For 1994 we moved the show across to Earls Court, filling all levels of EC1 and EC2 and in many of the forgotten rooms spread along the Mezzanine level of the main hall.
We had a very strange occurrence at this venue. WordStar had booked a large stand in the centre of the hall and were very happy with their slot until the stand was being finished off. As they connected up their CRT displays to demo their software they found the on-screen images wobbled which was pretty disturbing given their product was all about the detail happening on the screens. The hall management only then admitted that this location was where the hall electrical system had sited a series of power bus-bars. Had we known this we could have avoided WordStar being there, if they had known then they could have put some heavy insulation beneath their plinth, but by now the stand was built.
WordStar was going to pull their participation and my son kept interrupting our discussion much to my annoyance, couldn’t he see how important and potentially costly this might be. When I finally let him butt in, he suggested we might try Sharp’s new LCD screens. We did, and they solved the problem. As the organiser we paid at mate’s rates to hire enough screens to resolve WordStar’s issue. A belated thanks to Matt, he saved us embarrassment and cost. I later had the halls repay us for the hire charges, so all worked out OK.
|ASIDE: Talking money, it was around this time that I heard of an NI budget meeting where some line manager made the mistake of dismissing a questioned budget item as ‘just peanuts’. Rupert Murdoch reached across the table to the individual, and thumping his hand against its surface, he beat out, ‘But they’re my peanuts!’|
For this second year we began to have an issue with our sister newspapers. The editors had changed and began to display a ‘not invented here’ attitude, needing to be reconvinced to offer their support. Yet, still across six days, we attracted over 170,000 visitors.
In 1994 the TES/Yamaha National Youth Rock & Pop Awards was again judged by Phil Collins, Jeremy Silver and Harvey Goldsmith, but the DJ became Richard Skinner from Virgin 1215 (then still AM!). I was again invited to Phil’s home for his segment of the judging. He was in the middle of recording an album in the studio he had there, and he gave up recording time to listen to the short-list.
But this year he was targeted by the News of the World, who knowing I was working with him, tried to get me embroiled into the worst side of their business. Phil was reported as having advised his wife of their break-up by telex or fax. The NotW first asked me to call the Prince’s Trust to see if they still wanted Phil to represent them for our event. They explained they hoped they would withdraw him, and they had already drafted a piece that Prince Charles, in the midst of his break-up with Diana, had dumped Phil for similar infidelities. I refused. I was hauled before someone high-up in NI’s team and told I should take a NotW reporter with me to the judging session, but again I respectfully refused. Imagine my surprise then, when I had been at Phil’s for half-an-hour when the doorbell rang, it was a NotW reporter. I was all for sending him off with a flea in his ear, but Phil invited him in.
During the judging Phil asked us the age of one of the composers, the Yamaha guy had the data. Phil turned to his PR, Annie, and asked her to get him the name and phone number of the entrant. He wanted to phone her, because her lyrics about bullying, at her age, suggested what she was writing about was something that had happened to her, not a fiction. In discussion it came out that he had had a similar situation where a young female fan had written to him threatening suicide. He had called her and extracted the promise that she would not do so until she was twenty-one, in return he promised to regularly call her. Fortunately, the NotW guy had scruples and none of this came out in his report.
|ASIDE: We had a problem with the Rock & Pop final event which was held on the top floor of Earls Court and was due to end at 21:30. Our problem was that we had to get all 500+ attendees and the organising team off site before 22:00. Adjacent irate residents had clearly moved in while Earls Court was self-evidently next door, yet were militant, using cameras and videos if any vehicle moved on site after 22:00.|
We had coaches for the school groups to load and despatch. I recall almost pushing the attendees into the two lifts. Seeing them all stand there and wait for it to start, exasperatedly I took to calling out ‘would one of you gifted folk please push the down button?’ It was frantic, but we got them all off-site before the curfew.
Given our issues with noise and live broadcasts at the 1993 event, we custom-built a LIVE TV Studio and Jeremy Beadle agreed to run his ‘Fingers on Buzzers’ quiz each day. We also hired two young presenters to run the studio events – Julia Bradbury and Cash Peters. The whole was directed by Tony Orsten, who later was a key executive for various TV channels.
|ASIDE: Behind the studio was a series of small rooms. They had notably been used as the stockman’s bedrooms during the Royal Smithfield show. The stock was kept where we built our studio and the stockmen had to stay all night to tend them. One of the rooms had seven baths in it for sociable communal bath-times, and the beds were big blocks of sponge rubber.|
We wanted to make these the ‘green rooms’ for those appearing on the stage. We asked hall management to freshen them up, to paint them. The person who had to follow through was quite new and thought we meant to have them painted green, fortunately we found out her misunderstanding before she did – amusingly her surname was Green!
I had learned that Rick Wakeman (keyboard-player for Yes rock band and solo artist) was a particular mate of Jeremy’s. I arranged to smuggle him into the show, then have him walk out as Jeremy was running his quiz. This all worked well but I was shocked when I later took Rick up to the Capital Radio Stage (where they had a whole raft of pop stars appearing) and presented him to the rather snooty girl running it. Initially she tried to make out she didn’t know who Rick was, when he’s perhaps one of the most recognisable of artists, then admitted she did. But she added that, as he wasn’t on their play list, he could not go onto their stage. I was furious, but Rick took it all in good spirits.
I got my own back later. A smartly-dressed well-spoken woman arrived in the organiser office and asked me where the interactive radio was on show. I admitted to knowing of interactive television, but not radio. She asked me to describe interactive TV, but said that wasn’t it. When I pressed, she said over the last month or so, she had realised she could talk to radio presenters and they would answer her. Duh–duh, duh–duh. Duh-duh, duh–duh – you are entering the Twilight Zone. I promptly gave her the name, description and whereabouts of that Capital girl, assuring the woman that she might deny it, but she should press her because it was Capital that had developed interactive radio – do persevere!
Our video games feature became something of a problem when a gang of local scallywags determinedly tried to steal them despite our bolting much of it down and staffing the area heavily. On one occasion I saw two lads trying to pull a console from its fixture and called out for them to stop. One of the guys turned to me and pulled out a CS-gas cannister saying ‘Try and stop us’.
I called for support by radio and was relieved when our two main men arrived Big Garry, whose sobriquet was not ironic (who I still see from time-to-time as part of Luton Airport’s security detail), and a guy whose name has gone from my memory. This second guy had been a world Karate champion, he was not tall like Garry, probably only around 5’ 10” tall, but he was just as wide as he was tall, and solid with it. On arrival at site he had taken one of our posters and rolled it up tightly. All he needed to do was tap these lads with his rolled-up poster and when they turned angrily, and took in his dimensions, they quickly departed.
|ASIDE: Jane ran our Organiser Office and given her experience from 1993 had come equipped with colouring books and felt-tip pens to keep the inevitable raft of lost children occupied. But the very first ‘lost child’ stole them all!|