Early life and career
Born into a Jewish family in Cheetham Hill, Manchester. Arden began his showbusiness career when he was just 13 years old as a singer and stand-up comic after briefly attending the Royal College of Music and in 1944 changed his name from Harry Levy to Don Arden. After being demobilised from the British Army at the end of World War II, Arden returned to civil life to develop his show business career from 1946 to 1953.
Arden worked as an entertainer on the British variety circuit. He impersonated singers such as Enrico Caruso and film actors known for gangster roles such as Edward G. Robinson and George Raft. On weekends, Yiddish-speaking Arden impressed Jewish audiences with his Al Jolson routine. One of his record releases was his version of "Blue Suede Shoes" on the Embassy label when tried to impersonate Elvis. In 1954 went on to become a showbiz agent after realising it would be more profitable. He began his career organising Hebrew folk song contests, then started putting together his own shows.
Arden signed up American rock'n'roller Gene Vincent in 1960 and launched his career as a manager. Taking over from John Schatt, Arden became Vincent's manager. Arden could not control Vincent's compulsive alcoholism. The relationship ended when Vincent reportedly pulled a knife on his manager. For a short period of time in the early 1960s, he worked with the British singer Elkie Brooks at the start of her career.
During 1964, Arden moved into beat group pop management with the Nashville Teens who secured chart hits with "Tobacco Road" and "Google Eye" and "Find My Way Back Home". According to Johnny Rogan's book Starmakers & Svengalis, their earnings from these hits was £3,513. When group member John Hawken confronted Arden about some confusion over monies to be collected, his manager told him, "I have the strength of 10 men in these hands" and threatened to throw him from an office window.
In 1965, Arden met aspiring rock band Small Faces in his office in Carnaby Street. Half an hour later he had signed them up. Don Arden was immediately struck by the potential of Small Faces: "I thought at that time, on the first hearing, I thought it was the best band in the world." Kenney Jones, Small Faces' drummer, recalls: "He was kind of a Jewish teddy bear I suppose. You liked him immediately because he was enthusiastic and he talked about what he could do and what he couldn't do and whenever he said – 'I'll do this, I'll do that' – he did and it came true." The band's debut single - "Whatcha Gonna Do About It" - was ushered into the hit parade by "chart-fixing", which cost Arden £12,000. Arden denied it was cheating: "I had a saying, you can't polish a turd. In other words, if the record's no good to begin with it still won't be any good after you've wasted your time and money getting it played."