Ray Clark in conversation with Ian Ross

part two

IAN ROSS: I think when he (Ronan) originally had the idea it was partly because he couldn't get a record deal for Georgie Fame and everything was a closed shop - the BBC, Tin Pan Alley, that was it. There was Decca (Records); there was EMI; Philips maybe - that was it. And he said, you know “there's all this music going on which people can't listen to...” There wasn't a music business as such then so that, in a way, was created by Radio Caroline as well. The idea of an independent record producer, somebody making a record... For instance, my greatest friend later on, who I met there at Caroline House, is called Denny Cordell[7] and we did a whole lot of other insane things later on in Los Angeles. We had a nightclub called Flippers. I met Denny at Caroline House.
 
We'd rented this mansion - completely unnecessary - in Chesterfield Gardens off Curzon Street. That was Ronan's idea: the only way to go was to get this vast building. Very impressive. The GPO, who were in the process of trying to get rid of us in the shape of Mr Wedgwood Benn,[8] dug up Chesterfield Gardens and put in a forty line switchboard for us - such is the ambiguities of life - and there we were installed in this tremendous place and - I'm only going a bit ahead of myself here - we got the building, we were getting it ready at the time we were still in Queen. Things were not that great with Jocelyn. He was getting fed up with us. He'd had to move out of his penthouse and we were in it. We'd built these studios. All sorts of outrages were being perpetrated. Eventually we were thrown out. He chucked us out but we just about had Caroline House ready. All these hustlers who had previously been inhabiting The Chelsea Potter just moved in. In particular a tremendous character called John Fenton who had a management company. Denny had got a job there, licking stamps. That's how it started for him - and for me - and, oddly, for Georgie Fame who had been one of the catalysts for Ronan wanting to break the BBC monopoly and break down the grip that that sort of thing had on a music industry that didn't really exist except for Larry Parnes[9] and the Tin Pan Alley people; and Billy Fury - nothing wrong with Billy Fury and all those guys but this was a whole new thing going on: the Stones, the Who, all these bands were playing in clubs... Fame used to do the all-nighter at The Flamingo. We used to go down there. That was the kind of time it was. Oddly enough it was Denny who recorded a lot of Georgie Fame's best stuff. If you (look at his) discography, you'll see what happened. I don't know whether that was what Ronan wanted but in the end what happened was that Fenton had this band called The Moody Blues. Everybody who worked in his office had a go at making this record with them, without success - because people didn't know how to make a record. Denny then, it filtered down to his turn as the mail-room guy, and they said “OK Denny, you can have a shot at it”. Denny gets a bit of paper and he writes out what amounts to a contract which everybody had to sign. This was really uncool behaviour in those days. The idea that you would want people to sign a bit of paper was all frightfully uncool but anyway they all reluctantly signed it, and sneered at it, and Denny then produced Go Now, and it went straight to number one. Straight to number one. The rest is history and £36,000 went straight into his bank. He never looked back. That's where I met Denny. We went on later on to do all sorts of other stuff together until he sadly died.

Simon Dee and Donovan

Simon Dee, left, and Donovan outside Caroline House. Photo kindly provided by Robbie Dale.

RAY CLARK: So, Caroline House. You moved into that. Weren't you responsible for the interior design?
 
IR: Yes, I was. Well, again, it was this impetus to get me a job, something I could do. I don't want to make myself sound too ridiculous but it was specifically necessary for me to have some formal function. I was Chris's assistant in something called Radio Programme Planners which involved something called The Finchley Road Show. One of my jobs though was to decorate Caroline House. I was fired from that for going terribly over budget. I don't know what the details were but it was very beautifully done with lots of carpet. Ronan, alone, had about an acre of this green carpet in his vast office which had this vast desk. Whether it was my fault that the budget went over the top, I really don't know, but the whole place was a palace, filled with hustlers, most of whom had nothing whatever to do with Radio Caroline directly but indirectly they represented the Chelsea faction (laughs) within London. Everyone was there. The Stones would be sitting in the foyer waiting to see somebody; you'd walk in there and there'd be John Lennon, whatever. Ronan had it absolutely covered; he had this huge desk; everyone had to be kept waiting and then they'd go up the stairs and there he'd be. Whereas downstairs, in the basement, was Radio Programme Planners. That was me and Chris, sitting in a room smoking various things. We built these little studios which had been ripped out of Queen magazine. Oh yeah, that's right, that's another funny story. I'd forgotten about that. My only on-air gig was doing the radio commercials for the Duke of Bedford, for Woburn Abbey, because he liked my voice. It was posh. I knew how to say “Woo-burn” and not “Woe-burn”. He was very keen on me and Chris. He used to like to come to Queen and invite us to dinner. We'd sit there and chat and he'd dream up a commercial. He'd just started the safari park. (Posh voice) “There you are now, come to Woburn” and we'd do this, then we'd potter off and have dinner. One day Jocelyn was in his office and the Duke of Bedford had been and gone, and no one had told him that the Duke had been there. “What? I've had enough of you people.” I don't want to be unfair to Jocelyn but that was one of the things that he really was angry about: you don't have dukes coming to call at Queen magazine without him being informed!
 
