This website is dedicated
to the memory of the impresario
Sybille Baptista, London, June 2011
Robert Paterson was born on the 10th of March 1940 in Devon and was brought up in the family home on Dartmoor. His father, Kenneth Paterson, was a Colonel with the Gurkha Regiment and a member of the family haulage firm Carter Paterson.
After the end of the war, aged six, Robert and his mother moved to the more temperate climate of Cape Town, South Africa, partly because of his health problems which included severe asthma. Educated at Bishops Diocesan College in Cape Town, Robert fell in love with classical music thanks to his mother giving him an album by the classical pianist Julius Katchen. Robert had the good fortune to meet his hero in person at the Cape Town Concert Club in 1955. Robert moved back to the UK in 1956 after the death of his father. He studied for A-levels at Prior Park College in Bath where he also played Hamlet in a school performance.
Although he was offered a place at Clare College Cambridge to study medicine, he followed his heart and opted instead for the Bristol Old Vic. Robert played the Cypriot chef in the world premiere of Arnold Wesker’s play The Kitchen. During his time at The Old Vic he was also particularly interested in learning direction and lighting. Robert left Bristol for a position as Assistant Stage Manager at the Arts Theatre in London, then worked as a lighting man at The Pigalle Club before answering an advertisement in The Stage newspaper to become assistant to impresario Harold Fielding. By 1963 Robert was employed by Victor Hochhauser, touring the Red Army Choir and the Bolshoi Ballet in the UK before a brief spell with United Music Publishers.
I had moved from Germany, where I was born, to the Rue de Courcelles in Paris to study economics at the Sorbonne. I also worked part-time as a model.
Robert and I met in 1967 at the house of Jacques Loussier, founder of the Play Bach Trio whose Air on the G String was made famous by the Hamlet cigar TV ads. Although we were both engaged to other people at the time – Robert to a Ceylonese princess and I to Loussier's cousin, a jeweller at Place Vendôme in Paris – it was love at first sight for both of us.
I had the good fortune to be lodging with Monsieur and Madame Barjon, a wonderful elderly French couple who treated me as their own daughter. I told them about meeting Robert, this handsome and interesting young impresario from London and they told me to be careful.
Ever since first meeting Robert, I heard Monsieur Barjon calling every morning, “Mademoiselle, Monsieur Paterson de Londres a envoyé des fleurs pour vous!”
After several weeks, there was no more space for flowers in my room and I decided to fly to London. Robert and I still felt the same as when we first met and we broke our engagements.
Perhaps not surprisingly, our respective fiancés reacted with bitterness. Henri, eighteen years my senior, attempted to come to London to confront his rival. He was travelling with a pair of duelling pistols but was caught at the airport.Thankfully, the duel never happened but he and the princess never forgave us.
Even though Robert Paterson was already very successful by this time and had signed up major stars, he lived very modestly in a one-room apartment, preferring to spend his money on developing his business and sending flowers!
We were married on the 16th of March 1968 at the Marylebone Registry Office. Our guests included André Previn, Leontyne Price, John Heyman and many other celebrities of the day.
Robert had booked famous artists such as Marlene Dietrich, Juliette Gréco and Charles Aznavour into the Savoy Hotel when they stayed in London.
As a wedding present, the hotel gave us the riverside suite for two weeks and Robert conducted his business from there.
From then on the dream continued. I was thrown into a life of meeting and working with the most famous composers and artists the world had to offer. Robert was already the impresario of Igor Stravinsky, Leontyne Price, André Previn, Peter Schreier, Theo Adam, Juliette Gréco, Marlene Dietrich, Charles Aznavour and of course Jacques Loussier, when we met.
I became very good friends with many of the artists, especially Marlene Dietrich, Vera Stravinsky and Charles Aznavour.
I designed our concert programs and accompanied many artists on their tours of England and the Continent.
Robert became more and more successful and added many new names to his list of artists: Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Gilbert Bécaud, Sascha Distel, Manitas De Plata, Rolf Harris, Cleo Laine and Johnny Dankworth, Ike and Tina Turner, David Cassidy, Chicago, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Nana Mouskouri, Gordon Lightfoot, Barry Manilow, Barry White, Memphis Slim,
BB King, Santana, Carlos Montoya, Demis Roussos, Dionne Warwick, Judy Collins, Peter, Paul and Mary, Joan Baez, Fats Domino, Paul Simon, Kris Kristofferson, Rita Coolidge, Mahalia Jackson, Sir Laurence Olivier, Count Basie, Petula Clark, Danny La Rue, Don McLean,
Pam Ayres, Michel Le Grand, Miles Davis, Lulu, Donovan, Andy Williams, Henry Mancini and of course Shirley Bassey, who became my special, loyal and close friend.
We moved from the one-room apartment in George Street to a lovely flat in Hans Place in Knightsbridge, then to Cornwall Gardens followed by the Boltons and finally we bought a beautiful apartment in Rutland Court, very close to the Royal Albert Hall. How convenient! We also moved our offices to a big suite in Wigmore Street which became our base for more great ideas to entertain the public with classical, popular, jazz, soul and folk music.
