Why were these decades simultaneously rubbish and amazing?
The most existential question of all perhaps. But to be more specific, this place is about growing up in 60s and 70s as a questioning and not a passive child. This blog is for the more discerning Generation X young consumer, those who weren’t fooled into thinking that Blue Peter was good for you (OK, it was occasionally), those who felt patronised by Play School, The Children’s Film Foundation and The Banana Splits, those who were able to see the weirdness of much of 60s and 70s variety and those who genuinely wanted to be challenged in their viewing, reading and general media consumption. If you fall into any of those categories then you have come to right place. Of course much of this is in the eye (or ear) of the beholder so thoughts, disagreements, reminiscences and suggestions are greatly welcomed.
Many people of my age look back with the rosy glow of nostalgia at some of the TV programmes, films and literature created for children in the 60s and 70s. Most in my opinion were crap. The problem with children’s TV during these decades particularly was that it was created by middle-aged, middle-class, middle-brow people who thought they knew what children wanted. Nothing too challenging, nothing too scary, nothing too real. Most children, and I include myself in this category, wanted exactly that. Challenging texts that pulled back the boundaries of reality. Stories that made us think, that made us uncomfortable, that made us laugh, that didn’t patronise us. With that in mind there will be little discussion on these pages of Play School, of Mr Pastry, of Biggles, of Scooby Doo or even of Crackerjack (although I do have a sneaking admiration for the great Peter Glaze). There will be plenty about the programmes, films and literature that treated children as sentient beings with more intelligence than they were ever given credit for by some programme makers.
Just occasionally, though, a particularly heinous example of bargain basement telly might be considered. Just for a laugh, of course…
It was a 60s and 70s must-see TV appointment, but were the ‘subjects’ really that enthusiastic?
Throughout the 60s and 70s many programmes became must-see events for all the family. Maybe this was because the quality of output was so much better than much of today’s abundant but formulaic offerings. But we only had three channels and programme makers could concentrate producing high quality fare because there was so little competition and channels really did want to challenge as well as entertain. That said, for every Monty Python’s Flying Circus there were five Not in Front Of The Childrens or its equivalents. We were also probably more accepting of the dross that was served up to us. TV was still relatively new and constantly evolving.
One of those must-see events was a programme that spanned the years 1955 to 2003 and could rely on millions tuning in to every episode. We all were fascinated to learn of who that week’s ‘victim’ was going to be and it was this weekly mystery that probably allowed this series to sustain for so long. And, hey, they’ll have their celebrity pals on too! Of course, I’m talking about This Is Your Life.
The programme was synonymous with Eamonn Andrews, a well known 50s and 60s TV face. His career trajectory is a curious one. Born in Dublin in 1922 he began as a sports, mainly boxing, commentator.
In 1951 he somehow got the gig as the presenter of the BBC’s sophisticated new US imported panel game What’s My Line which lasted until 1963 and was revived a few times by various TV channels until 1996. The original US version was memorable for the high calibre of celebrity mystery guests who tried to fool the panel. Guests included an A-Z of Hollywood stars such as Sean Connery, Alfred Hitchcock, Big John Wayne and, surreally, Salvador Dali.
With The Eamonn Andrews Show in the mid-late 60s he pioneered the chat show as we know it, although his interviewing style was lampooned on the brilliant Round The Horne with Bill Pertwee as Seamus Android. Most people of my age will remember him as the unlikely front man of Crackerjack between 1955-64, although no more unlikely than either ex-newsreader Michael Aspel (who would also take over from him on TIYL after his untimely death) or ubiquitous Genxculture figure Ed ‘Stewpot’ Stewart, who both succeeded him. Inevitable 70s stints as Miss World host and unchallenging 70s afternoon fare Whose Baby would also follow.
Eamonn even had a hit record in 1956 such was his fame! His spoken, George Martin produced, version of The Shifting Whispering Sands reached a heady No.18 in The Hit Parade. It has to be said that his booming Irish sports commentator voice is an odd accompaniment to the story of a man lost and facing death in an American desert, but who cared? It was Our Eamonn. The song even made it on to Kenny Everett’s 1978 album The World’s Worst Record Show. And he was in exalted company. Also featured on this album were William Shatner’s groundbreaking and utterly unique version of Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, which has to be heard to be believed, Lord Rockingham’s XI’sWee Tom and a mighty 7 (seven) records by Jess Conrad. I saw Jess Conrad on one of those many lugubrious ITV afternoon property programmes some years ago and he referred to himself in the third person throughout. ‘Yes, Jess Conrad really loves this bathroom suite.’ I doubt ‘Jess Conrad‘ would have been too enamoured about this statistic.
Eamonn Andrews died suddenly in 1987 at the criminally young age of 64 having contracted a virus on a plane journey which resulted in heart failure. His career was probably more successful than he could ever have imagined and he was certainly seen as a safe and uncontroversial pair of hands for the buttoned-up 50s and 60s. It was impossible to dislike Eamonn Andrews and anyone of a certain age if asked about what they remember of him would certainly associate him with TIYL.
It was only while watching BBC 4’s excellent biopic of Hattie Jacques a few years ago that it suddenly struck me how excruciating it must have been for so many of the subjects. Have a look at some of the openings when compere Eamonn Andrews surprises them and see how many expressions momentarily drop until they realise that they should really go along with it as it would not only show them up to the Great British Viewing Public as spoilsports or wet blankets but also disappoint the hordes of relatives and pals (and probable unknowns) already lined up behind the sliding doors ready to regale you with yet another hilarious anecdote. I genuinely felt for them. If I was famous I’d completely hate every agonising, unbearable moment of the half hour trying to remember who this person who claims to know me actually is. Or forcing myself to appear jolly when the story related is just embarrassing.
Hattie Jacques was the ‘victim’, an appropriate word given the background to this particular show, on Tuesday 12 February 1963. Her idyllic home life with her husband, the great John Le Mesurier, lovely family and successful career was highlighted throughout the show. John Le Mesurier’s rather restrained response to Eamonn’s question along the lines of ‘Tell us how wonderful Hattie is?’ disguised a quite agonising reality.
In the BBC4 2011 biopic with Ruth Jones excellent as Hattie, she is walking back to her car after the show and she turns to Le Mesurier and says ‘Well that was perfectly ghastly.’ Few people knew at the time that Hattie was living with her boyfriend and Le Mesurier was exiled to another bedroom in the family home. Few people at this very conventional time would even have considered a situation such as this could exist. But it did and Hattie and John had to go through the ‘ghastly’ ritual of pretending to be an exceptionally happy showbiz couple, one that we all could be jealous of. This was the moment when I realised what a bogus and disingenuous programme This Is Your Life could be for many well known people. It wasn’t the fault of the producers really. They could only go by what associates of the ‘victim’ said about them and they were getting millions of viewers every week. Why change?
A tiny clue emerged on 6 February 1961 when Spurs‘ captain Danny Blanchflower was the first, and one of very few, who refused Eamonn’s Big Red Book. It shocked the nation as everyone thought that all well-known people were desperate to be chosen for this show. And I can’t help but feel absolute respect for Danny who had the courage and intelligence to understand that this really was not the ‘honour’ it was cracked up to be and politely turned it down. Despite this he was still hounded by a frenzied press determined to find out how this preposterous decision could have been arrived at. His reason was perfectly logical;
I did not want to expose myself to the public without having the right to say ‘yes or no’. You get shanghaiid into this situation where you are suddenly exposed to something. Had it been before a studio audience ..I would have still have said ‘no.’
The shockwaves that ran through the country distracted people from realising that Danny’s was probably not an isolated reaction.
Some month’s ago the ever excellent Talking Pictures TV broadcast a US edition of TIYL from 1954 featuring a visibly ageing Laurel and Hardy. They were sitting watching TV in their hotel room, glad of the peace and quiet no doubt, when the Eamonn Andrews‘ US equivalent, Ralph Edwards, burst in with a TV crew and ‘whisked’ them off to the Burbank studios where hordes of fans and admirers were waiting. During the next excruciating 30 minutes Edwards played them voice clips and said ‘Do you recognise this voice?’. The poor old buggers didn’t remember any of them, even when their names were given and they walked on set, and why should they? The length and depth of their film careers must have had them coming into contact with hundreds of people. But, to their immense credit, they were hugely courteous, played along and did a lot of nodding and smiling. I couldn’t help feeling there was something so wrong about ‘shanghaiing’ these two old men who just looked exhausted and would rather have been anywhere else, ideally quietly watching telly in their hotel rooms. The benign potential cruelty of TIYL began to take shape in my head.
Another rare refusal I actually witnessed took place on 20 February 1974 and involved Dr. Gordon Osteler, better know to many as Richard Gordon, writer of the rather mediocre ‘Doctor‘ books, radio and TV series such as Doctor In The House and Doctor In Charge. As Eamonn ‘shanghaied’ him with the Big Red Book, Osteler turned on his heels shouting back ‘Balls!’ As I, along with a few other million viewers, lurched back in my chair, not quite believing what I was seeing and hearing here, Eamonn pursued him entreating, ‘Oh…come on..’, in other words don’t be such a miserable git, when the pictures suddenly disappeared and the Thames logo and jingle reappeared. Once again we get the TIYL theme and opening credits (Da-Da-Da-DA) and Eamonn has miraculously been transported to Kempton Park racecourse and who is this having the Big Red Book thrust in his face? Why it’s ubiquitous character actor Sam Kydd! And he wasn’t saying no! Sam Kydd’s son Jonathon gives an interesting insight into what it was like being involved in TIYL in the Youtube video below, not least the bizarre quality and choice of guests for his dad’s show. Sam had no idea who one ‘old school friend’ was, he scarcely knew Beryl Reid and had never even met the clergyman. I can’t help but believe that Sam Kydd’s TIYL experience would have been very similar to many other ‘victims.’ Let’s not forget that TIYL was about entertainment and many subjects lives would have been pretty dull had it not been for the ‘surprise’ showbiz people who just wanted to pay their respects. Whether they knew the subject or not.
Eamonn manhandles Richard Gordon in an attempt to stop him escaping.
With appearances in over 200 films on his CV one can’t help but feel poor old Sam might also have felt a tad miffed at the fact he was only featured because someone they thought was more interesting had bumped them, at least initially.
And talking of the great Beryl Reid, she was the subject on 17 March 1976 and, according to her biographer, was less than happy with the outcome. One of the guests was an old boyfriend she hadn’t seen for years and wasn’t particularly bothered about seeing again. I’m sure we all have old flames we really wonder how we ended up with and wouldn’t be keen to meet up with again, never mind in front of an audience of 8 million people. Sam Kydd might have been slightly perplexed as to why she rolled up on his ‘Life’ but she did appear as a guest on 10 other shows including those of Harry Andrews, whose male partner of 30 years was excluded from his show, Bernard Cribbens, Patrick Cargill and, interestingly for Genxculture, Nat Jackley who 13 years previously had appeared in The Beatles’Magical Mystery Tour (See Magical Mystery Tour: What A Long Strange Trip It Was). A record? Not if you consider the great Peter Ustinov’s 14 guest appearances and not one but two shows of his own ‘life’ on top of that or that of a certain other individual who we shall come to shortly. Peter Davison, riding high as Doctor Who at the time, was also slightly surprised as he had only met her twice. But if a researcher got in touch and asked, ‘Would you appear on this person’s This Is Your Life?‘ and you happened to be free that evening it would seem a little churlish, not to say disrespectful, to turn the request down.
Osteler later relented and his show went out a couple of weeks later. And what a dull old show it was. It was clear he really didn’t want to be there and came over as a cold fish, right down to shaking hands with his children who were marched on and didn’t exchange a word with him, I seem to remember. But who could blame him for being so pissed off?
It was also rare for ‘victims’ to find out that they were being ‘done’ on TIYL although I’m sure some did and just kept quiet about it. One who didn’t was the great Ronnie Barker. Having become increasingly suspicious of his wife’s behaviour over a period of a few weeks he eventually confronted her about what was going on. She spilled the beans and the producers decided they couldn’t go ahead with it. This pleased Ron as he admitted in his autobiography a few years later that he wouldn’t have done it anyway. The very idea filled him with dread. He wasn’t averse, however, to not only appearing on TIYL but also being part of the sting, as he was in the case of his comedy partner Ronnie Corbett.
A few years before The Two Ronnies both Barker and Corbett were appearing regularly in Frost On Sunday. The last sketch of the last episode of the series series involved Corbett playing an ordinary bloke who was obsessed about Eamonn Andrews turning up at his door with the big red book. The punchline involved Barker coming into his house and saying ‘You’ll never guess who I just met outside?’, cue Andrews barging in with the big red book. But in this live sketch Andrews continued, ‘But Ronnie Corbett, this really is your life!’ A few days later the Ronnie CorbettTIYL was broadcast. Ronnie Corbett has written about this in his autobiography and described how he was very unhappy doing this sketch as he felt the two roles should have been reversed. I can’t help thinking that he maybe twigged what was going on but kept schtum about it.
In the early years of TIYL it was common for the show to feature almost as many ‘ordinary’ people as as famous faces. War heroes (it began only six years after the war ended) such as Douglas Bader, public servants and unsung charity workers all were given their own big red book. Even world renowned figures like Gladys Aylward and Chad Vara were subjects. Although laudable in their intentions, and this policy carried on to an extent right through until their final broadcasts, it was clear the vast majority of viewers really wanted to see ‘stars’ or as we refer to them now, ‘celebrities’. And, of course, it was inevitable some star from the silver screen would have been crowbarred into the guest list just to excite the TV audience.
The conservatism of the 60s and 70s viewing public not only required the likes of Hattie Jacques and John Le Mesurier to pretend their marriage was idyllic but also excluded many gay subjects from being honest about their private lives. I’m also fairly certain gay ‘subjects’ featured had their private lives and living arrangements brushed under the carpet. With performers such as Frankie Howerd, John Schlesinger, Harry Andrews and John Inman featured, looking back, it does seem strange that their partners of the time were not invited on to the show. Of course, homosexuality was deemed ‘illegal’ by the laws of the land up until 1967 so it wouldn’t have been possible to involve same sex partners up till then, but even after this it was not encouraged. Too much for a light entertainment audience to cope with. But it further underlined just how false the programme’s claim that this was the ‘life’ of a particular person when it clearly wasn’t.
It’s also awkward to think that TIYL featured an A-Z of Operation Yew Tree. Jimmy Savile was the subject twice and appeared as a guest on no fewer than 18 other shows including as diverse characters as wrestler Jackie Pallo, larger than life scientist Magnus Pyke, Pan’s Person Babs Lord and unpleasant hairy monster Dave Lee Travis. Not forgetting Rolf Harris, Gary Glitter (who I once shared a lift with) and It’s A Knockout’sStuart Hall. Well, they weren’t to know I suppose. I remember clearly watching Savile’s second appearance in 1970 and found the fact that he referred to his mother as The Duchess just a tad creepy.
Maybe I’m taking all this a bit seriously and, it’s fair to say, many subjects were only too happy to take part and probably enjoyed the experience thoroughly but there must have been many who found it all just excruciating. That said, we all watched and often enjoyed This Is Your Life and loved the mystery of who was going to be next to walk through those sliding doors. It was a broadcasting institution and featured a huge range of well known people as well as less well known but worthy individuals.
But, as Groucho Marx rightly said, who wants to be in an institution?
I can probably sing, if you could call it singing, about six songs without having the words in front of me. One of those songs is Ernie, The Fastest Milkman In The West and three others are by one the greatest, most influential, most connected and, above all, funniest bands to have ever blown a rude noise on a euphonium on national television. Of course, I’m talking about the amazing, irreverent, iconoclastic, inspired Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band that, surprisingly, lasted only about five years but left a monster footprint on our musical, comedy and artistic cultural landscape which continues to resonate today. The Bonzos’ tracks I can recite from memory incidentally are Rhinocratic Oaths, Big Shot and We Are Normal (and I can quote endlessly from many more of their back repertoire). Each of those tracks provide the essence of what the Bonzos were about and many other tracks add even more heft to a back catalogue of weirdly inspired genius. As a band they were doing things in the studio that even The Beatles hadn’t thought of. But more on those classics a little later.
The first meeting of the classic line-up of The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band at the New Cross Inn, London in 1965 set the tone for the next five years of inspired and divine anarchy. According to Neil Innes, lead singer and composer Vivian Stanshall walked into the bar wearing a Victorian frock coat, checked Billy Bunter-type trousers, pince-nez glasses, large rubber false ears and carrying a euphonium under his arm. Knowing what we know about The Bonzos now, this seems perfectly in order, even necessary.
After a number of personnel changes the classic Bonzos’ line-up eventually settled on:
Viv Stanshall: Vocals, trumpet, garden hose and many other faintly musical implements
Neil Innes: piano, guitar, vocal
Rodney Slater: Saxophone
‘Legs’ Larry Smith: Drums
Roger Ruskin Spear: Saxophone
Vernon Dudley Bowhay-Nowell: Bass guitar
Sam Spoons: Percussion
Initially they were influenced by the ‘trad jazz’ movement of the 50s which revived 1920s dance music styles but as The Guardian stated in a recent article The Bonzos ‘parodied, pastiched, subverted and perverted every musical genre in their 1960s heyday.’ Nothing and no one were off limits and to describe them to someone who has never heard the band would be virtually impossible. But they brought joy, anarchy, abnormality, and above all, uproarious irreverent humour to a decade that was sometimes a little too up itself for its own good. And even today, over 50 years later, they sound as fresh and iconoclastic as ever.
Their group name changed slightly over time, firstly known as The Bonzo Dog Dada Band, ever so slightly displaying their Art School credentials. Bonzo Dog was a very popular cartoon cartoon character from the 1920s created by cartoonist George Studdy and was an appropriate symbol for the anarchic type of 20s influenced music the band performed. Dada was an artistic movement which grew up after the First World War through European artists disgusted by what they knew of the carnage involved. According to the good people at Wikipedia:
‘..the Dada movement consisted of artists who rejected the logic, reason and aestheticism of modern capitalist society, instead expressing nonsense, irrationality and anti-bourgeois protest in their works’.
Eventually the band dropped the ‘Dada’ of their name mainly because they became tired of having to explain it to people and possibly as it is a tad art-school pretentious and became The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, ‘doo-dah’ being a word used by Viv Stanshall’s family to mean pretty much anything. But, thankfully, Dada they resolutely remained for the whole of their career, even their solo careers.
It was an incident involving another 20s influenced ‘band’ that led to the development of The Bonzos we now know and love. In 1966 a member of TBDDDB, Bob Kerr, knew the prolific songwriter and producer Geoff Stephens who had written hit songs for The Applejacks, Manfred Mann and Herman’s Hermits amongst many others (See Herman’s Hermits Were HUGE during the 60s. Why?). Stephens had written a 1920s style song, not dissimilar to what The Bonzos were doing at the time called Winchester Cathedral. The song had been recorded by studio musicians under the name The New Vaudeville Band and released to huge success, going top ten in the UK and going to No. 1 in the Billboard chart in the US. As no New Vaudeville Band existed and Stephens was receiving demands for a potentially money-spinning album and tour it was vital he formed a band quickly. As The Bonzos were performing similar songs in their act Bob Kerr was contacted to find out if TBDDDB would like to become TNVB. No they jolly well wouldn’t and an alternative TNVB was cobbled together. It became obvious to The Bonzos, however, that TNVB had nicked the Bonzo ‘look’ lock, stock and barrel right down to the gold lame suits Viv Stanshall wore on stage. This was the turning point for The Bonzos. Did they want to continue as they were being seen as an TNVB without the hits or did they change direction and take their chances? The answer was obvious. Stanshall and Innes began to write songs for the band and the rest became, of course, A History of The Bonzos.
Not The Bonzos
Up until this point the band were working flat out playing sell-out gigs in London pubs and then they were booked into the northern working mens’ club circuit. For me this became the strangest development in their spectacular though short career. They were, apparently, very successful and a number of the band members still speak fondly about this time. But those working men’s clubs were hotbeds of conservatism with a small ‘c’. It’s not even that long ago that women were forbidden from being served at the bar in some, so how the Bonzos with their long hair, outlandish gear, weird songs and their anarchic show went down in the mid-sixties with those bluff northerners is anybody’s guess. Take a look at the audience in any edition of The Wheeltappers and Shunters’ Social Club on YouTube and you get the idea. But it did provide the band with a plethora of material that they gleefully and mischievously integrated into their act.
