The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band: Still So Far Ahead, It’s Beautiful…!

‘Too anarchic, even for the sixties’: John Peel

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 Bonzosparodied, 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.

Gorilla (1967)

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’ Armstrong on 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 Batchelor on 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.

Big Shot

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.


Rhinocratic Oaths

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 Keynsham The 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!

Hey, Hey It’s the Monkees!

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’s A 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’s Oliver! 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.

The boys and Tessie backstage at The Ed Sullivan Show

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?

Davy Jones with the legendary Ena Sharples 1961

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’s Pleasant 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.

Video including Liberace smashing a piano. Dada or what?

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
  • Jump cuts
  • Flashbacks
  • Weird visual effects
  • Cartoonish sound effects
  • Hand held cameras
  • An absurdist sense of humour
  • A perfunctory observation of the narrative
  • A feeling of improvisation
  • Outlandish characters
  • 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.

Series 2 closing credits with For Pete’s Sake

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, ‘ was like kicking a dead horse. The phenomenon had peaked.’

With the great Johnny Cash although Davy seems a little out of it

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.

Another of The Monkees’ wonderfully surreal episodes

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.

Herman’s Hermits Were HUGE during the 60s. Why?

Herman’s Hermits seemed no different to other 60s British bands in America, but why were they so incredibly popular?

Cheer up Pete! You’re going to do great!

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 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 ( 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 discs 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 around the RSG studio on a trolley 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?

‘Way, way out’ maybe a slight exaggeration

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 of 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 (see Hey, Hey It’s the Monkees!). He died in 2016 a few years after completing significant parts in Titanic and The Mummy.

The prolific Bernard Fox

The New York Times described the film then as ‘ 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.

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 gossamer-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 pleasant 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 (see 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.

The lovelies line up for the one and only Peter Noone!

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):

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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 the formidable Peter Grant of Led Zeppelin fame. How queer!
  7. 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.
  8. 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 was Herman’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 ,’ 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.

Ron Grainer: The Wizard from Oz

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.

  1. Maigret (1960)
The original Ron Grainer Maigret theme

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 legendary Delia Derbyshire

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 Moody who 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’s Blockbuster and Gary Glitter’s Rock 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.

Man In a Suitcase - TV Series Opening - YouTube
The coolest man of 1967

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.

Truly the Wizard from Oz.

The Utterly Weird Adventures Of Tiny Tim

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.

Peter Yarrow

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..).

Cafe Bizarre exterior pics - The Velvet Forum
Cafe Bizarre in the 60s

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, Paul and 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 ‘ 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.

Newport Pop Festival 1968

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 WaverleyCarroll, 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 Show appearing, 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.

Ironside (1967 TV series) - Wikipedia
Special guest star, Tiny Tim!

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.

Tiny Tim Live! At the Royal Albert Hall - Wikipedia
The Beatles Christmas Album 1968 with a contribution from TT

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.

The Scaffold: The Group Who Put The (Thank) ‘U’ Into Ubiquitous

The unlikeliest of pop stars, their artistic tentacles stretched far and wide throughout the 60s and 70s cultural landscape

The popular culture of the 60s and 70s rarely, if ever, leaves me stuck for ideas for a new post. Ideas sometimes come in the most unpredictable of places, however. For example, while on a leg of the North Coast 500 of Bonny Scotland last week, just outside Durness on the far north-west corner to be precise, a short shuttle to the UK’s most northerly point, Cape Wrath, my lovely wife and I went into a cafe within an artisan craft community and at the counter were a pile of very expensive looking photography books. ‘Help yourself‘, said the assistant, ‘They’re free.’ So, of course, I did, not even the threat of a contribution from HRH Prince Charles on the book jacket was enough to put me off. The book was entitled, ‘Mike McCartney’s North Highlands.’ Now this struck a chord with me. Could this be the same Mike McCartney who was once Mike McGear, younger brother of Paul McCartney, lead singer and composer of 60s pop and comedy group The Scaffold and later GRIMMS? On further examination of the inside cover, it surely was! And this got me thinking whilst driving our camper van through the breathtaking scenery of that part of Scotland. There really was more to The Scaffold than just Lily The Pink. As far as 60s credentials go, few could compete with The Scaffold, whether you liked them or not. They appeared on everything from Top of The Pops to The Basil Brush Show to cutting edge satirical comedy and poetry shows to ads for insipid beer to public information films to gigs at the prestigious Talk of the Town in that London and even their own TV series! For a few years at the end of the 60s until the early 70s The Scaffold were everywhere.

The Scaffold were Mike McGear, who changed his name from McCartney to create a bit of artistic distance from his older brother Paul although it was the worst kept secret in showbiz, Roger McGough and John Gorman who all met in Liverpool in the early sixties. Rather than a pop group, were really a poetry/drama/comedy/musical act so beloved of the Edinburgh Fringe at the time and they appeared there many times before becoming well-known. They were originally called The Liverpool One Fat Lady Electric Show. ‘Two Fat Ladies‘ being the bingo call for the number 88, so as they lived in Liverpool 8 they became ‘One Fat Lady.’ But that wasn’t going to work long-term so they became The Scaffold after the classic French thriller starring Jeanne Moreau, Lift To The Scaffold. It’s often forgotten that it’s a rather grim name for such a fun group. So far, so bohemian, but that was about to change.

They were spotted at the Edinburgh Fringe and eventually signed for The Beatles‘ label Parlaphone Records and were even managed by Brian Epstein for a while. But it’s when they became famous that their story really begins…….

I remember quite well the first time I saw The Scaffold. Although I can’t be 100% certain, I’m pretty sure it was on an edition of that late 60s early Saturday evening floppy cheeseburger of ‘chat,’ Dee Time (See Dee Time: When The Sixties Really Began). I’ve narrowed it down to November 4 1967 and they appeared singing their soon-to-be first hit, Thank U Very Much. It’s a song still remembered by anyone over the age of 50 due to the infectious nature of its chorus and has been used on all sorts of ads ever since. Must be nice in terms of royalty payments. Note the phonetic use of ‘U’ in the title, a few years before Slade’s deliberately poor spelling was even thought of. Clearly there was something a little different about this group.

Who killed Simon Dee? - People - Transdiffusion Broadcasting System
Dee Time with a suitably bizarre line up of guests including Genxculture favourite Anita Harris!

They looked like the most unlikely of pop stars but the song rocketed to No. 4 in the hit parade and made them a household name (although few households have a scaffold in their living room, I’d imagine). Written by McGear, the line ‘Thank u very much for the Aintree Iron‘ continues to confound those trying to work out what this item actually is. McGear refuses to explain and many increasingly odd theories have been propounded. One bizarre suggestion was from someone who claimed to have heard McGear explain that it was a reference to Brian Epstein who lived in Aintree and he was a cockney rhyming slang ‘iron hoof.’ This sort of language was not unusual in the 60s, of course, and might have explained why McGear is so reticent to explain its meaning. But McGear refutes this theory completely as Epstein didn’t even live in Aintree and I believe him. I can’t help but think, though, it’s something rude or even defamatory hence McGear’s reticence to reveal its meaning. But the mystery rumbles on to this day and there’s nothing like a good mystery to keep the memory of a group alive.

Their follow-up Do You Remember, written by McGear and McGough, didn’t have the catchiness or singalong quality of Thank U Very Much and only reached No. 34 in the hit parade. Talking about remembering, I also do remember seeing them performing this in white tuxedos on the almost forgotten Roger Whittaker children’s TV show, replacing Crackerjack during the summer, Whistle Stop. I really wasn’t too impressed with this waxing although to listen to it now the lyrics were very different to Thank U Very Much and were very sixties and very Roger McGough to say the least. Nice!

Sun was high
So was I
Clouds were low
Down below….

But their musical zenith was just around the corner and in November 1968 Lily The Pink was unleashed on an unsuspecting world. It roared to No. 1 all over Europe and Asia and spent 4 weeks in the top spot in the UK and a massive 25 weeks in the chart. I even had the single! Again, it was that singalong quality that made it so successful and as a song, everyone who lived through that era will remember it and be able to recite a couple of verses. Although they had a couple of minor hits over the next few years, it’s not just their chart successes that make them interesting, I feel. It was only after Lily The Pink that The Scaffold, in my view, became really interesting.

We'll drink, a drink, a drink, to Lily the Pink, the pink, the  first record | Childhood memories, Memorial day movie, Nostalgia

Between 1969 and 1973 The Scaffold were ubiquitous throughout popular culture. For example, they were regular guests on a range of TV variety shows, often sharing these shows with some strange bedfellows.

I’ve already mentioned The Scaffold’s possible first ever TV appearance on the 4 November 1967 edition of Dee Time but their appearance on the same show a year and a half later happened to be the day before the Apollo moon landing astronauts returned to Earth. This would explain TV astronomer Patrick Moore’s appearance on the show but not legendary British actor Wilfrid Hyde-Whyte. Whether The Scaffold performed a song is unknown but they were up against the variety might of Genxculture favourite Clodagh Rodgers and one-hit-wonders Zager and Evans who were on their way to the No.1 spot with ‘In The Year 2525.’ A suitably space-age song for a suitably space-age edition of Dee Time (Wilfred Hyde White notwithstanding). The weird juxtaposition of guests on Dee Time was a regular aspect of the programme and Genxculture will be returning to this strange variety melange very soon (See Dee Time: When The Sixties Really Began).

As well as Crackerjack and Whistle Stop their TV appearances were regular and they performed on many wide and varied TV series of the 60 s and 70s including Top of The Pops (obviously), Ready Steady Go, The Golden Shot, The Basil Brush Show (excellent!), Doddy’s Music Box and the 60s alternative to TOTP pop show All Systems Freeman with Fluff Freeman.

In early 1968 The Scaffold were the resident musical act in all five episodes of a virtually forgotten satirical late night (or at least late in those days) Saturday show entitled ‘At The Eleventh Hour.’ Billed by the Radio Times as ‘An end of the week look at the world or an end of the world look at the week.’ It was similar in content to That Was The Week That Was‘ and, from the little I remember of it, it was a slightly more demanding watch. Roger McGough also appeared as ‘himself’ reading his poetry. As well as The Scaffold it starred a young Miriam Margolyes and Oz magazine’s Richard Neville. 60s radical or what? The show also featured a Ray Davies of The Kinks penned current affairs song every week. He is quoted as saying that it was one of the most enjoyable jobs he ever had as he was given the topic for the song on Thursday, wrote it on Friday and it was recorded by the show’s singer, Jeanie Lambe, on Saturday and he received £25 per song. Lot of money in those days! Sadly, most of the songs are lost and most of the programmes have been inevitably wiped although it’s said two episodes are still intact in the BBC archives. I have a vivid recollection of Roger McGough reciting a poem entitled ‘At The Eleventh Hour‘ at the end of one of the shows. Pretty audacious TV even in 1968. Interestingly, on a BBC viewers’ feedback programme of the time called Talkback, hosted by, of all people, the legendary sports commentator David Coleman, At The Eleventh Hour was accused of being blasphemous! Sounds great but it was the sixties and fifties attitudes were still fairly prevalent.

