Brian Protheroe – Pinball

6th September 2023 · 1970s, 1974, Music, Singer-songwriter

I don’t know how I forgot this one when I was trawling through the songs of my childhood. It wasn’t a big hit but back in 1974 it seemed to be everywhere.

Little did I know then (or until just now) that one-hit-wonder Brian Protheroe was better known as an actor, and that his move into music was a direct spin-off from his stage career.

He had played a pop star in a play, which led in a roundabout way to a record deal – and brought him his only hit single.

As a teenager in the West Country he combined singing in a local rock band with acting in an amateur theatre group, and became a fixture in folk clubs after moving to London in 1965.

A year later his acting career took off and he was rarely out of work on stage or screen for the next decade. His breakthrough came when he played a pop star in a thriller called Death On Demand.

The playwright, William Fairchild, wrote a lyric for the production and asked Brian to set it to music. He later shopped the demo around, eventually finding a taker in Chrysalis, who offered Protheroe a record deal.

They never released the song from the play but they did put out this autobiographical effort, inspired by his time living in a friend’s flat in Covent Garden after breaking up with a girlfriend.

It’s a maudlin affair filled with despondency as he surveys the wreckage of his life: bored by his music and out of pale ale – and listen out for the miaow after the line “the cat just finished off the bread.”

It reached No.22 in the charts and Protheroe declined to promote it, seeing himself as an actor who sang; he even refused to wear a velvet jacket on Top of the Pops (a performance that’s been lost to history).

Afterwards he returned to acting full-time, doing everything from Shakespeare to spy thrillers and superhero movies – you can see him in Richard Donner’s 1978 film Superman – though he has, remarkably, just released his seventh album, A Salisbury Boy, at the age of 79.