North West Productions - Market Chambers, Rochdale 1962 - 1968
A combination of A.H.Agency (Tony Hayes), R.S. Entertainments (Ray Sanderson) and S.L.Agency (Stuart Littlewood).
Groups - Reg James Explosion, Fly-B-Nites, Avengers, Bluenotes, Breakers Show Group plus numerous others.
Ray Sanderson - 25/8/09
It is 1965 and the ‘teddy boy’ and the days of ‘the small faces’ are over. Soon it will be the more sedate, hip shaking times of the ‘Liverpool Sound’ and the ‘Beatles’ styles with their collarless jackets, monk-style haircuts (without the bald patch) and for the women a chopping off of the beehive hair-do’s and half the length of their skirts or ‘pelmets’ as Arty called them.
I opted for a more sedate style of my own. At twenty years old I was a late-comer to the teddy-boy era and too old for the small faces and I certainly wasn’t going to wear a ‘Beatle’ style half a jacket. Looking at some of the Manchester lads around my own age I splurged a small fortune with my local haberdasher who ‘knew’ somebody in the ‘cloth’ trade and had an outfit tailored to my lithe measurements. I thought I looked reasonably ‘cool’ with my mock gold chain and small medallion, which brought not the merest ruffle from the city blokes but which made for some hushed comments and strange looks behind raised glasses in ower local pubs. Not that I could have cared either way, especially after the comments made about me that year in the ‘Woman’s Own’ a national magazine in which I and others in my family had featured.
‘I walked up a passageway between the shops and climbed a dingy stairway to a door marked ‘North West Productions’, Please Knock.
I’d come by appointment to meet ‘Atlas’. A pert girl in an orange-ribbed sweater and a mini-skirt asked my business. Sounds from a radio obstructed my reply.
A young man was talking on the phone with a hand, thin, clapped over one ear. He twisted his body round to acknowledge my presence. “Ah yea. It’s you. Christine. A chair.” Christine looked faintly surprised, almost as if she was wondering if they had a chair.
The young man came off the phone, tripped over his hush-puppy feet as he ushered me into his inner sanctum – an oak-panelled room with a large old fashioned desk, two large old fashioned chairs, a red phone, a green phone and a jam-jar of ball-point pens with the inscription ‘Clapped Out Pens’ stuck across it.
‘Atlas’ is one of the fourteen grandsons. He is 20. He left school at fifteen, was a butcher’s apprentice, then a Merchant Seaman and is now managing a number of ‘beat groups’. Two years ago, helped financially by his father, Atlas set up as a Theatrical Agent handling such groups as the Manchester Prowlers (incorrect), The Uptown Go-Go Band and the Candid Choir (Candy Choir and again incorrect). I heard some of the family refer to ‘Atlas’ as the Dennis Tanner of the family. But secretly they admire his pluck. They think he will do all right.
* Extract from the article featured in ‘Woman’s Own’. ‘Family of the North’.
p.s. Dennis tanner was at that time a character of the very famous soap-opera ‘Coronation Street’, then in its fifth year.
The ‘man’ from the ‘Woman’s Own’ magazine had come to town looking for a story along the lines of ‘From Cotton to the Future’ and a suitable victim and his family to facilitate his needs. Why he choose to ‘finger’ me in his scribbling I had no idea. But as can be seen from the above – finger me he did, along with a dozen other members of my immediate family. Grandma, the old man’s mother was 94 years old and made the perfect story from her work in the cotton mills long before the turn of the present century to the present day and cottons demise.
As the man said: The new offices were housed on the town’s main shopping thoroughfare on the first floor above what was known as ‘Ye Olde Indoor Market’. They comprised one large main office, one smaller and a kitchen cum W.C. and stationary cupboard. With the move from Hazy’s back room we changed the agency name and now proudly displayed a neon sign, ‘North West Productions’, Theatrical Agents, above the main office window for all the world to see.
The cost for a three colour bright red mobile sign was prohibitive and Anita, Hazy’s wife, was probably correct when she mumbled something about Soho and high class brothels. Hazy’s wife may have diminutive and platinum blonde but she had a scowl that could sour milk and a tongue that cut diamonds and regularly went to great pains to remind me her husband wasn’t single or ‘available’ – OK!
Shades of our old lady but with better curves.
And now – in addition thereto we had a new partner to boost the ranks. He went by the name of ‘Curly Stew’.
At first glance he favoured Freddie Garrity of ‘Freddie and the Dreamers’ fame, thin, a mass of curly dark hair and a pair of thick black framed glasses that stood out on either side of his pearl paste complexion and waxen cheeks. For the most part he constantly looked at death’s door, although he would always assure me he was in the peak of health.
His real name was Stuart Littlewood. He came from the small village of Delph set high up on the moors above the town of Oldham and not a cock’s stride from the infamous Saddleworth Moors. He managed a show group by the name of the ‘Breakers’. A very versatile and extremely competent band of musicians whose lead singer had a flair for visual comedy, at which he excelled.
It was again another ‘pooling’ of resources and again I provided the ‘where-with-all’ whilst Hazy and Curly Stew set to on the ‘bookings’ ably assisted by young Christine our British born of Polish parents secretary whose ample stocky thighs reminded me of a Serbian mangel-worzel picker - but more of those later.