They recorded the theme song to a curious film starring Warren Mitchell called All The Way Up in 1970. The story of a ultra-ambitious business man and zealous social climber featured an excellent cast included Richard Briars, Kenneth Cranham and, another Genxculture favourite, Adrienne Posta (See Adrienne Posta: The 70s ‘It’ Girl). Recently shown on the always excellent Talking Pictures TV, it was a waste of everyone’s talent including The Scaffold’s. But a film soundtrack allowed them to tick off yet another genre.

All the Way Up - Wikipedia

In 1971 they were given their own BBC children’s TV series, Score With The Scaffold. This allowed their anarchic side to emerge more fully and this was hugely popular with kids. But, you’ve guessed it, no episodes of this show still exist and I have only a few memories it. The main one being the theme tune which was a version of their single 2 Days Monday from 1966 and the chorus, ‘Is everybody happy? You bet your life we are…‘ Rather chillingly, a guest on the final show of the second series was friend of The Royals and various politicians, Jimmy Savile….

Liverpool comical trio The Scaffold John Gorman, Roger McGough and Paul  McCartney's brother Mike who used the surname McGear.… | Pop group, Friday  tv, Roger mcgough

In early 1971, as a precursor to decimalisation, The Scaffold were asked to write and record five short songs to help people get their heads around this fundamental societal change. The 5-minute programmes entitled ‘Decimal Five‘ went out straight after Nationwide each weeknight. The establishment tones of newsreader Robert Dougall explained how the new monetary system would work and The Scaffold sang the short ditties as aide-memoires. It’s strange that so many people still remember these one-line songs. The ones I remember were ‘Use your old coppers in sixpenny lots, meaning old pennies could only be used in multiples of six after Decimalisation Day on February 15 1971. Also One pound is a hundred new pennies, which might seem like stating the bleeding obvious now but was quite a quantum leap in thinking for people then. Even Max Bygraves released a decimalisation single!

Not content with one Public Information Film they were also asked to do another about the more prosaic subject of turning right safely whilst driving. The refrain ‘Nice and easy gets you there‘ became a very seventies grim juxtaposition between two young people dying horribly in a car crash and the alternative scenario of the young man being successful in his sexual conquest. And it was all down to being able to turn right safely.

But as well as PIFs The Scaffold were also happy to make a fast buck from a bit of TV advertising. And who could blame them! To the tune of Lily The Pink they advertised Watney’s Pale Ale in their trademark white tuxedos in 1969, changing the lyrics of their blockbuster hit slightly. Inevitable, I suppose and I hope they got paid a packet. And it does look quite strange now to see famous people drinking alcohol in adverts.

When Carla Lane wrote the long running series Liverpool-set comedy series The Liver Birds it made sense to have a Liverpool group do the theme tune. And who were the Liverpool group of the moment in 1969? Why, The Scaffold of course and their self-penned theme is still strongly identified with that long running series.

..and with added Mike McGear voiceover!

The Scaffold’s association with The Beatles didn’t end with Mike McGear either. Mike was one of the individuals taken along on the legendary Magical Mystery Tour ( see Magical Mystery Tour: What A Long Strange Trip It Was) and it was McGear who recommended the wonderful The Bonzo Dog Doodah Band to Paul when he was looking for an act to perform in the strip club scene of the film (see The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band: Still So Far Ahead, It’s Beautiful…!). The Scaffold had worked with The Bonzos before and worked with them again after they ‘split up’ in the early 70s as GRIMMS. Roger McGough even wrote the bulk of the dialogue for Yellow Submarine but, for some reason, was uncredited. Now if that’s not interesting, I don’t know what is! However, he is reported to have received £500 for his contribution, a pretty tidy amount in the 60s but I still think I’d have liked a credit. The Scaffold also sang backing vocals on various Beatles‘ albums, often uncredited.

Paul McCartney and his lovely girlfriend Jane Asher arrive at a Scaffold gig in 1968

The Scaffold never really split up properly, they just became involved in their own particular interests. Roger McGough worked with The Mersey Sound poets Adrien Henry and Brian Patten, became a prolific and hugely successful writer of poetry, eventually began presenting Poetry Please on BBC Radio 4 (which he still does) and is now President of The Poetry Society. John Gorman appeared in a number of 70s films such as Up The Chastity Belt with Frankie Howerd, Alan Parker’s excellent ‘Melody‘ and Terry Gilliam’s ‘Jabberwocky.’ He eventually joined the cast of Tiswas, went on to write and appear in the adult version OTT and continued to write scripts for Chris Tarrant. Mike McGear (now McCartney again) had a relatively successful solo career, formed GRIMMS with the great Viv Stanshall and the sadly recently departed Neil Innes and later devoted his time to photography, as we have seen above.

All have reformed at various times to perform as The Scaffold and all are happily still very much with us.

They may not have looked or even sounded like pop stars but what an amazing and hugely enjoyable cultural trip they had.

Tony Hatch: Composer Of The Soundtrack For The 60s And 70s

He may have been largely forgotten but his music is remembered by everyone

It continually surprises me just how connected the showbiz world of the 60s and 70s was. So many of the posts below seem to feature the same people in the most bizarre of circumstances. And it isn’t, by any means, only Ed ‘Stewpot’ Stewart, but even he has another walk-on part in the story of the man who composed the soundtrack for 60s and 70s Britain.

No one under the age of 40 will know who Tony Hatch is. Few people over the age of 40 will remember him. But everyone will know his music as it has been omnipresent within our popular culture for over 60 years. Still very much with us, Tony Hatch should be remembered as penning hit records, film scores, advertising jingles and of course, TV themes. He was even the very first nasty talent show judge. Tony Hatch, we salute you!

Starting out as a tea boy with a London music company at 16, he subsequently joined Top Rank Records and was producing acts as diverse as Bert Weedon (‘We are normal, we dig Bert Weedon‘), Adam Faith and Carry On’s Kenneth Connor. Before long he was writing songs and this where the legend that is Tony Hatch really began.

Don’t you just miss record labels?

Writing under the pseudonym Mark Anthony, Hatch wrote ‘Messing About On The River’, a hit for Scottish singer Josh McCrae. At this time he was also writing and producing for the Pye label’s American roster which included Chubby Checker, Connie Francis, Pat Boone and Big Dee Irwin. During the early 60s when The Beatles and the Liverpool Explosion were dominating popular culture, on his first trip to Liverpool he discovered a band called The Searchers, who were named after the classic John Ford western, and wrote Sugar and Spice for them, giving the group their first huge number one hit.

As a producer at Pye he worked with some of the greats and not so greats of the 60s music industry. Some of his more interesting collaborations included Benny Hill (great), Bruce Forsyth, Norman Vaughan (not so great), French crooner (and brilliant jazz guitarist) Sacha Distel and the bafflingly successful Craig Douglas (see The Lost World Of TV Ventriloquism below).

He also worked with The Overlanders, who reached Number One in 1967 with a cover version of The BeatlesMichelle‘. They were one of the few bands to cover a Lennon/ McCartney song which The Beatles hadn’t released as a single themselves, at least not in the UK. This song won the Grammy Award for Song of the Year ahead of such easy listening classics as The Impossible Dream, Born Free, Somewhere My Love and Strangers In The Night.

Hatch, with his writing partner of the time, soon to be his wife, Jackie Trent also composed ‘Joanna‘ for the great Scott Walker. Achieving a chart high if No. 7 it helped re-launch Walker’s career after he split from The Walker Brothers, who, of course, weren’t brothers. This was a time when serious artists like Scott Walker might collaborate with easy-listening supremos like Hatch but he would also sing Jacques Brel as well as his own compositions. In fact, it’s a measure of the weirdness of 60s and 70s variety that Walker would perform Brel’s ‘Jackie‘ on The Frankie Howerd Show in 1967, or Jimi Hendrix would perform Purple Haze on It’s Lulu or Dizzy Gillespie would perform Be-Bop jazz on The Golden Shot (See Like A Bolt From The Blue..The Golden Shot below), all in the early 70s. Strange days.

Tony and Jackie rub shoulders with the great Scott Walker and ex-London bus driver Matt Monro

But it was his collaborations with Petula Clark in the mid-late 60s which really made his name. ‘Don’t Sleep in the Subway,’ ‘The Other Man’s Grass,’ ‘I Couldn’t Live Without Your Love‘ and the all-time classic ‘Downtown‘ were all huge hits. Many written with Jackie Trent, it was a hugely successful period for Hatch.

If any song is to be associated with Tony Hatch it would have to be Downtown. As a song it still sounds fresh and immediate today, evoking the atmosphere and excitement of a busy metropolis. The song, not surprisingly, was written while Hatch was in New York and the title certainly suggests a busy American city, the word ‘downtown’ not really being common in the UK, which only added to its uniqueness. He supposedly wrote it with The Drifters and Ben E. King in mind and one can see that collaboration really working, even though Hatch denied ever offering it to them. But Petula Clark made it, pretty much, her theme song and it has been covered by over 150 other artists including Frank Sinatra. It was only stopped getting to number one in the Hit Parade by The Beatles at their popular zenith with ‘I Feel Fine‘ which sold a gargantuan 1.42 million copies and is the fourth highest selling Beatles‘ single. Interestingly, playing guitar on the Downtown recording session was a young session musician called Jimmy Paige.

But as well as his huge successes with Petula Clark, Hatch also had a fairly lucrative and still hugely memorable sideline in writing TV themes. Everyone, and I mean everyone, in the UK during the 60s and 70s remembers Tony Hatch theme tunes. Many of which are still synonymous with the programme they were written for, and many of his themes are remembered long after the programme has been forgotten. And it this element of his work which, for me, raises him to legendary status.

I have written previously in this little blog space of how certain TV programmes of the 60s and 70s were more popular than they deserved to be at the time and endured, mainly due to a killer theme tune. Van Der Valk would never have been as successful, I feel, without the brilliant Eye Level by The Simon Park Orchestra or the wonderfully expansive theme for The High Chaparral which provided such up-market packaging for a fairly humdrum 70s western series. Some of Hatch’s themes did this for many 60s and 70s series.

