Sixties City presents a wide-ranging series of articles on all aspects of the Sixties, penned by the creator of the iconic 60s music paper Mersey Beat
Abelson was born in his grandmother's house at 37 Devon Street, Liverpool,
on 3rd February 1928, his father was an upholsterer, his mother a seamstress.
Frankie took his surname after his Russian grandmother kept calling him
'my number vorn grandson' with her efforts to say 'one' sounding like 'vaughan'.
His grandmother had come to England from Russia at the age of 21 with her
two children, while her husband went on to live in America. Frankie was
to describe the area he was reared in as "a real Cohen and Kelly district,
a place where the Jews and the Irish have rubbed shoulders for years". Frankie
attended Harrison-Jones School and also joined the choir at Princes Road
Synagogue, although he was more interested in sport. The family were evacuated
when their home was bombed, with Frankie initially being sent to Endmoor,
near Kendall, Westmoreland, but reunited with the rest of his family in
Lancaster where he was sent to the Lancaster Boy's National School where
he was taught boxing.
It was here that Frankie developed his life-long interest in the boy's club movement and he was later to give the entire royalties from three of his hits - 'Seventeen', 'The Green Door' and 'Something In The Bank, Frank', to the movement. At the age of 14 he won a scholarship to the Lancaster School of Art where he studied for three years to gain an Art Master's degree - and he also captained the soccer eleven. After gaining his degree he was to join the Royal Army Medical Corps during his stint of National Service. On being demobbed he became a student teacher at Leeds College of Art. During a Rag Day show he performed a medley of Al Jolson numbers and was spotted by BBC producer Barney Coleham who advised him to become an entertainer. He also gave him a letter of introduction to Billy Marsh of the Bernard Delfont Agency in London.
Initially, Frankie didn't bother with it, being much more interested in art and design. Myra, one of his three sisters, introduced him to her friend Stella at the Locarno ballroom, Leeds, and the two became engaged 15 months later. At one point Frankie sang with a big band in Leeds and was offered a long-term contract, but rejected it in favour of design. When he received some money for a furniture design he decided to go to London to see if he could sell further designs in the capital. He was unsuccessful, but while there he found the letter of introduction and went to the Delfont Agency to see Billy Marsh and successfully auditioned. He was then offered a ten-minute spot at the Kingston Empire. His performance ignited the audience, he was moved to top of the bill and the theatre manager phoned Marsh to come along and see Frankie's act. As a result, he was booked as top of the bill in Manchester at a staggering £100 a week. When he began touring he was told by variety artist Hetty King to change his style of dressing, which she considered sloppy. She advised him to adopt top hat and tails, which he did. By this time Marsh had suggested that Frankie change his surname to one which had a better ring to it and Frankie remembered his Granny's favourite expression 'You are my number vorn' - and Frankie Vaughan was born.
Eager to earn enough money to get married, Frankie studied the careers of British and American artists and saw that the big stars made their names in records, television or radio. He decided to stop touring the small provincial theatres and tried to break into the recording and television market, initially without success. Despite that, he and Stella were married on 6th June 1951 and took a tiny two-roomed flat in Soho. Finally, he managed to be given an opportunity with HMV by recording with the Ken Mackintosh Orchestra on the numbers 'Strange' and 'My Sweetie Went Away'. He received a penny per record and the disc sold 8,000 copies after being plugged on Jack Jackson's 'Record Round-Up'. His next release 'No Help Wanted' was played on 'Housewives Choice' and soon several disc jockeys, including Jean Metcalfe and Sam Costa, were playing his records. As a result he was given a top-of-the-bill tour on the Moss Empires circuit, Britain's major theatre group - at a huge salary. The married couple were able to move to St John's Wood.
had been advised to keep his marriage secret with the words, "The fans won't
like it if they knew you were married. They prefer their stars to be single",
but when his son David was born in October 1953, he announced it to the
world. 1955 saw Frankie starring in 'Wildfire', a major ice show at Earls
Court, having to learn to skate and sing at the same time, singing songs
such as 'Give Me The Moonlight, Give Me the Girl'. This song, which he discovered
in a Glasgow music store and sang on stage for the first time in a top hat
borrowed from an undertaker, became Frankie's signature tune and led to
him being given the nickname 'Mr Moonlight'. He then made his film debut
in 'Ramsbottom Sings Again' which starred Liverpool comedian Arthur Askey.
