5 Mar 1977 – Series Five (26)

Bathgate group Spinning Wheel were suprised to named as winners of the show. Image: http://www.kinemagigz.com/

The assembled judging panel for show twenty six of the series were Clifford Davis, Alan A. Freeman, Mickie Most and Muriel Young. Along with the regular show host, Derek Hobson, they watched the following seven acts;

  • Ron Delta (comedian) from Derbyshire
  • Lee Curtis & Vision (four-piece group) from Caerphilly
  • Linda John (vocalist) from Rhondda
  • Tony John (vocalist) from Harrietsham, Kent
  • Michael Fontaine (pianist) from Birchington, near Margate
  • Spinning Wheel (four-piece group) from Bathgate, West Lothian
  • Cricklewood (four-piece group) – from Edinburgh

In contrast to the previous weeks show, where three acts scored in excess of 100 points, the ‘winning score’ on this show was just 93 points. The studio ‘winners,’ Lee Curtis and Vision had won the area final of Watney Mann’s Pub Entertainer of the Year contest at The Roundabout, Newport, Gwent in 1976 and this meant they qualified for the televised National Final which was held in London.

Bathgate group Spinning Wheel, who performed their own song That’s Life, had only auditioned a few weeks before the show, and they were sensationally declared winners of the show following a behind-the-scenes oversight. In the studio they were placed second, scoring 92 points, and just one point behind ‘winners’ Lee Curtis and Vision, but a dramatic turn of events led to the disqualification for group from Caerphilly.

After the show had been broadcast an eagle-eyed viewer complained that Lee Curtis and Vision had appeared on the ITVs Pub Entertainer of the Year show the previous year. The New Faces rule stating acts should not have appeared on television in the last two years had been broken and the producers were left with no alternative but to disqualify the act, handing the win to runners-up, Spinning Wheel. A New Faces spokesman declared ‘I don’t know how Lee Curtis and Vision slipped through our vetting net. They usually have to sign a form or state that they have not appeared on a national network in the past two years.’

Spinning Wheel only learnt of their success when they received a phone call the Monday following the show’s broadcast to confirm the news of their win. Band members Bobby Speedie (lead guitar), Alistair Speedie (rhythm guitar), Dick Hewat (keyboards) and Alister Stewart (drums), who all shared vocal duties, were delighted to get the chance to appear on the All Winners Show scheduled for 26 March 1977. They clearly appreciated the tips given by panel member and top record producer Mickie Most who advised them to ‘change their name and style of dress,’ and with Mickie scheduled to be on the panel again for their All Winners Show they would consider dressing differently and a change of name for that show.

Get It Together (14 Mar 1978), featuring Hampden’s Heroes (Jody) and Slade.
Image: TV Times Magazine

Following their success Spinning Wheel turned professional in the summer of 1977 and secured a record deal with REL records in Edinburgh. They spent a couple months recording a single Take a Little Time for Love, written by David Valentine and Scottish songwriter Bobby Heatlie, who would go on to write number one hits for Aneka (Japanese Boy) and Shakin’ Stevens (Merry Christmas Everyone). Unfortunately the single was never released.

They took Mickie Most’s advice and did change their name, to Jody, which was chosen from a competition in The West Lothian Courier, where the winner won a trip to the studio to watch the band record. Jody briefly renamed to Hampden’s Heroes in 1978 and appeared on a football themed version of Granada TV’s Get it Together with Slade, who performed their song Give Us A Goal. The show was produced by New Faces judge Muriel Young and was hosted by Roy North and New Faces show winner Linda Fletcher.

The Scottish World Cup song Scotland Bonnie Scotland / Into the dead of Night never charted, but was voted the best World Cup song by Radio Forth listeners. Unfortuantely Scotland’s early exit from the competition in the first round dented any chances of it becoming a big hit. When Jody’s drummer, Alister left the band in 1978 he was replaced by Tom Annan from Kirkcaldy, however, the group would eventually split before the end of the decade.

