40 Years ago today, I said goodbye to Keith Moon...

It had arrived and this was going to be my big day.. I had decided to head off to Los Angeles and try and get myself hired as Bob Dylan's official photographer.. yes, a very long shot. All I had was Paul Wasserman's business card. He was Bob's PR man. He had given me his business card when I met him in Paris earlier in the year. He had said to me, look me up if you get to LA. So, I had the transparencies of Bob that I had taken in Paris, and now I was about to head West and give this a good go..

When I was a little kid, I used to watch those big Hollywood movies on Sunday afternoon's at home in England with the family. So, from a very early age it was a kind of dream for me to go to America. Well, it was a dream and today it may well come true.  A few days prior to this I had visited my grandmother in North London and she had lent me a couple of hundred pounds. All in all I seem to remember having about £300 in total.

It was a sunny Wednesday morning 6th of September 1978, when I kissed my girlfriend who is now my long suffering wife, Lyn, goodbye at her house in Hatch End, on the outskirts of London. I jumped on a train and headed to my office.  Or more accurately, The Who's office in Wardour Street, Soho, London. When I got there, I ran up the stairs to reception. Yvonne was there sitting behind the desk.  She was very smiley and very funny. Every day when I arrived I asked her the same boring question "has anyone called for me Yvonne" to which the answer was almost always a little chuckIe and a 'NO'.  It was always funny asking her as nobody ever bloody rang me (well a few people occasionally). I wandered down the corridor and went into my office. There really was very little for me to do there. But, I had plenty of time to kill. Back in those days, the major airlines would offer out what was called 'Standby Seats' In other words, if a flight had what looked like 10 unsold seats, they would allow anyone waiting for standby to buy one in the last min and travel.. Now, the major trans Atlantic airlines back then were, TWA, Pan Am, British Airways and newcomers, Laker Airlines. They all had the standby sales desk at a big London railway station called Victoria. This was the only place one could buy a Standby ticket. So, there was I sitting in my office contemplating this very exciting impending episode in my life. I had made sure that everything that I had been meaning to do had been dealt with, which in truth was very little. In those analogue days all I had to do was make sure everyone had been sent photographic prints that needed them and that was really about it. Music magazines and papers, Sounds, Melody Maker and NME had everything from me that was required. I sat in my office and wondered what to do now. Was it too early to go to Victoria Station and get in line for a possible ticket? Then I thought, I know what I will kind of get on my way and stop off and see Keith (Moon) on my way. After all, he was so encouraging of me and we had been discussing for weeks about me trying to get on the Dylan tour.. He lived just off Park Lane at Flat 12, 9 Curzon Place, London. This was very much on my way to Victoria Station. So, off I went and turned up at Keith's flat. He hadn't long moved there. I might be wrong, but, I think he and his girlfriend Annette Walter Lax had only been there for a month or two. The apartment actually belonged to singer, songwriter and another Hellraiser, Harry Nilsson.. Anyway, when I arrived, Annette had been making some sort of pasta ( I think Spaghetti) I really cant remember. Keith and I spent a while chatting about various things and then he said, come on lets give you a lift to Victoria. It was only probably a mile from his flat. But, Keith didn't actually drive. At that time, he had a driver called Richard, we all affectionately called him Big Dick for no apparent reason, other than he was a bloody big bloke and his name was Richard, abbreviated to Dick.. So, there you go! I am pretty sure it was big dick that drove me and Keith to Victoria Station. We pulled up outside Victoria and said goodbye to each other.. He wanted me to let him know how I got on in LA. There were no mobile phones or emails in those days. Communication was really just a phone call to a house or office or an old fashioned letter. Keith was then heading back to the apartment as he was going out with Annette as a guest of Paul & Linda McCartney at the Buddy Holly film premier and party.    

