Breakfast with Craig Douglas

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Dec 2018 Breakfast with Craig Douglas

And now this… from the man with a ‘freak’ career

By Peter Robertson

MOST SATURDAYS, on his Sounds Of The Sixties show on BBC Radio 2, Tony Blackburn plays hits by his old friend Craig Douglas.

Pretty Blue Eyes, A Hundred Pounds Of Clay, Time, and chart-topper Only Sixteen are among the classic singles this otherwise over­looked English singer had in a chart- run from 1959 until 1963, when he featured in two films and had top bill­ing above The Beatles before they effectively damaged his career.

Craig has a remarkable story from being thrust into stardom in his mid- teens in 1958 to being crippled by a rare illness exactly 50 years later. One of nine children, he had nine songs in the British Top 20, four in a row peaking at No.9. And now aged 77, having recorded Only Sixteen when he was only 16, he’s living in a central London flat numbered 16.

“It is strange. But then my career was a freak thing,” claims Craig, who was born Terence Perkins on the Isle Of Wight to a family with no other showbusiness association.

“When I was 15, I came home one day to a letter inviting me to a local talent contest. I used to sing around the house a bit, so my mother put me in for it. I’d never been in front of an audience before but it didn’t both­er me at all – and I won.”

That landed the lad a spot on a show in Ryde which got him an agent, Bunny Lewis, whose clients included Vera Lynn, Jimmy Young, and Katie Boyle. Bunny sent Terry to London for elocution and singing les­sons, gave him the name Craig Douglas after seeing it outside a house in Scotland, and the nickname ‘The Singing Milkman’, due to a delivery he’d done during holidays since the age of eight, and created a clean-cut image including cardigans.

“I thought I’d only be in London six weeks. But after three, Bunny arranged for me to perform on the Six Five Special alongside Cliff Rich­ard and Tommy Steele. When the red light went on and it was my turn to perform, I did get very nervous I must admit.”

Craig was swiftly signed to Decca, then EMI, with whom he had his first hit A Teenager In Love.

“When I entered the studio to record that, the great guitarist Bert Weedon was there and he told me he’d played on Marty Wilde’s version of the same song the night before!” In June 1959, Marty’s made No.2 and Craig’s No.13, but within two months, he hit the top spot with Only Sixteen easily outselling Sam Cooke’s original.

“I was on tour and I’d phone Bunny on a Thursday when the charts came out. They said Cliff was still at No.1 with Living Doll, and I thought “God, the little sh*t!” That went on for several weeks. Then, one Thurs­day, Bunny told me I’d gone to No.1 and I thought ‘Wahey!’ “recalls Craig, who’s not a big Cliff fan.

“Cliff’s agents were Lou and Leslie Grade so they got him on every telly show going and he always topped the bill. You’d hardly see him before or after shows. I thought he was a very good singer but a little aloof.”

Craig’s take on Gene McDaniels’ A Hundred Pounds Of Clay fell foul of a BBC censor.

“A guy there said: ‘We can’t play that on the BBC…you can’t say he created a woman and lots of loving for a man!’ So Bunny rewrote that line to “he created old Adam then he made a woman for the man”, sent that version to the BBC and the guy said ‘oh yeah we can play it now’. But people bought the original and we got no complaints.”

In 1962, Craig co-starred with 15-year old Helen Shapiro in It’s Trad, Dad!, the feature film debut of director Richard Lester who went on to direct The Beatles’ movies A Hard Day’s Night and Help! The cast also included American superstars Gene Vincent, Chubby Checker and Del Shannon, but Craig reveals: “I never met them because they filmed us here and the Americans over there, then put it together.”

However, due to his success inter­nationally, Craig did get to meet many of his heroes like Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, and Perry Como. And here “The Singing Milkman” befriended “The Singing Bus Driver” Matt Monro, as well as Joe Brown, Susan Maugham, and Paul McCartney.

2Bunny called and said someone had dropped out of a Little Richard show in Liverpool and could I go up for rehearsal. I agreed and when I went out on stage there were John, Paul, George and Ringo. We did four shows in two days. They finished the first half and I had a helluva job fol­lowing them because they did Love Me Do which was just going up the charts and was the beginning of them. From then on, because of The Beatles, all people wanted to know about was groups. I’d had a few hits in Australia and Bunny had requests for me to tour there so I did.”

