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TV Pop Diaries
Pop Music on British Television 1955 - 1999

"The She-Cats and He-Cats get together with Kent Walton to bring the best in "pop" music".

Probably the first British TV series in Britain to be targeted specifically at the teenage audience. Directed by ex-theatre producer Joan Kemp-Welch it played new pop releases with a dance accompaniment. It eventually had a team of dancers with a choreographer, although it just had solo dancers for the first few shows. It was first broadcast on a Monday evening at 7.15, then moving to Thursday. Described by TV Times as “An intimate record programme in which Ker Robertson brings viewers the hits and near hits, the songs, music and stories of the people who make discs a £25,000,000 a year business.”

Fleet Street journalist Ker Robertson was the first presenter, but in January 1957 Kent Walton from Radio Luxembourg was invited by Michael Westmore, head of Light Entertainment at Associated Rediffusion, to take over with Robertson moving over to “Disc Arranging”, i.e. selecting the eight or nine discs per week as due to other work commitments he was now too busy to attend rehearsals. The show itself was initially only fifteen minutes long, but was extended to thirty minutes later on. The dance aspect relied on a visual interpretation of the lyric, usually choreographed by Douggie Squires and a meagre set design. Guests would be interviewed in the studio, with an occasional singer miming to their new hit. The unusual thing about the show was that none of the production team had any connection with the music business, although presenters' relationship with the music business would later be called into question.

Talking about the show before its debut Robertson said "I feel there is no need for any big presentation of lavish sets with a disc programme, which is after all, very intimate and essentially a homely pastime." He later told TV Times "I listen to, and write about, records as a hobby," said Ker. "I make my living as a journalist and my own taste is for serious music. But I don't write about serious music because I don't know enough about it." Director Joan Kemp-Welch told TV Times in June 1957 "Ker gives me about 12 records, of which we'll probably use eight. I play them and whatever comes into my head - that's what I put on the screen. Douglas Squires handles the choreography for records that require dancing. Sometimes I'll use just hands miming, or close-ups of bowls of flowers for a sentimental number." There would also be a 'Cool Cartoon' interpretation of a song each week, drawn first by Desmond Hennessy, and later by Neville Wortman. TV Times explained how it worked in late 1960 "Neville Wortman has to have some idea in advance of how he intends to illustrate a song. He does three drawings: a rough sketch, then a brief outline before transmission, and a third which he fills in during the programme."

The first series was only shown in the London and initially didn't have any artists performing/miming to their records. Director Joan Kemp-Welch devised a way of cutting each song down to about ninety seconds using an oscilloscope of the sound wave and choosing which section to give to the dancers. Her successor Brian Taylor also introduced ideas of his own, as would his successor Daphne Shadwell.

By June 1957 its popularity had spread enough to warrant a network showing twice a week and would, on occasion, step outside the boundaries of the studio setting by turning up at, for example, Army and RAF camps.

In early 1958 the show extends to three shows a week. The first being a thirty minute show on Monday, then a fifteen minute show on Wednesday and a compilation show on late-night Friday. It also increases the number of dancers to three men and three women, one of whom is Barbara Ferris, later to become a well-respected actress, while the dancers are split into two teams, each working alternate weeks.

In March 1958 there was talk of a touring stage show, something that The Six-Five Special and Oh Boy would later do. Although it wouldn't actually happen for another year. The show celebrated its 100th edition in April, along with the 1000th record played. The show also featured personal appearances by many of the artists who have had their records played on the show. It would also be the last show for Joan Kemp-Welch, as she moves over to work on the Dickie Valentine Show. She told TV Times "So many of the tunes we've used on the shows have eventually found their way into the Hit Parade. In fact, one big music publisher tells me we have a 43 per cent influence on putting tunes into the Hit Parade."

From May 1958 each Wednesday the show would be an outside broadcast from somewhere in London, while it also promised a black-face minstrel show with Kent Walton as the white-faced 'Mr Interlocutor'.

