The 1960’s would see the city of Liverpool at the summit of the popular music world, and at the start of that decade it was a Liverpool-born singer who topped the charts – Michael Holliday. Starry Eyed was his second number 1 hit, following on from The Story of My Life in 1958. He had one other top ten hit, Stairway of Love, also in 1958.
Holliday was born Norman Alexander Milne on 26th November 1924 to Cissie and Robert Milne who at the time were living at 55 Haigh Street L3 (now demolished). Shortly after his birth the family moved to 40 St Agnes Road L4 and this would be his home until his show-business career took him away from the city.
On leaving school he started as an apprentice cutter with a firm of Liverpool tailors, a post that lasted all of two weeks. Thereafter he had a succession of menial jobs before following his elder brother Bob into the Merchant Navy. In December 1942 he switched to the Royal Navy and was sent to Plymouth for training. There he met up with a fellow recruit called Trevor Stanford who played the piano and they formed a duo to entertain their colleagues in the canteen. In the 1950’s Stanford, having adopted the name Russ Conway, went on to have two No. 1’s and a string of other top ten hits. After training Norman Milne was posted to the cruiser HMS Norfolk and served on her during the operation in December 1943 which led to the sinking of the German ship Scharnhorst.
1946 saw him demobbed from the navy and back in Liverpool, again taking on a succession of jobs but nurturing a wish to get into the singing business. One night at The Grafton ballroom he met a young bank clerk from Toxteth, Margaret ‘Margie’ Barker, and found that they shared a passion for Bing Crosby. She was astounded at the similarity of his voice to Crosby’s when she heard him sing and began to encourage him to further his ambitions. His confidence was boosted when he won first prize at the ‘New Voices of Merseyside’ competition at the Locarno ballroom.
He married Margie on 29th November 1947 and the couple moved in with his mother at St Agnes Road. Soon, a baby daughter Bonnee arrived, only for tragedy to strike when she died aged just four months. They then had a baby boy and in order to provide for his family he returned to the sea as a steward, including a stint on the Queen Mary. His singing ambitions received a further boost when he won a $100 prize at a talent show at Radio City Music Hall in New York. Back in Liverpool his first step up the showbusiness ladder came courtesy of his brother. Bob had left the sea and secured a job as catering manager at Butlin’s holiday camp at Pwllheli in North Wales. This led to a season singing with the resident bandleader, Dick Denny. When he moved on to Butlin’s top band, led by Eric Winstone, he started to perform under the name Michael Holliday.
Following an appearance on a BBC TV show he came to the attention of record producer Norrie Paramor and with successful record releases (his first chart entry was Nothin’ To Do in 1956) and more radio and TV appearances his career blossomed. Before long he was given his own show on the BBC, Relax with Michael Holliday, and whilst musical tastes were shifting away from ‘crooners’, his talent was such that it seemed likely that a long and successful career beckoned. It was not to be.
According to many who knew him well Michael Holliday was plagued by shyness and lack of self-belief. He was especially sensitive about his height. Only ever seeing him on TV I had always imagined him to be quite a tall man, he was however only about 5 feet 6 inches. His Tv appearances were carefully managed to give the impression that he was tall and he was at pains to avoid any situation which would ‘give the game away’. He appeared on This Is Your Life only on the condition that he did not have to stand next to the towering Eamonn Andrews. He always felt that when he walked on stage for a live performance the audience whispered a collective “isn’t he small !”. As his fame grew so did his problems with depression and failed attempts at suicide.
On Monday 28th October 1963, after having visited a club owned by boxer Freddie Mills, he fell on the stairs at home and knocked himself out. His assistant called an ambulance and on arrival at Croydon hospital he was found to have taken a large overdose of sleeping tablets and he died later on 29th October. The subsequent inquest returned a verdict of death by suicide. He was buried at Anfield cemetery on 7th November the gravestone bearing his real name.
Michael Holliday's family home in Liverpool.
His gravestone in Anfield Cemetery.
By far the best source on Michael Holliday is the excellent biography by Ken Crossland entitled the Man Who Would Be Bing: The Life Story of Michael Holliday [The Book Guild 2004]. The Wikipedia entry is very basic. There is a nice video on YouTube of him singing his hit Starry Eyed.
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