“You will be fine,” my Mother said casually, handing me a crumpled £5 note. I was so excited, jumping out of her car as she pulled into the railway station car park. People were hovering in the entrance of the small station in Hemel Hempstead, the small Hertfordshire town to the north of London. Most were waiting to catch the late morning train to London. I was relieved to see the ticket desk open. My mother had given me enough money to get a return ticket, which would cover the underground in London. I was fifteen, and nervously about to take my first journey to London, alone.
Excitedly, I walked towards the ticket desk. It had been arranged for me, to meet a man named Bob Brooksby. He worked for an advertising agency called Leo Burnets and had invited me to come to their recording studio to watch and listen to a radio commercial being made.
As I boarded the train to Euston, smiling to myself and feeling very grown up, I thought about what I had achieved and the year I had been through. I was a dancer, and had come third in a national dance competition along with a group of school friends. Following the success of some school lunchtime classes, I was allowed to organise, I had formed a dance troupe and we had been performing at charity events. Practicing our moves to Dave Edmunds, ‘I hear you knocking,’ in our back yard, had paid off, even though my dad had grumbled about the noise. We carried on relentlessly, rehearsing the moves published in a small book, sent to us by the organisers of this national competition. My mother had rushed to her small workroom and made us some costumes. The day arrived of the competition, and wanting a share of the fun, my mother had escorted five nervously excited, giggling teenage girls to Sheffield on a train.
The competition was sponsored by the Tea Council and Mr. Bob Brooksby was the promoter. It was held in a massive dance hall and Radio One’s, ‘Dave Lee Travis’ was the D.J. making all the noise. My Mother, famous for her saying ‘It is not what you know, but who you know,‘ decided to introduce herself to him. Whatever it was that she said to him, I will never know, but after we had secured third place in the competition, Bob Brooksby was offering to drive us all back to London in his mini bus.
I had never heard about the Tea council, and why there was a need for one, however they adopted my dance troupe, and called us the T-Rifics. I have to admit this was around 1972. It was a cheesy time and I rarely questioned the logic in anything. Bob Brooksby had given us all free t-shirts and invited us to dance at a variety of functions. We also turned up as micro celebrities representing the Tea Council, once they even had us playing charity football matches. We had performed at events with Emperor Rosko, Dave Lee Travis, Lenny Henry and Jimmy Saville, to name but a few. My Mother was given the opportunity of designing and making shirts for Jimmy Saville. At fifteen years of age, I was in search of fame and the bright lights with dreams of going to Top of the Pops. A popular TV music show that we organised our week around.
As the train pulled slowly into Euston, the butterflies in my stomach were fluttering. The words of my mum, still ringing in my ears, telling me it was hard to get lost, were seeming a little pointless as I watched people hurrying in different directions. The difference was they all knew where they were going, unlike me who just had an address on a piece of paper. “Deep breath Lauren.” and onwards to the underground. Looking back I remember this scary day for this reason, I was petrified of getting lost.
Who could have known, the potential danger I was facing, lurking in the darkness? Who knew then, there was a monster about to be in the same room? Did Mr. Brooksby know?
However, I did get lost on the underground, but eventually found my way again. I guess this is how we manage to learn how to navigate ourselves. Taking wrong directions may send you into a panic mode, but it is how you get to know the London Underground. Feeling proud of myself, I held my head high. This is London, the big city and I was feeling that sense of self importance and achievement. “You can do anything you want.” (another of my mother’s sayings) ringing in my ears.
Bob Brooksby, welcomed me into the studio, I found it all fascinating as a sat and observed them making a small commercial. When they had finished, Bob Brooksby asked me if I wanted to go with him to deliver a suit to Jimmy Saville. Bob had been working with Saville as a promoter. He was helping with events for the Variety Club of Great Britain and the Tea Council. Jimmy Saville received huge amounts of money from various organisations and Bob Brooksby’s job was to find sponsorships. Jimmy Saville was an eccentric, I had met him on various occasions. I did not particularly like him, like most celebrities at that time, most were weird and not like real people. It was accepted that he was someone that could pull strings and after all, he was raining in millions for charities and hob-nobbing with royals and prime ministers. Of course I said yes, excitedly.
Jimmy Saville had asked Bob Brooksby to buy him a suit, from Oxfam, a charity shop. I found this amusing as the man was a millionaire. He lived in the Crescent in London. A beautiful Georgian residence, on the outside. The inside, from what a recall, resembled corridors of poky flats, with pale blue doors and plastic numbers stuck on. As I accompanied Bob Brooksby into the multi millionaires residence, I could have easily been walking into a council bedsit on an over-populated housing estate. To me this did not make any sense.
A casually dressed Mr. Saville, did not greet us with any pleasantries, he never made any eye contact with me, and I just stood there taking in the moment. This was all pretty weird, as I focused on the sun lamp he had positioned over his dining table. The place smelled of cigars, stale and airless. I think there was a kitchen to the right and behind that, I assumed a bedroom.
Bob held up the suit he had picked up from Oxfam.
‘How much,’ said Jimmy Saville.
‘Twelve Pounds,’ Bob Brooksby replied proudly.
Jimmy Saville did not look pleased and grunted, ‘Take it back and offer them eight.’
What a tight old git, I remember thinking to myself. My Mother later explained to me that this man never paid for anything. He was a celebrity and people were happy to give him anything he wanted. It was all about promotion and Jimmy Saville and Bob Brooksby were aware of the benefits. I am sure if Bob Brooksby had taken the suit back to Oxfam, and told them who it was for, they would have donated the suit to him, based purely on who he was. Mr Jimmy Saville. I suspect the charming Mr Bob Brooksby could not lower himself to that level. He probably paid for it out of his own pocket.
My dance troupe went to many events where Jimmy Saville appeared, we also got tickets to Top of the pops and Jim’ll Fix it on a number of occasions. I never saw anything that led me to suspect the type of person he was behind the shadows, maybe I was just too naive and blinkered. He dutifully sent me a telegram on my wedding day and he called me to offer his condolences the day my Mother died. Bob Brooksby retired and disappeared. We never heard from him again, as we moved into the 1980’s. There was a rumour that his wife wanted him as far away from that mode of life as possible. I believe they moved to Wales and I often wonder if she had other reasons. I was fond of Bob Brooksby, He was alway nice to me and pleasant.
The day the news was announced following the death of Jimmy Saville, I was shocked. To hear that women had come forward with their stories of abuse, I must admit I found it hard to believe, but as the stories unfolded, many of my uncomfortable feelings I had about the man, began to make sense.
‘But I was in his flat at the age of fifteen,’ I remarked to my friends. He never acknowledged I was in his flat not speaking one word to me. ‘You were probably too old for him’ a friend joked. I felt sickened that celebrity status could cloud such evil, and that maybe, just maybe I had a lucky escape.
I do not regret the time I had, it was an amazing experience. Today we are so much more aware of the dangers and I am sure my Mother would never have let me make the trip to London on my own, if she had an inkling of what he was really like. It is hard to forget the fun we had, and how lucky we all were .
Scary to think it could have been a different story.