Robert had an unbelievable capacity to come up with new and exciting ideas and possibilities. In partnership with Jarvis Astaire (Viewsport Ltd), he transmitted important boxing matches live from American venues like Madison Square Gardens to cinemas in London in the early hours of the morning. These events were always a sell out.
On one occasion, Shirley Bassey joined us to see the Mohammed Ali and George Frazier fight. She got so excited that she beat on the head of the gentleman sitting in front of her. He turned around rather crossly, but when he saw who had hit him he was extremely pleased.
Robert went from strength to strength. Bing Crosby came to perform, and Robert presented Bing on Broadway. Neil Diamond did sell-out shows at Earl’s Court and Woburn Abbey. He sold out five concerts at the London Palladium and Woburn Abbey was the setting for a unique concert under Robert's auspices. The choice of Woburn, the stately home of the Marquis of Tavistock, was an inspired one. Robert had looked at Blenheim, Beaulieu and Knebworth before settling for Woburn's landscaped lawns which slope into a perfect basin.
Sell out concerts in Australia followed. There was hardly any time off or time for holidays, except for one memorable one in Capri. Robert was exhausted from travelling around the world meeting managers, signing artists, organizing the concert tours and theatre productions with his crew and entertain the stars. I convinced him to take a break for a week. He agreed and we flew to Italy. Once there, on this beautiful island, staying at a superb hotel, the Quisisana, he started to relax and rested. In fact, he liked it so much that he flew his PA to Capri and we ended up staying for four weeks while Robert carried on with work.
Robert presented many thousands of concerts all over the world, but his favourite venue was the Royal Albert Hall in London, where David Frost presented Shirley Bassey with another platinum record in 1976. Grand Tier 40 was Robert's ‘home’, where we were hosts to many wonderful and famous friends.
Robert's generosity was unbelievable – he booked the ballroom of the Grosvenor House Hotel for 150 guests – Ava Gardner among them – to honour and celebrate Benny Goodman.
Duke Ellington was fêted at the Dorchester Hotel, again with Duke's family and many friends. Shirley Bassey had the choice of her favourite restaurants and private clubs – Annabel's being one of her favourites while Marlene Dietrich preferred Le Gavroche.
To persuade The Duke to come to Europe, Robert and I flew to San Francisco. We were announced at the Fermont Hotel, Duke Ellington not realizing that the wife had come as well! He opened the door of his suite draped in a towel with a turban on his head. I quickly disappeared and was allowed in a few minutes later. We all became very good friends and I accompanied Duke Ellington often on his tours, sitting in the back of the limousine and eating cold steak from a doggy bag.
Robert's generosity was unrivalled. He took over whole restaurants to wine and dine friends. He sent employees, lawyers and friends on holiday to the Far East and to Russia to see the Bolshoi Ballet, all compliments of the house!
During the miners’ strike in 1972, the electricity supply was reduced and sometimes cut, but Robert took me to Asprey's the jewellers to choose a birthday present for me by candlelight. He bought me a beautiful diamond ring.
He saw an advertisement for a car with the number plate SB19. He phoned Shirley Bassey who was staying at the Dorchester Hotel, asked her to come downstairs and presented her with her first ever car.
Life could not have been better had it not been for the David Cassidy concerts at Wembley. Robert had arranged the European tour and presented David for three days and two shows daily at Wembley. Teenagers were screaming and fainting and you couldn't hear your own words. The event was filmed by a couple and it was clear at our first meeting that the woman took a fancy to Robert and an instant dislike to me. I didn’t take this seriously, preferring to ignore it and went on tour in Germany with Nana Mouskouri.
When I returned I couldn't ignore that something had changed. Robert didn't insist anymore that I was present and his usual phrase: “where is Sybille?” could no longer be heard.
I overheard him booking a flight to see Duke Ellington, who was in Hospital in New York, and for the first time ever I had to beg him to take me as well. I loved Duke Ellington and he was very fond of me, always asking for me when we were on tour. On one occasion at the Odeon Hammersmith Duke Ellington asked his orchestra to stand up when I entered the hall!
On the flight Robert told me that this woman had fallen in love with him; he didn't know what to do, and she was threatening suicide! From New York, having been with the Duke, we flew to Los Angeles for business. I will never forget the unhappiness I experienced. Robert suggested that I should take a trip to Hong Kong and Japan via Beirut where I promoted our business and in the meantime he would sort everything out. He loved me but didn't want a tragedy to happen. Against my better judgment I went on that trip, alone and not enjoying it. When I returned three weeks later the situation was worse. The ‘other woman’ was present backstage at our concerts and the porter at Rutland Court told me that she had stayed in my home when I was away.
I had to remove many bottles of alcohol. I knew that Robert didn't have a drink problem, he wouldn't have been so successful if he had. The last straw was Robert moving to Blakes Hotel for six months. As far as I was concerned, divorce was the only option.
Robert had set up a company with Sir David Frost in Australia; in fact we had gone to Sydney together to set it up. The local promoter was Pat Condon and he was presenting many of Robert's artists for Paradine/Paterson PTY. Robert signed a personal guarantie against any losses. When there were losses in Australia, the ANZ Bank demanded to be paid 165,000 Australian Dollars. By that time I had already met and married my second husband, Victor Baptista, and my anger towards Robert had turned to compassion.
