The Amazing Radio London Adventure
Upon returning to London from Scarborough, I came upon a group that was trying to get the French owners of Radio Andorra to raise their power and broadcast in English in the evening. In hopes that an agreement could be worked out with the French, the group wanted me to set up the programming and to manage the station. I passed the information about the Andorra project along to my friend Roland Rennie who was managing director of Polydor Records. Roland suggested that I come over to Polydor and produce records for a while until the project materialised. That way, I could have some income in the interim.
Things rocked on for a time with the Andorra project while the engineers did an analysis of the possibility of getting a proper signal from Radio Andorra to England. They finally concluded that a directional signal would be necessary to obtain the most effective signal.
Producing a directional signal created a gigantic problem. Radio Andorra was located on top of a mountain high in the Pyrenees between France and Spain. The sections of the station's original antenna had been brought up the mountain by pack mules, there having been no roadway to the site. In order to place additional masts behind the main one to make the signal directional, a large section of the mountain would have had to have been blown away. The French thought this conundrum over during the summer holiday... the entire month of August... and after that, they didn't seem to remember that they had ever talked to us. To say the least, the Andorra project was a flop.
During my time at Polydor, I realised that record production was not my thing. I produced several records during my stay, one of which was released – 'Thoroughly Modern Millie' by Aimi McDonald. Aimi's record would have needed a few more sales to be a total miss. I realised then that it was one thing to detect a good record by just listening to it, but it was quite another thing to produce a good record. There was the song selection, then finding the right artist to record the song and incorporating the appropriate engineering techniques. All of these skills had to be co-ordinated to come up with a viable product. Sometimes, it would take months and even years for all these entities to come together. So my hat is off to all the record producers, especially the ones who produce one big hit after another.
Click on the ill-fated Aimi MacDonald single (right) to see the label and read the credit for 'Admiral Ben Toney'. 'Thoroughly Modern Millie is considered sufficiently collectable for entry in the Record Collector Price Guide, fetching around £6.
While I was at Polydor, a few interesting events occurred. I very often went down to the South Molten Street pub for lunch. Two of my old acquaintances, Eric Burdon and Chas Chandler of the Animals were recording nearby and I had lunch at the pub with them several times. Eric was not the same angry young man who had several years earlier come down from the north of England and who had knocked the western world off its feet with 'House of the Rising Sun' and 'We've Gotta Get Out of This Place'. He had made several trips to Haight Ashbury in San Francisco and had become a 'flower child'. It was amazing the transformation that the California sunshine had made in him. He told me he could hardly wait for his next trip to Haight Ashbury.
Enough about Eric and 'flower power'. I think we all know that it was neither the California sunshine nor something in the San Francisco water supply that put that silly smile on the faces of the flower children.
(Left) Eric, what's that silly smile on your face?
Polydor Records was located just off Oxford Street in London. Each day after work, I would walk about a mile or so to the Hilton Hotel at Hyde Park, where I would catch a taxi to Victoria Station to catch the train to Sussex where Ronagh and I had made our home. On one occasion, the rain was really peppering down, and when I got to the Hilton there wasn't a taxi in sight. This was a very usual happening in London, so I was not at all surprised.
As I stood waiting at the Hilton, I noticed only one other person waiting for a taxi. He was a well-dressed man about my own age and we struck up a conversation which lasted about 15 to 20 minutes. I noticed that this gentleman was American, and I thought I had met him sometime previously in London. We talked a bit more and I was just about to ask him where I knew him from when suddenly from out of nowhere this woman appeared and asked, "Mr. Eastward, could I have your autograph for my daughter?"Clint was very obliging and it was shortly after this that a taxi arrived and whisked him away.
I had not at that time seen any of Clint's 'spaghetti westerns', and since I had spent so much time in London, it had been a long time since I had seen Rawhide. And Clint being out of his Rowdy Yates uniform and in his business suit, threw me off completely.
(Right) Ben didn't recognise Clint Eastwood without his horse and his Rowdy Yates hat.
Editor's note: 'The Lovely' Aimi MacDonald was well-known in 1967 for her appearances with Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graham Chapman, John Cleese and Marty Feldman in the TV comedy sketch show 'At Last the 1948 Show' (Rediffusion). Also released that year was the film version of the musical 'Thoroughly Modern Millie'. Clearly, Polydor was attempting to cash-in on the popularity of both the film and the TV series. However, Ben Toney's self-confessed lack of production skills does not entirely account for the record's failure to sell. Unfortunately for The Lovely Aimi, the title song of 'Thoroughly Modern Millie' gained single release by four other artists – including the film's star Julie Andrews, whose version was destined from the outset to see off any competition.
Many thanks to Alan Hardy for unearthing the single.