John Snagge was a superb broadcaster but with little sense of humour. Indeed, the Goons would threaten to report each other to John Snagge. So it was unlikely that the apology would placate him:
“You are obviously unaware that this particular announcement is one which always heralds some special occasion, and is notably concerned with bad news. You were also probably unaware that the news at 9.30 had contained a reference to the illness of the Queen. The ‘take-off’ of my own voice making the announcement ‘This is London’ did affect a very large number of listeners. There were 22 calls in the Duty Room alone, and I personally have been attacked by a large number of people for being concerned in an incident of bad taste. I hope you will not consider me too pompous for saying this, but what is much more important than myself is the general feeling that the BBC, as a body, should allow this sort of thing to happen.”
He ended with a personal admonishment to Brian Matthew: “To you personally, I would say this – I am surprised that after all the time you have spent in this department, you should have fallen for a gag line of such very doubtful taste.”
When the BBC did its audience research, it reflected the views of adults. However, they also undertook children’s surveys. Here are some surprising figures for the percentage of age-groups listening on Saturday mornings:
5 to 7 year olds 8 to 11 12 to 14
Children’s Favourites 39.5% 35.4% 33.6%
Saturday Club, first hour 13.7% 15.9% 29.6%
Saturday Club, second hour 9.7% 10.8% 17.9%
It is often said that the Beatles created a pre-teen audience for pop, but in 1960, large numbers of children kept listening to the radio after ‘Children’s Favourites’.
The next Audience Research Report is for 24 September 1960 and the audience has now risen to 14.3% in the first hour and 12.6% thereafter. The sample of 151 listeners praised Brian Matthew (John Snagge presumably not being among them) and the most popular item was George Melly with Mick Mulligan’s Band: “Marty Wilde and his Wildcats were also well received and so too, in some quarters, was Rosemary Squires, although almost as many said that they did not care for her singing.” The keener fans wanted more of the new releases (three a week not being good enough) and less of the bland cover versions “by jumped-up second-rate performers.”
The Audience Research Report for 5 November 1960 sees the audience rising to 15% in the first hour and 12.9% afterwards. Ian Menzies and his Clyde Valley Stompers proved to be more popular than the Shadows, Bert Weedon’s Sextet and Rabin Rock, presumably the hipper members of Oscar Rabin’s band. Lots of listeners found it useful while doing household chores – and this raises one intriguing point: didn’t anybody stay in bed to listen to it? I suspect they did, but none of the listening panel wanted to admit it.
Adam Faith is working almost as strenuously for the BBC as Clinton Ford, but with a far greater range of programmes. He appeared 26 times on ‘Saturday Club’, getting a fee of 50 guineas in 1963, but his other appearances are far more interesting. In 1961 he was interviewed in ‘Face To Face’ and held his own amidst a barrage of hostile questioning from John Freeman, which was a much harder way of earning 50 guineas. The Head of TV Drama wrote to congratulate Adam on his performance and offer him a play. In 1962 he talked to the Archbishop of York, and the Assistant Head of Religious Broadcasting, Television said that he had “put just the sort of questions which ought to put to an Archbishop”, adding that “I’m only sorry we didn’t get in ‘Lonesome’.” In 1963 Adam turned up with the Roulettes for ‘Parade Of The Pops’, but it was intended that the studio orchestra should back him. The BBC refused to pay: “We did not book them for this programme. I may add that in this particular instance, we actively did not want them.”
My favourite though is in February 1961 when Adam Faith is the mystery guest in ‘What’s My Line?’ and the instruction is, “Please be careful to see that all is clear before you enter the theatre in case any of the pannellists are around.” If Adam was seen by a panellist, would he have to forfeit his 10 guinea fee?
Because this is a rock’n’roll magazine, I am not writing about ‘Saturday Club’ in the beat group era. However, I will finish with a few points for comparison:
The fifth anniversary show in October 1963 starred the Beatles, the Everly Brothers, Tommy Roe, Frank Ifield, Kathy Kirby, Clinton Ford (of course), Joe Brown and his Bruvvers, Kenny Ball’s Jazzmen and Arthur Greenslade’s group with strings. Instead of the usual £310, the show’s then producer, Bernie Andrews, spent £483.12.6d on the performers. The Beatles received 50 guineas.
