Others commented on the monotony of the music and that “These broadcasts have at least proved one thing – skiffle is not here to stay.” Several complained that the music was noisy and tuneless and the performances – especially by the vocalists – were poor: “It seems that any amateur thinks he can play skiffle.” Brian Matthew was still on holiday and his replacement, Michael Brooke, was generally liked, although some were irritated by “his silly and facetious comments”. Someone asked, “Surely it is possible to do the programme without the second-rate humour and the artificial laughter?”
Brian Matthew returned to present the bank holiday edition of ‘Skiffle Club’ on 4 August 1958 and fortunately (or perhaps not) a full studio recording of the show exists – Radio 2 should broadcast it someday! The show features Russell Quaye’s City Ramblers and the Terry Renn Skiffle Group. Disappointly, there is nothing subversive about the City Ramblers’ performance but they have an eclectic repertoire featuring ‘When You Wore A Tulip’, ‘The Derby Ram’, ‘When You And I Were Young, Maggie’, ‘Billykins And The Diner’, ‘The Sheik Of Araby’ and ‘Rothsay-o’. The Terry Renn Skiffle Group performs ‘Y’All Come’, ‘Joshua Fit The Battle Of Jericho’, ‘No More Booze’ (his girl has a face ‘like a horse and buggy’ – why the buggy?), ‘Who’s Sorry Now?’ (a recent hit!) and ‘She’ll Be Comin’ Round The Mountain’. You hear plenty of acoustic guitars as well as washboard, cowbell, spoons, saucepans and tin whistles. Brian Matthew, speaking in BBC tones, pretends that the show is filled with guest artists: for example, Jimmie McGregor (of Robin Hall and…) sings ‘Rothsay-O’ but he was part of the City Ramblers at the time.
During 1958, a stalwart of the BBC’s live music programmes, Clinton Ford, makes his first appearance on the files. Before he auditions, Jimmy Grant judges from his Oriole recordings that he will be a “rockabilly merchant”, though I don’t know how he works that out. Clint delights the panel with his voice and guitar versions of ‘Lovesick Blues’ and ‘Nellie Dean’. The conclusion is that he is “a country and western singer of great value to us in this day and age. Use at next possible opportunity.”
In view of falling popularity of skiffle, the programme was changed to ‘Saturday Club’ and extended to two hours to cover all forms of teenage music. An Audience Research Report was commissioned for the first show on 4 October 1958 and whilst ‘Saturday Skiffle Club’ had audiences averaging 7% of the population, ‘Saturday Club’ only managed 6% in the first hour and 5% in the second. The BBC’s Appreciation Index of 57 was marginally higher than that for ‘Saturday Skiffle Club’. However, the sample of 105 listeners only included 12 under-twenties.
The programme featured live music from Terry Dene and the Aces, Johnny Duncan and his Blue Grass Boys and, in the Jazz Cellar, Humphrey Lyttelton and his Band. Humph’s ‘Saturday Jump’, wirtten by Jimmy Grant, was the programme’s signature tune. Both Johnny Duncan and Humph scored well, but Terry Dene was chastised – “He tries to imitate other rock’n’roll performers.” The wife of an overseer commented, “I tried hard to like this type of music but just couldn’t stand it anymore. I think it absolutely ridiculous that two hours should be given to this trash. The BBC panders too much to teenagers’ likes. I cannot imagine it ever giving two hours for records of popular operatic arias.” Er, yes, but what about the Third Programme?
At the same time, a note from a BBC review panel praises Brian Matthew: “The commendation of his work was made in much warmer tones than it is possible to record in a brief minute.” However, Brian’d voice was undergoing radical changes. He realised that his posh accent were not right for the programme and over the years he begame “a regular geezer”, often starting the show with “Hello my ole mateys.”
The new look show had a larger budget – around £300 a show – and so Lonnie Donegan came back on board on 25 October 1958, no doubt grumbling as he was paid his 60 guineas.
Another survey was commissioned for ‘Saturday Club’ on 29 November 1958 and by then the audience had increased to 8% in the first hour and 6% in the second. The Appreciation Index was 56, this time based on a sample of 171 listeners. There was very little criticism from those who usually liked this kind of music, “most agreeing that it was grand entertainment for a Saturday morning.” Brian Matthew was regarded as a very pleasant and relaxed compère and there was much praise for the live acts – Chris Barber’s Jazz Band, Michael Holliday and Gerard Campbell’s folk music from Belfast. A schoolgirl commented, “I think this is the best programme on the BBC, and it is on at exactly the right time. For months I spent Saturday mornings tuning to foreign stations in the hope of finding something like this, but I was never very successful, so you can see how very pleased I was when this wonderful show was broadcast by the BBC.”