The Bonzos even made it on to TV in February 1966 for their first televised appearance. Not on the terribly ‘with it’ Late Night Line-Up, Colour Me Pop (although they did appear on this eventually ) or even Ready, Steady Go but that non-threatening bulwark of junior middle-class cosiness, Blue Peter (Here’s Something I Wrote Earlier: Blue Peter v Magpie)! Many tame bands had been featured on BP during the tumultuous years of the early sixties such as Freddie and the Dreamers (Freddie and the Dreamers: The Beatles of Uncool (But Fun!)), Vanity Fair and Pinkerton’s Assorted Colours (name-checked by John in his Bonzos’ intro) and none of them could be accused of frightening the horses or servants. But viewing the footage of this early incarnation of the band just highlights the silliness, the anarchy, the fun and superb musicianship that the Bonzos stood for. But it was all about to change and the slimmed down Bonzos were about to become even more Dada, if that was possible. The old 20s playlist would also be slimmed down and some replaced by songs of such weirdness, randomness and downright brilliance that within the cultural climate of the mid-sixties, they were going to be noticed. And noticed they certainly were, not least by The Beatles.
As is so often the case with stories from this era, a number of different versions continue to float around. How The Bonzos came to the attention of The Beatles in 1967 is still uncertain, not that it really matters, but the machinations of the music industry at this time do interest rather sad people like me. I have already reported that it was Mike McCartney (McGear), brother of Paul, of similarly ubiquitous 60s group The Scaffold (See The Scaffold: The Group Who Put The (Thank) ‘U’ Into Ubiquitous) who had played with The Bonzos at various gigs who had alerted The Beatles while they were developing their Magical Mystery Tour plans (See Magical Mystery Tour: What A Long Strange Trip It Was). Other sources such as Neil Innes suggest that Viv Stanshall hung out with anyone who was anyone in the London music industry at the time and had known Lennon and McCartney. Others claim McCartney had attended some Bonzos’ gigs and knew they were perfect for the strip club scene in MMT. Either way, this was the band’s huge break and on Boxing Day 1967 The Bonzos made their second TV appearance singing and performing Death Cab For Cutie in what became one of the monumental moments in TV history and, at the time, it was perceived to be a massive mis-step by the band who, up till that point, could do no wrong. In some ways the furore that accompanied MMT tended to obscure The Bonzos wonderfully characteristic performance in the film but it did cement a fairly significant place in music history for them and it also led to further adventures with various members of The Beatles over the next few decades.
The Bonzos perform in Magical Mystery Tour
One of those was the creation of their one and only hit, I’m The Urban Spaceman, written by Neil Innes, which soared to no. 5 in the UK hit parade in December 1968. One of the worst kept secrets in pop music at the time was that the producer of this wonderfully infectious psychedelic ditty was a certain Apollo C. Vermouth, better known to his friends and millions of fans as Paul McCartney.
Do Not Adjust Your Set
Possibly the greatest TV Times cover ever.
About the same time as Urban Spaceman was being played to death on Wonderful Radio One, The Bonzos were about to have their biggest showbiz break when they were invited to become the resident band on a new children’s series called Do Not Adjust Your Set. Producer Humphrey Barclay had spotted them and realised they were a perfect fit for a children’s series that was like no other ever broadcast. It starred The Frost Report scriptwriters Terry Jones, Michael Palin and Eric Idle, latterly Terry Gilliam, who would join up with John Cleese and Graham Chapman and, five months after the final DNAYS in May 1969 became Monty Python’s Flying Circus. After that comedy would never be quite the same.
For me DNAYS was a revelation. Suddenly after years of patronising middle-class children’s tea-time TV we were given a programme that didn’t treat children as…well, children. It was a comedy show that just revelled in daftness and included sketches and jokes that were certainly adult oriented, even bikini clad girls! What wasn’t to like? If the comedy was certainly dada-esque The Bonzos just added even more excitement to this heady mix. They didn’t think ‘Oh, will this be suitable for children?‘, they just did it and how brilliant it was.
The first complete series of DNAYS still exists having somehow escaped the cultural vandalism of the sixties when the tapes of most programmes were summarily wiped to be used again and save money. Series two wasn’t so lucky, however, and only one episode survives, but all are available on the wonderful Youtube and have also recently been added to the excellent Britbox roster. Fourteen episodes in total are still available and although a bit grainy and the sound quality is often poor, all are worth checking out to see where so many comedy geniuses, including The Bonzos, cut their comedy teeth.
To be honest, although I absolutely loved DNAYS, the 8 year old me did find The Bonzos a touch scary at first, though hugely fascinating. Not really knowing what to make of them as I hadn’t seen anything like this bunch of weird, hairy weirdos before it took me some time to really get a handle on what they were trying to do, but when I did…. One of my abiding memories, which I can only assume was in one of the wiped series 2 episodes as I haven’t been able to find it, was long-hair and bearded Roger Ruskin Spear playing the sax wearing a one-piece woman’s woollen dress. If that’s not Dada, I don’t know what is. Sadly I haven’t been able to find out what they performed in most of series 2 but their series 1 numbers are demented classics, the first History of the Bonzos. Admittedly most of the songs are from their early incarnation, the utter weirdness of The Doughnut In Grannie’s Greenhouse and Keynsham was a little way down the line. However….Death Cab For Cutie, The Intro And The Outro, The Equestrian Statue, The Sound Of Music (one of my very favourite Bonzos’ tracks) and Love Is A Cylindrical Piano all featured along with more early Bonzos classics such as Hello Mabel, Hunting Tigers Out In Indiah, Ali Baba’s Camel and Monster Mash.
The truncated performance of wonderful The Intro and the Outro (more on this coming up) in one of the last episodes of series 1 took the form of introductions of the band and then the DNAYS stars.
Michael Palin on garden rake
Eric Idle on temple bells (Hi Eric!)- see what he did there?
Terry Jones on toast (That’s kinda groovy Terry!)
Denise Coffey on tuba (That’s De-nice, Denise)
David Jason on spoons
Just to hammer home the fact that DNAYS had no truck with treating children as children, as this version of TIATO suddenly peters out, Viv tells the junior teatime audience, ‘Many of you have written in asking me if we’d play the next one. This one is especially for you Mr I. Smith of Salisbury, Rhodesia….’. A topical reference to the apartheid furore and Rhodesia’s withdrawal from the British Commonwealth in 1965.
While their calypso version of Look Out There’s A Monster Coming in episode 2 had the band blacked up like The Black And White Minstrels (which I think was part of the joke) and Limbo dancing. Badly. Of course, you wouldn’t get away with this now but it was The Sixties.
Also appearing on DNAYS was the excellent, and sadly recently departed, Denise Coffey and a certain David Jason in one of his first TV gigs. Some months ago I listened to one of the Desert Island Discs Classics on the superb BBC 4Extra and the subject was David Jason. An absolutely brilliant comedy actor, as he was in DNAYS, I found him to be a tad dull as an interviewee. However, when asked by Kirsty Young why he hadn’t joined Palin, Jones, Idle et al in Monty Python, it was clear this issue was still a running sore. Because he wasn’t asked was the short answer and this clearly still rankles. His take on it was because he wasn’t one of the Oxbridge mafia, and he may have had a point. In my head, though, I could have seen him in Python but would he have had such a glittering career if he had joined them? Of course, we’ll never know but I did find his response interesting and surprising.
Many of the songs performed by the band on DNAYS were from their first album, Gorilla, released in 1967. Their musical output was not exactly prodigious but in the short five years of their existence they produced a range of material that has remained unsurpassed. To know The Bonzos it’s necessary to begin here with Gorilla and work one’s way through the ever-changing inspired weirdness of each release. For the purposes of this little blog I’m going to consider a few of my favourite Bonzos’ creations from each album. These are by no means the only examples of Bonzos’ genius but merely a starting point for anyone wishing to explore their burgeoning back catalogue.
Dedicated to Kong who must have been a great bloke
Viv Stanshall sleeve notes
Of the 15 tracks of very different duration at least 5 are Bonzo classics in my humble view. I’d go as far as saying there isn’t a bad track on the album but a few of them confirmed the band’s status as Dadaists-in-chief.
The Intro And The Outro (Stanshall)
For me one of their most unique, brilliant and distinctive tracks. Stanshall takes the lead as the smarmy MC who introduces his band one by one. Beginning with the members of BDDDB he then moves into the realms of the surreal allowing each band ‘member’ to perform an incredibly cheesy solo on their chosen instrument. The track name- checks some well known media individuals of 1967, many of them long forgotten or unknown by anyone under the age of 55, but also includes a couple of very well known historical figures. Although I’ve known and loved this track for many years there were a few names I was always unfamiliar with and it was only when I began to research them for this article that I found out who they were. For example:
‘Garner ‘Ted’ Armstrongon vocals‘: A TV and radio religious evangelist who in later years became embroiled in a number of sex scandals (is there any other type of evangelist?). He was the sort of individual who would probably pass over Viv Stanshall’s radar and fascinate him. The cheesy vocal solo on the track is, for me, one of the best parts of TIATO. I’m not sure which of the Bonzos delivered it but it’s superb!
‘..and Franklyn MacCormack on harmonica’: a 1930s-70s American radio announcer
‘Great to hear the Rawlinsons on trombone..’ : possibly Stanshall’s first reference to the Rawlinsons of Rawlinson End, his later and one of his last compositions/ monologues from the 70s which fascinated and confused listeners in equal measure. First heard on The John Peel Show and latterly as a film starring Trevor Howard. This was heavy duty post-Bonzos Stanshall which showed his imagination was as fecund as it ever was with the Bonzos.
‘Back from his recent operation Dan Druff on harp…’: Only Viv Stanshall knows what this reference was about. It’s just funny.
‘What a team, Zebra Kid and Horace Batcheloron percussion…‘: certainly one of the most interesting references and Dada-ist juxtapositions in my view. Zebra Kid was American wrestler Lenny Montana. Now Lenny was very friendly with the local Colombo ‘Family’ in New York and did some favours for them, favours that included ‘enforcing’ as well the odd bit of arson on certain buildings which had maybe decided not to play ball with the Family. He eventually did some time in chokey. Well, a boy’s got to make a living. On his release and due to a variety of circumstances taking Method acting to a new level he got the part of hitman Luca Brasi in Coppola’s masterwork, The Godfather. Interestingly the word ‘Mafia’ is used only once in the film. Although The Godfather was released a while after TIATO, it’s those little connected trivia diamonds in the rough that we love so much here at Genxculture.
Horace Batchelor, on the other hand, couldn’t have been more different to Lenny Montana. The inventor of the football pools ‘Infra-draw system’, he advertised on Radio Luxembourg during the 50s and 60s where he would invite people to write in for his famous gambling system and he would lugubriously read out the address finishing by spelling out the word K-e-y-n-s-h-a-m. writer Neil Innes will have heard this regularly and it’s my guess he just liked the name of Horace Batchelor and became obsessed with it. It led to him writing an album track about Keynsham and even calling the Bonzos’ fourth album ‘Keynsham‘ (‘Tell me more about Keynsham.’) . On the first track of Keynsham we can hear possibly Viv Stanshall imitating the voice of Horace Batchelor.
‘Very appealing Max Jaffa….mmm that’s nice Max’: Strangely we’re not told what Max Jaffa was contributing to the cacophony but Viv certainly liked it. Max Jaffa was, in fact, a violinist who appeared for many years on the BBC Light Programme with his Palm Court Orchestra. Latterly in his career appearing in the then genteel seaside resort of Scarborough. Another easy listening stalwart who receives the ultimate commendation from The Bonzos.
Some political figures of the time also featured in the line-up.
‘Digging General De Gaulle on accordion…really wild General..thank you sir.’: A nicely stereotypical instrument for the famously humourless French premier.
‘And looking very relaxed, Adolf Hitler on vibes..nice’: a most inappropriate feel-good instrument for a tyrant. Now that’s Dada.
‘In the groove with Harold Wilson, violin..’: Labour Prime Minister was an obvious target and his shockingly awful attempt at playing the violin was really quite daring for the time.
The band did attempt to balance out the political jibes by including a well-known Tory minister for some gentle ridicule by having Quintin Hogg (later Lord Hailsham) on ‘piggy grunt’ but boring old Hoggy got wind of this and took the band to court and had the reference banned. This line was replaced, therefore, by a reference to TV naturalist and poor man’s David Attenborough, son of Robert Falcon Scott of the Antarctic, Peter Scott on ‘duck call’.
The band’s admirable iconoclasm also included ‘Princess Anne on sousaphone.’ And even TV ‘royalty’ with unthreatening Irish crooner Val Doonican appearing as himself, ‘Hullo rerr..’.
Rock royalty also get a mention with ‘ Eric Clapton on ukulele..’ and just to prove how well connected The Bonzos were, it really was Eric Clapton playing. Hi Eric! The Bonzos were not only unafraid of a bit of rudeness, they positively encouraged it. Hence we have ‘Hearing from you later Casanova on horn.’
If this track doesn’t hammer home TBDDDB’s Dada credentials, I don’t know what will. A joyously warped work of genius.
Jazz: Delicious Hot, Disgusting Cold
The first track to be recorded when the band began work in the studio on Gorilla. Because studio time was so expensive this was the first track they recorded and they completed it in one take. A savage parody of trad jazz, they even swapped instruments to make the finished track sound as bad as possible. Neil Innes said this was his favourite Bonzos’ recording from their entire output, demonstrating absolutely everything they were about and he’s spot on.
Just to prove The Bonzos could turn their hands to any genre, Big Shot is their brilliant attempt at Film Noir. Once again, more of a monologue delivered by Stanshall which tells the story of Bachelor Johnny Cool, ..occupation Big Shot, occupation at the moment, just having fun…‘ Spoken over a wonderfully low-key jazzy New York musical backdrop, Johnny meets ‘ big bountiful babe‘, Hotsy. She had the hottest lips since Hiroshima, I had to stand back for fear of being burned.
It also includes the immortal line, which still describes the impact of The Bonzos on British culture, ‘Baby you’re so far ahead…it’s beautiful!’
The dialogue becomes more and more rudely surreal (..normally I pack a rod in pyjamas…I carry nothing but the scars from Normandy Beach..) but after the linguistic gymnastics of their conversation Viv Stanshall just can’t resist the temptation of finishing on a really bad gag. ‘A punk stopped me on the streets. Hey, you got a light, Mac? No, but I’ve got a dark brown overcoat…’
The Sound Of Music
‘ That day I saw something that really moved me…it was…The Sound Of Music.’
For me this track sums up everything I love The Bonzos for. There are, of course, many other tracks that we will come to presently, but if I had to select just one Bonzos’ track I’d take to a desert island if I could only take one, it would have to be this one.
To put it into context, The Sound of Music was a film and stage musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein that, since the film’s release in 1965, had taken on an almost religious status. To my knowledge, few people criticised the whole production and with the saintly and British Julie Andrews in tow, it could only be discussed in reverential tones. My mum went to see it 7 times on its release. The film possessed a similar standing to that of the British Royal family. Irrespective of what you thought of them, criticism was not allowed in public. But The Bonzos were one of the first acts, to my knowledge, to brazenly and iconoclastically take the piss out of it, as well as the Royal family (..Princess Anne on sousaphone..), and the results were glorious! And you can almost hear what great fun they were having ripping this dirge of a musical apart, all in 1 minute and 28 seconds.
A Bonzos tour-de-force.
The Doughnut In Grannie’s Greenhouse (1968)
Described by one critic as ‘..recklessly diverse and outrageous material..’ this album was thought by many to be The Bonzos‘ crowning achievement, The Doughnut In Grannie’s Greenhouse was the band’s second LP and referred to a slang expression for an outside toilet. One report claims it was first heard by the band after Michael Palin told a joke in which this expression was used. Any reference to a toilet during the buttoned-up 60s was seen as being deeply offensive. You can almost hear The Bonzos sniggering up their sleeves like naughty schoolboys.
Of the 12 tracks that make up the album, many are Bonzos’ classics. My own view on the Bonzos’ albums is that every single one included classic Bonzos’ tracks but TDIGG maybe includes more than any other.
We Are Normal
For me, a heavy duty Bonzos’ track that gets better with every play, and I’ve been listening to it for nearly 50 years. Clearly they were experimenting with what could be included on a Dada album and We Are Normal is about as Dada as is possible. To an aural backdrop of experimental noises we hear short-lived Bonzos’ member, American Joel Druckman interviewing people in the street as to whether they thought they were ‘normal.’ As he’s doing this Viv Stanshall hovers around in his underwear wearing a rabbit head. Some of the things the interviewees say stick in the memory. (..short, back and sides..and they are very nice people..). Strangely, no one seems that keen to declare themselves ‘normal’, not even with Viv hopping around as a rabbit (..He’s got a head on him like a rabbit..).
The ‘noises’ build and build and suddenly the band crashes in with an instrumental track played at break-neck speed. Voices come in saying ‘We are normal and we want our freedom (a reference to Peter Brooke‘s play of Marat/Sade..very intellectual!) but it’s quickly brought back to Bonzo HQ when they state ‘..we are normal and we dig Bert Weedon..’. Bert Weedon being a popular 50s and 60s guitarist of very soft rock whose LPs graced many a 60s radiogram, including my own parents. Lovely use of the fashionable 60s verb ‘dig’ meaning to like or revere.
I’m aware that to describe a track like ‘We Are Normal’ is maybe a pointless exercise as this track just demands to be heard but it’s The Bonzos at their most iconoclastic, provocative, experimental and, not forgetting, their funniest. Very much a product of its time but it has lost none of it’s weird, cutting-edge power.
Yet another bizarre classic which takes the form of a series of short spoken vignettes, all with a strange, but unresolved, conclusion. To a jaunty, jazzy musical backdrop Viv Stanshall relates the story of four very different characters and each verse creates its own very strange story in a few lines.
Who could not instantly be gripped when one verse begins:
‘Mrs Betty Pench was playing the trombone when she heard a knock at the door. I wonder who that is at 11 o’clock in the morning she thought.…but instead of the turbanned ruffian she expected there was a very nice young man.
The characteristic use of ‘turbanned ruffian‘ makes this yet another hilarious Bonzos’ pricking of middle-class pomposity and narrow-mindedness. A favourite BDDDB theme.
‘With a geranium behind each ear and his face painted with gay cabalistic symbols, six foot eight, seventeen stone Sergeant Geoff Bull looked jolly convincing as he sweated and grunted through a vigorous twist routine at the Fraga Go-Go Beirkeller.’
Themes of police harassment and gay liberation sets this particular verse way ahead of its time.
‘Excuse me sir, but I have reason to believe you turn me on…’
The Big Lebowski of Bonzos’ tracks where each line is eminently quotable. The last line of the track being one I have used regularly for over 50 years.
‘Sometimes you just can’t win….’
My Pink Half Of The Drainpipe
Another Stanshall tour-de-force where he takes his vocal delivery to a new level. An examination of class and possibly boredom between neighbours, the song takes is into yet another canyon of Viv Stanshall’s crazed but brilliant mind.
A wistful homage to the misery of the Great British Seaside Holiday (Rained yesterday so we stayed indoors…..Bored with bingo, we went for a swim. Fat sea cows with gorgonzola skin.) Neil Innes does his best Antony Newley impression to give it a bit of English authenticity while Viv chips in with some of the most dull comments possible on a seaside postcard (The food’s alright, I’m OK, hope you are the same). References to penny arcades, bingo, plimsolls and a cold sea all create a feeling of stultifying boredom. Can’t help but think there’s an element of Sergeant Pepper and Lennon’s healthy cynicism in this song.
Between TDIGG and KeynshamThe Bonzos released an album called Tadpoles which was essentially a compilation of the tracks they performed on Do Not Adjust Your Set. Keynsham was made up of new material which some critics felt was lacking the invention, weirdness and surreal humour of theri first two albums. Certainly things were happening in the band which were causing strain amongst the members, which is probably true of most bands after 4-5 years but amongst the problems was poor management. That said Keynsham included some bangers and allowed Neil Innes to explore his Horace Batchelor obsession a little further.
An Innes written melodic homage to one of his favourite 60s characters, Football Pools maestro, Horace Batchelor (There are no coincidences, but sometimes the pattern is more obvious.) And if that doesn’t explain Horace Batchelor’s Infra-Draw Method, then I don’t know what will. Not forgetting Stanshall’s wistful final line, ‘Keynsham. Tell me more about Keynsham..‘
Sport: The Odd Boy
Clearly a reflection of Viv Stanshall’s miserable time at school, this almost baroque track takes the form of a school song with the refrain ‘Sport, sport, masculine sport equips a young man for society.’ Although very funny it is one of the more introspective songs in the Bonzos’ anthology. It includes a typical Bonzos’ character in the form of ‘The ‘odd’ boy’s’ mother writing to the PE teacher requesting Stephen be excused from games as ‘..he’s a little delicate and still feels a bit snotty…hoping you will understand, signed Nelly Maynard (Mrs).’
