effort towards caring for our environment, we can keep this beautiful place, which we all too often take for granted, for future generations.” Kylie is also fond of Wouldn’t Change A Thing, which had a vibrant fill-clip to promote it. It was the first Kylie video to be shot outside Australia - but the costumes were Australian.

“The song says that even if no-one else in the whole world can understand what you see in someone… who cares? It’s what you believe that really matters… you shouldn’t have to change a thing for anyone. It is good to have confidence in what you’re doing and trust in your own judgement.” Another lyric Kylie particularly likes is Never Too Late. “It follows my philosophy to always try to look at the better side of things. Don’t give up hope if you firmly believe that something can work out. And remember that good things come with time. It’s also saying that it is OK to forgive, after all, we all make mistakes.”

Choosing a name for an album is always difficult but in Enjoy Yourself, Kylie has a title everyone can appreciate! She also chose it as the name of her concert tour. “It is not an unusual message for a song, but sometimes we forget to do the obvious… enjoy ourselves! With so many pressures in our society, we have to remember to look after ourselves, be happy, and make the most of what we have.”

Kylie is now gearing up for the recording of album number three. It is a few months away yet, but already she is thinking about where Kylie Minogue the singer is to go next.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Season's Greetings From Elvis


If like me, you’re an Elvis fan, and have a copy of the new expanded two-disc edition of Elvis's original 1957 Christmas Album (released by the One label), and are wondering about the story behind the Special Christmas Program on the bonus disc, here is some info about it...  

The program was first announced in Billboard on 2 December 1967, just one day in advance of the broadcast the following day. It was broadcast by 2000 radio stations in the U.S under the title of Season’s Greetings From Elvis.  Most of the radio stations that took part had received their special program kits a month earlier, which contained a sealed 7 1/2 - i.p.s reel-to-reel tape in a box with a four-page booklet featuring the complete script, and a separate copy of Elvis’s then latest Christmas single, If Everyday Was Like Christmas. The half- hour programme, presented for the holiday season in association with RCA Victor Records and Colonel Tom Parker’s All Star Shows, included Elvis’s new single, plus nine other selections from his original 1957 Christmas album and the two sacred albums, His Hand In Mine and How Great Thou Art. As a bonus to the radio stations carrying the program, RCA also handed out copies of Elvis’s complete record and 8-track tape cartridge catalogs, 100 x Elvis Christmas cards, 50 x 1968 Presley calendars, and a package of Christmas seals and handbills. In addition to the program, RCA also mailed out four-colour posters and ad mats to record stores for local tie-ins by dealers and radio stations.

Overall it seemed like nothing more than a massive promo stunt to push Elvis's new Christmas release. After all, there was nothing particularly special about the contents, which in hindsight consisted of several old Elvis Christmas and Gospel songs, spiced up with a brief seasonal greeting from the King on the beginning of I'll Be Home For Christmas, that was strangely enough, later placed on top of Silent Night on a couple of Christmas compilations in 1982 and 1994, on which the beginning music of I'll Be Home For Christmas, and not Silent Night, can still be heard in the background as Elvis wishes listeners a merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year. But the program became so rare that it prompted some collectors to think that it was only officially produced as a reel-to-reel tape, despite there being some produced as vinyl albums. As Mark Paytress noted in his December 1994 Record Collector article, Christmas With Elvis, when RCA distributed the radio special, they probably had no idea that collectors, all these years later, would pay a four-figure sum for copies, with script and programming information intact, even though it had appeared for a time as a 10-inch bootleg!

In some quarters, it is said that the concept for Season's Greetings From Elvis was what the Colonel had in mind for Elvis's Christmas television special that aired exactly one year after the radio special. And that is probably true. As far as I can work out, the new expanded Christmas Album is the first time it has been released on CD. And although, it may appear to be pretty lame today, it is always good to be treated to something that some of us have never heard before, and despite it missing the inclusion of If Every Day Was Like Christmas and How Great Thou Art, it is still good to have and hear after all these years.  

