It’s funny how certain dates stick in your mind. They mean something special to you but not really for anyone else. I always stop and take stock on 3rd October. The reason is that back in 1973 that was the date I signed my first recording contract with Rocket Records. The previous few weeks had been a bit of a whirlwind. I went from recording some of my songs on my dad’s old tape recorder in a small terraced house in Swansea to recording a session for John Peel on BBC Radio 1. Within weeks I had signed to the Rocket Record Company which had just been founded by the biggest pop star in the world, Elton John.
Looking back, it’s amazing how blasé I was about the whole thing. Maybe it was the innocence of youth or maybe it was how things happened back in those days. Today there are talent shows which take months to go through the auditions, then the knock out stages before announcing one winner in the Grand Final. Back in the day ‘Opportunity Knocks’ produced a winner every week. One week an unknown would be introduced to the British public by Hughie Green and when they returned as the winner of the public vote the following week they would have been offered a recording deal or a headline spot at the London Palladium.
In my mind it was only a matter of time before the gold discs started arriving in Brynhyfryd. The hits would turn into a lavish lifestyle of world tours and showbiz parties and a mansion somewhere on Gower. In fact, in my first interview with the Daily Express I happened to mention that I wanted to be a millionaire before I was 18!
Sadly, or maybe it was for the best, that part of my dream hasn’t come true, well not yet, but that whole series of events really did change my life forever.
One of the opportunities that opened up to me after signing that contract on 3rd October 1973 was the chance to work on radio. I started out being interviewed when my first single was released in 1974, it still continues some 46 years later with me presenting the Late Night Show on BBC Radio Wales. I am in no doubt, my life would have been very different without that contract.
Presenting the Late Night Show over the past few weeks has been a delight. It’s a very different radio show to most with a unique audience, in fact ‘audience’ doesn’t really do justice to the listeners and their commitment to the show. ‘The Garden’ was a club founded by Chris Needs, a club open to all where people have found a safe place to share and know they wouldn’t be judged. Over the years some great friendships have been established between people who have only ever met over the airwaves. In these difficult Corona Virus, lockdown days never has the Garden been needed more than now.
Everyone is welcome to ring in for a chat. We have our regulars and occasionally we have a celebrity guest. Over the past few weeks, a number of the star guests initially found their success on ‘Opportunity Knocks’. Berni Flint the singing milkman who topped the charts, Neath’s Lloyd Davies who won as one half of Rosser and Davies who went onto the Royal Variety Show.
Winning the show led to them becoming overnight sensations with all of the record deals and TV Show specials you would expect, but for me, their biggest success was that some 40 years later they were still working and loving what they were doing.
Take for example Johnny Tudor. Johnny came from a showbiz family. His dad was a piano player and his mum was a dancer. As a teenager he joined his father’s concert party, earning 30 bob a week, but more importantly learning how to work an audience. By the time he appeared on ‘Opportunity Knocks’ in1969 he was a seasoned professional. After winning the show for 4 consecutive weeks Johnny found himself with a record contract and offers to sing and dance all over Europe.
I’ve been a fan of Johnny’s for many years keeping up with his schedule by following him on social media. Once our world and the entertainment industry went into lockdown many performers were faced with the choice of either sitting down and riding out the storm or just keep working and trying to entertain from home.
Johnny has set up a little rehearsal stage in his garage and over the past few months he’s been publishing various dance performances. It was when he posted a picture of a letter form the wife of Hollywood actor Ernest Borgnine saying how much they had both enjoyed seeing Johnny perform that I thought it would be good to get Johnny on the Late Night radio show once a week to share some of his showbiz stories.
We found some big Hollywood music to introduce him and every week he tells stories about working with various stars. The first week Johnny talked about his time working with Welsh singer and entertainment legend Dorothy Squires. Dorothy knew Johnny’s dad Bert from the early days back in Wales and when she bumped into Johnny and Bert walking down a road in London it wasn’t long before Johnny found himself drinking champagne with Dot and her then husband Roger Moore and being invited to perform with Dot at the London Palladium.
Last Wednesday Johnny told some stories about Frankie Vaughan. As a kid Johnny had performed a Frankie Vaughan tribute act and years later would put a Theatre show together based on Frankie’s life. Of course, I loved hearing the rumour after starring in a Blockbuster film with Marilyn Monroe Frankie never worked in Hollywood again because his wife didn’t like how much attention Marilyn gave her husband, but it’s the behind the scenes stories I really love. Stories like how years later Johnny and Frankie were on a tour in Africa. Johnny used to pinch himself seeing his idol minding Johnny’s bags so he could go shopping for duty free. Or the story where Frankie asked Johnny to join him in first class on a flight home to the UK and paid for his ticket.
During the chat about Frankie, Johnny mentioned he had met up with Frankie while he was in a production with Barbara Windsor…Barbara Windsor I said??? I’ve got a feeling it will be a very long time before we run out of stories from Mr Showbiz, the King of Tap Johnny Tudor.
And maybe that’s what I will think about today. Maybe signing my record deal 47 years ago today didn’t turn out exactly how I imagined. Maybe winning Opportunity Knocks didn’t fulfill all of Johnny’s dreams, but one thing is for sure, we both have some great stories to tell about life on the road.
The other thing Johnny is still just as excited about what he does as when he started, so, if you tune into the late show on BBC Radio Wales any Wednesday evening after 10pm Johnny will still entertain you exactly the same way he’s done all his life.