Elvis Presley

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Tributes from a City and State Government.



Melbourne, Australia, has one of the few shrines to Elvis Presley built by the fans at the Melbourne Cemetery. It is the most visited of any shrine in the country.

The Elvis Presley fan club is the biggest fan club in the world. Its online headquarters are in Melbourne.

Melbourne Malcolm Arthur was in his own right the most famous rocker in Melbourne in the 50s. In this town, where he performed it was almost always difficult to get in.  He recorded on Planet Records and starred in the famous Planet Rock n Pop shows of the 50s produced by myself at the Melbourne Town Hall.. Malcolm later starred in my rock musical Robbery Under Arms with additional music by Doug Surman.


How to upset the Colonel

The scarcest record and most collectable of all was the seven inch with Elvis Presley on the cover but Peter McLean singing Presley songs on the record.

I had talked the film distributers into it by suggesting it was a good way to promote the film. When they realised that Colonel Parker would not be happy, it ceased to exist, but not before Planet Records had cashed in. 

This I believe is the rarest record amongst Presley memorabilia.


Remembering Elvis.

Film Guru internationally acclaimed Greg Lynch who was a staunch friend of Malcolm’s in the 80s made the film Remembering Elvis that was pirated around the world. It featured rare Elvis Presley footage, Malcolm Arthur, King Crawford and Doug Surman.

The office of Melbourne’s Superintendent of Arts was large. Behind my desk was a huge board and on it was a small piece of paper, and a much bigger one.

On the small one was a little dot. Next to it were the words. “This could be the start of something big.” On the larger paper was written that thirty nine and a half thousand artists would be placed on the annual new balanced arts programme for the City of Melbourne and the State Government. A programme idea  unique to any city in the world and one that would change the image of my city forever. State backing alone soon developed into seven figures and crowds multiplied this figure by ten.


Initially my position was funded by the two main levels of Government - State and Federal - as an experiment. My new position was tenuous and an arts, media and political set of land mines. Not ideal for a risk taker.

Two previous efforts prior to my involvement had failed, making it unlikely to survive. At this time in the history of Melbourne it was probably the least exciting city in the country and expansion minimal. Boredom was almost a practicing study even though our Planet Records as a record company was leading the world with important innovations. 

Having successfully changed the concept of community centres’ art programmes, $3OOO was found for an outdoor art programme. I scrapped the existing concept of the brass band recitals as the only form of outdoor entertainment and put in the new concept of a balanced art programme, with nine different performing genres. This included stretching the money into six shows:  a jazz day, an ethnic dance production, a production of Cosi Fan Tutti, a Pop and a Country music day, a jazz day, and a community day. At this point there was no love lost between the State Government and the Council so the following seemed a safe bet for them both. The experiment so impressed the State Government that I was able to ask whether if Melbourne City Council were to match a $57,000 grant for the concept would they go along with it? I then asked Melbourne City the same thing and I had $114,000 to start plus private enterprise monies.. This was a lot of money in 1973.

M.C.C. not only granted the money but paid the administration and other costs including a specially built giant mobile theatre and a caravan which in itself was spectacular as each day it travelled to a different Park or the main city square with a new show each day of the week As it grew in size and cost t, with audiences of many millions.his was to become the biggest free entertainment programme in the world and won major awards. It had the greatest ongoing daily promotional media coverage seen in this or any other Australian city river. and was copied in other cities around the world. 

Nobody knew whether the Presley idea would work. However I had proven the point that so much could be accomplished for so little, that I hit the trail for sponsorship for what was to become the world’s biggest programme of its type, with major artists and community groups hitting stages and open air venues every day of the week. Because of the demands of such a programmes’ freshness, new ideas were a must to maintain the gloss. 

I went to see my long suffering mate and  musical director Doug Surman.

“Doug,” I started “I’ve got an idea.”

He had been there before. He’s a friend . He didn’t sigh loudly.

He waited. I ploughed on.

“You know Elvis died some years ago...” 

He nodded patiently. 

“Well,”  I add “We should do a spectacular concert of tribute in music and story as a memorial concert. The first in the world.” 

“A good reason for that,” said Doug “is that no one in their right mind would stand up for a super star, especially Presley.” 

