Robert Stigwood

London, 1955

Photo: Michael Putland/Getty Images

Robert Stigwood was born in Adelaide, Australia in 1934, the son of an electrical engineer. He began his career as a copywriter for a local advertising agency and then in 1955 moved to England.

Manager/producer Robert Colin Stigwood used his involvement with key British pop and rock stars of the '60s into a series of music-oriented movies in the '70s. At his height, his projects achieved a synergy in which recording artists he managed performed the music for and sometimes appeared in movies he produced, and the soundtracks for which were released on his own record label.

Stigwood emigrated to the U.K. in the late '50s and founded a theatrical management agency. A client of his, television actor John Leyton, earned a recording contract. Cast as a pop singer on the television series Harpers, West One, he sang Johnny Remember Me on the show, and it shot to the top of the UK charts in 1961.

Stigwood, along with Joe meek, became Britain's first independent record producers. Before the advent of mavericks such as Stigwood and Meek, it was almost unheard of for managers, agents or publishers to be directly involved in record production.

The brief partnership would change the face of the British recording industry. Robert George "Joe" Meek was a gifted recording engineer who had, by 1960, accumulated enough equipment to build a studio in his London flat and he began producing records for his own company, RGM Sound Ltd.

In late 1961 Stigwood made a record production deal with EMI but there was a major flaw in that the minuscule percentage that EMI was paying meant that Stigwood was barely able to make a profit from these recordings. Nevertheless, the system he pioneered changed the UK pop charts forever and allowed Stigwood to expand his business, becoming simultaneously agent, manager and producer, a role he evidently relished.

"He became fascinated by... the apparent ease with which money could be made ... And what made Robert Stigwood different from his predecessors is that he expanded laterally. He didn't remain simply a manager or an agent. He moved into music publishing as well, and into pop concert promotion. But his real contribution to the British music scene was independent record production."

"He was in every way the first British music business tycoon, involved in every aspect of the music scene, and setting a precedent that was to become the blueprint of success for all future pop entrepreneurs."
Simon Napier-Bell
The small percentages he received from his productions meant that he was largely dependent on agency and management commissions to maintain his cash flow. He also promoted pop concerts "as a way to make a quick buck" and top up the books during slow periods. He began to focus on music clients but became overly ambitious with the 1965 package tour headlined by Chuck Berry and financially crippled himself.

By 1966, while recovering from a period of bankruptcy, he latched onto his two main clients, Eric Clapton, then with the band Cream, and the Bee Gees, also Australian immigrants. Both became very successful in the late '60s (Stigwood took production credits on their early records). It was around this time that he stepped on the toes of Don Arden and became the subject of one of the most famous stories in British showbiz.

He kept his Robert Stigwood Agency intact and worked to rebuild his career as a manager and independent producer. In January 1967, Stigwood's organization merged with Brian Epstein’s NEMS Enterprises. Why is uncertain. Epstein is reported to have turned down more than one multi-million-dollar offer from American interests, so it is unlikely that it was simply for the money. It appears that Epstein was probably the only person in NEMS who was in favour of the merger.

Initially, Epstein had reportedly considered simply selling his managerial contract with the Beatles to Stigwood, but the group (no fans of Stigwood’s abrasive style) would have none of that.

"We told Brian, 'If you do.... we'll sing out of tune. That's a promise. So if this guy buys us, that's what he's buying.'"
Paul McCartney
Stigwood already had a reputation as a shrewd, tough operator but Epstein soon found himself at odds with his new partner and it is claimed that he subsequently decided that he didn't want Stigwood in the company.

Stigwood's future with NEMS may have been uncertain, but it was decided in dramatic fashion by Brian Epstein's untimely death in August 1967. Stigwood found himself in control of two major groups: the Beatles and the Bee Gees. Apple, NEMS (North End Music Store) and Stigwood would join together to form a large company but after negotiations Robert decided to start his own company with the Bee Gees and Cream which would result in establishing the Robert Stigwood Organization (RSO) which he ran from, 67 Brook Street, a favourable W1 address in Mayfair. Brian's brother Clive took over as Managing Director and Stigwood left NEMS to form his own company in December.

At the end of 1968 Stigwood bought the Bag O'Nails and the music management agency from Rik Gunnell and his brother John. They continued to work in association with him although Rik did so from within America.

He also established a business relationship in early 1969 with Chas Chandler, formerly of The Animals, and the pair had formed a production company called Montgrove Ltd. Chandler would find and develop new talent and Stigwood would finance the operation although Chandler had entered the partnership affluent following his payoff after the Hendrix split.