As a guide for those wishing to compare the One label version with the original broadcast, according to the script in the booklet that accompanied the tape, the original programming ran as follows: Intro: Here Comes Santa Claus/Announcer (Buzz Benson)/Here Comes Santa Claus/Announcer (Buzz Benson)/Blue Christmas/Announcer (Buzz Benson)/O Little Town of Bethlehem/Announcer (Buzz Benson)/Mr. Robertson/Announcer (Buzz Benson)/Silent Night/I'll Be Home for Christmas/Announcer (Buzz Benson)/I Believe/Announcer (Buzz Benson)/If Every Day Was Like Christmas/Announcer (Buzz Benson)/How Great Thou Art/His Hand In Mine/Announcer (Buzz Benson)/Background Music: I'll Be Home For Christmas/Announcer (Buzz Benson)/Elvis: Special Christmas Message/I'll Be Home for Christmas/Announcer (Buzz Benson).

Monday, 28 July 2014

Before Instagram

Before Instagram became the  latest way to share photos, there were Polaroids, which were only shared with friends and family, so you can probably imagine how excited I was to discover the ones of Winona Ryder I was alerted to recently. They were all taken during the late 1990s and early 2000s. The first one I found was a test shot for W magazine, which was taken by Sofia Coppola in early 2002! As many film buffs and Winona fans will know, Sofia took over Winona's role of Al Pacino's daughter in The Godfather Part III when Winona  feel ill on the first day of shooting in Rome, collapsed in her hotel room, and had to drop out of the movie.

Although Polaroids now seem a thing of the past,  in their day they were the best way to shoot an instant photo that were ready within minutes. The joy of them was that you didn't have to take your negatives to the chemist for developing or run the risk of having your pictures seen by everyone at your local pharmacy, or have them laugh or gawk at the shots you were embarrassed about. In those days, before digital cameras liberated our need to share instant pictures, taking a picture was much more of a private affair. 

Like the Polaroids that Robert Rich took, they were seen only on the walls of his office. Robert was the manager of the Marc Jacobs store on Mercer Street in 
New York, and Sofia Coppola spent what felt like a good part of the late ’90s and early 2000s there in his basement office. On the W magazine Tumblr page Sofia recounts of how it was back then. "Instead of stepping into the luxurious dressing rooms, actresses, models, and special clients tried on clothes and posed in Robert’s crowded space behind the stockroom, which was covered in Polaroids and pages torn from magazines. Winona Ryder and Lil’ Kim donned court and premier outfits, Kate Moss undressed, Selma Blair pouted. Robert gave Sofia a framed photo of Bill Murray when she was trying to meet the actor for a movie she wanted to make. We spent hours hanging out, dressing up, and posing for him, when there was nowhere else we’d have rather been, and we didn’t have as much to do." After years had passed, Robert let Sofia  go through a box of his photos 
and remember that moment in time. She recently posted a number of those Polaroids online for all to see.

You can see the photos here

Monday, 21 July 2014

Ten Out of Twenty

When you are considering buying a book, are you one of those people that always takes it off the shelf and reads the first paragraph to get an inkling as to whether you'll like it or not? I certainly am - and as a writer, I most certainly like to write an opening that will give browsers that same kind of inkling. So, as a celebration of the first paragraph and to celebrate writing 20 books and 20 first paragraphs, here are my opening ones from ten of my biographies...
 

It’s twenty past three in the morning, and Kylie Minogue is crying. She is tired. And all she wants to do is go to bed and sleep. She tried earlier, about an hour or so before but her mind was racing. Now she’s up, out of bed and in the kitchen of the pad she once shared with a girlfriend, not far from Parlophone, the record label she is currently signed to. The same one the Beatles made so famous. She flicks through the newspaper on the table until she calms down and can go back to bed.

Backstage at the Dorothy Chandlier Pavilion in downtown Los Angeles, March 1996, Winona Ryder is still shaking from her walk along the red carpet near where the crowds have been gathering since dawn for a place close to their idols on the most important date of Hollywood’s glamorous calendar. For the last hour or so, the stars have been arriving for the 69th Annual Academy Awards ceremony. Goldie Hawn had told her how to handle that sort of crowd, ‘Turn your head and smile, but don’t stop.’