It’s nearly 60 years (yikes!) since Crossroads hit our screens and for many of a certain age (i.e. me) it is still a memorably bad but much missed series. If a straw poll was taken of people who are aware of Tony Hatch and his work, and there are many, this, I feel, would be the piece of music he will always be associated with, whether he likes it or not. I wouldn’t imagine he’d be too happy about this given the scale, quantity and quality of his output over the years but, as Harry Worth would say, there it is. This does not diminish his achievements in any way but everyone is remembered for something. I have written about the amazing Crossroads and its iconic theme elsewhere in this little blog space (See Standing At The Crossroads of (TV) History below) so won’t dwell on it too long, but this is the theme of themes. Memorable, catchy, melodic, unusual (in it’s use of the oboe and harp) and absolutely totemic. It was even re-worked by Paul McCartney on his Venus and Mars album and this version was eventually used occasionally for particularly sensitive conclusions to episodes (and there were plenty of those!). Thematic genius and, I’m sure, a nice little earner for Tone.

Tony Hatch’s brilliant Crossroads theme.

And he repeated it again in 1972 for Emmerdale Farm (it’ll always be Emmerdale Farm to me), still played every weekday night to this day and, of course, Neighbours in 1985, composed with his then-wife Jackie Trent, which isn’t played every night anymore, but anyone from that era could still sing the opening few lines, even if they didn’t watch the programme.

And there was, of course, The Champions. Now, I loved The Champions. At the time. Having watched a few episodes recently I couldn’t help but feel the premise of some secret agents having super powers endowed after a plane crash in the Himalayas was silly, not to say repetitive, and the plots formulaic. You waited for most of the one hour episode until the moment when they used their super powers. The rest was pretty humdrum. Despite being very popular it, surprisingly, only lasted two series and 30 episodes between 1968 and 1969. I always thought Alexandra Bastedo (Sharon MacReadie), a great favourite of adolescent boys, was a bit mealy-mouthed and too sweet to be wholesome and William Gaunt (Richard Barrett) a touch miscast as he looked and behaved a little like an Assistant Manager in a Building Society. But that’s just me in my boring maturity. However, humming Hatch’s theme in my head still gives me a feeling of excitement and anticipation like it did then when The Champions was broadcast all those years ago. For an 8 or 9 year old this was a big weekly event. Bizarrely, and we do like bizarre things at Genxculture, in 2007 Guillermo Del Toro was reported to be writing and producing a screenplay for a big screen adaptation of The Champions. Sadly, to date, nothing has come of it but that would have been interesting. Very interesting.

Stuart Damon looking cool, William Gaunt looking uncomfortable

In those 60s and 70s days when football was severely rationed, and all the better for it, we were sometimes thrown some crumbs of football highlights on a Wednesday night along with the odd boxing match, although I can’t really remember any other sports being broadcast, on Sportsnight With Coleman presented by the legendary David Coleman. Tony Hatch’s theme tune caught the excitement of the cut and thrust of competitive sport perfectly as the floodlights in the opening credits blazed brightly over the sporting arena. Like so many of his other themes, anyone of a certain age will remember this from the first couple of bars with the anticipation of being able to watch some grainy monochrome floodlit football footage on a Wednesday night a real treat. As Tony himself once said, With an action show, you need an action theme.‘ and he gave us that here in spade loads.

With an action show you need an action theme…

He also composed the theme to long-running BBC 2 sociological documentary series Man Alive. Few will remember the programme but everyone will be familiar with the theme music. Other memorable series in which Hatch contributed the theme included suave Gerald Harper upper-crust vehicle Hadleigh and proto-type Holby City teatime daily serial from the late 60s, The Doctors.

Hadleigh opening credits: Deconstruct

Of course, no one’s perfect and he was responsible, again with Jackie Trent, for the awful Mr and Mrs theme. An awful theme for an awful programme. Hosted by ‘Mr Border TV’ Derek Batey, it permeated the myth that all married couples were deliriously happy and knew everything about one another. ‘And does he have any filthy disgusting habits that really irritate you?’ Derek would giggle as her husband was led to the soundproof box. My favourite question on Mr and Mrs was when some poor dolt was shown four different types of ladies’ shoes and asked, ‘And which of these lovely shoes would your wife prefer?’ How would he know, for crying out loud? He could see the £47 jackpot disappearing before his very eyes. I wonder how many couples’ marriages ended in divorce when it became obvious they knew nothing whatsoever about each other? And lovely hostess Susan Cuff would always sign off with, ‘Take care. Lots of care’ giving the game away that their core audience was probably not in the summer of its life.

What really brought Tony Hatch to the public’s attention, however, was New Faces which took over from long-running talent show Opportunity Knocks (See Opportunity Knocks! below) in 1973 and was the first show of its kind to feature a panel of judges. Tony Hatch was one of the original judges and quickly became TV’s first Mr Nasty due to his honest and forthright comments on many of the performers. In those days New Faces‘ judges had to give points out of ten for ‘Presentation,’ ‘Content‘ and ‘Star Quality.’ For a troupe of Russian Dancers (a perennial favourite of talent shows) one week Tony Hatch awarded them zero for ‘Star Quality‘ which caused gasps from the studio audience. But he was right. They were hardly going to set the showbiz world on fire but I’m sure they’d get the odd gig in a church hall. The performers were also kept on camera when they were receiving their feedback, which often made for excruciatingly uncomfortable, but entertaining, viewing.

It’s important to remember a couple of things in relation to current talent shows, particularly the dreadful X Factor. Tony Hatch actually knew about music having worked in the industry all his adult life. Unlike the venal Simon Cowell who knows nothing about music but does know how an act (and TV programme) might make him money and Louis Walsh who only knows about…..well, I’m not sure what he knows. Tony Hatch didn’t humiliate the contestants by featuring the poor deluded ones who couldn’t sing for the delectation of the viewing audience. He was constructive and did actually offer advice. And, unlike Cowell, he knew what he was talking about.

Tony less than impressed with the quality of talent on show.

Tony Hatch aside, the New Faces’ judges were an odd bunch. Made up of old variety stagers like Ted Ray and Arthur Askey, a few token ‘with-it’ members such as record producer Mickie Most and then-DJ Noel Edmonds, showbiz insiders like Genxculture favourites Crossroads‘ matriarch Noelle Gordon (a Hatch connection here!) and amateurish teenage pop show producer Muriel Young, the father of Ed ‘Stewpot’ Stewart’s 17 year old wife, manager Jimmy Henney but also Ed ‘Stewpot’ himself (he didn’t half get around)! But then the line-up just became surreal (or rather even more surreal). TV agony aunt Marjorie Proops, Hammer Horror actress Ingrid Pitt, dog-food advertiser and Liberal MP Clement Freud and, quite unbelievably, ‘clean-up-TV’ campaigner Mary Whitehouse! Eh? Tony also wrote the very popular theme music for New Faces entitled ‘Star‘ which was sung by ex-wild man of rock and former lead singer of The Move, Carl Wayne which became a minor hit.

You’re a star, superstar

On you go it’s your finest hour

And you know that you’ll go far ‘cos you’re a sta-ar

A verse almost everyone could recite in those days.

In later years Hatch’s marriage to Jackie Trent ended acrimoniously after he ran off with her best friend and after living for many years in Australia he moved to Menorca, Spain where he still lives. In 2013 he was inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame and about time too.

For every Downtown, Hatch also had a Mr and Mrs and for every Crossroads he had a Neighbours but the fact is, these songs and tunes still endure after all these years and no one encapsulated a particular time in music like the great Tony Hatch.

The Moronic World of 70s Radio One DJs

Let’s Rock!

What was it with 70s radio DJs? The size of their egos (and bank balances) were in inverse proportion to their knowledge of music.

For a medium which is about playing popular music to the masses there can be no individuals less qualified to deliver this seemingly uncontroversial melodic diet to our pop kids than 70s DJs. Where did it all go wrong? Well, it went wrong from the day of Radio One’s inception on September 30 1967 when a smooth-voiced male of indeterminate accent welcomed us to ‘the wonderful sound of Radio One,’ and proceeded to play Flowers in the Rain by The Move. It was all downhill from there.

To understand 70s DJs you have to separate them from the music they played because most had little interest and even less knowledge of music. They had no discernible accents, they talked incessantly without really saying anything, they rarely referred to the music other than to introduce it as ‘the sensational sound of…….’ They all had their own platforms but every one sounded the same. A few DJs had their own schtick, but generally the shows were all the same and the vocabulary used was the same but the voices just sounded slightly different.

Radio was just a useful peg to hang their cloak of moronic banter on and the records they played merely allowed them to take a breather, but they still managed to talk over the beginning and end of every record. A real pain when you were poised over the radio speaker with the microphone of a cassette recorder.

Over the years the cult (yes, I said ‘cult’) of the personality DJ just grew. The programmes were about them, people wanted to hear them, some deluded people even wanted to see them. Thousands turned up to see The Radio One Road Show during the summer months, although I would argue that if you were young and on holiday in Cleethorpes, Margate, Blackpool or Morecambe, then of course you’d go and watch it. What else was there to do?

Pin on Britain
The 70s Radio One Youth Policy

To be fair there were a few DJs on Radio One in the 60s and 70s who actually did like music and were able to be knowledgeable about it and discuss it. John Peel, of course, fought a life-long rearguard battle to keep non-mainstream music alive on R1 but he was tucked away at the end of the day throughout the week. In the end he sort of joined them by presenting TOTP and various other R1 frivolities but he could never take that look of distaste off his face in any photograph or the heavy irony from his voice.

30 September 1982 (TOTP) | John Peel Wiki | Fandom

A mucker of JP’s was former Radio Luxembourg DJ David ‘Kid’ Jensen who styled themselves ‘The Rhythm Pals‘, almost to remove themselves from the morass of blandness elsewhere on R1. Although sounding like a slick Canadian presenter (which he was) Jensen also championed new music on his Saturday morning show and certainly was responsible for helping new acts be successful in the UK. He was the first to play regularly Sultans of Swing by Dire Straits in 1979 and achieving a high of No. 8 and the rest is pop history. He also was almost single-handedly responsible for the success of Althea and Donna’s classic Uptown Top Ranking, transforming it from an obscure reggae song on a tiny label into a worldwide smash. Like Peel, Jensen’s show was on a Saturday morning so as not to frighten the weekday audience who, they perceived, wanted a diet of bland, anodyne banter and unchallenging soft pop.

There were other 70s DJs who really did like music and were able to talk about it on-air. The excellent Stuart Henry, Johnnie Walker (who eventually left as he was completely pissed off with the gerontocratic culture), Alan ‘Fluff’ Freeman with his Saturday Rock Show and Paul ‘The Great Gambo’ Gambacini, for example. At the time, for young people just becoming interested in music like myself, Wonderful Radio One was the only music radio available during the day, the crackly sound of Radio Luxembourg was available at night given a decent tailwind, but it wasn’t that much different. The DJs that were broadcasting from Luxembourg would, inevitably, be the DJs broadcasting on Wonderful Radio One eventually. So I became a Wonderful Radio One listener through necessity. It was the only place to hear current popular music and, to be fair, if you knew where to go, there was non-chart music to be found in various places around the station.

