Both Tommy Steele and Lonnie Donegan were featured on 27 March, and the film clip on 13 April was Little Richard’s ‘Ready Teddy’ from ‘The Girl Can’t Help It’. The programme was ambivalent about rock’n’roll as the same programme featured Dickie Valentine with his parody of ‘Hound Dog’ and a song that Trevor Peacock had written for Jo, Pete and Freddie, ‘We’re The Cockiest Rockers in Town’. Perhaps it’s just as well that so many of these programmes have been lost or destroyed.
Jo and Jack were delighted by Trevor Peacock’s scripts and he was offered 40 guineas a week up to the end of June. This lead to a row with a BBC executive as it had been ignored that some programmes would be dropped due to sporting events. The budget for ‘6.5 Special’ was £1,000 a show and the individual expenses are recorded for 25 May: Eric Delaney (£157), Jimmy Logan (105) Don Lang (78), Lita Roza (63), Chas McDevitt (45), Jo Douglas (31), Pete Murray (26) and Freddie Mills (21). There is a telex after Jack Good had enquired about some US performers but the cost of having Perry Como, Pat Boone or Fats Domino on the show would be £600 including air fare.
The comments from BBC executives include, “Once we get some female glamour into it, it really ought to be a winner” and “Can you get Trevor Peacock to eschew the puns? Freddie Mills’ spot seemed embarrassingly full of them.” Jo Douglas wrote to the Head of Religious Broadcasting, “I do hope you don’t still feel that we are corrupting the morals of the youth of this country. This is far from our intent.”
However, a big row emerged in April 1957 when the Deputy Director of Television Broadcasting no less criticised Ian Carmichael’s lavatorial humour. Jack Good sent off a riposte:
“I deeply regret that we failed to make it clear that the humour of Mr Carmichael’s spot was satirical. The point that was not made clear, apparently, was that people who think motor horns and chamber pots funny are themselves legitimate objects of ridicule. Grateful though I am for all criticism, your comment seemed reminiscent of the charge against Dean Swift’s ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ that it was in bad taste because it made fun of midgets.
“But satirical or earthy, chamber pot humour is at least more healthy than some of the suggestive words and gestures unreproached in our fifth and sixth-form programmes. And we shouldn’t forget that quite a number of modern undergraduates – and dons – still enjoy ‘The Miller’s Tale’ by Geoffrey Chaucer.
“On reflection, however, I agree that chamber pots ought not to be televised, and I apologise sincerely – if not very profoundly.”
I wonder what was in the fifth and sixth form programmes.
The intention of the film spot was to have “a well scripted interesting discussion with Pete Murray” and viewers could write to the film company for a photograph of the star. Among those appearing were Tyrone Power, Julie Harris, John Fraser and Eva Gabor. At the end of April, Laurence Harvey dropped out of the programme as, according to a press statement, “it would not have been possible for him to give enough time to studying the script to do it justice.” Laurence Harvey was unhappy with this statement and told the ‘Daily Herald’ rather pompously, “I had to take the micky out of the compere, Pete Murray. I think it appalling that the BBC should expect an actor who has some sort of position in the theatre to act as a stooge to Mr Murray.” In other words, I didn’t qualify at RADA to take part in this nonsense. And it was nonsense: the offending script is on the files: sample line, “The electronic ratio disseminator doesn’t work.” “Well, it’s not plugged in.”
Jack Good was not at all happy with Laurence Harvey’s stance. “Laurence Harvey read through the script in the presence of Pete Murray and myself. Harvey made no adverse comment on it: he was sure that it was an excellent script but he did not know whether he would have time to rehearse it. His comments were not only a complete surprise to us but were also not consistent with what had previously happened.”
The programme continued to have wide-ranging guests – the Kaye Sisters, John Dankworth and Cleo Laine, Johnny Duncan and the Bluegrass Boys, the Polkadots, Tony Brent and Jim Dale (29 March), the John Barry Seven, Max Bygraves, Marion Ryan (5 April), Ray Ellington, Gary Miller, Hutch (12 April), Eve Boswell, the Mudlarks, bandleader Ted Heath (19 April), Dennis Lotis (3 May), and Michael Holliday, Don Lang and Jim Dale (17 May). The comedian Bill Maynard had a one-off appearance but did not want to become a regular. The gypsy performer Danny Purches was filmed at a camp at Westerham. There was little control over the studio audience and the commissionaires found them rude and aggressive.
‘6.5 Special’ was intended to reflect new music and so it might be thought that the producers should be listening to the records, but what on? Here’s Jack Good: “I have been in touch with John Humphreys and he is against the idea of buying a record player for the use of this office. He agreed that we might hire one, stipulating that the hire should be on a monthly basis. He does not want to be committed for a longer period. The cost of the hire to be credited against our programme. I should be grateful therefore if you could arrange for delivery to this office of a record player capable of playing three speeds 78, 45, 33) as soon as you can manage it. I understand that the cost of the hire will be approximately £1.1.0d weekly.”
The record player would have other uses, namely, Jo and Jack could rehearse performers miming to their latest releases. Miming is so commonplace today that it is hard to believe it could cause controversy. But it did. On 31 August 1957, Pete Murray was meant to say, “So here to mime to his latest disc ‘Old Cape Cod’ is Michael Holliday” but he may have said ‘sing’ instead of ‘mime’ which led to a complaint from the Head of Light Entertainment. Jo Douglas responded, “If Pete Murray used the word ‘sing’, I am sorry. The audience in the studio were fully aware of the situation as I explained it to them before transmission. As Michael Holliday had to move about, it would be impossible for a microphone to follow him. For his second number, the other side of the disc, we equipped him with a hand microphone.” The phrase “singing to his own record of…” was devised, but Ronnie Waldman was not happy, “The fact remains that the artist is not singing.”