Comedian Ron Delta had been performing since 1949.
Image: Old Clubland Acts (Facebook)

Comedian Ron Delta started his entertainment career as a solo singer, back then he was known under his real name of John Jennings, and appeared in Casey’s Court with it’s creator Will Murray, the man who had cast Charlie Chaplin in the 1906 version of the ‘Gang Show’ style show which mainly featured young performers. After a short period in the army he took the name Ron Delta and turned his hand to impressions and comedy, moving from his native Liverpool to Sheffield in 1953. In the mid-1950s he appeared as the ‘stooge’ in Roy Lester’s touring Revue Show.

Ron set about making a career as a comedian in the now booming working men’s club circuit, but often finished his act with a song, in a throwback to his former vocalist days. He appeared on Opportunity Knocks in the late 1960s and claimed he could have had his own TV show, named Delta Skelter, however he alleged a falling out with the host, Hughie Green. meant the offer of the show was handed to another act on the show and was renamed called Sez Les.

Eighteen months after his New Faces appearance, in September 1978, he supported series one runners-up Showaddywaddy at short run of shows at the Sheffield Fiesta. He also featured in a number of episodes of the BBC1 series Play For Today, including a starring role in the 1982 play England’s Greens and Peasant Land. In later years Ron suffered from glaucoma which eventually took his sight, but he carried on performing and often took to the stage with his guide dog.   

East Kent pianist Michael Fontaine. Image © The Stage Media Company Limited

Former Ramsgate antique shop owner and Birchington pianist Michael Fontaine had previously played in a quartet that took his name and also worked as a seaside organist performing with drag acts Billy Wells and Charles Hawtrey.

In April 1973 he had opened the Trader Pink’s nightclub in his hometown. The cabaret nightclub was the brainchild of musical director, Michael, and his brother-in-law and stage director, Bryn Evans and was the first club of its kind in East Kent. The pair, who already ran a Ramsgate music shop together, booked Eve Boswell and Edmund Hockeridge to appear at the club on it’s opening night.

By July 1974 Trader Pink’s was in trouble and the pair were called to appear before the Official Receiver in the Canterbuty Bankruptcy Court. They admitted a deficiency of more than £27,000 from the music shop and the nightclub ventures, admitting that opening the nightclub had been a mistake. They attributed their failure to inefficiency and mismanagement and dismissed the judges claims of a marvellous spending spree. This was the first of a number of failed business ventures that Michael would be involved in over the years to come.

Michael Fontaine spent the next two years working as a musical director on several cruise lines before returning to Margate to play weekly concerts on the Compton organ, at the Dreamland venue, over the summer months of 1976. Having appeared on New Faces Michael’s performance history is unknown until he reappeared in 1981 with the Michael Fontaine Showband who played in Yasmine Smart’s Hippodrome Circus show in Great Yarmouth. By 1984 the Michael Fontaine Showband were featuring at circus performances in Blackpool, Great Yarmouth and Warrington with Michael taking up the musical director role for the shows that were operated by showman Peter Jay. Michael was seen leading the impressive showband at the Peter Jay run circus show in Great Yarmouth in 1985 with his former business partner Bryn Evans responsible for lighting and sound.

In 1987 Michael formed LMC Entertainments with Simon Ellingham and their first major venture was the December 1989, £2m blockbuster, production of Barnum starring former Blue Peter presenter and dare-devil Peter Duncan, which was due to undertake a gruelling national tour in 1990, including a six month Blackpool season. The show, however, closed after just eleven performances, due to dwindling audiences and technical difficulties, with losses of around £1.5 million. The receivers were called in and Equity requested they come to the rescue of the cast members who were left unpaid by the sudden collapse of the show and LMC Entertainments were left with debts of around £750,000.

In 1992 another of Michael Fontaine’s ventures, Albin Associates, were pursued for non-payment of debts totalling thousands of pounds after the collapse of his show, Arias Without Tiaras. The company also faced claims, along with Encore UK, from angry creditors for unpaid contracts for other productions, including Toad of Toad Hall and the King’s Lynn Pageant.

