By Al Samujh
In a long and varied career Carl Gresham has been an Actor, Presenter, Newspaper Columnist, Musicologist and Broadcaster.
In the 1960s an inspired decision lead to him forming Greshstyle Personal Appearances, a specialist Agency which promoted and managed guest appearances by many of the big stars of the day. By the 1970s Carl’s client list was a veritable Who’s Who of the showbiz world of the period.
Recently Carl generously gave up his time to chat to me about those days and, more particularly, working with one of his top stars, Mr. PETER WYNGARDE
AS: Carl, thanks very much for agreeing to this interview for PETER’s Facebook page. I’ve read your book from cover to cover- it certainly is a fascinating story.
CG: It’s my pleasure, because Tina’s been lovely- she’s been so helpful and she’s been so chuffed about the bits and pieces that I passed on to her. She really is a lovely darling. My association with PETER goes back an awful long way you know. I don’t know how much you know about PETER. I’m sure you know an awful lot though.
AS: I know a fair bit, but Tina’s the expert! (Laughs)
CG: Fantastic! Right, shall we get started Sir?
AS: Yes. Long before your association with PETER, can I ask how did you get hooked into showbiz?
CG: I wanted to be in show business! What I did was I applied for all sorts of things. I got onto Granada Television’s list, for extras roles. I thought that could be a bit of fun- I’m not really interested in being an ‘ac-tor’. But the very first day I was in Coronation Street I met all these lovely people and I got chatting away with them. I became very friendly with Pat Phoenix- you know, ‘Elsie Tanner’? She said, “I’m going on a PA tonight Carl and if you want to come with us you can, ‘cause you’re staying over aren’t you?” I said, “Yes, fair enough.” I remember that this was a Friday night, lashing with rain, and we’re going to a bingo club in Blackburn or Bury or somewhere with a B in it. People were just piling into her. I’m saying to her, “What the heck’s going on here Pat? Why isn’t there someone to guard you?” “Oh no…” she said. I asked about her Agent, “What did he do- just take your commission?” She said, “Yeah,” so I said, “You mean he didn’t turn up and look after you or anything?” and she said, “No”
On my second day I’m doing my Corrie scenes and she’s talking to me. I’m saying, “I think its awful Patricia. I don’t know! I’m thinking of going into showbiz on the theatrical side as an Agent- not as an actor.” And she said, “If you ever do love I’m your first client!” And of course once you get Pat Phoenix online they all come. They all want to be part of the deal. I did get asked by her Agent to lay off his client. I said,” Well you know, you ought to talk to your client. What I’m doing is- I’m not taking these people away from you- I’m offering them a service that you don’t do because you’re lazy!” (Laughs) So I’m either gonna die here or whatever…but it sort of developed because then what happened was I saw an advert in The Stage newspaper- they’re making a film in Bradford called ‘Billy Liar’, and it starred Tom Courtenay.
They wanted a stand-in. What they wanted to do was to use somebody locally because in that way they wouldn’t have to pay any expenses for food and hotels. It wasn’t an awful lot of money but I thought it could be quite fun. So the first day I get there to the hotel, which is next door to the railway station, and there’s a guy there called Peter Holdsworth who was a showbiz columnist. He was very good to me when I started. He wrote me up, “He was in Coronation Street last night” when I’d just stood at the bar and said, “Mrs. Walker can I have a pint of your best?” He said, “You were really good though Carl.” And I said, “Oh thank you.”
Anyway he was very nice you see, so I told him that I’d got this job with Tom Courtenay. I’m sat down with Tom, having a cup of tea, and PETER comes in with the camera and takes a few pictures. As he’s walking away Courtenay says to me, “What’s all that about then?” I reply,” It’s just the local press doing a little story about the fact that I’ve quit my job, I’ve got into Corrie and I’ve come in here to do a stand-in job.” He says, “Just a minute, I’m the star the film!” I told him it’s like only a case of ‘local boy makes good’. I said, “No, no, no – you’ve got it wrong there young sir” He said, “Put it this way Carl- if that article appears, you’re sacked!” It did and I was! (Laughs)
An original press photo’ taken at one of Carl Gresham’s events. Here, PETER is seen with 17-year-old Jean Anderson, who he met while opening a new Woolworth store at the Arndale Centre in Luton, Bedfordshire, on November 8th, 1971.
