For Davy Jones, who died last week, Hollywood proved a long way from Manchester. I sensed it was not a journey he was entirely happy to have made when I recently met him again. He appeared marooned, rattling around in his large house. In the middle of a very volatile relationship, which would turn into marriage number three, he would never be booked as an entertainer other than as "Davy Jones of the Monkees".
He cut a very different figure from the man I first met on a sweltering day in Los Angeles 40 years ago. As a 19-year-old student, I was trying to hitch a ride with my best friend Alan. We fashioned a crude Union Jack on my rucksack in the hope of attracting anglophiles or expats, but the cars whizzed past. That was until an enormous Cadillac whispered up to the kerb. Its electric windows slid down and a voice chirped out: "I could never pass a Union Jack. Hop in." I was about to meet one of the most famous faces on the planet at the time. Davy Jones was about to take me into his life.
His house on Franklin Drive, right at the top of a canyon, was a far cry from his boyhood terraced home in Manchester. "When I got the part as Ena Sharples's grandson in Coronation Street," he told me later, "it was like I didn't have to act. It was just like being at home."
Davy had always been a talented home entertainer. Born in 1945 to a very close-knit family, the young Jones frequently entertained friends, family and the local working men's club with songs, dances and jokes. His brief foray into broadcasting had rather petered out by the end of the 1950s, which is when he decided to train as a jockey.
But his showbiz side would keep bursting forth. After he landed the part of the Artful Dodger in the West End production of Oliver!, which transferred to Broadway, Columbia Pictures got in touch via its television arm, Screen Gems. It was putting together a revolutionary kind of TV show, The Monkees. "It was all the idea of two guys who really wanted to get into movies but didn't have the money," Davy told me. "So, Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider decided to do TV first and then move on to bigger things and bigger screens. They didn't want singers or dancers or musicians. They could teach us all that. We were meant to be the small-screen Beatles.
"Because I came from England – which was all the rage in the mid-Sixties with the Mersey sound and everything – the studio publicist put me down as born in Liverpool. 'But I come from Manchester,' I told him. 'That's 30 miles from Liverpool.' 'Kid,' he said, 'you can drive 30 miles and never leave LA – you're from Liverpool.'"
According to Davy, the Monkees' work schedule was relentless. Every night the four leads – Davy, Micky Dolenz, Mike Nesmith and Peter Tork – would learn new songs, rehearse new routines and record songs they'd already practised. Then, after grabbing a few hours' sleep, they'd be up early to shoot the show. But the reward was instant success. Songs such as "I'm a Believer" and "Last Train to Clarksville" became huge hits. Monkees records outsold those of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones put together. The group generated $90m in two years. And then it ended.
Davy was always coy about which member of the group led a failed rebellion (it was Nesmith) that caused the producers to call their bluff and walk away from the project. "It was one for all and all for one," he told me. "And this time, one of us shafted all the rest of us."
Cut to 40 years later. I was visiting Davy's very different home in a tiny town in rural Pennsylvania. Gone was the Hollywood mansion; in its place was a rambling house, rather the worse for wear. But around it was lots of land, where Davy could keep the thoroughbred horses that were the love of his life.
But it was clear his energies had no proper outlet in entertainment. He played me songs he'd written, all the time restless and constantly in motion. It took a long time to get him to sit down for half an hour so I could record an interview.
He was still handsome, fun, warm and welcoming. But when we spoke, he talked wistfully of his boyhood. And when I left, the broad smile was strained, the brown eyes slightly anxious. Living in the shadow of the Monkees for most of his life clearly hadn't turned out to be such a comic caper.
When I left Davy's home back in 1970, having received his generous hospitality, his last gesture was to drive Alan and me 100 miles up the Californian coast to make it easier to get rides. That was Davy down to a T: kind and generous. And it's how I'll remember him.
John Waite presents Face the Facts and You and Yours on Radio 4Reuse content