He waited, then he asked the question - “And who would play Elvis?” 

Now I answered as I could feel these were risky waters with possible quicksand gathering around my feet.

“I know someone with incredible charisma. I don’t know if he can do it. Last I heard he couldn’t walk, talk or move after a car accident, but he would be ideal. His name is Malcolm Arthur.”

Of course at that time there was a good reason it hadn’t been done because the demands were enormous on the star figure. Producing it was not a problem. It would be up to the star, and it was also a long time since Malcolm was a name. That was the 50s and 60s, this was the late 70s, and we are talking about depicting maybe the greatest stage presence of all time in a gruelling show, maybe even bigger than the king had ever done in his prime. Malcolm had since been in at least two horrendous car smashes that had almost written him off.

The consensus was that he may never walk or talk again.

If we messed it up, the fans would lynch us. Let me just mention the venue. Melbourne city probably had more parkland per capita than any other city of its size in the world. The Sidney Myer Music Bowl in its original setting spilled out into 3 major parks making an overflow area of a considerable size. The stage itself is also very large with huge wings as a canopy. Unique in the world it is really impressive.

Due to Malcolm’s condition we were taking a huge gamble. 

I had written the show in 4 parts. 1 The Early days 2  A super star is born - records  3 Holly wood  4 and re enactment of his last show on Earth.. It was choreographed, costumed, scripted, charted with a huge cast and was eventually to have a 22 piece orchestra with eight tympani of the finest musicians. It had a vocal chorus par excellence, two dance teams, myself doing the narration and Malcolm Arthur doing the most Presley songs ever presented in one live show ever, on the then original unenclosed Melbourne Sidney Myer Music Bowl which was the biggest open air stage in the country. In those days it was the biggest performing arena and held a hundred thousand people as we were to prove. I have probably been involved in more original big shows than anyone, but there was something special about this one.



Critiques from major magazines and Newspapers.


People Magazine.

‘Love him tender Malcome's tribute to Elvis is a 

sentimental showstopper. His performance would make 

any artist weep with envy. Malcome symbolises Elvis 

in the concert audience, Women held up their babies 

to be kissed and fans qued for autographs. 


Australasian Post.

”The final Tribute.“Malcome's Tribute to Elvis is a 

full production with a 22 piece orchestra, Choir and 

large dance troops - Astounding success. 

The entertainment value of the show was priceless.

The fans swayed with awe, sung with joy, and 

screamed in ecstasy.


Television station ABV2. 

“While Malcome lives, “Elvis lives.”


The Sun Newspaper.

”Bowling them over with the Elvis Presley story.“


Age Newspaper.

“Tribute to the King.”

People thought he looked a lot like Presley. 

From the start the crowd was with him. They were 

singing the songs and dancing the lost years away.


Sunday 17th January 1979. An Eye witness account of a phenomenon.


The sun is rising through the trees.

The parks smell great.

The air is still.

The famed Melbourne parklands are awash with green and everything is out except the clouds.

It is very early.  

Then a few people arrived. 

Then more.

We were just setting up when tens of thousands began to arrive, coming around through trees at the back of the bowl. “I love Elvis”  T shirts were everywhere. Lunch in all sorts of containers. You could feel the excitement building from back stage like it was a solid thing. 

Up and up and up in waves of excitement. This is the Elvis community with one thing in common and apparent. There was no age limit in the fans and a compatriot type feeling of a community with one very common bond. The green lawns were filling with colour

I had felt it before on shows, but nothing like this. It was like you could touch it. I nodded to Doug. He shrugged. We hadn’t expected anything quite like this. 

Malcolm had the paces. Ultimately it would be all on him.

I used an old trick. As it got closer to the show I fed back stage calls re the mechanics and conversations into the speakers. Readying of the dancers, Malcolm’s minder his sister. Tension was building for everyone. No other sounds.

I made my entrance. The excitement exploded. It was enormous. Let’s face it if a cat had walked on the stage it would have probably got as much as the pent up excitement was released from a over a hundred thousand excited fans. Emotion was like waves coming at you It was tangible. No memorial in history could have topped the devotion and emotion blended on that Summer’s day for any person.

