With the creation of an alternative BBC TV channel expressly to broadcast more esoteric
art, music and drama it was inevitable that jazz would be given its own showcase.
The 625 of the title came from 625 lines which made up the higher definition picture
that BBC2 used which necessitated a selection switch (405/625) on the side of all
new television sets.
Ex-Light Programme producer Terry Henebery was chosen to produce the series which
would be introduced first by Steve Race, replaced by Humphrey Lyttelton. Looking
at the perspective from nearly sixty years on, it's odd that the producer couldn't
have found, or discovered black British presenters or musicians. Asked by Melody
Maker about his intentions for the show he explained "When I went to BBC2 I was asked
if I would like to do a jazz series. My proposals were rather different from what
we are actually doing. I thought of a live, weekly topical programme with pen portraits,
film clips - rather like a visual 'Jazz Scene.' But it was felt we wanted a programme
which presented jazzmen at work. There has been no gimmickry at all. In the days
when I envisaged more of a magazine programme. I didn't realise we would have all
the really big jazz names coming in."
A turf war between the Musician's Union of Britain and the American Federation of
Musicians meant that very few jazz acts would be able to come to Britain. A truce
was called in the mid-fifties, so by the time that BBC2 debuted in 1964 they found
a steady stream of American jazz performers who were coming toward the end of their
live careers who were only too willing to perform. But almost as important the show
gave airtime to UK musicians like Ronnie Scott, Tubby Hayes and Bill LaSage. But
this was no Later or The Tube, it never really gave time to up and coming talent,
just the familiar faces.
Many of the shows were recorded for repeat broadcast in the Best of Jazz 625 series
and these still survive, while BBC4 broadcast new editions featuring new British
talent in Spring 2019 and Autumn 2020.