Friday, 6 January 2012

Hughie's Right Wing Rants

Happy New Year everybody - and welcome to the World's Worst Records. I can't believe I'm now beginning my sixth year of blogging. I'm going to try and be a bit more on the ball this year and bring you a new track (or more) every week.

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).



16 comments:

  1. Harry The Bastard6 January 2012 at 09:06

    So, even now he can infuriate me! I'd never heard of these monstrosities until now, now I've heard them I am mentally scarred!

    Was he really that delusional?

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  2. I know - beyond nuts, isn't it? What surprises me about the track is that Hughie din't take a composor credit, even though it was very much his project.

    But he was a really odious man, shagging the wife of one of his best friends and then exposing him to the press, dropping illegitimate kids left right and centre and so on. There was a fascinating docu-drama on TV a few years ago, starring Trevor Eve as Hughie; well worth watching if its ever repeated

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  3. Excellent! I remember that record well even though I only ever heard it once. Our French teacher bought it as an ironic present for the 6th form common room. We played it. We smashed it.

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  4. Glad it brought back some good memories, Mr B. Have a potter around the rest of the blog - you might discover some other old favourites!

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  5. Good beat, though. Can dance to that.

    Hughie Green was thoroughly loathsome. I remember him once calling the BBC the "Broken Biscuit Company" to a BBC employee who was on "Opportunity Knocks" as the sponsor of an act. Even as a kid it seemed to me intended as a humiliation rather than as a bit of fun.

    That version of "Land of Hope and Glory" sort of works for me, though. All you have to do is imagine it's Tim Brooke-Taylor in his Union flag waistcoat speaking with Bill Oddie and Graeme Garden mugging rudely in the background, and you can appreciate its comic possibilities.

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  6. It's an odd, Mid-atlantic drawl he affected, influenced by his years in Canada. Smarmy, isn't it?

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  7. You left out the bit about how one mistress killed herself when he left her by pouring petrol over herself and setting herself on fire.
    This post had me spending the last hour finding out more about him...

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  8. Self-immolation? Seriously? If I had known I would have included it!

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  9. omg. Used to watch opportunity knocks as a child, I had no idea.
    I must say that your site and associated links have opened up a weird obsession with me. After Sam Sack's "yodel blues" and The Legendary Cowboy's "Whose that knockin on my door", its only a matter of time before I log on and get the message "you have 0 friends".
    Too funny :) Keep up the great work.
    NickiB

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  10. Wow. wow. It's like someone stoked up the locomotive's boiler well past its pressure cutoff, then ran it off the bridge at top speed, jumped the rails, and exploded on the way down, with a brass band & chorus merrily chanting away following it off the precipice. You've outdone yourself. Only "An Open Letter to my Teenage Son" comes close. wow. -- Windbag

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  11. Thanks Windy - coming from someone with such an exhaustive knowledge of the obscure that's a huge compliment. Incidentally, anyone in the UK should watch out for this Saturday's talent Show Story on ITV: it's due to include a clip of Hughie performing Stand Up And be Counted live on Opportunity Knocks

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  12. Ha! I saw this when it happened. I was around 13 at the time. Had no idea it had been "committed" to vinyl. We just assumed he'd flipped. I have no recollection however of the words appearing on the screen

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  13. Unfortunately he was an undiagnosed bipolar sufferer. How do I know, well I am his granddaughter and both my sister and I have inherited this disorder from him, without medication this man’s life was hell not only for those around him but also for him, think about it!!

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    Replies
    1. Hi Delia,

      Thanks for getting in touch and sharing that information. I understand from personal experience how difficult suffering with bipolar disorder (or manic depression as it would have been known in your Grandfather's day) can be for both the sufferer and for those who love them.

      I hope you and your family were not too offended by this particular post. I aim to amuse, not upset

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  14. anyone interested should consult the "constable"series of books upon which the "heartbeat"television series was based.an incident is featured involving a disguised but identifiable(but not to me.) "most popular entertainer in the country"which will most certainly never make it to the screen.in order to avoid libel,the "entertainer" is ascribed characteristics misleadingly associated with another big screen presence of the time.but there is enough to identify(though i personally have no idea who this person may be....i am far too green.),if you can spot and discount the misinformation the writer had to include to protect himself from someone who would have sued him from here to timbuctoo and back,and almost certainly won.anyone who did not live through the fifties and sixties as a popular culture addict will need to speak to some one who did. i consulted oxfam shop ladies,whom, i find ,are always up for a chat. i am reminded of the way jimmy savile had the whole nation(except me,seemingly)not only fooled, but positively fawning at his feet.there is a kind of lesson in all this,to do with the question of who is fooling us now.think on.,or as the americans say,"go figure".

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