And it was one housewife’s choice: “I would never sit down and listen to this music during an evening. But as a background to Saturday morning chores, I find it quite entertaining and cheery.”
The BBC’s management was unsure whether the programme was too long and an audience report was also commissioned for the following week, where the listening was now 9% in the first hour and 7% in the second. Even among the fans of the programmes, there were divisions – the trad jazz fans, the rock’n’rollers and the folkies – but the balance was well maintained and the programme went at a good speed. Brian Matthew was regarded by all as a superb compère with “an undoubted ability to keep things running smoothly”. This time the most popular act was Joe Gordon and his Folk Four. An elderly listener commented that the programme was “mainly tripe. I think it unfair to give two hours to this kind of stuff. The Stargazers sang tunefully – the rest of what I heard is not worth listening to. As for that song, ‘I Love My Man’, it was just beastly.” ‘I Love My Man’ might have been a Dixieland jazz record from Albert Nicholas and Beryl Bryden.
The audience report for 31 January 1959 has the Appreciation Index up to 61 and Brian Matthew receiving more accolades – “He sounds as if he personally enjoys all the items he introduces.” Some of the older listeners decried the programme –“I can’t stand this caterwauling stuff.”
In April 1959, one of those caterwaulers, Vince Taylor was booked with his Playboys for £25.18.0d but as “he is not deemed to be normally resident in this country”, he wanted to be paid in dollars. I thought that Vince Taylor was an American who lived in Hounslow and what about the rest of his band, who were English? Making a payment in dollars created some difficulty for the BBC but they managed it. Further difficulties came from Johnny Kidd who was paid 35 guineas for his seven piece band. The cheque was sent in error to Kidd rather than his management. This created problems because Kidd “has no bank account and has been unable to cash this cheque.”
It should be stressed that the BBC was under some compulsion to do live sessions. There were limits as to the amount of needletime (that is, gramophone records) which they could play each week, and so this was a way of presenting music without playing many records. Most programmes had four live acts and only contained around six requests and three new releases.
Another audience report for 8 August 1959 shows that the listening percentages were up to 10% in the first hour and 9.2% in the second. That’s five million listeners. A lot of this is attributed to Brian Matthew. “He makes the items sound so interesting, that you just have to wait to hear the next item, even though the weekend shopping is waiting to be done.” The main criticism was that there was “too much rock’n’roll”, although this would have been its main strength as well.
The BBC was so proud of the success of ‘Saturday Club’ that they held a party to celebrate its first birthday. Jim Dale, Adam Faith and Johnny Duncan were among the celebrity guests. Tito Burns, then managing Cliff Richard, commented, “It is the only show outside television that can really make a hit record. Jimmy Grant should be proud of his success.”
On 9 November 1959, Brian Matthew interviewed Pat Boone in New York and was amazed by the size of his organisation. I am too as he had TV rehearsal rooms, a music publishing company, and offices for his manager, scriptwriters and fan club secretaries. In all, they took up the entire floor of a large office block. Boone says, “The only other performer that I know of who has this kind of set-up is our landlord, Sid Caesar – he has the whole floor above us and he rents us this floor and he has the same kind of operation.”
Commenting on cover versions, Pat says, “When I first came in, a rock’n’roll song came out in its original rhythm and blues version. A pop artist would then record that song with his own treatment and it would become the big pop hit. Now the original version becomes the big pop hit as well as the rhythm and blues hit in its own field. As a result about 8 out of 10 songs in the Top 10 are rock’roll songs and they are performed by people who have never had a hit record before and who knows, may never have again.”
Pat isn’t bothered as he moving over to albums, saying that they were 20% of the market when he started and were now 80%: got to pay for that office space somehow. He has recorded an album of hymns, ‘He Leadeth Me’, with brass arrangements because “Gabriel blew his horn” and he reveals that his next single will be ‘Faithful Heart’ from the film ‘Journey To The Centre Of The Earth’. (It wasn’t.) He is writing a series of monthly articles about teenage problems for Ladies Home Journal and he reveals he can play the ukulele. How about a duet with Clinton Ford, Pat?
On 26 November 1959 Gene Vincent was interviewed for ‘Saturday Club’ and received the standard interview fee for celebrities of 5 guineas. When Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent appeared on ‘Saturday Club’ on March 1960, they were paid £25 each for each appearance – £100 in total – with the payments being made in dollars. This is because they were managed by the American Norm Riley, who was with them for part of the time. Larry Parnes simply had them contracted for the tour dates.