There are times in everybody’s life when, suddenly and inexplicably,everything seems to go wrong. As Demi Moore neared her thirty-sixth birthday, she was closer to that state than she had ever felt before. She kept on going, simply because she didn’t know what else to do. But other people might have preferred to have a breakdown.

Saturday, 22 January 2005 was Christian Slater’s last night as Randle P McMurphy. It was the night that followed a supposed (and later denied) knife attack on Christian outside the stage door and was a typically cold winter’s day in London. Although by evening the temperature had dropped below zero, the chill didn’t stop anyone from turning out to see Christian’s final performance in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest at the Gielgud Theatre in the heart of London’s West End.

Fearne Marie Cotton was fifteen years old. She had just won an audition to be a presenter for the Disney Channel in a national search for talent. Not that she had any intention of becoming a presenter; she had always had her mind set on being an actress. And that, to all intents and purposes, is the role she thought she was auditioning for. It had been her dream for the last ten years, ever since she started taking drama and ballet lessons, in and out of school.

Ray Winstone is gutted. It was 1 July 2006, the day England blew their chance to win the World Cup, and, like every other supporter, he couldn’t get over how on earth they had been knocked out of the most important football competition of all. Was it really possible that England, the favourite team to win in many people’s eyes, had just lost out to Portugal in the quarter-finals with a 3–1 defeat in a simple penalty shootout? It seemed it was.

David Tennant is heartbroken. It was Sunday, 15 July 2007, and he was heartbroken. He had just watched his mother, Helen MacDonald, pass away from cancer of the colon after five years of battling the terminal illness. For an entire week, work on the Doctor Who Christmas episode had been suspended while he returned to his native Scotland to be with his family and to attend his mother’s funeral in Paisley, Renfrewshire.

Davina McCall was 15 years old when she turned up at school wearing black leather trousers and a T-shirt ripped across the waist. She had dyed her hair aubergine and was wearing Gothic make-up. It was ‘mufti day’ at Godolphin and Latymer School in Hammersmith, West London, and, while most girls came dressed like Bananarama wannabes in ra-ra skirts and legwarmers, Davina went punk.

Benedict Cumberbatch is about to be executed. Kneeling on the ground with a duvet over his head and his hands tied with shoelaces, the actor is now in the classic execution position as he awaits the gunshot that will end his life. It would take Benedict another five years before he could recount the story of that dreadful night when three gunmen took him hostage.

Outside the home of his publicist one cool Sunday evening, in February 1997, Johnny Depp is on his best behaviour. He looks like a kid dressed up to meet his girlfriend’s parents. A dark blue sports coat, grey polo shirt, tan pin-striped trousers, and black lace-up shoes. His famously long, tousled hair has been shorn into a Fifties-style buzz cut and he is all charm.

Monday, 28 April 2014

The Man Who Sold The World

Every time I have a new book out, I am always asked if I have a favourite passage and what is it. This is my favourite excerpt from my biography of Benedict Cumberbatch, it comes from the latter stages of the final chapter, The Man Who Sold The World (named after the working title of The Fifth Estate) - and if you love Sherlock, then hopefully you will enjoy this...

On a stormy and bleak New Year’s Day in 2014, Benedict was back on the small screen for the third series of Sherlock after a two-year absence. The new episodes completely outshone any previous episodes and the series became the most watched non Doctor Who drama on British television since 2002. It knocked the ratings for Call the Midwife and Hayley’s departure from Coronation Street for six, with more than nine million people tuning into watch it on the night, and another three million watching it on catch-up TV. No previous episode could match that. It was another four million up from the last series opener A Scandal in Belgravia. Everyone was thrilled. ‘When we began Sherlock, and it was an instant hit, we thought it couldn’t get better,’ raved producer Sue Vertue. ‘But each series has outdone the last and this is our biggest rating yet. Trying to believe this is really happening is a job in itself!’

