Confessions of a Not-So-Secret Agent

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 February, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 February, 2010, 12:00am

Confessions of a Not-So-Secret Agent
by Harry M. Miller with Peter Holder
Hachette, HK$300

In Australia, Harry M. Miller is as much a brand as any of the international figures he has toured, celebrated, managed, and, in some cases, seduced. Miller has alienated most of his five adult children and burned through three marriages and countless affairs, while maintaining the respect of almost every client and colleague since the 1960s.

After listing his failings, one of his daughters concedes that he 'can nurture greatness, he is selfless in that way'.

Miller, 76, has a resilience that masks irrevocable loss and hurt.

His working class parents 'no doubt lived a fairly mundane and loveless life together'. His only sibling was stillborn; a year after Miller's birth, his father was paralysed and in hospital for six years before dying. When his mother developed epilepsy, the nine-year-old Miller was enrolled at a low-end boarding school. He soon realised that the only means of escape was money.

His entrepreneurial flair evolved at school, where he ran peep shows involving punctured shoeboxes with stick figures drawn inside ('my most cost-effective productions').

In 1951, Miller joined the merchant navy and was made a second-class bathroom steward. Later, in Auckland, he became a 'seagull' working odd jobs on the wharves, then applied for a job demonstrating electric cookers. This job would change the course of Miller's life.

He was selling so many units that the company had to double its production team and still found it difficult to meet the demand. He was given the sole franchise in 1958, and diversified into entertainment management and promotion.

His anecdotes are riveting - Louis Armstrong snorting cocaine from the handkerchiefs he pressed against his face onstage; Dusty Springfield seducing the 'innocent young woman' who won a competition to meet her; being slapped in the face by a stoned Judy Garland; Shirley Bassey's yen for well-endowed men.

His recollections are elegantly edited by co-author Peter Holder and the results are flawless. He is a survivor, and his story - while not exactly a parable of righteousness - is galvanising.