Robert had already lost his beautiful house in Kensington Park Road where he had lived with the ‘other woman’ for a short time and now had a new companion, the ‘other woman’ having disappeared after gathering enough contacts and presents. Robert had staged superb parties and dinners at the house; piano concerts played by Vladimir Ashkenazy were not unusual, the catering was always superb and the bills must have been astronomical.
I heard with sadness that Robert had started to drink heavily. One evening, I was called to please come and help. My husband, who was extremely kind and felt sorry for Robert, had no objection for me to go there. I found everybody having a wonderful time and Robert too drunk to move.
Because he had been so brilliant and generous he still had some very good friends, John Heyman and Dr. Barrington Cooper helped him financially to go to the Priory in Roehampton. Unfortunately, nothing helped. He begged me to come back to him but of course by then I was happily married. Nevertheless, I promised him that I would always be his friend despite the unhappiness he had put me through, and I kept my word. First of all I contacted the ANZ Bank in Australia and explained that Robert was ill and that making him bankrupt would make his condition worse. I said that I would see how much money I could raise towards the debt. They accepted this and friends like John Heyman, Sir David Frost and Dudley Russell, who used to work for Robert, paid £10,000.
The Bank agreed to write off the debt and Robert's reputation was saved.
Robert loved cricket and was a great friend of Basil d'Oliveira, the South African cricketer. He enjoyed being a member of the MCC and fortunately he hadn’t lost his membership. Being a member of the Garrick Club, having been sponsored by Sir Terence Rattigan and Harold French, also meant the world to him and I gladly paid for both memberships until he died.
It is so sad to think that this brilliant and quite unique man with so much talent – he was compared to Diaghilev and Sol Hurok – lost everything. He lost his magnificent huge house in Kensington Park Road and was reduced to living in a council flat. I still washed his shirts and delivered them to him. Sometimes when I rang the bell he answered, “not now!” I felt like dropping the shirts on the floor and leaving them there but I never did and always returned later.
I really felt so sorry for him and did everything in my power to try and help him. Cooking him some meals was the least I could do. He always had female companions; he was charming and very knowledgeable. After his death an entry in his diary was found; on the 16th March he had recorded "23rd wedding anniversary with Sybille!” By this time, we had been divorced for 15 years.
I wonder what would have happened if ‘that woman’ had not appeared, not caring what she was destroying. Robert used to ring my girlfriends in the middle of the night to beg them to ask me to go back to him. On one of my birthdays, when he was living on social security, I discovered a beautiful and expensive bouquet of flowers from him on a bench outside my house. He couldn't afford it anymore!
When I went to Germany to see my elderly mother for a few days, I called Robert from Heathrow Airport to remind him of a doctor's appointment. He didn't reply and when I returned to London I learnt that he had died. His last girlfriend, Penny Burton and I organized a memorial service, which many of his heartbroken friends attended. It was all so unnecessary.
I have been lucky to have found a very kind, wonderful and understanding second husband, but unfortunately, he also passed away. On reflection, I feel lucky to have been part of such an interesting life, made friends with so many famous and irreplaceable people and have learned so much. That the love story ended so tragically for Robert was not my fault and I was very lucky to have had a very happy married life with my second husband and I am very grateful for what life has given me so far.
My ambition now is that Robert Paterson, who died at the tragically early age of fifty-one, will not be forgotten and that his achievements – giving millions of people pleasure with his concerts and productions all over the world – are documented.
He was neither depressed nor an alcoholic when we met or during the time we were together and I am convinced his downfall started with meeting ‘that woman’. This year marks the twentieth anniversary that he passed away and there is no record anywhere that he even existed and what he achieved. I believe this is wrong.
|Theo Adam||Marlene Dietrich||Henri Mancini|
|Vladimir Ashkenazy||Sacha Distel||Barry Manilow|
|Pam Ayres||Donovan||Don McLean|
|Charles Aznavour||Duke Ellington||Memphis Slim|
|Joan Baez||Fats Domino||Carlos Montoya|
|Count Basie||Benny Goodman||Nana Mouskouri|
|Dame Shirley Bassey||Juliette Gréco||Peter, Paul and Mary|
|Gilbert Bécaud||Rolf Harris||André Previn|
|David Cassidy||Mahalia Jackson||Leontyne Price|
|Chicago||BB King||Demis Roussos|
|Petula Clark||Olga Korbut||Santana|
|Creedence Clearwater Revival||Kris Kristofferson||Peter Schreier|
|Judy Collins||Danny La Rue||Paul Simon|
|Rita Coolidge||Cleo Laine||Igor Stravinsky|
|Bing Crosby||Sir Laurence Olivier||Ike and Tina Turner|
|Johnny Dankworth||Michel Le Grand||Dionne Warwick|
|Miles Davis||Gordon Lightfoot||Barry White|
|Manitas de Plata||Lulu||Andy Williams|
|Neil Diamond||Jacques Loussier|
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