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TV Pop Diaries
Pop Music on British Television 1955 - 1999

A series starring Skiffle King Lonnie Donegan, joined every week by the usual musical and variety guests.


A report in Melody Maker in August 1956 suggested that negotiations were under way for Donegan to star in his own series, but it would take another three years for any contract to be signed. His musical tastes ranged from blues, gospel, country to British music hall, and they all featured in the show. However, most of the guests were of the middle of the road and trad jazz variety, many of them also recorded for Pye Records, owned by ATV.


In 1958 Donegan made a couple of appearances on ATV's Saturday Spectacular, not just singing but playing the comic. His manager Cyril Berlin told Melody Maker about his 13th September 1958 appearance "Lonnie did a great job - especially as he had only two days' notice. But he proved he can handle comedy during his Blackpool season."


The show was originally announced as Lonnie's Party,  but changed to incorporate the title of one of his hits. The original intent was not to pre-announce guests. Show producer Colin Clews told Melody Maker "We may adopt the surprise approach. Artists will be of an unusual type."


Donegan would also get involved in small scale comedy sketch clips at the beginning and end of the shows, something which would become commonplace later in the decade with Cliff, Dusty and Lulu. Talking to Disc ahead of the final series he spoke about the comedy angle "I'm no genius and it's taken me a long time to learn, but it's a thing I've always wanted to do and I think I've learnt now, in just the same way as I learnt to sing." Talking to Pop Weekly at about the same time he said "There'll be other guests popping in from time to time, but generally it will be the same formula as before. Some singing and clowning around, and as wide a variety of songs as we can get together..."


In 1961 Donegan appeared in a summer season in Blackpool using the show’s title, with a highlights show broadcast by BBC Television. Talking to Disc in late 1961 he explained that finding new songs to perform was difficult "I can repeat one or two numbers but I've got to start looking around for others before the show and it takes a long time. It's a big problem." Disc estimate that he had performed around 80 songs so far in the series. "I think it will prove necessary to introduce more comedy than ever before in the next series. Simply because I won't be able to find enough songs."


Singing group The Raindrops joined as regular guests in 1962 and featured Jackie Lee and Vince Hill, both of whom would later have successful solo careers.


Returning for a one-off in August 1963 ATV presented an hour long clip from Lonnie's summer season show from The Queens' Theatre in Blackpool, earning themselves a TAM top ten placing.


The series was back in April 1964, but this time there was a concept. In an attempt to replicate the success of Stars & Garters' it was set in 'Donegan's Bar', "it could be Las Vegas, it could be Chelsea, it could be anywhere," said producer Francis Essex in a Daily Mirror article. The first half of the show saw the cast rehearse (although it was nothing of the sort) while the second half was the actual performance. The Clark Brothers taught him some dance routines, while Lonnie ditched his guitar for all but one song.


With his contract with ATV now completed and a five year run of shows he was a free man again, but he would continue to make TV appearances for the rest of his career.



PUTTING ON THE DONEGAN


ATV

26th June 1959 - 5th June 1964