Rock and Pop on British TV – July 2018

An audience of SASHA members and other interested parties, around 40 in all, listened to Jeff Evans as he gave his illustrated talk on Rock and Pop music on British TV from the 1950’s to the present day. Below are a few details. I won’t say which programmes I remember, well that might give my age away.

The BBC’s first attempt to present the new “rock” music on television was in 1957 when everything was in black and white. Six Five Special was transmitted live on a Saturday night in an attempt to attract a young audience . It was originally meant to have a magazine format but Jack Good who was the first producer had other ideas. He wanted lots of music and movement and the audience instead of sitting obediently in rows was encouraged in dance and mingle among the performing artists. Tommy Steele, the first British teenage idol appeared on the 3rd programme among other popular artists who were regulars were Marty Wilde and Lonnie Donegan.

Jack Good moved onto ITV in early 1958 because of a divergence between what the BBC wanted and Jack’s plans. At ITV he produce Oh Boy where he had total control. He would rehearse and coach the performers to perform for the camera with moody close ups. This was where Cliff Richard got his big break with “Move It” a home grown rock song not a bad copy of a US rock song. Oh Boy overtook Six five Special quickly in the ratings, the BBC dropped their programme.

The BBC’s next popular music programme was Juke Box Jury. The invited panel decided if they thought the latest releases would be a HIT or a MISS. Not all the panellists were in the music industry although the Beatles and Rolling Stones both took over the panel at different times. Often they were celebrities promoting their latest book or film”, at this time “chat” shows were unknown. By 1962 in attracted 12million viewers and ran from 1959 to 1967.

Thank Your Lucky Stars went out at 5.50 on a Saturday night on ITV to a national audience from 1961 to 1966. The Beatles at that time were relatively unknown and their debut on this show caused this record to race up the charts and they never looked back from there. Audience participation was encourage and the most famous of these was Janice Nicholls whose “Oi’ll give it foive” in her strong black country accent became a catch phrase.

Ready Steady Go was on from 1963 to 1966 with the strap line of “the weekend starts here” Vicki Wickham a local girl from East Isley was one of the first producer, Cathy McGowan eventually became the sole hostess. There was great interaction between the artists and audience, many famous bands appeared on the show.

The longest running of the Rock and Pop programmes was the BBC’s Top of the Pops which starting in 1964 ran for 42 years. The 2 principal rules of this production were 1. only songs going up the charts were played 2. the last song must be the current number one in the charts. In the 1970’s the programme attracted an audience of 20 million. “Glam Rock” benefited from the change to colour in TV in 1968. Top of the Pops changed format and presenters several times over its long run. Popular with the men were the dancers “Pan’s People” and the rise of the pop video was very useful especially for the number one spot as getting those artists to appear on the BBC was not always possible.

There were other Rock and Pop programmes mentioned by Jeff, like the Old Grey Whistle Test, Colour me Pop , the Cool spot, Disco 2, Supersonic, Tube, Later with Jools Holland and So it Goes and there were many he didn’t have time to mention in any details. Quite a few of these were unknown to me some of them having had very short runs.

Gradually Pop and Rock programmes disappeared from evening prime time television and moved to after midnight. The music videos of MTV were greatly influenced by Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video which encourage the record companies to make more videos.

The clips of familiar signatures tunes and stills from those old programmes brought murmurs from the audience as memories revived. Music is now accessed in so many ways with downloading and the immediacy of the internet and clever mobile phones now TV is unable to compete. Jeff had copies of his book for sale for those listening who wanted to dip even more into nostalgia.