My song today is ‘Bachelor Boy’. This song was recorded by Cliff Richard and the Shadows. The song was written by Bruce Welch (from the Shadows). It became a hit when it was released as the B-side of Richard's single ‘The Next Time’. Both sides of the single were regarded as having chart potential so both sides were promoted, but in most markets ‘Bachelor Boy’ became the bigger hit. The single spent three weeks at Number 1 in the ‘UK Singles Chart’ in January 1963 and was a major hit internationally, excluding the US. Both sides of the single were included on the accompanying soundtrack album ‘Summer Holiday’.
In the UK, the single was the first of three Number 1 hit singles from Richard's musical film, ‘Summer Holiday’, the other two hit songs being ‘Summer Holiday’ and ‘Foot Tapper’. The film was the most successful box-office attraction of the year.
The song is about some advice a father passes to his son, to ‘remain a bachelor boy until (his) dying day’. Richard later commented when he wrote this song that he "never expected it to be prophetic". While Richard has himself never married, the song itself does not rule out marriage, with the final verse stating "I'll get married, have a wife and a child... but until then I'll be a bachelor boy".
In December 1963, I emigrated to Canada for a couple of years. I had always dreamed of going there and travelling around some of the United States before I got married and settled down to raise a family. Having a few gap years in my life had been made possible by having come into some compensation money that had been awarded to me following a bad traffic accident at the age of 11 years.
In many ways, the advice given by the father to his son in the song was not much different than the advice my father gave me. I recall during my twentieth year of life, my mother, (who did not want me to go travelling to the other side of the world because she feared that she would never see me again) would say, “Don’t bother going to Canada, Billy. Stay here and find a nice girl to marry and settle down with, and to have a family,” whereas my father would simply say, “There’s no need to hurry into marriage, lad. In fact, some men don’t get married!”
I remember meeting a few really beautiful young women in my twentieth year who would undoubtedly have made good marriage partners and loving mothers to any children we had, but however tempting they proved to be, every time the relationship between us started to get serious, I would break it off. I loved the experience of ‘falling in love’, but without the responsibilities of ‘being in love’.
So, in December 1963, I set off from the Liverpool docks in the ‘S.S.Sylvania’ bound for Nova Scotia, in Canada, from where I would travel across the country by train to Quebec City where I first planned to live and work. Before I decided upon making Quebec my first base camp in Canada, I had read up on the place. I knew that they spoke English and French, but mostly French. Because I could not speak one word of French, my bizarre brain had come up with the notion that French Quebec would be the most difficult place in Canada for me to start off, and if I could manage to survive my first few months there, I would be able to survive anywhere in Canada.
I soon discovered that almost all the people in the City of Quebec simply refused to speak English (even though most could), and were ardent ‘Separatists’ who wanted French Quebec to have its own independence as a Nation-State from the remainder of Canada. The extreme ‘separatists’ were regularly planting bombs as the I.R.A. had done during their years of armed rebellion on the British shoreland, so I quickly moved base to Montreal City. Montreal was the most cosmopolitan of cities of diverse cultures. It was a veritable metropolis with many different ethnic neighbourhoods.
While I lodged in the private home of some English-speaking Canadians for my first month in Montreal, each day I would travel 15 miles into Montreal City to work in a textile factory which dyed hosiery. My previous dying experience in the mill enabled me to get this job, even without being able to speak the native language of all the textile employees (who were of Italian origin). That was a very strange experience as I was the only employee who was not Italian, and apart from the Italian Mill Manager (who could speak a few words of English, but whom I rarely saw since the first day he’d employed me), I would spend all my working day in silence, exchanging the odd smile with other workmates.
My Italian workmates took me under their wing, and one couple even invited me to eat with them in their home one weekend. That day remains memorable, not because of the copious amount of vino I drank, but by me falling asleep on the bus on the return journey way to my flat.
In Montreal City, all bus tickets cost the same price, whatever the distance travelled, but the same ticket may be used numerous times as long as one continues to go forward or horizontal but not backward. All streets in Montreal City are linear in design and criss-cross at right angles (they are straight and have no turnings). They were built and located parallel, horizontal, or vertical to each other on the big map. Consequently, one can get on and off the bus, and on another bus with the same bus ticket all day long, and it is even possible to travel up to fifteen miles in the same direction one way and ten miles the other way, providing one does not go back on themselves!
