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.

Now don’t get me wrong, there was nothing essentially wrong with them, they were jolly, poppy, good fun, produced catchy pop ditties and had a cheeky boy-next-door front man. What’s not to like?

I have written previously about how much the single and album charts are missed (See The Sad Demise of the Pop Singles Charts 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 (‘The Beatles of Uncool’ Freddie and the Dreamers: The Beatles of Uncool (But Fun!)) and recently I came across some information on one of their contemporaries, Herman’s Hermits who were hugely successful on both sides of the Atlantic and second only to the mighty Beatles themselves. But why?

But they sold 60 million records, received 14 gold disc for their single hits, 7 gold albums, appeared in 4 films including two of their own vehicles in Hold On and Mrs Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter and twice they were voted ‘Entertainers of the Year’ by US trade paper Cashbox. And in 1965 Billboard magazine ranked them as America’s top singles act beating The Beatles into second place. We’ve all heard of The British Invasion, but really?

Hermans Hermits, or Herman and the Hermits as they were first known, formed in Manchester in 1964 and were soon signed by producer Mickie Most and they had their first and only UK No. 1 that same year with the King/Goffin penned I’m Into Something Good. The record reached No. 13 in the US which got them noticed and from then on they never looked back. They continued to have hits in the UK but it was in the US they hit pay dirt with 11 top ten hits, six of which were not released as singles in the UK. Clearly their American producers realised that The Hermits ‘Englishness’ along with Peter Noone’s schoolboyish charm was their, maybe not quite unique, selling point to the vast US, mainly female audience.

Mrs Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter was a song featured in a British TV play called The Lads and sung by a young Tom Courtney in 1963. The Hermits had recorded a version in the studio for a laugh and never dreamed it would be released to the US market, let alone go straight to No. 1. The stripped down production and Noone’s heavily English accented vocal certainly struck a chord with the record buying US public. So much so that after their follow up and more conventional pop single Wonderful World only reached No. 4 the record company immediately released I’m Henry The VIII I Am’ which again rocketed to No. 1 on the Billboard chart. The fact the song was a cockney standard and The Hermits were from Manchester obviously escaped the notice of the teenage American public but it cemented their cuddly Englishness. Weirdly in 1965 this became the fastest selling single in history, was one of the shortest ever No. 1s at 1 minute 50 and even, reportedly, influenced The Ramones! It’s also interesting that the two most successful singles for The Hermits in the US were never even released in the UK. On their first appearance on the legendary Ed Sullivan Show they were even given a backdrop of ‘traditionally English’ Tudor buildings!

Clearly the US record buying public saw HH as a quintessentially ‘English’ band, the type you could take home to Mom, unlike the cheeky Beatles and hippy Stones. And this, of course, encouraged US variety shows to book these lovely lads and not worry about the Bible Belt unleashing their righteous rage upon the networks. And so Herman’s Hermits were beamed into every god-fearing home in America via the shows of Merv Griffin, Dean Martin, Danny Kay, Jackie Gleason and, of course, the inevitable Ed Sullivan. In the UK they graced Ready, Steady Go (10 times), 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 the great American series of all time, usually playing the same part, such as Bewitched, Dick Van Dyke Show, Hogan’s Heroes, Man From UNCLE, MASH, Columbo and The Monkees. He died in 2016 a few years after completing significant parts in Titanic and The Mummy.

The prolific Bernard Fox

The New York Times described the film then as ‘..an occasionally amusing though nonsensical pastiche.‘, which, to be fair would have described most pop group film vehicles at the time, while Boy’s Life was a little more upbeat in its review suggesting the film was ‘..for swingers who are really with it.’ I’m not so sure about that but it’s certainly good fun and, other than being an interesting social document for the time, little more than that.

Their second film, Mrs Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter, made two years later, was after US Hermania had subsided significantly. American teenagers had moved on from The British Invasion and Flower Power and Hippiedom had taken hold. Bands like The Monkees were taking over and there was also a movement away from bubblegum pop to to more ‘serious’ groups like The Doors, Jimi Hendrix and, of course, The Beatles who had just released Sergeant Pepper which shifted the goalposts hugely for music. MBYGALD was, therefore shot in the UK as HH were still having hit records here. Shot in London and Manchester the similarly wafer-thin plot involved a greyhound and yet another ‘charity’ gig. Plus Peter Noone having a major dilemma about which girl to romance with. The band performed 9 songs including ‘There’s A Kind Of Hush.

The cast list for this particular outing was more interesting than the last one, however. The great Stanley Holloway and Joan Hickson co-starred and there were early appearances for Sheila White, Annette Crosbie and, that Genxculture favourite, Lance Percival. And of even more interest to me, an appearance by comedy variety star Nat Jackley, not long after his role in The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour in 1967. Plenty to say about him but check out my article on MMT below where his legendary status due to him appearing in this major 1967 cultural event is discussed (Magical Mystery Tour: What A Long Strange Trip It Was).

Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of these enjoyable popsters will almost certainly be thinking about the elephant in the room here. So, step forward Mr Peter Noone!

Peter Noone had found some relative fame as a child actor appearing in Coronation Street in 1961 as Len Fairclough’s nephew Stanley, coincidently a certain David Jones would appear in Corrie the same year as Ena Sharples grandson Colin. Another David Jones would enter Peter Noone’s life ten years later in a very different way.

It’s true that front men or women in a band are always the focus of media and fan attention. With the exception of Mick Jagger, few people could probably have named the leader singer of The Tremeloes, The Hollies, even The Kinks but by 1966 many would have known Peter Noone with the cheeky smile and the nice but limited voice. He was the HH representative three times on the judging panel of Juke Box Jury, the interviewee on Genxculture favourite Dee Time (Dee Time: When The Sixties Really Began), a two-time judge on America’s Dream Girl of 1967 amongst many other solo appearances while still Herman of The Hermits. And the straw that probably broke the camel’s back was on 31 March 1971 when he was the subject of This Is Your Life. The Hermits appeared of course but only as support players. Sadly this episode no longer exists although I have a very clear memory of watching it at the time.

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 a hit. 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 music royalty Gerry Goffin and Carole King during their early years at the Brill Building songwriting 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 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.

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 who were part of The British Invasion such as The Kinks, Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich, The Dave Clark Five and 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 a perceived ‘accessibility’. Young girls could imagine taking him home to meet mom and dad.

In a book entitled Idol Talk published in 2017, grown-up women talk about their teen idols, why they loved them so much and how it still affects them. Tamra Wilson’s chapter on Hermania describes how much young girls loved band members with ,’ ..baby faces that aged slowly.’ Interestingly the foreword to this more-interesting- than- you- might- think book is by a former pop star named Peter Noone who still plays down the ‘heart-throb’ aspect of his career. Which is nice.

In the long and fascinating history of pop music, Herman’s Hermits‘ musical output still stands the test of time. Most people of a certain age will be surprised at just how many memorable hits they had and, I would argue, few will remember one of The Carpenters‘ most well-known songs, There’s A Kind Of Hush, was first made famous by The Hermits.

Like most pop bands their fame was limited but it lasted much longer than many others and what a great time they must have had, particularly Peter Noone. Couldn’t have happened to nicer guys.

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