RC: The story goes that that was the first commercial.
 
IR: It was the first commercial - Woburn Abbey - and that's my voice on it - so no one can say that I'm not famous for something that actually everyone heard! I had the ideal voice for the Woburn ads and we used to dream them up together, me and Chris and the Duke. Then we moved the whole thing to the basement of Caroline House. There were studios there and, whether before or after that, we created this thing called the Finchley Road Show. This was an evolution of Ronan's Stanislavski[10] school of acting that he had previously run called Studio 61, run with a friend of his called Michael Joseph who was another very amusing person. One of Ronan's great beliefs - and none of them was fallacious, of course... there was the Kennedy thing, there was the '16 Thinking thing and there was the Stanislavski thing. (Irish accent) “The Method School, baby. You can be anything you like. It's just a question of the method.” So his theory was that you could take just about anybody (laughing) and turn them into a disc-jockey (more laughing). We were spreading the net wide. All kinds of people were roped in from every walk of life. Simon Dee was an estate agent called Carl Henty-Dodd,[11] for example. Various odd - I mean odd - people came along to the Finchley Road Show to be converted via the teachings of Stanislavski into disc-jockeys, and then they were unleashed on an unsuspecting Britain! That's how we created virtually all the disc-jockeys. I don't know about Tony Blackburn. I know everyone knows who he is and - nothing against him - I remember then we had a problem with him because he used to tell these jokes the whole time. Chris was a purist. He didn't like jokes and he didn't like disc-jockeys taking money - not that Blackburn did, I am not suggesting that for one minute - he didn't like them having any sort of personal promotional activities of their own. He thought you played a record, then you said “that was Ray Charles, The Night Time is the Right Time, here comes Jimmy McGriff”, end of story; move onto the next thing. He'd bring these Stanislavski converts in to Radio Programme Planners and we had to re-programme them and brainwash them because they were out on a ship. Initially people were out on a ship for two weeks and one week off. We had to change it - or Chris had to change it - to one week on and two weeks off to be re-programmed and re-brainwashed out of telling jokes, plugging their own gigs on the south coast and all the rest of it.
 
Not to mention payola, which I will not mention for fear of being arrested. I certainly had nothing to do with it but I certainly know that the Tin Pan Alley brigade took to going out to the ship in boats. That's how difficult it was to control. That's what we found out was going on in the end. They'd have a record with money pinned to it and they'd just hand it up (laughs). How do you control that? So the playlist was constantly under threat - because we gave them a playlist, which we had worked out. We used to be very friendly with this guy at Decca called Tony something or other. Anyway - this is a bit later on - it got to the point where we were trying to see whether we were selling records or not; how much impact we were having on the chart; how much influence we had and a test case case along with a song called You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling (by The Righteous Brothers). Tony Hall his name was, he came along and said “guys, Cilla Black has covered this thing and she is getting wall-to-wall play on the BBC. This is your chance to prove that you have got the hitting power that you say you have. Will you give me six plays a day, or ten plays a day, on the Righteous Brothers? Anyway the far superior - and it was a far superior fantastic Phil Spector dream of a record - we did it. We gave it wall-to-wall coverage and it went straight to number one. That was the sort of thing we used to do at Radio Programme Planners, then head off across the road to The White Elephant where we used to have lunch. A table permanently booked at the White Elephant on Curzon Street.

Radio Programme Planners letter heading

Radio Programme Planners notepaper, kindly provided by Colin Nicol.

RC: So that was presumably sold as an advertising deal - you want six plays a day, it will cost this amount for the radio station...
 
