The agency for whom I worked, (before I decamped to Chrysalis, and then Charisma) had been taken over by a couple of record producers from Pye, and as they tried to build up a stable of credible acts, we had to contend with the previous proprietor’s list of talent, most of whom, in career terms, had seen better days. The agency had been running since the 1940s and prior to the take-over, had built its reputation upon supplying music hall acts in the golden post-war era.
At first the ‘golden era’ artists were little more than a nuisance to us young (I was eighteen), full-of-ourselves bookers, as we sought to find college gigs for Sassafras and Keith Christmas, but eventually, it became part of the daily routine to find Miki & Griff, or Los Aquanitos (a pair of comedy acrobats – two words not often combined these days) puffing their way up the stairs to check, usually in vain, if any work had come in for them.
These older acts were generally from an age before the widespread use of telephones and so it had become their habit to drop in, rather than phone in. In some cases, I think it gave them somewhere to go after lunch.
“A member of Graham Central Station swapped tour stories with Yootha Joyce.”
One of the more agreeable aspects of the take-over meant that we inherited the part of the business that looked after acts coming over from America, to tour the UK. So whilst one of the Doobie Brothers was in asking where they could find a music store to buy new guitar strings, or Tower of Power’s horn section arrived to drop off their passports, they more often than not shared office space with Terry Hall (No – not that one!) and Lenny The Lion, or Frank Strong (who had “You Can Never Go Wrong With A Smile And A Song” printed on his 10”x8” promotional photos). This usually led to some bewildering, yet fascinating conversations, as a member of Graham Central Station swapped tour stories with Yootha Joyce.
Burnt into my memory from those days is my favourite ex music hall act, Hilda and Her Performing Poodles (all ten of them).
Hilda would come in and visit us, at least once each week, usually with a handful of poodles simpering along for the pleasure. By this time, Hilda must have been in her seventies, and most of her poodles were probably of similar vintage in dog years. We never had any bookings for her.
“Nothing prepared us for the spectacle of that lunchtime matinee.”
Hilda was very kind hearted, yet persistent that I should come along and see her act, so eventually, I agreed that I would turn up at one of her ‘concerts’ at what, in those days, used to be called old folks’ homes.
For moral support, I took along Wilf, UFO’s legendary roadie, and a passing member of Ducks Deluxe. I doubt they have forgiven me to this day.
Nothing prepared us for the spectacle of that lunchtime matinee.
Hilda wore a pink tutu, and so did each of her ten poodles. During what felt like a lifetime, but was probably thirty minutes, Hilda coaxed her reluctant pooches to jump over various obstacles and leap through hoops, which were placed at a less than death-defying three inches off the ground.
“Allez-oop” she would cry repeatedly (and I do mean repeatedly) each and every time a poodle could be arsed to stumble through the pink-ribboned hoops. The audience of about fifteen elderly residents were becoming rather weary at the obligation to give a round of applause at each ‘allez-oop’. They had the appearance of a group of people who were of the one thought – that they were missing Crown Court and Out of Town with Jack Hargreaves for this.
Happily for all parties we reached the big finale. Hilda’s disinclined poodles formed a circle around her, and each had their front paws on the hind of the poodle in front. They began to ‘dance’ in this sort of ‘circle of doom’ formation. Whether they had decided amongst themselves to put on a special show, or whether it was the wrong time of the season, I’m not sure, but this front paws on the hind of the poodle in front business, led to some rather vigorous friskiness and attempts at romance between several of the canine participants.
As Hilda hustled her charges out of the room, incontinence then became a factor. Not for the residents, but for the now over-excited poodles, some of whom clearly felt that peeing against chair legs was to be their encore.
After a considerable fuss, Hilda led her poodles into her Mini Clubman Estate.
I imagine it unlikely that she received a repeat booking. I thought it was time I moved to Chrysalis.
Spotify Poodle Playlist to accompany this article.