LARRY PARNES The Godfather of British Rock ' n' Roll
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Born 1930, in Willesden, London; died 4th. August, 1989, London. British pop group manager and impresario. His full name was Laurence Maurice Parnes. One of his uncles was a pre-war music hall performer called Len Young the Singing Fool. At the age of 8, in Cliftonville, Kent, Larry Parnes organised his first show, featuring child performers. Larry Parnes left school at 16 and worked in shops. He worked briefly for his family's clothing business. By the age of 18 he was running his own women's clothing shops in Romford, Essex. His family had helped with the finance to purchase three shops but only one proved to be successful and he got into debt. One evening a friend took him to La Caverne, a bar in Romilly Street in the West End of London. At the end of the evening Larry Parnes intervened in a heated argument between the two owners of the bar and discovered that the two could not work together. He offered to buy one of them out. In fact he had no money but one of the owners was so keen to get out of the business that he sold his share for £500 to be paid in instalments. The bar was frequented by theatrical agents and producers. Larry Parnes had been teetotal but took to drinking whisky. After a whisky-drinking contest he discovered that he had been persuaded to invest in a play entitled 'The House of Shame'. The play toured during 1955 and was making a loss until John Kennedy was recruited as its publicist. The name was changed to 'Women of the Streets' and two female actors were persuaded to stand outside the theatre dressed as prostitutes during the interval. They were arrested, and after the national press picked up the story the play took off and eventually broke even. Larry Parnes bumped into John Kennedy again in The Sabrina, a coffee bar in Soho and was persuaded to go to see the singer Tommy Hicks perform in the Stork Room in Regent's Street. After the performance Tommy Hicks asked Larry Parnes and John Kennedy to be his managers and a contract was signed in September 1956. Tommy Hicks adopted the stage name Tommy Steele and became Britain's first rock and roll celebrity and went on to become an all-round entertainer and star of several musicals. Lionel Bart co-wrote several of Tommy Steel's hits. Larry Parnes's scoured the coffee bars and dance halls for another star, and Lionel Bart informed him of Reg Smith (né Patterson) who was performing at the Condor Club above The Sabrina coffee bar. In fact Larry Parnes missed his performance but went round to his house and signed him up on the basis of Lionel Bart's testimonial. He was given the name Marty Wilde and had a string of UK hits. Larry Parnes developed a network of contacts including the A&R managers Hugh Mendl, Dick Rowe, and Jack Baverstock. The television producer Jack Good was also keen to benefit from the flow of new teenage talent provided by Larry Parnes. Songwriters like Lionel Bart provided original material. Larry Parnes turned down Cliff Richard after an audition. In 1958 he took on the management of Roy Taylor and gave him the name Vince Eager, but he failed to have any hits, although he became a household name through a regular starring role on the BBC's programme Drumbeat. In September 1958 Ron Wycherly walked into Marty Wilde's dressing room at the Essoldo Cinema, Birkenhead, and asked to play a few songs. Larry Parnes was impressed and signed him on. He was given the stage name Billy Fury and he became one of the most important figures in the British rock and roll scene. He also managed a number of other young hopefuls who varying degrees of success. These included, Dickie Pride (Richard Knellar), Duffy Power (Ray Howard), Johnny Gentle (John Askew), Sally Kelly, Terry Dene, Nelson Keene, Peter Wynne, and Georgie Fame (Clive Powell). His approach was to choose pretty young people and groom them to make them attractive to other teenagers. He often changed their names, and he wanted to give the gifted guitarist Joe Brown the name Elmer Twitch but he refused. The BBC television programme Panorama included a feature on Larry Parnes as a 'beat svengali' and referred to his 'stable of stars'. In 1960 the press gave him the nickname Mr Parnes, Shillings and Pence. Larry Parnes managed the group called the 'Viscounts' which included Gordon Mills who was later to manage Tom Jones. Larry Parnes briefly co-managed the 'Tornadoes' with Joe Meek who had formed them but was too busy with his studio work to pay them much attention. Larry Parnes missed two opportunities to manage the Beatles. At a time when they were called the 'Silver Beatles' he used them to back his singer Johnny Gentle on a tour of Scotland in 1960. He was also given the opportunity to sign them up as their sole promoter in 1962 but he declined. His influence in the world of pop music came to an end in the mid 1960s when a new style of manager gained ground. These included Brian Epstein of the Beatles and Andrew Oldham of the Rolling Stones. In 1967 he announced that he had outgrown the world of pop and would be devoting himself to the theatre. In 1968 he put on 'Fortune and Men's Eyes', a play about homosexuality in a Canadian prison., but he lost £5000 on the venture. In 1972 he bought a 12-year lease of the Cambridge Theatre and he put on the musicals 'Charlie Girl' and 'Chicago'. During the 1970s he administered the business affairs of the ice-skater John Currie. Larry Parnes developed meningitis and retired in 1981. He won a substantial out-of-court settlement from the BBC for an alleged libel by Paul McCartney on the radio programme Desert Island Discs. Bibliography Simon Napier-Bell, (2001), "Black Vinyl White Powder" Johnny Rogan, (1988), "Starmakers & Svengalis" Press cuttings •Larry Parnes Obituary in The Telegraph, 7th. August, 1989, re-published in a compilation by Hugh Massingberd, (1995), "The Daily Telegraph Book of Obituaries", The Telegraph, "Parnes is said to have renamed some of his stars for their sexual potential, but though he undoubtedly adored the company of young men he was circumspect about mixing business with pleasure. The greatest loves of his life were two Alsation dogs, Prince and Duke, whose cremated remains were prominently displayed in his South Kensington penthouse."