Lanning meets Max Bygraves, talent spotter


Dave Lanning meets the host of Granada’s ‘New Faces’ in 1967

YOU jet 10,000 miles to Dallas, Texas, for a 63-minute cabaret spot, just to keep the Union Jack waving; return to compere The London Palladium Show.

From the TVTimes for 4-10 November 1967

Then you prepare to spend a five-month summer season, 200 miles from home, in Babbacombe, Devon, launching new talent, cheerfully expecting to end up out of pocket.

That, as they say, is show business!

It is, anyway, for Max Bygraves. Who on Tuesday is in Max Bygraves Introduces New Faces. And today we meet in his business office, amid a tape recorder, television set, piano, and a £175 antique clock, light and airy above London’s Leicester Square.

But there’s much more to this particular show than just another compering job for Max, who has 17 Royal Variety performances behind him.

“I am genuinely interested in sponsoring new acts,” he says, earnestly. “And I believe in doing something practical about it. Next summer I am opening the 600-seater Babbacombe Theatre, near Torquay, for a five-month season, starting in May.

“The plan is simply to give new acts the opportunity to appear — regularly — before audiences. I’m expecting to run at a loss, but it’s a job worth doing, anyway.

“There’s no shortage of show business talent these days; but there is a shortage of audiences. Television is good exposure, but it doesn’t give a new act, struggling for experience and expertise, a great chance to appreciate an audience. Clubs… some of those club audiences are soul-destroying, even to a hardened pro.

“Newcomers need regular audiences. To learn about timing. And that’s what we hope to give them at Babbacombe.“

Max is of the old show business school; inclined to wear his heart on his sleeve and certainly not ashamed of it He

believes show business is a glamorous business; that audiences want to see performers well dressed, with neat haircuts.

He doesn’t go along with the contemporary scruffy image that certain fields of entertainment have adopted. Tuesday’s show will sparkle, be sure of that.

But what has all this to do with Tuesday’s show?

Max explains: “I heard that light entertainment producer John Hamp had launched a drive to find new talent in the North. So I contacted him with the idea of giving his most promising find a spot — if they wanted it — at Babbacombe.

“We met, talked and somehow ended up agreeing to do Max Bygraves Introduces New Faces. The acts will be impressive, believe me: a group from South Wales called The Amen Corner, who have already made an impact on the charts with one disc. A comedian called John Paul Joans, from Halesworth, Suffolk, with a nice comic touch. I liked singer Danny Wilson, too, from Sheffield, who features a Tony Bennett approach to a number.

“There’s a light-hearted flavour to the show which appeals to me, because I still believe that, above all else, audiences want to have a good laugh. I shall be introducing Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band — and I mean, that name is enough for a giggle on its own, isn’t it? The Grumbleweeds group, too, have a comedy act.

“Believe me, I will be one of the most interested spectators, standing in the wings. I shall be talent spotting myself, and might well offer a Babbacombe booking to one of the acts.” Max has recently returned from a colourful one-night stand in Dallas, Texas, which he completed as part of British Week in Dallas.

Incredible and off-beat were his experiences:

In a state that gives up around 200,000,000 gallons of oil a day, he ended up in a hotel bed that squeaked!

He met a millionaire with a three-acre swimming pool who boasted that “there ain’t a living thing in it, either!” Max’s reply: “What did he expect — the Loch Ness Monster?”

He ate steaks so tender that he can’t work out how the steer from whence they came managed to hold together.

And he performed before a diamond-dripping audience of oil tycoons and their wives that included, surprisingly, Princess Alexandra and her husband, Mr. Angus Ogilvy.

Max in his ten-gallon hat. You buy it, then shape it to taste – but you have to get steam up to do it

He also bought a Texan ten-gallon hat, which has given him troubles he did not envisage. You buy them it appears, undented, looking exactly like the headwear popularised by Hoss Cartwright in Bonanza — remember?

Then you shape to taste. “I’ve massaged, manipulated and mollycoddled mine,” reports Max. ”I even shouted ‘banzai’ and delivered it a deadly karate chop, dead centre. It dented all right, then sprang straight back to its original shape!

“Now I think the only answer is the steam heat treatment. You know, steam it with a kettle, then mould it. It will be very handy if ever I use my horse act again.” (Max is a proficient horseman). “Do you think that might work, Dave?”

Hmmm, think I’d rather not comment. Texans might consider an attack on one of their beloved ten-gallon hats by an olde Englishe tea kettle as the greatest humiliation since The Alamo. And I wouldn’t want to upset Texas.

But, while the subject is new acts: Max, wrestling with a ten-gallon hat, armed with a steaming kettle, is one performance I’d love to see…

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