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.
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.