AS: After the first Elsie Tanner thing- the PA- how quickly did you get into that side of things?
CG: Well I started the agency up straight away really, because I knew various bingo club people and I used to say to them, “Look, I can get you Pat Phoenix.” “What? Can you?” “Oh yeah, yes, I can- but it’s got to be organised.” And I would go and arrange it and it would be like a military operation; the same with PETER WYNGARDE. It was all done ‘The Gresh Way’- there was no other way of doing it than that, frankly. I’d done a couple of things at Caton Bay Holiday Camp after the owner had seen one of the other other PAs we’d done. He asked, “I’m just thinking Carl- could we have celebs at the camp?” I said, “Well you could, but the problem I’ve got with people- certainly people in Corrie – is they don’t know from one week to the next if they’re working the next week. So I can’t say to you they will come next week or the week after, but I can guarantee I’ll get you ‘A Coronation Street Star’ at some time and they’ll appear, and do whatever. I could plan it and one would say I can’t do it next week, and another one would say, “I’ll do Pat’s as she on this week- she can’t go”
It was a fantastic success and there happened to be a young lady there with her parents and her Dad was an area manager for Woolworths. He told his boss in London, “Have you seen this thing? Look I’ve got the brochure here.” He said, “We’re thinking what we’re going to do about all these refurbishments here.” They were going to refurbish every single Woolworths in England, Ireland, Scotland & Wales. And he said, “I’m just wondering…” And the guy, who was an absolutely wonderful gentleman, Mike Sherlock, Chief Executive of Woolworths Europe Inc.
He worked from Marylebone High Street, which was then Woolworth’s European HQ. He got his secretary to ring me and arrange a meeting. Now I’m a lad from Bradford thinking, you know, I’ve got a lot of people on my books now. I didn’t have Eric & Ernie by then but I’d got all the Corrie people and I’d got people from Crossroads, It was all ticking over very nicely. He explained what he wanted to do and I said, “That’s fine. The only thing I have to tell you is that I’ll do everything. I’ll do all you advertising for you, I’ll do the posters for you,” I said, “We put in the compere- we do the entire thing at a price. All you have to worry about is paying me.” And he said, Well that sounds good to me Carl quite frankly.” And I mean I’m going back a long, long time.
AS: I see that everything – the whole package – is fully endorsed with the Gresh name.
CG: Absolutely. And what I would do is- in the case of somebody like PETER, living in London- I would send a car- a private taxi – to his home. He’d be taken to the airport, or Kings Cross if he was, say, going to Leeds. He’d get a First Class rail ticket- and be staying overnight in a First Class hotel. When he got there I would meet him, and take him round.
The chap from Woolworths said to his Secretary “Can you go and get me that cheque for Mr. Gresham? What is it? G-R-E-S-H-A-M?” I said, “Yes.” Now I’m going back to the late 60s-early 70s- a very long time ago- and he gave me a cheque for £500! He said, “Now will that get us going?” I said, “Well you’ve not bought anybody.” And he said, “No, well we’re going to be booking people, you see.” He said, “You let me know whatever else you want.”
That was the way we did the business- I worked it out what I wanted; sometimes I made a mistake and I didn’t make as much. It didn’t matter- the next time I pulled it back so it was OK. What I found out what happened- particularly with Woolworths- was that the Area Managers’ wives decided whom they wanted to meet. So they’d say I want to meet Eric & Ernie- well Eric & Ernie weren’t available… I want to meet Hughie Green- well Hughie was one of mine, so he could do that. They wanted to meet PETER WYNGARDE; he was one of mine so we could probably do that.
