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.
AS: To wind things back a bit, how did you first become aware of PETER WYNGARDE?
CG: Right. By the time I met PETER I’d been known for using big name celebrities and I was at the Dorchester Hotel with two of my friends. Pete Murray was one of them. He had a show called Open House, where he invited guests onto the radio in the morning. He was very, very nice indeed. There was another guy with us, a friend of mine called Engelbert Humperdinck. I didn’t work with him, I just knew him. I’d worked with Peter (Murray) and he said, “Oh look, there’s PETER WYNGARDE over there, speak to him…you never know.” I said, “Oh he wouldn’t want to work with me…,” and Peter (Murray) said, “I dunno. PETER– come over here!” and he introduced me.
PETER said, “Hello, I’ve heard a lot about you Carl.” I said, “Well you’re not going to be interested in me, surely? We do these PA events.” PETER went on to say, “Oh you know, I’ve got a few months off before the next series.” Now if they don’t volunteer their home contact number I don’t ask for it, because that’s the way it is in our show business. If he wanted me to have it he would have given it to me. So what I have to do is I have to ring his agent.
In those days PETER was with a big international company called ICM. Now ICM had got offices in New York, in Canada, in Sweden- all over the world! They looked after people like Michael Caine, Roger Moore – those kind of people- Peter O’ Toole. Mainly all they’re interested in, to be honest with you, are movies. How many million pounds they’d get for the actors, and how many millions of pounds for their company. Now this guy’s name isn’t Hymie but I’ll call him Hymie because, well, that’s showbiz! I knew that he handled PETER, so I rang him up. The minute I said I was speaking to his client last night he goes, “What? Pardon?” I said, “I was talking to your client last night, PETER WYNGARDE.” He says, “You were talking to him?” “Yes,” I respond, “I was talking to him.” He asks, “Why would you do that?”
I explained that I was just at the hotel with Pete Murray and my other clients and he says,”Oh yes?” And I said I was introduced to him and that he’d just made some overtures that he might be interested in doing the personal appearances. Then he replied, “What are you talking about?” so I knew he had no idea what I meant. I explained that it was one of those opening shops sort of things, “And you were talking to my client about it?” he said, and I said, “Yes, I spoke to your client and I’m just ringing now to see if we can do a deal.” So he says, “What are you going to give me then?” and I replied, “What do you mean- what am I going to give you?” And he said, “To appear?” And I said, “Hymie- I’m a promoter; I put all the things together. You know we do work with Morecambe and Wise, Larry Grayson, Les Dawson- you know, they don’t get much bigger! PETER would be a tremendous value to us, for our Woolworth’s circuit to start with, and the bingo clubs would use him as well.” He said, “That’s right- so what are you going to pay?” I said, “It’s not the way it works, Hymie.” He said, “Just a minute young man, if you can’t be bothered telling me what you want you can go **** yourself!” and then he put the ’phone down on me.
I just thought ‘that’s it!’ and I thought no more of it. Then I’m at the Lancaster Gate, three weeks later, and again a gang of my friends were there. Tony Blackburn was there, Dave Lee Travis was there, David Hamilton’s there and many other people that I know. This guy comes up to me and says, “Mr. Gresham!” and it was PETER. I said, “Oh hello PETER.” He said, “Can I have a word?” I said, “Of course you can love.” He said, “We met- do you remember that- about two weeks ago at the Dorchester?” I replied, “We did, we did.” He said, “You were with Pete Murray,” and I said, “Yes, that’s right. And then he said, “I haven’ heard anything.” So I said, “Well there’s a good reason for that PETER.”
We went and had a drink in a quiet room there and I told him the story. PETER said, “What a *******!” He said, “Actually I never thought to give you my number- I’m sorry. Let me give you my number now and if anything comes up.” He said, “Do you think Woolworths will be interested in me?” I said, “I know for a fact they will be interested. I know they would love to have you, because you’re suave and what have you.” He’d just done the series of ‘Department S’ and had started recording ‘Jason King’ which as you know was the second series, because they gave him his own show. PETER said, “You ring me Carl. Have a word with Woolworths and ring me.”
