Real Audio: Unedited first take of interview with Larry Parnes for television programme.
Real Audio: Larry Parnes spoof by Peter Sellers.
Larry Parnes was the first major British rock manager, and was easily the most successful in the early rock era.
In 1956 Parnes, a London shopkeeper, became co-manager, with John Kennedy, of Kennedy's discovery, Tommy Hicks. Establishing a pattern that he was to follow consistently, Parnes renamed the singer Tommy Steele, and he became Britain's first home grown rock 'n' roll star.
The next member of the Parnes entourage was Reg Smith, who was given the name Marty Wilde. Ronald Wycherley forced himself on to Parnes' attention and other recruits included Georgie Fame, Lance Fortune, Duffy Power, Johnny Gentle, Vince Eager and Dickie Pride.
The only member of the stable to resist Parnes' renaming process was the Lincolnshire-born Cockney Joe Brown - Larry wanted him to become Elmer Twitch.
Parnes initially paid his stars a weekly wage, which was not sufficient to allow them to acquire the lifestyles that current music stars take for granted. Billy, for example, had to lower his ambitions when choosing a car, as he had too little money to insure his first choice.He graduated to a not-very-generous percentage atthe end of 1960.
Parnes perfected the concept of the package tour, in which his stable of stars toured the country in a bus, playing one-night stands at theatres wherever an audience could be packed in. The strain was extraordinary, and Billy's mother complained at least once to Parnes about the effect on her son's health. (In fairness, an acquaintance of Parnes and Billy tells me that during Billy's comebacks, when Parnes was out of the financial picture, Parnes counselled a reduced workload.)
Parnes hired The Beatles to back Johnny Gentle on a short Scottish tour in 1960, but rejected them as a backing group for Billy.
He saw the future for his artists as all-round entertainers, but his only substantial success came with Tommy Steele. Billy was forced to abandon his favoured blues-flavoured rock for big ballads, but his forté remained live performances.
Parnes' power in the business eroded with the rise of the Beatles and he died in 1989.
INTERVIEW WITH LARRY PARNES BY TONY GARDNER, PUBLISHED LATE 1970s IN TONY's THEN AND NOW MAGAZINE.
Larry Parnes introduced many acts to our stages and TV screens, some big stars, some not so big. Now he is an entrepreneur of the theatreland with many hit productions in London's West End under his belt; from Tommy Steele to the musical Chicago.
I entered show business in 1955 by way of an investment in a play called Women Of The Streets, later changed to House Of Shame. The show toured for one year. I got my money back and made 15/- profit.
Later that same year I invested and co-produced a touring play which also ran a year - to do with Frankenstein. It was meant to be a horror play. The authors were the actors. It had all the gadgets, it turned out to be the biggest comedy of all time and finally closed after touring many weeks because the authors were so serious about their work they felt humiliated and embarrassed by the fact that audiences found it to be a comedy. I got my money back and again made 15/- profit.
1956-Discovered Tommy Steele, (history of that well known).
After that there were a few other discoveries, namely Dickie Pride, Duffy Power, and Lance Fortune. All the above people I personally managed.
However, I did give their first breaks to:
Gave John Barry a big break in Blackpool shows around 1959/60 (the man who wrote all the James Bond themes).
Gave Rolf Harris two big breaks, one in rock 'n' roll touring show called Thank Your Lucky Stars in 1962 and then two summer seasons in Great Yarmouth in 1963 and 1964.
Gave Mike Yarwood his stage theatre break-summer season Great Yarmouth 1964.
I produced the first variety touring show with Marty Wilde in April 1958 and 1959. Started a series of rock 'n' roll tours which went on until 1967. Started a series of Sunday concert pop shows at Great Yarmouth Britannia Pier Pavilion in 1960.
Then from 1961 to 1967 I produced several very lavish summer season shows at two theatres in Great Yarmouth and one in Blackpool. I was the first producer to intermingle pop with the standard type of summer season show.
During 1963 (London) and 1965 (Broadway) I was associated with the musical Half A Sixpence starring Tommy Steele and persuaded David Henicker to write his first full length musical. This opened at the Cambridge in 1963 (the theatre which I later bought the lease of in 1972). The show was a great success in London and on Broadway.
In 1963 I started to work on an idea given to me for a modern pantomime based on Cinderella. I thought it would not work as such and decided it should be a full scale West End stage musical. For this I brought together David Henicker and a then unknown writer, John Taylor, to do his first full scale musical show entitled Charlie Girl. I offered it to every possible West End producer and theatre proprietor but they all turned it down, and then the late Tom Amold decided he would give me a chance to open with it at the Cambridge following Half A Sixpence in November/December 1964.
Ray Gooney had written the original book and I decided it was too farcical although excellent. Therefore I delayed the production a year and brought in Hugh and Margaret Williams to write the book and they co-operated with Ray to rewrite a ot of the comedy after they had completed the second book.
Harold Fielding then took an interest in it, liked it and presented it at the Adelphi Theatre where it opened on December 15th 1965. I was associate producer. The show ran for five years and four months.
In 1971/72 I started working on a new musical entitled London Town and got to the stage of auditions but could not find any theatre proprietor interested in taking it even though it had four star names - Lonnie Donegan, Helen Shapiro, June Brunhill and Billy Walker.
Therefore I got very frustrated about this and decided to find my own theatre, which was the Cambridge, and produce the show myself.
Therefore I opened the Cambridge Theatre with Peter Cooke and Dudley Moore in Behind The Fridge in November 1972, which was an enormous success.
Intermittently I have produced and been associate producer on several other shows and plays.
In 1974 I bought a half partnership in a company which launched two other theatres onto the map but sold out my share in 1976 through disagreement with my partner.
I have worked in conjunction with Ray Cooney many times and enjoyed working with him more than anybody else in the business as it has always been great fun. Therefore we are both jointly producing and presenting Chicago.
Chicago had wonderful reviews and is a smash hit.