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How The Billy Smart Circus Company were to host Elvis Concert in the UK

Todd Slaughter;

 

If you have read my little book you will know that I had many meetings with Carlin Music boss Freddy Bienstock.  What could have been a landmark discussion in London started out in RCA’s European HQ in Curzon Street, but for privacy we adjourned to the seclusion of Wheeler’s fish restaurant in Hertford Street, just opposite the London studios of Radio Luxembourg.

 

Freddy had been asked by Colonel to get new songs from UK songwriters for a follow up to “On Tour”. Elvis’ second live appearance movie “Elvis: On Tour” unlike “Elvis That’s The Way It Is” contained no new songs so the usual revenue stream was devoid of an album or single royalties. Pressure was on for Elvis to play overseas, but the bigger picture was another MGM documentary, this time with Elvis in Concert in London. I had previously sounded out British promoter Mel Bush who had for some years been anxious to get Elvis to the UK, and he had a rather unusual idea up his sleeve.

 

Colonel Parker asked me to come to his office on the West Coast. I followed the Colonel’s instructions, headed to Burbank and went through the movie studio gates into the sound stages and outdoor sets of the giant MGM empire, not part of a tourist trail. I was taken to Parker’s office. I found the man despondent and somewhat peeved at being judged as the bad guy for not allowing Elvis to tour overseas. Beating his walking stick on top of a well-worn mahogany desk which must have been a discarded prop from Gone With The Wind, he commanded me to “Go get an offer for Elvis to play England and take it to Mr Vernon.”

 

Jim O’Brien, Tom Diskin and a couple of MGM executives were present when in walked Freddy Bienstock. “Hello Todd, how nice to see you. Are you here for the meeting?” questioned the head of Carlin Music. “How do you know Todd Slaughter?” retorted Parker. “In England everyone knows Todd Slaughter!” answered Freddy. That fluffed up my feathers!

 

So, this was going to be a meeting, to discuss a follow-up movie to “Elvis on Tour”. This movie was to include an overseas concert that Freddy had alluded to in the private cloisters of Wheelers Fish Emporium? There was a lot of preliminaries up for debate, but I had a feeling that the MGM execs were not convinced. If a London concert had been on the table at that time, I believe the idea would have grown legs, lots of legs! However, Colonel and Tom Diskin were enthusiastic.

The following day I was advised by Freddy to go and talk with Mel Bush when I returned to England and to see what he could come up with for the spring of 1977. When you think this through, I was just a guy who runs a fan club, yet I was expected to be the go-between for Colonel Parker, MGM, Carlin Music and the Mel Bush organisation. It really didn’t add up.

 

Although this story has been disbelieved and ridiculed since outlined my book I promise you at that  meeting in MGM in Culver City I was asked to help to get a deal and take it to Elvis’ father in Memphis.

 

British promoter Mel Bush suggested Windsor Safari Park (now Legoland) knowing of Colonel Parker’s carnival past with the touring Royal American Circus Shows. The Royal American people were big friends of the world’s biggest circus operator Billy Smart who had developed Windsor. The safari park was just a 15 minute ‘copter ride from London’s Heathrow Airport and was totally secure with 5 star private accommodation for Elvis during his stay.  As asked, I took a portfolio of documents from Mel to Memphis and had a discussion with Vernon. As soon as my “Elvis and More – The Spoils of War” book was published, of the blue I received this letter.

 

Dear Todd:

 

I am reading your autobiography and I had to put pen to paper to corroborate one of your anecdotes.

 

When I first received the book, I was flicking through and it fell open at Chapter 9, which I was instantly drawn to. My father during the 1970s was Chief Superintendent for Thames Valley Police, covering amongst many areas those of  Windsor and Maidenhead.

 

At the time we lived on St Leonards Hill, some five doors from Billy Smart Jnr and his wife Kay. Due to my father’s position in the police, he had both a close working relationship and friendship with all the Smart family.  They were particularly good to us as a family letting us have our birthday parties at Safari Park, meeting and greeting the animals (many pictures taken of us as children holding lion cubs etc). We also visited the animals in their winter quarters in Winkfield and we were always invited to the “Big Top” shows.

 

Later, in my teens, I went out with Lord Smart for a short while and I remember date nights at their home in Old Windsor when my father would sit upstairs “chewing the fat” with Ronnie Smart whilst Lord and I had our date, with him showing me all his Elvis memorabilia including pictures of when they had met Elvis.

 

I had been an Elvis fan for as long as I can remember and your book reminded me of when my father said to me, you can travel to see Elvis in the USA when you are old enough, but don’t worry Elvis is coming to the UK and you will be able to see him then. My father quite rightly never shared anything of his work with the family and I just presumed that he was saying that as if Elvis did come, he would play in London and Dad could obtain tickets from the Metropolitan Police.

 

This has all changed reading your book. My father must have known about the talks of Elvis possibly appearing at Windsor Safari Park via his chats with Ronnie Smart and obviously, as the senior police officer for the area he would have been liaised with regarding the logistics.  Thank you, Todd, for sharing this tale and making me remember something I thought I had imagined.

 

Thank you for your amazing book, I have loved reading it.

 

Kindest good wishes

Penny Lovejoy-Platt.

 

Footnote to Penny’s letter. It is a small world. When Caroline Zetland was London Branch leader there was this little guy who would come to every meeting and film show. He was “delivered” to the event in a chauffeur driven Bentley. I asked the driver who the boy was, and he said, he’s Lord William Smart from the Billy Smart Circus family.  Many British carnival, fair ground and circus families would give their children aristocratic Christian names, such as Barron, Prince, Duke, Dame, Princess, Lady and Lord. Lord William Smart enjoyed such a regal first name. In the US not having a royal dynasty their carneys  use military names such as Captain, General, Marshall, Lieutenant, Sheriff and of course not forgetting Colonel.

 

We nearly did it. The Colonel was up for it, Freddy was in the frame, MGM were ready to press “go” and no doubt in the shadows RCA were rubbing their hands in glee.  Sadly Elvis health was beginning to be cause for concern, and as a result “Elvis On Tour Two” hit the buffers.  It wasn’t however the only offer Colonel received for Elvis. During our 1976 December trip to Vegas accompanying us was Clifford Davis of the Daily Mirror. He delivered a royal invitation from his boss Robert Maxwell offering Elvis half a million dollars for a twenty-minute appearance at a gala fund raising concert supporting the Duke of Edinburgh’s Awards Scheme in 1978 jointly celebrating the 75th anniversary of the publication of the Daily Mirror newspaper. New Faces presenter Clifford Davis impressed Colonel with his magic tricks. All this and more stories are in my little book “Elvis and More: The Spoils of War.”