Installation of the Blue Plaque 2001

by Carole Gibson

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Madeleine Bell, Pat Rhodes and Simon Bell stand beneath the newly unveiled Blue Plaque Carole Gibson and Madeleine Bell

Sunday the 29th April, 2001 was the day The Heritage Foundation unveiled it's first Musical Heritage blue plaque. Normally a charity that honoured Comedy, Film and Sports stars, the first recipient of a Musical honour was to be Dusty Springfield and the plaque was to be placed on a house she lived in during the latter part of the sixties, 38 Aubrey Walk, Kensington, London W8.

When we arrived, about an hour before the 12 o'clock unveiling, there were already quite a few people gathered in the narrow street, with a bevy of photographers and camera crews who would move in unison every time a new (or in most cases, fairly old!) famous face arrived. Amongst those faces were Shirley Ann Field, Jess Conrad, Sir Norman Wisdom, Frank Allen of the Searchers, Mollie Sugden, Philip Madoc, Dave Dee, Shane Ritchie and Billie Davis. Good friends of Dusty's were also there, noticably Pat Rhodes, Simon Bell and Madeline Bell, whose arrival created a buzz amongst the photographers. Just after twelve, a few words were said by Jess Conrad followed by Frank Allen who said he remembered the parties held in the house and also the size of the bath, which was huge, easily big enough for two!

Madeline then came out and thanked us all for coming for "Mary", who she wanted to thank because "if it wasn't for her, I wouldn't be here now" and then the collective hands of Simon, Pat, Frank, Billie, Shirley Ann and Madeline pulled the cord that unveiled the plaque to cheers and applause. The inscription on the plaque read: Dusty Springfield OBE Singer 1939-1999. Lived here 1966 - 1972". (There is some debate as to whether those dates are correct, it's more likely that Dusty didn't move into Aubrey Walk until 1968/69). At this point it would have been a nice touch to hear Dusty's voice but that wasn't to be and instead we were treated to an impromptu version of "Little by Little" by Simon, Pat, Madeline and Billie, which in true Dusty form, they forgot the words to!

After the unveiling, lunch was to be at the Grosvenor House Hotel on Park Lane and there were a couple of buses on hand to take us there. Once there, and in the gathering before lunch, more "faces" were spotted and in some cases chatted to, including Tom O'Connor, Danny Williams, Kenny Lynch, Stephanie de Sykes, Dave Berry, sixties DJs, Pete Murray, David Hamilton and Tony Blackburn and the writer of "Dusty", Lucy O'Brien.

During the luncheon, an auction was held, with most of the interesting pieces (including a framed replica of the plaque which went for over £1,000) going to one particular lady, who then promptly gave two away to Simon and Madeline!

Tom O'Connor was doing most of the on stage speaking and passing remarks were made about Dusty and her immense talent but it was Pete Murray who spoke at length about her. He said they did a Juke Box Jury together in the late eighties and Dusty always had such class. So much so, that she refused to drink out of the BBC paper cups! He said she was probably the only person who ever got tea in a china cup from the BBC! He also said that her presence was still so strong and her music all around, that he couldn't and wouldn't refer to her as "the late Dusty Springfield".

The entertainment began with a group of siblings, three girls and a boy calling themselves Colours of Life, who sang and danced their way through I Only Want To Be With You and Oliver Braithwaite who played keyboards and sang Will You Love Me Tomorrow. Next came Dave Berry with his own personal interpretation of Goin' Back and Frank Allen who sang Wishin' and Hopin' after telling the audience that although he socialised with Dusty in the sixties, he wasn't as good a friend as people like Madeline and Pat Barnett (Rhodes) without whom, Dusty "wouldn't have been able to exist".

Then the best bit. Simon came on stage and sang a moving If You Go Away before introducing two ladies who were backing singers for Dusty; Kay Garner and Stevie Lange. Kay backed Dusty many times in the sixties and Stevie was one of the backing singers on Sometimes Like Butterflies. Simon said they were all on stage to provide backing for the lady who was probably Dusty's most famous backing singer but also a fabulous singer in her own right, "all the way from Newark, New Jersey", Madeline Bell. Together they gave a fun and spirited rendition of Son of A Preacher Man before Simon performed Stay Awhile and a very heartfelt All I See Is You, trying desperately not to fling his arms around too much! This was followed by Madeline and Simon duetting in terrific fashion on a funky version of Mockingbird, quite obviously enjoying every single minute.

Madeline then began to talk about You Don't Have To Say You Love Me, (which had been at number one exactly 35 years ago to the day), by saying that it had been given "Englishy" lyrics by Simon Napier Bell and Vicki Wickham. At that point she gave a very theatrical sideways spit! Maybe a lot of the audience didn't get the joke but those who did were in no doubt how she felt about THAT book! With her backing singers looking quite emotional, Madeline sang brilliantly and got the 300 strong audience singing along with her. It was a wonderfully moving and fitting tribute to Dusty by some of the people who knew her best. As Simon said to me later, Dusty would have loved it.

Thank you to Carole Gibson and Paul Howes of The Dusty Springfield Bulletin for their kind permission in allowing us to reprint this article.