Mr Slater’s Parrot
Sax player Rodney Slater had a parrot and Viv Stanshall wrote a song for it. What’s not to like?
We hope to hear him swear We love to hear him squeak We like to see him biting fingers in his horny beak
But all Mr Slater’s parrot does is say ‘Hello‘.
The song was even used in a TV ad during the 90s for Cadbury’s Mini Eggs with a Viv Stanshall voiceover.
Now that’s funny.
Let’s Make Up And Be Friendly
After The Bonzos’ finally went their separate ways, a little acrimoniously, their record company informed them that it was still owed an album. Let’s Make Up And Be Friendly was what felt like a hurriedly put together set although it still retained their anarchic, left-field quality. It was probably most notable for the first extended incarnation of Viv Stanshall’s masterwork Rawlinson End which would eventually become a long-running feature on John Peel’s show and a film starring Trevor Howard. Other tracks such as The Strain and Bad Blood gave clues as to how good The Bonzos could still be but it wasn’t quite up to the mind-blowing standard of their earlier output. But as a final contractually obligated album it was pretty damn good.
Despite releasing a final album, Let’s Make Up And Be Friendly, The Bonzos had gone as far as they could. Neil Innes would go solo and join up with Monty Python, Eric Idle for Rutland Weekend Television and The Rutles and his own excellent series The Innes Book Of Records in 1979. He very sadly died in 2019 at the age of 75. Viv Stanshall also went solo and produced his masterwork, Sir Henry At Rawlinson End and his distinctive voice became world renowned as the MC on Mike Oldfield’s 70s mega-album Tubular Bells before dying tragically in a house fire in 1995. The other Bonzos went their own separate ways but periodically meet up for joyful reunions.
The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band left a hilarious, dadist, weirdly compulsive, iconoclastic, irreverent body of work which is as fresh, relevant and thankfully weird as it ever was. There was no band like them and no band has ever come close to their innovative genius.
It’s fair to say that the Bonzos are still so far ahead, it’s beautiful!
They may have been the first manufactured boy band but The Monkees’ influence runs deep in popular (and not so popular) culture.
It’s fair to say The Monkees were the first manufactured pop band ever. They began in their own TV show which was weird, funny, zany, unconventional and like nothing we had ever seen on telly. The Monkees were good looking, cool, lovable and played catchy pop songs. Everyone, boys and girls, had their own favourite Monkee. What’s not to like? But, like Pinnochio, this manufactured band wanted to be real and this is where the story of the fictional Monkees and the ‘real’ Monkees started to get really interesting.
In the summer of 1965 two young Hollywood brats, Bert Schneider and Bob Rafelson, had the bright idea of putting together a fictional band for a TV sitcom with a difference. Like so many others in the entertainment industry Rafelson, a wannabe film director, had been inspired by The Beatles‘ first film, Dick Lester’sA Hard Day’s Night, and thought the unconventional loose narrative and zany style could be transposed into a series for young people bored with the formulaic nature of most American TV shows. The explosion of pop music and New Wave film in the early 60s had convinced Rafelson and Schneider that this was the future of TV and film and they were eventually proved to be right. Rafelson went on to direct unconventional narrative classics such as Five Easy Pieces, starring unknown actor Jack Nicholson, and the King of Marvin Gardens while Schneider produced left-field classics like Easy Rider, The Last Picture Show and Drive, He Said and both were instrumental in creating a stable of thrusting, talented young directors including Francis Ford Copolla, Martin Scorsese and Henry Jaglom. Unknown to them at the time, they had invented the Hollywood New Wave. And it was all down to The Monkees.
However, the story could have been very different as Rafelson and Schneider had initially wanted John Sebastian and The Lovin’ Spoonful to take the parts of the fictional group. The band were allegedly up for this but their current recording contract stopped them from any further involvement in the project.
So the story of The Monkees probably began on 9 February 1964 when The Beatles made their sensational debut in front of 73 million TV viewers on American TV on the legendary Ed Sullivan Show. To make the cuddly mop-tops feel at home the producers also included some British acts on the same bill. Apart from the slightly bizarre inclusion of ‘Two-Ton’ Tessie O’ Shea appearing on Broadway at the time also appearing were the cast of the British West End production of Lionel Bart’sOliver! which had also transferred to Broadway. And playing the Artful Dodger that night was a certain David Jones who watched The Beatles from the wings and decided he wanted to be a pop star too.
Davy Jones had been a child actor in the UK and appeared as Ena Sharples grandson in a 1961 episode of Coronation Street before deciding his diminutive stature might be more suited to being a jockey. Despite being a success at horse racing he was eventually persuaded to return to acting for the part in Oliver! and after the transfer to Broadway he was nominated for a Tony. During the zenith of Beatlemania when all record, TV and film companies were desperate for something with even a tenuous connection to The Beatles, this got him noticed and he was signed to appear in TV shows for Screen Gems, films for Columbia and to record for Colpix Records. Schneider and Rafelson entered into negotiations with Screen Gems about their groundbreaking idea for a TV show and Jones was offered as it fulfilled Screen Gems and Colpix’s contractual obligations and, most importantly, he looked a bit like a Beatle and he sounded like he came from the centre of the teenage universe of the time, Liverpool! Americans, of course, wouldn’t know the difference between a scouse and a Manc accent. He was a shoo-in as a Monkee but what about the other three?
An advert was placed in the September 8-16 editions of Variety and The Hollywood Reporter.
The ad was quirky and left-field enough to appeal to a certain type of young person. The language suggested that this was not going to be a straightforward, formulaic gig. Words like ‘insane‘, ‘spirited‘ and ‘courage‘ made out that this was not going to be for everyone. And ‘Ben Frank’s types‘ was a reference to a well-known Hollywood restaurant that attracted a non-mainstream clientele such as Frank Zappa and Jim Morrison. Someone looking for a role in ‘Days Of Our Lives‘ could forget it.
Given the number of young male wannabes in Hollywood at the time, or, for that matter, any time, the ad attracted only 437 replies. Of the four eventual Monkees, only Mike Nesmith spotted it. Davy Jones was already chosen, Micky Dolenz’s agent referred him to it and it was, of all people, Stephen Stills who alerted Peter Tork to the opportunity. The story goes that both Stills and Tork were playing in the dives of Greenwich Village and knew each other. Stills was auditioned but the producers didn’t feel he was quite right so he recommended Tork.
So The Monkees were born. In Jones and Dolenz the production had two experienced actors, Dolenz had starred in the 50s TV series ‘Circus Boy‘ billed as Micky Braddock, and in Nesmith, whose mother had invented Liquid Paper and eventually sold her company to Gillette for the equivalent of $200,000,000 in today’s money, and Tork, two experienced musicians. What could go wrong? Quite a lot as it happened.
The boys all performed a particular role. Davy Jones was the handsome lead singer who looked like he could be a Beatle, Micky Dolenz was the nutty, funny one, Mike Nesmith was the clever, sensible one (although I thought he was a bit dull), and Peter Tork was the daft, not very bright one, although he was the most talented musician and a bit of an intellectual in real life.
The configuration of the band was the first stumbling block. It was decided by the producers that as they were proper musicians Nesmith would be the lead guitarist and Tork the bassist, despite Tork being a more accomplished gutarist. Davy Jones was a competent drummer but it was felt his diminutive stature would lead to him disappearing behind the kit, so Dolenz, who could also play the guitar, was taught some basic beats by multi-instrumentalist Peter Tork and Jones would be lead singer. At least this was the official explanation. My guess is that producers felt that the lead singer should be Davy Jones whose Beatle-like looks and English accent would be more appealing to the teenage target audience who were living through the peak of Beatlemania. But it didn’t matter, they weren’t a real band. They just had to pretend to be real. And this is where the problems really began to emerge.
Rafelson and Schneider had brought in mega-music producer Don Kirshner to supervise the group along with up and coming writers Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart. Boyce and Hart wrote the iconic Monkees’ theme and their first single release Last Train To Clarksville. The single was released a few weeks before The Monkees show was broadcast and went to No. 1 on the Billboard chart. In fact, only Dolenz, Jones and Tork sang on the track and the music was played by The Candy Store Prophets, Boyce and Hart’s band. To say The Monkees were unhappy with this situation was an understatement and bit by bit The Monkees would begin to take control of their music and Kirshner would go. His release of The Monkees‘ second album without the band’s knowledge was a bridge too far. Some of Dolenz and Nesmith’s songs began to appear on their subsequent albums and in the show while many of their singles were written by the creme de la creme of American Brill Building songwriters such as Goffin and King, Neil Diamond and John Stewart.
The Monkees‘ next four singles, on which all band members performed, all charted in the top three: I’m A Believer and A Little Bit Of Me, A Little Bit Of You, both written by up and coming songwriter Neil Diamond, Goffin and King’sPleasant Valley Sunday, and Daydream Believer written by the underrated John Stewart.
The Monkees‘ fourth hit in the UK was an interesting one. Not released in the US, Randy Scouse Git was written by Micky Dolenz and reached No. 2 in the UK Hit Parade. The title was made up of three words few people in the US would recognise. While in the UK Dolenz had watched the controversial for the time sitcom Till Death Us Do Part and heard Alf Garnett refer to his Liverpudlian TV son-in-law by this name. Of course, the buttoned up British record company told the band it was too offensive and they’d have to come up with an alternate title. So the song became known as Alternate Title, just to hammer home the point the real title was more interesting. The performance on The Monkees show featured Liberace smashing a piano with a hammer. If that’s manufactured pop, I’ll be a Monkee’s uncle. A curiosity amongst The Monkees‘ back catalogue.
What Rafelson and Schneider had hit upon was the first TV show in which music videos could be broadcast, all of which led to the band having a smash hit without having to worry about the radio picking the songs up. Whether they were aware of this is unknown but my guess is they were just trying to pull back the boundaries of narrative on TV. Both were aware of the French New Wave, Rafelson had admired Japanese cinema while in the military in the far east and both were very much part of the burgeoning US counter-culture. Hence the show not only threw out the TV rule books it also ripped them up and cast the pieces to the four winds.
Directors and writers were given carte blanche to create the most anarchic, zany and unconventional half hour of the TV week. They did this by systematically raiding the French New Wave playbook and the series included, for example:
Unusual camera angles and movement
Weird visual effects
Cartoonish sound effects
Hand held cameras
An absurdist sense of humour
A perfunctory observation of the narrative
A feeling of improvisation
Songs featured as pop videos
Smashing of the fourth wall with the actors talking directly to camera
In other words, nothing was off the table. Many references were made to other hugely popular shows on US TV at the time including that other 60s phenomenon Batman (See Batman: A 60s Sitcom Phenomenon).
When some of the shows had under run Bob Rafelson would gather the boys together and ask them about issues concerning young people at the time and slot their responses into the final few minutes of the show. Teenage riots in LA, long hair and generally how older people treated ‘da kids’ were all analysed for three minutes before the closing credits rolled.
For the second series the band’s increasing influence was in even more evidence. A self-penned Monkees’ song, Peter Tork’s For Pete’s Sake, became the song which accompanied the show’s closing credits. They were even successful in persuading the producers to drop the laughter track from the latter part of series 2.
By the time they had released their fourth album in November 1967, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones Ltd, they were not only playing and writing some of the songs, they were also seen as being prestigious and ‘cool’ enough to attract an array of top class session musicians and guests to contribute. Glen Campbell, The Byrds, failed Monkee Stephen Stills, Little Feat’s Lowell George, and even Neil Young all weighed in on the album. It became their last No. 1 album with most of the songs being featured in the show and Pleasant Valley Sunday being the spin-off top three hit from the album. The cover is a ‘flower-power’ representation of the band with their faces obscured. An attempt to move away from the teen pretty boy image they had perhaps?
Their live tours were also hugely successful and their July ’67 gigs were opened by a certain Jimi Hendrix although he didn’t go down well with the teenage Monkees’ fans and left the tour early. However, it was an indication of how their teeny-bop image was beginning to change.
In February 1968 NBC announced it would not be renewing The Monkees‘ contracts for a third season. A few years later Davy Jones was said that The Monkees never broke up, they just didn’t have their contracts renewed. This was true in a sense with regards to the TV show but the band did stay together for a few years until the end of the 60s. Surveys showed that since 1967 more young people were listening to The Monkees music than were watching the TV show. So maybe NBC’s decision was based on this finding. It also showed the band had transcended their show and really were a real band rather than their fictional version. It was not the end for NBC and The Monkees though, and the plan was to film a series TV specials, although only one was ever made, 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee.
At almost the same time their TV show was cancelled the band embarked upon their most un-Monkeeish project ever. Conceived by Rafelson and a young, almost unknown Jack Nicholson, Head was to be a characteristically late 60s psychedelic film which, in Nesmith’s view, was designed to ‘kill’ The Monkees. Some felt that The Monkees, having achieved all they set out to achieve, were holding back Rafelson and Schneider from the projects they really wanted to move on to, e.g. Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces etc, and they could thank The Pre-Fab Four for providing the finance to do pretty much, anything they wanted to. In many ways The Monkees changed the course of American cinema. It’s maybe fair to say Head did kill off the fictional Monkees and leave the ‘real’ Monkees to do what they really wanted but, sadly, their time at the zenith of world pop was almost at an end.
The psychadelic, scattergun approach to narrative and image in Head alienated the band’s teenage audience, while the older, more ‘serious’ music fans who didn’t like The Monkees anyway, were not persuaded by this. The film was, unsurprisingly, a critical and financial flop. However, critics over the past few years looking back at Head have been more generous seeing it as a product of its time and ‘well worth seeing.’ It has been broadcast rarely in the UK although I do remember watching it on Channel 4 in 1986 and really loving it. But I’ve always been attracted by the weird.
The Monkees final act together, however, was suitably strange after the completion of Head. 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee was broadcast in the US on April 14 1969 and was the first of what was originally planned to be a series of Monkee TV specials but turned out to be the only one. It was also the last time The Monkees played as a quartet until 1986. Mike Nesmith described 33 1/3 as ‘..the TV version of Head,’ and it certainly was very different to the TV shows The Monkees were known and loved for. In what seemed like another attempt by the band for pop credibility they were joined by Little Richard, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis and, maybe surprisingly, Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger and The Trinity, who were one of the acts that represented the psychedelic scene of the 60s.
It told the story of the band being taken through the different stages of evolution by Driscoll and Auger and along the was they perform various songs individually and as a group. Driscoll, for example, performs a version of I’m A Believer with Dolenz while the whole band perform doo-wop hits with all the guest stars.
After 33 1/3 the Monkees carried on as a trio and still had a huge fan base to fall back on, but as Dolenz observed in 1969, ‘..it was like kicking a dead horse. The phenomenon had peaked.’
During their final year together they appeared on a range of prime time variety shows such as The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, The Johnny Cash Show, Hollywood Squares (Celebrity Squares to us) and a few appearances on the happening show of the time, Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In. They even appeared in an ad for Kool-Aid with Bugs Bunny.
But The Monkees‘ still exhausting schedule became all too much for Peter Tork however, and he was the first to officially leave the band at the end of 1969. It cost him a huge amount of money to buy out the four remaining years of his contract and he never really recovered financially from it for the rest of his life. During the mid-70s he even taught at Californian school for a few years.
The Monkees continued to play live intermittently for the next 40 years in various line-ups, their songs always remaining popular and their fan base staying strong. Sadly Jones died in 2012, Tork in 2019 and Nesmith in 2022.
They may have been hated by ‘serious’ music fans at the time but their legacy is huge. Everyone still knows every Monkees’ classic hit, their TV show set the template for other unconventional TV shows and an anarchic type of comedy right up to the present, without them we would not have had the New Hollywood of Coppola, Scorsese, Rafelson, Bogdanovich or even Spielberg and crucially they showed how it was possible to break free of the strictures of TV and record companies who wanted a particular look or image. And what a great pop back catalogue they left.
The Monkees were so much more than just a manufactured pop band.
In my previous post on The Girl From UNCLE I stated that in the late 60s Thursday was a particularly good night on the box. This, of course, happened rarely as with only three channels, TV stations bent over backwards to try and appeal to everyone which, inevitably, they never did. But Thursday night! Not only did we have Top Of The PopsandThe Man From UNCLEandThe Girl From UNCLE (at least every alternate week) but we also had Quizball! And the exclamation mark is not my own, it actually did have an exclamation mark in its title! (That one was mine). And so it should have.
To anyone under the age of 55, this programme will mean very little, if anything, although most people will be aware of the programme’s most famous legacy. But to old people like myself it was one of the most exciting TV appointments of the week. To watch it now, and you can watch the very first episode on Youtube, it seems pedestrian, formulaic, amateurish and just pretty dull. But watching in 1966 this was a rare chance to see footballers in the flesh, so to speak, to hear them talk and see them in a completely alien situation. This was BIG in 1966. Not only that but, if you were lucky, you might even see your own team on the programme. What wasn’t to like? And there was something quite thrilling to see those players you’d watched on the pitch sitting in their three-piece suits, awkwardly trying to answer questions and bantering with the opposing team.
The format was pretty straightforward, although you wouldn’t think so to watch that first episode on December 22 1966. In short, two teams representing a British football club of the time, made up of players, managers, even club secretaries occasionally PLUS a ‘Guest Supporter’, took on another team from Scotland or England in a battle of general knowledge. Now the ‘Guest Supporter’ was a particularly interesting element of Quizball! for me, which I’ll come to presently.
The question master (more on him shortly) would ask one team which route to goal they would like to take in an attempt to score. Route 4 comprised 4 easier questions, route 3 was 3 slightly more difficult questions, and so on. Route 1 was the most direct route where to answer one particularly difficult question would result in a goal. HOWEVER, the opposing team could tackle by answering a question at any point and if successful, stopped the goal being scored and took possession. (You keeping up?) To this day when commentating on a match on TV commentators will still use the term ‘Route 1’ to describe a team taking the long ball route to goal. A lasting legacy of Quizball! (its exclamation mark).
A drawn game would be settled with an extra-time question as there always had to be a winner. Teams from England and Scotland were invited to take part over the eight series which lasted from 22 December 1966 until the last episode almost exactly six years later on 23 December 1972.
Quizball! had three presenters over its eight series, all sports commentators of some description. Presenter number one was the peerless David Vine. A host and commentator on pretty much every sport and sports’ programme during his long career, Vine had just joined the BBC in 1966 and this was his first big gig. Like the great David Coleman, Vine was the archetypal ‘safe pair of hands’ as his professional, unflustered , measured approach suited the BBC down to ground. He hosted and commentated on the Olympics, World Snooker Championship, Darts, Showjumping and was synonymous with Ski Sunday which he presented for 18 years until 1996. He was also deemed safe enough to host Miss World contests during the 70s, preceded Stuart Hall (probably not quite as safe) as first commentator on It’s A Knockout and Jeux Sans Frontieres, a number of stints on A Question Of Sport and even commentated on the 1974 Abba Euro Song Contest from Brighton. A pro in every sense of the word, his handling of the first episode of Quizball!, where players were still uncertain of the format, was masterly. After two series Vine moved on and was replaced for a year by Match of The Day’sBarry Davies, with that man Stuart Hall again chairing the final two series between 1970 and 1972.
And let’s not forget the jaunty theme tune written by the great Mr Tony Hatch. He had also written the memorable theme music for Sportsnight With Coleman, which anyone over the age of 50 will remember. (OK 55…), amongst many, many other TV themes and hit songs. (See Tony Hatch: Composer Of The Soundtrack For The 60s And 70s ). During the early 70s when football on TV was severely rationed, this theme was as exciting as it got as we knew we were going to get some grainy black and white images of a random football match. Kids today wouldn’t understand.
The first episode of Quizball! featured Arsenal and Nottingham Forest in front of a boisterous live audience at Hornsey Town Hall. Arsenal comprised manager Bertie Mee, players Ian Ure and Terry Neill and guest supporter BBC Radio DJ and former crooner Jimmy ‘TTFN’ Young. Nottingham Forest were represented by manager Johnny Carey, players John Barnwell, Forest legend Bobby McKinley (who played for Forest for nearly 20 years) and guest supporter TV farmer Ted Moult. Mckinley (who was still playing for Forest), Carey and Moult all puffed away on pipes throughout the show and each time we had a close-up of a player answering a question, a thick plume of smoke would drift past. But that was the 60s!