What has become clear to me about these disembodied radio voices is that, for most, that is all they are. My research has revealed there is precious little of any interest to say about many of these individuals, but I suppose that just goes with the territory. What was I expecting?

So, in no particular order…..

Peter Powell

Peter James Barnard-Powell joined wonderful Radio One in 1977, like so many other DJs , after a stint on Radio Luxembourg. Over the next few years he glided smoothly through the various DJ slots upsetting no applecarts or stirring up any hornet’s nests. However, his innate BBC conservatism occasionally manifested itself through the permasmile and verbal superlatives. One such incident was on his Sunday morning show where he played The Smiths’ excellent new single, The Boy With The Thorn In His Side. The title of the album the track came from, The Queen Is Dead‘, was just too much for Pete’s establishment background and he launched into a mini-diatribe about how tasteless and unnecessary this album title was. Well, he had his CBE to consider!

John Peel also talked about PP’s bourgeoise attitude to anything new or different when he gave an interview to the Glasgow Herald in 2004.

Peter Powell was a dick, I’m afraid. It was Peter who came to me and told me that I shouldn’t be playing hip-hop when I first started playing that because it was the music of black criminals.

I’ll give it six PR months….

Unlike so many other wonderful Radio One DJs, he did have some semblance of a personal life. And what a cast-iron showbiz, Radio One personal life it was! In 1990 he married Blue Peter and Wish You Were Here’s Anthea Turner in a mainstream media match from tabloid heaven. The more cynical might even have seen it as a C-list PR set-up. She had even been in a previous relationship with castle-dwelling Radio One elf Bruno Brookes, which, according to some outlets, was less than harmonious to say the least. Mind you, he had had a ‘very public’ relationship with Keith Chegwin’s sister, Janice Long. Anyone might think this was a C-List PR set-up……..

Powell is now a very successful manager of bland, mainstream morning TV celebrities (are there any other type?) including Simon Cowell, Piers Morgan and Richard and Judy. He still continues to manage Anthea Turner and I hoping he’s doing a better job of it than when they were married, though recently, you have to say, he’s taken his eye off that particular ball.

Tony Blackburn

The first voice heard on Wonderful Radio One on September 30 1967 and still very much around the airwaves. Blackburn is probably the DJ most associated with Radio One during the 60s and 70s. Like so many of his Radio One colleagues, his middle-class BBC credentials were as solid as his indeterminate middle-England accent. He set the tone for Wonderful Radio One, describing every record as ‘a smash‘, ‘sensational‘ or ‘poptastic,’ which, incidentally was the title of his gossamer-thin 2007 autobiography. Backed by his faithful but irritating hound Arnold, Tony Blackburn has filled pretty much every presenting slot and is still broadcasting with the BBC, although slightly less effusively.

Poptastic! (Audio Download): Tony Blackburn, Tony ...

Tony conducted much of his private life over the airwaves during his mid-seventies marriage to lovely actress Tessa Wyatt. I have a vivid memory of Tone using his radio platform to lambast some tabloid journalist who dared to question Tessa Wyatt‘s acting credentials, motivating him to take a few minutes breather from playing records to read out her CV, just to hammer his point home. But Radio One DJs could do that in those days, they were so powerful within the corporation (more examples of DJs abusing the airwaves coming up).

Random radio jottings: Happy 70th Birthday Tony Blackburn
A romance made in TV heaven

Tony was well-known enough to secure parts in pantos each Christmas and it was during the power cuts of 1973, when a power cut happened during his panto performance, that he took to the airwaves to say that the miners should go back to work as it was ruining people’s enjoyment of his art. In later years he admitted that a broadcaster should keep their political allegiances to themselves, while at the same time admitting he had no great love of unions or the TUC.

Sadly, his marriage foundered when the lovely Tessa got a part in Alan Partridge’s favourite TV sitcom Robin’s Nest (‘Needless to say, plates got broken and Robin got annoyed!’). The chemistry between 60s and 70s TV stalwart Richard O’Sullivan and Tessa was not just confined to the restaurant kitchen and poor old Tony almost had a breakdown on air as a result.

Jigsaw Puzzle-Entertainment - Tony Blackburn and Tessa Wyatt ...
A break-up that left poor Tone in pieces (500 to be precise)

To be fair to Tone he has championed soul music for many years on the radio although it’s more The Stylistics and Diana Ross than The Temptations or Isaac Hayes. But credit where it’s due. Few people in the media in those days were playing black music regularly.

Much to his annoyance, he was lampooned savagely in 1978 by Binky Baker and The Pit Orchestra whose single Toe-Knee Black-Burn was played widely. To add insult to injury said Binky Baker just happened to be Annie Nightingale‘s husband. Bet Radio One Christmas Parties were swinging after that.

Ed ‘Stewpot’ Stewart

Edward Stewart Mainwaring or should I say Ed ‘Stewpot’ Stewart has the bizarre ability to pop up in the most unexpected of places in this little blog space. Mainly because he turned up in the most unexpected of places within the 60s and 70s media, never quite reaching the pinnacle of the profession.

Sorry Ed ‘Stewpot’, it’s just not convincing me…..

Although, in my humble opinion, he was a rather dull man, this didn’t stop him become something of a Radio One legend, but it, of course, went with the territory. Despite this, his career was certainly more interesting than many of the other Radio One bozos.

Like most of his Radio One colleagues his middle-class credentials were solid, private school obviously, his dad a Treasury solicitor. He came to Radio One via a Hong Kong radio station and pirate radio. There is no evidence that he was particularly interested in or knew anything about music before he became presenter of Junior Choice on Saturday mornings. Silly jingles (‘ello darlin‘), Terry Scott with My Bruvver, Clive Dunn‘s Grandad, Sparky’s Magic Piano (radical), The Laughing Policeman and loads of birthday requests set the tone for this unchallenging BBC offering which he presented for 12 years.

An awkward Ed Stewpot gets really quite pissed off with the Crackerjack audience

But Ed ‘Stewpot’ was never satisfied. A 6 year stint on Crackerjack between 1973-79, where he looked perennially uncomfortable, the Holiday programme with his lovely young (very young) wife Chiara, figurehead of kids’ version of TV Times, Look-In (la-la-la-la-la Look-In!) with ‘Stewpot’s Newsdesk‘. A failed attempt to become a BBC football commentator through entering a competition where he was up against Ian St. John amongst others in 1970, and various other hosting roles including the intriguing Exit! It’s The Way Out Show with a pre-Blue Peter Leslie Judd as hostess in 1966 and as a panellist on ITV talent show New Faces all helped pad out Ed ‘Stewpot’s‘ CV.

Graeme Wood on Twitter: "TV?21/12/67 ITV 6.9:Crossroads 6.33:Exit ...

He even provided the posh male voice (‘May I have the pleasure of this dawnce…?’) on Lynsey De Paul’s 1973 number 14 smash, Won’t Somebody Dance With Me. According to LDP she was hit by a bus as a child (what’s funny about that?) and spent three months in bed and grew so fat no one would dance with her at junior functions. Ed ‘Stewpot’ seemed to fit the bill though. Why? Well, read on…..

In 1971 Ed ‘Stewpot‘ was invited to a friend’s house, Jimmy Henney, fellow New Faces judge and manager of the great Glen Campbell, and the door was opened by his 13 year old daughter, Chiara. Thirty year- old children’s radio show presenter Ed ‘Stewpot‘ later wrote in his autobiography:

I arrived at 7pm and was greeted at the door by what I can only describe as a 13 year-old apparition. She was simply stunning!

Even more stunning was the fact they were married four years later and Chiara was given the day off school to attend the ceremony. But it was 1974, it was ok! The marriage eventually ended some years later when she went off with a golf pro.

That’s that done, double Maths next…

Ed ‘Stewpot‘ was an Everton fan as he constantly reminded listeners on Junior Choice. What’s more interesting though, he was Everton F.C.’s guest supporter on BBC’s Quizball ( See It’s Route One, It’s Quizball! ) in 1966. I’m not sure how good he would have been at quizzing but I think he was probably a ‘Route 2’ man, as he was for most of his career.

Quizball! | Television Heaven

Ed ‘Stewpot’ Stewart continued to broadcast at the BBC as well as many of the radio stations that ended with the word ‘Gold.’ He’ll be remembered as a DJ who didn’t seem to want to be a DJ and a nearly man who didn’t quite reach the heights he wanted to, a children’s radio and TV presenter who seemed rather awkward in the presence of children (or at least most children), a sports fan who was never really given the opportunity to be one on air and a radio and TV ‘personality’ who didn’t really have that much of a personality. But he had a pretty decent career so he shouldn’t really grumble.

Diddy David Hamilton

How tickled I am…..

Diddy David Hamilton‘s career changed almost as often as his hairline. Sidekick to Ken Dodd (hence the ‘diddy), Tommy Cooper and Benny Hill, on-screen announcer on Thames TV, as well as the official announcer at Fulham FC’s Craven Cottage football ground, for which Mohammed El Fayed paid him a whopping £1000 a match! Like Ed ‘Stewpot’ Stewart, Diddy David Hamilton was a voice which suited Wonderful Radio One. At the age of 35 he got his own afternoon show in 1973 and stayed there until 1986, when, at the age of 48 he left acrimoniously, lambasting the BBC due to their ‘geriatric’ music policy. Was he championing punk or did he feel German abstract electronica was being ignored or maybe he felt too few rock-a-boogie beat groups were being sidelined by the DLT Radio One pop panel. We will never know, unless, of course you read his autobiography, The Music Game, which might be a bridge too far. How bizarre, though.

Diddy David has appeared on pretty much every British TV quiz show (Blankety Blank, Celebrity Squares, The Weakest Link), variety shows (Ken Dodd, Benny Hill, Dickie Henderson, Cilla Black, Morecambe and Wise), comedy concept shows ( The Golden Shot (See Like A Bolt From The Blue..The Golden Shot below), Quick On The Draw, Give Us A Clue, The Generation Game) and even news shows ( Nationwide, Northern Life, Today) and he walked the gamut of worthy, high quality TV (Clive James On Television) as well as the nadir of TV ‘entertainment’ (An Audience with Jim Davidson). He is even one of a small select band of celebrities who have appeared on Monty Python’s Flying Circus (the others being Lulu, Ringo Starr and BBC newsreader Richard Baker).