The Audience Research Report for 6 February 1965 shows that the audience was still high at 15.1% in the first hour and 12.7% afterwards. The audience appreciation had fallen to 44 and I wonder if this was because Brian Matthew had been replaced by Ray Orchard. He talked too much and he was said to be Americanising the programme with his ‘glossy pseudo-accent’, which was a mite unfair as he was Canadian. Again there were complaints that the show was ‘endless noise’ but the New Christy Minstrels, being managed briefly by Brian Epstein, were well received.
On 26 April 1965 P.J. Proby recorded a session for ‘Saturday Club’ at the Madia Vale studios and there were complaints about his behaviour and the condition of the studio after he left. Brian Willey, who produced the session, wrote, “Drinking certainly took place during the recording session, but with the temperament and reputation of such an artist as P.J. Proby, I was certainly not going to interfere unless conditions out of hand.” In other words, I didn’t want a fist in my mush.
When ‘Saturday Club’ was also broadcast on the programme on the World Service, they were told to be careful about their choice of music and, for example, they were not to play Lee Dorsey’s ‘Holy Cow’ as it might offend some listeners.
The advent of Radio 1 effectively killed off ‘Saturday Club’, although the BBC did keep it going for a year with Keith Skues. This was to retain some continuity with the Light Programme and the first Radio 1 ‘Saturday Club’ on 30 September 1967 featured the Bee Gees. By keeping it going, the show completed 500 editions on 4 May 1968 but it was axed on 18 January 1969.
Although not many ‘Saturday Club’ programmes have been kept in their entirety, many of the performances have been preserved. In many cases, the performers had their own copies and Bernie Andrews, the producer of many live sessions, kept copies as well. Just as well, as the acts often performed songs which they didn’t record. For example, Billy Fury did an excellent version of Ray Charles’ ‘Get On The Right Track, Baby’.
The discoveries have led to entire albums of the Beatles, the Searchers, Jimi Hendrix, Manfred Mann and the Who at the BBC, all with excellent sound quality. The discography includes ‘Saturday Club’ performances and related releases which have been issued for the pre-Beatle performers:
Saturday Jump / The Bear Steps Out – Humphrey Lyttelton and his Band (Parlophone R 4519, 1959)
What’s It All About, Eh? / Gee, Ma, I Wanna Go Home – Brian Matthew and Pete Murray (Decca 45F 11305, 1960)
Saturday Club (Parlophone PMC 1130, 1960)
This LP featured 13 performers including Tommy Bruce, Ricky Valance, Bert Weedon and the King Brothers with, I suspect, outtakes from recording sessions. Apart from Johnny Kidd’s ‘Big Blon’ Baby’ and ‘Weep No More My Baby’, there is nothing to get excited about. 23 tracks but substituting quantity for quality didn’t work.
Freight Train – Chas McDevitt Skiffle Group (Rollercoaster RCCD 3007, 1993)
This 32 track CD includes much of ‘Saturday Skiffle Club from 5 July 1958.
Live At The BBC – Everly Brothers (US, Mastertone 8226, 1998)
A peculiar album with nine ‘Saturday Club’ tracks from 1963 and 1968 and some Albert Hall reunion concert outtakes. Why not have the full ‘Saturday Club’ sessions instead?
Rock’n’Roll Memories – Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent (Rockstar RSRCD 018, 2000)
The complete ‘Saturday Club’ recordings for 5 and 12 March 1960. The best £100 that the BBC ever spent.
Unreleased BBC Sessions, 1959-1961 – Johnny Kidd and the Pirates (Blakey BLCD 518, 2004)
The track listing is not as inviting as it sounds as Mike West and Tom Brown take some of the vocals. Good to hear Johnny doing ‘My Babe’ and ‘That’s All You Gotta Do’.
Blue Gene Bop – Gene Vincent (Rockstar RSRCD, 2005)
Seven ‘Saturday Club’ appearances from 1960 to 1965: fantastic version of his voodoo song, ‘I’m Gonna Catch Me A Rat’, and ‘Mr Loneliness’ is better without the strings. I love the interviews because you can sense that Gene doesn’t want to be doing this.