We’ve got to go on a little bit now so I did ring him. I spoke to Woolies and they asked me what I thought. Now I’ve got to be careful here because I don’t know what he’s going to want and I know that I’ve got to give him a fair price. I’ve got to think of my ‘up and downs’; I’m putting people in from Coronation Street for 50 or 60 quid. I’m putting Morecambe and Wise in for many, many thousands of pounds. I’ve got to make sure that there’s some balance left for me. You know, at the end of the day. So I’m thinking, and they said, “We’re thinking of offering him a contract Carl, if you’re happy. We’ll do it through you of course and we’d want him to do 12 for us.” And I’m thinking 12 !!! – I can retire with that! I said, “Give me five minutes and I’ll ring you back,” and that was fine.
I rang PETER– and I mean this is the kind of man he was- he said, “Oh hello Carl – can you fix me one?” I said, “How about if I can fix you twelve?” He said, “What do you mean, twelve?” I said, “I’ve just spoken to Woolworths. I told you they’d be interested and obviously it depends on what the deal is.” He said to me, “Look Carl, what do you think is fair?” That is a guy who- and I’ve got to be careful, I want him to get as much money as he can and leave me a penny to live on. So I very quickly did a calculation. Now you’ve got to remember that I have to pay all his expenses. I’ve got to send a private car or taxi to his home. Get him to the station or to the airport, put him in a beautiful room in a nice 5 star hotel (4 star if they can, and have something left for me.)
So I worked out a silly amount for Woolies; I’d given them the figures and I thought, “They won’t buy that!” It wasn’t more than Morecambe and Wise but we’re on those lines really. And they said, “We’ll pay that Carl. Does that include the compere?” I said, “That includes everything!” So I cut it in half. I thought half for him and half for me and he said to me, “Now that’ll do nicely Carl,” he said, “Will you look after me?” I said, “All you need to do PETER is put yourself in my hands. I need you at the hotel the night before.” He said, “Not a problem.” I said, “It’s a 24 hour gig this; you’ve got to leave home at 2 o’clock in the afternoon to get a train to wherever it will be and you won’t get home till 2 o’clock the next day.” He said, “That is fine with me- when will you pay me?” I said, “I’ll pay you on the day- are you happy with that?” He said, “That’ll do for me.”
Then we’ve done 6 of these PAs and he’s a hoot! He’s absolute…he’s a charmer beyond belief. Wonderful person! No wonder I enjoyed it. So I’m in the office one day and the ‘phone rings… “Carl baby! How are you?” “Who’s that?” say I. “It’s Hymie, my love! I said, “Hello Hymie! How are you Hymie?” He said, “I’m very, very well- how are you then?” I said, “Yeah I’m OK. How can I help you?” I knew exactly why he was ringing me – I knew exactly what the score was. He said, “PETER WYNGARDE.” I replied, “Oh yes, PETER WYNGARDE– what can I do for you?” He said, “He’s got some dates off you Carl and he’s doing some PAs for Woolworths for you.” I said, “That’s correct, yes.” So Hymie says, “I’m only double checking- what are you paying him?” I said, “Hymie- you were so rude to me. You thought I was a piece of rubbish, simply because I wasn’t a London agent. I’d called you with the courteousness I’ve given anybody, to ask you about PETER. I suggest if you want to know what PETER WYNGARDE is receiving from me, then you ask him!” Then I put the ‘phone down.
I then called PETER and when I told him that story he said, “You haven’t told him have you?” I said, “PETER I have no intention of telling him!” PETER said, “Let him try Carl- let him try!” I never heard another word – I never asked PETER either; I couldn’t give a damn. But I imagine if the guy had said, “Well can I have some commission PETER?” he’d have said no! (Laughs).
AS: So did PETER finish his full stint of appearances for you?
CG: Well no – sadly- because I don’t know how much you know about it but there was a problem with a high profile court case. Now the thing about that is we were contracted to do 12 PAs and I – even to this day – I think he was set up. I had a long chat with PETER about this. He understood- he said, “I can’t do Woolies at the moment Gresh.” I simply said, “Let’s postpone it and see how things go.” Which is exactly what the guy from Woollies said. He said, “Is he going to be upset?” I said, “It doesn’t make any difference, Michael. It doesn’t make any difference. We cannot be associated with this situation. It’s not my fault- I don’t believe it was PETER’s fault, but I can’t prove that.” I mean if I could have proved it I’d have gone to court on his side, but it did upset him a lot.
AS: So how many out of the twelve PAs did he manage to do for you? Just the six?
