‘We were reprobates’: the Pretty Things on being loved by Bowie – and smoking a spliff with Norman Wisdom

The Pretty Things were known for wild 60s singles and the album SF Sorrow. From starring in a sex comedy to a lifetime ban from New Zealand, they share 50 years of anecdotes

Phil May and Dick Taylor are telling me about the time they smoked marijuana with Norman Wisdom. It was 1968 and their band, the Pretty Things, had somehow ended up with a role in What’s Good for the Goose, a sex comedy that disastrously attempted to reboot the diminutive 50s funnyman’s image for a new decade. It was a trying experience for all concerned. Britain’s toughest R&B band had turned into keen psychedelic experimentalists, – authors of the wildest UK singles of the early 60s and the groundbreaking 1968 concept album SF Sorrow – and were now trapped in a Southport hotel for two weeks with the slapstick star. “He couldn’t leave a room without pretending to trip over, doing one of his pratfalls,” sighs Taylor. “God, he was a pain in the arse.”

One night, however, Wisdom stumbled in on the band sharing a joint: “He had a toke with us and asked to read our copy of The Hobbit,” says May. “He was really getting into it, completely caught up in the story. By the end of the night, he’s telling us that his next film is going to be The Hobbit, with him starring as Bilbo Baggins. An idea,” he notes, “that could have ended his career.”

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