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Frankie Goes To Hollywood

Perhaps one of the greatest success story of the 80s, Liverpool group Frankie Goes To Hollywood were more than a mere pop group, they were an all-conquering phenomenon.

“Frankie Says . . . ” was emblazoned across the chests of millions of Britons, with the T-shirts selling as well as the records.

Their first single, Relax, was deemed unsuitable to be played on the radio. BBC Radio 1 instantly banned it and it shot straight to the top of the charts. It went on to become the biggest-selling single in Britain of the 80s, in its original 7″ and also in its remixed versions ( 12″, 15″ and 19″).

Two fascinating tensions ran through the group. The gay and straight factions of the band wildly over-exaggerated their sexuality.

Two fascinating tensions ran through the group. The gay and straight factions of the band wildly over-exaggerated their sexuality.

The “out” frontmen, Holly Johnson and Paul Rutherford, were sending militant coded messages to the many other occupants of the 80s singles charts who played for their team but still claimed to be heterosexual.

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The “out” frontmen, Holly Johnson and Paul Rutherford, were sending militant coded messages to the many other occupants of the 80s singles charts who played for their team but still claimed to be heterosexual.

As a reaction, the other three members of FGTH – three years younger and “very scally” (guitarist Brian “Nasher” Nash, bassist Mark O’Toole and drummer Ped Gill) – spent every waking hour behaving like off-duty members of Liverpool FC to remind the world that they (‘The Lads”) couldn’t be less homosexual if they tried.

The other tension – palpable but not as pronounced – was that four of them were from the rough-arsed crime-ridden estates of Norris Green and Cantril Farm, while Holly hailed from Penny Lane.

Rather than disguise this class division, Holly played it as a cartoonish enlargement, wearing an educated Noel Coward air and offering waspish one-liners while the rest of the group tried to drink as much beer as humanly possible.

For one brief glorious moment, FGTH were the biggest group in Britain, and the first act since The Beatles to hold both the Number 1 and Number 2 position in the charts. Tabloid newspapers put The Frankie Phenomenon on their front pages with headlines such as “Gay Sex Tops Pops” and “Gender Benders” all making wonderful copy.

They went on to more hits, more controversy, more number one singles (Two Tribes and The Power Of Love), more sloganeering T-shirts, remix singles and slightly bogus artwork stuffed with forced symbolism – and then they were gone.

At Easter in 1993 Holly Johnson was declared HIV Positive after an AIDS diagnosis, and as everyone contracting the illness at the time was dying and no medicine was available that appeared to help, he was told his condition was terminal.

To make matters worse, hysterical coverage of the suffering of various high-profile gay figures in the entertainment industry was beginning to escalate (Freddie Mercury had just died, Kenny Everett had just been outed with AIDS) and there was something of a feeding frenzy in the press.

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Johnson organised an interview with the journalist Alan Jackson destined for the following Saturday’s Times to announce his illness, but Sun editor Piers Morgan saw the item in the News International database and published a coldly unsympathetic cover story for his own publication the next morning, causing unimaginable distress for Johnson’s family and friends.

Alan Jackson sued Morgan, who was found “guilty of non-bona fide journalistic practices,” but the damage was done.

Fortunately, the drugs improved and Johnson’s health got better. He lived on his royalties (although he called FGTH’s deal with their production company ZTT “an abomination that didn’t hold up in court”) and made four solo albums, the last (1999’sSoulstream) recorded in his home studio and released on his own Pleasuredome label.

FGTH were brilliantly produced by Trevor Horn (ex-Buggles), and remain the only band in history to release a ‘greatest hits’ album where all 12 tracks on the record are the same song!

TRIVIA
The famous “Frankie Says . . .” T-shirts were designed by journalist Paul Morley who, to his eternal chagrin, took a one-off payment for his work rather than a royalty.

William ‘Holly’ Johnson
Vocals
Paul Rutherford
Vocals
Brian “Nasher” Nash
Guitar
Mark O’Toole
Bass
Peter “Ped” Gill
Drums
Gerard O’Toole
Guitar