He also hosted, up and down the country, many of that most 70s of TV spectacles, the beauty contest. Miss Westward, Miss TV Times and Miss Thames TV, amongst others, all benefitted from the Diddy David Hamilton smooth treatment. He was the host in velvet jacket, frilly shirt and huge dicky-bow who gigglingly asked the searching questions as the contestants, in their swimsuits, shivered in an icy seaside wind. ‘And what will you do with the £500 if you win this contest?’ leered Diddy David. ‘I’d like to travel the world, David, and put my mother through parachute school.’ ‘And thank you Yvonne from Basingstoke. Big round of applause!’

In short, Diddy David has been around a bit and maybe that autobiography might not be the stretch it initially seemed.

It’s hard to believe, I know, but Radio One DJs were seen during the 70s as glamorous, ‘happening’ people and having their finger on the pulse of the nation. Unfortunately, the pulse they had their finger on was one of a very old, very conservative, very easily pleased old man.

Those wonderful people at Talking Pictures TV ( showed an obscure British film some months back from 1979 called Home Before Midnight. The story of a 30-something pop music composer who met a girl at a club, fell into a wild passionate affair with her, only to find out she was 15. Oops. Although the film had some interesting points to make, the representation of women was pure 70s. In an early scene the main character is entering a very fashionable, up-market London nightclub when who does he meet coming out? Why it’s man-about-town, sexy and charismatic record spinner, Diddy David Hamilton, with a tall, scantily- clad young-ish girl in tow. A conversation ensues between Diddy David and the main character along the lines of ‘What you doing with this one then, you old charmer?’ etc. During the exchange the young girl says nothing, just stands there, pouting and she is only referred to in the third person. This was clearly the director’s idea of depicting the glitterati of late swinging London, and a short, balding 41 year old radio DJ was supposed to epitomise this vibe. Clearly, Jonathan King wasn’t available.

Home Before Midnight (1979) - IMDb

To be fair to Diddy David Hamilton, his CV is pretty impressive and he’s worked with many of the Greats, albeit in a superficial way most of the time.

Just don’t try to make out he was ever glamorous or a babe magnet…..

Dave Lee Travis

Where to start?

Well this arbiter of the young record-buying public’s music taste was Pipe Smoker of the Year 1985. And that’s about as interesting as it got with DLT.

In an interview with Q Magazine not long after he ignominiously resigned ‘on air’ for maximum dramatic effect but with sadly few people really noticing or bothering, Dave Lee Travis insisted that he be known as a ‘broadcaster.’ This was his way of trying make out that what he did (i.e. talk reactionary inconsequential crap for 3 hours till he was relieved by some other moron), had so much more gravitas than most gave him credit for. In fact, he was really a DJ, a disc jockey, someone who plays music for the enjoyment of listeners. Unfortunately DLT and many of his colleagues had, over the years, changed their job descriptions into cults of personality. The shows were not about the music but about them. Their jingles, their wacky comedy items, their zany quizzes, their name-dropping, their references to tabloid news stories and their private life revelations. Oh, and some pop records.

Out of all the many purveyors of daily drivel at Radio One, DLT, The Hairy Monster, was probably the most loathsome and summed up the utter puffed up, self-aggrandising nature of those gargantuan egos. The blind rage he felt when the purge came, courtesy of Matthew Bannister in 1993, resulted from, what he believed, was his untouchable status due to 26 years believing he was bigger than the station. Not only had he occupied pretty much every prestigious presenting spot but he also sat on the Radio One playlist panel which decided what the listening public should be allowed to hear. This is the same man, as John Peel observed at a party DL:T was throwing, who possessed no records in his vast Buckinghamshire mansion and was now arbitrating on which artists should be allowed to be heard over the airwaves.

Dave was never slow to let the listening public know his views on many issues of the time. During a newspaper strike in the 80s, for example, a newsagent rang in to compete in a quiz DLT ran on his show, the silly ‘snooker on the radio’ he thought was so hilarious. ‘Is there anything you’d like to say to the strikers who are affecting your livelihood?’ enquired The Hairy Monster. ‘No, not really,‘ replied the newsagent. ‘I quite agree with their grievance.‘ Nice try Dave.

He even had a hit record in 1976 with the ‘comedy’ parody of C.W. McCall’s hit of the same year Convoy. Along with fellow forgotten Radio One DJ Paul Burnett, whose schtick was comedy voices, under the name Laurie Lingo and the Dipsticks they got to a nose-bleed inducing No. 4 in the charts with Convoy GB. The song was as funny as the group’s name. DLT looked menacing in his mask, the sort of guy you wouldn’t want to meet up an alley on a dark night. But that’s another story.

Laurie Lingo & The Dipsticks - Convoy G.B. - YouTube

Shortly after he left Radio One (just before he was pushed) he scouted around the media looking for anyone who might listen to him. It seemed that now that he had left the station, few people were really that interested. It turned out that listeners are only interested in who happens to be on the radio at the time. There didn’t appear to be dedicated DLT fans, which must have come as a shock to the Hairy Monster. Eventually Q Magazine gave him an outlet to vent his spleen and in a bizarre, often hysterical, ego- driven interview he let fly.

Top of the Pops is full of shite. There’s no guiding light anywhere. There’s nobody like me to say ‘Hang on. You’re doing this all wrong.’

And, of course, DLT always had his finger on the nub of youth so he must know what he’s talking about.

Noel Edmonds

John Peel observed accurately in the 70s that Noel Edmonds was never bothered about being a DJ as he, like so many of his colleagues, had no particular interest in music. It was really just a stepping stone towards what he really wanted to be: a TV presenter. Peel was usually pretty spot on about these things and I could leave things just there as every knows about Deal Or No Deal, The Late, Late Breakfast Show, Crinkly Bottom, Gotchas, Telly Addicts and god knows how many other awful Edmonds’ vehicles have sullied our TV screens. But Edmonds was responsible for an aspect of Wonderful Radio One that’s almost forgotten and it was something that really spelled the beginning of the end for Radio One as we knew it.

Edmonds burst on to the Radio One big league when he replaced Blackburn on The Breakfast Show in July 1973. Like so many other DJs he’d graduated from Radio Luxembourg and had been noticed presenting various weekend shows and filling in for the likes of Kenny Everett. I can remember being quite sad when Blackburn had left The Breakfast Show as I had always listened to him as I was getting ready to go to school. I’d been given my first radio as a birthday present in November 1971 (Coz I Luv U by Slade was at number 1) and I had become a Radio One addict, well, in my defence, there was nothing else to listen to. Quickly, I realised there was more to this Edmonds than I had, at first, thought. He had some ‘zany’ characters such as Flinn The Milkman and Desmond Duck. He was really quite anarchic, or so I thought at the age of 13. He was a resounding success and Blackburn must have been raging as he just had his faithful hound Arnold who could only woof, woof for company. It was probably the first radio show, in this country at least, in which the comedy took centre stage. And to be fair, it was pretty good although now I think ‘What about the music?’ which had taken a back seat. With every other DJ it was their mindless banter, with Edmonds he was curating a show and he had seen the way radio was heading, sadly. With all the items on his show he must have been working flat out, or had a team of people working flat out to prepare it all.

My favourite Edmonds’ item was The Golden Guillotine. I can’t really remember why it was called that other than at the end of the routine you’d hear the guillotine blade fall and a head bump on the ground. In fact, it was just an elaborate pun on a record he was about to play. He’d tell a story and the punchline would be the title of the song or the artist performing it. The only punchline I remember was about a burglar trying to break into a house and attempting to dislodge the glass in the window so he could gain entry. ‘And finally he….freed a pane.’ Cue Band of Gold by Freda Paine. Well, it amused me at the time.

He even did a public information film for The Blood Transfusion Service in he mid-70s.

Punter: How are you feeling Noel?

Edmonds (in the process of giving Radio One blood): Fine. Quite, quite fine.

But with success comes hubris and before long Edmonds was racing cars, living on a huge estate and commuting in a helicopter. He would regularly be photographed in a one-piece monogrammed flying suit, helmet and goggles against the backdrop of a glistening chopper. ‘My busy lifestyle demands this mode of transport,’ he’d tell us. This included ferrying performers to Wembley for Live Aid in 1985 for some reason. Despite DLT dabbling in stock car racing, Edmonds took radio celebrity to a whole new plutocratic level. In fact, Noel Edmonds is the person DLT wishes he had been.

To be fair, Edmond’s stratospheric rise only began properly after he left Wonderful Radio One. But it was here he really showed some talent although, like the rest, music only got in the way. And to be fair once more, Edmonds was very, very good at what he did as a presenter on TV. Shame about the awful shows he fronted, which were, of course, hugely popular.

When he left Wonderful Radio One in 1983 it was never going to be the same again. It wasn’t enough for DJs just to turn up every day, spin records and talk shit, although this did continue, obviously. But DJs had got too big for their boots, too rich for their own good, too secure in their tenures, too outspoken in their views, too obvious in their lavish lifestyles. Waiting in the wings was a certain Mr Matthew Bannister who was about to throw a molotov cocktail into the sherry party that had been Radio One.

Steve Wright

Although Steve Wright, strictly speaking, is an 80s DJ, I felt it worth mentioning him as he is the ultimate example of a DJ weaned on the moronic diet of Radio One in the 70s. In a Comic Strip story from the 80s two DJs are having a conversation, one with dyed blonde hair and clearly middle-class and the other played by Nigel Planer who is a little more rough and ready. ‘I’m currently working around Esher,’ says the posh jock ‘and I’ve met Steve Wright.’ ‘You’ve met Steve Wright!!!’ says Planer incredulously looking off into the middle distance. ‘Dear god……dear god….’

If ever anyone mastered the black art of talking without saying anything it was Steve Wright. I’m convinced if you ever had a private conversation with Steve Wright he would talk in the same inconsequential manner as he does on radio. In other words, there are no hidden depths to him. What you hear on the radio is the way he is.

The radio love-child of Tony Blackburn, Peter Powell and Kenny Everett, if that were possible, as two-dimensional characters go, some of the ventriloquists’ dummies featured in The Lost World Of TV Ventriloquism were more human. A man so superficial he is almost translucent. Although, ironically, there is much more to Steve Wright today than when he arrived at Wonderful Radio One in 1978. Sadly for him, this is only corporeal.

Steve Wright has been the great plagiarist. Nothing Steve Wright has ever done on the airwaves has been original, despite his claims. He is still known to travel to the US today to purloin things he hears US DJs doing on their shows and then maintains they are his ideas. That said, these ‘ideas’ are hardly pulling back the boundaries of radio.

Arriving at Wonderful Radio One in 1978 he supposedly introduced the ‘Zoo’ format which really just means he had a couple of bozos doing the show with him. This was something he brought back from the US where it had been happening for years. He was described as being ‘anarchic,’ ‘zany’ and ‘irreverent’ but, in fact, he was, and is still, deeply conservative and is the natural progression from Blackburn, DLT and Peter Powell in terms of blandness. His ‘madcap’ characters such as Mr Angry, Damian the Radio One Social Worker and The Old Lady certainly padded out his programme and, no doubt, some people found them funny but he was really just copying Kenny Everett who’d been doing this years before and much more cleverly.