Unsurprisingly, the first episode was the most anticipated episode in the history of the entire programme. It had been two years since Sherlock had apparently leapt to his death in The Reichenbach Fall at the end of series two, and then showed up at his own graveside to catch Watson and Mrs Hudson grieving for the man who had changed both their lives. Now, two years on, it seemed everyone in the world wanted to know how he survived the jump. The producers were so keen to keep the secret that pages explaining how he pulled off his vanishing trick were blanked out in some copies of the script to protect any leaks. This is not surprising when you consider that, whilst still in pre-production, The Empty Hearse was said to have 13 different possibilities to explain Sherlock’s survival, although only three would actually end up in the show. We had TV illusionist Derren Brown putting Watson under his spell for the few crucial moments that allowed Sherlock’s helpers to position Moriarty’s body on the pavement in Sherlock’s place as Sherlock burst through a dow where mortuary registrar Molly Hooper stood waiting, Moriarty and Holmes faking the whole thing in order to get rid of Watson and finally, Mycroft and Shelock’s network of homeless individuals faking Sherlock’s death to save his friends.

As if that wasn’t enough, we also witnessed Sherlock being interrogated in a room in Serbia, getting rescued by brother Mycroft, winging his way back to London to prevent a terrorist attack, being reunited with a livid Watson and meeting Watson’s bride-to-be, Mary Morstan, played by Martin Freeman’s real-life partner Amanda Abbington. It was, raved most critics, a triumphant return for the most charismatic and fun character on British television. As Sheryl Garrett pointed out in her January 2014 article in the Telegraph, filming the episode was not without its problems. It was a grey, rainy day in April 2013, when Benedict climbed on to the roof of Barts Hospital in London, and jumped off. He had done this before, of course, two years before. Even the red phone box outside the hospital was still covered in tributes, mourning his character’s fictitious death. Between takes, Benedict had an umbrella to stop him getting too wet in case it ruined the shot, which resulted in a string of predictable ‘Sherlock Poppins’ headlines when the photo appeared in the tabloids the next day.

The constant scrutiny took its toll on Benedict. ‘It means you can have a lot less fun on location,’ confirms Benedict. ‘Before, I might have pretended to swim while I was hanging up there, or played about more between takes, but now you’re very aware that you’re always being watched.’ Normally at a shoot like this, there will be a few bystanders, people who happen to walk by and are curious to see what is going on but, wrote Garrett, ‘the second day at Barts is gloriously sunny, and as well as the paparazzi, there are about 300 fans making a day of it, standing behind crash barriers and watching avidly.’ This was despite the fact that, for much of the time, the most interesting thing to see was crew members hosing down pavements so that they would appear to be as wet as they did the day before. According to Garrett, the crowed were ‘too far back to hear any dialogue, but this still feels like street theatre” and when Darren Brown appeared, there was “an audible intake of breath.’

Of course, pictures of all of this appeared almost immediately on social media sites, along with the usual speculation about what their significance was. Sue Vertue had the job of monitoring the fans and asking them not to give anything away. For the most part, says Vertue, ‘they’re terribly charming and polite and self-policing.’ Amongst the fans, there were groups from China, the US and Japan who had timed their visits to London to match the shooting schedule for Sherlock. Once again, the third series was as short and sweet as the first and second with just three episodes. But perhaps that is the secret success of the show, to limit viewers to just three episodes per series. The second of the 90-minute episodes, The Sign of Three, was quite different to past episodes and took the show off in a completely new direction. Even if it wasn’t regarded as the strongest story of the series, it was an ideal opportunity to mix comedy with drama around the centrepiece of John and Mary’s wedding and to move away from the usual open and shut case that viewers had come to expect. While this one didn’t follow-up on the brief glimpse of new baddie Charles Augustus Magnussen at the end of The Empty Hearse, viewers were treated to some superb character pieces with the focus clearly on the relationship between Holmes and Watson, setting up what promised to be a grand finale.