Welcomed the audience on behalf of the Victorian State Government and Melbourne local Government and introduced the cast, pointing out that this was the first time in the world that Governments have either singly or together combined in a memorial concert for a citizen from a foreign land. They get a large round of applause. I then introduced the royalty of the state’s musicians as the Elvis Presley orchestra, then the backup singers as the Graceland Chorale from Melbourne.

Then the conductor ... the brilliant Mr. Doug Surman.

Already the size of the cast was telling the audience that this was not going to be an ordinary show.

The stage was a glitter with sparkle.

The Elvis sign dwarfed the people setting the stage.

The orchestra began to play Welcome to my world and I introduced the ballet and they  danced with the letters to form his name Elvis Presley in black and in remembrance. 

The letters were thrown into the audience.

I explained why we were here and how the show will be constructed with the first segment  being The early days.


You could have cut the air. 

I noticed the audience were all leaning towards the stage as if hypnotised like a magnet was attracting them and growing in power.

Doug nods.

Then the impressive brace of Tympani start to play quietly, then louder and louder as the roll built till the vibrations are almost unbearable,and the orchestra moves into the intro to Elvis’s show like it was in Honolulu on that day now seeming not far away, when Sprach Zarathurrata - the 2001 Space Odyssey” was played for his last show.

They finished and it was back to me and three magic words: “The King is Back”.

The sound of silence as a hundred thousand fans stop breathing for a second.

The orchestra played the riff, which went on until getting to its loudest moment. The spotlight travels round the stage  looking and stops empty.

Suddenly it isn’t.

Malcolm enters into the light with his guitar...

The hundred thousand audience went wild before he’d sung a note. 

He was dressed in a red tuxedo and got into the early songs of Elvis’s career. The sound, the movements, the emotion, the stagecraft. The superstar. It was Elvis returned to his fans and his rightful place.



That’s alright Momma. The smaller band takes over, (See our cover) and it was no longer 1979, it was Sun Records and Elvis was young. 

then: And the journey begins. 

The big band would rebuild again later.

Blue Moon of Kentucky.

Heartbreak Hotel. 

Blue Suede Shoes. Feet stamp on the  front of seats and on grass. Bottoms wiggle, bodies sway away.

Hound Dog.

Exit Malcolm. Applause.

The taste was a happening thing. the audience were now more than ready for the full meal.

Enter the dancers as Bobby Soxers to do Teddy Bear.

Beautiful ladies , colour a splash.

I explained the next segment’s story. 

I keep it short but we have to allow for the costume change: 



Malcolm re enters the stage dressed in black. Lots of noise from hand fronts.

Jailhouse Rock and those legs kept dancing.

The years are gone.

All Shook Up.

Love me tender. The colour wheels change the mood.

Mean woman blues.

Trouble Adrenalin is racing, Hearts thumping.

Hard Headed Woman.

Long Tall Sally.

Exit Malcolm.

Everyone starts breathing again.

Audience includes in a short few words of excited conversation, The big band wails. Dancers do Tutti fruitti

Audience is up dancing.

The whole thing became a celebration. Then silence. 

I explained the next segment: 


Malcolm returns in the first Jump suit. Breathing seems to stop. A welcome fit for royalty.

Steam roller blues, Elvis is driving.

Viva Las Vegas with the show girls and, the dancers. 

The colour, twinkles, feathers dip and stride high and wide, long legged beauties. Lots of lights. It was all there. A beautiful sight.

Wooden Heart. Tick Tock.

Little Egypt. With dancers a sway. Diamenties reflections splash; bip and dip brightly in rhythm.

You gave me a mountain 

Welcome to my world

I got a woman

The milking of every number till only the bones are left.

Exit Malcolm.  Wild applause.

Segment 3 ends.

Dancers arrive spilling over the stage filling it with movement. 

Johnny B Good 

Live it up.

I explained the final segment which was the re enactment of THE FINAL SHOW and tribute.

Again Doug nods. The tympani’s began their roll like escaping liquid thunder.

It was a long roll with the orchestra following them into the Space Odyssey 2001. The brass fly high. This to is exciting stuff.

The orchestra goes into the riff for  See see rider. It builds and builds, AND BUILDS.