Craig’s last chart entry was Town Crier in February 1963, but he wasn’t to know. “I bought my moth­er’s council house in Newport for her, and a six-seater Humber Super Snipe car so the family could all go down to the beach in it. I bought myself a flat in Knightsbridge where Tony Blackburn was a neighbour – we used to meet for coffees, and so forth, in Har­rods because that was our local shop!

“I returned to my flat in Knightsbridge one day and someone shouted ‘Craig!’. I looked over and there was Paul McCart­ney sat in the back of a Roller. I went and sat with him and he said ‘the missus has gone shopping in Har­rods. I went there once and had a job getting out of the place, so I’m wait­ing for her here.”

Another acquaintance was Donald Campbell, the speed record-break­er who died during an attempt on Coniston Water in 1967.

“One day, I went with a girlfriend to have dinner with Donald,” Craig remembers. “The next morning, he said ‘Fancy a game of golf, old boy?’ He got me to drive his Aston Martin and directed me to Gat­wick Airport where he had a plane waiting to take us to Le Touquet where we played golf, then on to stay with friends in Paris. I was doing summer season in Bourne­mouth when Donald had his fatal accident…dear oh dear, he should’ve waited longer.”

Craig has several regrets of his own. While he’s proud to have toured the World playing leading venues, appeared on stage and TV with the likes of Bruce Forsyth and Morecambe & Wise, and never had to look for employment outside entertainment, he admits he should have handled his finances better.

“I earned a few bob, but not like today obviously. These days, every­thing’s paid for. Then, you had to pay for digs, etc. I saved a few bob but not as much as I should have done. I wish I hadn’t sold the flat in Knightsbridge so early. When I sold that, I should’ve bought another property.”

Instead, for the next 27 years, Craig rented an apartment in Dolphin Square, one of London’s swankiest addresses – Princess Anne also lived there – and he now rents a bedsit nearby. He also owns a house in his hometown Newport, where his four surviving siblings live, but he hasn’t been back to the Isle Of Wight for three years, partly due to health problems.

A rare 60s music star to have avoided drugs, Craig used to be in great demand for celebrity golf tour­naments and football matches, and would fly a friend’s plane after gain­ing his pilot’s licence. But while enjoying a few days off from his 50th anniversary tour in 2008, his life took a turn for the worse.

“I went to a market, got out of the car, fell arse over head, and a girl helped me up. I walked round the market then fell over again, and a guy picked me up. A hospital profes­sor diagnosed Vasculitis – I may have picked up a bug on tour and, as my immune system was low, it didn’t kill the bug off – and I was also told I had Type II diabetes.’

Reliant since on a wheelchair or walking aid, Craig has been unable to drive or play golf, let alone per­form properly.

“I sometimes still do little charity shows for friends. I sit in a wheel­chair and do 20 minutes. But when I play for old folks after their lunch they often fall asleep!”

Craig is chuffed about the Face­book page devoted to him, and that some fans keep in contact. But he lives alone not having had a relation­ship since his mobility became restricted.

“I’d like to have got married and had a couple of children,” says the man whose former loves include Vera Lynn’s daughter Virginia and Coronation Street star Sue Nicholls. “I had two girlfriends who unfortu­nately died from cancer within five years of each other. I had planned to ask the first one, Tina, to marry me. I never had a really long relationship because, after a couple of weeks, I’d be flying off abroad for a month or so and it was difficult. I travelled mainly alone, although I often found some­one there like dancers in the shows or the occasional naughty fan who’d write ‘If you’re ever in such-and-such-a-place, I’ve got a room here y’know’. It was good fun, but it can be a lonely life.”

Craig remains close to Bunny Lew­is’s widow Janique who recently cel­ebrated her 100th birthday.

“If anything happens to Janique, I will go back to the Isle Of Wight,” said Craig. “My very first girlfriend Elizabeth – we dated for a few weeks when we were 14/15 – always sends me birthday and Christmas cards. Her husband has died and she’s asked me to live with her in their beautiful house with a pool as she now needs company too.”

Meantime Craig amuses himself watching quiz shows like The Chase and Tipping Point, and listening to talk radio station LBC – but not music stations, so he’s surprised when told his hits are frequently played on Sounds Of The 60s.

“It’s lovely that I’m still sometimes remembered and recognised. Every now and then I get people saying ‘Excuse me, you used to be Craig Douglas!’ I’m happy with what I achieved in a small way. It’s a nice job and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.”