Dick was a football man through and through, his brother also played and his father before that. He’s played for the Beetley, Dereham and North Elmham village teams in his time and as he put it, “Anyone who needed a player, I never turned down a game.”
Born in 1920, Dick was conscripted at the very beginning of the Second World War and trained as a mechanical engineer with R.E.M.E. (Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers) in the Royal Tank core. “I was always tinkering with mechanical stuff as a kid. This was great for me, I loved it.”
Dick’s first posting was in India but he made Sergeant when attached to The Duke of Wellingtons regiment in Singapore, 1940. “We never had billets; we slept in tents in the jungle. The Malaysian locals were friendly and we made a few friends but the heat played havoc with the vehicles,” he explained. Dick was still stationed in Singapore when the Japanese invaded in February 1942. “It all happened so quickly and when we were over run, we were scattered all over the place. Myself and two men sheltered in a sewer pipe until a local we knew said he could get us out. We helped him syphon off some gas from a demobilised tank for his small fishing boat and under cover of darkness made our way to the harbour. We had to hide under a large pile of fishing net, it was very heavy and we could hardly breathe. We set off but got stopped at the harbour entrance by a Japanese patrol. We couldn’t understand a word of what was being said but thankfully they let him through. We travelled for three days to our base at Sumatra. We then had to wade ashore so his boat wouldn’t get impounded. I had a lot of friends spend the war as POWs.”
Dick was also mentioned in despatches when the unit he was in charge of repaired a detachment of demobilised trucks overnight to get the regiment moving again. For some reason Dick’s Demob card went unstamped at the end of the war and it took him over 68 years to get his campaign medals but with the help of the British Legion he finally received them in 2013.
Back home in the peaceful countryside of Norfolk, Dick went straight back to helping the local football clubs by putting on dances, cabarets and other fundraising events. He doesn’t support any particular club; he just loves the game, whoever is playing.
It was organising one of these fundraisers for the North Elmham team at their village hall in the early sixties that Dick suddenly became an agent overnight. “There weren’t many agents around; Chic Applin was your man. I had booked a band for the fundraiser but they didn’t show. A lot of people had turned up for the performance, so I got on the mic and asked if there were any musicians in the room. A young lad called Quilly (Peter Hull) stepped up and said he had his gear with him, there was also a drummer and a couple of singers; we soon got the party going,” smiles Dick.
From here Dick became interested in helping local musicians and bands, as well as football clubs. “We put bands together for our own functions using musicians we knew from the area. We also found bands musicians if they needed them; we became the local go to people for bands.” Dick formed R&B Entertainment which were his initials. “I added the ‘and’ because Rhythm and Blues was all the rage at the time.”
In 1965 Dick put together The Brokers band and they won the Dereham leg of the Mercury’s big Beat Competition. From there he began booking in acts all over the county. “I could tell you a lot of stories about the industry,” states Dick. “We booked Jimi Hendrix for Dereham, I did that with Brian Cross. I also got Status Quo for £25; I’d seen them in London and they signed a contract, a few weeks later they were in the charts and they still came.”
Eileen, Dick’s wife, became part of the agency in the late 60’s. “We did a lot for the local bands,” says Eileen. “Once a month we’d have to go to London and present these bands to the USAF Head Quarters; if you didn’t you couldn’t book them into the local airbases, which was big business.”
You can add The Vernon Girls, The Troggs, The Drifters and The Searchers to the agency’s celebrity list of bookings but both Eileen and Dick remember the visit of The Equals to the Dereham Sunshine Rooms in the early 70’s. “There were queues around the block, so we had a word with the band to do a second show and they agreed. We told people to ‘come back’ later and they did a second show at 2 in the morning. It was sweltering hot that night and I literally hosed the crowd down. They groaned but thanked me later.”
In 1988 Eileen and Dick became sole bookers for CC’s Nightclub in Norwich, formerly known as The Gala. “Rose Marie played there and she asked for 50 individually wrapped red roses to be presented to her before the performance as part of her rider and a big plate of fresh salad sandwiches and she never touched them, what a waste,” laughs Dick.
“We booked The Sweet a few times,” said Eileen. “They were one of my favourite bands, Brian the lead singer was amazing and it was a truly tremendous show from start to finish.” “He was a great performer,” added Dick.
After 50 years in the business, R&B Entertainments are still supplying the region with top acts. “I just love it! You don’t do things for this long if you don’t enjoy it. Things have changed, insurance, equipment testing, venues going out of business overnight. It’s all part of the job, you deal with it. It’s about seeing people’s faces at the end of the night, knowing they’ve had a great time. That’s your reward.”