Friday, 6 January 2012
Hughie's Right Wing Rants
To start the ball rolling today I bring you both sides of a 45 which helped to destroy one of the most successful television careers of all time.
One of the biggest stars of 50s, 60s and 70s British TV, Hughie Green is best remembered these days for having illegitimately fathered the late TV presenter Paula Yates and for his fiery temper, which reared its ugly head every time someone dared to criticise him or his work.
Born in London in 1920 to a Scottish father and English mother, by the age of 14 the prodigious young Hughie had his own BBC radio show and toured extensively with his own all-children concert party Hughie Green and his Gang. Within a year he had appeared in his first film, Midshipman Easy, and was the highest paid child star in the UK. However Britain couldn’t contain him: soon he was off to the States, appearing in Hollywood films including Tom Brown's School Days and Master of Lassie (AKA Hills of Home), in a night club act at the famous Cocoanut Grove and had toured Canada with his cabaret act.
Canada looms large in Hughie’s legend: he fathered his first illegitimate child (a boy called Barry) with a Canadian usherette at the age of 17 (the loose limbed lothario is credited with at least five other illegitimate children as well as a boy and a girl by his first wife) and served as a pilot in the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War II. He eventually married Montreal-born Claire Wilson and took Canadian citizenship, working in the aircraft industry before returning to London.
TV fame soon followed: over the course of the next few decades Hughie fronted a selection of Britain’s favourite TV shows, including Double Your Money, The Sky's the Limit and the talent show which his name will always be associated with, Opportunity Knocks: his memorial, in Golders Green crematorium, reads ‘You were the star that made opportunity knock. You will never be forgotten’.
Opportunity Knocks was the first big talent show on British TV – a monster of a programme which regularly brought in three times the number of viewers shows like the X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent achieve today. Opportunity Knocks, which began as a radio show in the 1940s before transferring to TV, ‘discovered’ Les Dawson, Lena Zavaroni, Pam Ayres, Paul Daniels, Royston Vasey (AKA Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown) and Mary Hopkin among dozens of others. However viewing figures, and Green’s standing with his production team, started to wane, especially when Hughie, already known for his right-wing leanings, began pushing his political views on his teatime audience.
In December 1976, at the end of an episode of Opportunity Knocks, Green ‘sang’ a bizarre rant about the state of the United Kingdom. Called Stand Up and Be Counted, the words to the ‘song’ were brought up on the screen during its performance, just to make sure that everybody watching got the message. Stand Up and Be Counted was released as a single by Philips in 1977 (backed with a grotesque rewrite of Land of Hope and Glory that was originally planned for a 1975 broadcast) with the distinctly patriotic catalogue number GB1 - the assumption here is that GB stands for Great Britain, rather than Green's Bollocks.
This wasn’t Hughie’s first attempt to crack the pop charts, he released several singles during the 60s and 70s including That’s Entertainment (EMI 1974), The Puppet Song (Decca 1961) and Cuddle Up Baby (Columbia 1966). Viewed by many as in support of Conservative Party leader Margaret Thatcher, Hughie was disciplined by Thames Television over his performance of Stand Up and Be Counted, but he continued to make political comments. After numerous viewer complaints, Thames axed the show in March 1978.
It’s odd, in hindsight, that Thames took this view. This is the same company which had made the white versus black race comedy Love Thy Neighbour – which screened its final episode less than a year before Hughie’s on-screen rant. The ITV network, of which Thames were part, produced a slew of offensive, race-based ‘comedies’, including Mind Your Language, Mixed Blessings and Curry and Chips, featuring a blacked-up Spike Milligan. It’s much more likely that they were exasperated with Hughie’s insistence that he was bigger than the show he devised.
Hughie spent his last years in relative obscurity, drinking heavily and taking increasingly larger doses of barbiturates. It wasn’t until his funeral in 1997 that it was revealed – by a reporter and former friend – that he was the real father of Paula Yates, a fact the poor woman was unaware of until she herself read it in the News of the World. Until then she had been convinced that her real father was Jess Yates, popularly known as ‘the Bishop’, who presented the ITV religious programme Stars On Sunday and who had produced Green in The Sky’s the Limit and Opportunity Knocks. Jess Yates was fired from his job in 1974 because scandalous stories began appearing in the newspapers about his private life, specifically over an affair with the actress Anita Kay. The source of these stories was Hughie Green, who fed them to journalist Noel Botham - the same reporter who later revealed Paula’s true parentage.
So here, for your delectation, we present both sides of Hughie Green’s appalling 1977 45 Stand Up and Be Counted/Land of Hope and Glory. Enjoy (if you can).
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