Celebrity cricket…

May 31, 2010

At school in the 60s, there was this boy called Lee. Now that was odd enough in itself, because most of us had solid names from the generation before, like Alan, or Stephen or Michael.

Saints’ names, and there wasn’t as far as I know, a St Lee. Actually, come to think of it, there may not have been a St Alan, either. Maybe I had more in common with him than I thought. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

He was a bit tubby, and slightly darker than the rest of us, but unusually for those days,  we didn’t make much of it.  He lived with his mum in an immaculately-gardened council house, end of terrace. His dad had …well, gone. Years later, I found out he had been an American serviceman, and Lee’s mum kept his picture in her handbag, as Lee told me after she died.

We didn’t tease him because he was always bigger than  us, and anyway, he was good at football. He didn’t run around much, but would mostly just hang around the penalty area and score goals. In this, he was 20 years ahead of his time. The coach, Sergeant Middleditch,  kept on moaning at his ‘workrate’ (he had been in the US Marines for years, and used language that was slightly ahead of us) and would pull him off from time to time, which Lee didn’t seem to mind.

After school, we lost touch. I went down south to art school and stayed. One day in the late 70s, we were looking for a song for a custard ad, and flicked through a pile of albums (vinyl in those days, big buggers with cardboard covers) and there he was. More hair, stringy and saggy, but definitely Lee. Surprisingly, he was the singer. He had never sung at school, just mouthed the words, and now I come to think of it, maybe he could sing all along, but was a bit ashamed of it.

We weren’t in that Britain’s Got Talent era, or whatever it is, where everyone takes singing and dancing lessons at 10. I mean, ask Ozzy Osbourne if he ever went to ballet school. We kind of shuffled on the rare occasions we were dragged on to the dance floor, and flapped our arms like penguins, and as for singing…forget it. It must have been crap being a girl in the 70s…no wonder so many of them flirted  with lesbianism.

Anyway, Lee… The band came into the agency to see us about the ad.  Lee didn’t seem to recognise me, and I didn’t want to put him on the spot by claiming that i knew him, so we got down to business straight away. They had a pretty commercial manager in those days, who wanted them to work on anything going, and although it would have been ‘selling out’ (and the guitarist, in particular, was vehemently opposed to them being in anything as mainstream as an ad – he later became a new media mogul, but I won’t embarrass him by naming him) they really needed the money. The drummer and bassist seemed to be up for it, the manager certainly was, and Lee was completely silent.

Anyway, we went through our pitch – the original idea was to show them on stage,  and have a guy in a chocolate bar suit come on and sing a duet with Lee, but that was a a bit of a non-starter, and Lee shook his head. so we went to plan B, which involved them playing the soundtrack and a bunch of nobodies (at the time – one of them went on to read the news) miming the words. That was easier for them to stomach – they could at least claim to just be doing a session if awkward questions were asked. Then, right at the end, Lee spoke for the first time. ‘How about doubling the fee?’ he said, without a blink of embarrassment. We were pissed off, to coin a phrase, but we were so close that we said yes.  The client was pissed off, too, but bless them, they paid up. The ad went well, sales went up a bit, and we won a couple of awards, so it ended happily.

So, long story short, and fast forward a couple of decades. Lee & co. had their 15 minutes of fame, then disappeared from view. Then one Friday afternoon in summer, I got the call. I didn’t recognise the voice, and I knew a few Lees – you do, in advertising. So his opening gambit came as a bit of a facer: ‘Hi Al, it’s Lee. Do you still play cricket?’

I could have lied and said yes – it would have been fun to hang around with an old rocker – but I knew the then-wife would disapprove. She didn’t like men with long hair. Perhaps I should have grown my hair long sooner.

I paused for a long moment, and he said ‘Al…Al…you still there?’

‘Yes,’ I replied, then said, ‘Yes, I’m still here, and yes, I still play a bit. I bat a bit and dolly-drop the odd leg-break.’

‘Great…that’s great. I’m living out in Essex now. Can you get to Little Buggernuts (I made that up) at 10 tomorrow morning? I’ve got a few mates coming over. It’s for chari-dee.’

Well, what would you have  said? Everyone thinks advertising is all glamour and glitz, but in point of fact, it’s really a lot of sitting around trying to comeeup with a new jokey way of selling crisps and air fresheners, and a lot of other crap that folk don’t need. So I said yes. And I’ll tell you more about that in a few days…

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