12 July, 1963
The BBC and indie broadcasting station Radio Luxembourg were adamant: such was the “bad taste” of Christine, a single produced by John Barry and featuring a singer named Miss X, that it had to be banned from the airwaves.
The story had sparked a month earlier when Secretary of State for War John Profumo resigned, after admitting he had lied to the House Of Commons regarding his affair with Christine Keeler, the model and call-girl who was also having a relationship with Russian naval attaché Yevgeni Ivanov.
At the same time Jeff Kruger, head of Ember Records, was making headlines in the music press by signing John Barry, leader of the John Barry Seven, as recording manager for his label. Kruger remembers: “We were like chalk and cheese, I was disciplined, businesslike and watched every penny, but John was not a student of budget control. However, I needed someone to give the label’s UK recorded releases a kick in the pants.”
“You brought me in to move your label into a new era,” said Barry. “You want quality and you’ll have it.”
He wasted little time in grabbing the headlines for Ember. Asked about Miss X’s record, Kruger protested: “Of course it’s not in bad taste. Anyone who says that is talking rubbish.” In truth, the single was a pleasant chunk of rhumba-based piano pop, over which its mysterious singer whispered such phrases as, "I’m a good girl”, “I told you I was good” and “Your secret is safe with me”, adding a couple of giggles and a sigh. But the song’s title, and the inference that sex and secrets were involved, outraged certain authorities. Hence the ban.
"We don't ban records very often but in this case we had to."
Radio luxembourg spokesperson
Radio Luxembourg protested that they were not the bad guys. ”We don’t ban records very often,” said a spokesperson, “but in this case we just had to.”
By July 20 word had got around, one newspaper reporting: “The demand for the disc in Soho is tremendous. In many shops it’s doing under-the-counter business. Others are putting up stickers advising ‘Get Your Christine record here’.”
Gradually, the facts about the 45 were revealed. Miss X proved to be none other than singer-dancer Joyce Blair, sister of Lionel Blair. “The record was made in an atmosphere of hysterical laughter,” Joyce recalled. “We all thought it very funny. And what’s wrong with that? Bad taste? Certainly not.”
Another leading conspirator in the Miss X jape was Leslie Bricusse, who had formed a formidable songwriting partnership with Anthony Newley. In this instance, Bricusse was listed as co-writer of Christine, along with a certain Count Jaime de Mora y Aragon, who was the rhumba-playing pianist on the session.
A dead ringer for Salvador Dali
The Count was the kind of character publicists fall over themselves to promote. Known as the toast of the Costa del Sol and a dead ringer for Salvador Dalí, when not playing in some upmarket Spanish bar he could be found wrestling in Argentina. Unbelievably, he was brother to Fabiola, Queen of The Belgians, but when his sister wed King Baudouin it was made clear that he was excluded from the wedding ceremony.
Still, the single leapt from Soho hit to acceptance on the national chart, eventually clambering into the Top 40. And when Ready Steady Go! first got weekends started, a few days later, Joyce Blair was on-screen, alongside Billy Fury, Brian Poole & The Tremeloes, Burl Ives, Pat Boone, Chris Barber and others, confirming that she was indeed the infamous Miss X.
The various conspirators soon moved on. Kruger released Fool Britannia, an Ember album that proved to be the ultimate Profumo send-up. Recorded in New York by Bricusse and Newley, plus Newley’s then-wife Joan Collins and Peter Sellers, John Barry fell about laughing when Bricusse and Newley took the tapes to him. It reached Number 10 that September. “All the majors were pissed off,” chortled Barry who, having given Kruger’s label a shove up, left shortly after and began furthering his career as a soundtrack provider of distinction.
Joyce Blair, meanwhile, fashioned a career that saw her sing pop, act on TV and in movies and dance with her brother, until their acrimonious split in 1977, a rift only healed years later when they heard that mutual friend Sammy Davis Jr was suffering from cancer. She died in 2006. But what of the piano-playing Count? His activities included spells as a banker, mercenary, movie star, taxi driver, bon vivant, waiter, model and the official greeter of the Marbella Tourist Office until his death in 1995.