Elaine Armer (ex Hodgkin) remembers her time running Robert's fan club.
To begin with, just one bit of biographical detail about Robert. He is proud to share his birthday - 8th January 1935 - with none other than the great Elvis Presley! What was that about lightning striking twice?
I ran Robert's fan club from 1972 to 1982. At the time I was married to my first husband and Robert became a close family friend, often staying at our house. It is fair to say that I came to know him well. I developed the greatest respect for him both as a warm and generous human being who was always glad to help others, and as a truly wonderful singer. It has always struck me as a great shame that Robert never quite received the full amount of fame that his talent, and personality, deserved. But to start at the beginning...
I first saw Robert, in early 1972, by accident. We had gone to Batley Variety Club to see a famous hypnotist who was topping the bill. I had never heard of Robert Young, who was one of the supporting acts, and had no idea what to expect when the compere introduced him. The curtains were closed at first, and the audience could only hear this wonderful voice singing “Happy Heart”. You could have heard a pin drop. I think we were all wondering what the man behind the voice would look like – I know I was. Then the curtains opened and all the women swooned! Not only a divine voice, but also tall, dark and handsome. The men in our party thought that such a combination was so unfair. We women thought it was just perfect! Who needed a hypnotist after that?
At the end of the evening Robert was selling copies of his LP, “Portrait of Robert Young”, and signing autographs. There was a tremendous queue of women, so my then sister-in-law resorted to climbing over tables and chairs to get to the front. Just the sort of effect Robert had on the ladies, but her acrobatics paid off and we got chatting to him. Such a natural and down-to-earth person with no arrogance about him, a true gentleman.
Robert mentioned that he was doing a summer season in Scarborough, and my ears pricked up. I'm a Scarborough girl myself, and I used to take my children over regularly to see family. Not exactly by coincidence I met Robert again at the Floral Hall that summer. He told me that he was having problems with the administration of his fan club, and asked me if I would help. I thought it over for a full ten seconds before accepting.
I've often heard of 'stars' who care little for their fans. This most definitely was not the case with Robert, who had the highest regard for his and always went out of his way to keep in touch with them. As a result, I worked closely with Robert throughout my time with the fan club. It was a heady time, and through Robert I met many celebrities (he was held in very high regard in the business). I was invited to a host of prestigious venues, but particularly remember when Robert was working the Savoy. After the show we met the Russian Minister of Culture, who had invited Robert to the Soviet Union, where he went down a storm.
Another venue I will never forget was the London Palladium, where Robert was playing Prince Charming (how apt!) in Cinderella. Richard O'Sullivan was appearing, and I had told Robert that he was a favourite of mine. After the show Robert took me backstage, and knocked on the door with the star on it. The door was opened by Richard, and Robert said “this is Elaine”. The reply was “not the Elaine all the way from Huddersfield?” Robert had arranged this as a special surprise for me, and Richard played his part to the full – another charming man. On a different occasion at the Palladium, I was with Robert in his dressing room before the show when it was announced to the cast (but not to the audience) that Princess Margaret and her children were in the stalls incognito. I found it touching that the Royals should want to mingle with the crowd, but could well understand them wanting to see and hear Robert perform.
Of course, with Robert, his art is not simply a means of making money. He has a very real, deep love of music, and would often launch into impromptu concerts when staying at our house, accompanying himself on the children's electric organ. This was the signal for the neighbours to open their doors and windows to hear the free show! On the other hand, he would also drive my poodle, Trixie, wild when he got out his bagpipes. Should have got a Highland Terrier I suppose.
Over the years I accompanied Robert to many venues and met many of the fan club members in person, becoming friends with a lot of them. They were a friendly and loyal group of people, but times change and I lost touch with them.
I also got to know Robert the man well. I have the greatest respect for his strength of character and unfailing good humour, alongside his loyalty to his fans. Robert has known personal tragedy, suffering appalling blows including the tragically early death of his teenage daughter Alex. Deeply hurt as he was, Robert kept going for his fans more than for himself. A true trouper, he has always held to the maxim “the show must go on”. This depth of character was tested almost to breaking point in the early 1970s. Robert was appearing in panto in Norwich, and his fiancee Penny was appearing in Leicester.
Whilst driving there she was killed in a motor accident, and the first Robert heard of this was when the Police visited him before his show. Devastated as he was, Robert made the courageous decision to go on stage. One of his songs was “Dream the Impossible Dream” - so poignant that I just don't know how he found the reserves to finish it. A lesser person would have buckled and folded.
Robert is retired now, and is not in the best of health. I wish him well, but I also know that his strength of character and good humour will stand him in good stead. His recordings continue to bring joy to so many, and I have been delighted to find several of them on Youtube. I was also excited to discover this site, and I do hope that many more of Robert's friends and devotees will share their memories of a truly gifted performer and a wonderful man.