In December 1959 EMI asked if they could issue an album called ‘Saturday Club’. One BBC manager compared the project to the ‘Drumbeat’ LP but wrote, “‘Drumbeat’ was a television programme which was much publicised and followed ‘Six-Five Special’ where we had a similar arrangement with EMI over the issue of an LP record. Television, however, have different views on the value of their programmes than have Sound. For a recent LP entitled ‘Sing It Again’, we insisted on a payment of 20 guineas and have succeeded in getting away with this figure on two occasions.” EMI had paid the BBC five guineas for use of ‘Drumbeat’. In January 1960, EMI offered to pay the BBC 10 guineas for the use of the title, ‘Saturday Club’. This was rejected by the BBC as “‘Saturday Club’ is a much more valuable property than either ‘Drumbeat’ or ‘Sing It Again’.” They wanted 25 guineas. EMI paid up subject to a five year exclusivity clause which prevented Decca from issuing ‘Saturday Club’ LP a couple of years later.
Jim Davidson, the Assistant Head of Light Entertainment (Sound), adds: “The only resident aspect of ‘Saturday Club’ is Brian Matthew, the presenter. All the other features, including recordings, are of an ad hoc nature. Therefore, what artists do EMI propose to use in the suggested LP?” When the record was issued there was criticism that Tony Osborne, Ricky Valance and Danny Davis had never been on ‘Saturday Club’.
In view of its popularity, the BBC agreed to a special ‘Saturday Club Jazz And Rock Night’ from the Royal Albert Hall on 30 January 1960, although it was not broadcast. It featured Adam Faith, Craig Douglas, Bert Weedon and Acker Bilk. Clinton Ford was paid five guineas to appear, together with £3.9.0d for his train fare from Manchester and £2.10.0d subsistence for one night. At this concert he picked up a tulip from the front of the stage and ate it. He told the audience that it was quite nice, rather like mustard and cress. Clinton was barracked while he was singing ‘Old Shep’ with fans shouting “We want Elvis!” “I’ll finish this song if it kills me,” gasped Clinton. Some wag shouted, “It’s already killing us.”
Clinton’s measly payment contrasts with Lonnie Donegan. A file note on Lonnie Donegan from May 1960 says, “Present fee is 60 guineas. I would point out that he has only done a ‘Saturday Club’ at this fee in 1958 and is a little bit tiresome about fees.” This would rebound on Lonnie as when his popularity fell, he wanted to do a radio series for the BBC. They turned him down for his intransigence, saying, “At the height of his popularity he was never anxious to broadcast nor was he particularly cooperative.” And here’s a useful little shopping list from 1960: Tommy Trinder 70 guineas, Charlie Drake 50, Tessie O’Shea 40, the Mudlarks 35 and Lenny the Lion 30. In 1963, Patrick Newman, the Light Entertainment Booking Manager, states that “practically every producer in the Corporation is clamouring to book Clinton Ford.” Clint was never going to stretch the budget, but he certainly widened the boundaries. I have tapes of Clint singing the nonsense song, ‘Michael Finnegan’ and George Formby’s ‘Fanlight Fanny’ on ‘Saturday Club’.
On 30 March 1960, Jimmy Grant wrote an apologetic memo to the Assistant Head, Light Entertainment and said, “I regret that I have spent £30.11.0d in excess of the allocation for ‘Saturday Club’ in the first quarter of 1960. This is due to my using Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent in two programmes and their fees were rather high.” He adds, “I find I am unable to use artists such as Cliff Richard, Marty Wilde and Adam Faith in ‘Saturday Club’ as the allocation of £215 does not cover their fees without cheese-paring on the rest of the bill. Can you help please?” Clinton, can you manage these dates?
In 1960, Eddie, Gene, Duane Eddy and Bobby Darin had been among the first American performers to record for ‘Saturday Club’ as a Musicians’ Union directive on such activities by non-British musicians had been cancelled. Many other American performers followed including the Everly Brothers, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bo Diddley, Chris Montez and Tommy Roe. Jerry Lee was so happy with the session that he wanted to cut a whole album there and then at the BBC but that certainly would have created union problems.
A few weeks later, the Assistant Head, Light Entertainment had to deal with the most controversial item yet, at least as far as BBC politics was concerned. Brian Matthew had impersonated the veteran broadcaster John Snagge in ‘Saturday Club’ and Snagge demanded an apology: Jimmy and Brian wrote:
“We were distressed to learn that the opening to last week’s ‘Saturday Club’ caused you acute embarrassment. This was in no way intended as a personal dig at you, sir, but was born from enthusiasm for your programme. This is the first time, to our knowledge, that we have given offence to anyone, for which we are deeply sorry, and we respectfully ask you to accept our sincere apologies.”