SIXTY years ago, Marty Wilde, Cliff Richard and Tommy Steele were the new wave of singers setting the charts and live performance alight with Wilde first choice for the TV pop shows of Oh Boy! And Boy Meets Girl.

Now, Wilde is back on the road to celebrate his golden days of entertainment and admits that he hated having to change his name back in 1957.

“These days, the only time my original name of Reg Smith comes up is when I meet someone from way back, from Greenwich where I grew up. Other than that I’ve been Marty 24/7 for 60 years,” says Wilde. Even wife Joyce knows him as Marty because the two met while forging careers as singers.

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“Reg isn’t my favourite word these days,” he jokes.

It was the legendary British talent spotter Larry Parnes who decided that a name change was essential. Marty came from an Ernest Borgnine film of the time and Wilde was the kind of surname that Parnes preferred – Cliff Richard had been Harry Webb while Tommy Steele was born Thomas Hicks.

“I wasn’t happy when he suggested a new name. I was a pretty basic guy and I wanted to be called Reg Patterson, taken from Floyd Patterson the boxer, because I was into heavyweight boxing. I was disappointed, but about three weeks after the change I saw my name on a bill and it looked good. I thought I was wrong and he was right,” says Wilde, who had hits with Donna, Sea of Love and A Teenager in Love.

He feels the reason that Parnes’ protégées have maintained such longevity in the world of entertainment is that all three have a passion for the business. “I think you’ve got to be a person with ideas. You just can’t say, ‘I’ll stop with one thing’. You must have an open mind and be creative,” says the 78-ydar-old.

The man awarded an MBE this year has had a West End stage to his career and chanced his arm as a songwriter – one of the best being Kids in America for his well-known showbiz daughter Kim Wilde. “The writing had always been a career, right up to the start of Kim’s career, but that was because I was a lazy so-and-so. I’d often take six months off and I think I’d have had a lot more hits if I’d kept writing.

“I really wanted to get out on the road singing and that interrupts you. For me, to write, I had to separate myself from the music world. I’ve never be able to write on the road. Someone says to me, ‘Well you’ve got to finish that song by a certain time’, and I was on tour, then I found that hard because I needed isolation to be able to concentrate. I didn’t need a place away from it all, just somewhere stimulating like London which has a buzz of creativity.

“Some studios there give you that buzz and you find things coming into your mind all the time. To be inspired is important.”

Wilde has included Billingham Forum Theatre, in November, in his Sixty Anniversary Solid Gold Tour which includes popular singers such as Mike Berry, Eden Kane and Mark Wynter.

“I’m thrilled about coming up here because I’ve always loved the region. I’ve toured the area for years. There’s an honesty about the people who give you their opinion on any subject... often within minutes of arriving. I remember I was working on tour and had my wife with me back in the late 1960s. Times were getting tough for me and I was working the nightclubs and I think we’d just finished a night in Liverpool and didn’t finish until around 1am. We decided to drive over to the Roker area of Sunderland and went onto the coast road and got there about 4.30am and pulled up and parked facing the sea in our shooting brake. We suddenly woke up around 8am with loads of kids with buckets and spades passing the car and people staring at us, wondering what we were doing there. It was a hot, sunny morning that I’ll never forget,” says Wilde.

Even after all his years on the road, Wilde is keener on the areas where he performs rather than picking out certain venues. “You know in some places the audiences are going to give you a warmer reception and know they are not going to be as uptight and looser... and know how to enjoy themselves. Some audiences are slightly more aloof, while the North is always out for a good time. The audiences up here saved my bacon... my life. The advent of The Beatles meant that my era of rock’n’roll was over and I ended up doing nightclubs and one nighters. All of my success came in the North and I even bought a Hertfordshire house in 1967 which linked to the motorways heading to the region. Originally, I lived in south London, which was adding an extra hour to every journey. I said, ‘To hell with this, we’re gonna move’. I love the South, but I wouldn’t like to live there. Traffic-wise it’s unbelievable.”

Wilde, who left school at 15, started as a messenger and took the plunge of performing for £1 a night and a hot meal. “I think I took the gamble because I was motivated and dedicated, but at least there were jobs there in those days. Whereas today it’s so difficult for youngsters who need to be highly educated and have a huge slice of luck.”

His own slice of good fortune was Larry Parnes deciding to track him down after being told that the young singer had rushed off to catch the last bus home.

“People talk about fate and I’m never sure about it, but sometimes things just happen. There’s no solid explanation for it. For him to come all that way to find me was absurd. I’d been up to church with my mates and I came home to hear my mother telling me that the biggest manager in the UK had knocked at our door wanting to sign me up. It was an incredible feeling.

“I had told people I was going to be a pop singer when I was about 14 or 15, so to me it was just the next stage. A bit of ignorance on my part not to see my life had changed forever.”

  • November 2, Billingham Forum Theatre