Thursday, 1 September 2011

Remembering, Six - Five Special!

It was the BBC's first attempt at a rock and roll programme, an innovation and much imitated, even today. It was called Six-Five Special because of the time it was broadcast - it went out live at five past six on Saturday evening. It began immediately after the abolition of the Toddler's Truce, which had seen television close between 6 and 7pm so children could be put to bed.

Jack Good was the original producer. Josephine Douglas and (initially) disc jockey Pete Murray were its presenters, with Murray using the catchphrase "Time to jive on the old six five". Its resident band was Don Lang & his Frantic Five. The show opened with film of a steam train accompanied by the programme's theme song, played and sung by the Frantic Five, which began with the words "The Six-Five Special's comin' down the line, The Six-Five Special's right on time..."

BBC executives originally wanted a magazine format; however, Good wanted a show with music and lots of movement. The original sets were dispensed with and the empty studio space filled with the milling audience and performers. Television at that time was completely live as recording technology was limited, so once the programme started everything ran in an impromptu way. The running order was sketched out on Friday morning, and then only one complete run-through happened immediately before transmission on Saturday evening.
The show was originally scheduled to last just six weeks but, as a result of its popularity, the series became open-ended. The BBC interfered with Good's vision of the show by including educational and information elements, which Good wanted to drop, as they diluted the music. The relationship between Good and the BBC became strained, and he resigned in early 1958.
Good joined the ITV company ABC to create Oh Boy!, the show he'd wanted to make. It featured non-stop music and lost the public-service-inspired elements as part of its more frenzied pace, trouncing Six-Five Special in the ratings. The BBC, never keen on the show, took this as vindication and pulled it from the schedules. It was to be half a decade before Top of the Pops restored BBC coverage of contemporary popular music in general and "pop" in particular.

Among the artists on the show were Bobby & Rudy, Petula Clerk, Jim Dale, Johnny Dankworth, Terry Dene, Lonnie Donegan, Russ Hamilton, Cleo Laine, Joan Regan, Winnipeg native Paddy Stone, Leigh Madison, Finlay Currie, Freddie Mills, Jimmy Lloyd, Laurie Gold and his pieces of Eight, Eden street skittle group, Marty Wilde and Tommy Steele.

Comedy performers included Trevor Peacock, who was also a script writer for the show, Spike Milligan and Bernie Winters.

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