Mike Berry was born Michael Bourne in Northampton on September 24th 1942, but six weeks after his birth his mother Jerretta (Jet for short) took him to North Wales where they stayed with her father’s Welsh side of the family. Her mother; Effie Mabel was a Fotheringham (the Scottish side of the family.) Mike’s grandfather, William Thomas or ‘Billy’ as he was known, was in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) with the Royal Rhodesian Mounted Police at the time, where, with his rich baritone voice, he had established himself as a popular singer. This is no doubt where Mike inherits his singing talent. His mother was a talented amateur actress and singer in the Gilbert and Sullivan mould, who also played piano and piano-accordion. Mike and his siblings used to attend all of her performances.Mike’s father Terry who was originally from Hove in Sussex and who represented the English branch of the family, was totally unhindered by any musical talent. Mike did though inherit his interest in all things mechanical and gadgets in general- Mike is a dab hand with a soldering iron and can often be found under the bonnet (or even under) his car. He also helped build and runs his own ‘Bulletproof Recording Studios’, situated at the bottom of his garden and often referred to as ‘The Shed’. Both his mother and father were brought up in Rhodesia but ironically met in England while she was attending a Pitman’s shorthand and typing course with his sister, who introduced them. The family, including Grandad Billy, ‘Nanny’ Effie, Mike’s sisters Valerie and Pamela and his brother Peter, all moved to Clissold Road, Stoke Newington, London N16; Grandma and Grandpa Thomas to number 64, and The Bournes to number 47. A couple of years later, they moved - literally round the corner - to 185 Albion Road from where, at the age of five, Mike attended his first school; William Pattern, in Church St. N16. He excelled at this school, and at the age of eleven won a scholarship to Hackney Downs Grammar School, formerly ‘The Grocer’s Company’s School’, later to become known as the ‘East End Eaton’, nurturing such luminary pupils as Harold Pinter, Arnold Wesker, Steven Berkoff and many other distinguished scientists, doctors, lawyers and politicians. Sadly, and ironically, it was closed in the 90s as one of the worst achieving/behavioural schools in the U.K.
Unfortunately Mike’s family life was rather falling apart just when their support was needed. His mother and father separated when he was 13 years old, and his father referred to his four offspring, in Mike’s presence, as “the four biggest mistakes of my life.” These words rung insistently in Mike’s ears (as they still do.) This surely affected his academic performance, to the extent that he didn’t even take ‘O’ levels and so didn’t join the list of his school’s academic geniuses. Instead he left rather ignominiously at the age of fifteen to take up a six year apprenticeship in the then very highly regarded printing industry as a compositor’s apprentice (the men who set the lead type for the printed page). A job for life? Yes! If it wasn’t for the advance of technology and computers being invented!
By this time, Mike’s vocal talent was becoming apparent and his interest in music was really taking hold, so with friends Peter Chilks (Chico) Terry Lyddington, and Ray?? (Can’t remember) he formed his own skiffle group ‘The Rebels’. By then skiffle was sweeping the country in the wake of Lonnie Donegan's Rock Island Line and the likes of Chas McDevitt and Johnny Duncan. With Ray and Peter on guitars, Terry on tea chest Bass, (complete with dancing hands and feet and ‘Rebels’ logo lovingly painted on), and Mike on washboard and vocals, they rehearsed in the boiler room underneath the community centre in Mike’s old flats and did the odd gig in the community hall itself. No money of course, in fact they’d have paid to play. It was while with The Rebels, Mike wrote his very first song, an ode to a love he’d nurtured since the age of eight and who, much to his delight, turned up to one of his ‘gigs’. The song was very subtly entitled Sweet Leslie Ann (Leslie Ann Eagle, that is) and although he walked her home afterwards he never followed up the obviously mutual interest, so that was the last they saw of each other. All together - Aaaaaaah …………… And for those of you interested - or not - the Byronesque lyric went something like this:
"Sweet Leslie Ann is still in her teens
Lyrical shades of Larry Williams’s Bonie Moronie, from ‘The Rebels’ early repertoire. Stunning eh? …… Plagiarism lives! During the aforementioned apprenticeship, Mike progressed from the skiffle group to a band with electric guitars in which Mike just sang - no washboard required now, as they had a drummer, even if he only had one drum! The band called themselves - wait for it! “Kenny Lord and the Statesmen”. Get it? …. Lord? …. Statesmen? ………… Clever eh!? So anyway, there was this beatnik called Alan, who worked with Mike in the print trade. He was also in a skiffle group and knew of a ‘recording studio’ (actually someone’s mum’s front room) in Wandsworth, South London, where he said Mike and his band could make a demo. The idea was to play it to venue owners with a view to getting gigs, and even to get a record company to make them stars overnight. As North London boys they looked on South London as a foreign country, so one weekend having booked the ‘studio’ in Wandsworth and with passports in hand they crossed the border into South London and arrived somehow at Magdalen (pronounced for some crazy reason, ‘Maudlin’) Road, Wandsworth and met John Hawkins, ‘studio’ owner and engineer.
