Here I am in Anfield Cemetery having a cup of coffee by the grave of Michael Holliday who was a popular British crooner in the late 1950s and early 1960s before the arrival of The Beatles ero. Perhaps his family didn’t want this grave to draw any old fans as there’s no mention of his stage name, only the plainer Norman Alexander Milne.
He wasn’t born far away, growing up in Kirkdale and was the second of three brothers. He didn’t see his dad as much as he was away at sea. His idol was Bing Crosby and he’d heard him singing aged 13 and at home of a friend who had one of those rare expensive things - a wireless (radio). The deep resonant voice speared straight into him and he mustn’t have known its effect would bring a dazzling life later on.
Many women were to come his way but the love of his life was Margie Barker, a bank clerk from Toxteth. They’d met at the Grafton dance hall on West Derby Road and were married in November 1947. He was 23 and she was 19. They were skint and moved into a cramped house. At the time Michael was working as a sailor. Perhaps he received an inkling of the limelight to come when he won a huge £10 at an amateur talent contest called 'New Voices of Merseyside' at the Locarno Ballroom in Liverpool. Later while in New York City (still working as a sailor) someone persuaded him to enter a talent contest at Radio City Music Hall. When he won this also he thought perhaps her could leave the oceans and find a career in show business. Aged 27 he secured two summer seasons' work at Butlin's Holiday Camp, Pwllheli, Wales. Within two years he was the vocalist for the Eric Winstone Band, a band that toured when the Butlin’s summer seasons were over.
Aged 30 he wrote to the BBC requesting a TV audition and within six months he made his first TV appearance. Luckily the boss at EMI's Columbia record label was watching and signed the lucky lad.
A book about Michael has been written, The Man Who Wanted To Be Bing, (rare- £28 on ebay) as his idol was Bing Crosby. He even sounded uncannily like him. Buckets of money rushed in as he was warm velvet roo coo coo voice sold millions of singles. This was years before Merseybeat and The Beatles were still playing skiffle music.
For eleven years he ploughed on with great success. He was a honey on a spoon for most people in Liverpool who’s main form of escapism came from the radio. He’d come a long way - it wasn’t long ago he was serving on the destroyer HMS Norfolk which took part in the battle to sink the Schanhorst. Though quite small he had the looks made for record covers and adoring girls: thick black hair, a strong ‘Desperate Dan’ jaw, wide smile and easy manner. He wore casual pullovers and gave the unhurried aura of the American crooners like Perry Como and Dean Martin. Though he starred in his own “Relax With Michael Holliday” show on BBC Television he was a paroxysm of nerves and beholden to stage fright.
From 1955 and 1964 there were 32 chart singles (including two number ones), rave reviews, television appearances, inflowing money, famous friends and adoring female admirers. However the stars swivelled 180 degrees on their axis and his life of gold dust began to be blown away. Stalking him were debts, sleeping pills, suicide attempts and the hollowness of one-night stands. His last hit song was Little Boy Lost which bore some prophecy as he suffered a mental breakdown aged 37.
On 28th October 1963 friends at a Soho club noted Michael’s mood was low when he left for “Dailson”, his mansion in his Surrey hills. As usual there was a lady on his arm. Sometime later he wrote a suicide note for his beloved estranged wife Margie and swallowed about 20 Nembutal sleeping capsules. In the early hours he was rushed to Croydon General Hospital where he died aged 38.
The letter read as follows: “By the time you receive this I trust that I shall be at the Land of Nod. I thought it would be better if you found out this way as I am sure that it will get in the papers one way or another. I am sorry I had to do this but I am afraid I am so confused. If you could have spoken to me about it, it might have helped a little. Even my accountants have grown tired of me and deserted me. The income tax want their money by Wednesday or else. I guess I ain't man enough to tackle it alone. If I can get word to you about the other world - if there is one - you know me, I will find some way of letting you know. I will let you know because a lot of people are curious about going beyond.''
What a sad end to a flourishing start – drugs and suicide.
Anfield Cemetery is pretty vast and I’d searched for this headstone one Saturday evening about a year ago. I was in a rush as the cemetery gates were due to close; frustratingly I was only metres away from it all the time. Oh well. I sat in the car and listened to the end of a drama while looking at the fairly plain headstone. The only tenuous reference to the fame of the man under the soil are the words: “Dear Mike - Beloved By Man.” He’s buried here with his mum who died at 65, two years after her son’s early death – sad years that probably heralded a faster end.
In the book 800 Years Of Haunted Liverpool there’s a small portion devoted to Michael. His figure in silver suit and black Brylcreemed hair has been seen around back of the taxi rank and Lime Street Station, adjacent to the Empire Theatre’s stage door. He loiters, has a smoke and then walks to the stage door and disappears.
I wondered who keeps putting fresh flowers on the grave?
About to enter Anfield Cemtery…