While Sherlock doesn’t understand the significance of marriage, he is supportive, and determined to be an exemplary best man. There is no plotting to sabotage proceedings despite the fact that a longing glance at Watson’s empty chair in their Baker Street flat tells us all we need to know about how he feels. The wedding itself is skipped over entirely and we see no shenanigans, lost rings or unexpected problems which threaten to derail the proceedings. The episode did away with any and all the familiar wedding cliches, although we do get to enjoy a closer look at how Sherlock went about ensuring that nothing went wrong by threatening an ex and bribing a child with pictures of dead bodies! As Neela Debnath noted in her review in the Independent that January, ‘The Sign of Three was packed to the rafters with wit and comedy. There was plenty to leave viewers howling with laughter, mainly thanks to Sherlock’s general apathy towards humankind, which despite his revulsion to any sort of sentiment or nostalgia, his best man speech was, at times, quite touching as he revealed just how much John means to him.’ Certainly, continued, Debnath, ‘This is the most we have seen the pair express their feelings for one another, usually they are too busy saving the day to let something as trivial as emotion get in the way.’

The final episode of the series, His Last Vow, was seen in the UK on the same weekend that the news had started to be dominated by stories of wretched weather and the misery that was beginning to be inflicted across the country by the torrential downpour of rain and resulting floods. Although it didn’t quite pull in the same number of viewers as the first two episodes, it did become the most tweeted about single episode on Twitter, and even if it should have been just what the doctor ordered to cheer the nation up on a wet and windy Sunday evening, many thought the show had lost its way and had strayed too far from its original formula. As some correctly noted, viewers should not have to concentrate too hard to enjoy Sherlock.

To others though, The Last Vow, was in many ways, the best episode of Sherlock so far, as it offered a greater insight into Sherlock and Watson than ever before. According to a review in the Mirror, if anything, the episode focussed on the relationships between its characters and even introduced us to Sherlock’s parents, played by Benedict’s real-life mum and dad. ‘With some amazing visual sequences, a number of clever twists, a truly detestable villain and a strong story, [that led Sherlock into a long conflict with the Napoleon of blackmail, and the one man he truly hates], Sherlock continues to show why it is simply one of the greatest TV shows of all time.’ In one of those twists, after the end credits had finished rolling, viewers were treated to an extraordinary hallucinatory scene in which a video message is being played over again on every TV screen across the country. ‘Did you miss me?’ asks a straight-jacketed Moriarty as if announcing his return from the grave. It was the perfect climatic surprise to end the series with, and an equally perfect reminder, that yes, Sherlock would be back.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

My Story of the Essoldo

Because I dedicated my biography of screen hardman Ray Wintsone to my childhood mentor, Nellie Mercer, of the Essoldo Cinema in Tunbridge Wells, I often get asked about it and why and how she instilled in me a true love and affection for film and cinema. I first met Nellie when I was about 13 and had popped into the Essoldo on my way home from school one afternoon to try and get a lobby card from the film that was coming to the theatre the following week - Elvis's Girls! Girls! Girls! The poster and lobby cards were already on display in the foyer, and it was when I was about to slip one of the lobby cards out of its frame that a disgruntled voice from behind me asked me what I was doing! That voice was Nellie!

Although she appeared somewhat grumpy at first, when I told her I was an Elvis fan and had come to look at the posters and lobby cards, her  fierceness quickly disappeared. She was standing on the left hand side of the foyer by the door to the room where she kept most of her cleaning equipment along with dozens of quad posters, lobby cards and other film promotional materials. It was like stepping into an Aladdin's cave of cinema treasures. Nellie, probably in her sixties at that time, looked liked you would expect a cleaning lady to look, with a typical patterned overall and a head scarf that was common for the period. At the time I had no idea that we would become good friends, and would remain so for the next four years until I moved with my family south to Glynde. In the years that I dropped into see Nellie at the cinema after school, usually 3 times a week, she would give me an array posters, press campaign books, hanging cards (that advertised the week's film) and dozens of lobby cards, all of which were usually meant to be returned to the exhibitors offices after the film had finished its run, and whereas some did go back, a lot of them ended up in my private collection. Almost every week she gave me a handful of lobby cards and quad posters to take home. She also gave me her weekly complimentary staff ticket so I could go and see the movie that was showing that week as long as she considered it was a film suitable for me to see.