The studio was about a mile from where Mike lives now. Mike remembers the scene....“We set up our equipment in John’s front room which, to achieve some instrument separation, was divided up by blankets hung on ropes across the room. Quite ingenious really. The drums … I mean drum, was set up in one compartment and the bass guitar, lead and rhythm guitars likewise, while I had my very own vocal booth consisting of two sides of polythene sheeting, a blanket and a wall.” The microphone Mike sang into was a Reslo ribbon model, which cost about eight pounds - about an average worker's wages for a week at the time.
Never having heard themselves recorded on professional equipment, Mike and the band were very impressed with what they did hear. So, it seems was John Hawkins. He mentioned some time later (in fact, after Mike and the guys had already got a record deal) that he was considering signing them up for the studio he worked at - IBC in London’s West End - with a view to getting a release with EMI or Decca records. But that was a little later in the story. Mike took his demo to work and lent it to Alan the beatnik who said he knew someone called Peter Raymond, who knew where a record producer could be contacted, but first he would like to see them perform. This would be at one of their weekly rehearsals held at the Mazzini Garibaldi Club in Holborn. Peter immediately saw potential in the band, or more precisely in Mike, and said he would get their demo heard by Jack Good, the legendary producer of the best rock ‘n’ roll show on TV, “Oh Boy”. He also knew how to contact the equally legendary Joe Meek; the first independent record producer in the UK (later best known for his composition and production, Telstar by the Tornados.
Copies of Mike’s demo were sent to Jack Good and Joe Meek, both of whom were interested in signing him up. First Mike went to see Jack Good, who had already chosen a song and arranged a recording session for the following week, telling Mike he would be the next Adam Faith. But before that recording session took place Mike went to see Joe Meek who said he wanted to make Mike the British Buddy Holly and already had ideas for an album featuring a picture of Mike superimposed on a ‘ghostly’ picture of Buddy. This was much more to Mike’s liking and so with his Nan (as legal guardian) in tow, his second meeting with Joe was to sign a three year recording contract, leaving his now ‘manager’ Peter Raymond to break the news to Jack Good. He signed this contract without a lawyer having been near it! With the benefit of hindsight, that was the first of a few life-changing mistakes in his long career. Had Mike gone with Jack Good, he would probably have had a record out and in the charts within a month – Mike felt that, with guaranteed appearances on Jack Good’s TV shows, he would very soon have become a household name. And at 18 years old, that was all that really mattered to him in the short term. However, he signed with Joe Meek, and in spite of all the promises it took months to get a record out. This was a cover version of the Shirelles’ Will You Love Me Tomorrow, on Decca. Joe was convinced Mike could have a hit with the song but failed to appreciate that it really didn't suit his voice – and of course it didn’t make it.
Mike had to wait a full nine months after signing his contract before his first hit A Tribute to Buddy Holly was released – this time on HMV. By this time Peter Raymond had teamed Mike up with The Outlaws and they were touring the length and breadth of the UK performing in clubs and dance halls which were mostly ‘Corn Exchanges’ (Yes that’s right, where the farmers used to sell their corn!) and town or village halls. One of the clubs they appeared at was ‘The Cavern’ where they met Brian Epstein and The Beatles, where Paul McCartney gave Mike a lift back to his hotel in his Ford Capri. It was during the week residency at The Cavern that Brian Epstein invited Mike and the band back to his flat to listen to a tape of The Beatles and in his naiveté, offered Mike a lot of work in and around Liverpool, if he could get ‘His Boys’ (i.e. The Beatles) on the television.
Mike's first concert tour led to the offer of a management contract with Robert Stigwood who was one of the hottest managers around and today is still a world renowned impressario. He thought Mike had great potential, but more as a Bobby Darin 'all round entertainer'. Fortunately, as soon as Mike signed with Robert, things began to happen and his career shifted up a few gears. With his next single, a Joe Meek composition called Every Little Kiss - which Stigwood was convinced was a hit - he appeared on the recently launched TV channel BBC2, in a programme called ‘Twist!’ with David Jacobs compering and the Geoff Love orchestra providing the backing. But despite some good airplay and Bob Stigwood’s managerial skills, it didn’t quite make it. The next single however, Don’t You Think It’s Time, a song penned by Geoff Goddard who wrote Mike’s first hit, shot straight into the top ten establishing Mike as a firm favourite with the nation’s record buyers and concert goers. With the chart success came the tours, with Bobby Vee and The Crickets (with whom he did a guest spot), Brenda Lee, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, The Four Seasons and most of the top artists of the day. Mike also appeared on television so much that he became rather sick of it and a bit blasé, although to be fair, a lot of the programmes were regional and involved a lot of travel for very early starts on fairly low key shows. Before The Beatles ‘broke’ in the States, Mike’s ‘Tribute’ record started to generate some interest over there and broke out in half a dozen States, including Buddy Holly’s home state of Texas. Mike received a very charming letter via his manager from Buddy’s parents, thanking him for his tribute to their son. Unfortunately, as good as Robert Stigwood was in the UK, he had not yet established himself in America, so his agency were unable to capitalise on Mike’s limited success. Had it happened post-Beatles, then maybe it would have been a different story.