The subject of Robert Stigwood's sexuality (he is understood to be gay) and its role in his career, is one which has rarely been discussed. It certainly would not have been a disadvantage, considering how many important figures in the music industry at that time were gay.
"Historically, the gay movement has also been well represented in show business and other areas of entertainment. Since British pop music and traditional show business were inextricably linked, at least until the mid-sixties, the homosexual network during that period was particularly strong."
Johnny Rogan: Starmakers & Svengalis:
The History of British Pop Management,
Some music writers have suggested that the so-called "Pink Mafia" dominated British showbiz and prevented Australian acts breaking into the UK music scene in the Sixties. For sure, The Bee Gees, owed their international success to the fact that they were managed by Stigwood who was, by the time he met them, an influential part of London's gay showbiz establishment.

By the early '70s, the Bee Gees had fallen into disfavor and Clapton was inactive due to drug use. Stigwood turned to film work, producing the 1973 movie version of Jesus Christ Superstar, and he founded RSO Records , to which he signed Clapton and the Bee Gees. He managed to resuscitate the careers of both artists. In 1975, Stigwood produced a movie version of The Who's rock opera Tommy, cast largely with rock stars.

Stigwood's next project was the most successful of his career. In the fall of 1977, he produced the film Saturday Night Fever, which turned John Travolta into a household name. The Bee Gees scored three #1 hits from the ost album, which sold an estimated 25 million copies worldwide.

Stigwood quickly followed in the summer of 1978 with Grease, a movie version of the Broadway musical starring Travolta and Australian pop singer Olivia Newton-John. It was another smash at the box office with a #1 multi-platinum soundtrack album that threw off a number of major hits, among them the title song, sung by Frankie Valli, which had been written for the film by the Bee Gees' Barry Gibb.

By the mid-1980s, RSO had shuttered and its catalog had been sold off, while Stigwood was giving his attention to television broadcasting, much less visible than he had been in the 1970s.

Stigwood with Cynthia Rhodes: 1983
Robert Stigwood remains active, primarily in the theatrical musical industry. He lives at his Barton Manor Estate on the Isle of Wight, off the south coast of England.

For more on Robert Stigwood click here.


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mrksaeed said...

Legends like Robert Collin Stigwood (RCS) stays forever not only for his amazing contribution to the music industry but also for being a great personality and a humble person at heart. I have seen very few people in my life such as RCS. To Write the truth I must say that I will be out of words to compliment this great legend that lives amongst such unkind world.

Mickey P. said...

Thanks for your comment mrksaeed, I'd be interested in any insight you can add to my RCS bio. I have taken most of this info from other articles but there isn't much out there on Robert so....

Anonymous said...

I have known Robert personally for many years and would like yo say he is a true, helpful,kind man.I will always love him to bits.A true inspiration.

Tom Simpson said...

I managed Robert Stigwood's Triplex Penthouse in the San Remo in NYC for 5 years, until just before he sold it to Bruce Willis. He was'nt around much as he spent a lot of time on his estate in Bermuda and his yachts "The Sarina" and later "Jezebel". But when he was home here in NYC, he treated me and all his staff like we were the most important people on the planet. Always kind, and really cared so much for all of us. We were like a big family-his personal chef, his valet, and his assistants. He treated people with much respect and gave them feel special. Imagine being entrusted with running one of the biggest, luxurious penthouses in all of Manhattan. It was because of this job that I was able to spend the free time that I had to work on becoming a successful personal trainer and later and still now a very successful sports massage therapist and top-notch athlete at the age of 60. As one the few people who was right there when everything was happening during the Saturday Night Fever and Grease and Evita period, I have been blessed to have been a part this and try to treat people in the same way that Robert treated us.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe, that the Picture (with the underline "1975") in the middle of the article really shows Robert Stigwood. The man on that picture has a longish face. But Robert Stigwood has a lightly roundish face. Besides: The man on the picture "1975" wears a spectacles - I haven't seen another picture of R. Stigwood with spectacles. Can somebody solve this problem ?

Mickey P. said...

I can't remember where I got the picture from but it claimed to be Robert Stigwood. Photo's of Robert are not common and I wasn't spoilt for choice. I'd be happy to accept any donations, meanwhile, I shall try to find out where I got the '1975' pic from. :-/

Godfrey Buhagiar said...

I worked for Sir Robert on the M.Y. Jezebel for all the time he owned the time of my life!,he treated all the crew like family and gave us free range to his bermuda estate (Wreckhill)whenever we were there.He never forgot his roots and i wish him best of health wherever he is,

Unknown said...

Tom Simpson...can you say anything more about yourself? LOL