The first ever edition of Quizball from Hornsey Town Hall!
Celebrity farmer Ted Moult was a very familiar face on TV and voice on radio throughout the 50s, 60s and 70s. A regular contestant on various quiz shows, he was the agricultural expert on radio’s Any Questions, the subject of This Is Your Life in 1965, Desert Island Discs in 1959 and the face of Everest Double Glazing ads in the early 80s. Tragically he took his own life in 1986 during a bout of depression and when bad weather threatened his farm’s crops. He did receive the greatest accolade an 80s celeb could wish for, however, having a song by Half Man, Half Biscuit named after him , D’ye Ken Ted Moult.
The ubiquitous Ted Moult
But it was the participation of these ‘Guest Supporters’ that raised the interest level of Quizball! from being merely footballers attempting to answer general knowledge questions to a show which featured a curious group of celebrities who claimed to have an affiliation with a particular football team, and it was often these celebrities who raised the competition to a level well above what it it might have been. Maybe to begin with on Quizball! the celebrities did have an affiliation with the football club but that link began to become a little more tenuous as the series developed.
For example, take Leicester City. Their guest supporter in the first series was the well known panellist of the long running radio and TV quiz series What’s My Line, Lady Isobel Barnett, who also just happened to be only one of two women to appear on the show during the six years it was broadcast. Leicester scored 9 goals on the way to the semi-final in 1966 with Lady Barnett scoring 7 of them. Although born in Aberdeen she lived in Leicestershire, hence the affiliation. For some reason when Leicester City took part in two subsequent series she was dropped and replaced by Grandstand’s Saturday lunchtime Football Preview host and producer, Sam Leitch and then Nicholas Parsons. Sam Leitch was also Scottish, born in Glasgow, and I distinctly remember him explaining to viewers when asked who he supported, that his grandad took him to watch Third Lanark as a boy. Parsons links to Leicester also seemed tenuous to say the least, born in Grantham and living in London. But who cared? They were well known to the Quizball! faithful.
Dunfermline Athletic FC, a very successful Quizball! team over the 8 series, also had an odd relationship with its guest supporters. In their first appearance in 1966 they were represented by prolific Dunfermline-born Scottish actress Ellen McIntosh who, despite a narrow 1-0 win versus Sheffield Wednesday, was replaced in the later rounds by even more prolific Scottish actor Gordon ‘Mr Hudson’ Jackson. Now Gordon Jackson was also from Glasgow but he had a Scottish accent, so he’ll do the producers will have thought. In their road to the 1966 final, where they were hammered 7-3 by a resurgent Arsenal, Jackson scored 9 of their 11 goals, Jim Fraser notching the other 2. This was by no means the end of the Quizball! road for The Pars, however. Not by a long chalk. The 1967 series saw them narrowly eliminated 2-1 in the first round by Fulham. This time their guest supporter was Aberdeen-born future New Faces judge and manager of the lovely Lena Martell, George Elrick. In the 1930s he was famous for his song, I Like Bananas Because They Have No Bones. But this wasn’t enough for him to be selected for the final 1970 series and what a series that was for the boys from East End Park! With yet another new guest supporter in the shape of Clydebank’s very own Jimmy Logan and a line up that included ex-West Ham centre half and Glasgow University graduate John Cushley, they trashed every fancy dan English team that got in their way. Big John scored 8 of their 10 goals which won them the trophy, defeating Lady Barnett-less Leicester City 3-1. But who’s this sitting in the guest supporter’s chair for the final? He doesn’t look like Jimmy Logan. That’s because it’s Dr Who himself, Jon Pertwee! How queer. One can only assume Jimmy Logan got completely wrecked in the BBC bar before the show. A frantic producer was sent running around Broadcasting House to find some BBC personality who was available to sit in and, lo, he bumped into the UK’s favourite Time Lord. That’s my theory at least. But with Cushley in sparkling form Pertwee could have been on Gallifrey for all the help required of him and a Cushley hat-trick won the Quizball! trophy for The Pars. I wonder if they still have it in the East End trophy cabinet? It’s also a very difficult and unlikely quiz question for Dunfermline fans: What have The Pars and Dr Who got in common?
As a post-script to The Pars participation in this legendary programme, in the first 1966 series they defeated a Tottenham Hotspur team in the semi-finals which included Alan Mullery and Terry Venables 5-4 with a another hat-trick from the prolific Gordon Jackson and two from the underrated Jim Fraser. An unlikely fixture and result these days.
The idea that for Scottish teams all that was required was a guest supporter with a Scottish accent seemed to prevail as the series developed. Magnus Magnusson was wheeled out to represent Kilmarnock in series 2 despite being born in Reykjavik, Glaswegian Joe Brady, who played Jock Weir in Z Cars for 18 years, turned out for Dundee United and Arbroath legend Andy ‘Donald Where’s Yer Troosers‘ Stewart, of course, became a St Mirren fan for the day. Dad’s Army legend and Dumfries-born John Laurie took his place in the Dundee team of 1967 but to no avail. They were all doomed, going out to Arsenal in the first round. To be fair, maybe some of those celebs really did support the teams they turned out for..but Jon Pertwee?
My own team, Hearts, were relatively successful in Quizball! reaching the second round in 1966 where they were defeated 5-3 by a five goal Ian Ure-inspired Arsenal and reached the final in 1969 where they were defeated 3-1 by Celtic whose star player was dentist and Glasgow University graduate full-back Jim Craig. Their useful guest supporter was actor John Cairney who was a genuine Celtic fan. He tells a story about his Quizball! participation in his autobiography where the team had engineered an answer for legendary centre-forward Willie Wallace who had said nothing throughout the previous rounds. They left the final question to him, that being ‘What or who is a garryowen?‘ as a big racing man his answer was ‘The racing tipster in the Daily Record?’ It’s undocumented whether he was awarded a goal for this as Garry Owen surely was, and still is I believe, the racing tipster in the Record.
Representing Hearts were a trio of Jam Tarts’ legends, Donald Ford, Jim Cruickshank and Alan Anderson, all of whom chipped in with goals during the two competitions they appeared in. Their first guest supporter was the rather dull royal commentator Tom Fleming and it didn’t get a lot better when golfer Eric Brown joined them in 1969, but both were Hearts fans at least. For 8 year old me it was just awe inspiring to see them on TV up-close in their civvies and showing just how brainy they were!
Other notable guest supporters included ITV football commentating legend Brian Moore, making a rare appearance on the BBC, representing Spurs. It became well-known in later years that Brian was actually a Gillingham fan, becoming a director during the 1980s. He was replaced by the great Peter Cook who really was a Spurs‘ fan in 1970.
Falkirk FC had won the Scottish second division title in 1970 and were invited on to the Quizball! Champions series. Their team was made up of not one, but two, future Scotland managers in the form of a certain Alex Ferguson, who scored both their goals before elimination to Everton in the semi-final, and Andy Roxburgh. Their guest supporter was also a person of significant note, the great Greenock-born comedian Chic Murray who would soon be playing Bill Shankly in a musical. Well, I suppose if Morton had been invited…
The Good Old Days (God, I hated being made to watch that awful programme every Friday night!) compere, the irrefutable, indubitable and indefatigable Leonard Sachs had the opportunity that no other guest supporter had of representing two different teams: Sheffield Wednesday in 1966 and Leeds United in 1970. But he was from the South African Transvaal so we’ll let him off.
Fulham also had multiple guest supporters over the six years of the show, starting with Tommy Trinder who was also a director of the club, DJ Pete Murray, a well known Arsenal fan, and finally boxing commentator Harry Carpenter, who I’m not sure was a football fan at all..
And a final mention to Genxculture favourite, the inevitable Ed ‘Stewpot’ Stewart, a man who crops up regularly in the most unlikely of places throughout the 60s and 70s, who sat in for Everton in the 1970 series and despite scoring two goals in the final against a rampant Celtic, lost 7-5. Jim Craig starring for Celtic yet again with five goals. To be fair to Ed ‘Stewpot‘, he genuinely was an Everton fan despite having no obvious links to Liverpool.
Interestingly, well I think it’s interesting, during their many appearances on Quizball!, Celtic players gave the nickname to Jim Craig of ‘Cairney‘. As actor John Cairney was their guest supporter over three series, and he had starred in a Scottish TV series about a secondary school teacher called ‘This Man Craig‘, Jim Craig became ‘Cairney‘. Geddit? Probably better than just calling him ‘Craigy‘ which would be the usual footballing nomenclature.
Celtic were the only team to win Quizball! on more than one occasion, being triumphant in the ’69 and ’70 series. There was no stopping them in those days. Arsenal,(’66), WBA (’67), Derby County (’70) and the mighty Pars(’71) make up the Hall of Quizball! Fame.
Quizball! also allowed the most unlikely of teams to face each other over the state-of-art electronic VDU. For example (in the voice of the sadly departed James Alexander Gordon):
Tottenham Hotspur 4- Dunfermline Athletic 5 (1966)
Arsenal 5- Heart Of Midlothian 3 (1967)
Heart Of Midlothian 3- Arsenal 2 (1969)
Celtic 7- Everton 5 (1970)
Derby County 2- Cowdenbeath 1 (1970)
Blackpool 4- Partick Thistle 2 (1971)
Chelsea 3- Dunfermline Athletic 4 (1971)
One episode from each year of its broadcast apparently still exists in the BBC archives, which is surprising as most shows like this were routinely and scandalously wiped to save money. The very first episode is available on Youtube but it would be nice to see the rest (although the Stuart Hall episodes may continue to be proscribed).
Anyone watching this vintage episode would find it amateurish, lacking in excitement, even pedestrian, but there is so much to enjoy! This was a series that set the parameters of every sports-related quiz show in the future. Without Quizball! we would not have had A Question Of Sport, Sporting Triangles, They Think It’s All Over or the pretty awful A League Of Their Own. Ok, many of those probably shouldn’t have left the ideas stage but the fact is, they were all influenced by Quizball! and all have sports people participating in an informal and sometimes humorous way. And without Quizball! we would not have the common expression ‘Route 1’, which can be used in so many different contexts and is.
And as the crusty old dignitary who was wheeled in to present Arsenal with the first ever Quizball! trophy said, ‘It’s nice to know footballers have brains in their head and not just in their feet.’
We know this now and it was all thanks to Quizball!
Everyone of a certain age remembers and loved The Girl From Uncle but few will recall just how briefly it enduredor that it was a critical disaster
Thursday night was a great night for telly during the mid-sixties. Not only did we have Top of the Pops on at 7.00pm but straight after it was the best programme on telly at the time, bar none: The Man From UNCLE! This show was just so cool in so many ways, it was mind-blowing. From the ultra-funky Jerry Goldsmith theme music to the wonderfully secret nature of the UNCLE HQ behind the New York dry cleaners to those amazingly cute triangular UNCLE badges they used to wear to the gadgets, many gadgets, to the superb Walther P38 pistols. And that’s before you even get to the uniquely fast action edits and breathless narratives which were almost Batman-esque in their campness. And if that wasn’t enough, in the US on September 1966 The Girl From UNCLE was unleashed!
Here in the UK we had to wait until until Thursday October 27 1966 for the first TGFU episode which was The Dog Gone Affair. After this, however, every episode was shown out of sequence. This was also the case with TMFU going back to its first showing on Thursday 24 June 1965. The BBC, for some reason avoided showing any episodes that had 2 or 3 parts but why they showed the episodes out of sequence is anybody’s guess. It’s also the case that not every episode of TGFU or TMFU was shown in the UK. However, the BBC did show TGFU pilot, The Moonglow Affair, on April 28th 1966.
What many will have forgotten, including myself was that TMFU and TGFU were shown on alternate weeks right up until TGFU’s last broadcast on Thursday 9th November 1967 with The UNCLE Samurai Affair. TMFU would continue into the fourth series with a couple of breaks for Adam Adamant Lives! and Dr Kildare until its last broadcast on January 4th 1968 to be replaced with the slightly grittier and less fashionable character of Charlie Barlow in Softly, Softly.
The Man From UNCLE was a soaraway success on US telly, so much so that after the initial two series, someone from the NBC top brass had an idea that if we have The Man From UNCLE, why can’t we have The Girl From UNCLE? Double the fun (and even more importantly, ratings) and it would appeal to the ladies in the prime time audience not to mention the men, as she was unlikely to be played by Peggy Mount. Three characters were mooted by the writers: April Dancer, the eponymous Girl From UNCLE, her male sidekick Mark Slate and her boss, the already established Alexander Waverley, played by Hollywood big hitter Leo G. Carroll. These two new characters were to be introduced in a Man From UNCLE episode from the second series, The Moonglow Affair. At this point April Dancer was played by ex-Miss America Mary Ann Mobley, emphasising April Dancer’s glamorous character as well as obviously appealing to the red-blooded male audience of TMFU. Her assistant Mark Slate was played by the well-known and rather lugubrious Norman Fell. This Mark Slate was much older than the eventual Mark Slate, played by Noel Harrison. Fell was ostensibly young UNCLE agent April Dancer’s minder and mentor. Fell had been in many films and TV series and is maybe best remembered as Benjamin Braddock’s miserable and suspicious landlord in the sleazy boarding house he resides at when stalking Elaine Robinson in The Graduate.
The Girl From Uncle Mark 1
This pilot TGFU episode seemed successful enough to spawn a series of its own but when it came to casting April Dancer and Mark Slate, Mobley and Fell were out. Producers wanted the two main characters to be hip, sexy and there to be an implied attraction, a bit like Steed and Emma Peel (See The Avengers: Quirk, Strangeness and Charm (and bags of style)). They wanted a female star who would look great in the Carnaby Street fashions of the time and with her co-star and sidekick being British, it resonated with The Beatles and The British Invasion of the mid-60s. A young Stefanie Powers was cast as the eponymous heroine and, son of Rex Harrison, Noel Harrison as Mark Slate while Leo G. Carroll made the crossover as UNCLE boss Alexander Waverley.
The Girl From Uncle Mark II
Way back in 1962 Ian Fleming was recruited to work with producer Norman Felton to develop an American spy TV series along the lines of James Bond. Little of Fleming’s ideas survived as he withdrew from the project a year later under pressure from Bond producer Harry Saltzman. What did survive was the character of Napoleon Solo (a character with the same name had appeared in 1964’s Goldfinger) and the name of April Dancer, who had originally been an UNCLE operative in Fleming’s original vision for the series. A year after, Fleming died at the age of 56 in 1964, the name was pulled from the notes still held by Felton and The Girl From UNCLE was born.
When TGFU was first mooted many involved in the series, including David McCallum, wondered what the point of this was. Would it just be TMFU plots and storylines but with a girl instead of two guys? Was it a groundbreaking early manifestation of a feminist discourse? Did the great viewing public love the series so much they’d be salivating at the thought of another weekly episode of UNCLE? The original series had been a runaway success and was the most watched TV show in America at the time so producers must have just seen the dollar signs in their eyes and the ratings exploding through the roof. If only they’d listened to Ilya Kuryakin. That said, there was much to like about TGFU and, without doubt, it was an iconic TV series of the 60s, whatever its aesthetic shortcomings.
The producers eventually settled on a young, glamorous multi-lingual actress known as Stefanie Powers. She had already appeared in a few films such McLintock with BigJohn Wayne and the schlocky Die! Die! My Darling with an ageing Tallulah Bankhead and TV series like Bonanza. At only 23 and possessing sultry looks, she was exactly what the producers were looking for. It would seem that this stellar role would define the rest of her acting life but, sadly, it wasn’t to be. She claimed the failure of TGFU meant she struggled for work for the next two years and she had a point. The way the role of April Dancer panned out in TGFU hardly allowed her to stretch her acting abilities, in fact she was merely asked to just to look good. Three years after TGFU she would be cast in a series starring Robert Wagner, It Takes A Thief, based loosely on Hitchcock’sTo Catch A Thief. A life long friendship would ensue between the two actors culminating in what became Powers‘ defining role with Wagner, the formulaic Hart To Hart which ran for five years and 111 episodes.
Powers’ rather prosaic but lucrative post-TGFU career makes Noel Harrison’s seem positively exotic. Son of British acting royalty Rex Harrison, he appeared in minor roles in a number early sixties British TV series such as No Hiding Place and low budget films like The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders (as Second Mohock, whatever that is) probably because he was Rex Harrison’s son. He was also a champion skier and represented GB at the Winter Olympics of 1952 and 1956. At the same time he had a relatively successful career as a night club singer and through his famous father, had a direct line to the US, and somehow landed a gig on America’s biggest chat show, The Johnny Carson Show. He was spotted on this by the wife of an UNCLE producer and brought in for audition. His trendy good looks and Britishness, the British Invasion and Beatlemania were in full cry at the time, ensured he was offered the role.
His most memorable achievement, however, was his version of Windmills Of Your Mind, which was the theme tune to the hugely successful McQueen/ Dunaway classic of 1968, The Thomas Crown Affair. With the music written by legendary French composer Michel LeGrande the song was originally offered to Andy Williams who, for some odd reason, turned it down and was then, somehow (a word that keeps cropping up), offered to Harrison. He would eventually win an Oscar for Best Song. The single reached a heady No. 8 in the UK charts of that year and he performed the song on Top Of The Pops on March 27 1968 followed the next week by The Rolf Harris Show. The 1999 remake of this film featured a version of the song by Sting.
His acting career would continue sporadically for the next few years and he appeared in American TV staples such as It Takes A Thief (’68), the wonderful Mission Impossible (’70), Ironside (’72) and joined up with his old mucker Stefanie Powers in an episode of Hart To Hart in 1981. Obviously, like Power, he also had spots in the Love American Style and The Love Boat, programmes that seemed only created to offer employment to actors who were down on their luck at the time. The British equivalents, as we all know, were The Bill and Casualty.
He grew disillusioned with the Hollywood scene during the late 70s and retired to Nova Scotia and eventually re-settled in Devon, England where he sadly died in 2013. You have to say though, that was quite a life he had.
The third member of TGFU triumvirate was Hollywood big hitter, character actor supreme Leo G. Carroll. Already established as Mr Waverley in TMFU, Carroll reprised the same role in TGFU, which must have been a nice little earner for him.
Carroll had moved to the US in the early 1930s and stayed for the rest of his life. He appeared in six Hitchcock films, beaten only by Clare Greet (7 very early films) and, of course, Hitch himself, most of them classics such as Rebecca, Spellbound, Strangers On A Train and North By Northwest. He established himself as a TV actor also in the long running 50s ghostly series Topper before taking the role of Alexander Waverley in 1964.
Carroll also has two interesting claims to fame, facts loved so much here at Genxculture. He is mentioned in the first song of The Rocky Horror Show, Science Fiction/ Double Feature and he appeared in the first two episodes of Rowan And Martin’s Laugh In in 1968. The show which, incidentally, replaced The Man From UNCLE on Fridays on NBC.
NBC gave TGFU the prime time 7.30-8.30 Tuesday slot and the first episode on September 6 1966 was up against some tough opposition in gritty Second World War series Combat and the Africa-set, feel-good animal stories of Daktari. Could April Dancer take on the jungle might of Clarence, The Cross-Eyed Lion? Time would tell…
The first reviews of TGFU were generally negative.
..The Man From Uncle in high heels…
…sniffed the Chicago SUN-Times. While the New York World Journal Tribune gave it a right pannin’ describing it as…
..violently sadistic and altogether repellent..
..which seems a tad rich.
The series’ big budget did attract a host of impressive guest stars such as:
Jack Cassidy, father of David and so impressive in two episodes of the brilliant Columbo, including the pilot episode directed by a young up and coming director called Steven Spielberg.
Ed Asner who would shortly go on to make a huge name for himself in the mega-successful Mary Tyler-Moore Show and subsequently his own hugely successsful spin-off, Lou Grant.
Victor Buono, riding high on the success of his appearances as Special Guest Villain King Tut in the America’s most successful show of the period, Batman.
