IT’S A LONG WAY FROM FERRYHILL
Cliff Atkinson started life in the small coal mining village of Ferryhill in the north east of England. The book details the many facets of his life including his childhood which is best described that when asked if he’d read Angela’s Ashes, his reply was that not only had he read it he had lived it. Follow his story through Ferryhill Station, East Howle, The Cragg, Chilton and Chilton Lane. Then Australia called.
This is more than a rags to riches story even though that takes up many parts of the book it illustrates how anyone in the world no matter how humble their beginnings can meet and hold court with some of the most wealthy and powerful in the world.
From this small coal mining village Ferryhill, known only as a former mining community of six thousand people that the world by-passes driving along the London - Newcastle motorway.
A working life which begins as a mathematics schoolteacher, then advertising executive, rock concert promoter, television producer/director, record company proprietor, stockbroker and financial advisor on infrastructure projects around the world.
When watching the TV series Madmen he thinks it’s a documentary on the advertising industry of the sixties and seventies.
Share his experiences with rock stars including Chuck Berry, Roy Orbison, Billy Connolly, Sandy Denny John Denver, Dusty Springfield and many others.
Even Elvis and The Eagles get a mention. Not forgetting working with Angelina Jolie, Cate Blanchett, Adrien Brophy, Dermot Mulroney, Brooke Shields, Sam Neill and Robert Redford.
Politicians including Hawke, Keating, Howard, Clinton and numerous West African Presidents.
Religious leaders such as Dr. L. Ron Hubbard
Sportsmen such as Beckham, Shearer, Maradona, Alan Border and George Peponis.
Get an insight on Lindy Chamberlain ‘The dingo took my baby’ from a slightly drunk sitting High Court judge.
Dealings with three generations of Packers, Australia’s most wealthy family dynasty
Being off-loaded from a Pan Am flight in war torn Beirut.
A multi-millionaire during the dot-com boom.
Unwittingly getting involved with Mr. Asia, one of the world’s major drug lords.
Working with Benny Hill, Sir David Frost and others in television.
This is a fascinating memoir of how high one can fly, and how low one can go if you put yourself out there.
How he broke the major record companies ban on imported music and live recordings in Australia.
Most notable is how a life can change with one phone call which kick started this great adventure in life.
He has played football, soccer, at all levels and continues to do so even at 69 years old for North Sydney over 45’s where he carries the nickname Dead Man Walking since his severe heart attack 16 years ago and the recent installation of a heart pacemaker.
The con man that while posing as a good friend set him up to take the fall on a major fraud.
Still active and working at 69 as CEO of Phoenix Green Capital, advisors on investment in infrastructure in underdeveloped countries predominantly in West Africa and Asia.
IT’S A LONG WAY FROM FERRYHILL! Chapter 1! Oops! Wrong Number!
Then there was the time around July 1973 while working as a researcher for the Victorian Broadcasting Network, a media company that owned and operated a number of regional television stations and radio stations in the state of Victoria in Australia, in the North Sydney sales office, not a very stimulating occupation but it paid the mortgage and could possibly lead to a better position with a major metropolitan TV network. Eating a chicken and salad sandwich for lunch and looking forward to the sticky buttered finger bun with its pink icing sitting on the desk in front of me. Having just finished a year teaching high school girls mathematics at Saint George Girls High School the finger bun had become an essential part of my diet. In those days a balanced diet to me was fish on one side of the plate and chips on the other side. Leaving teaching there had been a difficult decision to make as it was a selective school where only the best and brightest attended. Being a young Englishman one can imagine what it was like, not only embarrassing, when on sports carnival day around eight hundred young girls started singing at the tops of their voices, He's Our Long Haired Lover from Liverpool, as I was making my way to the starting line having been given the task of starter for all the races. Little Jimmy Osmond would have been proud. It had been an interesting posting for a young mathematics teacher at a selective girl’s high school where the students would have passed everything with or without my input. However I was very flattered when mothers started to turn up at the school wanting to meet me to discuss what was going on as they had noticed maths homework had become a priority in most homes. At the risk of flattering myself I was one of two male teachers on the staff and the other was looking forward to retirement so I was young, English and driving a flashy sports car.
From my desk I could look out of the window onto the Sydney Harbour Bridge, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, a better description would be a view of the traffic leaving the Harbour Bridge onto the Warringah Expressway.
In those days there were two afternoon newspapers, the Daily Mirror and the Daily Sun, and while reading the Fairfax Sun I noticed a very small article lost in the bowels of the paper, underneath the Vincent’s Powders message, and just above the haemorrhoids advertisement announcing that the Sydney Opera House was open for bookings with a phone number 20666 to make enquiries. Probably should remind ourselves that ‘The House’ as some of us in the current day and age call it, that is, the pretentious us who feel we have some spiritual connection with the building, was to be opened by Queen Elizabeth 2 in October 1973 and so far only the construction crews and SOH staff had had access to ‘The House’. The only performance so far being on the steps by the American singer Paul Robeson for the workers on the construction site.
The thought bubble appeared above my head lit up and it occurred to me to me that it would be a very good idea to get a couple of tickets for any performance at the Sydney Opera House in an effort to please and surprise Patricia, my wife of a few years, and as I’ve been heard to say many times in the last 50 years, ‘to save a marriage’. As time will tell it didn't work.
