Yesterday’s post mentioned that only once during my time on Melody Maker was I ever offered a direct bribe and because of the hint I dropped it probably comes as no surprise that it was tendered by none other than Max Clifford, the now disgraced celebrity PR. For the benefit of any Americans reading this who might not know who he is, Clifford is very famous in the UK as our most high profile kiss-and-tell merchant, a manipulative wheeler and dealer who positions himself as the champion of women seduced and then abandoned by randy footballers, politicians and other men in the public eye. Acting as a broker between downmarket tabloids and the wronged women, he negotiates deals whereby the papers pay considerable sums of money for the saucy revelations, and for his services he takes a cut of the money, usually 20% according to reports. He also acts for clients in the opposite manner, persuading editors to kill embarrassing stories about the client by offering even juicier alternatives in return for discretion.
This, of course, has made him very rich but it also means he will have made a few enemies along the way, all of whom will no doubt have been gloating yesterday when Clifford was sentenced to eight years in prison for sexually assaulting young girls and women over a long period of time. The offences came to light as a result of Operation Yewtree, an investigation set up in the wake of revelations about the odious ‘DJ’ Jimmy Savile, who after his death in 2011 was revealed to have been a serial sex offender.
Now that Max Clifford has been found guilty of eight sex offences, I feel able to reveal that he was the one who offered me a bribe. In 1971 he worked for Les Perrin, PR to many rock musicians, not least Beatles John, George & Ringo, The Rolling Stones and few others. At a meeting in an office off New Oxford Street he offered me what can only be described as a bribe – in the form of “a bird” – in order to write favourably about Status Quo, of all people. It was the only time during my seven years on Melody Maker than I was ever offered a direct bribe.
Quo were then undergoing a major image change from modish psychedelic pin-ups to denim-clad boogie merchants, and Clifford had invited me to go along to review them at a college near Staines, a far from mouth-watering prospect. When I demurred he said, and I kid you not: “I’ll bring a bird for you.” Momentarily speechless, I hesitated. Perhaps he thought I’d misinterpreted him and imagined he was going to buy me a chicken supper. So he clarified his offer. “I’ll bring you a girl for the night,” he added.
“Er… that’s not necessary,” I finally stammered. “I’ll come anyway.”
My name was left on the door 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 Clifford was surprised. 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 the opportunity of a girl (it was left unsaid exactly what the provision of a girl would lead to, but it doesn’t take a high IQ to figure it out) in exchange for a favourable review?
I saw the band, went home, wrote something or other (can’t remember what now) but never forget it. And I gave Clifford a wide berth thereafter.
One other thing…
Before access was denied on Tuesday, Clifford’s PR company website claimed that in 1963 he worked with The Beatles and, by inference, played some part in their rise to fame. On Wikipedia it states that Clifford claims to have been given the job of promoting “an unknown and unwanted group called The Beatles early in their career, including of their first tour of the United States”.
I always thought this was rubbish and to confirm my suspicions e-mailed Mark Lewisohn about it earlier this week. 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,” says 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 sent out press releases. While he was certainly present at a Beatles photo session, this was only because it happened to be 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.”