Free Shirley by Muriel Burgess

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Authors: Muriel Burgess
a variety show. The very word ‘tour’ was enough to draw an emphatic no from Shirley, who had so hated being on the road, but Michael pressed on. There would be no such tour until she’d had at least three months of training, he told her.
    ‘What training?’ demanded Shirley, to whom it sounded far too much like school to appeal to her.
    Carefully, he explained to her that she had much to learn about stagecraft and technique, without which her ambitions would never be realised, and then he took the plunge. ‘I shall find you a hotel. I shall pay you a salary. I shall hire a rehearsal room and a pianist who’ll teach you about music. Only when you’re ready will we think about a variety tour. And then I shall pay all your expenses.’
    Shirley was confused, overwhelmed and suspicious. This was not at all what she’d had in mind when the agent had offered to take her on. Her idea of stardom came from Hollywood movies and
True Romance
magazines. ‘Why?’ she asked. ‘Why do I need all this, and why do you want to do all this for me?’
    ‘Because I think you’ve got talent. Tomorrow I’m going to Guernsey to meet someone. I’m going to tell him you need a hundred pounds for dresses.’
    ‘A hundred pounds! For me?’ Suddenly she looked very vulnerable, young and unsure.
    ‘If you work hard, Shirley, I promise I can make you a star.’
    It had all been too much for the feisty but naïve eighteen-year-old who, only a matter of weeks before, had abandoned all thoughts of show business to sling hash inCardiff by day, and spend her evenings at home in Splott with her mother and her own adored baby. Suddenly, she burst into tears. Touched by this Michael Sullivan put his arm around her and comforted her, as she wept on his shoulder.
    As Michael wiped away her tears, she suddenly smiled at him. Not stopping to give the matter any thought, he obeyed his instincts and led her, unresisting, up to his hotel room. Years later, looking back on this time, he said, ‘That was the first and last time I made love to Shirley.’ After that, he decided to keep sex right out of their relationship, but he also said later that that was perhaps his biggest mistake, that he should perhaps have bound Shirley to him completely with a strong sexual relationship. This rather curious reasoning from a man who was married at the time, was said in the sad aftermath of his professional break from the star he had created.
    In the event, until the parting of the ways came, Shirley acquiesced to most of Michael’s demands. Although she could be as strong-willed as he, she knew she needed the benefit of his experience and expertise to advance her own quest for stardom. However, she certainly didn’t seem interested in any other aspect of the man, and most people who knew them disagree that a sexual relationship would have achieved anything. Shirley, under her defiant exterior, was a sensitive girl who needed more tenderness and compassion than Sullivan would ever have been capable of giving.
    In 1955, British show business was dominated by men like Michael Sullivan, hard men who made all the decisions. Sylvia Beresford Clarke, Berry’s wife and one ofthe bystanders to the Bassey-Sullivan working partnership, has said, ‘I shall never know how Shirley survived those years. How she came through it all.’
    That night in Jersey, for better or worse, the die was cast. Shirley vacated her new manager’s bed for her own. When she got back to her hotel, she demanded of her room-mate, Louise Benjamin, ‘Where’s my Wagon Wheel? Did you leave one for me?’ One of Shirley’s passions was for biscuits, and she often slept with a small packet under her pillow in case she felt hungry during the night.
    Louise was eager to know what had transpired with Sullivan, and could hardly believe the news that he was going to provide a hundred pounds for dresses. To the girls from Tiger Bay, this was a small fortune. Louise remembered when Shirley didn’t

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