At the end of the day, my Italian guests who’d wined and dined me put me on the bus in the evening in time for me to get back to my flat to watch ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’. I did not want to miss that week’s show as ‘The Beatles’ were appearing on the American show for the first time. Being heavily intoxicated, I fell asleep on the bus and was awakened by the bus driver at the end terminal. Being six or seven miles away from my flat with the ‘Ed Sullivan Show’ due to start fifteen minutes later, I had to get a cab back to the flat at great expense so as not to miss it!
Within one month I had changed employment and was working where I wanted to be working. I had obtained a position at ‘The Last Chance Saloon’ as a singer in a night-time club which employed three regular singers; each of whom provided three half-hour singing spots nightly, plus a fourth singer who would change with the week. I had been a pretty good pop singer since childhood and before coming to Canada, and I planned to make it big out there just as soon as some agent spotted my potential and launched me into international stardom.
Also, this was the era of the Liverpool sound. ‘The Beatles’ had just hit it big and were becoming international stars globally. Indeed, the new sound and singers of the world were all coming out of Liverpool (less than 50 miles from my home base in West Yorkshire).
The bottom line was that I thought I was the best pop singer in the whole of Canada at the time and when I discovered that I wasn’t and that there were other singers as good as me (and God forbid, some even better than me), I instantly packed in my singing career. My major character flaw at the time led me to prefer not to sing at all if I was not the best singer on the stage. In cricket-team analogy, if I wasn’t the best batsman on the field, I would pull up the stumps, walk back to the pavilion and take my bat home!
I should have picked up the hint on the ‘S.S.Sylvania’ over the Christmas period as I crossed the wild Atlantic Ocean. Between the ages of 7-21, I had entered many singing contests and had never lost a singing competition. My singing prizes naturally led to having an overinflated ego, and during my Christmas voyage to Canada, I naturally entered the New Year’s singing contest on the liner with the clear expectation of winning it. I was shocked when I came in second!
The winner was an 8-year-old Shirley Temple lookalike who stole the hearts of the ship’s audience with her childlike gestures and ‘butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth’ expression that never once left her false face. It was only after this humiliating experience of having been beaten ‘by a child’ of inferior sing talent that I thought about the many older boys and adult singers I had also beaten in singing contests over my childhood years. For the very first time in my life, I started to wonder if I had also benefited from my child's image each time I had pushed an adult into second place in a singing contest during my childhood years?
For several months I worked on the ‘Canadian Pacific Railway’. My job was a modest one of low pay serving the train passengers with fruit and beverages, but the reason I worked on the trains was that it enabled me to go on the three-day runs across Canada and even cross into the USA. During this period, I had several memorable romances of brief duration, and on each occasion, managing to avoid marriage or any long-term commitment.
After I had moved to live in Toronto, I was working as a receptionist in an uptown hotel when I met a girl whom I instantly ‘fell in love with’, and for the first time in my life ‘stayed in love with’. We seriously considered a short engagement period followed by marriage. She was called Jenny Downton and was the eldest daughter of the British Trade Commissioner to Canada. After seven months of dating, while Jenny wanted to formalise our relationship by getting engaged after proposing not to go on to obtain her degree, I felt uneasy about such a move. I eventually decided that we essentially came from different worlds and so I broke off my relationship with her.
Her parents were good people who had always accepted me and held no objection towards any possible engagement between us, but they did want Jenny to complete her planned degree course before contemplating any marriage plans. I just felt that our 4-year age gap made this the wrong time for her to decide on a long-term future with any person, let alone a man who could never provide her with a lifestyle to which she had probably grown too accustomed to abandon (without knowing it there and then). I never knew whether this was the right or wrong decision for me to make, and following my long-established pattern of behaviour, I allowed my head to rule my heart.
When I returned to West Yorkshire, I almost turned myself around and went back to Toronto on the next flight but did not. For several months I felt heartbroken and was emotionally lost at sea, but then I found myself dating a girl and falling in love again ‘on the rebound’. I was now thinking more daily that the time for me to settle down was fast approaching. After a couple of years of courtship, and after she had completed her teaching qualifications at a Bradford College, we married during my 26th year of life. My days of being a bachelor were well and truly over.
Love and peace Bill xxx