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craig brown all hail the king of the sideburns elvis styled himself on me engelbert humperdinck
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CRAIG BROWN: All hail the King of the sideburns! Elvis styled himself on ME, Engelbert Humperdinck…

Ancient British pop stars are always keen to boast of their associations with Elvis Presley. Last year, Sir Cliff Richard, 83, claimed on ITV’s This Morning that he once passed up the chance to meet Elvis because he had ‘put on a lot of weight . . . I thought, if I’m having a photograph taken with him and it’s going to be hanging on my refrigerator, he’s got to look good. And I put it off, and of course then he died’. All set to embark on a world tour, Engelbert Humperdinck, now aged 87, has been making similarly surprising claims about his interactions with Elvis. At the weekend, he told a reporter from The Times that when he met him for a meal in Las Vegas, Presley confessed that he had copied Engelbert’s sideburns, saying: ‘You’re my mentor.’ Can this really be true? There’s no question that in 1967, when Engelbert first hit the big time with his songs Release Me (backed, incidentally, by Jimmy Page on guitar) and The Last Waltz, he was famous for his luxuriant sideburns. My parents had little interest in pop music, but I remember them discussing Engelbert’s sideburns, which for some reason they always called ‘sideboards’ — perhaps because they resembled our large mahogany serving table. But Elvis was sporting sideburns at least ten years before Engelbert became famous. In 1956, the year of Heartbreak Hotel, his sideburns were already a talking point, and a cause of friction between the generations. Old-timers like Bing Crosby disapproved of them, and commentators associated them with juvenile delinquency. They were the facial tattoos of their day. Nevertheless, Elvis insisted that they were there to stay. ‘I like ’em and I’m going to keep ’em,’ he said. By the end of that year, Elvis’s male fans were all copying them, much to the consternation of parents and teachers. By 1957, in scenes reminiscent of The Day Of The Triffids, Elvis-style sideburns threatened to take over America. Headmasters banned them. ‘Get those ladders off your face,’ Judge John B. Graf told a youngster in the Hudson County court in New Jersey, and in Marion County jail, Indianapolis, 103 inmates had their sideburns forcibly clipped off after the local sheriff declared them ‘a menace to health’. Elvis finally had his sideburns removed in the spring of 1958, before starting work on his new movie. ‘I’ve worn long sideburns in all my other movies, so I figured I’d be a little different in King Creole,’ he explained. Elvis’s sideburns remained absent for almost the next ten years. Who knows? Perhaps they duetted on a world tour. Photographs of his wedding to Priscilla in May 1967 reveal only very modest sideburns, but by 1968, they had grown longer and bushier than ever, almost rivalling those of prime minister W. E. Gladstone, 70 years earlier. So Engelbert may have influenced their revival, but certainly not their origin. Another of Engelbert’s stories seems equally iffy. He claims that, shortly after Elvis died, he was rehearsing an old Elvis number in Elvis’s favourite Las Vegas hotel suite when the lights started flashing, the tape recorder chewed up the tape, and the whirlpool bath went on without warning. ‘I said, ‘Elvis, I’m your friend — don’t do this to me!’ recalls Engelbert. Oh yes? It’s hard to imagine that Elvis was at such a loose end in the afterlife that he started monkeying around with the taps on Engelbert’s whirlpool bath. Surely he had something better to do with his time? I suspect there’s a more plausible explanation. In my experience, hotels are always boasting about facilities that turn out to be faulty. Your key card won’t open the door; the windows are jammed shut; the radiators can’t be turned down; when you try turning on the bath, the shower slooshes you with water; the mini-fridge is more like an oven; and when you try ringing for room service the bedside light comes on. Yet Engelbert Humperdinck continues to think he is being targeted by the most famous dead rock star of them all. If this is the case, I would advise him to take extra care on his forthcoming world tour. Swanky hotels often provide handy little scissors in the vanity kits they place in bathrooms. Wouldn’t it be awful if Engelbert were to wake one morning, only to find that Elvis had snipped off his sideburns?

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