The second part of my extract from Omnibus Press’ Big Time: The Life of Adam Faith by David and Caroline Stafford, about Adam’s unpleasant encounter with South Africa’s repellent apartheid regime in 1964.
Adam Faith arrived to a Beatles welcome. Screaming fans endangered life and limb on the airport balconies; but opposition was building both from the South African government, who were determined he wouldn’t play for mixed audiences, and from the press back home who suspected his ‘convictions’ were no more than publicity-grabbing flim-flam.
The Daily Mirror, as a test, sent one of their journalists, who was Asian, to buy a ticket for one of Adam’s shows in Johannesburg. The box office said he wasn’t allowed. The cynics preened themselves.
At his hotel, Adam received anonymous phone calls warning him not to “criticise our politics”. Adam and [his manager’s husband] Maurice Press were never sure whether the armed coppers who stood guard over them 24 hours a day were there to protect or to intimidate.
Despite [promoter] Ronnie Quibell’s assurances, for the first two weeks, Adam found himself playing mostly to white audiences. Ronnie assured him that this was a temporary glitch and things would get better when they got to the more liberal parts of the country.
The crisis came at Ronnie Quibell’s own Luxurama Theatre in the suburbs of Cape Town – where Dusty had stirred it up by playing to a non-segregated audience. In the intervening weeks – between Dusty’s concert and Adam’s – the authorities had clamped down. All the same, Ronnie said, there would be brown faces among the white.
Half way through a matinee performance, the houselights went up and two jackal-eyed police started stalking the aisles. Adam stopped singing and watched. An usherette pointed the way and the cops homed in on two pre-teen girls, sitting in the front stalls. The girls were not quite white enough. The police manhandled them out of the theatre.
Worst of all, as the police bundled the two little girls up the aisle, the rest of the white audience applauded their diligence.
Adam walked off stage.
Ronnie Quibell harangued Adam in his dressing room, telling him that he would sue the arse off him if he didn’t honour every one of his engagements in South Africa – segregation or no segregation.
Adam and Maurice consulted with lawyers and even attended a meeting Ronnie had arranged with the Secretary to the Minister of the Interior. The Secretary was unsympathetic to the British sensibilities.
Arthur West, their lawyer, made preparations to smuggle them out of the country. Tickets were purchased, using the name of Terry Nelhams, for a flight back to Johannesburg and, from there, to the UK.
The first leg of the flight seemed to go well. Adam and Maurice landed at Jan Smuts airport in Johannesburg safe and sound, but, as they disembarked, they realised they’d been rumbled. The press were there to greet them.
“I’ve tried for 15 days to come to some compromise about mixed audiences,” Adam announced, “But today the Secretary for the Interior, Mr G du Preez, told me finally the Government could not change its decision”
Even though they had first-class tickets, Adam and Maurice were denied entry to the VIP lounge and had, instead, to wait in the concourse where their white and almost universally pro-apartheid fellow passengers hurled insults and jostled.
Then the flight was delayed. Adam and Maurice learned from the attendant journalists that Ronnie Quibell had taken out a summons and now a warrant was out for their arrest. A Sheriff was heading to the airport.
The Captain of a passing VC10, probably an old Drumbeat fan, took pity. With cavalier disregard for bureaucracy and protocol, he hustled Adam and Maurice through immigration and onto his plane. Within minutes, he’d been cleared for take-off and was taxiing to the runway. Soon they’d be in the air and on their way back to blighty. Another order came over the pilot’s headphones. Permission to take off had been revoked. The plane braked violently.
“The door flew open,” said Adam, “and the next thing I knew, I was staring down the barrel of a rifle. A woman in a buff-coloured C&A dress was telling me to leave the plane.”[i]
The woman was Mrs C. Malan, Deputy Sheriff of Kempton Park district. She had a Supreme Court Writ for Adam’s arrest. Unless he could come up with forty thousand Rand (around £20,000) to compensate Quibell for the broken contract, he was going to prison.
