Hugh Mendl

Hugh Mendl looms as one of the most influential if unheralded figures in postwar British pop -- for four decades a producer and A&R exec with Decca Records, he helmed skiffle pioneer Lonnie Donegan's earliest recordings, signed artists spanning from David Bowie to Genesis, and spearheaded the Moody Blues' Days of Future Passed, a landmark in the development of progressive rock. Born in London on August 6, 1919, Mendl graduated from Oxford's University College with plans to pursue a career in government, but his discovery of jazz prompted him to seek a record industry position instead. It just so happened that his grandfather was chairman of The Decca Gramaphone Company, although he entered via the company mailroom, earning only ten shillings a week during his six-month tryout. After his probation period ended, Mendl was promoted to serve as an assistant to Decca secretary Freddie White. World War II interrupted his climb, however, and while stationed in Jerusalem he hosted a jazz program on Palestine Radio. Upon returning to civilian life Mendl applied for a position with the BBC, but blanched at the corporate culture and soon returned to Decca, which kept him on the company payroll throughout the war. He was installed as the label's first "radio plugger," lobbying broadcasters to play Decca releases -- Mendl's actions quickly led to a reprimand from the British Phonographic Industry, but he continued on, simply adopting more discreet tactics.