Bruce Benson was one of those characters that either instilled love or hate,
there wasn't usually a middle ground but his death in a fume filled car in 1997
shocked everyone who knew him.
Disc Jockey, Entrepreneur, Manager he turned his hand to anything in the entertainment business. He loved the limelight and was never happier than when he was doing something off-the-wall.
Those who frequented his discos at the California will remember him appearing on stage in a variety of outlandish outfits. He was always dressing up. He took the mickey out of himself on a regular basis as can be seen in the adverts from the period, where he is billed as Bruce Benson's Fiasco, Brucey Benson, Groovy Groovy Bruce Benson and resident Groover Bruce Benson. I doubt if anyone else would have been allowed to take the same liberties with him though.
In 1972 he began one of his most outlandish stunts when he kicked off his
Disc Jockey Marathon. It began at 8pm on Monday 19th June and ran for 5 days and
3 hours, finishing at 11pm on Saturday 24th June when he would introduce Slade
live on stage. He completed the task but to this day, rumours still abound about
the veracity of the whole process. Reports of him being asleep on duty still
surface. At approximately this time he started up a club, there was no entry
requirement, you just had to have one of the stickers which came in either black
or green. The sticker said - "I'm a member of the Bruce Benson Honky Tonk
Brigade". I still have mine.
In the early seventies he wrote a weekly 'Bruce Benson Column' for the Dunstable Gazette. This was an everyday story of DJs and their goings on which was heavily laden with Benson promotions. The content of many of these was very dodgy. I well remember him announcing my engagement to one of the DJs. It was news to us but it made good copy. Like most promoters, he never let the truth get in the way of a good story.
Bruce had a stable of DJs working for him, it was a sought after job although not terribly well paid; the kudos of being on his list had them queuing. They covered many venues in the area from night clubs and pubs to private functions. There were gigs in London at the large venues such as the Hammersmith Odeon and his reach went abroad too with offers of work for the Benson jocks in Denmark.
In 1977, Bruce became the Ballroom manager but it was short lived as John Ilka had put the place on the market and it closed for several months whilst the sale was going through.
Post California, Bruce turned his hand to the food business with premises next to the village green in Toddington. The restaurant was called Kites, named and themed after the Beatles song "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite". Dave Soper of Toddington remembers painting a circus mural on the wall.
Moving on from this he turned his hand to promoting and set up Strawberry Productions, booking acts for venues around the country. By 1981 he was managing Kathy Kirby's comeback and was subsequently motorcycle daredevil Eddie Kidd's manager. Bruce organised Eddie's appearance in a spectacular at Creasy Park in Dunstable, but he later had a serious accident that left him in a coma and then a wheelchair. Between this and his untimely death, Bruce had planned a number of projects but few of these ideas came to fruition, including a California Reunion which he said was scuppered when somebody else took the idea from him.
My own memories of Bruce Benson are of a little guy in big heels (well it was the 70's) but what he lacked in size he made up for in presence. When he died in 1997 I hadn't seen him for over 20 years but I was still stunned. DJ Louie Martin described him as a lovable rogue and for me that sums him up completely. Bruce Benson is buried in the graveyard at the church of St Mary the Virgin, Edlesborough.