IR: No, I don't think so. I don't know if people could pay for plays. They paid for plays alright but whether they did it legitimately I really would not know. I was a very naïve - I probably still am - person. I didn't know what was going on but we wanted to play (the Righteous Brothers' version of) You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling. It was much superior to Cilla Black's. All power to Cilla Black obviously but this was a great record. We made our point. We proved our point but we didn't set up shop to run a kind of legit payola operation where you could buy airtime, not really, but it was a problem. Chris had got what he wanted to play at different times of the day and it used to bother him - he used to drive himself round the bend with it, trying to get these disc-jockeys to do what they were told. Keith Skues I remember. Oh God, that was funny. I remember him coming in one day. He got a massive bit of brain-washing from Chris. Keith Skues, Cardboard Shoes. I don't know why I've always remembered this but he gets to the door to leave, having been given a really serious dressing-down by old Chris, turns round and says “cheers, ciao and 'bye for now” (laughs).
 
RC: How long were you involved? All the way through to '68?
 
IR: No, not really, no. I didn't have enough to do. I had this rather difficult relationship with my girlfriend Bunty. I'd been unable to meet her. It was all tied up for me. The whole project was sort of twisted up in a kind of basket-weave of partly the kind of whole thing about birds and dolly birds that was going on, particularly with a guy like Chris who literally women threw themselves, and I mean threw themselves in the street at him - and they would easily rebound onto me. So there was that - and we lived in this flat together - but at the same time I was madly in love with this girl who was called Bunty Lampson. She was Deb of the Year - she doesn't like that being mentioned - and I couldn't get to meet her. I didn't get invited to those sorts of parties. I wasn't a ‘deb's delight’ and I wasn't on ‘the list’ and I was generally persona non grata with people like her mother. But Chris knew her. He was the kind of guy that she would know from wanting to be on the wrong side of the tracks to meet these hustlers and Kings Road Cowboys and cool people. So Chris invited her to lunch at the White Elephant, where I used to have a pretty-well permanent table. It was directly across the road from Caroline House. She turned up, expecting to see Chris, and I was there. That's how he managed to engineer my first actual date (laughs). She stood there in horror, looked at me “who are you?” “Oh, you know, I'm a friend of Chris. I'm sure he'll be along in a minute. Why don't you sit down?” I remember she had cannelloni alla luigi. It was to that dish that I owe my future happiness! But she wasn't very keen on being my girlfriend. She had a rather public fling with somebody else, which I won't mention. It was in the papers and I was very upset. I just thought “what am I going to do?” Apart from anything else, I was heart-broken and been made to look a complete idiot. Ronan said “if I were you, I'd leave town” (laughs) and I always remember this, for whatever ups and downs we may have had - because it ended not terribly well for the investors I can assure you, my dad and people were a little bit let down - but I remember him doing this thing where he and Maria said “what we really need now is a holiday” and we went to Ibiza. I actually wrote a chapter in my book on this but it was chucked out by the publishers and I wish it hadn't been.
 
