PART OF THE Creature Comforts ISSUE
‘Heady Hendricks looked like a million dollars … and he smelled like he had just bathed in Hai Karate.’
Extract from Welcome to the Heady Heights
By David F. Ross
Published by Orenda Books
Hank Hendricks was the pre-eminent light entertainment star in the British television firmament. He had been for nearly twenty years. He had created an original and fast-moving talent show for radio in the late fifties called The Heady Heights, successfully transferring it to BBC television as the swinging-sixties obsession with pop music mushroomed. A bidding war between the broadcasting companies, skilfully plotted and manipulated by Hendricks, resulted in the show moving to the commercial ITV network. It was now a staple of Saturday night television, and ‘Heady’ – as he was now affectionately and universally known – was its executive producer and presenter.
Heady Hendricks was ‘represented’ by a brash Canadian known as Daryl W. Seberg. It was the stuff of legend that Seberg was an alias used by Heady Hendricks when negotiating his contracts. Heady had allegedly been witnessed by an industry insider answering the phone as Heady, responding that the subject of the call was something his associate would deal with, pausing, then continuing the call in a totally different voice … as Daryl W. Seberg. He reinforced this complex fabrication by ensuring Daryl’s severe agoraphobia was widely acknowledged. The Seberg Agency had one client and did not prospect for others. Daryl did all the tough negotiating; Heady – the talent – signed the deals. So Heady Hendricks had no agent and managed all his own contracts and legal affairs. This eccentric autonomy made him one of the richest and most powerful personalities in Britain. Even though he had no apparent influence over the programme’s guest judging panel, or the famous studio-applause rating mechanism, the clap-o-meter, when he uttered his catchphrase ‘My word, I think you’re heading for the Heady Heights’, no one ignored it.
In the early seventies the show had suffered a marked dip in ratings. Acts were felt to be either too insipid, too dull, or frankly too talentless. They were either cardigan-clad country-and-western crooners reclining in rocking chairs, or magicians sawing beaming, large-breasted female assistants in half. Additionally, damaging rumours of Heady’s voracious sexual appetite began to surface. A friendship with the newspaper magnate Robert Maxwell guaranteed tabloid media protection but only to a certain level. The star’s shining public profile made him a target of those wanting to see his polish tarnished. Heady Hendricks’ response was to get out of the big city spotlight to take the show on the road. He would fly his panel of judges around the country in his small Cessna 172. With their help, Heady handpicked the contestants personally. These new auditions had given the show a more regional flavour, resulting in its renaissance. Earlier in the year the show had made a victorious return to the London Palladium, as a segment on the Royal Variety Performance, with four previous series winners on stage in front of the Queen. And with Heady himself presenting the whole extravaganza, he was back on the very top of the showbiz pile. Rumours of a different kind now circulated – an honorary knighthood, perhaps – helped by his highly publicised donations to various homeless charities.
Archie Blunt was hyperventilating as he took in his charge’s identity. The only person equivalent to Sinatra in his fantasies was Heady Hendricks. He hadn’t dared imagine that it could possibly be him – The Dreammaker – in room 392. Yet, it was. And Archie Blunt was to be his Glaswegian chaperone.
Fifteen minutes after that first tentative knock on his hotel-room door, Heady Hendricks was on the other side of it, ready to take on the world. The dragged-through-a-hedge backwards look had disappeared and in its place was the very definition of showbiz sheen. His skin seemed several shades darker to Archie than it had only minutes earlier. Now it was the colour of teak. He wore a fawn three-piece suit with a large-collared shirt open at the neck. It revealed a large coruscating disc of silver, nestled comfortably into a nest of dark hair, like an alien spacecraft that had landed in a dense forest clearing. Shiny black hair was slicked back from a widow’s peak, giving Heady the air of a seductively tanned Ray Reardon. A pencil-thin black moustache hinted at charismatic menace. His flattened boxer’s nose made him look like a bank robber sheathed in American tan. Unlike many in the showbiz firmament, Heady Hendricks looked like he could handle himself in a pub brawl. The knuckle ridges and callouses on his thick-fingered hands, which could’ve built ships on the Clyde, hinted that he might’ve started a few fistfights as well. Heady Hendricks looked like a million dollars … and he smelled like he had just bathed in Hai Karate. This was surely Archie’s big chance.
You can listen to the Welcome to the Heady Heights playlist on Spotify.
Welcome to the Heady Heights by David F. Ross is published by Orenda Books, priced £8.99
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