British singer Valerie Masters cut a string of singles in the late 1950s and early 1960s, achieving notoriety when she took part in the A song for Europe contest in 1961. Three years later she would earn herself a lasting cult status for her one-off single with producer Joe Meek, Christmas calling.
Valerie Masters was born Valerie Muster on 24 April 1940, in Stepney, east London.
Valerie’s father died when she was only young, and Valerie’s mother brought up four children – Valerie, her two sisters and a brother – singlehandedly. While Valerie was still a teenager, her mother encouraged her to sing, prompting her soon to go for singing lessons with Madame Mabel Corran.
Valerie was recommended to join the Ray Ellington Quartet when she was only 16. She enjoyed being on the road with many of the big bands of the time. Valerie had always had an ambition to be in show business – and now she was realising her dream.
Before long, she decided to forge a solo career, and made her first professional appearance in November 1957, in Sleaford, Lincolnshire. This was to be the start of a long and successful career as a singer in her own right.
In 1958, she signed to the Fontana record label and cut her first record, The secret of happiness, and appeared on two episodes of Six-five special.
She left Ray Ellington’s band at the end of 1959. With the help of one of the musicians in the band, Dick Katz, Valerie set out on a music career on her own. She made her solo debut on 14 March 1960 at Rolls restaurant in Manchester. (She and Katz would marry two years later.)
Valerie then went on to join a music tour in 1960, appearing alongside Lance Fortune and Al Saxon, among others.
By this time she had released a string of singles for Fontana, the most successful of which was Banjo boy. Issued in May 1960, the song reached number 27 in the NME music charts.
Surprisingly, however, its follow-up, Sweeter as the day goes by, failed to connect with record buyers.
She continued to increase her public profile, taking part in shows such as the BBC’s A song for Europe in 1961 with her entry, the lilting ballad Too late for tears, which featured lyrics by Clive Westlake. Although Valerie didn’t win, the show helped to boost her popularity and led to more appearances, including the opening of Border Television in 1961.
She also appeared on shows such as Easy beat, and had her own show on Radio Luxembourg, called Valerie and her boyfriends. She co-hosted the TV programme Young at heart and sang the title track to the 1961 film The Hellions.
Valerie was also the 1960s voice of Pepsi Cola, when she sang the famous You’re in the Pepsi generation song for their advertisements.
In 1962, the 45 African waltz marked the end of Valerie’s contract with Fontana. (Some fans cite the B-side, All night long, as their preferred track on the release.)
After a brief spell at HMV in 1963, where she would cut Sometime kind of love, she switched record companies again.
One of Valerie’s most enduring releases is the seasonal Christmas calling. Issued as a single in November 1964 on the Columbia label, the song was produced by the legendary Joe Meek in his Holloway Road studios. Meek also penned the B-side, He didn’t fool me, which featured Ritchie Blackmore on guitar. Both sides had been arranged by Ivor Raymonde, the man sometimes referred to as the godfather of the Brit girl sound. The single flopped at the time but has since become popular with collectors.
She joined Polydor in 1965 for the release of the Les Reed and Barry Mason-penned It’s up to you, which featured the catchy The next train out on the flip. A further single, Don’t ever go, was issued a year later.
Valerie continued to make appearances on TV and radio throughout the 1960s, including on shows such as Thank your lucky stars.
In 1969, back at Columbia, she cut her final single – a version of Tammy Wynette’s I don’t wanna play house – but the release met with public disinterest.
The 1970s and beyond
Broadening her appeal, Valerie moved into acting, and went on to star in the 1970s drama series Secret army.
Further TV work included shows such as Seaside special in 1978, International cabaret in 1978, and Russ Abbott’s Saturday madhouse in 1982.
Valerie continued to appear on TV and stage across the world for many years.
She now concentrates on her family, and runs a successful bridal wear business with her daughter, returning occasionally to do special shows when they come along.
With thanks to Phil Price for researching and writing this profile.