If someone was to say “what was the funniest time in your whole life?” - and it was just at the moment when I really needed cheering up - it was when Ronan and Maria and I went on this holiday in Ibiza. It has to be said that it was the height of Caroline, at a most critical time, and Ronan was not the sort of person who wanted to have holidays. He was in a battle for power with Jocelyn, as he saw it - and I think there was a sort of power-struggle going on. “Meglos” as he called them, “the meglos are moving in baby”, but I can't help thinking that it was partly because he was very sympathetic to my plight. This was the answer. “We'll all go - not just you - I'll come with you; Maria will come; we'll have a f*cking holiday.” So we went to Ibiza. I remember the plane overshot the runway. That was the first thing that happened. It landed up in... (laughs) I can't tell you how primitive the whole thing was in Ibiza in those days. It was '64. Then we got a cab. “Where are we going?” (Irish accent) “I don't know. We'll see. You've got to take a chance in life.” So we're driving along and Ronan says “stop, stop, stop”. He's seen this guy in the bushes, about fifty yards from the road. “Why are you stopping?” “Leave it to me”. He gets out of the cab and reappears with this black guy, an American serviceman who had absconded from Vietnam. He had this jar of grass. How did Ronan know this? How did he even see him in the undergrowth? Well he gets in the cab and we took him to Santa Eulalia; he donates this huge amount of grass and thanks us. I think he went away but he told us about Cala Llonga. We go down this long rutted track, very stoned by now, get to this bay, a deserted bay, one semi-built block of dodgy-looking flats and a villa. And a guy in a speed-boat in the bay. So Ronan says to Maria (Irish accent) “you know what you gotta do now?” And she says “no.” “Put your bikini on and go and talk to that f*cking guy.” He knew what to do. Maria got on this black leather bikini. She was a tremendous looking girl, goes snaking down the beach, gets her hooks into this Peter Capelin guy. How did Ronan know? These people had been living in Westcliff-on-Sea or something. Him, his mum and his aunt had decided to come to Ibiza, sell up their boarding house, build these flats and they'd got this villa. They moved out of the villa so we could move in, with our jar of grass, and they moved into the flats which weren't even finished. Peter would take us out in his speedboat. For a week, this was our holiday and Ronan, he was at his funniest then. We used to have this thing, he'd say to Marjorie, the mum “what's the dinner like at the ristorante?” We used to beg him not do do it. “Don't do it, Ronan”, you know, because she'd always say the same thing “the lunch is very, very good but the dinner's not so good”. (Irish accent) “What was that you said Marjorie? The lunch is not so good?” And then she'd say it again “No, no, the lunch is very, very good but the dinner's not so good”. (Irish accent) “Hear that Maria? Dinner's not so good but lunch is very good” and we'd be crying with laughter. He'd do it every day. We begged him not to. I've never laughed so much in my life. My broken heart was forgotten - well, fairly forgotten.
 
RC: Where did the Caroline name come from? Was it Caroline Kennedy?
 
IR: Caroline Kennedy. Absolutely. I had lunch with her in the seventies, told her all about it in New York.
 
RC: What was her reaction?
 
IR: She was absolutely delighted about it. She was a most lovely girl. That was when I did Flippers. Lived in New York for a bit to do my roller-skating. Somebody knew Caroline Kennedy. We had lunch - with Denny. She told Denny he had a head like Beethoven. He never forgot it. Never got over it. He couldn't walk past a mirror... Beethoven! (laughs) And I just remember she was terribly nice and I told her all about it. How we'd named it after her. She introduced me to Maria Shriver because when we opened Flippers - Maria's her cousin - in those days she was with Arnie (Schwarzenegger). We used to do these fund-raisers at Flippers. Because of meeting Caroline and then Maria and Arnie, we used to do these fund-raisers for Teddy Kennedy, at the club. It was a bit of a spin-off from the whole Kennedy thing. It kind of carried on like that.
 
There was a slight continuing thread and the whole rock'n'roll thread too. My boys are all musicians. I can't help thinking that it's all done in the spirit of rock'n'roll. I've realised that when I was at school someone came up with this Elvis Presley album, Elvis Presley vol.2, and I remember listening to it and just thinking “that's it”, you know “There's no need for latin! Forget it. All I want to do is this and Little Richard and rock'n'roll.” My family environment was just not ever going to think that it'd be a good idea for me to play the guitar or be in a band - anything like that - even though my father did used to play the ukulele when he was a youth, professionally, and my brother was on the stage. I somehow never was the rock star or anything like that, or in a band, but all my boys are in bands, or have been in bands. My son Atticus[12] won an Oscar and he has just won a Grammy too for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. He won an Oscar for the soundtrack to The Social Network. My other son Milo's band is called The Palma Violets[13]. I don't know whether you have heard of them. Hottest thing on the planet. They are hot. So it carries on. It's a tradition.
 
RC: You must be very proud of them.
 
IR: Very proud, yes. The Palmas aren't my children but Milo is and somehow they seem to be like a continuation of what I did, and then onwards with Denny and the different things we did. Kind of vaguely rock'n'roll anyway. It was a kind of fulfilment really of something that, when we did it, it had everything - all the ingredients that you're supposed to have of an anarchic and completely insane nature which I think rock'n'roll in its purest form requires.


NOTES


7

Wikipedia: Denny Cordell

8

Anthony Wedgwood Benn, later known as Tony Benn, was Postmaster General in the Labour government elected in October 1964.

9

Wikipedia: Larry Parnes

10

Wikipedia: Stanislavski's system

11

In the sixties it was thought his real name was Carl Henty-Dodd. It was later revealed to be Cyril Henty-Dodd.

12

Wikipedia: Atticus Ross

13

Palma Violets: official website


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