The St Albans PR man behind dance legends Pan's People
PUBLISHED: 18:15 23 November 2014
It was no flash in the Pan when Phil Day took on the job of publicising the dancing group that dominated headlines in the late sixties and early seventies.
And even today, Phil can claim to be Pan’s Person thanks to his work with Pan’s People who danced weekly on TV’s Top of the Pops for many years.
Even though he is now 69 and retired, Phil is still working for the girls by publicising Pan’s People: Our Story, compiled by four of the original dancers - Babs Lord, Dee Dee Wilde, Ruth Pearson and Cherry Gillespie.
In fact Phil, who lives in St Albans, features with the girls in one of the many photos in the book.
Publicising Pan’s People was just one facet in Phil’s amazing career which found him mixing with the great and the good - and the not so good.
The Barnardo’s boy adopted by a St Albans grocer and his wife who lived in Alma Road, went from joining the Marines at the age of 15 to becoming a journalist on the now defunct Evening Post and Echo and then publicist to the stars.
He publicised TV series as diverse as Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In and MacMillan and Wife, films including Deerhunter and Raging Bull and stars such as Tom Jones, Norman Wisdom and Bette Davis.
He has even done some publicity work for the Royal Family, including being called to Clarence House - the former home of the Queen Mother - on several occasions.
Retirement has brought him back to St Albans which he has always thought of as home despite travelling the world with companies such as Disney and Universal Artists.
But his globe-trotting days are not quite over yet - he has just returned from Gibraltar where a three-day celebration was held to mark the 350th anniversary of the Royal Marines.
Phil was in the Marines for just over four years and when he left in the mid sixties he joined the police. He explained: “Like a lot of people coming out of the forces, I didn’t like Civvy Street and a good halfway house was joining the police.
“But I got very disillusioned because it was under strength.”
Casting around for a new direction he joined the Evening Post and Echo as a junior reporter. Based in Hemel Hempstead, it covered the three counties of Herts, Beds and Bucks and it was while working for the newspaper that Phil got his big break.
Sent to cover a Royal Command Performance, he was casting around for something to focus on when the young French singer Mireille Mathieu came on stage.
He said: “She glided on the stage and I thought, this is what I am going to write about. She tore the whole place apart with just two songs.”
The article he wrote brought him to the attention of the Grade family - Leslie, Lew and Bernard Delfont - who packed him off to France where he took on publicity for Mireille for two years.
He went on to work on various productions including 26 one-hour shows featuring up-and-coming singer Tom Jones before going to America for the best part of four years where he signed up for Disney - a company he still has nothing but praise for.
After relocating back to the UK when his mum was ill, he became Disney’s head of publicity in Pall Mall and it was while in that role that he came across the famously irascible Hollywood diva Bette Davis.
In the UK to promote a film called Watcher in the Woods, she had laid down the law about how many interviews she was prepared to give - only one.
Faced with the prospect of telling hordes of journalists that they could not interview her, Phil was flummoxed,
But he won her round by asking her if she thought adopted children should trace their parents - her own children were adopted - and watched her visibly soften in front of him.
Not only did she agree to hold a provincial press conference - practically unheard of for a Hollywood star - but left him a personal gift when she flew home.
Publicising Pan’s People came about after Phil had taken a few years out of his work and was approached to see if he would consider promoting the dance group independently.
They liked the way he publicised them and when they signed a contract to appear weekly on Top of the Pops, they asked him to do their PR.
He has remained friends with them since, even though two of the original members have died, and when they decided to bring out Pan’s People: Our Story, they turned to him again to publicise it.
The book was actually first issued in November last year but sold out and has now been re-released.
Phil said: “I only did it because Pan’s wanted me to do it. They said I was their first and obvious choice.”
A divorced father of three - he describes his ex-wife as ‘my best friend - he is often asked if he misses the cut and thrust of publicity and he admits that of course he does.
But he has a wealth of memories - and can still count the lovely ladies of Pan’s People among his close friends. It’s not been a bad life.
Pan’s People: Our Story is published by Signum Books and is available from Amazon and all good bookshops.