And thus we have this extraordinary memo from Jo Douglas:
“The whole issue of miming to records is an extremely difficult one in this particular programme as on many occasions the live work of the artists bears no relation whatever to their record performance. For example, the ‘6.5 Special’ public wanted to hear Russ Hamilton. The Russ Hamilton of record fame, who is the best selling ever British artist in America, does not exist. He cannot play the guitar and neither does his singing voice resemble that on the record. The fact remains that the record personality is the one in which our public are interested. Is it right therefore to present him as a record personality, which is all he is, in a mediocre performance? Is it wiser indeed not to present him at all? This is the problem facing us with many artists of this type.
“The case of Frankie Vaughan was quite a different one – he mimed to his record simply because he came into the show at the very last moment with no orchestrations and no provision made in the planning of the show for booms. This I do not feel to be a fraud as his live performance is identical with his record one.”
At the end of September 1957, there was speculation that Jayne Mansfield might appear on the show. This had been cleared with 20th Century Fox but unknown to them, she had made plans to visit a US Army base in Sculthorpe and could not get to the studio in time.
In November 1957, ATV are going for “the maximum audience at an off-peak time”. How are they doing this? They are scheduling ‘The $64,000 Dollar Question’ at 6pm to be followed by a birthday tribute to Sir Winston Churchill. “If they are lucky,” says the Controller of Programmes, “this will give them new records for early evening and we must do all we can to keep up the size of the 6.5 audience. Can you get somebody big ‘unexpectedly’, outside budget if necessary, to justify extensive trailing on Friday? And Jack Payne can certainly carry a plug in ‘Off The Record’.”
The most significant of the live broadcasts came from the Two I’s coffee bar in November 1957. Adam Faith seized the moment and his group the Worried Men stole the show. The programme featured Chas McDevitt, Larry Page (later to manage the Kinks and the Troggs), Laurie London, the King Brothers, Wee Willie Harris, Jim Dale and Mike and Bernie Winters. The film clip came from the Terry Dene film, The Golden Disc’, which was set in Soho. The show closed with Wee Willie Harris, the King Brothers and Mike and Bernie Winters performing ‘Rockin’ At The Two I’s’ together.
The executive were impressed: “The edition from the Two I’s was not only extraordinary but extraordinarily good. It was first class television as well as first class entertainment. Whose idea was it to do this as an OB?” Jack Good’s of course.
In December 1957, the musical, if not the rock’n’roll, content of the show had been increased. The show featured Don Lang, the Vernons Girls (‘Rockabilly Party’), balladeers Jimmy Lloyd and David Hughes, Frankie Vaughan’s discovery Joyce Shock, Confrey Phillips, Vic Ash and Kenny Baker. The film clip was Jerry Lee Lewis’ ‘Great Balls Of Fire’ from ‘Disc-Jockey Jamboree’ and the actress Sheree Winton (Dale’s mum) was featured. The Worried Men were on hand but they had to accompany Jon Pertwee because Pertwee was owed on a show on some BBC contract.
The next week’s show was also subject to audience research. This time the audience was 18% of the adult audience and the reaction index was 74, both higher than ever. The individual artists whom the audience liked very much were Michael Holliday (68%), Don Lang and his Frantic Five (56%), the Dallas Boys (55%), Jim Dale (55%), Johnny Duncan and his Bluegrass Boys (52%), Freddie Mills (51%), Marion Ryan (46% for her ‘Dingdong Rockabilly Wedding’), Laurie Gold and his Pieces of Eight (38%), comic actor Graham Stark (30%) and bandleader Johnnie Gray (30%). The most disliked of the performers was Freddie Mills with 18% and Johnnie Gray had better acquire “other assets besides the mass of hair displayed on his face.”
In December 1957 Decca released an LP, ‘Stars Of 6.5 Special’, and Jack Good was not pleased: well, at least he now had a player to hear it on. “Even a ‘6.5 Special’ disc that was bang up to date would be in danger of being old-fashioned after its release, but this record is a museum piece even before appearing on the market. It is a hotch-potch of old tracks that, for the most part, were just not good enough to be used elsewhere. Note for instance the unfortunate track of ‘Singing The Blues’ which was obviously made at the same time as the tracks for ‘The Tommy Steele Stage Show’ and was, quite rightly, rejected for this LP.
“The Terry Dene track was, it would seem, an unsuccessful attempt for a 78 which is not a whit improved by dubbing on electronic squeals. The extremely poor attempts to inject atmosphere by using applause and scream tapes do much to mar whatever is good in this record.
“The record is really a money-catcher. It advertises Tommy Steele, Lonnie Donegan and Terry Dene. Lonnie Donegan has one track – a very old number, quite unrepresentative of the modern Donegan, made before he left Decca to join Nixa – and the Tommy Steele and Terry Dene numbers are just bad. In fact, the most lively items are those by the Worried Men and Wee Willie Harris.
“Apart from these criticisms, the backings for the vocalists seem weak – especially for Tommy Steele. The best is for Wee Willie Harris, strangely enough. But one noteworthy feature – and here we may compare it with the EMI LP – is that not once is a vocal group used: and this really dates every track, because the use of vocal backings is one of the most prominent features of modern teenage music, and in fact a vocal backing is now always used in ‘6.5 Special’. And why are there no real rock’n’roll numbers?
“The final criterion of a record bearing the name ‘6.5 Special’ must be its ability to generate excitement. This disc leaves me cold.”
Meanwhile, when Ronnie Waldman was asked by an American TV executive to elaborate on the ‘6.5 Hand Jive’, he sent over a small publication about the dance. Waldman commented, “It gives a fair enough description of the movements but does not in any way convey the excitement of the actual thing itself.” So someone thought the Hand Jive was exciting.