BBC Radio 2 - Wireless Kenny Everett
Kenny Everett: The man Steve Wright would like to have been (or maybe thinks he is.)

In 1994 Wright won Radio Personality of the Year as voted by Sun, Daily Mirror and Record Mirror readers. Not a great return for so many years of broadcasting despite him constantly reading out letters he receives which invariably end ‘Love the show, Steve.’ To describe Steve Wright having a ‘personality’ is certainly stretching the point and it is no surprise that very little is known about Wright’s private life. He makes out it’s because he prefers to be secretive about it but I suspect it’s because there really is nothing else to know.

He’s the robotic Radio One DJ taken to its inevitable conclusion in some weird Science Fiction story by Philip K. Dick. He is really only a voice but has become a totem for a type of DJ who dominated the airwaves during the 70s and are now remembered, at least a few of them, for reasons unrelated to music but entirely related to their gargantuan and unhinged personalities.

How Steve Wright survived the Bannister cull in the 90s is anybody’s guess, although he did disappear from Radio 1 for a while before returning to Radio 2. Maybe he blended into the studio background and no one noticed he was there but given his years of activity, one can’t but wonder if there really is so little to the Wright backstory as there appears to be. In a tabloid article I read some years ago Steve Wright was described as a ‘pop expert‘. Never has a title been so abused given his show revolves around that malevolently trivial pentagram of Radio One, the tabloids, The One Show, Twitter and celebrity magazines such as Hello and OK.

To try to conclude this article on a positive note, Steve Wright is the end of an era of banality, blandness and boring conformity. Few young people will listen to Wright and think, ‘That’s what I want to be,’ but inevitably something just as horrendous will replace it. And in Radio One‘s case during the 90s it was the appalling Chris Evans, arguably a more unhinged ego than the individuals discussed above. So much for progress but that’s life, I suppose. Crucially we have Radio 6 Music now, the station Radio One should have been all those years ago. And we have properly brilliant presenters like Stuart Maconie, Mark Radcliffe, Annie Mac, Trevor Nelson, Steve Lamacq, Lauren Laverne and Shaun Keaveney and others who not only can discuss music knowledgeably but also -and how radical is this- like it!

Now just don’t get me started on local radio DJs…….

The Sad Demise of the Pop Singles Charts

Pop Charts Britannia: 60 Years of the Top 10 - Nostalgia Music ...

The singles charts are no more but is this a good thing?

The way we listen to music now has changed in a way no one could have imagined 30 years ago. Spotify, Deezer, Youtube and iPod were just fantasies in a mad science fiction writer’s crazed mind. To sit down at a small computer and, within seconds, start listening to a piece of music you hadn’t previously possessed is mind-blowing to someone like me who grew up in the 60s and 70s and listened to music in a way that is now completely obsolete. And I actually miss this anti-diluvian system of music consumption in many ways but, although, deep down, I know that the revolution has been good for music fans in so many unimaginable ways (maybe not so much for artists), I miss hugely that fulcrum of musical information, the nexus of any week’s pop knowledge, that perennial pivot of pop power, the weekly singles and album charts.

TOTP’s laser digital display board

Now I know charts still exist and are probably still issued weekly by some anonymous data company somewhere and are based partly on record sales (although who buys new music from a shop nowadays?) but, more importantly, ‘downloads.’ Any young person looking at these charts will get an idea of who’s hot and who’s not at the time, but nothing like in the same way we did 30 or 40 years ago. To a music and knowledge obsessed teenager like myself (who couldn’t get a girlfriend), the charts were pure gold in so many ways and guaranteed, literally, hours of analysis, interpretation, scrutiny and downright, old-fashioned enjoyment. And why was this? Read on if you’re not already mindnumbingly bored by the subject…….

In the 1950s singles were really just a way of publicising an artist’s new album by releasing a single track from it. Someone somewhere had the genius idea of compiling a chart of the best sellers and the record industry never looked back. It tapped into a youth market that maybe couldn’t afford to buy albums and a whole new musical culture was created. The element of competition between artist, the emerging fan bases, the ease by which many groups and singers could more easily get themselves known and the developing TV and radio mediums all aligned at the same time to give birth to the institution they called The Hit Parade. We all knew they were manipulated, tampered with and generally orchestrated by the record companies but we didn’t really care. The singles charts were here to stay! (for a long time at least…)

Al Martino had the first ever No. 1 when the singles chart was created

My first recollection of the singles charts was in 1967. We had a brown and white Bakelite radio that my mum would listen to in the morning to what was the forerunner of Radio 1, The Light Programme. She loved a record by Anita Harris (a 60s and 70s variety stalwart and still very much with us!) that was played quite regularly called Just Loving You and I remember very clearly how excited she got when she heard it had got to number 30 in the charts. To me number 30 seemed nothing special but in later years I realised getting into the top 30 meant selling a shitload of records, thousands in fact, unlike today when you can get to number 1 by getting a dozen downloads. Anita Harris eventually got to a nose-bleed- inducing number 6 and spent a staggering 30 weeks in the top 50. That was the moment I knew there was much more to the charts than met the eye. A few months later I began to take more notice of what was being played on the wireless and have a vivid memory of absolutely loving Hole In My Shoe by Traffic. My passion for weirdness and psychedelia in music was well and truly inspired from this moment.

Music Tony Blackburn and Anita harris 1968 #1724147 Framed Prints
The lovely Anita Harris and a slobbering friend.

There were three things to look forward to every week at the age of about 15. The first was Friday at 4.00pm when school finished and the whole weekend stretched before us, secondly, Saturday night at the youth club when I could rub shoulders with girls of my own age, none of whom were interested in me obviously and Thursday when the music papers were available in newsagents and the new updated singles, albums and US charts were published. Never has so much vital information been condensed into such a small space. The movers, the non-movers, the bubblers, the fallers, the number of weeks on the chart and the new entries. All had to be digested, analysed and assessed, which could take a while and I would read NME, Sounds and Record Mirror from cover to cover. Luckily time was something I had plenty of.

The charts sat in the middle of a triumvirate of media outlets, TV, Radio and the music press, each having an effect, although not necessarily an equal one, on the following week’s chart. Radio One, of course, had the chart rundown on a Tuesday but it was the music papers’ charts that really allowed some deep analysis to be undertaken.

As a young person in the 60s and 70s, you were severely limited as to where you could hear, not just the current hits, but any popular music at all outside of TOTP and Radio 1. You might hear a record being played on a juke box in a cafe, Blue Peter occasionally featured unthreatening bands such as Freddie and the Dreamers (see The Beatles of Uncool below) or flute-driven soft rockers Vanity Fair, you might run up a shockingly high (but mercifully unitemised) phone bill by ringing BT’s Dial-A-Disc service, a friend might show-off by playing you a current single they’d bought or you might catch someone playing a tranny in the street, but that was about it. Slim pickings to say the least and so you were at the mercy of TOTP and Radio 1 whether you liked it or not, but, at that time, you did tend to like it because you knew no better.

I do want to hear hit music!

For most people it was Thursday night at around 7.00pm that allowed them to engage with the pop charts. Top of the Pops had replaced the musically and stylistically superior Ready Steady Go in the mid-sixties, purely because TOTP based their show on the pop charts and RSG just featured acts that were ‘hot.’ If you didn’t have a song in the charts, you weren’t on TOTP. And everyone knew that an appearance on TOTP would, almost certainly, have a massively beneficial effect on the artist’s disc. To be invited onto TOTP was most artist’s dream as it was often the making of them, as the majority of the millions of TV viewers every Thursday night probably didn’t listen to the radio and certainly didn’t read the music press. And although many young people who attended live TOTP shows tell a different story, the show came across on TV as vibrant, happening and exciting and everything an up and coming act would look and sound good on (despite miming). Around this time during the early 60s many young people began buying records purely on how a band or performer looked on TOTP. It was also the case that most young people, including myself, for a while believed that the charts couldn’t lie. If an act got to number one, then they must be good and they’d want to be a part of this movement of fandom and would buy the record. Of course, it didn’t take me long to understand that this was really not the case and I quickly realised Middle of the Road, Esther and Abi Ofarim, Peters and Lee, Des O’Connor or Cilla Black were neither good nor fashionable. But millions of people still bought their records!

The influence on the charts of TOTP cannot be underestimated. But another huge and, I would contend, insidious influence on the singles charts was wonderful Radio 1 (See The Moronic World of 70s Radio One DJs). From its inception in 1967 it was always staffed by a bunch of guys (and it was mainly guys) who could have been our rather sleazy uncles, with a few exceptions. Throughout the 60s and 70s Radio 1 decided each week which records should be placed on their all-important ‘playlist.’ This playlist pretty much decided which records were going to be successful and which were not.

These DJs were generally selected on their ability to talk utter bollocks incessantly rather than on their musical knowledge and having an interest in or knowledge of music was not really encouraged. It was clear that the important element of most Radio 1 shows was the DJ banter between records rather than the records themselves. The music was really only there to give the DJs a breather. Of course, there were a few exceptions to this rule. The great John Peel obviously, Johnny Walker (who eventually left because he got pissed off with this culture), the virtually forgotten but excellent Stuart Henry, Kid Jensen, Paul Gambacini and Alan ‘Fluff’ Freeman with his Saturday Rock Show. Those apart, it was a litany of middle-aged guys who loved the sound of their own voices, their funny characters, amusing quizzes, hilarious jingles (What’s that Arnold?) and wacky tabloid news stories. But their influence on the singles chart was terrifyingly significant!

DLT’s modest abode. You’d think he’d find a corner to keep some records.

John Peel told a story of being invited to a party at Dave Lee Travis’s huge mansion (they all lived in ‘mansions’ apart from Radio One elf Bruno Brookes who lived in an Irish castle). The first thing Peel did when he went to someone’s house was go and have a look at their record collection. He spent some time searching from room to room before realising that DLT, the ‘Hairy Monster,’ Pipe Smoker of the Year 1982, self-styled arbiter of pop culture, possessed no records whatsoever or even a sound system. I watched one of those excellent Friday night music documentaries on BBC 4 some months ago, Charts Britannia, which showed footage of the Radio 1 panel which selected records for its playlist each week. On this panel sat a number of men and women, most over 50 and some well into their 60s and one Dave Lee Travis. It’s little wonder Peters and Lee, Cliff, Cilla and Des did so well in the charts in these days. I once saw Radio 1’s ghastly Steve Wright described in a UK tabloid as a ‘pop expert.’ That single sentence put me in a bad mood for 3 years. (See The Moronic World of 70s Radio One DJs below).