I mean PETER, after Eric & Ernie, was the most popular person in Britain on my books, everyone wanted to meet PETER WYNGARDE. He couldn’t possibly do all of them. And so I would arrange to go with my compere- who was a wonderful man called Garth Cawood- wonderful guy. We would meet at the store- at Woolworths- 4 o’clock the day before, for the rehearsal. And we did a proper rehearsal like you’d do in a theatre- right, we’ll go down there and we’ll do this… And if you remember the old Woolworths they had these long aisles- 3 or 4 aisles. The middle aisle was usually completely blocked off. You could have people in the other aisles but not in the middle aisle, which was called ‘The Gresh Way’. Then PETER would walk down there, shake hands with people if he wanted to do, which was entirely up to him. Then when he got to the end I made sure there was a door at the back of us, if there was an emergency, get out. It would probably go to a stock room but it didn’t matter. We rarely ever needed that. The audience got the Greshpics, and the PETER would be there for one hour and then go upstairs and talk to the people in the Management Office for about another half hour or so.
Now what happened here was when we did the Arndale Centres it was too dangerous. What happened was people- particularly liking PETER– they would come and stay the night. They never knew which hotel we were in; sometimes they were lucky- sometimes they were not. Sometimes PETER would say, “I’ll just have my dinner in my room love.” That’s fine- it worked for him anyway. They found out that we never came out of the store’s front entrance or went into the store that way. We were like Cinderella- as soon as we’d done the PA we disappeared and no one knew where.
They suddenly cottoned on to where we were and if it was an Arndale Centre, of course, we could go inside the Arndale Centre downstairs, and drive into the delivery area in the loading bays. Of course nobody was allowed in there because there were literally huge lorries- huge juggernauts, massive things, delivering. We had our car; we could take our car in but they wouldn’t let pedestrians in. It was too dangerous, far too dangerous. So they’d stand outside and wait for PETER as we came out.
But, to go back, if it was in a store in a town and it wasn’t an Arndale Centre, that was a little bit of a problem because they got to know that we left by the loading bay. And even though it was a much smaller loading bay it could have been dangerous if they weren’t careful. So the guy would have to say, “Look he’s gone,” “No that’s MR. WYNGARDE’S car- we know it’s Mr. Wyngarde’s car.” “Well yes, but he’s left- he’s gone. He’s got a taxi and gone.” Although we know he hasn’t gone (laughs). I have to say they were very good. PETER was also extremely good with them, you know. He didn’t mind- he had a job to do and he was very, very happy to do the job. So anyway, we’d get there at 4 o’clock. My compere Garth would set up all his own equipment- his microphone, his speakers and everything, just outside the front door. No when you’ve got 5000 screaming women at you, you know, it’s a big novelty! (Laughs).
AS: So when you did the rehearsal that would be just you and your team- it wouldn’t be PETER or whoever?
CG: No, no, no – that’s correct. PETER was nowhere near. It was myself and the executives of Woolworths, and I’d say, “We’ll put PETER there.” You’d get the odd manager at the stores; the clever clogs who thought he knew what he was going to do. And the Area Manager would ask, “You OK Carl?” And I’d say, “Yes it’s OK but I think we’ll…” and he’d say, “What’s the problem? We’ll do whatever you say.” And it would suddenly dawn on him what this little manager chap wants to do and he (the manager) said, “Well I thought we’d do it this way…” And the Area Manager would say, “No- we do what Mr. Gresham says. Mr. Gresham dictates what’s going on here- nobody else. He does these all the time for us you know.”
Well the Woolworths Manager’s worked in the store all his life and it’s the first time he’s met a celebrity and he thinks we’d do it his way, which wouldn’t be the right way. We would dictate what we were going to do. Then when PETER would arrive he’d be telling me what train he’d catch because I’d got the tickets for him I knew which bloody train he’d catch! I’d send Garth, or I’d go myself, and we’d collect him from the station, bring him back in a hired car to his hotel and go to his room.