CG: Ten – we did ten. We’d done the ten and then let’s say the ten was on the Friday, and the Sunday papers came out with the news that he’d been arrested that weekend. He was mortified, totally mortified about the whole thing. And he said, “Do you think we can do it?” And I said, “Well we can’t do any at the moment PETER until the court case is finished. You’ll have to see what happens there. But at the moment I think you’re best keeping your head down.” Obviously I wouldn’t have put him anywhere for his sake. Because a) it would have been embarrassing if some idiot had come and tried to hit him or something – although our security was very good. Secondly I thought also for his own peace of mind it was better. I think he was a clever man. I don’t think he squandered his money. I think he made sure he was OK, but those many thousands of pounds he got from me I’m hoping helped. I’m just thinking what a fool the guy was at ICM. I mean he could have had 10% or 15% or whatever he was taking from these people. (Laughs)
AS: Can I be cheeky and ask what his average fee was for a PA?
CG: I can’t disclose that my friend because it might be something I want to use later.
It was sizeable- certainly sizeable. I mean they couldn’t have Morecambe & Wise only because we were so busy doing other things. It wasn’t that they didn’t want to do Woolworths. Ernie rang me and said, ”Damn it, you’ve got Wyngarde working for you now! You don’t want us anymore.” I said, “I didn’t want to tell you actually Ernie- I’m just replacing you.” (Laughs) He came from Leeds did Ernie. That raised a laugh it did.
AS: He appreciated your sense of humour.
CG: Oh yes, certainly. The boys loved working when we did, and they said, “If you come through Carl we’ll come to that first. If we’ve nothing else on we’ll see- we’re not that bothered, but if it’s through Carl we’ll do them.” That’s what everybody said working with me. Well apart from the Simon Dee, maybe
When Eric died we still kept working with Ernie and he was just wonderful – people loved him. He was a very clever man, you know- a very, very clever man. He was lovely.
AS: You mentioned something about security and organisation at the PAs. How did that work?
CG: The thing is when we went anywhere at all I could have put my hands on any security guys I wanted, but I did it all myself. I also used the staff in places like Woolworths to ‘Stand there- don’t move’; ‘stand there- don’t move’ and they were lovely. They were only there to protect PETER for himself, but there was no need to worry because people were always very good. The Compere would say, “When PETER arrives please, don’t all rush because I’m only little and you’re all big. You can do all the damage- so please, don’t knock me over. I promise you nobody will leave this store without an autograph from PETER, or a picture.” We said that everything would be fine. We’d done the pictures in advance- all the pictures, because I owned the world copyrights; I still do. The signatures, you see, we did all of those in advance.
AS: Were they original signatures or were they pre-prints?
CG: Oh no they were prints, but the way that they were printed was different. I did them for people for a long time because nobody could copy them. They were in my copyright because of the way it was done. One day we got a ‘phone call from New York. They said, “We’ve seen these Greshpics that you do Mr. Gresham. We’ve got a very big client who’s doing a world tour. Is there any chance we could negotiate a deal? “I told them that of course there was.
It took a long time to get sorted and in the end sadly we never got a deal, but that person was Michael Jackson. He wanted 10 million signed pictures- different signatures. His signatures, but different ones so that they could mix them up. Matter of fact we did it for Barry Manilow- they mixed them all up. We did the same for Bob Monkhouse- he had a few. When Cannon & Ball were at their height, we did all of their stuff. But we’d mix it in, so that if they sent two signatures to the same address they saw that they looked just slightly different.
AS: So they were printed signatures- they weren’t hand-signed.
CG: Well they weren’t ‘printed’ signatures because no one knew the difference. It was the easiest thing in the world, now I look back, to copy- but my signatures had two things. First of all they had indentations in. No printed signature had indentions- they were just photo copies. All mine had indentations. But what was more important was, if you got a picture of PETER WYNGARDE on a Greshpic you could put your finger on your tongue and you could wipe off the ink! The ink came off. Now that was a very clever way of doing it. It was a very simple thing I’d worked out, and no-one but myself and the guy who published them, who printed them for me, knew this process at the time and it had to be that way.