In 1993 Michael’s newly formed Potteries Theatre Royal (Management) Ltd took over the Theatre Royal, Hanley and vowed to save the troubled venue. In May 1994 the theatre was closed due to fears over eletrical safety and a repair bill of around £690,000 was reported. Just twelve months later the company, set up to save the theatre, collapsed with debts of nearly £140,000. In February 1997 Michael Fontaine was disqualified as a company director, following a Department of Trade and Industry investigation into his activities at Hanley. They found he had knowingly traded while unable to meet the firm’s bills.

In May 1997 Micahel Fontaine was arrested, along with Simon Ellingham, in Spain, in connection with the activities of Albin and Encore UK, and they were held on remand for seven months before finally being extradited to the UK. At the trial in Cambridge both men pleaded guilty to charges of fradulent trading and were sentenced to nine months jail, however, they were released by the judge after he decided their seven months in a Spanish jail was sufficient punishment for their crime. They were both disqualified from acting as company directors for five years.

In July 1998, just two months after their convinctions, the pair were back in Spain producing musicals and being billed as ‘two of England’s most successful musical and theatre directors’ for their show Music, Stars Lifestyle at Mijas Town Hall in Malaga. Their new venture Salon Varieties produced shows such as Oliver!, and in 2003, Spend, Spend, Spend, which ironically told the true story of the football polls first big winner, Viv Nicholls, whose sudden windfall took her to untold riches, through drink, divorce and bankruptcy to return to poverty again. Just a few years after this production, on June 22 2005, aged 57, Michael Fontaine died in hospital in Fuengirola, Spain.

Twenty one year old Rhondda Valley vocalist Linda John certainly relished the thrills of a talent show. Following her appearance on New Faces she clearly acquired the bug for a competition as over a three year period, excluding her TV appearance, Linda recorded four wins, three second places and two third place finishes in various talent shows in Wales.

The year before the show, in May 1976, Linda was the runner-up in the ‘Go-As-You-Please’ competition at the Tonypandy Athletic Club, Rhondda, where her performance was described as ‘earthy, vivacious and punchy.’ Just one month after her New Faces appearance Linda took third place in the Club Double Diamond competition in Caerphilly, before taking a talent show break to perform at the Penarth Jubilee Showtime ’77 show, where she performed Don’t Cry For Me Argentina.

Linda was back on the talent show circuit in September 1977, beating twelve other contestants to claim the £20 first prize in the contest held at The Grand Pavilion, Porthcawl and she followed this with another third place in the talent show at the Nelson Social Club, Merthyr Tydfil in November 1977. Twelve months after this show Linda returned to winning ways taking the first prize at the competition help at the Canton Liberal Club in Cardiff and in June 1978 she was runner-up to the Newport Borough Concert Brass Band in the competition held at the Congress Theatre, Cwmbran.

Linda was still competing in March 1979 but found that one of her main rivals was her own husband, Carl Harris. Carl won his heat at the Pontypridd District Club, Graigwen, however Linda only managed second place in her own heat leaving Carl to dismiss any sort of matrimonial jealousy, saying, ‘There is no rivalry whatever between us. We are always in perfect harmony, off stage as well as on.’

In the months before his appearance on the show, Kent vocalist Tony John was making the right impressions in the county’s clubs. His rich voice was reminiscent of American singer Andy Williams and he was a great favourite at a number of clubs around Kent, including Kings Lodge and the Starlight Club. He also promoted his act well by handing out very professional looking cassettes that could have come straight off a major retail shelf, but more importantly the vocal and musical content matched the outer professionalism.

Twelve months after the show, the Scottish group Cricklewood failed in their bid to win the group section of the Marlboro Country music talent competition. The four-piece group had battled through to the last sixteen but the very high standard of competition, held at the Wembley Conference Centre in London left the group with small consolation, confirmed by a spokesman for the event, that they were ‘certainly in the top half.’

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