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Last Updated: Friday, 24 August 2007, 14:53 GMT 15:53 UK
Flower power
Classic pop, reappraised by the Magazine

The Move
Flowers In The Rain started as an accidental hippy anthem and ended as an accidental charity fundraiser after a fraught libel case in the High Court.

As all pop fact fans know, The Move's Flowers In The Rain was the first track to be played on Radio One, chosen to symbolise the era of flower power and guaranteeing an ongoing stream of income for the band.

The only problem is that none of those pop facts is true.

The first track played was in fact Johnny Dankworth's Beefeaters, which Tony Blackburn used as his theme tune for Daily Disc Delivery [you can listen for yourself via the link on the right]. And before that, listeners heard the specially commissioned Theme One by George Martin.

As to why Flowers In The Rain ("Number Three in the Fun Thirty") followed, songwriter Roy Wood recalls Blackburn telling him "it was just mad that morning and he just went for the first record he could lay his hands on and it was ours. Pure luck.''

And while the song reappears on countless compilations, is currently re-released and faces an imminent cover from Kaiser Chiefs, the only financial beneficiary is a collection of charities chosen by former prime minister Harold Wilson.

So what is Flowers In The Rain all about, and why did it end up in the High Courts?

Chucking it down

Like The Move's previous hit, I Can Hear The Grass Grow, Flowers In The Rain looks at first glance like standard hippy fare - flowers talking to trees, mind-mangling grammar ("believed to leave reality behind me") and seeing things that aren't really there.

Beefeater (Johnny Dankworth)
Flowers In The Rain (The Move)
Massachusetts (Bee Gees)
Even The Bad Times Are Good (The Tremeloes)
Fakin' It (Simon & Garfunkel)
The Day I Met Marie (Cliff Richard)
But the trip the song takes you on is more mundane than those in the same year's Whiter Shade Of Pale and Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds. It would be more of a challenge to make a psychedelic cartoon of this narrative, summarised in a review of the time as "a chap lying in bed and philosophically watching the rain chucking it down outside". There's more to it than that - the chap takes his bed into the garden - but not a lot more.

With its daffy jaunty rhythm, and the bridge where Wood takes over the vocal from Carl Wayne to sing in double-speed received pronunciation, you'd be forgiven for wondering whether The Move is taking the whole flower power thing seriously.

The band certainly didn't start out this way. Bassist Trevor Burton recalls them as a hard-gigging live outfit, "more serious before the records".

As a kind of beat group supergroup (the members had all "moved" from other Birmingham bands - hence the name), The Move had started out playing loud R&B before a change of direction which resembles that taken by fake band Spinal Tap between 1965's Gimme Some Money and 1967's (Listen To The) Flower People. Wayne calls the earlier, harder Move "the original anarchist band, the first punks".

Tony Blackburn
Tony Blackburn: What was number one?
This move is usually attributed to their resourceful, opportunistic manager Tony Secunda, who had experimented with a bad boy image, dressing the band as Chicago mobsters and sending them to Piccadilly Gardens in Manchester to detonate an "H-bomb" - not a million miles from the stunts used by punk bands a decade later.

When Secunda sensed the wind was blowing the way of the hippies, Wood was happy so long as "the music didn't suffer". Wood, listed in most rock biographies as having been born "Ulysses Adrian Wood" due to a prank played by some roadies on a teenage magazine, says he "never got involved" in the drugs associated with the Summer of Love, but was able to provide the kind of pastoral fantasy imagery required by digging into "a book of fairy stories for adults" he'd put together at school.

Even so, Flowers... was plodding a little until the intervention of assistant producer Tony Visconti, whose studio nous would later be demanded by acts including David Bowie and Morrissey. Fresh in London from New York, Visconti said "I've got an idea for this song, and it won't cost you much" and knocked together oboe, clarinet, cor anglais and French horn, partly to match Wood's lyrics and partly to keep up with another band, one you might have expected to kick off Radio One: "every time the Beatles brought out a new single, you'd hear some new instrument on it like a sitar, a cello or a French horn".

So it was that "five thickos from Birmingham" (Wayne's words) with little day-to-day interest in flowers became hippy poster children. The live Move were the same, though, scaring the hippies at the UFO Club when they took to smashing banks of TVs with axes; as far as the record was concerned, Secunda's job was done.

Rather, it was almost done.

"It was very heavy"

Tony Secunda had one more trick up his sleeve. He'd ticked the boxes of auto-destructive shock tactics and of lysergic reverie - but there was still political satire to experiment with.