One significant guest villain from TGFU episode The Mother Muffin Affair was the legendary Boris Karloff who was only too happy to camp it up in drag in a London-set caper which also involved Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) in a crossover appearance. The involvement of the be-dragged Karloff and Buono seemed to emphasise that TGFU was attempting to be as camp as Batman which turned out to be a big mistake. The plots tended to be formulaic and involved April going undercover, being found out, being tied up and imprisoned in a variety of ways and eventually being rescued by Mark Slate. Rarely did April Dancer apprehend the villains single-handedly so proto-feminist crime fighter she was not, unlike the likes of her contemporary Emma Peel of The Avengers (See The Avengers: Quirk, Strangeness and Charm (and bags of style)). And that, with regards to TGFU, was pretty much that. It was cancelled after 29 very similar episodes in April 1967.
Both TMFU and TGFU generated hugely successful merchandise. Guns, model cars, comic strips, books, walkie-talkies, badges. You name it, it could be purchased. TMFU guns were particularly sought after in my primary school though I sadly never had one. Although all I needed to be Napoleon Solo was a pen with a lid which I’d remove and speak into the end of it, ‘Open Channel D.’
My abiding memory of TGFU was April Dancer wearing a transparent plastic raincoat. Whether she did wear such an item is uncertain, however, her clothing budget for each episode was, for the time, an eyewatering $1000, which suggests that maybe TGFU wasn’t meant to be taken as seriously as TMFU. Her costume changes were so regular that to remember only one costume from 1966 is possible though unlikely. The main criticism of TGFU was that it was a comedy version of TMFU, that where TMFU was serious, TGFU was ‘camp’ and knowingly comedic. It should be remembered, however, that both series were influenced by the phenomenon of the time that was Batman (See Batman: A 60s Sitcom Phenomenon) and series 3 of TMFU was also felt to be too camp and didn’t go down well with the many millions of fans, so a return to the more serious storylines in series 4 was necessary to ensure the continuation of the series. Unfortunately it was too little, too late and TMFU was cancelled in January 1968. TMFU did, however, spawn 7 full length feature films and seeing those as a sixties schoolboy was particularly exciting as it was the only opportunity to see this monumental series in living colour!
That said, although I struggled to remember too many details of any of TGFU episodes, I loved, and still love, the vibe of the show, the look of it, I can still feel the excitement of its slightly rearranged opening titles and music and as representative of the sixties sensibility, it had it in spades. Yes, we’ve become more sophisticated in our expectations of spy and thriller series but for us of a certain age TGFU was one of the biggest TV appointments of the week. Maybe lacking in acting experience and finding it difficult to make the most of a criminally underwritten character, Stefanie Powers was perfect for April Dancer and she can proudly take her place in the museum of 60s icons. April Dancer, we salute you!
Herman’s Hermits seemed no different to other 60s British bands in America, but why were they so incredibly popular?
I know It’s a cliche to say the sixties were a fascinating time for music. For people of a certain age bands and artists from the time just trip off the tongue, whether those bands were ‘with it’ or not. And people from this explosive decade are still household names, even over 50 years later.
I have written previously about how much the single and album charts are missed (See The Sad Demise of the Pop Singles ChartsThe Sad Demise of the Pop Singles Charts) and, even today, a cursory perusal of any random chart from 1960 to the mid-80s would throw up hours of analysis and remembrance of previously forgotten one-hit-wonders, for example. Only for sad people like me of course. The charts also remind you of bands that were more popular than you remember or maybe more popular than you can credibly explain. I have already considered the work of Freddie and The Dreamers on these pages (‘The Beatles of Uncool’Freddie and the Dreamers: The Beatles of Uncool (But Fun!)) and recently I came across some information on one of their contemporaries, Herman’s Hermits who were hugely successful on both sides of the Atlantic and second only to the mighty Beatles themselves. But why?
Now don’t get me wrong, there was nothing essentially wrong with Herman’s Hermits, they were jolly, poppy, good fun, produced catchy pop ditties and had a cheeky boy-next-door front man. What’s not to like?
But they sold 60 million records, received 14 gold disc for their single hits, 7 gold albums, appeared in 4 films including two of their own vehicles in Hold On and Mrs Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter and twice they were voted ‘Entertainers of the Year’ by US trade paper Cashbox. And in 1965 Billboard magazine ranked them as America’s top singles act beating The Beatles into second place. We’ve all heard of The British Invasion, but really?
Hermans Hermits, or Herman and the Hermits as they were first known, formed in Manchester in 1964 and were soon signed by producer Mickie Most and they had their first and only UK No. 1 that same year with the King/Goffin penned I’m Into Something Good. The record reached No. 13 in the US which got them noticed and from then on they never looked back. They continued to have hits in the UK but it was in the US they hit pay dirt with 11 top ten hits, six of which were not released as singles in the UK. Clearly their American producers realised that The Hermits ‘Englishness’ along with Peter Noone’s schoolboyish charm was their, maybe not quite unique, selling point to the vast US, mainly female audience.
Mrs Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter was a song featured in a British TV play called The Lads and sung by a young Tom Courtney in 1963. The Hermits had recorded a version in the studio for a laugh and never dreamed it would be released to the US market, let alone go straight to No. 1. The stripped down production and Noone’s heavily English accented vocal certainly struck a chord with the record buying US public. So much so that after their follow up and more conventional pop single Wonderful World only reached No. 4 the record company immediately released I’m Henry The VIII I Am’ which again rocketed to No. 1 on the Billboard chart. The fact the song was a cockney standard and The Hermits were from Manchester obviously escaped the notice of the teenage American public but it cemented their cuddly Englishness. Weirdly in 1965 this became the fastest selling single in history, was one of the shortest ever No. 1s at 1 minute 50 and even, reportedly, influenced The Ramones! It’s also interesting that the two most successful singles for The Hermits in the US were never even released in the UK. On their first appearance on the legendary Ed Sullivan Show they were even given a backdrop of ‘traditionally English’ Tudor buildings!
Clearly the US record buying public saw HH as a quintessentially ‘English’ band, the type you could take home to Mom, unlike the cheeky Beatles and hippy Stones. And this, of course, encouraged US variety shows to book these lovely lads and not worry about the Bible Belt unleashing their righteous rage upon the networks. And so Herman’s Hermits were beamed into every god-fearing home in America via the shows of Merv Griffin, Dean Martin, Danny Kay, Jackie Gleason and, of course, the inevitable Ed Sullivan. In the UK they graced Ready, Steady Go (10 times. There’s a great bit of footage of a young female fan hanging on to Peter Noone’s arm as he’s wheeled singing around the RSG studio until he becomes really quite pissed off!), Dee Time, Doddy’s Music Box, the almost forgotten Whistle Stop with Roger Whittaker and obviously Top of the Pops, an incredible 44 times!.
They made four cinema release films, two of which as star vehicles for Herman’s Hermits.
Hold On was made in 1966 at the height of their Transatlantic popularity. Set in LA and with a wafer thin plot that still managed to include a storyline about a NASA rocket, the boys getting lost in a fun fair, a ‘charity’ gig because let’s not make out the band was making money from all this (they probably weren’t) and, of course, some examples of Hermania which really only included Peter Noone obviously. The band did manage to perform 11 songs in the film, the two most well known being Must To Avoid and, the made for the US single, Leaning On A Lamp Post. Wonder what their American fans would have made of George Formby?
The film was unmemorable like so many other teen pop band vehicles of the time although the band’s fictional manager, Dudley, was played by quite an interesting character actor named Bernard Fox. Although perennially playing the quintessential English buffoon, this part being no exception, Fox was actually Welsh having been born in Port Talbot, an area which also produced Richard Burton and Anthony Hopkins. Although not a household name in the UK, Fox had a long and prodigious career in the US and for many years was the go-to actor when not too bright Englishmen were needed in a production. Fox appeared in some the great American series of all time, usually playing the same part, such as Bewitched, Dick Van Dyke Show, Hogan’s Heroes, Man From UNCLE, MASH, Columbo and The Monkees. He died in 2016 a few years after completing significant parts in Titanic and The Mummy.
The New York Times described the film then as ‘..an occasionally amusing though nonsensical pastiche.‘, which, to be fair would have described most pop group film vehicles at the time, while Boy’s Life was a little more upbeat in its review suggesting the film was ‘..for swingers who are really with it.’ I’m not so sure about that but it’s certainly good fun and, other than being an interesting social document for the time, little more than that.
Their second film, Mrs Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter, made two years later, was after US Hermania had subsided significantly. American teenagers had moved on from The British Invasion and Flower Power and Hippiedom had taken hold. Bands like The Monkees (See Hey, Hey It’s the Monkees!) were taking over and there was also a movement away from bubblegum pop to to more ‘serious’ groups like The Doors, Jimi Hendrix and, of course, The Beatles who had just released Sergeant Pepper which shifted the goalposts hugely for music. MBYGALD was, therefore shot in the UK as HH were still having hit records here. Shot in London and Manchester the similarly wafer-thin plot involved a greyhound and yet another ‘charity’ gig. Plus Peter Noone having a major dilemma about which girl to romance with. The band performed 9 songs including ‘There’s A Kind Of Hush.‘
The cast list for this particular outing was more interesting than the last one, however. The great Stanley Holloway and Joan Hickson co-starred and there were early appearances for Sheila White, Annette Crosbie and, that Genxculture favourite, Lance Percival. And of even more interest to me, an appearance by comedy variety star Nat Jackley, not long after his role in The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour in 1967. Plenty to say about him but check out my article on MMT below where his legendary status due to him appearing in this major 1967 cultural event is discussed (Magical Mystery Tour: What A Long Strange Trip It Was).
Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of these enjoyable popsters will almost certainly be thinking about the elephant in the room here. So, step forward Mr Peter Noone!
Peter Noone had found some relative fame as a child actor appearing in Coronation Street in 1961 as Len Fairclough’s nephew Stanley, coincidently a certain David Jones would appear in Corrie the same year as Ena Sharples grandson Colin. Another David Jones would enter Peter Noone’s life ten years later in a very different way.
It’s true that front men or women in a band are always the focus of media and fan attention. With the exception of Mick Jagger, few people could probably have named the leader singer of The Tremeloes, The Hollies, even The Kinks but by 1966 many would have known Peter Noone with the cheeky smile and the nice but limited voice. He was the HH representative three times on the judging panel of Juke Box Jury, the interviewee on Genxculture favourite Dee Time (Dee Time: When The Sixties Really Began), a two-time judge on America’s Dream Girl of 1967 amongst many other solo appearances while still Herman of The Hermits. And the straw that probably broke the camel’s back was on 31 March 1971 when he was the subject of This Is Your Life. The Hermits appeared of course but only as support players. Sadly this episode no longer exists although I have a very clear memory of watching it at the time.
It’s easy to see that although his popularity was good for the band the other members must have got a bit pissed off with all the attention he received and on Noone’s part, he must have thought realistically about what a solo career could have meant for him.
To me Herman’s Hermits were one of those bands who had more hits than most people of my age would remember. Ask anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of this period and they could probably name three, possibly four hits but would be not only surprised at how many hits they had over a relatively short period but also at the quality of their singles output. Clearly their manager and producer Mickie Most had an ear for what was potentially going to be successful. For example (and this is just a selection of their hits):
I’m Into Something Good (August 1964): The band’s first hit was written by songwriting royalty Gerry Goffin and Carole King during their early years at the Brill Building pop factory. As the band’s debut single it went to number one and stayed there for two weeks. The song was featured in a very funny sequence in the film The Naked Gun: From The Files Of Police Squad and became a minor hit again when Peter Noone released a new solo version. The original version has also featured on The Simpsons and Family Guy.
Silhouettes (February 1965): Originally a hit for US Do-Wop group The Rays, HH heard the song on US Armed Forces Radio and decided to record a version which went to No. 5 in the US and No. 3 in the UK. An annoyingly catchy little guitar riff leads into the melody which will stay in your head all day.
Wonderful World (April 1965): Now I have no recollection of The Hermits doing this Sam Cooke classic. Their upbeat version was reportedly recorded as a tribute to Sam Cooke who had recently died. However, it reached No. 4 in the UK and 7 in the US and I had no idea they had a hit record with it.
A Must To Avoid (December 1965): Written by the prolific P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri this song was reviewed by Billboard magazine as ‘..a winning and swinging rocker with ‘hit’ written all over it.’ Praise indeed and also uncannily accurate as it reached 8 in the US and 6 in the UK.
No Milk Today (October 1966): Written by the legendary Graham Gouldman in his pre-10CC days, the song was originally first offered to The Hollies who Gouldman had written a number of hits for including Bus Stop. The Hermits version was their first single to include strings and also, allegedly, featured John Paul Jones. But in those days, along with Jimmy Paige, which British pop recordings didn’t? This became something of a controversial topic for the various members of The Hermits.
A Kind Of Hush (February 1967): With this song we enter that favourite Genxculture zone of quantum entanglement. A song everyone knows although mainly because of The Carpenters‘ version of 1976. Strangely this version was not one of The Carpenters most successful releases even though it did get into the US and UK top 20s. Richard Carpenter has since written about being unhappy with the recording and about his band’s decision to record cover versions at that time. To many nowadays this song is one of The Carpenters most memorable of many memorable releases. People of a certain age, though, will probably have forgotten it was Herman’s Hermits who had the first worldwide hit with the song. A Kind Of Hush was originally written by Geoff Stephens and the also prolific Les Reed (maybe more on him to come). Stephens was part of The New Vaudeville Band, an odd outfit who had some success in the late 60 and early 70s trying to recreate the sound of The Music Hall in a comedic and ironic fashion. Winchester Cathedral, Peek-A-Boo and Finchley Central were all major hits in the UK with Winchester Cathedral bizarrely reaching No.1 in the US. Even more bizarre was the fact that TNVB’s first manager was Peter Grant of Led Zeppelin fame. How queer!
Sunshine Girl (July 1968): The Hermits’ popularity was beginning to wane in the US by this time but they were still churning out the hits in the UK. It’s hard to believe that this annoyingly infectious song which reached No. 8 in the UK didn’t even make the US top 100. A sign that the Hermits‘ boy-next-door’ charm was being usurped by some other bands or artists. My abiding memory of this song was a set of rude lyrics some primary school musical genius had substituted for the proper words at the time of its success. I can still sing this rude version word perfectly to this day.
My Sentimental Friend (April 1969): And still they continue to have hits and this almost forgotten-but-you-know-it-when-you-hear-it single was actually their second most successful release in the UK reaching No. 2, almost five years after their first release. A very long time in pop in those days.
By November 1970 The Hermits had their final hit with Lady Barbara which touched a creditable NO. 13 in The Hit Parade. But what’s this we notice? It’s not credited to Herman’s Hermits but to PETER NOONE and Herman’s Hermits! It would be their final hit, the group would disband and Peter Noone would drive off into the sunset. It would be easy to say that Peter Noone’s fame eclipsed that of The Hermits but that, I think, would be unfair. Although it must have been severely irritating for the other band members to watch Noone be interviewed, photographed, lauded and entertained as if he wasHerman’s Hermits, it worked well and was hugely successful for many years at a time when competition amongst pop bands of their type was savage.
Controversy did follow them for years afterwards regarding who actually played on their many hits. Both Mickie Most and, latterly Peter Noone himself claimed most of their hits had Jimmy Paige, Vic Flick or Big Jim Sullivan all featuring at different times. Herman’s members, particularly guitarists Derek Leckenby and Keith Hopwood insisted they were the main players on the discs. We’ll never know for certain what exactly happened in the studio, the 60s were like that, but The Hermits, unlike many other successful pop bands of the time, were accomplished musicians and could easily have handled what was required of them. Despite the production shenanigans that habitually went on, I feel the Hermits most certainly provided most of the backing on their many hits, despite some session parts being also added occasionally, which was common in the 60s and 70s.
Shortly after splitting with The Hermits, Peter Noone was given a song by an up and coming young singer/songwriter known as David Jones (it’s that name again) though we now know him as David Bowie called Oh! You Pretty Things which he recorded and had a NO. 12 UK hit, which, perhaps surprisingly, turned out to be his only solo hit, even although he guested on many variety shows of the time including Lulu, Morecambe and Wise, The Golden Shot, Crackerjack and the estimable Basil Brush. Bowie played piano on the single further cementing its minor legendary status in pop culture. It would have been a decent little earner for the struggling young songwriter still trying to make his way in pop (See Bowie: The First Time (Or Loving The Alien)).
Sadly that was pretty much it for Peter Noone and The Hermits. A Noone-less Hermits carried on playing and occasionally Peter Noone joined up with them for short nostalgia tours but their chart days were over. A version of HH still performs as does Peter Noone.
It’s still hard to work out quite why Herman’s Hermits were only second in popularity to The Beatles . For me the answer is rather more prosaic than I’d have liked. In short, Herman’s Hermits produced uncomplicated, catchy and sometimes memorable pop songs. They were good fun, unthreatening, clean cut and worked hard to become household names, which they did. But more than that, they had a boy-next-door cute and cheeky lead vocalist. He was no Scott Walker but his voice was distinctive and their songs suited his slightly limited range. Nothing wrong with that, but he also benefited from The Beatles explosion in the US, looking as if he could have been one of the cuddly mop tops. The difference between The Hermits and many other bands who were part of The British Invasion such as The Kinks, Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich, The Dave Clark Five, The Animals, The Hollies and The Searchers was, quite simply, Peter Noone. He had a certain British ‘something’ that many of the other band front men didn’t. And that could be a perceived ‘accessibility’. Young girls could imagine taking him home to meet mom and dad.
In a book entitled Idol Talk published in 2017, grown-up women talk about their teen idols, why they loved them so much and how it still affects them. Tamra Wilson’s chapter on Hermania describes how much young girls loved band members with ,’ ..baby faces that aged slowly.’ Interestingly the foreword to this more-interesting- than- you- might- think book is by a former pop star named Peter Noone who still plays down the ‘heart-throb’ aspect of his career. Which is nice.
In the long and fascinating history of pop music, Herman’s Hermits‘ musical output still stands the test of time. Most people of a certain age will be surprised at just how many memorable hits they had and, I would argue, few will remember one of The Carpenters‘ most well-known songs, There’s A Kind Of Hush, was first made famous by The Hermits.
Like most pop bands their fame was limited but it lasted much longer than many others and what a great time they must have had, particularly Peter Noone. Couldn’t have happened to nicer guys.
Few TV theme composers could hold a candle to Tony Hatch, with the exception of the great Ron Grainer
For me the composer of the TV soundtrack for the 60s and 70s was the great Tony Hatch (much more about him below Tony Hatch: Composer Of The Soundtrack For The 60s And 70s), but chasing him all the way for this prestigious title was Australian composer Ron Grainer who, had he lived longer and not died at the tragically young age of 58, could have wrested this title from Tone. Although not quite as well known as Hatch, Grainer’s TV and film themes are world-renowned and still heard regularly today. No one over the age of 40 will be unfamiliar Grainer’s output with many of his themes still played on daytime telly. It’s also fair to say that he composed some the most important and memorable theme tunes for TV series that have stood the test of time and his themes are synonymous with those programmes. So, step forward and take a bow, the mighty Mr. Ron Grainer!
Ron Grainer moved to the UK in 1952 having grown up in the Australian outback, mostly in a small mining town called Mount Mulligan and served during WW2. After a tough few years playing with a band and submitting compositions to anyone who might use them, he even wrote a song and entered it into the 1956 First British Festival of Popular Song. His entry, England Made Us received nil points from the judges.
Not put off by this disappointment Grainer wrote another song for this same competition in 1957, which had become the decider heat for the song which would represent UK in its first foray into the Eurovision Song Contest. His ditty, Don’t Cry Little Doll was performed by, of all people, Bill Maynard who would go on to have a pretty successful comedy and acting career in programmes such as Heartbeat and Oh No! It’s Selwyn Froggat! After a labyrinthine process Grainer’s song came 4th and Patricia Bredin was selected to represent UK at the still rather stuffy event. She came 7th out of 10 with ‘All.’
In 1959 ITV broadcast a TV play entitled Before The Sun Goes Down, the format of which was based loosely on Orson Welles’ groundbreaking War of the Worlds radio production. Grainer had written the music for the play which reportedly panicked listeners and questions were subsequently asked in parliament about it. Clearly people were a little more gullible in those days but it’s a surefire way of becoming noticed and shortly after he was asked by the BBC to compose the theme tune for a new programme that was about to launched. The programme was called Maigret based on the French detective novels of Georges Simenon, the show was a huge hit and Ron Grainer, TV themes composer was born.
Maigret was broadcast for four years and 52 episodes and the theme tune entered the UK charts on the 4 April 1962 performed by The Joe Loss Orchestra. A nice little earner one would imagine for Ron Grainer, but, more importantly, he was becoming known as not only a TV composer but a successful TV composer. And he was never to look back….