Nine times out of 10 he would have dinner with the management. Now and again he’d say, “I’m a bit tired love, can you explain?” Not a problem- you have to have what you like. And of course there were times when these girls had got in- somebody would say he’d be in the hotel and he wasn’t there, and they would wonder. I would say, “He doesn’t stay here you know, love…” (Laughs) and they’d say, “What?” and I’d say, “I don’t know who told you PETER stays here. He’s been in to say hello, but he’s out in the sticks, in some very nice little inn somewhere…” and make some name up. I’ve got visions of these women turning up at these pubs and saying, “Have you got PETER WYNGARDE here?” (Laughs)
AS: Did any of the girls ever catch you out on that one and did they actually get to PETER?
CG: No, no, no…they caught me out in as much as if they were going to wait in the loading bay area for us to leave, because they would know we were leaving; they’d smile. But they were always very polite because they met him and they did all the fan thing. One particular story…all the Woolies Area Managers- they were really super people. They’d been told by their Head Office to do what they were told. Anything Mr. Gresham wanted, they got for us. They were fine about that because it worked for them.
They had one guy, a lovely guy; he ran the Mansfield and surrounding area. His wife had met Larry Grayson, his wife had met Hughie Green and his wife had met PETER WYNGARDE in the different stores. He rang me and he said, “Carl, I’ve got the list for the new store in ‘blah blah’. I said, “Oh yes?” And he said, “I hope it will be OK, but can I change something?” I said, “Well, what’s the problem?” He said, Well the wife’s met all these people and it’s my turn now. Can you get me Anne Aston?” (Laughs) You remember her in ‘The Golden Shot?’
AS: Yes, I remember Anne.
CG: And that’s what I did! He said, “The wife’s had 3- let me have bloody one!” (Laughs) And that’s only one. He said, “Can we have Elsie Tanner?” I said, “Sure, of course you can, all being well. The guys would say that the wives had met PETER WYNGARDE, they’d met Hughie Green, they’d met the people from Emmerdale and Corrie and now I’d like a chance of a visit from one of the ladies please. When I told Anne Aston all this she started laughing. She was very, very good with them. They were all very good. The only one we ever had a problem with was Simon Dee. Not only did he not turn up for a PA, after a lot of careful arrangements had been set in place, but he also sent a rather uncomplimentary Telegram (on the day) to explain his absence! Mind you, Woolworths didn’t care in the end because the story got so much press coverage. They said, “You know, we’ve had so much publicity. We’ve had every newspaper in the country saying Simon Dee didn’t turn up because he was a pain!” (Laughs)
AS: What an idiot!
CG: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I never spoke to his Agent again. He had somebody else he wanted me to use. I said, “I’m not interested. You knew all that was going on- you could have told me. I could have got somebody else in. I could have got Morecambe & Wise…” I couldn’t have got Morecambe & Wise but I told him I could, “I could have got Hughie Green. I could have got anybody I wanted, not letting these people down. What you did was totally unforgivable, so I would never use you and don’t bother ringing me again!” He never did. He never had anyone that I wanted anyway, because I’d got my core Artistes. Tony Blackburn came or any of the other DJs came. We used to use DLT a lot. What a nice guy. I’m so sad about all the trouble he’s going through lately.
In the main it ran like clockwork. I had a very small staff; I had a PA and some people working in the office, the bookers and some others. We were having lunch the one day and I said, “You know, this is all wonderful,” I said, “we’re going all over the country, escorting all these big stars. We’re meeting all the people, they’re ringing in saying, ‘Can you put me on your books?’ It’s all lovely, but one day it will all go belly up.” They said, “No, no it won’t.” I replied, “I’m telling you now- not today, not tomorrow, you know. We’ll be alright for a while. We may get away with it for a year, we may even get two years.” We got about four years out of it then it started to get very slow. Then the inevitable happened and we began, sadly, to lose some of these wonderful performers as time took its toll.