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He's the star man

By This is Bristol  |  Posted: December 27, 2008

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I t's often said that the only way to succeed in many walks of life is by moving to London as that's where it all happens – especially in the heady world of show business.

But that hoary old tale has been turned on its head by John Miles, one of the country's leading and most respected showbiz managers and entrepreneurs.

"When I pick up the phone to deal with people in London, I'm looking out of my office window across wonderful countryside with the Mendip Hills on the skyline. What better environment could you ask for?" smiles John.

He's coming up to celebrate 50 years in the business, a remarkable achievement in such a cut-throat industry, and now represents some of the best-known people in radio and television, including Carol Vorderman and Noel Edmonds.

"In the early days, you didn't exist if you didn't have an office in Mayfair with marble steps up to the door. That was what was expected of showbiz managers then," says John.

"When I started I had to go up to London twice a week. That was three and a half hours up, and three and a half hours back. That was before the motorway came."

Now the tables have been turned, and programme producers head west from the hustle and bustle of the capital for the tranquillity of the Somerset countryside for meetings with John.

A proud Bristolian, he started his business from his parents' home in Clifton Wood, later moving into offices on the busy Whiteladies Road. More than 30 years ago, he crossed the river Avon into Somerset and bought a secluded, run-down property in the Gordano Valley.

Since then, he's extended it into offices and a luxury home which befits someone running a multi-million pound showbiz empire.

It's the sort of home that's featured in glossy magazines about country homes. It all started for John when he was growing lettuces, and was approached by a friend who led a semi-pro pop group called Daryl Grant and the Descants.

"Daryl asked me if I would like to manage them," says John. "They were getting £2 a show and that was between the five of them. I managed to get them £5 a show.

"In a very short time, they had more bookings than they could cope with, so I took on more groups through into the early Sixties," says John, who was taking the-then customary 10 per cent commission.

"The next few years were really exciting. When the Liverpool scene happened with the Beatles, I was handling bookings for more than 300 groups. Forty of them worked full-time in Germany, including playing at the famous Star Club," he adds.

John has fond memories of the record hit one of his bands, The Cougars, had in 1960 with a quirkily titled number Saturday Nite at the Duckpond.

"The BBC's Light Programme (predecessor of Radio 1) banned it because it was a rocked-up version of a classical piece, Tchaichovsky's Swan Lake.

"I got copies of the record to Radio Luxembourg and they played it to death," he recalls.

"After eight years of managing pop groups and feeling I'd only slept eight hours in eight years, I wanted to concentrate on just a few acts." One of those was Adge Cutler and the Wurzels, whose pop history has become the stuff of musical legend.

"Adge was something different. He was writing songs about manure, cider and Somerset villages," says John, who signed him up in 1966.

The Wurzels, with their "scrumpy and western" sound, entered the pop charts with songs such as Drink up thy Zider, putting the West Country on the musical map with a national television series and numerous radio appearances.

Sadly, Adge died in a road accident while driving back from a concert in Hereford in 1974. The Wurzels are still going strong, keeping Adge's songs alive, although John stopped managing them after 21 years.

"I felt I'd done everything I could for them, getting them enormous record success including a number one hit with Combine Harvester," he says. "I also helped them to get to number three in the charts with I am a Cider Drinker, plus many more. We're still great friends, though." John also represented nine Radio 1 disc-jockeys, all of whom were household names.

His entrepreneurial flair came to the front when he became ringmaster of the station's travelling pop show, watched by thousands of holidaymakers on beaches nationwide and heard by millions more on radio.

He built the Radio 1 Road Show travelling stage, equipped with some of the most sophisticated electronic wizardry to put the programme on air every summer weekday. It was driven from resort to resort by his brother Tony, who quickly became known, on and off air, as Smiley Miley. BBC Enterprises also gave John and Tony a licence to sell novelties ranging from sun visors to sticks of rock with the Radio 1 logo.

"While Tony was driving around the country, I was back here looking after the business side. We did that for 21 years," says John.

During his career he's promoted shows, booked the Beatles and the Kinks at local gigs for £25, and £35 a night, run his own record company and published a pop magazine, Bristol Beat.

Today, John manages 16 TV presenters. Besides Noel Edmonds, whom he's known for 35 years, and Carol Vorderman, who he has represented for more than 20, his cast list includes Des O'Connor, Timmy Mallett, Martin Bashir and Nick Knowles. He also manages the estate of the late Tommy Cooper.

"I look after everything they do, whether they write books, make DVDs, TV shows or appearances.

"I'm there to build them up, organise their careers, and make the right decisions. Hopefully I do, but your head is on the chopping block all the time," he says.

Remarkably, he's never given an artist a contract. "Modern thinking is everyone wants a contract, but they trust me and I trust them," he says. "No paperwork changes hands. It's all done on a handshake. But, of course, I have contracts with television companies, producers and other people who book my clients."

Apart from tragedy in his business life with the death of Adge Cutler, John has also suffered personal tragedy, losing his first wife, Gloria, to cancer. He's now been married to Lyn for 17 years. John also helps to raise millions of pounds to help cancer sufferers through his chairmanship, for the past 15 years, of the Friends of Bristol Oncology Centre.

He heads the prostate cancer care and research centre appeal at Southmead Hospital, too; is chairman of the Gloria Miles Cancer Foundation; and is involved with stem cell research at Hammersmith Hospital.

John is 67, but has no plans to slow down. "I never want to retire," he says. "It's a fantastically exciting life. I still get as excited as I did in the early years handling the careers of my current stable of very talented stars.

"The only reason I started to manage groups was to raise enough money so I could buy more greenhouses for the lettuces. But I never did!

"I've had many interesting offers to move to London and set up agencies.

"But I love Bristol and was determined to make a success in my home town. I feel it's more of an achievement to have done it here."

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