Bubbling with the exited anticipation of teenagers, my friend and I rode the number 66 red double-decker bus into Romford. It was February 25th 1964 and we were headed to the Odeon Theatre to try to catch a glimpse of our latest crush. No, not Mick Jagger or any of the Rolling Stones, but Mike Sarne. Who, you may ask?
Mike Sarne was a boyishly handsome pop singer with a cheekily charming Cockney accent who had a brief burst of fame in the mid-sixties. His first single, Come Outside with interjections by Wendy Richard, was a surprise number 1 hit in May 1962. Will I What with Billie Davis followed later in the year but only made it to number 18. He released a few more singles that slipped further down the charts and one LP. And that was the end of Mike Sarne’s recording career. But in 1964 he was at the height of his fame and a headliner of the All Stars ’64 concert tour. So when I heard that he was to appear in my local town I had to go. There was no possibility of actually attending the concert; I accepted without question that my family’s finances could not extend to such luxuries and I didn’t yet have my Saturday job at Woolworths. I was content with a plan to hang out by the stage door and perhaps see my idol. I had absolutely no interest in one of the other bands in the tour, the Rolling Stones.
While Mike Sarne was on the way down, the Rolling Stones were on the way up. Not yet nearly as famous as they would become, they had only released two singles before their appearance in Romford, neither of which made it to number 1 in the charts. Come On and I Wanna Be Your Man came out in 1963. In February 1964, two days after the Romford concert, they released Not Fade Away, which made it to number 3 in the charts and was the first Rolling Stones song to be released in the US. It wasn’t until later in the year that they would have their first number 1 hit, It’s All Over Now, and release their first album, The Rolling Stones. This album sealed their fame, spending 37 weeks at the top of the charts. It was released in the US in June, just four months after the Beatles US tour started the famous British Invasion. But at this moment in February 1964, while I had heard of the Rolling Stones and knew what they looked like, they were just not that big a deal. In fact they were listed halfway down the tour poster, beneath such long-forgotten names as The Swinging Blue Jeans and Don Fireball Spencer. The February tour would visit twenty cities in England and Wales including Romford.
The Odeon in Romford is a classic 1930’s theatre building on South Street next to the railway station. It went the way of many old cinema buildings, replaced by a multi-screen theatre in the shopping center in 1990. For several years it was a boarded up ruin until a 1999 renovation gave it new life as a nightclub. Back in 1964 I remember it had a rather scruffy air. My friend and I made our way down a dark narrow alley at the side of the building and found the stage door. It was an unprepossessing dirty steel door up a short flight of steps. I imagined Mike Sarne coming out and leaning over the railing to greet us. We were the only people there. No one came when my friend, braver than I, knocked on the door. We began to feel a bit silly.
Then suddenly two young men came running down the alley clutching newspaper-wrapped fish and chips. We immediately recognized Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Not too famous to go to the fish and chip shop themselves without being mobbed; just famous enough to have to run down the alley to get away from a few pursuing fans. They both wore blue jeans, leather jackets, and high-heeled boots, dangerously glamorous outfits to us convent schoolgirls. I was surprised by how short they both seemed despite the boots. I seized my best chance to meet Mike Sarne. “Mick, Mick,” I called out, “is Mike Sarne in there? Can you tell him to come out? Please!” But Mick and Keith just brushed past us without a word or a glance and disappeared behind the stage door. We never did see Mike Sarne.
In later years I’ve wondered if the not quite famous Mick Jagger was a bit miffed that some girls weren’t interested in seeing him, in fact saw him as merely a conduit to another pop star. But he would soon garner more than enough adulation. Meanwhile Mike Sarne dropped into oblivion. Or so I thought. In fact he has had a successful, if minor, second career as an actor and director. I recently learned that he played the small role of Father Mabeuf in the 2012 movie Les Miserables. I saw the movie but I didn’t recognize my former heartthrob.
It was many years before I realized that the scene in the alley had actually been a missed opportunity to appreciate my closest brush with superstardom. But when I saw Mick Jagger I only had eyes for Mike Sarne.