All the time people would say to me, “Will you do this for me? Will you do that?” They wanted us to do something for the 007 people. But then we got so far down the road and they wanted a million printed, so I wanted the money up front. I’m not doing them- putting myself to all the trouble of doing a million of these and then them saying that they don’t like them, you know. But we almost got Michael Jackson- I know that for a fact; his people in America wanted him to do it. I said, “Just give me 3 or 4 different signatures, but don’t send me photocopies of his signature. Then I can’t do it- I need a proper signature that he has originally signed. I know what happened when they came- they weren’t signed by him. I knew- I could tell; I’m very good at signatures. I said, “I can do this for you, but what you’re doing is fooling his fans. “ I wasn’t sorry we didn’t get that deal in the end because somebody in the office had just written ‘Michael Jackson’. It was very near- very near, of course it was, but it wasn’t correct. When I told them why it wasn’t correct the guy said, “Mr. Gresham- you’re a very clever man Mr. Gresham. I’m sorry we bothered you. Goodbye.” (Laughs) Imagine why Jackson wouldn’t want to do the signatures? I don’t know… Manilow was a different thing. It was not done by him, it was done by his touring people in Europe, but they were so very good that I said, “I’ll go with that- I don’t mind.” And he was over the moon with them- he thought they were wonderful.
AS: So the Greshpics then- were that sort of very clever Autopen style from day one?
CG: Yes. Absolutely
CG: Greshpics- always pre-signed. When we went to Caton Bay we took Greshpics and we’d say, “He’s been signing these all day long- he’s knackered!” (Laughs) “Don’t be asking him for an autograph love, they’re here! And you’ve got a picture as well! Look- on the back you’ve got a biography. Can you see that? Yes.”
AS: Yes, and they had a few mentions of The Gresh as well on there I see…
CG: (Laughs) Tony Blackburn – bless his cotton socks- he said about his card, “There’s more blinking mentions of your name than mine!” (Laughs) And he was right! ‘Carl Gresham Presents’, ‘Carl Gresham says’, ‘Carl Gresham did this’. Amazing. Forsyth said, “I’d better come and do some of these PAs, hadn’t I?” I said, “Brucie love, it’s up to you.” He said, “Yes, I was talking to PETER.” Now whether PETER told him what pay he was on I don’t know. I don’t think PETER would do that. But Forsyth knew that if I was paying PETER WYNGARDE to do a PA and he got the same money, he’d be a happy bunny! (Laughs)
AS: Can you remember what was the biggest turnout you had for one of PETER’s appearances?
CG: The biggest ones really were around 5000 and they were definitely in the Arndale Centre Woolworths, because you couldn’t physically get 5000 people in the main street of a town or city. In the Arndale Centre all of the stores had glass all the way round them. 5000 people was not that difficult to do there, but it soon fills up and that’s why they had the problem in Barnsley. They said that British Home Stores were worried and Woolworths understood that. The day after that we hit every newspaper in the town- in the country, “PETER WYNGARDE – barred!” But most of them said “Jason King Sent Off!” That was amazing!
What we did was I’d meet PETER at the railway station and drive him down. So we’d drive down one little hill, then we’d drive down another little hill, so I could get to where the Arndale Centre delivery area was. I knew where we were going. Then a police car comes – a little mini – with a little police lady. The thing is about these people is that they do know the name, but they always remember the stars by the characters; that’s how they love them. So this lady gets out of the car, she had a policeman with her as well. She said, “Hello! How are you Jason? Eh..it’s nice to see you.” And he’s wonderful. He says, “Hello. Nice to see you.”
She said, “Mr. Gresham sir, I’m sorry but we can’t let you into Barnsley.” I said, “What do you mean, can’t let me in?” She said, “I’m very sorry but there’s a bit of a problem. Where you’re going – The Arndale Centre – there’s about 5000 people at least in there we reckon. All the people around the stores are a bit frightened if the windows were to go in.” That is absolutely true. It would be a disaster! So I said, “Oh – that’s fine. This isn’t one of my friends on the TV is it? One of those guys who does all the gags?” She said, “No, no, no – I promise you we are proper police.” So I said, “Show me your warrant card.” Then PETER whispered, “Carl, will I still get paid?” I said of course he would, then he said, “Right – let’s bugger off and have lunch!” (Laughs)
So we buggered off into the hills and again, you see, we walk in somewhere and they don’t expect to see someone like PETER WYNGARDE there. They know he’s in town, and they’re all going, “It is him…” and the thing is they do it you know as if you’re not there. They’ll say, “That’s PETER WYNGARDE.” “No it’s not, he’s in Woolies.” “That’s PETER WYNGARDE!” Then they get confused, and they come over to him – particularly the elderly people – and they’ll say, “Hey – do you know who you are?” (Laughs) Or they get confused and they say, “MR. WYNGARDE, do you know, you’ve been my fan for years.” (Laughs) They get totally tongue-tied.