It wouldn’t be long before Ron Grainer was penning themes that would not only become very familiar to the viewing public but would still be played and recognised 60 years later. It would be impossible to list everything that Grainer composed during his 30 year career so here’s selection from his prolific output since the early sixties up until his sudden and premature death in 1981.
Grainer’s use of harpsichord, banjo and clavichord created a typically, even stereotypically, Parisian sound and soundtracks to many French-based programmes even today recreate this sound. Grainer won an Ivor Novello award for this composition which set him on track to becoming the go-to composer for TV theme music. It’s fair to say, though, Tony Hatch competed with Grainer from the mid-sixties for this mantle but both were incredibly creative and innovative composers who worked constantly and were responsible for iconic themes throughout the following 20 years.
Partly due to the huge popularity of Maigret, the theme became a hit record in 1962 spending 10 weeks in The Hit Parade reaching a high of 20. Not for Grainer, however, but for popular band leader Joe Loss. Nice little royalty cheque for Ron as composer, though.
Interestingly, Tony Hatch’s breakthrough theme was for tea-time serial drama Crossroads in 1964. Few people over the age of 50 will be unfamiliar with this theme and I would argue that the unusual combination of guitar, oboe and drums is key to this theme’s endurance. Long after Crossroads was destined to that multi-story car park in the sky, the theme is still synonymous with that long-running programme (See Standing At The Crossroads Of (TV) Quality). And such is the case with so many Ron Grainer themes, not least……
2. Doctor Who(1963)
What’s the UK’s most well known TV theme tune? Coronation Street? Eastenders? Steptoe and Son? Actually I’ll come back to that one shortly… It’s fair to say, I think, that the Doctor Who theme must be up there, and not just because of longevity. First broadcast at 17.16 GMT on Saturday, 23 November 1963, 80 seconds after its original launch time due to the extended news coverage of the assassination of President Kennedy, the programme has endured for nearly 70 years, although the series was cancelled in 1989 but returned in 2003 with a much bigger budget and new younger audience.
Producer Verity Lambert had wanted the theme to sound ‘familiar but different’ and by this time go-to composer Ron Grainer was asked to come up with something. His original theme was written on a single sheet of manuscript paper and sent to Lambert who then sent it to the legendary BBC Radiophonic Workshop for treatment under the supervision of the great electronic innovator Delia Derbyshire. The results were groundbreaking and the music became one of the first ever electronic theme tunes. Derbyshire’s sonic ‘bubbles’ and ‘clouds’ pulled back the boundaries of theme music forever.
Grainer was reported as saying ‘Did I write that?’ on hearing the ‘doctored’ version. He was so impressed he offered to split the royalty fees with Derbyshire but BBC policy at the time would not allow this.
The signature tune has become so familiar (I hesitate to use the overused term ‘iconic’) that it has given birth to many wide and varied versions by artists from very different genres. For example:
Doctor No. 3 Jon Pertwee released a spoken version of the theme entitled ‘Who is The Doctor?’ It didn’t chart although he did latterly have some success in a different incarnation with ‘Worzel’s Song‘ reaching No. 33 in 1980. Talking about incarnations, Pertwee was producer David Croft‘s first choice to play Captain Mainwaring in Dad’s Army. Similarly, Pertwee was second choice for the role of Doctor Who in 1970. First choice was Ron Moodywho had just had a world wide smash in his role as Fagin in Best Picture Oscar winner Oliver!. Just fancy that!
In 1988 The Timelords (who were really KLF in disguise) released Doctorin’ The Tardis. This was a mash-up of the Doctor Who theme, Sweet’sBlockbuster and Gary Glitter’sRock and Roll Part 2, which maybe accounts for why we don’t hear it very often on the radio these days. Which is a shame as it’s a banging record and did get to the much vaunted No. 1 spot in the Hit Parade on 12 June.
In 1999 the excellent Orbital released a version of the Doctor Who theme which was used on BBC 2’s Doctor Who Night in 1999.
Legendary Shadows‘ guitarist Hank Marvin recorded a version in 2017 on his solo album Without A Word.
Matt ‘Stephen Toast’ Berry recorded a version on his 2018 album TV Themes.
Although brought up to date for the 2003 much-bigger-budget version of the series, the original Grainer/ Derbyshire version still sounds uniquely innovative even today.
3. Steptoe and Son (1962)
And talking about Steptoe and Son, Grainer composed Old Ned in 1962 for a different kind of sitcom (although this term for a type of TV generic comedy did not exist then). The plot written by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson was very different to most other comedy shows as it featured working class characters and had a strong social commentary woven into the story of father Albert and son Harold who ran a West London rag and bone business. It was groundbreaking in that much of the dialogue was ruder (by 60s standards at least) than any other programme on telly. It was the first time I had ever heard the word ‘tits’ on TV when Harold bawled at Albert, ‘..because you get on my bleedin’ tits!’, an expression which became commonplace in our language from then on. I can still remember my dad guffawing at this line. During an episode when some posh fashion models were going to be arriving at their less than salubrious abode to do a photo shoot, Harold told Albert ‘..and if you need a Doyle’y Carte you can go outside!’ Sometimes the relative rudeness of the time slipped under the average TV viewers’ radar. Which was a very good thing.
The theme puts in mind the plodding nature of Harold and his horse and cart pounding the streets of West London day after day with his horse Hercules, even although Grainer titled it Old Ned. Was Old Ned a horse or just a London character? We may never know but the lugubrious melody and sound of the horses hooves created a musical motif which fitted the pathos and down-beat comedy that Steptoe and Son invented.
The theme won Grainer his second Ivor Novello award and was later reprised by Vic and Bob on Shooting Stars when Vic would go for a ‘cockney walkabout’ around the studio. The first version of this theme was recorded by those stalwarts of 70s TV variety, Geoff Love and his Orchestra, who would go on to have 70s hits wearing the sombreros of Manuel and his Music of the Mountains.
No one over the age of 45 would fail to know this was the Steptoe and Son theme. Another Grainer theme which will last for as long as we have TV.
4. Man in A Suitcase (1967)
If Doctor Who and Steptoe and Son were pulling back the boundaries of their respective genres then so was Man In A Suitcase. MIAS was a grittier, more violent, more existential action series compared to other similar thrillers of the time such as The Baron, The Champions (which did have an excellent Tony Hatch theme) or Department S and featured a mysterious American ex-FBI character known only as McGill. Having been hounded out the FBI for dubious reasons he now made a living working as a private detective all over Europe, but particularly in London. The series ran for only 30 episodes between 1967 and 1968 and featured a who’s who of British and sometimes American character actors. The theme music was catchy, punchy, big and brassy. Certainly not jaunty or inspiring as those were themes deliberately lacking in this superior and wonderfully cynical thriller series. Soft-spoken hard man with a sensitive side, McGill, played by Method actor Richard Bradford was a new kind of anti-hero and forever associated with this ear- worm of a Grainer theme.
The theme was also used for the irritating Chris Evans in his vehicle TFI Friday for a number of years during the late 90s.
For me, one of his best.
5. The Prisoner (1967)
And talking about his best, and there are plenty candidates given his prodigious output, for me his crowning achievement was for a series which has entered TV folklore. Although over fifty years old, certain people, like myself, still analyse and counter-analyse each episode with meticulous precision. Yes, we’re talking The Prisoner here, and, yes, I do need to get a life but it’s gone too far to bother about that.
Without going into details about Patrick McGoohan‘s masterwork, suffice to say a British secret agent, which incidentally was the name of the forerunner to this series in the US also starring McGoohan, here it was called Danger Man, wakes up in a mysterious coastal village where he was being constantly monitored by ever changing authority figures known as No.2 and bullied by huge white balloons. But who was No. 1? McGoohan’s character was only ever known as No. 6 and the subsequent 17 episodes showed him trying to escape in ever more creative and sometimes downright strange ways. Nothing had ever been seen on TV that even resembled The Prisoner and it showed just how innovative and risk-taking TV, and particularly ITV, was during this period of broadcasting history. Call it Orwellian, Kafkaesque, surreal or just plain stupid, it was without doubt something very different in a wonderfully 60s psychedelic way.
But who could provide a suitably enigmatic theme to grace such an epochal TV series?
The opening titles were the same most weeks, with a couple of exceptions. A very angry man is seen resigning from a shady underground organisation and as he returns to his flat and packs to go abroad (or so we are led to believe) a mysterious undertaker arrives and gas suddenly emerges from his door and his world begins to spin. He wakes up in what seems to be his flat but on opening the blinds he is in a strange almost picturesque village. And this is where the story really begins..
Grainer’s amazing theme, stretching to nearly two minutes, provides an urgent musical backdrop to the show’s opening credits in an almost operatic way. Moving effortlessly from excitement to anger to intrigue and ultimately to mystery, no musical theme has even come close to providing such context for an opening title sequence. Like all Grainer compositions it’s catchy but it’s arrangement oozes class right down to the timpani that McGoohan insisted on. Every instrument, every flourish of the electric guitar, every blast of the brass section and dip of the organ, not only blends with the action but pushes it forward incessantly. The viewer is left in no doubt as to what is happening, how the character feels, where the action is heading.
Without doubt, the work of a master.
6. Tales of The Unexpected(1979)
Ron Grainer left the UK in 1968 to take up residence in southern Portugal, partly due to a desire for a quieter life than the one he was experiencing in an increasingly busy London and also as he was having sight problems and thought this would benefit from the Portuguese light. His output slowed down slightly due to other rustic commitments abroad but he still provided one final masterpiece for a new series which was being broadcast by Anglia TV in the UK.
Tales of the Unexpected was a series based on Roald Dahl short stories from his books of the same name as well as Kiss, Kiss and Someone Like You. Dahl introduced all the episodes from series one and some from series two and three. The series continued for over ten years and other writers provided stories in a similar genre.
The ITV series had a fairly generous budget which was spent on guest stars rather than elaborate sets and was a huge hit. Another who’s who of brilliant British character actors as well known Hollywood thesps appeared at some point in TOTU such as Rod Taylor, Jose Ferrer, Janet Leigh and Brad Dourif.
I’ve referred a few times in this little blog space to TV series which I feel are enhanced by their memorable musical themes, the obvious example being 70s Amsterdam based policier Van Der Valk.. And I would argue that TOTU sustained for so long partly due to its incredibly clever and grindingly memorable Ron Grainer theme. No one over the age of 40 will be unfamiliar with this theme and if hearing it for any reason, it will play away in their head for at least the rest of the day.
Grainer is said to have written the theme with the psalm (or is it a hymn?) All Things Bright And Beautiful in his mind. The cadences are certainly similar but it’s this theme that would be providing an ear-worm for me rather than the rather turgid psalm. Its jaunty almost fairground melody and instrumentation belies the grimness and sometimes grand Guignol elements of many of the stories. Personally, I’ve always found fairgrounds and circuses quite creepy backdrops for stories of this nature. Have a look at the opening sequence to the brilliant 70s series Journey To The Unknown and you’ll see what I mean.
A few years ago while listening to the Shaun Keaveney show on Radio 6 Music, a listener phoned in to Small Claims Court to reveal he had met the woman at a wedding who had performed the strip routine during the opening titles of TOTU. I wonder if she received a royalty every time the programme was broadcast? If so she could thank Ron Grainer for a fairly lucrative gig.
As usual Grainer hit it out of the ball park and I sometimes wonder if the series would have gone on for so long without his theme.
With a few notable exceptions this was arguably Ron Grainer‘s last masterwork. He wrote many, many other TV signature tunes as well film scores but the above are what I consider to be the shining lights in his back catalogue.
Ron Grainer died at the tragically young age of 58 in 1981 from spinal cancer. Had he lived he’d have been vying with the other TV theme maestro Tony Hatch as the greatest ever. But Grainer left enough of his prodigiously talented themes to be remembered always and to be spoken about in the same respectful breath as Hatch.
They may have been the oddest of programmes to serve up to kids on their summer hols but they are abiding memories of a childhood spent in front of the screen.
What’s your memory of school summer holidays in the 60s and 70s? Running wild and free through sunlit forests and lush green meadows? Gambolling in amongst the rippling wheat fields to the sound of chattering songbirds with a warm southern wind in your face? Me neither.
My abiding memory of summer holidays at the age of 10ish is sitting in a semi-darkened living room with the curtains drawn and shafts of morning sunlight breaking through the gaps, irritatingly, as the TV screen lit up your face and the glorious percussive opening strains and black and white credits of The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe struck up. Da da da da- da da!
Any child today would view this image as almost Victorian in its monochrome spareseness. Children’s TV was broadcast for an hour each weekday morning between 10 and 11 AM during July and August featuring badly dubbed cheap European imports, each series repeated unfailingly every year and watched every subsequent year with the same glee and wide-eyed wonder at the fact that programmes aimed at children were actually being beamed into your living room! In the morning! What wasn’t to like?
We were more easily pleased in those day, obviously. And to think back to the meagre visual TV diet we were given, and accepted gratefully, in those days, maybe said more about how compliant we were. Multi-platform, colour, flat screen, big budget 24/7 children’s TV programming was something from a science fiction series quite a few years into the future.
But it was still exciting and a welcome change to the norm. The fact that the BBC hardly bothered to change the programmes from year to year and didn’t even have the idea to repeat any children’s series they’d produced themselves is quite astounding. Of course, maybe they’d have had to stump up a repeat fee for some of the personnel involved which wouldn’t do and, of course, many of the children’s TV series would have been wiped immediately after broadcast anyway. So we were stuck with a few foreign series which, to us, seemed fine. It was, quite literally, better than nothing.
On top of that the productions were made in different languages and then badly dubbed into English. We were used to this though as we’d previously watched Tales from Europe on early evening telly. I wasn’t over enamoured with TFE as the dubbing irritated me a little but the stories were nuts! And this certainly did excite me. Much has been written about the weird and wonderful ‘Singing Ringing Tree‘ and it is a truly wonderful and, at times, terrifying experience. In later years when the colour version became available it added a new dimension of surreality. Other of the Tales from Europe strand weren’t even properly dubbed. Usually they just had an English language voiceover, a single actor explaining what was going on. You could hear the foreign language dialogue under this, which was never ideal. Broadcast by the BBC between 1964 and 1969 straight after Blue Peter (See Here’s Something I Wrote Earlier: Blue Peter v Magpie) on a Thursday, TFE was cheap and rarely cheerful series which had a peculiar fascination for children like myself. The narratives and characters were very different to what we were used to which was a good thing. With the exception of The Singing Ringing Tree, I doubt if any still survive and, other than The Snow Queen, I struggle to remember any of the stories featured.
So a bit of terrible dubbing for a July morning was more than acceptable.
And as a result these series have become synonymous with being young in the sixties for people of a certain vintage. Hear the theme tune to any of them and you’re transported to a time when nothing much bothered you, other than being told to go out and play. And, of course, in true Genxculture style, there was often more to those dubious summer visual treats than met the cathode-ray inflected eye.
The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe
Well we have to start with this, obviously. If any piece of music could be said to evoke childhood memories for those of a certain age, it’s this one. Hearing even a few bars of it takes you back to blissful summer mornings where there was nothing to worry you, nothing that needed to be done or appointments to be kept. Until, of course, your mum shouted through from the kitchenette telling you to go out and play as the sun was splitting the sky.
If you managed to escape this fate you could settle down to see how Robinson Crusoe managed to survive this seemingly idyllic island imprisonment.
Written by Daniel Defoe in 1719 it has since been seen as being the first work of fiction, using a range of narrative techniques. Some believed it was based on Alexander Selkirk, the Scottish privateer, or pirate which those types of mariners were, including the likes of that supposed British ‘hero’ Francis Drake. Selkirk spent three years on a deserted island Mas a Tiera, off the coast of Chile, before being rescued by a passing ship. They were essentially thieves on the high seas, often endorsed by royalty. Should anyone happen to pass through the cute wee village of Lower Largo on Fife’s East Neuk they will see a statue of Selkirk in the harbour.
It’s safe to describe the theme music as (cliche alert!) iconic. A word not just overused but battered to death nightly on TV and radio, but, in this case, appropriate. I doubt anyone over the age of 55 would fail to recognise the rumbling opening to the programme or the various pieces of incidental music. It’s even been reimagined by Art of Noise, no less.
Played by Austrian actor Robert Hoffman, it was his first professional role after leaving acting school. Hoffman went on to have a long and successful film career, mainly in slightly dubious European films such as Naked Girl Murdered In The Park, ermm Spasmo and the inevitable part of a U-Boat captain in 1980’s The Sea Wolves with British acting royalty Roger Moore, David Niven, Trevor Howard and the great Gregory Peck. All a bit long in the tooth to be messing about with U-Boats I’d say. Hoffman even had a part in the final days of Dallas in 1989.
In a nod to his 60s cult status as a mid-morning children’s TV hero, towards the end of his film career Hoffman appeared in a film entitled My Friend, The Lipizzaner.
What goes around, comes around, I suppose. And it’s also nice to see that, although retired from acting, he is still very much with us at the age of 83.
For me, the most memorable of Crusoe’s black and white adventures were the scene where he tries to rescue equipment from his sinking ship by building a raft and paddling out to the stricken vessel and then when he discovers footprints on the beach when he thought the island was deserted. An excellent cliff-hanger to end that particular episode. Of course, by the fourth time we’d watched the series the event had lost a little of its shock and mystery. But did we care? Did we buffalo.
It always seemed such a nice place to be marooned, the sun always shone, fish were plentiful and the little shelter he’d built himself would have made a fantastic gang-hut. Obviously when the cannibals and pirates arrived that put a slight damper on things but there had to be some moments of tension. The whole adventure was filmed on Gran Canaria, though long before anyone, other than some hippies maybe, saw it is a year-round holiday destination. At least it wasn’t Tenerife, or Brexit By The Sea as I tend to refer to it, so it maintained its mystery and exoticness no matter how often we watched it.
The White Horses
The White Horses was a curious confection of very poor dubbing (tick), bad acting (tick), unknown actors (tick) and what would now be questionable storylines (tick). The fact that the premise revolved around stories of summer holidays spent at an uncle’s horse stables which was populated by lovely white Lipizanner nags and was mainly of interested to young adolescent girls, with a equine fixation, before they’d discovered boys was irrelevant. It was a TV programme and it was on on a holiday weekday morning for god’s sake! Every weekday holiday morning. Every weekday holiday morning every holiday year! What wasn’t to like? Well, quite a lot really if you were a eight-year-old boy but we could easily put up with it as Robinson Crusoe was on next.
The White Horses was a German/Yugoslavian production first broadcast in the UK by the BBC in 1968. Surprisingly only 13 episodes were ever made, it just seems as if there were more due to the many repeat broadcasts every year.
It starred Austrian born Helga Anders as Julka who goes on holiday one sun-drenched summer to her uncle’s Lipizanner stud farm, although there was little exposition for the benefit of young viewers as to what a stud farm was. The fragrant Jenny Handley of Magpie (See Here’s Something I Wrote Earlier: Blue Peter v Magpie) might have been able to help her on that one (allegedly). Poor Helga went on to appear in many German TV series and films during the 70s and 80s but sadly lost her battle with drink and drug addiction in 1986 at the criminally young age of 38. A tragically adult demise for someone associated with children’s summer holidays.
Few people who watched The White Horses, other than the young horsey types who adored the series, will remember many of the storylines. There must have been limited opportunities to come up with narratives that always involved smart white horses saving their owners and busting crime syndicates. One slightly dodgy storyline, the very first episode in fact, featured some dastardly gypsies who tried to steal one the prize nags and hide it in plain sight by painting it brown. But Julka was too clever for them and spotted their deception! Well, it was 1966.
Everyone who watched the series, though, remembers the theme tune. And if anything transports us back all those years it’s hearing this tune, whether you liked the series or not.
Arguably it’s the theme tune that has rendered this series more memorable. I’ve already made the point a number of times that theme tunes are responsible for some series being remembered as better than they actually were. The most obvious example being Van Der Valk, a rather run of the windmill detective series set in Amsterdam (See Here’s Something I Wrote Earlier: Blue Peter v Magpie below). It was performed by that stalwart of TV theme tunes, Irish songstress, Jackie Lee. As ‘Jacky’ she reached number 10 with The White Horses theme song, voted the best ever theme by The Penguin Television Companion, indeed. She followed this up using her proper stage name, Jackie Lee, with the similarly earwormic theme from Rupert The Bear in 1970 which reached number 14 in the hit parade. Jackie can be seen performing Rupert The Bear on the legendary Golden Shot in 1970 at 16:17 below. Finally, in 1973 she recorded the theme from Inigo Pipkin (latterly The Pipkins after the unfortunate death of Mr Pipkin after the first series ended) which didn’t chart but was also memorable.