Roy Wood
Roy Wood in later days
A friend of Secunda's had drawn a scurrilous image depicting PM Harold Wilson in flagrante delicto with his political secretary Marcia Williams. Williams, now Lady Falkender, has been portrayed as a mixture of Alastair Campbell and Sir Humphrey Appleby, and may have encouraged Wilson to legislate for Radio One as a replacement for the pirate radio stations.

Secunda saw the cartoon not as a libel suit in waiting, but as the perfect material for a postcard to promote Flowers In The Rain. When a copy reportedly dropped through the door at Number Ten, Harold Wilson saw it as a libel suit in waiting. And he didn't wait long. Eleven days after Radio One launched, The Move found themselves in the High Court, facing Quentin Hogg and defending a charge of a "violent and malicious personal attack" on the prime minister.

Friends of D'Oyly Carte
University of Huddersfield
A Soviet poster exhibition
Liverpool Tate
Variety Club
Jewish National Fund for Israel
British Film Institute
British Screen Advisory Council
Attlee Foundation
Oxford University
Joyce Butler Memorial Trust
33 Signals Unit
Central Lads Club
Ratlingate Scout Appeal
Whitehall Choir
Victor Brusa Memorial Appeal
St Mary's Ladies' Lifeboat Guild
Oxford Operatic Society
Lloyd George Parliamentary Centenary Appeal
Bolton Lads Club
Tring Lane Workshops
Source: Observer, 1995
Ms Williams' name was not mentioned in court, an excited but deferential tabloid press preferring to refer to "a woman who is not [the PM's] wife".

Drummer Bev Bevan recalls the headlines: "I spilled my cuppa all over the breakfast table." He told the Birmingham Post & Mail: "We were trying to look blasť about the whole thing, but deep down we were scared stiff," adding: "it was very heavy."

Secunda was undaunted and hired a red Rolls Royce to take the band to court. They arrived late and told reporters: "We've no faith in any political sides at all. We'd vote for people like Frank Zappa, Jimi Hendrix, you know."

The manager made a somewhat unconvincing denial that the postcard was a publicity stunt, retorting: "Wilson started legal proceedings. We did it as a cartoon, remember that. It wasn't intended to be anything but that."

Harold Wilson
Harold Wilson: Charities still benefit
The judge, however, was unmoved by this and by the band's "profound regret", and the settlement for libel involved all the royalties for Flowers In The Rain being forfeited to charities of the prime minister's choice.

During the single's chart run, most of the money went to the Spastics Society and Stoke Mandeville Hospital, but repeated airplay, due partly to the initial Radio One airing, have given the single a long life, its legacy an accidental fundraiser as much as an accidental hippy anthem.

In the 1990s, the Observer newspaper reported the royalties so far as exceeding £200,000 and found that The Harold Wilson Charitable Trust had extended the range of beneficiaries to reflect the ex-PM's wide-ranging interests - including, among others, the Oxford Operatic Society, Bolton Lads Club and the Jewish National Fund for Israel [see box on right].

Songwriter Wood was the most affected. "The cartoon was nothing to do with the band," he said in 1995. "We're now suggesting that royalties in future go to the Birmingham Children's Hospital." Lord Wilson's solicitors replied that they could not change the terms.

What happened next

Understandably, the ruling put a rift between Secunda and The Move, and they shortly parted company, Secunda going to manage T. Rex and The Moody Blues, moving into music publishing before his death in 1995.

The Move ultimately became the Electric Light Orchestra, with Wood leaving that band to form Wizzard and Bev Bevan moving on to Black Sabbath. Carl Wayne spent the nineties as the narrator of the musical Blood Brothers, then toured with The Hollies and died in 2004, leaving a reported £1.4m to his wife Sue Hanson, best known as Crossroads' Miss Diane.

The story of Harold Wilson and Marcia Williams was retold in a 2006 BBC Four drama, The Lavender List, which proved equally provocative; Williams, now known as Lady Falkender, successfully sued the BBC for £75,000 plus costs.

Radio One has gone from five hours a day to 24, and the pirate stations it killed off were last week back collaborating with the Beeb for "Pirate BBC Essex". And Flowers In The Rain is back on the airwaves in various different forms, raising more monies for the charities.

Wood reflected on the song in Radio 4's Villa Park Incident nearly three decades after its release. "As the years have gone on," he said, "we've had a longer sentence than the great train robbers."

Smashed Hits is compiled by Alan Connor.

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