CG: Another little story which ties in with PETER ever so slightly…
One of the things I used to have as a job, when I left school, I loved music so I became a record department manager. I worked in various places and eventually I became manager of the Co-op. It was the first time they were ever doings records and things, you see. I’m very proud of all this vinyl stuff – the new releases came in on a Thursday. This was one Thursday, and this guy comes up to me- a very tall guy. He says to me, “Excuse me, can you help me?” So I say, “Yes, of course.” He asks, “Have you got Dommage, Dommage?” I say, “I don’t think we have.” He says, “It’s on Decca…” I say, “Dommage Dommage – no we haven’t got it. Can you tell me who it’s by?” He says, “It’s by a guy called Englebert Humperdinck.” I said, “Oh- who one earth is Englebert Humperdinck?” He says, “I am!” (Laughs) Now he was working at the Broadway Bar in Bradford, which was a great place, but he hadn’t had massive hits and that was his first record ever. His very, very first…
27 years later I’m in the Knightsbridge Hotel and there are all these people there. There’s Hughie with me, and there’s PETER WYNGARDE with me. There are all these stars of my lot with me and all of a sudden this tap on the shoulder comes. And it’s Englebert – and he says, “Gresham, did you ever get ‘Dommage Dommage?” Isn’t that a lovely story? (Laughs)
AS: One of the photos in your book, from one of PETER’s appearances – and you can clearly see there’s a police lady in the middle of the crowd – it’s quite a big crowd. Who paid for the policing?
CG: Ermm – Woolworths did!
AS: So you didn’t get stung for that?
CG: Oh no – no, no. Woolworths always paid for that. We did have some things where there were minor threats from what we thought were lunatics & nutters, They would write to people, who would right to someone else and it would get back to us that there might be an incident at this particular venue. So I had this number which I could ring at Woolworths and they would talk to the local police and say, “Can you put a couple of girls or a couple of men on- just to be there just in case?” Nothing ever happened. If anybody had got near they wouldn’t have got very far but nothing ever actually happened like that.
AS: So PETER never got mobbed at any Gresh PAs then?
CG: Never did he once get mobbed. Never ever – because there was always an out. We always made sure there was an out. I made sure I had my gang with me in case I needed it. In the end PETER always used to say, “I hope you don’t mind me asking this question but it will be OK won’t it?” And I used to say, “It will be OK. Just turn up and leave the rest to me!” (Laughs)
AS: And it all went like clockwork!
CG: It did – it all went like clockwork. It came to a point where PETER would say to me, “I’ve had somebody ask me about doing a PA. Can you talk to them, because I can’t work without you Carl? Will you have a word with them?” So I’d say, “Of course I will.” Then I’d ring back and say, “Well they sort of want to do thing their way.” “No,” PETER would say, “We don’t do that Mr. Gresham, do we?” And I’d say, “We don’t, Mr. Wyngarde.” (Laughs)
AS: So did PETER just do Woolworths for you or did he do anybody else?
CG: He did Fine Fare. He did Ladbrokes. He did Mecca – he did lots. That tour of Woolworths – the 12 – would have been a fantastic thing. It was just a tragedy that we lost the last two really.
AS: Did you used to watch PETER on the TV, and if so, what did you think of the stuff like Dept. S and Jason King?
CG: I loved it! I actually thought he was very suave. He had that thing where he had his cuffs twisted back and that to me was the epitome of suaveness, you know. He’d always got his cuffs done and in Woolworths the girls would go, “Ooh he’s got his cuffs!” He didn’t lose that persona even when we were having a drink. He was still nice and quiet and whatever, but once he learnt – and this is the thing- ‘The Gresh Way’ – it’s funny is this because I still had this thing they’d started, ICM, about wanting commission from PETER. I got a call about two weeks later and this voice said, “Carl,” I said, “Hello,” he said, “Roger Moore here.” I said, “Oh hello Roger.” He said, “Carl, I hear you’re using PETER?” “That’s true,” I said, “He’s from your Agent love,” and I told him the story about Hymie. So Roger said, “Oh don’t worry about him!” But I said, “The thing is – I’m not being funny with you but you can’t commit to me to a PA today for a months ahead, because you’ll be doing a film or something.” Then he came out with the most wonderfully stupid comment like, “Can’t you say – will be appearing, Roger Moore, subject to availability?” I said, “I may as well put Frank Sinatra will be appearing if I do that! We’ve got to have a fair chance that you can do it.” (Laughs)
AS: So out of all your illustrious client list, where would you rate PETER? How would you rate him, as a personal friend or performer?