As I walked into Victoria station, I wandered around and found the airline desks.  Although it was only mid or late afternoon, lines were already forming at each desk. I had a quick look at them and I had to chose which one I was going to try my luck with. I thought that the Pan Am line looked the shortest. Well that's what I thought at the time. It may have also been the fact that I had this romantic idea that Pan Am was the airline I should choose as  back in the 1920's & 1930's they had those wonderful flying boats. I am sure I had seen films with Pan Am flights landing in Acapulco or Rio de Janero etc. On that basis, Pan Am it was.  I then thought, right, there are 30-40 people in that line. Now, not all of them will be heading to LA. Some will be trying to get to NY, Chicago, San Francisco, Boston etc. But, I thought, who knows, they MIGHT all be aiming at LA. So, I didn't want to take a chance. I really wanted to one of the lucky people who got a ticket. I was conveniently wearing a blue Wrangler jacket, kind of similar to some of the Pan Am staff who were not actually at their desks. In fact I saw on the desks a sign that had just been placed saying 'This desk re opens at 6am'. Off I went and found a few sheets of white paper and got my pen out of my pocket and proceeded to head to the person at the front of Pan Am's line. "Good afternoon" I said. 'Now, you are first in line, number one, may I take your name?" The very polite person then gave me his name. I proceeded up the line and made a note of everyone. I spent nearly all night waiting in another part of the station. The next morning on the 7th of September at about 5:30am the next day, I slowly crept around to the area behind the line of potential Pan Am travellers. As soon as I saw Pan Am staff approaching the desk at about 6am. I was immediately at the front of the line chatting to person number one. Asking rediculous questions like did you manage to sleep, where are you heading. Do you have family in the US etc.. Then the card on top of the desk was removed and the desk was opened.. We were in business... I said to passenger number one, please hold on here for one moment as I had my big list with him at the top. I walked forward to the young lady on the desk. I was about 10 feet ahead of the line and i very quietly said to her. Good morning, have you any seats for Los Angeles? She had a quick look and said yes, we have six today. I said oh that's fabulous. I only want one please as we joked. I handed her my passport and the required amount of cash. All of this I was doing as discreetly as I could so that the people behind me couldn't see what was going on. I was leaning over the desk in a way that kind of implied that we all knew each other. She then said here is your passport and ticket Mr Clifford. Have a lovely time in LA. Please head outside and board bus marked for heathrow airport Terminal 3. I turned around and walked up to the chap who had politely been waiting and I said, "Okay sir, you are number one, please go to the desk" off I went and got on the bus. 

Once all of the lucky travellers had boarded the bus we were on our way to Heathrow Airport. As we were getting off at the airport I was waiting for my suitcase by the side of the coach and the man who was number one in the line behind me at Victoria, just quietly said to me 'Do you work for Pan Am' I said to him' No I don't. He looked bemused and said, "but, you took our names and wrote it all down on a list' and I just quietly said to him "Oh, I always do that'. I did laugh inside and walked inside the terminal and started my journey off to the USA and Los Angeles for the first time.. I was so excited.. 

From memory, the beautiful Boeing 747 Jumbo jet left Heathrow mid morning. This was all new to me. I had flown quite a bit around Europe. But, this was different. The plane was enormous compared to all other flights I had been on. We were given plastic ear pieces that were virtually, long plastic bendy hollow things that plugged into the armrest and we could all then watch the one screen that was being projected onto a white screen in the middle of the plane at the front. One could hardly see anything on that screen though and the sound through the bendy plastic tube was awful. But, I loved every minute of it. I got up and had a wander around the plane on this 11 hour journey and I remember being amazed when I looked down at the ground once we had crossed the Atlantic, where I could actually see tiny little trucks driving along what looked like Freeways. It was so exciting and I couldn't wait to get to Los Angeles. I didn't even mind standing with the smokers at the back, even though I have been a life long non-smoker. Yes, there was a smoking section back then. Hard to actually imagine that now..   

It was for me a wonderful flight and full of adventure and excitement. I was 20 years old and I was really trying to make a name for myself and get on that Bob Dylan tour.. I sat back in my seat and buckled up as we were now on the final approach into Los Angeles International airport.. Then it started to dawn on me.. where do I go from here.... I mean really! I am not joking, suitcase & cameras in hand, I didn't yet know where I was going to stay..  

to be continued..........

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