Most devotees of popular music know that Liverpool’s impact on the Top Twenty was well-established before the advent of the Beatles and the Mersey Sound. Lita Roza started the ball rolling with her 1953 No 1 and others were to follow. But whilst the successes of Michael Holliday, Frankie Vaughan and Billy Fury are etched strong in the city’s musical history, less well-remembered is the highly successful, albeit short-lived, stardom that befell Liverpool born Ronnie Hulme.
He was born in 13th January 1932, the son of Robert, a furniture remover, and his wife Charlotte (née Hughes). The family home, in the Everton district, was 158 Beacon Lane L5 (now demolished) and Ronnie would live there until fame took him to the bright lights of London. After school he found himself in a dreary clerical job but took a totally new direction when he became a Butlin’s ‘Redcoat’ at their Metropole Hotel on the seafront at Blackpool. Besides organising entertainment for children as ‘uncle Ronnie, he was keen to progress as a singer, writing his own words and music.
Whilst in Blackpool he became very keen on a girl named Pat Hitchin, she however, was not so serious about him and, as they say, she ‘gave him the elbow’. Like scores of songsters before him he sought solace in music and used his sadness as the muse for the song “We Will Make Love” (which despite the title was quite an innocent ditty). His job at Butlin’s brought him into contact with stars of the day and he took the opportunity to offer the song to fellow Liverpudlian Frankie Vaughan, wo turned it down. Later Michael Holliday offered to record it but by this time Ronnie had found an opportunity to do so himself, with Oriole records in May 1957.
It was at this point that he decided that Ronnie Hulme was not the sort of name to top the charts and he took the stage name Russ Hamilton. Aided by Butlin’s publicity machine he got an appearance on the BBC TV show Six-Five Special and the song raced up the charts. It reached number 2, sitting below Elvis Presley’s All Shook Up and seemed guaranteed to take the top spot when disaster struck. Oriel ran out of records. There would be a two week gap before more became available and by then the momentum was gone, We Will Make Love began to fall down the charts and Paul Anka’s Diana took the top spot. Nonetheless Russ Hamilton’s debut release sold over a million copies and won him the Ivor Novello award in 1958 for best selling and most performed song.
And even more success was to come. The record was released in the USA and by some quirk of fate the UK ‘B’ side, Rainbow, was taken in the States as the ‘A’ side. It reached the top ten in the US charts and sold over a million copies. Thus Russ Hamilton became the first Liverpool singer to achieve a gold disc on both sides of the Atlantic.
Hamilton seemed to have everything going for him. Instant fame at home and a recording contract at Nashville with MGM in the USA. But it just never happened. He had just one more chart success, a number 20 in September 1957 entitled Wedding Ring. Perhaps as the sixties dawned the record buying public were moving away from his style, described at the time as songs sung “quietly, sincerely, by an unassuming, soberly-dressed lad who does not try to disguise his Liverpool accent” [Belfast Telegraph 13.10.1959].
So we turn the clock forward a few years to the mid-sixties and where do we find him ? Back at Butlins Metropole Hotel, Blackpool, as the entertainments manager. He later took the same role at the Minehead holiday camp, touring in the annual Redcoats show.
Russ Hamilton would fade away from the music headlines and he died in Buckley, near Mold, on 11th October 2008, aged 76, “a lonely figure in a village council flat” [Cymru Online]. Like so many other pop music stars he saw precious little of the money his record sales garnered. “I was going round the world singing my head off and I was swindled out of a fortune. I never even saw my gold disc”. As the great Woody Guthrie said “some rob you with a six-gun, some with a fountain pen”.
I have not found a great deal about his life in general but on 25th January 1962 The Stage announced the birth of a son. The entry for him in The Guinness Who's Who of Fifties Music states that he served with the Royal Air Force in Korea. As he would have done his National Service 1950-52 this is quite feasible but I have not been able to find any other sources to confirm it.
The sheet music for We Will Make Love which attributes the writing credits to his real name Ron Hulme, and the recording to his alter ego, Russ Hamilton.
Russ Hamilton autograph dating from Blackpool in the 1960s [from author's collection of Liverpool autographs]
© Liverpool Footprints