Television shows and more recordings followed and Frankie was also able to utilise a lot of his spare time working on behalf of the Boys Club movement. 25th May 1956 saw the birth of his daughter, Susan, during his appearance in Blackpool and after the show he rushed down to Queen Charlotte's Hospital in London to see his newly born daughter. He then received a call from film actress Anna Neagle and director Herbert Wilcox inviting him to join a discussion on a new film they were making. Frankie told them about his early life in Liverpool and the problems youngsters had, especially those who were waiting to do their National Service. As a result Neagle and Wilcox asked him if he'd be interested in starring in a film based on his experiences. Jack Trevor Story penned the script and the film was called 'These Dangerous Years'. The character of Dave Wyman suited Frankie down to the ground and he performed several numbers in the movie, including 'These Dangerous Years', 'Cold, Cold Shower' and 'Isn't This A Lovely Evening'.
In the meantime, he had two major chart hits, 'The Green Door' and 'The Garden of Eden' and prior to the film's world premiere in Liverpool in June 1957, appeared on a tour of leading theatres and starred in the BBC TV series 'The Frankie Vaughan Show', the first time that a pop star had ever been given his own series by the BBC. To promote the film, called 'Dangerous Youth' in America, he travelled to the States and appeared on 'The Ed Sullivan Show' and 'The Perry Como Show' and was also offered starring roles in a Hollywood musical and a Broadway show.
He returned to Britain for his 'Frankie Vaughan Show' which was to open for four weeks at the Palace Theatre, London, where it broke box office records. His next film for Anna Neagle and Herbert Wilcox was 'Wonderful Things', in which he played a Gibraltar fisherman who arrives in London to seek his fortune. Frankie then returned to America to appear on 'The Big Record Show', 'The Dick Clark Show' and 'The Ed Sullivan Programme' and was immediately asked to do return engagements, although he interrupted his American trip to return to London to be presented with an award as 'Show Business Personality of the Year' by the Variety Club of Great Britain.
His next film for Neagle and Wilcox was 'The Lady Is a Square' in 1959. In 1960 he left for America to star in 'Let's Make Love' with Marilyn Monroe, during which he sang the numbers 'Hey You With The Crazy Eyes' and 'Incurably Romantic'. There were rumours that he rejected her advances, but the story is probably apocryphal. He didn't really want a Hollywood career and preferred to remain close to his family in Britain. Frankie's other films included 'Escape In The Sun' (1956), 'The Heart Of A Man' (1959) and 'The Right Approach' (1960).
|Bill Harry attended the Liverpool College of Art with Stuart Sutcliffe and John Lennon and made the arrangements for Brian Epstein to visit The Cavern, where he saw The Beatles for the first time. Bill was a member of 'The Dissenters' and the founder and editor of 'Mersey Beat', the iconic weekly music newspaper that documented the early Sixties music scene in the Liverpool area and is possibly best known for being the first periodical to feature a local band called 'The Beatles'. He has worked as a high powered publicist, doing PR for acts such as Suzi Quatro, Free, The Arrows and Hot Chocolate and has managed press campaigns for record labels such as CBS, EMI, Polydor. Bill is the critically acclaimed author of a large number of books about The Beatles and the 60s era including 'The Beatles Who's Who', 'The Best Years of the Beatles' and the Fab Four's 'Encyclopedia' series. He has appeared on 'Good Morning America' and has received a Gold Award from the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors.|
Article Bill Harry 2017 Original Graphics SixtiesCity 2017