20 December 2015

Neil Spence - Yes Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus/ Little Boy Lost

Label: Go
Year of Release: 1966

What kind of a human being would I be if I let Christmas slide past without a festive related upload? I know you all want it, and my conscience couldn't let me leave this little ditty to one side.

Neil Spence was, at this point in his career, a popular Radio London DJ working the lunchtime slot under the name Dave Dennis. "Dennis" was effectively a persona, a fast-talking banter merchant whose rapid-fire approach caused him to have the highest rated show - an unusual situation for any station, who would normally expect their stars to be found on the breakfast show. When you consider that Dennis was up against Kenny Everett and Dave Cash in that slot, this makes his achievements even more impressive.

In reality, though, Neil Spence was far from being a transatlantic styled flashman and was, in fact, a graduate of the Central School of Speech and Drama and a man with a past in repertory theatre. The character Dave Dennis was honed from listening to endless recordings of American jocks on the Dallas station KLIF, and his own natural style was rather more precise and formal. Kenny Everett got him to drop by on his show to read out the lyrics to the popular hits of the day in his repertory style, and it's possibly (though note, not definitely) that which may have been the background inspiration for this rather odd little single.

"Yes Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus" consists of Spence reading a poem inspired by the 1897 New York Sun editorial confirming the existence of Father Christmas, and places a sweet and mushy orchestral arrangement beneath it. If this was meant to be a joke, the meaning has been lost to the mists of time, so I suspect it's probably just something the staff at the tiny independent Go Records felt might be a hit. It wasn't, though it did climb to number 19 on Radio London's own chart (a fairly meaningless list which was compiled by the station's staff according to guesswork, favours and payola). While the approach may seem peculiar, it's worth noting that "The Sunscreen Song" in 1999 was simply a Chicago Tribune column set to music, so perhaps Spence was just ahead of his time.

I'm afraid to say that in my personal opinion, while this record is rare - and on an extremely collectible label - it's completely inessential. If I was being kind I would describe it as a "somewhat charming period piece", but it pipes up and fades out without really leaving much of an impression. It's a bizarre blip in the career of a man who was, it's safe to say, successful in broadcasting and the media otherwise.

After Radio London closed down in 1967, Spence worked for the BBC creating jingles, and continued his friendship with Kenny Everett who was also on Radio One at that time. From 1970 onwards he focussed more on his own business concerns, founding the major workplace radio station for United Biscuits and also worked as a broadcasting trainer, teaching numerous music radio DJs to successful careers, including Dale Winton, Jeremy Vine, James Whale and Adrian Love.

He passed away in 2007.

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