That said, the singles charts, the top 50, was an archeological dig of the good, the bad and the hideously ugly. And that’s what made them so fascinating.

The singles charts were a melange of the great, the quite good, the horrendously awful, the bizarre, the inexplicably successful, the shocking, the revelatory, the jaw-dropping weirdness, the utterly amazing and, sometimes creating a frisson of excitement, the banned. Take the following randomly selected, but musically significant, edition of the NME singles and albums chart of May 22 1976 for example. Within this mid-70s chart exists, I would argue, all the above categories of hit single but it also offers a revealing template for society at that time as every chart did to varying extents.

We can quickly bypass the number 1 and 2 singles as little more needs to be written about Abba, other than, as The Guardian‘s Pete Paphides observed accurately, ‘If you don’t like Abba, you don’t like pop.‘ Little also needs to be said about Abba wannabes Brotherhood of Man with their bland and irritating Euro winner Save Your Kisses For Me. But it’s the nether regions that always held the greatest interest. Have a look a little further down the top 10 and at 9, up a massive 10 places, is Andrea True Connection with the wonderful disco classic, More, More, More. For me, this was the quintessential single of that very trashy period we called the mid-70s. Now Andrea True was actually a porn star and the publicity pics for her record were a little racy, and taking the record’s lyrical content into account, this was a catchy, beautifully produced, trashy record that epitomised that era.

But if you want to know
How I really feel
Get the cameras rolling
Get the action going
Baby you know my love for you is real
Take me where you want to
Then my heart you’ll steal

In short, superb!

Andrea True Connection - More, More, More (1976, Vinyl) | Discogs
Now that’s what I call 70s!

Remember what I said about the ‘inexplicable successes? Well check out numbers 20 to 22. On its way down from a high of 4, Convoy GB by Laurie Lingo and The Dipsticks and on its way to Number 1, Combined Harvester by The Wurzels. What have both of these records got in common? Correct.

But would you Adam and Eve it? Laurie Lingo and the Dipsticks just happened to be our old pal, the hairy cornflake, DLT and his partner in musical crime, Radio 1’s forgotten DJ (must have kept his nose clean) Paul Burnett. As a comedic parody of CW McCall‘s 1976 blockbuster Convoy, it was about as funny as a burning orphanage. And it raises the perennial question, who bought that shit and did these people actually think it was funny? Laugh? I thought I’d never start.

Laurie Lingo & The Dipsticks - 'Convoy G.B.' (1976) - video ...
DLT looking a little menacing……

The Wurzels, originally Adge Cutler and The Wurzels, had appeared on the iconic 60s chat show Dee Time (See Dee Time: When The Sixties Really Began) before settling comfortably into ITV afternoon easy listening shows (the ones you watched when you’d skived off school for the afternoon) in the 70s, particularly The Great Western Music Show (I think it was called) until Adge sadly turned his sports car over in 1974 and they became The Wurzels. Combined Harvester was a parody on Melanie’s 1972 No.4 hit Brand New Key and although they may have overstayed their welcome in the charts over the next few years, this was, I suppose, a fairly decent comedy record if you liked that kind of thing.

She’s a fine looking’ woman and I can’t wait to get me ‘ands on her land…..

Interestingly, one of The Wurzels came from Penicuick, Midlothian. Fancy that!

The Wurzels – My Threshing Machine Lyrics | Genius Lyrics

Also falling into the embarrassingly bad and ‘how did that ever get into the charts ?‘ category, Reggae Like It Used Be by Paul Nicholas nestles in the middle of this triple decker of trash. I have written in much more detail about PN in Rubbish Songs, Inexplicable Hits section of this little blog, specifically about the even more irritating Grandma’s Party (See Rubbish Songs, Inexplicable Hits). Needless to say, this was also rubbish.

And notice within the ‘Bubblers‘ a certain Judge Dread and his latest waxing The Winkle Man, on its way to a high of No. 35. Judge Dread had 8 top 40 hits in the 70s, none of which were played on Radio 1 or TOTP. His songs were Reggae-inflected rudeness , two of his later minor hits being Up With The Cock and Y Viva Suspenders. You get the idea. Which just goes to show the record buying public loved something a little risqué, whether they had heard the record or not, and it was probably not. There was a certain type of kudos achieved by surreptitiously revealing a Judge Dread record to your pals in the same way you might by conspiratorially display a copy of Playboy from its hiding place under your bed. Up until a few months ago I had never heard a Judge Dread song. In December of 2019 I attended a Bad Manners gig in Edinburgh and in support was, believe it or not, a Judge Dread tribute act who reeled off his ‘Big’ hits from soup to nuts. He was really quite good.

Biographical Tidbits - Judge Dread Memorial Site
Judge Dread: The most successful chart artist whose records few people ever heard

Judge Dread was probably only ever outdone in the chart rudeness stakes by Ivor Biggun and The Red Nosed Burglars with their 1978 No. 22 smash, I’m A Winker, and they were very insistent that this was a misprint. Strangely, wonderful Radio 1, DLT and the septuagenarian pop panel failed to add this to the Radio 1 playlist. Turned out Ivor Biggun was Doc Cox from Esther Rantzen’s awful consumerist show, That’s Life. He couldn’t even stop himself being slightly rude on that show either, given his TV name. Mind you, they were obsessed with rude-shaped vegetables. But rudeness aside, records that were not on the Radio 1 playlist rarely made it into the charts unless they had some notoriety.

Ivor Biggun and friend

Anyone casually perusing this chart from 1976 might notice just how many MOR records peppered the top 30, songs that were written in committee as vehicles for various MOR acts. In fact, out of the top 30, well over half could be described as easy listening or middle of the road. There is nothing in this chart that is particularly threatening or might scare the horses. Brotherhood of Man, Cliff, The Stylistics (who really churned out the bland hits in the 70s), Bellamy Brothers, Sutherland Brothers and Quiver, Frankie Valli, Stylistics clones Sheer Elegance (rubbish name), the overwrought Eric Carmen and just creeping into Top 30, the lovely Tina Charles with yet another song that sounded exactly like I Love To Love. We even have a young Midge Ure and Slik encroaching into chart territory with the bombastic but certainly not fantastic Requiem. With the exception of the legendary Isaac Hayes, some interesting experimental pop from Diana Ross and a bit of ultra-smooth soul from the wonderful Gladys Knight, there is little in this chart to excite any young person with an interest in music.

But hang on a cotton-pickin’ moment! Who’s that making such an unholy row around that adjacent temporal corner? Why it’s The Sex Pistols and their punk pals! Come to save us from being smothered by marshmallow light musical blandness. Hurrah! It just takes a cursory glance at this particular chart to see that things had to change. The charts had be wrested back from the terminal Radio 1 mediocrity that controlled them, that had almost turned da kids into The Children of the Damned (and I don’t mean Dave Vanian and Rat Scabies). But that’s what the singles charts did. They provided a template for our society at any given time. And irrespective of the blandness quotient, they still provided hours of analytical fun. I would go as far as to argue that any chart from the 50s until their ostensible end in the early 90s could be analysed meaningfully either sociologically, economically, politically, musically and, of course, aesthetically, which is where the fun would really begin.

1960 ... 'Village of the Damned' | Evil children, Creepy kids ...
The young record-buying public after a childhood devoted to Radio 1 listening

As mentioned previously in ‘Rubbish Songs, Inexplicable Hits, anyone in the public eye could have a hit record, irrespective of whether they could sing or not. There was an unpleasant Venn diagram between ‘celebrities’, Radio 1, some record companies and TOTP. When a ‘celebrity’ (a word I’ve always hated due to the implication that those people should be ‘celebrated’) was ‘hot’ someone would approach them from a smallish record company and suggest they make a single. The celebrity would, through one eye see pound signs and through the other mainstream pop coolness. How deluded they usually were. But because these bozos were well known, they could guaranteee being placed on the septuagenarian Radio 1 playlist and a spot on TOTP. If they could get that, they were made (for a short time at least)! The combination of Radio 1 playlist repetition, exposure to 20 million viewers on a Thursday night along with the TV show they were famous for was irresistible to many gullible sections of the record buying public. Hence we were subjected to the likes of:

  • Telly Savalas of Kojak fame who got to No. 1 in 1975 with a shocking version of Bread’sIf
  • David Soul of Starsky and Hutch who had five, that is FIVE, top 20 hits between 1976 and 1978
David Soul by David Soul on Amazon Music -
  • Windsor Davies and Don Estelle of It Ain’t Half Hot Mum who got to No. 1 with Whispering Grass (doubt we’ll ever see that show again)
  • Dennis Waterman of Minder who scored twice with I Could Be So Good For You in 1980 and the embarrassing What Are We Gonna Get ‘er Indoors in 1983
  • Dick Emery who crept into the top 50 in 1973 with ‘Ooh You Are Awful’
The Dick Emery Show | Television Heaven

  • Russ Abbott got to a nose-bleed inducing No.7 in 1984 with the irritating Atmosphere. I remember watching TOTP when the video was premiered and I sat there waiting for something funny to happen, after about 2 minutes I realised it was serious. What a let-down.
  • Radio 2 DJ Terry Wogan‘s version of The Floral Dance with the Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band. Like Telly and Shatner he couldn’t sing so spoke the lyrics. Either way he shouldn’t have bothered.
  • And the less said about Robson and Jerome, of the Soldier, Soldier military drama serial, the better. Unbelievably, they sit at No. 9 in the chart of most successful singles EVER with Unchained Melody selling an eyewatering 1.85 million copies! One of the hard and fast rules of the singles charts always was, ‘The blander the song, the bigger the hit.’ Thus, also in the top ten all-time sellers were Boney M (twice), Queen, Elton John, Wings and John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John
  • During the 80s various actors from Aussie soaps Neighbours and Home and Away, in the days when those programmes were particularly popular here, tried their luck in the UK charts while the going was good for them. The vast majority being dreadful with Stefan (Paul Robinson) Dennis achieving the nadir of Aussie pop with Don’t It Make You Feel Good in 1989. But even that got to no. 16!
Stefan Dennis - Don't It Make You Feel Good | Discogs
The smouldering Stefan…..and the nadir of Aussie soap singles

The charts even provided a home for sports people, particularly footballers to try their hands at something very different to kicking a ball around. For all of them (and I mean all of them), they should have stuck to putting the boot into opponents rather than into the charts. The first footballers to strike chart gold was the oddly tuxedoed 1970 England World Cup Squad who bawled out their, albeit, quite catchy tune on TOTP, Back Home. This got to number 1 probably because of its novelty value as no football team had ever featured in the charts before.

England's World Cup Hit Parade: Lonnie Donegan, Fat Les, Ant and ...
And no one is even looking embarrassed!

