I had a brief acquaintance with Max in the first few weeks after I joined Melody Maker in 1970. Before he became the middle man between the tabloid press and those who sought to benefit by selling them their sordid tales of deceit between the sheets, Max was involved in music PR, first as an assistant in the EMI press office, where he encountered The Beatles*, and then working for Les Perrin, PR to many rock musicians, not least Beatles John, George and Ringo and The Rolling Stones. Max looked after the lesser names on Les’ client list, among them Status Quo, then undergoing a major image change from modish psychedelic pin-ups to denim-clad purveyors of the no-nonsense boogie that would sustain them thereafter.
Quite how I have no idea but Max had somehow discovered that at that time, before I found a flat-share in Bayswater, I lived near Egham in Surrey. Status Quo were playing a gig at a college in nearby Staines and Max invited to go along and see them. I wasn’t particularly keen on the idea and when I demurred he said, and I kid you not: “I’ll bring a bird for you.”
I was momentarily speechless. Perhaps he thought I imagined that Status Quo would stump up for a chicken dinner after the show. More likely he realised I was new to the job and a bit wet behind the ears. So he clarified his offer.
“I’ll bring a girl for you for the night.”
I was indeed pretty green in those days, my first few weeks on MM, certainly inexperienced in the ways by which dodgy PRs might snare the likes of me. I really wasn’t sure how to react. I didn’t actually know whether or not this was the norm in the world of pop into which I had so recklessly thrown myself.
“Er, that’s not necessary,” I stammered. “I’ll come anyway.”
My name had been left on the door at the college in Staines and, mindful that I’d have compromised myself had I accepted his offer, I turned up with a (male) pal just in case the “bird” was waiting for me anyway. She wasn’t but Max was surprised that I’d turned up with my pal. Indeed he seemed more than surprised. He looked at me like I was mad, or maybe gay. Why on earth, he reasoned, would anyone turn down a “bird” – it was left unsaid what the provision of a girl would lead to, but it doesn’t take much to figure it out – in exchange for something as simple as a favourable MM review for Status Quo?
I can’t remember what I wrote about Status Quo but even though this clearly wasn’t their doing it put me off them for life. Happily, I had no further dealings with Max Clifford. Not long after this he set up his own company and switched from pop to kiss-and-tell, ultimately rising to the top in this field, the king of manipulative wheelers and dealers, the champion of women seduced and then abandoned by randy footballers, politicians and other men in the public eye. This wasn’t Melody Maker’s turf, of course, but I watched with mild interest from the sidelines as the man who once offered me a “bird” rose from strength to strength, acting as a broker between the wronged women and The Sun and its ilk, negotiating deals whereby the papers paid considerable sums for the saucy revelations, and taking a cut of the money, usually 20%. Heaven only knows how much he charged for keeping stories out of the newspapers.
This made him very rich, of course, bought him a fancy house and flash cars, but along the way he made many enemies who would no doubt have gloated when Max found himself sentenced to eight years for sexually assaulting young girls and women. He even wrote an autobiography in which he bragged about his sexual adventures, and the book was leapt upon by the prosecution during his trial. Hoisted by his own petard indeed.
Max had threatened to write another book in which he would reveal those secrets about his clients that he’d managed to keep out of the press but now it seems the book is unlikely to see the light of day. No doubt those former clients will sleep more soundly in their beds now that the King of Sleaze is no more. My condolences to his family.
* Before it was taken down after his conviction, the website of Max Clifford Associates claimed that in 1963 he worked for The Beatles and, by inference, played some role in their rise to fame. On Wikipedia it stated that he had been given the job of promoting “an unknown group called The Beatles early in their career, including their first tour of the United States”.
I always thought this was a dubious claim and to confirm my suspicions spoke with my friend Mark Lewisohn, the world’s most reliable Beatle archivist. According to Mark, Clifford was a junior assistant in the EMI press office in 1963. “The Beatles didn’t have a great deal to do with that office because Brian Epstein hired independent PRs, first Andrew Oldham and then Tony Barrow,” said Mark. “When they did have cause to fraternise with EMI, they mostly worked with press officer Syd Gillingham and his senior assistant Brian Mulligan. Clifford may have mailed out press releases. While he was certainly present at one Beatles photo session, this was only because it happened to take place right by his office at 20 Manchester Square. Otherwise, he wasn’t involved. He certainly never toured with them, or helped set up any tours. They’d no need of him.”
So that’s cleared that up.