Putting the finger bun to the side and licking the icing off my fingers I made a life changing phone call. I dialled the number, no push button phones at this office. The number yes, I remember it well, two zero six six six and asked the lady who picked up at the other end how could I make bookings as mentioned in the paper. Put on hold I was then connected and put through to a gentleman called Justin Smith. I mentioned the article in the paper and asked about bookings. He asked me which night I was looking at and I stated the obvious, well it was obvious to me, a Saturday night of course, that was any Saturday night as soon as possible after the Queen had performed the formalities, and if possible and affordable maybe even the opening night. No chance at all! That was for dignitaries, and the programme was close to being finalised. I was then asked which room or hall I was interested in. What did I know about rooms in the Sydney Opera House? Had no concept of there being more than one venue. No-one had been in it yet. So I replied the big one of course, I didn’t know there was more than one room. Not wanting to be thought of as a cheapskate I thought two tickets can’t be that expensive, bearing in mind my salary at the time was about a hundred and twenty dollars a week, and when given the good news that Saturdays were available in the Concert Hall I asked how much. My heart skipped not one but a number of beats as I heard seven hundred and fifty dollars guaranteed against 12.5% of takings. A little expensive for a night out I thought, but not wishing to appear a miserly skinflint I queried the 12.5% thinking that I’ll be able to hang up gracefully and get back to him. But in hindsight I didn't have a clue what he was talking about.
We’ve all heard about light bulb moments, some but not all of us have had them, I now had a second one within five minutes of the first one. This was my second. I paused and ran things through my befuddled brain and started to think he’s offering me the chance to book the hall lock, stock, barrel, stage, lights and everything that went with it. He kept talking but I wasn’t hearing the rest of terms and conditions being explained to me, I just knew I had to do this. Whatever 'this' was. Yes, as people have asked me hundreds of times since what was I thinking? The truth is I wasn’t. Did I know what I was doing? Not a clue! Had I promoted anything in the entertainment business? Only when I was 13 years old and having taken a dozen guitar lessons with my next door neighbour Eric Haswell we played our only three known chord versions of Paul Anka’s Diana, Lonnie Donegan’s Worried Man and My Old Man's A Dustman in my backyard, and that’s a concrete yard in a pitman’s terrace house, not a garden as named in other countries, in Ferryhill Station to all the kids in the street. Picture a concrete area five metre by four metres outside the kitchen and in front of the outside toilet. A long zinc bathtub hanging off the wall. Not exactly the Royal Albert Hall. We were a great success and maybe I was destined to be in show business.
One mistake-nobody paid.
Perhaps an omen of things to come.
Back to the Sydney Opera House and if I'd been standing I would have been thinking on my feet, as it was the wheels in my brain were spinning so fast no clear thoughts emerged.
So trying to act sophisticated and entrepreneurial, a word I learnt in the coming months, I carried on with the conversation and I dived in.
Some facts and figures should come in handy at this stage. The deposit required for each booking was a hundred and twenty dollars. For the first date deposit due now on signing of contract, other deposits due six weeks before each of the events. WHAT EVENTS? Where am I going to find the first one hundred and twenty dollars never mind the other eleven for first available 12 Saturday nights I’d booked in the Concert Hall and how was my wife going to react to my foolishness? I passed on my address for postage of the contracts then hung up the phone, took a number of deep breaths and pondered on what I had just done. I convinced myself that they would be a great success, after all I had called up to buy a couple of tickets without knowing what was going to be on the bill. I then got cold feet as I realised that as a researcher and statistician I was breaking a cardinal rule of research by relying on the results of a sample of one respondent. That is me!
However casting doubts aside, first step, how do I get one hundred and twenty dollars? The wife would divorce me if I was to spend a monthly mortgage instalment on such a crazy idea. Just then a work colleague, John Sturzaker, a real gentleman who looked like a debonair David Niven with the smooth moustache and aristocratic bearing, and he had recently moved to Sydney from Melbourne with a history in television advertising sales and marketing, happened to be passing my desk as I put the phone down and after a few minutes I asked him if he was willing to lose sixty dollars on a crazy venture. His reply was along the lines of how crazy? We arranged to meet in the Albert Hotel, our regular after work pub, and after I'd explained what I had done he took a few minutes to think about it, he was a much more conservative person than myself, he actually thought about it, he said yes and a shake of the hand became a life changing moment for both of us.
The contract for the first date arrived in the mail, no email or the like in those days, so off went the cheque for a hundred and twenty dollars and we were in show business. I paid the twenty cents for the stamp on the envelope I stole from the Victorian Broadcasting Network.
Now for the first time we thought about what we would present on the dates booked. But we did have a few months to work it out, or so we thought.............................
FOOTNOTES:The Sydney Opera House is a multi-venue performing arts centre in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. Situated on Bennelong Point in Sydney Harbour, close to the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the facility is adjacent to the Sydney central business district and the Royal Botanic Gardens, between Sydney and Farm Coves. Designed by Danish architect Jørn Utzon, the facility formally opened on 20 October 1973after a gestation beginning with Utzon's 1957 selection as winner of an international design competition. The NSW Government, led by Premier Joseph Cahill, authorised work to begin in 1958, with Utzon directing construction. The government's decision to build Utzon's design is often overshadowed by circumstances that followed, including cost and scheduling overruns as well as the architect's ultimate resignation. Though its name suggests a single venue, the project comprises multiple performance venues which together are among the busiest performing arts centres in the world — hosting over 1,500 performances each year attended by some 1.2 million people. The venues produce and present a wide range of in-house productions and accommodate numerous performing arts companies, including four key resident companies: Opera Australia, The Australian Ballet, the Sydney Theatre Company and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. As one of the most popular visitor attractions in Australia, more than seven million people visit the site each year, with 300,000 people participating annually in a guided tour of the facility. Identified as one of the 20th century's most distinctive buildings and one of the most famous performing arts centres in the world, the facility is managed by the Sydney Opera House Trust, under the auspices of the New South Wales Ministry of the Arts. .The Sydney Opera House became a UNESCO World Heritage Site on 28 June 2007.