Jackie was responsible for some Northern Soul classics but was also much in demand as a session singer during the 60s and 70s, providing vocal backing on such MOR classics as Tom Jones’s ‘The Green, Green Grass of Home,’ Englebert’s ‘Release Me’ as well as the more psychedelic stylings of the great Jimi Hendrix on ‘Hey Joe.’
At the age of 85, Jackie Lee is still very much with us and living in Canada.
Despite The White Horses being aimed mainly at a female audience, the next offering was very much a favourite of young male viewers.
Herge’s Adventures of Tintin
By far the greatest summer holiday programme was The Adventures of Tintin but it was also the most frustrating. It just wasn’t long enough, running in at about 7 minutes an episode.
We all know now that Tintin was Belgian having been created by George Remi under the nom de plume of Herge. His first comic strip, years before Tintin was entitled The Adventures of Totor: Scout Leader of The Cockchafers. Make of that what you will but Herge was about to go global with the release of Tintin some years later. To me the characters seemed very British, particularly the Thompson Twins and Captain Haddock, who had been adapted for a British audience, but it was the English language dubbing that was so much better than White Horses.
Certain Tintin stories from the 30s and 40s have been accused of being racist and imperialistic, an accusation fairly accurate, but it pretty much went with the territory in those far off days. And the only Tintin story I ever remember seeing during school holidays was ‘The Crab With The Golden Claws,’ made in 1959, so it must have been pretty cheap for the BBC to broadcast in 1967. But so was every programme during this summer period.
The Tintin series was, as far as I can remember, quite professionally dubbed. Unlike The White Horses and Robinson Crusoe which was clearly filmed in a foreign language, I had no idea Tintin was actually Belgian. At this time cartoons were like gold dust. There were so few on telly, when one was broadcast it was a significant event. But each episode was only five minutes long which frustrated me hugely. We did, of course, have Cartoon Cavalcade which eventually morphed into the awful Glen Michael’s Cavalcade, it really just became a platform for his irritating and comedy-lite personality, but it probably saved STV loads of money as we were lucky to get 2 or 3 cartoons during each episode.
The dubbing was good because the adapters brought in some proper voice actors. Tintin was played by Gerald Campion, an actor who played Billy Bunter in the TV series of the 50s and was perennially typecast as a ‘fat’ character in various films and TV shows. Other characters were played by the UK’s most famous voice actor of the period, Peter Hawkins. Few of a certain age will remember his name but he was responsible for many voices during the 60s-80s including the Daleks and Cybermen from early Doctor Who, Captain Pugwash, Bill and Ben, The Flowerpot Men (Sklobalop!) and SuperTed.
The cartoon version of the story was also adapted from the original and became the pursuit of diamond smugglers rather than opium smugglers, not that I’d have known what opium was in those days anyway.
Although this was my favourite holiday programme and one that excited me hugely when broadcast, I struggle to remember much about the story. It seemed to end almost as quickly as it began and just left me wanting more.
There were other holiday programmes such as Belle and Sebastian, which I never really took to, and a few Watch With Mother -type shows but it was The Big Three that really arrested our attention. It was genuinely exciting to have these programmes to watch every morning and every year as TV was severely rationed for children in those days and despite almost knowing the script after three years of the same schedule it didn’t matter.
Tell that to kids nowadays and they won’t believe you….
He may have tiptoed through the tulips but he left giant footprints in the happening New York scene of the 60s
Tiny was kind of a Dadistic statement of performance art that reshaped our point of view of what a singer could be, what a man could be.
You’re a gas!
Telegram to TT from George Harrison 1968
Ask anyone of a certain age with an interest in popular culture what they associate with the America of the 60s and they might mention Folk Music, Flower Power, Greenwich Village, Bob Dylan, Andy Warhol, ‘Happenings,’ psychedelia, Youth Culture and general weirdness amongst other things. What do they all have in common? I’ll tell you, as if you hadn’t already guessed: Tiny Tim. TT was everywhere, did everything, was known by virtually everyone in America, pulled back the boundaries of the idea of ‘celebrity’, took weirdness to a new level and rubbed shoulders with the great, the good and the bleedin’ awful. In short, he did it all. OK, his fame was transitory, as it so often is, but Tiny Tim, for a short glorious period was, after the President, the most famous person, not just in America, but all over the world. And he did it in a way that was endearing, funny, talented, ground-breaking, unassuming, self-mocking, eye-poppingly strange and, believe it or not, sincere. And you thought he was just a long-haired weirdo with a high voice and a ukulele. He was all that but he was so much more…..
I first came across TT on 23 November 1969 at the height of his fame. After conquering America without really trying too hard he toured Europe stopping off for a couple of weeks in the UK and making some TV and personal appearances. Oh, and also selling out the 5,200 capacity Albert Hall for one night. My encounter with TT was slightly more prosaic when he turned up on that Genxculture favourite and Sunday afternoon staple, The Golden Shot. I’ve written in previous posts about how TGS often featured unusual guest stars and this was one example (See Like A Bolt From The Blue: The Golden Shot). The first thing that surprised me, rather than Tiny himself, was that my mum had actually heard of him before. ‘Oh it’s Tiny Tim! He’s a scream!’ she giggled. I was curious as to how she’d heard of him as my mum and dad hardly had their fingers on pulse of popular culture in late-60s Edinburgh. But he’d been on a range of other British TV programmes during his previous 1968 tour (such as the Tonight programme which was a bit like The One Show but with proper journalists who didn’t ask such banal questions), so I can only imagine she’d spotted him on one of those. He seemed very tall, with long, dark, flowing wavy hair, a sports jacket your dad might have worn and, curiously, a shopping bag from which he pulled out his ukulele. He had a quick chat with the great Bob Monkhouse and then launched straight into his signature tune, ‘Tiptoe Through The Tulips‘ in his trademark falsetto voice. After he’d completed his set the audience went wild (ish) and he proceeded to blow them kisses, which was an odd thing to see on the resolutely conservative British TV, but I kind of liked it.
After that I don’t really remember seeing him on telly again but he was around the entertainment scene for many years, and though his fame diminished his personality never did and he carried on performing right up until his untimely death in 1996.
In the 1960s and 70s the USA was not just another country but another planet to us in the UK. All we had to go on was American films, TV series, the odd documentary, comics and news stories. There was, of course, no internet, and with only three TV channels, what we learned about America was limited. But America was exciting, pulsating, shiny, huge and, above all, different. And what I had no idea about was just how huge Tiny Tim was in the US before and after his British trips in 1968 and October 1969.
Tiny Tim’s, or his birth name Herbert Khaury, date of birth, as one might expect with so ephemeral a personality, was open to debate. However, it’s generally accepted that he was born in 1932 and was around 30 when he first became noticed.
His upbringing in one of the less salubrious areas of Upper Manhattan inevitably included a fair amount of bullying, a less than successful academic track record and a stormy relationship with his parents, who never encouraged or praised him in his attempts to be a singer, until, of course, he achieved success in the late-60s.
Throughout his childhood he was obsessed with the songs and records of the 20s and 30s and sat in his bedroom playing them over and over again and memorising the words and melodies. On dropping out of High School he was so desperate to be accepted as a singer that he packed in a number of dead-end jobs in order to perform for free at any New York bar or dive that would have him. He did, however, play at some of the most well-known venues in Greenwich Village and rubbed shoulders with the great and the good of NY folk music at the time. He was first spotted in 1962 singing at a freak show called Hubert’s Museum in Times Square, billed as ‘The Singing Canary.’ From there he received his first poorly paid engagement at the legendary Cafe Bizarre in Da’ Village, where he was billed as ‘Larry Love‘, a jazz and poetry venue which hosted Kerouac and Ginsberg during the same period. Two years later at the same place, Warhol would stroll in and spot the uniquely strange house band performing to virtually no customers and, on the spot, declare himself to be their manager. They were called The Velvet Underground (See Warhol: From Soup to Nuts? How Wrong They Were..).
From there he moved on to the just-as-legendary, and still around, Cafe Wha‘ in which musical royalty such as Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Peter, Pauland Mary and, latterly, Bruce Springsteen would cut their musical teeth. It was here he struck up a friendship with, as the great Clive James brilliantly punned him, ‘The Hoarse Foreman of the Apocalypse,’ Bob Dylan and stayed in touch with him until the end of the sixties, even appearing in a home movie Dylan was making at his home in Woodstock in upstate New York. The film is believed to still exist but little of it has been seen and is thought to still be in the possession of the enigmatic Mr Zimmerman.
He moved on to yet another legendary bar, Page Three, which had been, and maybe still was, a lesbian bar. It was here he met Lenny Bruce as they shared the same management and the two really hit it off. Lenny was obsessed with a single Tiny had given him. When Lenny had a gig at the also legendary Cafe Au Go Go in da Village, Tiny opened for him over two nights. Sadly, though unsurprisingly for the time, on those two nights Lenny Bruce was busted for obscenity by the buttoned-up NYPD. A third Bruce/ TT gig at the Fillmore East was cancelled on the night as Bruce was busted yet again before the show even started. But Tiny, once again, had a grandstand seat to everything that was happening in ‘happening’ New York at the time.
He would then find a more regular but no more financially lucrative gig at a midtown NY venue called The Scene, which was a discotheque mainly populated by rich but untrendy students. A place for ‘..rich kids who wanted to act like Village hippies,’ as TT described it. The Scene featured a mind blowing array of many yet-to-big acts such as Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors and The Turtles, as well as Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable, and also attracted a NY celebrity clientele. Tiny was billed as ‘The Incredible Tiny Tim: 365 Nights A Year.’ In fact, for The Doors shows in 1967 Tiny opened the evening for them. Jim Morrison was impressed with Tiny and offered him a song he had recently written which he thought might suit Tiny’s increasingly odd repertoire. The song was ‘People Are Strange‘ and, to me, this was would have fitted into TT’s set list perfectly. Sadly for Tiny, The Doors‘ career suddenly took off in a big way and they decided to record ‘People Are Strange‘ themselves, but what a version that could have been. His friendship with Jim Morrison almost hit the skids, however, when Morrison in full live performance mode almost knocked Tiny unconscious with his swinging microphone. Luckily Tiny was unhurt as was their friendship.
During his time at The Scene Tiny also developed a habit which might seem a tad creepy nowadays but at the time, I feel, was sincerely meant, though certainly on the eccentric side. During each year of his residency at The Scene he would select an attractive and vivaceous female regular attender to be his ‘Girl of the Year‘. The lucky lady would receive a shop-bought trophy from Tiny as well as, sometimes, a poem or even a song. This ritual continued for many years, even after his marriages, and the recipients seemed happy and not a little flattered. When The Scene’s recipient of the 1969 trophy, Miss Corky Ducker, was sacked from her job there, Tiny refused to play again until she was reinstated. Tiny, of course, got his way.
It was here Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary saw him and alerted Reprise Records to him and they would eventually sign TT. He also appeared in a friend of Yarrow’s, Barry Feinstein, underground film which explored the ‘craziness and nuttiness of …the time‘, You Are What You Eat, to not much acclaim. His appearance features him performing his set backed by a group of musicians known at the time as The Hawks. They would later become Bob Dylan’s backing band, going by the more prosaic name of The Band.
In 1967 Reprise Records commissioned Tiny to record his first album in LA produced by Richard Perry who had previously produced such A Listers such as Harry Nilsson, Captain Beefheart, The Pointer Sisters, Diana Ross, Andy Williams and latterly even Leo Sayer. The album entitled God Bless Tiny Tim received some excellent reviews and is still seen by many to be a psychedelic classic. It was Tiny’s most complete and characteristic recording and reached the Billboard top ten in July 1968. Amongst the tracks laid down included an obscure Irving Berlin song entitled Stay Down Here Where You Belong, and some songs which became Tiny standards such as Strawberry Tea, Ever Since You Told Me That You Love Me (I’m A Nut) and Never Hit Your Grandma With A Shovel. On Then I’d Be Satisfied With My Life a wispy voice in the background sighing ‘Oh Tiny!’ just happened to be an up and coming model and singer known as Nico. As I said, Tiny was everywhere and came into contact with everyone who was anyone or was about to become someone at the time.
While recording this album Richard Perry took TT to The Hog Farm hippy commune outside LA where he performed and went down a storm. In the audience that day was a frustrated musician, a certain Charles Manson who would make a slightly different name for himself a year later.
Shortly after completing this record Tiny appeared at the Newport Pop Festival, second on the bill to Jefferson Airplane and above The Animals, The Byrds, Grateful Dead, Canned Heat and Steppenwolf. No mean feat and a good indication just how well known Tiny was becoming.
It was at this time when he was becoming well-known that he began a life-long love of cosmetics and developed a rigorous skin care regime. During the height of his fame he would usually walk on to a TV studio set carrying a bog average quality shopping bag which would contain his ukulele and also his increasing range of skin care products. Before each show, whether on TV or live he would apply Elizabeth Arden white powder to his face which made him look even more bizarre and it quickly became a regular part of the TT ‘look.’
Tiny’s other personal habits also seemed a touch extreme. He had a revulsion of public toilets and during recording sessions in New York, if he needed to go for any reason, he would walk the 10 blocks back to his parents’ flat and return to the studio a couple of hours later.
Although Tiny was becoming very well known around the US, 22 January 1968 was the date that his personality exploded before the American viewing public. This was the day the pilot episode of Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In was broadcast and along with Lorne “Ben Cartwright’ Greene, Leo G ‘Mr Waverley‘ Carroll, US comedian Flip Wilson and psychedelic rockers The Strawberry Alarm Clock, Tiny was unleashed on a mostly unsuspecting multi-million TV audience and a completely unsuspecting Dick Martin. Martin had not been told about a ‘special guest’ and after a brief introduction by a chain-smoking Dan Rowan who then left the set, Dick was left to make what he would of Tiny who walked on with his customary shopping bag and brimming confidence. Dick’s incredulity is palpable as he tries to make sense of this larger than life character in front of him and it cemented the character of Tiny Tim in the US zeitgeist for years to come. So much so that Tiny was invited back to Laugh-In regularly and it’s only surprising he didn’t become a permanent member of the cast. Tiny was up for anything, which suited the producers and writers who came up with many weird and wonderful scenarios for him. Not least with that bastion of patriotic conservatism, Big John Wayne.
One might think that a meeting between ultra-conservative Big John and unwitting symbol of late-60s ‘flower power’ Tiny Tim would be awkward to say the least. Not so, however. Big John was always up for something different and was happy to send himself up, hence he appeared a number of times on the fairly anarchic and non-establishment Laugh-In. And, oddly enough, Tiny was something of a self-proclaimed conservative himself. He was deeply religious, thought America’s role in the Vietnam War was right and he believed women were made to look after men and tend the home, despite his love and fascination for the girls who became his fans at The Scene and anywhere else he was performing, not forgetting his rather libertarian approach to his many marriages, and he just loved Richard Nixon. Strange bedfellows indeed but it’s those sort of weird encounters which make this cultural period so interesting. And talking of strange bedfellows, while TT was recording an album at a New York studio in 1968 the person in the next studio had heard about Tiny and dropped in for a rap. Photographs were taken and one of them ended up on the back this artist’s album. The artist was Frank Sinatra, one of TT’s idols, and the album was ‘Cycles.’
In the same way TT was a regular guest on Laugh-In, he was also a great favourite with one of America’s most popular programmes, Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Showappearing, in what may be a record, an incredible 28 times. So why was this rather odd individual so popular? Because he was a chat show host’s dream. It’s no surprise that he also appeared numerous times on:
The Merv Griffin Show
The David Frost Show (13 times including once as guest host)
The Mike Douglas Show (15 times)
The Jackie Gleason Show
The Dick Cavett Show
The Arsenio Hall Show
The Howard Stern Show
The Conan O’Brien Show
….amongst many others.
Chat show hosts loved him because all they had to do was light the blue touch paper, sit back and unleash Tiny who would pontificate at length on pretty much any subject thrown at him. It was while doing The Merv Griffin Show on March 7 1966 that he was spotted by a casting director in LA. From this he was offered a part, playing himself obviously, on the pilot episode of Ironside for which he was paid $300. A lot of money in those days and certainly a lot of money for Tiny at that time.
But it was The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson that on December 17th 1969 gave Tiny his most memorable TV moment. It was on this night that Tiny Tim married his first wife, Miss Vicki, live in front of a TV audience estimated to be approaching 50 million. It’s said 84% of viewers in New York watched the glitzy ceremony. In Martin Scorsese’s brilliant satire, The King of Comedy, celebrity wannabe, Rupert Pupkin played by Robert De Niro, dreams of being on a Johnny Carson-type chat show, hosted in this case by the fictional Jerry Langford played by Jerry Lewis, who suddenly brings Rupert’s girlfriend on to the set and suggests they get married live on the show. Rupert, after a bit of initial mock-shock, is only too happy to go along with it. One can’t help but surmise that Tiny and Miss Vicki’s media marriage was on Marty’s mind when he was making this film.
TT had met 17 year old Miss Vicki Budinger only a few months before at a book signing, a book of his own personal philosophies, ‘Beautiful Thoughts,’ and decided he wanted to marry her as she was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. That month as least.
The ceremony was everything one would expect from such a tacky, media-driven event. Even up to the point when TT turned down the glass of celebratory champagne offered by Carson’s sidekick Ed McMahon preferring to drink glasses of milk into which he dropped spoonfuls of honey for himself and Miss Vicki, in keeping with his strictly vegetarian diet (even that was seen as weird in the US in the late sixties!). The marriage famously, and possibly unsurprisingly, didn’t last long. TT had already told the lovely Miss Vicki that she could never hope to be the only woman in his life. Word got out to the pursuing press pack that things in the tulip garden were less than rosy and within a couple of weeks Carson was making jokes in his opening monologue that Miss Vicki had put a sign up on the door of their hotel bedroom saying ‘Please Disturb.‘ That said, TT hung around long enough to father his only child named, believe it or not, Tulip.
Miss Vicki has resolutely refused to discuss with anyone her brief marriage to TT, however she reappeared in the newspapers a few years ago when it was discovered she was having a relationship with a Rabbi who was convicted of hiring a hitman to murder his wife. Strange how publicity just follows some people.
The years ’68-’69 proved to be the zenith of Tiny’s career. He was everywhere although the US was more familiar with his exploits and ubiquity than the UK. But in October 1968 that was all to change. Tiny brought his unique personality and show to a rather staid UK that didn’t quite know how to take him. I’ve already mentioned his landmark appearance on Genxculture favourite The Golden Shot (See Like A Bolt From The Blue..The Golden Shot) in 1969, his second UK tour, and according to the definitive TT biography, the superb ‘Eternal Troubadour: The Improbable Life of Tiny Tim‘ by Justin Martell and Alanna Wray McDonald, Tiny appeared on The Dave Allen Show, which was a chat show at the time, The Mike and Bernie Winters’ Show and BBC’s Tonight magazine programme with heavyweight journalist Kenneth Allsopp during his first visit in 1968. However, IMDB does not mention Tiny appearing in any of these shows at the time, although, with the exception of ‘Tonight‘ with Kenneth Allsop which ceased broadcasting in 1965, all were being broadcast at the time of Tiny’s UK tour. Because such light entertainment series were routinely wiped straight after transmission, it’s possible TT did appear on them but his participations have been criminally lost in the mists of time. It’s common that even production notes of most of those series may also have been destroyed. So with regards to TT’s British TV appearances , with the exception of The Golden Shot, it’s anybody’s guess and, sadly, TT is no longer around to confirm any of them, not that he’d probably remember.
What is beyond doubt about this UK visit was on October 30 1968 Tiny Tim performed at the 5000+ capacity Royal Albert Hall in London. Also on the wonderfully 60s bill that night was Peter Sarstedt, who’d had a number 1 hit with ‘Where Do You Go To My Lovely?‘ that year, Joe Cocker and the wonderful, and almost as ubiquitous as TT, Bonzo Dog Doo-dah Band (wonder what Tiny made of them?). Tickets for this gig were £37 each, a king’s ransom in those days. The programme for the evening even reproduced a telegram Tiny received from heavy rockers Deep Purple wishing him luck. In the audience were members of The Beatles (John Lennon definitely) and The Rolling Stones, Marianne Faithful, Harry Nilsson and the greatest liggers of all, members of the royal family who never turned down a free gig. In acknowledgement of the Beatles and Stones‘ attendance Tiny did his own personal versions of ‘Nowhere Man‘ and ‘I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.’ In fact The Beatles were so impressed with Tiny that they invited him to record his version of Nowhere Man for their Fan Club’s Christmas album of 1968. He did that in George Harrison’s New York apartment during a visit with him earlier that year.