It was Friday. The banks were closed. BACS had not been invented. Prison was the only option. Adam was marched back into the airport and a wall of baying journalists. Though some of the journalists worked for the more conservative papers who believed that brutal torture followed by a sound hanging was the only language Adam’s sort would understand, many – the majority even – were liberals, who, being able to see both sides of the argument, found it laughably easy to dismiss one of them. They defended Adam from the Sheriff’s impertinence.
When a riot looked likely, Mrs Malan called for back-up. Within an hour, the High Sheriff of Johannesburg had turned up, an old-school, knuckle-dragging, mouth-breathing, side-of-condemned-beef racist and professional hater. He set about the process of dragging Adam off to jail.
It was a Spartacus moment. One by one the liberal journalists stood out from the crowd. “If he goes to jail, you’ll have to take me, too.” “And me.” “And me.”
Some of them were able to persuade the High Sheriff that what he had on his hands here was not a run-of-the-mill-Commie-delinquent but potentially a major international incident.
The Condemned Beef backed down. Adam and Maurice managed to put through a phone call to London and contacted Sir Joseph Lockwood, Chairman of EMI, who arranged for an EMI representative in South Africa to bring the requested cheque for 40,000 South African Rand to the airport.
Word, too, found its way to Gerald Croasdell, General Secretary of Equity, who did his best to foment the threatened international crisis by sending a telegram to Patrick Gordon Walker, the Foreign Secretary: “Urgently request every assistance for our member Adam Faith now under threat of imprisonment South Africa.”
The presentation of the cheque was, of course, no more than a token settlement because it could not be honoured until Monday, when the banks re-opened, but it did keep Adam and Maurice out of jail. But all the same, they had their passports confiscated and were placed under house arrest at a hotel.
On the Monday, the cheque cleared, Adam and Maurice were escorted to the airport by security guards and hours later landed at London Airport.
Nell, worried sick, and Adam’s sister Pamela were at the airport to greet him. So was an ITN reporter. Adam was in no mood to play the innocent “Don’t-know-nuffink-about-politics” pop star.
“Isn’t it a fact that if you’d not spoken out about it before you went out, there is a good chance that you would have played before mixed audiences?” asked the reporter.
“No, because they definitely asked me to sign a piece of paper saying I wouldn’t.”
“In fact mixed audiences are barred by South African Law but they are....”
“But there you are wrong, you see. You don’t know South African Law. There is not a law in South Africa that says that mixed audiences are barred in the theatres. There’s no such law. It’s not been put in the statute book. When they made the apartheid laws they left out the theatre. Because it was for culture”
“So they do endure mixed audiences?”
“They don’t ‘endure’ them or anything, what they do... it’s government policy. The Prime Minister there made a speech to say that he would not permit artists to go into the country and dictate who they want to play in front of. It’s not a law, it’s just a speech made by the Prime Minister.”
A subsequent trial in South Africa found in favour of Ronnie Quibell in his demand for compensation and he was awarded the 40,000 Rand that EMI had put up as surety to secure Adam’s release. EMI deducted the money over the next few years from Adam’s record royalties.
The Foreign Office seemed almost to agree with the South African government that visitors, especially pop stars, should shut their mouths and do as they’re told: “If artists embark on foreign tours without first ensuring that the arrangements comply both to the requirements of local law and custom” such an oversight did “not provide grounds for government intervention on their behalf”.
More shamefully still, Jimmy Edwards, handlebar-moustachioed star of TV’s school sitcom Whack-O! and Honorary Chairman of Equity’s sister union the Variety Artistes’ Federation, said, “It is no part of the unions’ function to thrust doctrinaire policies [like anti-racism] down the throats of its members. If they sign contracts to go to South Africa or elsewhere and break them, they ought not to involve the government. We regard South Africa as a very useful outlet for employment and it is not part of our function to deprive members of any outlet in any part of the world on doctrinaire grounds.”
Max Bygraves, of all people, wrote a piece in the Express saying that South Africans “do not expect rock’n’roll singers to arrive and start making laws to suit themselves”. He followed this up with: “I feel sure that responsible men with an age of experience who make the laws know more about the situation.”
Adam presumably took a sharp intake of breath before telling the Express the next day: “Didn’t people say the same sort of thing about the ‘responsible’ Adolf Hitler 30 years ago?”
Adam and Maurice Press arrive back in the UK.