MY MEMORIES OF MAX

Max was born Matthew Telford sometime in the nineteen twenties I believe, but I'm uncertain about it because he just would not reveal his true age to anyone, even his closest friends. He came from humble beginnings and was brought up in Hebburn on Tyneside,and worked as a young man at a local stationery shop. He tried many different types of work and moved down south to Leicester, where his singing ambition found him amongst others who got him to join their vocal act as a harmoniser. He managed to turn professional, as acts of this type were in demand in the fifties, and very soon he was on theatre tours supporting some of the big stars of the day. He served his apprenticeship in show business, finally finding what was his true vocation, and stayed in that for the rest of his life. He met a struggling young singer who was looking for a singing partner, and together they made a decent living while residing in Leicester. Their agent had a host of future superstars on his books, including a young man called Gerry Dorsey...who became Englebert Humperdink...and who was one of his friends in those long-ago days. Gerry was ill for a spell, and Max, with singing partner Harry, would visit him regularly until he got over his bout of T.B. Their agent booked them on many tours of all the major theatres in the country, supporting their heroes from America... Frankie Laine and Danny Kaye. Max told myself and Terry Hart many stories of the excitement of meeting the superstars of the day, and how grateful he was that these great names actually became friends of his. Another up-and-coming act from the same stable was Larry Grayson, who became the nation's favourite with his 'camp' style, and quips like, "Shut that door!" Larry and Max knew each other well in the early days, and in later times Max went solo as a singing comedian who had a very similar style and delivery as Larry Grayson. Max used to tell us with great annoyance that the character 'slack Alice' was originally his idea, and that Larry pinched it and used it when he hit the big time. I don't know if he was just joking with us or not, but Max's solo act was very much similar to Larrys. I guess we'll never know the truth about that one. However, Max did make a living being a very entertaining act. At some point during the sixties Max decided to return to Tyneside to live. Fashions were changing, and maybe the type of theatre variety show which had given him employment was not in demand any more. He got a small flat in Felling and resumed gigs singing and telling gags at the social clubs, which were plentiful at that time. He was a member of the union 'Equity', and they were auditioning in the North for actors and extras to be in a film called 'Get Carter', which starred Michael Caine. He got a small part playing an undertaker, doing scenes with Michael himself. His gags and camp patter went down well in the local clubs. Fortunately for him 'camp' was fashionable and very funny in the seventies. Larry Grayson was now a big star, and we had John Inman mincing around in the comedy series 'Are you Being Served'. This all helped to enhance the impact that Max could make on his audience, and those two names were always mentioned by him attached to a gag. He stole their catch-phrases 'Shut that door!' and 'I'm free!' Many times someone in the crowd would shout up to him...'I'm Free!', and Max would look down at him with contempt and say, 'With a face like yours, you've got to be!' This would always get hoots of laughter in the house. The first time I met Max was at Jarrow social club. I was a straight man/singer/guitar player in a comedy and music act called 'The Up & Down Duo'. We opened the show, and while changing out of our stage outfits, there was Max in the dressing room waiting to go on stage to do his act. Alan and I sat somewhere with a pint to watch him, and he really tore the house down with great professionalism that I'd never quite seen before. He did the camp, he did the geordie stuff, and he did several songs which nicely broke up the patter into palatable segments; that was the way in those days when 'variety' was traditional. He wrote a lot of his own stuff, and this little ode was one of my favourites that I saw him perform that night, and have never forgotten:-   

Max told the audience that after a show, a little woman came to see him in the dressing room, and thanked him for cheering her up after a terrible tragedy in her life had made her terribly depressed. She had suffered the loss of her son, who worked for a big sign company putting up big letters on buildings to show the name of the business who occupied those buildings. After fixing a six foot tall letter to the wall of a 100 foot high building, he lost his grip and fell through it to his death on the pavement below. She wiped away some tears, and told Max she had written a poem, dedicated to her loving son. 'Would you like to hear it?' she asked him. 'Of course, my dear,' he had said to her. She took a deep breath, and composed herself, and recited her poem to him as follows;

THIS IS THE STORY OF MY SON, JOE.

WHO DIED AFTER FALLING THROUGH A LETTER 'O'.

HE WAS KIND, HE WAS GOOD...THERE WAS NOBODY BETTER,

BUT HE WENT AS HE CAME, THROUGH A HOLE IN A LETTER.

Everyone in the club just fell apart with laughter Max had been a member of the union Equity for many years, and in the North East he was part of a committee which negotiated television work for variety members. He was very much against agents taking control of television work because they took commision, and for years he did this job without being paid anything at all, and all of us members benefitted as a result of his efforts. Max contributed to many fundraisers over the years by performing his act at the many 'Charity Shows' we all did quite frequently. We enjoyed them, as it was an occasion to meet up with all the other acts on the bill both socially and to see what they were doing. In the late eighties clubland was showing signs of being on the wane. Work was not in great supply any more, and clubs were letting go of their resident musicians in favour of acts who had their own taped backing tracks. Suddenly acts like myself and Terry Hart had to make tracks to sing along to, or we just wouldn't get any work. Max could not do this, being a comic, so he ended up doing stag shows with strippers, and using 'stag-show' language on stage as it was expected of him by the all-male audience. There was still the odd traditional job going, but Max was semi-retired by then, but he still loved performing. I took him to a small club at the bottom of Shields Road in Byker, where a friend of ours was doing a small family show...and of course Max got up to do a short spot. He did some gags and a few songs, which went down very well. He was just happy to perform - and money was never important to him. Six months after that show, Max died. It was Friday 13th. September 1991, and hundreds of people lost a dear friend. Those who attended his funeral were mostly recognised by me. They were variety artistes, actors, fellow comedians and agents. Max was a warm and sincere man who almost always spoke his mind, and he had a lot to say about politics and what was wrong with the world. He did, however, always see the funny side of all situations...which was why he was so good at comedy. Terry and I talk about him very often, as he is still part of our lives, and we really miss one of the best friends anyone could have. R.I.P. Maxie. DAVE WATSON Copyright 2012 Excerpt from my book 'Golden Years of Clubland'