By the early 70s Tiny’s career was on the wane. In keeping with his rather rudimentary grasp of business affairs he had a succession of managers, business advisers, lawyers and agents all working for him. Some were completely trustworthy while some were, to say the least, mercenary. TT had no idea how much he was making from concerts, personal appearances, record sales, book sales and TV roles. To be fair TT was fairly loose with his money also spending huge amounts on cosmetics and various other non-essentials. All his entourage had to be paid and he left them to do that themselves. Even Miss Vicki was on a retainer. At one point in the late 60s TT was being managed by two individuals who may or may not have had strong associations with The Mob. So much so that no one in his pay was brave enough to tell them they were fired.
The novelty of Tiny’s act began to wear off, his TV appearances began to get fewer and his rather conservative views began to sound hugely dated, not to say distasteful and most certainly unfashionable, during the climate of fervent anti-Vietnam feeling. One of his 1970 releases was his version of an old patriotic anthem called ‘What Kind Of An American Are You?’ which didn’t go down well with the Anti- War movement young people who had previously made up a large section of his fan base.
That said, he was still famous enough and media-friendly enough to guest host three episodes of The David Frost Show in the US, amongst his guests being an intriguing encounter with Orson Welles. He even recorded an English patriotic medley for the David Frost Show. Now that is weird!
Possibly his last major public appearance was at the Isle of Wight Pop Festival where he performed There’ll Always Be An England to a rapturous 600,000 crowd.
He continued to perform for the rest of his life, popping up occasionally on The Howard Stern Show in the US and playing a psychopathic clown in the horror film Blood Harvest in 1987. He divorced Miss Vicki in 1972 and was married twice more to Miss Jan and finally Miss Sue who he was still married to at his death in 1996.
Tiny just loved performing, whether it was to an audience in single figures or the Isle of Wight Pop Festival with an audience of 600,000. And it was performing that eventually killed him. After he suffered a serious heart attack in 1996 he was advised by doctors to stop performing immediately but he just couldn’t do that. He died while performing the song he’s most associated with Tiptoe Through The Tulips at a festival in Minneapolis on November 30 1996.
It’s how he would have wanted to go.
Tiny Tim was seen by many people at the time as a weirdo, someone who was affected and was ‘at it.’ Few believed his act was really sincere but many liked him all the same. But he was sincere, there was nothing about Tiny Tim that was artificial. I began this article as one of those slightly cynical people but have concluded that, despite some real eccentricities, he was what you saw and heard and I ended up with a genuine affection for him. He was someone who just wanted to make the world a better place (despite his odd political beliefs). And the world at the time would have been a worse place without him and what an albeit brief but stratospheric professional life he had. Tiny rubbed shoulders with anyone who was anyone in the culturally explosive New York of the 60s and they appreciated him.
So, God bless Tiny Tim. He was a one-off. And in a nice way.
Everyone knew Jack Wild in the 60s and 70s and for a short glorious time he could do no wrong
For most people of a certain age, Jack Wild was the quintessential Artful Dodger in Carol Reed’s classic musical version of Oliver!, written by Lionel Bart, in 1968. It seemed the world was Jack Wild’s oyster after this film and it really was. America had awarded the Best Film Oscar to Oliver! and he was nominated as Best Supporting Actor, although this went to Jack Albertson for a film no one remembers called The Subject Was Roses. An American sojourn ensued and Wild appeared in a range of US productions including the weirdly psychedelic HR Pufnstuff. His career trajectory dipped during the late 70s, however, and never really recovered. It was the classic story of too much, too young maybe with drink playing an important part and Wild died in 2006 at the tragically young age of 53. But for a golden period in the late 60s to mid-70s Jack Wild was a household name and his achievements were significant and it is those achievements and career highs this blogpost will focus on, rather than his very sad demise.
Before Jack was catapulted to fame by Oliver! he had had small parts in some highly respected British TV series of the late-60s including Z Cars, the almost forgotten BBC serial The Newcomers and the superb and innovative BBC science fiction series Out Of The Unknown, which was his first speaking part (for the record the episode was Come Buttercup, Come Daisy, Come….).
Despite playing the part of The Artful Dodger and sounding like the archetypal cockney kid from Central Casting, Jack Wild was actually born in Lancashire and moved to London as a child. He was spotted playing football with his brother Arthur by, of all people, Phil Collins’s mum June who was a theatrical agent and this led to him being cast in the London West End production of Lionel Bart’s hit musical about Oliver Twist, Oliver! Although some reports claim he had the title role, he was actually just one of Fagin’s gang but this eventually resulted in him being cast as Dodger for the film. His confident and cheeky demeanour as The Artful Dodger in Oliver! endeared him to the viewing public and before long everyone knew of Jack Wild and the massive success of the film in the US had producers clamouring for his services.
Oliver! changed Jack’s life forever. His role in the film struck a chord with the public and catapulted him to success. For a while at least. He was even nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Up against Seymour Cassel for Faces, Daniel Massey for Star and Gene Wilder for The Producers, the award went to the prolific Jack Albertson, a well-known TV face for the almost forgotten The Subject Was Roses. Albertson was probably best known as Grandpa Joe in the classic version of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, coincidently with fellow-nominee Gene Wilder. I remember him well as appearing in long-running Dr Simon Locke, (alternately known as Police Surgeon) on British afternoon TV during the 70s.
This is nothing new, of course, as British actors who find themselves nominated for Academy Awards or even just appear in a successful TV show always tend to have a short period of stateside success. I’ve already featured the wonderful Judy Carne (See Judy Carne: A Truly 60s Star) in this little blog space and how her US career skyrocketed after she appeared in the American sitcom Fair Exchange. Her TV dad in this show during the early sixties, one of the most well-known faces in British film and TV at the time, Victor Maddern, went on to appear in episodes of top-rated shows Perry Mason and Bonanza on the strength of his short-lived US exposure. Another example, of many, was Jean Marsh who not only helped create but also appeared in almost every episode of Upstairs Downstairs which was massively successful in the US. She went on to have a very successful career in America appearing in big series such as Hawaii Five-O, Trapper John, obviously Murder, She Wrote and The Love Boat. Anyone who was was anyone in the acting business appeared at some time in The Love Boat! In fact it was the US equivalent of Casualty or The Bill. Everyone in the acting profession eventually appeared in it at some point in their career.
Jack’s fame spread like a rash and he was soon courting the chat show kings such as Simon Dee and Johnny Carson. To see Jack Wild’s mature but slightly vulnerable interview here on Genxculture favourite Dee Time ( See Dee Time: When The Sixties Really Began) is really quite fascinating but also sad as we now know what showbusiness traps were awaiting him. But that wasn’t before he appeared in one of the weirdest, most psychedelic, eye-popping series of the 60s and 70s: HR Pufnstuf.
During the premiere of Oliver! in the US, Jack met producers and puppeteers Sid and Marty Krofft who thought he’d be perfect to star in a new show they were developing called HR Pufnstuf. For two series and a feature length film Jack would star in this most psychedelic and weird series. Having been shipwrecked on to Living Island where everything is alive, they are constantly under attack from Witchypoo (Billie Hayes) who wants Jack’s magical flute. He befriends a timid dragon (HR Pufnstuff) who helps him fend off the ruses of Witchypoo and a jolly time is had by all. The garish colours, the surreal setting, the odd narratives and the fairytale, abstract characters all suggest the writers and directors were on something a little more than creative energy. Something the producers, Sid and Marty Krofft, always denied, although possibly less vehemently than one might have expected for the time. And what the hell? It was a terrific and wonderfully weird series and, let’s face it, many of the greatest artistic endeavours throughout the last 100 years have benefitted from a little chemical inspiration. For me, it makes the series even more memorable.
In 1978 the Kroftts created a Saturday morning show entitled The Kroffts’ Superstar Hour for the US. This very successful format included characters from Pufnstuf as well as, believe it or not, The Bay City Rollers! The show eventually morphed into The Bay City Rollers Show which as well as Pufnstuf characters also included The Rollers doing sketches and performing. I had no idea they had their own American show, as well as the awful cut-price Muriel Young produced show in the UK. I wonder what the American audience made of The Rollers’ terrible acting and Scottish accents? We may never know…
The Kroffts had previously been involved with another iconic 60s series, The Banana Splits which had a similarly scatter-gun approach to narrative, characterisation and mise-en-scene. To be honest, although I watched The Banana Splits on a Saturday morning (there wasn’t a lot of choice in those days), I always felt it was trying just a bit too hard. It was zany and madcap (two words coined by Shakespeare) and although we missed out on the flamboyantly colourful sets, as we still had only monochrome then, it was something different. It clearly had a lasting effect on young viewers though. Everyone who lived through the sixties remembers the theme tune and The Dickies even had a punk-lite hit with it in 1979 reaching a high of number 7 with The Banana Splits Song. As a 9 year-old I always looked forward to The Sour Grapes Bunch making an appearance. They were menacing and intimidating. Unlikely this sort of thing would be encouraged nowadays. Also appearing regularly were The Dilly Twins singing Ta-Ra-Ra-Boom-De-Ay. Just plain irritating.
Like any decent comedy programme The Banana Splitshad their catchphrases and regular routines such ‘Hey Drooper, Take out the trash….’ Drooper was the most laid back of The Splits. One could have imagined him puffing on a J (if we’d known what that was in those days) behind the backlot between scenes. Fleegle would encounter all sorts of difficulties collecting the mail each week. Every week. They would also have to try and translate Snorky’s toots and honks each episode.
Interspersed between the Splits‘ ‘crazy’ antics were a few cartoon and live action serials. One-trick pony cartoon Arabian Nights (Size of a cow!), a cartoon version of that most overdone novel The Three Musketeers and the mildly racist live action Danger (Uh-oh, Chungo!) Island. I don’t remember any of my pals being fans of The Banana Splits exactly but we watched it every week and it was slightly upmarket of any offering from The Children’s Film Foundation.
Due to his fame on Pufnstuf and the Kroffts’ involvement, Jack made an appearance on The Banana SplitsShow, an event he remembers very little about as he wasn’t really aware of how big they were at the time. All he remembers about it was that he entered The Banana Splits‘ house sliding down a chute, which sounds about right. He bought an expensive camera with his appearance fee.
It’s difficult to imagine just how famous Jack was during the early 70s, particularly in the US. It’s always an indication of someone’s popularity when some record producers see the chance of making a fast buck by cashing into this fame. And such was the case with Jack Wild who released three albums of mainly cover songs: The Jack Wild Album, Everything Comes Up Roses and Beautiful World. He even appeared on Top Of The Pops on 6 July 1970 singing his current single, Some Beautiful, which only reached a high of 46 despite heavy airplay on Radio Luxembourg. Interestingly his TOTP appearance created some short-lived tabloid controversy (is there any other kind?) when the producer dropped unfashionable warbling diva Dorothy Squires, of all people, for Jack. As you can imagine, The Squiresatollah was less than happy and kicked up an almighty stink. Sadly, even this gilt-edged publicity didn’t get Jack any higher in the charts. The show itself was an interesting one, as so many TOTP’s from that era were, and was introduced by friend of The Royals and Margaret Thatcher, a certain Jimmy Savile. The line-up ranged from heavy duty MOR to psychedelia and R-A-W-K and was as follows, with chart standings, and, no, I’ve no idea who Soft Pedalling were :
(1) MUNGO JERRY – In The Summertime (and chart rundown) (21) HOTLEGS – Neanderthal Man (2) FREE – All Right Now (NEW) JACK WILD – Some Beautiful (10) SHIRLEY BASSEY – Something (NEW) SOFT PEDALLING – It’s So Nice (28) JONI MITCHELL – Big Yellow Taxi (video) (NEW) DOZY, BEAKY, MICK & TICH – Mr. President (20) TEN YEARS AFTER – Love Like A Man (video) (danced to by Pan’s People) (NEW) COUNTRY JOE MacDONALD – I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ To Die Rag (13) ELVIS PRESLEY – The Wonder Of You (video) (4) THE KINKS – Lola (crowd dancing) (1) MUNGO JERRY – In The Summertime
As well as an appearance on TOTP, he notched up 7 (seven) appearances on Genxculture favourite, Lift Off with Ayshea including a ‘Jack Wild Special‘ on 3 November 1971.
His singing career in the US led to hysteria when he made personal appearances at record stores (as they call them) and chat shows all over the country! It was around this time that Jack was also asked to appear on The Bing Crosby Christmas Special. He was also invited to perform his new single on The Johnny Carson Show, America’s most watched chat show. Having completed three films and a hugely successful US TV series, Jack was becoming something of a diva. He admits this in his autobiography, ‘It’s Dodger’s Life‘, published shortly before his untimely death in 2006. At the age of 16 he’d already sacked his agent, June Collins, and various other ‘mentors’ in his life and decided he didn’t want to sing on Johnny Carson as his musical director wasn’t available, so he turned it down. A quite mind-boggling decision for a 17 year old.
He was also asked to introduce the great Tiny ‘Tiptoe Through The Tulips‘ Tim (See The Utterly Weird Adventures Of Tiny Tim), a Rowan and Martin Laugh-In regular, at LA’s legendary Troubador club. This also almost went tits up as Jack discovered TT was wearing the same shirt as he was and he nearly pulled out of the introduction when he was asked to change. He did go through with it but was less than happy. He expected Tiny Tim to change rather than him, which wasn’t going to happen. That said, Jack felt TT was ‘completely out of it‘ (although this was how TT usually came across to people) anyway and totally oblivious to the shirt faux pas.
This was a measure of Jack’s fame in the early 70s that he had the power at such a young age to make almost career-changing decisions and it was also the time when alcohol began to play a more significant part in his life. No one around him felt influential enough to warn him of the consequences of some of the decisions he was making as they all relied on him for at least part of their livelihood. Such are the vicissitudes of fame.
But his life in the early 70s was still a rollercoaster of transatlantic success, and after making the excellent Alan Parker-directed Melody about teenage romance with his old mucker Mark Lester he then teamed up again with his old Oliver! mentor Ron Moody to make the film Flight of the Doves in Ireland. One of the oddest stories from the making of this film was how, according to Jack’s autobiography, he was convinced that his parents were trying to force him and his co-star, Dana (yes, that Dana), together throughout the duration of filming. That would have been a romance made in tabloid heaven. Think he had a lucky escape there….
A particularly interesting film he was asked to appear in, although Jack was not particularly enthusiastic about it, was a David Puttnam production of The Pied Piper of Hamelin starring 60s psychedelic troubadour Donovan and directed by French auteur Jacques Demy. An interesting cast included John Hurt, who Wild got on very well with, Michael Hordern, Roy Kinnear (who also appeared with Jack in Melody) and the inevitable Diana Dors. Jack was asked by Donovan, who had written the film’s soundtrack, to sing a song in the film but, again, he refused, as he felt he wasn’t up to singing ballads and was more at home with up-tempo numbers. It was another example of Jack’s burgeoning confidence which may not have gone down too well with directors.
So far so good, but eventually fame begins to thin a little and the public and media find new people to adulate. That’s not to say Jack’s career imploded but the parts he as being offered were becoming less interesting. After his period as the cheeky young chappie everyone loved, he was growing older but casting directors didn’t think of him as an adult. Wild was also aware of this and he was becoming frustrated at the fact he was 18 and still being asked to play schoolkids.
Film roles began to dry up after The Pied Piper. Jack continued to work but in TV series such as The Onedin Line and another Dickens’ part in Our Mutual Friend followed soon after by another classic TV serialisation, Gogol’s The Government Inspector, also featuring ‘Doctor’ Robin Nedwell.
In-between these two fairly prestigious TV productions Jack starred in a film already mentioned elsewhere in this little blog site (see Standing At The Crossroads Of (TV) Quality), a film written by Crossroads‘ creator Hazel Adair, who, in an unlikely collaboration with wrestling commentator Kent Walton, went in for a bit of soft porn in her latter years. Keep It Up Downstairs says pretty much all about the film and Jack’s claim that he had little idea of what it was all about until he viewed the finished product is slightly dubious. But it was an earner when the offers begin to dry up a bit and I’m sure respected actors like the ubiquitous Diana Dors, Willie Rushton and the lovely Aimi MacDonald, who also appeared in the film, were just happy to take the cash, and who can blame them? Even illustrious film composer Michael Nyman provided the soundtrack. Well, everyone has to start somewhere….
It must have been an extremely odd viewing experience to have watched Jack as, ahem, Peregrine Cockshute but at least he was being offered an adult role!
It was around this time that the decent roles really did begin to dry up and his drinking began to take off. In his autobiography It’s A Dodger’s Life, he describes how he made Keep It Up Downstairs almost through the haze of alcohol. He feels he just about got away with it but people in the TV and film industry are not stupid. One can’t help but think that this was noticed and, of course, these stories circulate very quickly. Jack himself tells the story of highly respected actor John Collin, who appeared with him in Our Mutual Friend. It was well-known throughout the production that Collin had a drink problem and all the actors were instructed to do what they could to keep him out of the pub. One can’t help but feel that maybe Jack’s drinking also became known over the years and this, more than anything, could have affected the number of parts he was being offered during the mid to late Seventies.
Around the same time a successful court case brought by June Collins, his first agent, against Jack’s agent of the time, was also a huge setback in his career. The outcome affected Jack in the sense that he picked up the not inconsiderable tab for the case and had to pay June Collins a substantial sum for ‘lost earnings’ despite not really doing anything wrong other than change his agent. It’s true he did become something of a ‘diva,’ which he fully admits, when younger, but this story, once again, highlights the precariousness of showbiz.
During the mid-70s Jack returned to the US to appear in a Krofft brothers production at the Hollywood Bowl and it was here when Marty Krofft suggested to Jack he stay in LA and find work in Hollywood. This was not an unrealistic possibility as Jack was still very well-known in the US and a great favourite of the successful Krofft Brothers. Jack decided against it, however, as all his family were still in the UK but one can’t help but speculate whether his career might have been more lucrative in the US. Of course, drinking may still have been a problem amongst other distractions but maybe if he had been working more regularly he might have kept things more in check? Who knows, but it was a pivotal decision for Jack at a time when his career was certainly hanging in the balance.
During the 80s Jack’s work pretty much dried up. Was this because of his drinking? It was certainly a huge factor. Although a part in Kevin Costner’s blockbuster, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves looked like Jack might be getting back on the rails, it was too little too late. His health began to deteriorate seriously as did his private life.
It’s a situation seen too often in the showbiz industry but in his autobiography Jack doesn’t go in for self-pity. He knows he was solely to blame and how it affected not only himself but also the people around him. His story is tragic not just because it wrecked his career and his marriage but also because it denied the viewing public of a unique talent. Everyone knew and loved Jack Wild at one time. He was, without doubt, one of the faces of the seventies and no one of a certain age will forget Oliver! or HR Pufnstuf. He was ubiquitous, appearing on the most watched variety shows in both the UK and the US including The Liberace Show, Bing Crosby Christmas Special, The Englebert Humperdinck Show, The Val Doonican Show, The David Frost Show and that Genxculture favourite, The Golden Shot (Like A Bolt From The Blue..The Golden Shot), amongst many others. And what is just as tragic is to consider what he could have done had his career not been destroyed by booze. He would have been a shoo-in for Eastenders, for example. Sought after for Celebrity Big Brother and I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here. OK, these shows are not at the top of the professional ladders but they’d have been good earners for Jack and provided him with a pretty decent lifestyle and kept him in the public eye. Also with the, albeit brief, resurgence of the British film industry in the 80s and 90s driven by David Puttnam and Alan Parker, both of whom Jack worked with, there could have been many opportunities for Jack to become what he really wanted to be, an serious adult actor. And he could have achieved that.
I could also have seen Jack as a lively and entertaining compere in various TV shows similar to the type Ant and Dec front. Britain’s Got Talent would have suited Jack down to the ground!
But it wasn’t to be. Jack Wild died after a long battle with cancer, which he said was the result of his heavy drinking and smoking, in 2006. But he left behind a wonderfully strange and beautiful legacy of work which is still watched and enjoyed today. For a glorious period in the late 60s and early 70s, Jack Wild was the kid who had it all.