By the end of the sixties and into the seventies Mike’s singing career had taken a bit of a back seat. His interest had been diverted by a passion inherited from his father for motor racing, and for a couple of years he indulged this passion, until the money ran out. He then went back into the studio and made a country album, Drift Away for York records which created interest in America with talk of a promotional tour. Unfortunately, that never materialised, but they were also impressed with the album in New Zealand, and so he took up their offer of a two-month tour over there.
On his return he was informed that York records was to be closed down by its owners, Yorkshire TV, and so Mike was without a record deal. Before he had time to decide what to do next, he was approached by an independent record company and within a very short time he had a top ten hit in the Netherlands; Don’t Be Cruel, followed by a number one re-recording of his first hit A Tribute To Buddy Holly, and an album of the same name - all supported by a major tour. He also had a top ten disc in Germany, plus other hits in Scandinavia. He was then signed to Polydor with the same independent producer and made an album I’m a Rocker, for Cleveland /Epic records in the States. However, due to some 'business irregularities’ involving the producer, the Americans withdrew the already pressed album that consequently, is now a rare collector’s item. Because of these ‘irregularities’, Mike and his producer parted company.
Running parallel with all the European action, Mike had chanced into TV commercials and photographic modelling through a friend who thought Mike’s stage and TV experience would stand him in good stead for such a move. For the next eight to ten years, Mike became king of the commercials featuring in more than fifty! While filming one of these for TV Times, he met director James Hill who offered him the role of Mr. Peters; the father of the two children that befriend Worzel Gummidge in the classic children’s series. He appeared in all 30 episodes.
It was whilst working with Jon Pertwee in 'Worzel' that Jon suggested Mike join his agent, Richard Stone, with whom he duly signed a sole agency agreement. Having parted company with his disgraced producer, Mike asked his old friend and long time music associate, Chas Hodges, of Chas & Dave fame, to produce his next album. This association resulted in a top ten hit The Sunshine of Your Smile, followed by two further hits and two successful albums.
With this renewed success, Mike undertook a top of the bill theatre tour with comedian Jimmy Cricket, impressionist Aiden J. Harvey and compare/singer Tommy Bruce. The tour culminated at the prestigious Barbican Centre in London. Mike’s new agent, Richard Stone attended The Barbican concert and saw in Mike great potential as a comedy actor. For the first time since the 60s, when he starred in Mother Goose in Darlington, Richard cast him in one of many pantomimes. Dick Whittington at The Congress Theatre in Eastbourne had a cast that included Patrick Cargill, Victor Spinnetti, Lionel Blair, and Mike’s comedy partner as ‘Captain’ to Mike’s ‘Mate’, Frank Windsor. With comedy still in mind, when a cast vacancy for the BBC's classic series Are You Being Served? arose, Richard Stone was top of the list of agents to be contacted, and Mike was top of his list for the part. Mike was interviewed by David Croft the co-writer and producer. He then read the part of Bert Spooner for both David and his writing partner Jeremy Lloyd. Mike appeared in the last three series and a couple of Christmas specials. It was one of the most enjoyable experiences of his professional life.
The acting continued with a theatre tour of Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach with Mike as the Narrator. Other theatre credits include One for the Road, The Diary of Adrian Mole, The Mating Game (a farce playing opposite Terry Scott), and Pinocchio. Having neglected the music side of his career for far too long, when Mike got a call from his agent inviting him to co-write and star in a new rock and roll musical called Tutti Frutti, he took up the invitation with enthusiasm. He created the central character of Archie Culpepper, and enjoyed a year touring with a brilliant young cast. They performed the best of fifties rock ‘n’ roll to packed houses, with standing ovations and audiences dancing in the isles every night. This was followed by an equally enjoyable and successful sequel, Great Balls Of Fire which finished with a three week run at the Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith. Other film and televisions credits include: Julie and the Cadillacs, The Tom O’Connor Show, Codsmorph, and The Parkies.
Having rekindled a taste for his musical roots in rock ‘n’ roll, acting now took something of a back seat, and with the exception of the occasional commercial, or cameo role in programmes like ‘The Bill’, Mike went back on the road full time with his newly formed Outlaws, playing all over the UK and Europe with the occasional foray to The States. Last year Mike travelled to Nashville to record an album with The Crickets, fulfulling a dream he has nurtured since he first heard That'll Be the Day back in 1957. The album was released to critical acclaim and is currently Rollercoaster Records' best-selling CD.
In 2006, Mike was invited to headline the ‘Clovis Music Festival’ in New Mexico; primarily a celebration of the music of Buddy Holly & The Crickets and their association with Norman Petty’s studio in the city where they recorded many of their hits. Christmas 2007 saw the release of Mike's Christmas single entitled Hi There Darlin! Merry Christmas recorded under his Are You being Served? character name, Bert Spooner.