you see him on TV. You see him at a one night stand. You buy the records. You play him on the juke box. You buy the fan mags.; have dozens of pics. You like his kind of music; the way he gets a number across. You admire the way he’s got to the top. And then comes this book: a complete book about this kid, the frankest close up, the secret life, the truth, candid self-portrait. Now let’s face it, a book is something different. Stiff covers count. A book gets into the National Bibliography. We expect so much more either about his real life, or his work, or how he got established. We expect a lot from a book.
Right then, take the first: Tommy Steele by John Kennedy. There he is, the tousled haired kid going like mad in the “21’s” and Kennedy sees him, and the thing has started. Kennedy gets an idea: make Rock all respectable and take it away from connections with nasty teddy-boys, and it’s in. Kennedy tells his lies to get this across and the gamble comes off. Steele makes money as a teenage idol, and then breaks into Vaudeville, Panto, Pier, Movies. What’s he like, really like? The book tells us. He likes his Mum. Prefers ordinary people to Toffs. Reads George Orwell. What about the fans? They put him on top. They are great. What about the art, the method, the beat, the rock? It’s our kind of music.
“They (the kids in this country) need someone like Tommy to fall in love with. They need the boy next door. He’s just like any normal, healthy, 21-year-old.” He is glad to have made the grade as well as the Yanks. He is proud to have been presented to the British Royal Family. “But whatever happens, it’s been quite a ball.” And what of the fans, those who saw themselves as the cats against the squares; the new sounds; the emancipation of the younger generation? Mr. Steele is now an accomplished all round entertainer and John Kennedy started it—let us make it nice and respectable. But it was the 1950’s and the whole thing had only just begun.
And so we expect more from the dedicated Rock man, of 1960. It’s Great To Be Young by Cliff Richard. Yes, it comes all through the book. Richard believes in what he is doing. He is dedicated to the music. And Richard is top because he’s the best of the heavily plugged rock boys. Now, he writes this book himself. Does he tell us about the music, the shows, his way of getting across? Remember this is a book, not a fan magazine. No, he doesn’t. He has taken in the blurb and got taken over by the fans. The book is dedicated to them. He tells us the same story. He likes his Mum. He feels the same as ordinary people. Being a star is a responsibility, but he enjoys the fame. He has the highest of moral codes. “I don’t mind betting that if I could get to Moscow we’d soon be having those Russian kids doing the ‘hand-jive’ . . . If he hadn’t been the Duke of Edinburgh; if he’d decided to be a ‘pop singer’ folks like Elvis and I would have been also-rans.” Mr. Richard, I think you underestimate yourself. And of course he is proud that he’s the number one for Britain over the American Elvis. Yes, let us all wave our little Union Jacks and take a toast in coke to the highest of moral codes and to all those ordinary people who made the book possible and have taken over, mind and soul, the biggest pop star of the early 60’s. And this is a pity because he is dedicated to the music, he’s good at getting it across, and he has all the looks to go with it. About this, the things he believes in, he tells us only a little. The rest is blurb. He doesn’t want us to think of him as a man, or a singer, but he wants us to wave our little flags and be nice and polite and shout hooray, hurrah, he’s just an ordinary chap. Even if you believed these ordinary chaps existed, you wouldn’t think of him as being one.
Poor Me by Adam Faith. This as a book, I think, is the best of the three. There’s no dedication to agents or fans. He tells us of a love affair (a nice one). That the Queen Mother impressed him, and let’s face it who wouldn’t be impressed. But the Union Jack line stops at respect, and being properly impressed. The interview with John Freeman on Face to Face gets recorded as it took place. It’s alright. It’s almost sharp. He’s still got his old mates down at Acton, as friends and he talks about them. But there isn’t the dedication to the music that puts Richard at the top, or the all round Commoner loved by the Lords that Kennedy thought up for Steele. Faith talks about his struggle to get established but he doesn’t seem to have the
Jack Good to Adam Faith: “I’ll build you up as Britain’s singing James Dean. You know. The black leather jacket lark . . .” Anyone who has seen “Beatgirl” can see the mess this made. Faith admits he was wrong to take Jack Good’s idea all in, but Faith hasn’t come through with anything more incisive.
Three books from our home grown cuddly boys. Steele with the working-class, isn’t-he-nice line that went out as the 60’s came in. Richard with the photogenic quality for our decade. And Faith in the dream boy stakes as an also ran. But the story in each case is roughly the same. Ordinary kid—along comes The Man—ordinary kid becomes a product for sale. And then they write the book, for sale. The books tell us little more than this. They wave their Union Jacks. They aren’t different from ordinary people. Steele believes in entertainment. Richard believes in Rock. About how they live, and how they work and the way they feel about this we are told almost nothing. On the capital letter stuff—Artistic Integrity—nix. On two levels, both at the same time, they seem to have been taken over. First by the fans, the ordinary people who keep them down, keep them doing Pops, keep them as amateur as possible. Second, by the agents who keep their image going, keep them commercial, unreal, glamourised, nice, respectable, conventional. Of course they are breaking out of this, and Richard is an improvement on Steele but in all three books the blurb takes over from the kid and the artist.