Melbourne Observer - Wednesday, February 6, 2013 - Page 99
Showbiz Flashbacks A star’s wedding that made headlines, 40 years ago
■ In 1973, Johnny Farnham was at his peak as a teen pop idol in Melbourne. Long before he became an adult contemporary singer, Farnham’s days in the spotlight started in 1964 as a singer with The Mavericks and Strings Unlimited. When he performed at Cohuna in 1967 with Bev Harrell, her boyfriend Darryl Sambell offered to become his manager. Farnham recorded an advertising jingle Susan Jones for Ansett ANA and was offered a solo record contract with EMI. His first commercially successful recording was a novelty song entitled Sadie (The Cleaning Lady). Pop magazine Go-Set ran a poll to determine the 'King of Pop' which was first won by Normie Rowe for 1967–1968. When TV Week sponsored the 'King of Pop' awards, readers forwarded their votes from coupons, and Farnham won the most popular male award and was crowned 'King of Pop' five consecutive times from 1969–1973. So when Ian Meldrum broke the story in Go-Set of the Farnham wedding, it was huge news ... especially when it was denied by Sambell and the bride-to-be.
THE FARNHAM WEDDING: DENIALS AND DRAMAS
■ When Melbourne-based pop magazine Go-Set lodged its advertising copy with radio station 3AK on February 1, 1973, it unleashed one of Australia’s biggest showbiz stories of the year. Go-Set columnist Ian Meldrum, now known universally as ‘Molly’, was breaking the story that ‘King of Pop’ Johnny Farnham was to marry his 17-year-old sweetheart Jillian Billman, a dancer. The 3AK newsroom got onto the story ... which was promptly denied
by bride-to-be Jill, and the pop star’s manager Darryl Sambell. Then followed a week of further denials and name-calling ... until GoSet Editor Ed Nimmervoll went to press with a copy of the wedding invitation, and Meldrum’s breathless 1000-word explanation, proving his claim. Meldrum, then 30, was making his name in the music industry as a producer, critic and journalist. It was long before the days of the familiar Stetson hat and Countdown.
● Johnny Farnham, as he was then known, and Jillian Billman tie the knot at St Matthew’s Anglican Church, Glenroy, on April 18, 1973. When the couple arrived they were confronted by thousands of fans. Most of the adoring female fans hated Jillian and even tried to rip her dress when she walked past. After the wedding the Farnhams enjoyed their honeymoon on Brampton Island.
Most of his Go-Set work was typed up by his secretary, Glenys Long (no relation), with Meldrum pacing the office as he dictated. Meldrum explained that he had tried to contact Farnham six times before publishing the story. “I rang Jillian at her home in Glenroy nad asked if she had any objection to the story going into the paper. Jillian’s reply was that she didn’t mind at all.” Meldrum went to air on 3AK that he would stake his whole career on the accuracy of the story. A “rather fierce argument” erupted with Sambell who accused Molly of betraying a confidence. Later, Sambell “congratulated me on the story and then said he would made the story look ridiculous because he and John would deny any knowledge of any wedding”. “He also said that if there was any wedding, then it was off, because the Billman and Farnham families (were) feuding.” Meldrum’s report went on to say that he believed Sambell feared that any wedding reports might kill Farnham’s popularity with his female fans. He revealed that Jill had received death threats from some “twisted people”. Meldrum, in his trade-mark style, detailed the to-and-fro of arguments, confusion, drama and denials surrounding the story. Go-Set Editor Ed Nimmervoll wrote: “We have proved in this instance we are a responsible magazine ... always first and authoritative.” The wedding, originally scheduled as a double wedding with sister Judy and her fiancé Vincent Grech on March 29, finally went ahead on April 18. In 2011, Farnham told the Sydney Daily Telegraph of the day he first saw Jill: “The first time I saw Jill, I just knew. She was coming out of rehearsals at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne. She had long hair and big eyes. I just thought, oh! And that was it.” He said it took him three months to get a kiss: “She thought I was gay, as most of the country did back then. I had a lot of gay fans. I was very lucky; they loved me to death.”
● Ian ‘Molly’ Meldrum went to press with a copy of his invitation to Johnny Farnham’s wedding, after it was denied by his manager Darryl Sambell. Go Set’s original story was carried in the February 3 edition in 1973, 40 years ago.
● Jillian and John Farnham have only one photograph of their own from their wedding at St Matthew’s Anglican Church, Glenroy, in 1973. The photographer that was hired disappeared after the ceremony ... negatives and all.