CG: As far as popularity there’s little doubt. After Morecambe & Wise the second most popular performer was PETER WYNGARDE – no question. It was always if they couldn’t have Morecambe & Wise could they have PETER WYNGARDE? (Laughs) Hughie Green was also very popular because he was on TV all the time. I mean PETER wasn’t on all the time. I mean there was when he was first getting going, of course. I’m amazed that they aren’t showing it at the moment- I can’t see it on any of the SKY channels, can you?
AS: No not at the moment- it did have a run a few years ago on Bravo but nowadays it’s mainly DVD. All of the collectors have got it on DVD so we just flip them out any time. Can I ask what your personal favourite memory of PETER is? Or have I already had it?
CG: You’ve had it really, because it was that occasion when we were coming out of Barnsley, when he said, “Will I get paid?” and I’d said of course he would and he’d said, “All right, let’s bugger off and have lunch…!” (Laughs) That epitomises what he was like, you know. Of course he was going to get paid – it wasn’t his fault that they couldn’t let him in. In the end they made more money by not having him there – if he had been there, there could have been a riot, I don’t know. I wouldn’t have thought so but you just don’t know. If windows had have gone in that would have been huge- that would have been serious.
AS: It’s amazing that the organisation was still content even though he actually couldn’t turn up.
CG: Of course the thing is where would they get the sort of publicity that they got the next day in virtually every national newspaper? Even though it said ‘Jason King Barred!’ or ‘Jason King Kicked Out Of Barnsley!’, he’s got his cheque – he’s not worried. They were quite happy to pay him. There were never ever any problems like that. It was nice to work with the right people!
AS: Have you got any message you’d like to pass on to PETER through his Facebook page?
CG: Well I hope he’s going to be fine and that everything’s going well. And maybe one day- if we can get my idea for a TV thing from my book off the ground- we’ll get him back where he belongs on the old telly! I hope it puts a smile on his face when he hears the word ‘Greshstyle’, because that is what it’s all about.
As long as people remember what I did for them and why I did it…I mean it was just an amazing thing! I mean when you think of the logistics of all of this it was quite something!
AS: How big was your organisation at the peak of all this Carl? Because you possibly couldn’t- particularly when you’ve got days like when have 36 stars going out to different Woolworths- you couldn’t accompany everybody. How did that work.
CG: No- that’s correct, I couldn’t. But by the time we got to that 36 tour thing I’d got the people who wanted to be Gresh’s. Everybody knew what to do- everybody knew how to do it and I had to put my trust in people. I had people in my office who went down to London and did things as well. One of the big problems we get would be that I’d have PETER WYNGARDE, Hughie Green, Frazer Hines, Violet Carson and Pat Phoenix all doing a gig somewhere in Britain on the same day.
Where am I going to go? I always went with PETER. It wasn’t the pressure – I just loved being in his company, because he was so funny. He really was such a very funny man! Looking back at those times once it started there was an avalanche. Agents would ring me asking for their clients to be on my list. It was just one of those very strange things where sometimes it just all fits together and it’s just wonderful.
AS: So when PETER did one local to me, in Stourbridge. You would have been there?
CG: Where’s that- Stourbridge? Yes, because it’s near home you see. The occasion was- I’m not sure if it’s Stourbridge as I can’t find my diary- we stayed over because we were doing something the following day. I think it was something like opening a new Bingo Club. So I put him into a nice hotel and he’s rest all day because I don’t think (he never told me anyhow) that he wasn’t too keen on playing golf. I don’t think he played golf
AS: Shooting was his thing. He liked his shooting before they banned handguns. He used to go down to Bisley all the time.
AS: Yes. Well time has caught up with us Carl and I had better let you go back to your business. It’s been wonderful to talk to you- thank you again for sparing the time to chat. It’s been absolutely fascinating! I suspect- knowing you and speaking to you as I have now- I suspect the book is only the tip of the iceberg.
CG: My pleasure, and thank you for your kind words about the book in your earlier e-mails.
Carl’s book, “The Gresh – A lifetime in Show-Biz” can be ordered via his website:
It’s a great read for anyone interested in the entertainment industry of the 60s and 70s.
Carl also can be heard in his regular shows for Bradford Community Broadcasting:
Interview © By Al Samujh 2014