More changes occurred in July 1958 when the show moved to Thursday only at 7.00 pm, but despite being aimed at teenagers the show is sometimes puzzlingly broadcast in a late night time slot.

In his regular column in Disc magazine in September 1958 Kent Walton introduced new dancer Mary Munro and stated that many of the show's dancers are from the Festival Ballet, however three of the regular dancers leave the show at the end of 1958 to appear on Rediffusion's new series The 1959 Show.

By late 1958 it had been reduced to one, weekly show on Fridays, suggesting that Rediffusion were either losing interest or had found other shows to fill the gaps. However, an announcement from AR in January 1959 came as a shock. The show was to end. A spokesman for Associated Rediffusion told Melody Maker "The final date has not been fixed and a replacement show has not been set." While host Kent Walton chimed in "It's a pity we are near the end of the road, but after all, one cannot keep on getting fresh ideas after such a run." The end of February was the likely finishing date, but thankfully AR changed its mind and reprieved the show, but changes would have to be made. A spokesman told Melody Maker "All long-running programmes must obviously be reviewed from time to time, but this show has consistently held its rating and appeal. So we have decided to carry it on - indefinitely."

In April 1959 Douggie Squires leaves and Peter Darrell becomes the new choreographer, while Daphne Shadwell becomes the new director after Brian Taylor leaves the studio to take the show on the road. Like so many other TV shows Cool For Cats was set for the stage, and in May 1959 the show had a trial run at the Chiswick Empire, followed by further shows at the Finsbury Park Empire. It featured a dozen or so numbers performed by Johnnie Lee, Derry Hart, Janice Peters and Billy Raymond and a team of dancers led by choreographer Denys Palmer. The stage show would be back 2nd September 1959, this time touring Granada theatres, with a show starring Petula Clark, Tony Brent and Don Lang, along with the dancers. Kent Walton would compere the show, while Ker Robertson acts as co-producer. Like The Six-Five Special a movie version of the show was also being considered.

Like many of the shows at the time Parlophone Records released a tie-in series of Cool For Cats EPs in 1959 featuring Ken Jones and His Coolmen, while Kent Walton and Don Lang made a 45 using Waltion's end-of-show catch-phrase "See You Friday?" in August 1959.

In December 1959 and again in Spring 1960 Labour MP Roy Mason made accusations against TV presenters who might have been involved in 'payola'. He claimed both Robertson and Walton had direct connections with record companies, Robertson with Pye and Walton with Top Rank. According to a report by Melody Maker "The ITA had an agreement with the programme companies whereby anybody who was even indirectly connected with a record company was not allowed to select records for programmes." However an un-named member of staff working on the show whose job it was to choose the records was also working not only for a newspaper but working for a record company too. Despite the allegations no proof is produced and no action is taken.

The show returned in April 1960 with Una Stubbs now in its dance team. Changes were to be made to the songs played every week. Show director John Hamilton told TV Times "We are going to be a bit more sophisticated than we used to be, so we will use the voices of such mature artists as Rosemary Clooney, Doris Day and the John La Salle Quartet, along with the Presleys and Ankas." A production team of the director, his assistant, choreographer Peter Darrell, cartoonist Neville Wortman, a cameraman and vision mixer decide on how each song is to be represented. Hamilton said "We don't have time to argue, and it isn't necessary. Somebody comes up with an idea, and we stick to it. If we shilly-shally, we are lost. First impressions, we've discovered, are usually the best."

By the late fifties new shows like Oh Boy!, Boy Meets Girls, Wham! etc regularly featured real rock acts in its line-up, so the dance show began to look more and more pale, leading to its retirement in early 1961.

The show wasn't forgotten with Cats' regulars Tony Bateman, Patsy Rowlands, Stephanie Voss and Barbara Ferris reuniting for a Christmas Eve special on ATV in 1972, while Channel Four revived the idea in the mid-eighties, putting on a tea-time dance show Hot For Dogs, which lasted just one series.

"...see you Friday?"


Associated Rediffusion

31st December 1956 - 27th February 1961