Jack Good was wanting to mount a production called ‘6.5 Stage Show’ but on 3 January 1958 he was refused permission for this outside activity: “I am writing to confirm that permission cannot be given on policy grounds.” Perhaps in a fit of pique, Jack Good resigned, and Duncan Wood and Dennis Main Wilson were the new producers. Unfortunately some papers of a “confidential nature” have been removed from the file, but a memo on 13 January, only ten days later, refers to “the disappearance of Good”. Kenneth Adam wanted to have a fresh look at the programme as he had come to dislike the programme so much:
“(1) We had a totally unnecessary and unsuitable dance from a girl in a skintight costume which was one of the most suggestive items I have seen on any screen. There was a similar item from the Vernons Girls a few weeks ago. This must stop. The charm and vitality of the programme have always depended on the teenagers’ own dancing. We do not want nightclub characters and performances at this time of night.
“(2) There were too many Presley-type bellyswingers in one programme. Some performers can get away with this without offence: some find it more difficult. When several appear in quick succession, they all become offensive.
“(3) The balance has gone further than ever in the direction of rock’n’roll just at the time when straight jazz for jiving is on its way back. We must make better use of the really good bands we employ. To bring John Dankworth, for example, to the studio for a play-in and play-out is artistically and economically absurd.
“(4) The so-called comedy element is in danger of spoiling the programme. This is because it lasts too long. The comedy spots should be flashes, not sketches. Their purpose should be to bridge gaps or afford relief, they should be strictly interlocutory.
“(5) I am still worried about this football team and its Sunday matches. (This will be the Showbusiness XI.) Although the charity is not now named, we are still plugging the ground and the time of kick-off. This must stop. We are in danger of subverting the whole of BBC policy and laying ourselves open to the most embarrassing comeback.
“I am writing urgently because I want action, please, at once. These tendencies can be easily and painlessly removed. The criticisms are not levelled at Duncan Wood, who only took over in such a hurry (though he ought to have stopped that dance!).”
Sounds like Jack Good was on the verge of turning the show into ‘Oh Boy!’.
Tom Sloan replied, agreeing to all it said and saying that Dennis Main Wilson and Duncan Wood were overhauling the programme. And as for the Presley bellyswingers, “The main offender was Marty Wilde and although he has been contracted for a further two programmes, we are considering paying him off if his performances do not improve.”
On 5 February 1958, the two producers looked at the programme. This is from the report:
(1) The Programme in the Past
“The reputation of the show has reached a pretty low level in the eyes of many of the reputable agents. It is felt that certain types of artist have been over-exploited and that good quality artists in the musical world have been denied access to the show. A three-handed battle has been taking place between the groups of interested managers to obtain control of the strongest possible bill of ‘6.5 Special’ artists for their respective stage shows.
“Cut-price acts have been offered – false values have been placed on certain artists and there is evidence of attempted coercion of artists (e.g. Don Lang) from one management to another directly reflecting on their appearances in ‘6.5 Special’.”
Larry Parnes is specifically criticised: “Marty Wilde’s management seems to be under the impression that they would dictate the number of items he was to perform and his position in the running order of the show. Needless to say, this particular management is no longer under this illusion and the option on this artist has not been taken up.”
(2) The Programme to the End of the Present Quarter
“Our London studio audiences are pretty poor and the resultant lack of atmosphere has a detrimental effect on the show. Conversely, the OB programmes have a large and enthusiastic audience, but the effect on the screen is rather like seeing an excerpt from the local palais.
(3) The Programme from April onwards
“If ‘6.5 Special’ is to succeed in the future, we should build it round a central personality who can be authoritative – we should try and plan the programme so that it is viewed with interest rather than curiosity – we should stop the slightly patronising air with which it is sometimes introduced – and we should end the ‘let’s be funny at all costs’ attitude which seems to have invaded the show.”
The new producers wanted to retain Pete Murray as the resident, but would ditch Jo Douglas: “Jo has given over the last ten months a comprehensive exhibition of how technique can nearly overcome basic miscasting. Jo can do far better for herself in another type of programme vehicle.”
“Freddie Mills is a very nice chap but contributes nothing to ‘6.5 Special’. The items for which Freddie was first introduced have long departed but Freddie has remained, and the problem now is how to get him into the show at all without disastrous consequences.” On 27 March 1958 , Pete Murray and Freddie Mills left the show. They were instructed to “say goodbyes but no tributes, no tears and no ad-libs.” The new compering duties fell to Jo Douglas and Jim Dale.
Stanley Dale had been promoting a National Skiffle Contest stage show with Jim Dale as its compere and he suggested that ‘6.5 Special’ could run this weekly. This was a long-running contest and it outstayed its welcome. Also, there were issues relating to non-Musicians’ Union members in the skiffle groups. In March 1958 the MU was close to instructing their members to withdraw their services. Furthermore, the union was complaining about the audience being around while their members were rehearsing. This turned rehearsals into performances and they demanded further payment.
By May, Dennis Main Wilson was defending himself. “I will not enter into arguments about phoney skiffle groups singing phoney religious songs, but since we are having a go, I did not book this wretched skiffle contest in the first place and the same phoney spiritual has been performed before on 6.5 Special.” He is also fed up with the “hordes of young thugs”.
On 10 February 1958, Kenneth Adam was impressed with Pere Duval and his black habit. “then we had a rather tiresome youth in a dog collar produced to tell us why the churches were empty.” Did the Head of Religious Broadcasting know of this intervention? However, Adam really disliked “the rather revolting semi-religious number from a coloured singer. By the end of all this, one had forgotten how effective Pere Duval had been and was merely left with a slight feeling of nausea.”
In April the show went to Paris and Kenneth Adam wrote, “I was appalled to see how bad the reaction was to the ‘6.5 Special’ from Paris. I had hoped that my own personal dislike for this visit would not have been shared by other people but it was more unpopular with the public than it was with BBC officials.”
Tom Sloan wrote on 4 July 1958, “We have just heard that Jack Good’s new production ‘Oh Boy!’ goes against us at 6pm commencing 13 September. It is essential that our new set –and our new show – are in operation by this date.” The musical policy was still over the place, one programme in September 1958 featuring Tony Osborne and his Brasshats, Tito Burns’ 6.5ers and Reg Owen and his band. Said Tom Sloan, “We must get more beat music into the show – Ronnie Carroll singing a waltz last week was ridiculous.”
But the rock’n’roll didn’t always work – “Some character called Vince Eager tried to act as if he was Elvis Presley and looked a complete fool. Last week he started his song in a different key and a different time to the orchestra.”
On 4 November 1958, Kenneth Adam wrote, “I have been making enquiries among the young generation about the interest in ‘Oh Boy!’ and ‘6.5 Special’ and there is no doubt that the former is preferred. At this I am not surprised. Its formula is better, it has more punch and its camera work is simpler and it is faster than ours. Are you sure you have the right producer for the new show? On its success depends a great deal of the success of our Saturday night plan.”
Another BBC executive, Eric Maschwitz wrote, “The idea is to get as much life and movement and noise out of a simple presentation as possible without cluttering up the studio and the screen with juvenile delinquents.” The final ‘6.5 Special’ was broadcast on 27 December 1958: “The content was poor, the presentation and the camerawork very poor and the whole thing had no reason for its existence on our screen.”