‘The King is back” I yell. 

Nobody there disbelieved me. Expectancy rules.

Their sitting on the edge of their seats.

Malcolm entered wearing the Elvis white jump suit.

The spotlight is no longer lonely and nor is he. The audience clap along expectantly.

See see rider.    White fringes sway, loop, cascade and regroup with every movement and there are plenty. 

Johnny be  Good. Glittering lights beating hearts

Suspicious minds.

Moody Blue, Tiny rainbows in the design keep flashing as the body moves in all directions Malcom’s motor is running..

American Trilogy 

Polk Salad Annie. The beat is like an out of control jack hammer. Perspiration is starting to drip.

How great though art  He kneels at the end.  Cameras pop and wind. 2 legends in one are forever  on record.The high notes soar.

Then all the pent up emotion of a fan who had been part of Elvis’s fan club from day one and had seen him work close up and was given a high sign.

He was part of some time warp of memory and fact.

I can’t help falling in love, with you. 

He wears the Presley glasses. Gives away some white scarves.

The heat of the lights are glistening on his  perspiration.

The audience erupts into thunderous applause.


I can't help falling in love, with you. 

Malcolm is crying. The dancers join a moving  line of honour. The chorale is repeating sounds of the melody with the incredible orchestra . The chorus repeat the song while Malcolm takes the bows.

A standing ovation took place that seemed to go on seemingly forever.. Tears and more tears.

The transformation was complete.

A blanket of love descended on the Bowl.

Doug and I with smiles trying to reach our ears. 

It was one of the great moments ever in show business.

People were crying. Babies were handed up to be kissed by Malcolm, Hysteria ad infinitum as the audience were caught up in the moment and as the A.B.C. said 

“While Malcolm lives, Elvis lives.” Media went wild that night and next day.

The risk had paid off. The spending of Government and rate payers’ money (State of Victoria and Melbourne City Council) on a very risky project had been a success, and even today that show stands out as a beacon.

One experience in my career I won’t forget. 

By popular demand each year the show was repeated for 7 years and only ended with the exhaustion of the star. Great but just too much. No artist had given more.

As far as we can ascertain this was the first tribute memorial show produced for Elvis Presley.

It had he biggest collection of live Presley songs ever produced anywhere on stage. 

It was the first foreign tribute of its type for a personality of a foreign country with both State and Council money. There was no criticism.

There were one hundred thousand people overseen by 2 police who had nothing to do.

And in addition all 8 productions following annually. were free to the public. 

Malcolm said: “At one point I felt like I was taken over. There was what It thought was an out of body experience. I felt like I was watching Elvis.”

At the end of the show the audience would show that they believed they to had been. 

The  Elvis fans were exhausted as were we all.There would be great memories and sore hands that night.

They dribbled away not wanting to leave the experience. Many did not go home for hours. when the dusk was painting new shadows as that discussed that magic day...

Nobody wanted to go home. I shook Malcolm’s hand, I shook Doug,s. hand  we were almost dancing.

Until this a day it was a very special moment in time for those who were there and those that made it happen.

I have produced thousands of big shows and spectaculars in my time, but this one will forever be up there. The lights would fade but the memories had begun to live.

The risk paid off. Malcolm enhanced his reputation and I kept my head. We had created an Aura of another time. Not an impressionists approach to a hero but something more credible and marvellous than that day in January.

This show had made way for my other tribute shows: 

Al Jolson, Frank Sinatra, Robert Stigwood, The Beatles, Buddy Holly, Johny O’Keefe etc etc.., Huge tributes to my Country, My State, My City  and internationally etc but nothing quite like that day in January when Melbourne and its people said goodbye to Elvis Presley and the MEMORIAL CONCERT in his honour.

Written by Robert King Crawford.

Then the Superintendent of Arts for the City of Melbourne. Compere, writer, and producer of the show The creator of an idea.

Archival recorded Copies of numerous Crawford  concerts/productions etc. are available for listening on the State of Victoria Government’s Sound library. See Jeffrey Orr’s Viking label. 

This Story also coming on King Crawford.com.au. with stage presentation on film by film maker extraordinaire and pioneer of film Greg f Lynch. 

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