Thank you, Mr. Jacobs

October 3, 2013 in Blog

“So,” I asked with wide-eyed anticipation, “what was Frank Sinatra really like to work with?”“Fucking difficult.”

So began my first conversation with the late David Jacobs. He charmed everyone he met and though it didn’t happen often, I loved it when he swore.

I’d known David for almost 20 years but known of him all my life. Like the Royal Family or Brillo Pads he was always reliably and reassuringly there. A constant part of British culture, his voice – avuncular, never condescending – was part of our soundscape. A true national treasure.

We met on the BBC’s ‘Pebble Mill at One’ paying tribute to Vic Damone, the singer David liked to call “our Vic.” I sang a song and joined the other guests on the sofa. It was my first TV appearance and David could not have been more supportive. Soon after we were touring the country together and David became my mentor.

Half way through our tour we were playing the large and prestigious Symphony Hall in Birmingham. I was intimidated by the place and felt we should cut some of our shtick from the show (we had a routine where David catches me impersonating him and sends me off stage before calling me back to sing a duet together). I’ve never forgotten the advice he gave me that day: “People are the same wherever you go. Regardless of income or background people like to have a good time. Don’t let the venue throw you. Have confidence that what we’re doing works.” He was right. We kept the routine in and the audience loved it.

Performers have big egos. If we didn’t think we were wonderful we’d never have the confidence to do what’s expected of us. The trick is not letting our egos get the better of us. Theatrical tradition dictates that dressing room number one is reserved for the star, the top of the bill. It’s usually the largest room and can, if you’re very lucky, have such luxuries as a sink and two wire coat hangers. Number two usually lacks such frills and is reserved for an artiste lower down the theatrical ladder of significance. Any egalitarian pretence that might develop during cast rehearsals can come crashing down by the hierarchical divisions dictated by dressing room allocation. David was, of course, the star of our show. He was the name people were coming to see. I was the singer they happened to get. For our first string of tour dates the Company Manager, quite rightly, gave David dressing room number one and me number two. After a few days David told me he was uncomfortable with the arrangement. “You,” he said, “are the star of this production and it is you who should have the number one dressing room.” He dismissed my protests and insisted on demoting himself to my room. Only a man of enormous kindness and self-confidence could act so generously.

Don’t get me wrong, David wasn’t short on self confidence. He told me as much while we schlepped between one nighters in Dunfermline and Canterbury (oh, the joys of touring). “I can’t pass a mirror without admiring myself,” he said. “I look at myself and say, ‘Hello David. You’re looking awfully good today.’” Coming from anyone else such narcissism would have been painful to hear, but with David it was nothing but endearing. Why? Charm. He was a glamorous man whose old-school manners, sense of humour and natural ease seduced everyone he met. And he met everyone from the Beatles (“George Harrison used to call me Dave”) and Judy Garland (his “most exciting professional moment”).

David Jacobs was a great role model for me. Effortlessly cool, always with a twinkle in his eye and generous to everyone in his orbit. Most importantly he was a good, kindhearted human being. So, thank you Mr. Jacobs, I feel blessed to have known you.

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  1. When Ted and I first joined the gang at the Lord Bute our job was to take care of the cabaret. I started sourcing in any and every musical/artistical and theatrical book I could find, bearing in mind that I really didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I came upon an agency that handled David Jacobs and I thought he would be a very good opener for us. Easy on the ear and eye. the various contact stages took place and when I got to talk to David, I asked if there could be a bit of piano to be incorporated into the act and he agreed instantly. We put up a stage setting of a leather winged armchair, a standard lamp, a Persian (not really) rug, and a small table at the side of the chair which held a glass of the finest brandy that we had. The music had been sent directly to me in case it got lost in the hotel.
    On the evening of the show Ted and I got to the hotel around 5.30 and David was already there, together with the pianist. We had a lovely chat and, after a while, David said “Do you have my music Ros?” I said “Jesus Christ” and flew out of the hotel back to the house (a 5 minute drive) and returned with the music, a red face and my heart going like the clappers.

    Needless to say Gary, the show was a delight. As was the audience.
    Sadly, the thinking of the guv’nors at the Bute these days is along the soundalike road which I have to confess, works pretty well.

    And a thousand thanks to you Gary for keeping the flag flying. Where would we all be. huh?

  2. Lovely article Gary, like you he was part of my radio life!! And of course TV…a true gent. They don’t make them like him anymore.

  3. What a joy to read about the lovely David Jacobs……………………. That wonderful treacle voice he had and he was sooooooooooooo classy. He is sorely missed! (a bit like yourself Mr Williams) Glad all is going well for you – enjoy your sailing Very best wishes Margo

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