It began a trend for international teams as well as club teams to record songs which, presumably, only their own fans ever bought. Always accompanied by a video of the team japing around in the studio with ‘cans’ pressed to their ears as if they were proper pop singers. That was enough for many to creep into the charts. Probably the type of single of any genre which has the least, if any, aesthetic value. Even Boney M and Queen singles have more.

Not content with football teams trying for chart success, some individual footballers were puffed up enough to think they might have a chance of pop career. In the front row above, sandwiched between Big Jack Charlton and Alan Mullery, we see West Bromwich Albion’s striker Jeff Astle. On the strength of the EWCS smash hit he released a solo single called ‘Sweet Water‘ but he, sadly, choked on the bitter taste of failure. The single missed the charts completely, a bit like that sitter he somehow screwed past the post against Brazil a few months later. But not so Mr Kevin Keegan in 1979 when he reached number 31 with Head Over Heels in Love written by Smokie’s Chris Norman. Or Glenn Hoddle and Chris Waddle, or Glenn and Chris as they chummily wanted to be referred to, whose ‘Diamond Lights’ got to No. 12 in 1987. Probably not the worst song ever to appear on TOTP but their performance is one of those ‘watch through your fingers’ moments.

Diamond Lights - Wikipedia

But the charts often throw up (and I chose those words carefully) such moments as these. One of the often unadmitted joys of the charts is watching a single or act you particularly dislike moving inexorably towards the top ten. The Bay City Rollers at their peak had a 14 year old me almost ripping up the music papers in disgust. When something has this effect on you it must have a lot going for it. Or when a particular favourite has a head-to-head race to get to the top spot first, such as The Sweet v Gary Glitter or Slade v David Bowie. And to spot early a single no one else had noticed edging its way up the hit parade towards Numero Uno, to have given your pals the SP on it and told them to watch this one go was hugely enjoyable. Sultans of Swing by Dire Straits in 1977 was a good example of this type of slow-burner, having been played regularly by David ‘Kid’ Jensen on his Saturday morning show on wonderful Radio 1, before anyone had even heard of Dire Straits. Or Althea and Donna’s brilliant Uptown Top Ranking which similarly slowly nosed its way up the charts after an inauspicious start. Chart moments like these proved there was a discerning record buying public out there, a public who weren’t just content to listen to Queen, Boney M or Cliff. And the singles charts highlighted such behaviour in a way that bolstered your faith in other music-loving people of all ages.

The charts also provided the basis of many in-depth discussions which wore long into the night. Did a particular band or single ever get to number 1? What was the best number 2 single ever. How many David Bowie top 30 singles can you name? Which was the most successful Motown act? How many number 1s did The Stones have? What was the weirdest single ever to get into the top 10? What was the worst number 1 ever? And in the days before you could access some of these facts on a phone, some of the debates could go on for days, even weeks. Of course, anyone with even a passing interest in the charts will remember that in 1980 Ultravox’s overblown electronic classic Vienna was kept off the top spot by Joe Dolce and Shaddap Your Face. Although I was big a fan of Ultravox, sometimes the charts didn’t lie and the best song did get to No. 1. And that’s why I loved them.

Joe Dolce’s slightly less successful follow-up…..

I’m told some form of singles and album charts still exists but it really isn’t the same. Music consumption is completely different today. People no longer wait with baited breath on a particular act’s new release or track its progress inexorably up and down the hit parade. Or argue with friends which particular track from a new album is the strongest single. Or feel that warm glow of satisfaction when a favourite act surpasses someone rubbish like Brotherhood of man, Bay City Rollers or Queen in the charts. But music of all genres and periods is still listened to, downloaded, streamed, pirated and, for some odd people (like myself) even played on record players. Thankfully, music is still very much alive and kicking, I’m happy to say, in its many different incarnations.

But I don’t half miss the charts…

Freddie and the Dreamers: The Beatles of Uncool (But Fun!)

CUCKOO PATROL 1965 Movie with Freddie and the Dreamers! The Cuckoo Patrol  was a starring vehicle for Freddie and the Dreamers… | The dreamers,  Movies, British music

It goes without saying that in the early 60s everyone in the world was aware, to varying extents, of The Beatles. Certainly in the UK they dominated music, culture, the media and even, to a degree, politics. But there were many other acts around and, because of The Beatles, a few acts from Liverpool enjoyed a huge amount of success, known as The Liverpool Explosion. Some deserved it, such as Gerry and the Pacemakers and some were just incredibly lucky to surf in The Beatles‘ wake (yes, I’m looking at you Cilla and Tarby).

One band who certainly benefitted from The Beatles‘ success was Freddie and the Dreamers, who although seen as being part of the Liverpool explosion were actually from Manchester. They even had a pre-fame residency in Hamburg in the very early 60s and for a short time during the early to mid-sixties Freddie and the Dreamers seemed ubiquitous, they were never off the telly, had a string of hits, even number 1s in the US, and had legions of screaming fans. This was quite incredible for a band who could not have been more different to The Beatles.

Everyone liked Freddie and the Dreamers. They were the sort of band that even your elderly relatives liked because their music was jaunty, melodic and inoffensive and Freddie Garrity even had a pleasant singing voice. But what set Freddie and the Dreamers apart from other bands was… he leapt up and down! This was their USP. As well as Freddie leaping around The Dreamers had a whole repertoire of jerky dance movements. This meant they were safe to feature on Blue Peter, Top of the Pops and Sunday Night at the London Palladium (See Tarbuck Memories: Sunday Night at the London Palladium below) and wouldn’t frighten the horses like some of those other hairy, druggy, dirty bands like The Tremeloes or The Hollies.

Between 1963 and 1964 they had 4 top ten hits including ‘I’m Telling You Now’, which was also a number 1 in the US in 1965, and ‘You Were Made For Me.’ Their fame in the US in 1965, though brief, also led to them being touted for a TV series co-starring Terry-Thomas which would have pre-dated The Monkees but this, sadly, came to nothing. And it was their comedy element which led to them appearing in a few British films and also secured a long running TV series for them in the late 60s.

The Cuckoo Patrol (1967) - IMDb

The late 50s and early 60s saw an explosion of British films aimed at the emerging teenage market. Film companies desperate to get in on the act rushed out, often threadbare, vehicles for singers and bands who just happened to be popular at the time, often fleetingly so, and in many cases these featured acts were no longer popular when the film was eventually released. In 1965 Freddie and the Dreamers were given their own star vehicle, Cuckoo Patrol, in which they played a troop of boy scouts who inadvertently get involved with some criminals planning a robbery. The results were, unfortunately, not hilarious as ten out ten film reviewers on IMDB rated it 1 star out of 10, some of the more positive reviews referred to it as the ‘worst British film of all time.’ Harsh maybe but having viewed it, it is pretty poor although with a few odd redeeming features which may not have been obvious when it was released. Recently The Independent called it ‘Terrifying.’ For some reason, I can maybe guess why, it was shelved for two years and only released in 1967, a couple of years after Freddie and the Dreamers had had their last hit. The film experiments with their often anarchic sense of humour which would be utilised more effectively in a TV series launched a year later. It was also reported that some American states banned the film, not for being truly awful but for belittling the Scout movement.

The very fast moving world of 60s pop also saw them appear in 1965’s Every Day’s A Holiday, set in a holiday camp it was a vehicle for unexceptional crooner John Leyton who’d had a couple of monster hits including Johnny Remember Me two years previously. Also starring Mike Sarne whose big number one, the intensely irritating Come Outside, was three years old. The film itself is a strange but enjoyable romp which does evoke the seemingly carefree world of the sixties holiday camp and the perfect platform for Freddie and the Dreamers to hone their musical comedy skills as a bunch of chefs. Needless to say chaos ensued…! The film also featured such well-known 60s and 70s comedy faces as Richard O’Sullivan, Liz Fraser, Nicholas Parsons and an uncredited Danny La Rue.

In March 1964 at the height of their success they headlined an episode of that weird Genxculture favourite, Sunday Night at the London Palladium (Catch it on Sunday nights on Talking Pictures TV, you won’t regret it Tarbuck Memories: Sunday Night at the London Palladium). The host Bruce Forsyth, as he was about to introduce them, said ‘They’re here!‘ without even mentioning who exactly he was referring to, suggesting this was a very hot ticket indeed, to the high-pitched squeals of some of the audience. After playing a medley of their big hits Freddie announced to the well-heeled Palladium audience, ‘Welcome t’Labour Club!’ Nice one Freddie. Almost as good as John Lennon’s exhortation to ‘rattle your jewellery‘ a couple of years previously. They went through a series of their song and dance numbers with the band at various times falling on the ground and being picked up again while Freddie bounded acrobatically back and forward across the Palladium stage. Their act looked exhausting.

Freddie was an unlikely sex symbol. At 5’3” with glasses like the bottoms of milk bottles (he did actually work as a milkman before his success), he leapt about on stage to the joy of the , probably slightly older female, audience. Keith Richards once even referred to him, rather disdainfully, as ‘A certain English leaping gentleman‘. The band were no great lookers either but what they lacked in sex appeal they made up for in anarchic humour and silliness. After their initial chart success they worked constantly in pantos and summer seasons and, oddly, in their own TV series Little Big Time.

The strangely surreal Oliver in the Overworld

Starting in 1968 on Wednesday afternoons Little Big Time was a children’s variety show which exploited the comic abilities of Freddie Garrity and The Dreamers, particularly guitarist Pete Birrell who turned out to be a comic genius. The comedy was chaotic in a good way and extremely daft, similar in many ways to the brilliant late 60s pre-Python for children, Do Not Adjust Your Set. The end of the show always had the band fighting over who was going to press the button to start the end credits rolling. It was funny, it really was. It also featured some quite strange variety musical and magic acts. Interestingly, one of the writers for the first two series was Andrew Davies who became a screenwriting household name and went on to write a range of original TV series such the excellent and greatly underrated A Very Peculiar Practice and a host of Hollywood films. In series 2 a story was introduced about Freddie entering a world ruled by, often quite scary, machines called Oliver in the Overworld. The story was surreal and strangely compulsive not to mention slightly disturbing. True groundbreaking children’s telly. This series eventually replaced Little Big Time and only featured Freddie without his Dreamers. Sadly, only one episode of this long running, fairly revolutionary, series is thought to survive.

One of those scary machines

Freddie and the Dreamers continued to tour with various line-ups and Freddie appeared on a number of TV programmes as himself, including the inevitable Wheeltappers and Shunters, sitcom Dear John (as well as the US version) and the even more inevitable Heartbeat, where his unlikely role was as a drug dealing DJ. He gave up performing in 2001 after he was diagnosed with emphysema and died in 2006 at the age of 70.

Freddie and the Dreamers were different to The Beatles in just about every way but for a short glorious time in the early sixties, they were just as famous.

RIP Freddie