I jointly dedicate my song today to Nicola Gunning who celebrates her birthday, and Chantal Drummond who lives in Portishead, North Somerset. Chantal also celebrates her birthday today. Thirdly, we celebrate the birthday of Maria Fowler Franey. Enjoy your special day, ladies, and thank you for being my Facebook friend.
We also celebrate the heavenly birthday of Sheila Forde’s first husband, Anton Murray, who died in 2007. He would have been 68 years old today. Happy heavenly birthday, Anton.
My song today is ‘Cathy’s Clown’. This song was written and recorded by ‘The Everly Brothers’ in 1960. The lyrics describe a man who has been wronged and publicly humiliated by his lover.
‘Cathy's Clown’ was noted for its unorthodox structure, such as beginning on a chorus and having bridges but no verses. The song was a worldwide success and the best-selling single of the Everly Brothers career. Due to its enduring influence on popular music the song was added to the ‘National Recording Registry’ of the ‘Library of Congress’ in 2013. It was the Everly Brothers fist single for ‘Warner Bros. and it sold over 8 million copies worldwide. It spent five weeks as Number 1 on the US Billboard Hot 100’ chart and was also Number 1 on the ‘R&B Chart’. Billboard ranked the song as the Number 3 song for the year 1960. Rolling Stone ranked the song as 149th in the magazine’s list of the ‘500 Greatest Songs of All Time’.
I was going on 18 years of age when this song was recorded by the Everly Brothers in 1960. At the time I worked at ‘Harrison Gardeners Dyeworks’ in Hightown and was on the brink of making a name for myself. The firm had a few hundred male and female workers and was one of the oldest family textile firms in West Yorkshire. The shop steward position within the firm was an important post, and the duties of shop steward had to be carried out in addition to one’s own paid functions as a dyehouse vat operative.
As my 18th birthday approached, the position for shop steward became vacant after much discontent had been voiced by the workers with the previous shop steward’s failure to achieve an increase in the wage of dying vat operatives. I was a well-read individual who was as intellectual as most men. I was also very politically inclined at the time and was confident in both speech and performance in addressing crowds. It was suggested by one of the workers that, despite my young age, I would make as good a shop steward as any other male employee at the firm. My name was formerly proposed, I agreed to stand, and was duly elected as the shop steward. In becoming the firm’s shop steward, I became the youngest trade union shop steward in Great Britain, and I made the national press. I remained a shop steward for the following three years until I went to live in Canada at the age of 21 years.
When I became the shop steward, the family firm had never experienced a strike since it had first opened in the previous century. Before the firm closed down around the New Millennium, the employers would have witnessed two strikes. The first strike (which lasted one week) was called by myself as the shop steward during my 19th year of life, and the second strike was called by my brother Patrick, who also became a long-standing shop steward there during the 1980s.
The strike I called (because of the unusual circumstances surrounding it), became a Cause Célèbre, which was reported by the national press as well as every regional newspaper in West Yorkshire. 1960s England was not a welcoming place for any immigrant to live, and racist attitudes towards any person who was either brown or black in skin colour had been deeply embedded in the national psyche for centuries. The country’s racism was institutionally embedded in our daily customs and could be openly found in every walk of life. Black people were not allowed trade-union membership and were banned from all forms of club membership. The only jobs they could get were in low-paid positions that English workers would not perform. Interracial relationships between any black and white person were socially shunned and frowned upon, and landlords would openly display notices in their boarding-house windows that boldly said, ‘No Blacks. No Dogs! No Irish!’
During my second year of being the firm’s shop steward, a West Indian man saw a vacancy being advertised at ‘Harrison Gardener’s Dyeworks’ and applied for the post. In the 1960s, as soon as any firm had a vacancy, the job would be publicly displayed outside the firm's gates. A passing unemployed West Indian male saw that a vacancy existed and applied for the post, but was immediately denied the position on the grounds of his skin colour. The matter was brought to my attention as the shop steward.
At the time, I was on the fringe of asking the bosses for a penny an hour increase on each batch of work carried out in the Dye House. Also, ever since the age of 11 years, when a West Indian surgeon had operated on me and had saved my life at the Batley Hospital (after a wagon had run over me and had left me with life-threatening injuries), I had been an early advocator against all manner of racism. So, I enjoined the two aspects I cared about most; a wage increase for the workers, and the right of the unemployed West Indian man to fill a current vacancy at the firm, and I persuaded the workers to come out on strike until the employers changed their minds on both counts.
Given the two issues, I will concede that most of the striking workforce was more concerned in getting a wage increase than fighting for the rights of any minority black worker to secure a vacant job at the firm, but given the blatantly racist age we lived in at the time, I was still proud that the men and women workers allowed me to also make the rights of the West Indian job seeker a joint reason for striking.
Naturally, the issue that the national and regional press seized upon was the one concerning the employer’s refusal to allow an unemployed West Indian male to fill a job vacancy on the grounds of his skin colour. The mill owner’s objection to the vacant position being filled by a black man gave this racial dispute a more human face to write about. Being one of the most pressing and prejudicial issues of the day, ‘Race’ was the storyline adopted by the press. The fact that a white work-force was willing to come out on the very first strike that ‘Harrison Gardeners’ Dyeworks’ had ever had since it had first opened, and which was also led by Great Britain’s youngest trade-union textile shop steward, ensured that we received maximum media coverage in the national and regional press again!
The employers relented after one week of having been hit with their first strike in a century and the workers received their wage rise. It was also agreed that the West Indian would be employed in the vacant post. However, whether because of the wide publicity or some other factor, the West Indian male refused to take the job, which left the taste of victory in my mouth somewhat more academic than real.
Following this episode in my life as a shop steward, the trade union movement wanted to fast track me in their organisation, and I was offered a university scholarship at ‘Ruskin College’. Under normal circumstances, I would have been immensely proud and only too willing to have accepted the trade union offer, and studied for a degree; with all the prospects of becoming a highly-paid regional trade-union official, and maybe even a future trade-union funded labour political candidate. I declined.
Ever since the age of being a teenager, I had dreamed of going to Canada and travelling around some of the United States when I was 21 years old. I had won many singing contests since childhood, and I also dreamed of one day making a successful living as a professional pop singer. I had been awarded a sizable amount of compensation from my childhood traffic accident, which would be available to me when I became 21 years of age, and I knew money would act as financial security for my planned few years abroad.
Love and peace Bill xxx