A memory of 1967: Harold Wilson wins Moving apology

November 2010

Artists, politicians

An article in the (paywall protected) Times in October reminded me of 1967 case involving the Move and the then Prime Minister, Harold Wilson. The promotional campaign for the Move’s hit single “Flowers in the Rain” backfired badly after the band’s manager Tony Secunda, without consulting the group, produced a cartoon postcard showing a nude Harold Wilson in bed with his secretary, Marcia Williams. Wilson sued The Move for libel and the group lost the court case and had to pay costs, with all royalties earned by the recordings, the song and the B-side “Lemon Tree” (the latter of particular chagrin to  composer Roy Wood) being awarded to charities of Wilson’s choice. The postcard’s designer and printer also paid damages, again to the charities. The ruling remained in force after Wilson’s death in 1995

The BBC website has this to say: The Move pop group have made an apology in the High Court to the Prime Minister for a “violent and malicious personal attack”. Libel action was taken by Harold Wilson after a postcard was published, promoting the group’s new record Flowers in the Rain. It featured a caricature of the Labour Prime Minister in the nude. Speaking for Mr Wilson, Quentin Hogg QC described the publication as making use of “malicious rumours” concerning his character and integrity.

As part of the libel settlement, the band and their manager Tony Secunda have agreed to devote all royalties from their record to charities of the Prime Minister’s choice.  The defendants also included the card’s artist, the advertising agency and printers. All have apologised for their involvement and have agreed to pay the costs of the proceedings estimated at £3,000.
Worldwide sales of the record, of which an estimated 200,000 copies have already been sold, are expected to generate about £10,000 in proceeds. Mr Wilson has nominated the Spastics Society and the Amenity Funds of Stoke Mandeville Hospital for the benefit of paraplegic patients to receive the royalties. Mr Hogg concluded Harold Wilson had never intended to be “harsh or vindictive” and he warned that in any future incident Mr Wilson might not be so lenient.
In 1967 the Times estimated that royalties would total between £2,000 and £8,000 from worldwide sales. At the time of the action the single was No 4 in the UK charts.  But with the benefit of hindsight the cost to the five members of the Move and in particular Roy Wood must be far far in excess of this. And it was a costly mistake indeed (Diana Vickers take note!).

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