Saturday, 7 January 2012

Elvis Presley 16th August 1977

For one person I know they heard the news while at the age of 12 sitting before a mirror combing her hair. Her mother told her the news at their home in Zimbabwe.

Another was working at a Residential home as a vacation job in the south of England. A fellow member of staff burst into tears and was distraught when she heard.

One friend was in Suva in Fiji when a shopkeeper asked him "Do you know Elvis Presley". He said "Not personally". The shopkeeper replied, "Well, he's dead".

For many Tuesday 16th August 1977 will be one of those global moments alongside the JFK assassination and 9/11. Everyone old enough will recall his or her response to the news.

As far as the death of Elvis was concerned I was having a drink in the Conservative Club in Glebe St, Stoke. It was the one and only time I had been in there visiting after playing a game of rounders in Hanley Park against the Young Tories. I went to the Club after the match and was engaged in heated discussion with them on the issues of the day. The news broke for the Ten O’clock News. The presenter Leonard Parkin was interviewing the DJ Pete Murray and striking a superior tone in discussing Presley’s work." What has he done to be remembered? " the haughty Parkin queried. That was not a view shared in a place like Stoke on Trent where Elvis was regarded with devotional awe.

Presley was discovered by a girl friend unresponsive on his bathroom floor at his mansion Gracelands in Memphis. Attempts to revive him failed, and death was officially pronounced at 3:30 p.m. at the Baptist Memorial Hospital. He had died from heart failure. The truth of the matter was the singer was seriously overweight and drug dependent. His glittering career was a shadow of its former self and he was not the force that he had been in pop music. But a dead Elvis proved to be a great asset.

I have to say that his death meant little to me as did John Lennon's killing three years later
But his legion of fans his death came as a huge shock and thousands flocked to Memphis to pay respects at his funeral.

In North Staffordshire he had always enjoyed a huge following. And demonstrations of grief were soon manifested. Ian Jenkins of Louise St Burls turned his terraced home into a shrine with pictures and posters adorning the windows. He said, " We are completely numbed at the news. None of us have been able to sleep or eat since Elvis died".

Jenkins, a young fan of 23, continued his obsequies by customising his car with Elvis memorabilia including a plaque bearing a Red Cross fixed to his car.

Mr Jenkins said that he had been playing records at all hours but the neighbours have not complained.
Two churches in Longton held memorial services for the King in the immediate aftermath of his death. 600 people packed into St Paul’s in Longton and Christ Church in Normacott. At the former Ron Bickerton paid tribute to the star. The Rev David Woodward greeted mourners as they left the Longton church.
Local record shops noted that Presley albums had sold out.

The Sentinel was inundated with letters and tributes. Angela Pegg of Alma St, Fenton wrote a poem, which began

" Elvis is gone, but his memory stays real
Only the true fans know the heartbreak we feel"

The newspaper also carried an interesting letter from, Phyllis Turner of Goldenhill who was one of the few local people to have met him.

" I found him sincere, thoughtful and warm who loved and respected the loyalty of his British fans.
With my late husband Albert Hand who was founder and President of the Elvis Presley Fan Club I met him on three occasions. He was presented with a leather album, which contained the name of thousand’s of his British fan’s names printed in gold lettering. His eyes welled up"

And the tributes and commemorative events continued through out that year. A memorial concert was held in the autumn at Jollies with Elvis impersonator Amazing Rupert.

It was not uncommon to come across homes that were also shrines to him and for may he will always be "the King"

The impact that Elvis made on the collective psyche of the nation still continues. He remains a charismatic figure, as widely recognised as a Macdonald’s logo. And he is still ripe for admiration and exploitation. His impact on the consciousness of many of the British public has never left the building.