With our new set-up it was time to branch out. Spread ower foliage over fresh pastures. Clip the grabbing talons of the big city competition whose Deansgate and Piccadilly addresses fostered so much fraudulent good-will. All it ever did in reality was add a further ten percent to the price. It certainly didn’t provide the venue with a better class of artist. The Ian Hamilton Organisation, Kennedy Street, Alan Arnison and Intermac International, big-wigs of the times.
Curly Stew decided he was going to ‘by-pass’ the city boys with their ‘split commissions’ and thumbscrew tactics. He was going straight to the top. The real big boys. London. Liverpool. New York. - Starlight. NEMS, Delfonts. None of yer crappy stuff sethay!!!
“Am doin’ only buys and sells.” he announced one bright sunny mid-afternoon as I arrived straight from the building site and was changing from my jeans to a more acceptable garb of dress. Christine plonked a mug of instant coffee down on my desk then checked to see if the door was closed.
“He’s not a happy bunny.” she said in a low voice. “Said my typin’ was crap. Miserable get.” I took a sip of the brown frothy liquid and gagged.
“If it’s owt like yer coffee he’s right.” I replied.
Christine jiggled the jar of ‘clapped out’ pens around on the desk top as if making out she was tidying up.
“O great. Two miserable buggers now.” Christine had a sign on her desk which read, ‘You don’t have to be mad to work here, but it helps’, which might not seem unusual – but written in her own blood ?
Seeing she wasn’t about to receive any sympathy from yours truly she spun heels about and disappeared back to the main office where her feeble attempts at typing awaited her. Admittedly we were then using manual Olympic typewriters manufactured during the Great War – but her indents for half a gallon of Typex per month to blot out her mistakes was pushing it. I was beginning to suspect she was taking it home and using it as white fingernail polish!
As a ‘management agency’ a small number of the ‘bands’ (we didn’t call them ‘groups’ in their professional capacity) came under our direct control. Those ‘fit for purpose’ were guaranteed bookings on a weekly basis, at least three or four ‘nights’ if they relied solely on their professional income, two or three ‘nights’ if they were semi-pro and had day-time jobs or college.
At our peak these numbered around twenty-five different bands and were charged the usual fifteen percent commissions. Alongside at ten percent commission and constantly crowding the office came another one hundred ‘groups’ ranging from ‘teeny-bobber’ outfits to ageing jazz exponents complete with Fedora hats and white goatee beards. Somewhere in the middle and considered vital due to their expertise in the music field came ‘groups’ belonging to other agencies. It was common practice to split the commissions between the ‘agents’ when dealing with this group of artists. When Curly Stew made his comment it was to these ‘outfits’ he was referring on that sultry claustrophobic afternoon.
'North West Productions'
It was felt necessary to install a number of ‘defence’ works. The first of these was the front door, a stout solid oak panelled affair complete with ten inch dead lock, spy hole and bell (that played the first eight bars of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony). The second, Christine and her ‘switch board’ and the third my own stout office door, again solid oak with a secret lock known only to the two partners and our one employee. All very necessary if one wished to have any hope of getting any work done at all.
“What’s with the buy and sell then?” I asked. Stew was seated at his desk with an over-all view down the corridor to the front door. Forewarned is forearmed. It gave him time to think up a good story or excuse for whomsoever it was advancing down the parka floor towards him. He was on the telephone. But then he was always on the telephone. He never came off it unless he needed a piss or one of the ‘ladies’ from the Manchester Telephone Exchange arrived after giving him a ‘promise’. (He was remarkably adept at soliciting himself ‘quickies’ from off duty telephonists. Whatever ‘he’ had someone should have ‘bottled’. It was worth a fortune!).
I wasn’t about to wait until he had finished his conversation. I doubted I had that many years left. They say a good salesman has the gift of the gab. In Stew’s case they must have been giving them out around Christmas time. He could have talked for England at the World Olympics.
Not that I was complaining. He rarely finished a conversation without having secured at least one good booking. Hazy had a different approach. He preferred to meet with people face to face and was consequently more often than not ‘out on the road’. This proved a ‘boon’ in the early years but he wasn’t as successful at closing deals as Stew. Which would lead eventually to problems or ‘trouble at mill’ as we say up here.
“I’ve bought the ‘Factotums’ for sixteen spots at twenty quid a throw -.” he threw out at me whilst temporarily blocking the receiver with his hand - , “And -?” I replied. He grinned and made a series of funny faces in my direction whilst continuing his conversation with whomsoever he was talking to one the other end of the telephone.
“Thirty five quid. Three half hour spots. Two Friday nights in June. Can’t be bad. Cheaper than dodgy nine pound notes. And they’s brilliant.” he exclaimed loudly to the unseen caller. “And it’s a good deal. Th’only one I’m givin’ out today.” he added looking up at me expectantly.
I gave up. Totally pointless trying to get any sense from him when he was in full flood. I turned and went back to my office where the quarterly telephone bill was burning holes through my bank statement folder. The intercom went. Christine’s nasal tones drifted along the wire followed by the echo of her words a nano-second later along the corridor.
“There’s a bloke on. Says he knows yer.”
“What’s his name?”
“Hettie? – That’s a woman’s name?”
“I know it’s a woman’s name. But it sounds like a bloke!”
“I don’t know any women that sound like blokes?”
“I’m only a bloody secretary. Not a gender specialist. I am tryin’.”
You can say that again. I didn’t say the words but it was difficult sometimes. I didn’t consider myself to be a very complicated person. But there was times when - - . Oh well – never mind - .
Extracts from the 'Ower Darkling' series of books.
Only recently put to publishers and awaiting interested parties.