On other occasions, we went to the restaurant above the cinema, which in the days before we moved to Tunbridge Wells, when the cinema was a Ritz, was the Florida Restaurant - where David Bowie's parents were said to have met each other - and where Nellie invariably treated me to a milkshake during her coffee break. In my day, it was simply known as the Essoldo Restaurant, and was open from 10am to 8pm for morning coffee, luncheon, tea or supper every day except Sunday. It was decorated with framed giant sized publicity pictures of movie stars, including one of Elvis, which Nellie said she would one day get for me, and although she never did, she gave me loads of other goodies that I never dreamed of having. She was such a generous, sweet lady, who simply wanted me to have and enjoy the thing I loved most, which at that time, was anything to do with movies, cinema and Elvis! Our conversations were mostly about films and cinemas, and how things, even then, had changed over the last decade. I discovered and learnt so much about the history of cinema, movies and movie stars - old and new. Nellie always told me how each film, every week, was doing at the box-office and how cinemagoers were reacting to them. It really was my education, more so than anything I was meant to be learning at school. It was an incredible way to spend three after-school afternoons each week, and an incredible way to grow up, albeit briefly for four years or so, during my teen years.

There was such a different atmosphere about going to the movies in the 60s. My most memorable recollections are when Elvis's Kid Galahad and the third James Bond film Goldfinger were showing. We had to queue for both films before the doors opened, and the line stretched halfway down the distance of Mount Pleasant towards the railway station. Once inside the cinema, there wasn't an empty seat in the house. We sat through the black-and-white B-Film, British Movietone News, the Pearl & Dean adverts, the trailer for next week's film and an intermission before we got to the main features. For Elvis, there was the usual hysteria of teenage girls yelling, screaming and applauding every time he was on screen, and for Goldfinger, it was so popular, the cinema crammed in as many people as they could, and even allowed people to sit in the aisles, which would be unheard of today, and probably be considered a health and safety hazard.

Prices of admission ranged from 1/9d and 2/6d for a seat in the stalls to 3/6d in the circle upstairs, which today is equivalent to about 17p! I can't remember if we thought that was expensive at the  time, we probably did, but compared to going to see a movie today, we got a lot more for our money back then; two movies, cartoons, Movietone News and sexy looking girls selling ice creams in the intermission. I remember choc ices were always a popular choice! The Essoldo held about 1600 people, had four projectionists, a restaurant, a stunningly polished foyer and was described as one of the most luxurious cinemas in Kent. The films were usually shown for just one week with continuous performances but for the epic movies like Elizabeth Taylor's Cleopatra, there were two separate performances daily, and it would usually end up with an extended run of two weeks. In those days, of course, we didn't give it much thought, it was just the best cinema in town we went to for an afternoon or evening at the pictures. For me it became the place that still holds some of my fondest memories of my teenage years, and growing up in Tunbridge Wells, not only for the films I was fortunate enough to see, but also for being privy to some of the things that went on  behind-the-scenes of running a cinema, and of course, the fabulous posters and lobby cards I collected from my friendship with Nellie. I can't remember exactly what happened to them all, or how they got lost, but I am guessing they probably got left behind when we moved to Sussex.

The Essoldo also became notorious for the pop shows that visited the town. Stars like Adam Faith, Helen Shapiro and Joe Brown all appeared on the stage for one night only when the live shows replaced the film. It was also where Dusty Springfield gave her debut performance when she went solo after leaving The Springfields. Usually there were two performances at 6.20 and 8.30pm and the ticket prices were a great deal more than the regular price for films. I saw a great number of classic films at the cinema, which without Nellie's kindness of giving me her ticket each week, I would not have seen. And of course, I never missed an Elvis film, which were hugely popular in those days, right up to Harem Holiday in 1966, which was the last of the Elvis movies I saw at the Essoldo, after that, when the Elvis films started to lose their popularity, they were relegated to the other cinema in the town, the Opera House, which was nowhere near as luxurious as the Essoldo. Today the Opera House is a Wetherspoons eatery, and the building that once housed the original Essoldo auditorium, where I sat in the dark with so many others, to share and experience the magic of film and cinema, is sadly nothing more than a derelict and much vandalised site that still awaits demolition.