“ Billy, don’t be a hero
Don’t be a fool with your life”
There is little comparison between today’s television and that of the seventies except in the area of talent shows. Whereas currently it’s The X-Factor, in the early 1970s it was Opportunity Knocks that allowed members of the public to entertain the nation. The shows are almost identical except that Opportunity Knocks didn’t just cater for singers, didn’t have major production values, wasn’t interactive except by post and didn’t use technology (other than the “Clapometer”).
Let me start again.
There is little comparison between today’s television and that of the seventies especially in the area of talent shows. Ruling the roost in the early 1970s was Opportunity Knocks with Hughie Green displaying a variety of talent (“and I mean that most sincerely folks!”) for us the discerning public. Whilst there were a lot of “also rans” – the guy that sang “Mule Train” while hitting himself over the head with a tin tray, the body builder flexing his muscles in time to the music – the show did unearth some gems. Paper Lace, I’m glad to say, were one of these.
The group was formed in 1969 by Michael Vaughan (guitar), Chris Morris (guitar), Carlo Santanna (guitar), Philip Wright (drums/lead vocals) and Cliff Fish (bass). As they all lived in Nottingham they decided to take their name from the city’s manufacturing history, giving us Paper Lace.
Despite playing gigs and managing a few television appearances, a recording contract never appeared an option until they entered Opportunity Knocks in 1974. Singing “Billy Don’t Be A Hero” they won the show – immediately leading to a recording contract and number 1 hit. They tried to repeat their UK success by releasing the single in the US where there seemed to be a captive market, given the song’s focus. There was a captive market but they were beaten by a cover of the song and only managed to scrape into the Top 100.
Their follow up single “The Night Chicago Died” followed the same formula, personalising an area of American history, and hit the top of the charts in the US. Back home it faired nearly as well reaching number 3.
Using the same approach in the initial two singles of a career tends to pigeonhole a group and it would be fair to say that this happened with Paper Lace. Their third single to chart (“The Black-Eyed Boys”), whilst leaving the US theme, was again a narrative song and stalled just outside the Top Ten.
While they didn’t trouble the charts again (except for a version of “We’ve Got The Whole World In Our Hands” with Nottingham Forest in 1978 – the less said of that the better!) there is still a form of the group that occasionally plays under the name of “Phil Wright’s Paper Lace”.
So – a couple of memorable songs, number ones on both sides of the Atlantic and a version of the group still playing 25 years later – is this where traditional Opportunity Knocks beats the hi-tech X-Factor? Will anyone remember Chico or Journey South in 2031?