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Memories of being Top of the Pops

PUBLISHED: 11:34 15 November 2012

Tony Ellingham

Tony Ellingham

Archant

Tony Ellingham had a Top 40 hit song back in the Sixties - he talks to Anna Dubuis about being a one-hit wonder.

On a Thursday night in April 1968, Tony Ellingham stepped out into the bright lights of the Top of the Pops studio as his stage persona of Dorian Gray.

In front of a TV audience of millions, the virtually unknown 26-year-old performed his new single I’ve Got You On My Mind amid a line-up that included Tom Jones, Cilla Black and the promo video of The Beatles’ Lady Madonna.

Tony took to the stage… after having a little Dutch courage.

“I had this horrendous cold but my manager said not to worry as they would let me mime, but when I got there they had a 24-piece orchestra ready for me and I had to sing live. So half a bottle of whisky later I did it. It was an amazing day,” Tony reminisces.

The song stayed for seven weeks in the top 40, giving him a taste of stardom.

He was invited on radio shows and television chat shows, and heard his song being played on the radio wherever he went.

However, just as quickly as he rose to fame, his next single failed to make waves and Tony returned to family life in Kent.

“It was a good time but I should have done it when I was younger.

“It all happened at the time of my first child being born. I was working at a printers and my boss gave me six months off to pursue music. You can imagine what it was like when I went back,” Tony, now 70, says.

His 15 minutes of fame came about after he was noticed at a hotel in Wrotham.

“I was a singer at the Moat Hotel. It was the place to go on a Saturday night. Someone told a record producer about me and he came to see me.”

The producer, Roger Easterby, liked what he saw and helped Tony create a new persona, a new name – Dorian Gray (named after Oscar Wilde’s corrupt protagonist who achieves eternal beauty), had a few years lopped off his age and lost his wedding ring.

“You weren’t allowed to be married in those days of the music business. I once had to take my wedding ring off for an event and the skin underneath was less tanned. A journalist noticed it but said she wouldn’t say anything. The next day an article appeared in the Daily Sketch [a newspaper] saying ‘Dorian Gray is married’.”

The stage name makes Tony cringe a little now but that was the sacrifice for getting a foot on the ladder.

“I didn’t like the name. I just had to go along with it,” he says.

His first single, Behind The Tear, came and went unnoticed but his next attempt, I’ve Got You On My Mind, hit the jackpot.

“At the time there was no Radio One but there were pirate radio stations. We would hear the song all day long and I would think ‘that’s me!’” he says.

But as the government cracked down on pirate radio, Tony saw the window of opportunity close.

His song, however, has generated a small following some 50 years later and it was included on the BBC album Sounds of the Sixties, released last year.

Tony now lives with his wife Diane, 69, in Chatham. Both grew up in Gravesend.

They have a son and daughter and three grandchildren.

He still performs with a band called Unit Five who are celebrating their 40th year together in 2013.

Tony has just finished writing a book about his life in music, The Other Dorian Gray, for which all profits are going to Parkinson’s charities following Diane’s diagnosis nine years ago.

Looking back, does he wish it hadn’t stopped at the one big hit?

“No,” he replies. “So it was a one-hit wonder, but that sort of thing happened.

“If I had become famous what would have happened? It was exciting times when I look back but I am happy with my life.”

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