Home Shows A to Z





Diary 1950s to 1990s Articles Credits & Links

TV Pop Diaries
Pop Music on British Television 1955 - 1999

Originally planned for a twenty-six week run the series was based on a popular American show hosted by Peter Potter and would be produced by ex-Six-Five Special producer Russell Turner.


Radio Luxemburg and Light Programme DJ David Jacobs had approached the BBC in 1956 with the idea for a series called Hit Or Miss in which a panel would cast their opinion on the week’s new releases, only to have the idea rejected by Leslie Johnson at the BBC’s Light Entertainment department. In early summer 1959 Jacobs was approached to be a member on the panel of a new series Juke Box Jury, the format of which the BBC had just bought from America. When Jacobs explained that the idea was put to them three years previously he was given the job of host to placate him. But despite Jacob's involvement it was Pete Murray who had hosted the pilot show.


The show involved a panel of four showbiz personalities passing opinion and ultimately judgement on the week’s new releases, with a guest appearance by one of the artists whose work was reviewed / criticised. The poor mug had to sit behind the set in what became known as The Hot Seat. Since there was usually an even number of jurors there could be an draw between hit and miss, so the panel was complemented by an audience panel made up of three members of that week’s audience who also imparted their opinion 'hit' or 'miss'. The results would be displayed on a thermometer type board, called the Hit-omerter. Talking to The Stage in April 1959 Turner explained "This show was been a great success in America. But we have really only bought the title. We intend to make it more British. I have seen the tele-recording of one of the American shows and it seems a bit slow". Talking about the show to Melody Maker in April 1959 Russell explained "It will be a light-hearted tongue-in-cheek type of presentation." Both Turner and Jacobs would choose the records to be included, and as such became the target of song and record pluggers. Turner told Melody Maker in March 1960 "My office handles about a hundred 'phone calls a day - but that doesn't affect my judgement."


Only fifty seconds of each song would be played, but not only singles were played, some LP tracks were also included.


The show was originally intended for a March 1959 launch and shown in the BBC schedule after Dig This in order to make it an hour of teen / pop fare on a Saturday evening, but the demise of Dig This put paid to this idea.


The show’s cheap to run format proved popular with the BBC, while the audience also got the chance to play amateur reviewer.


There would be some controversy in the first show as Pete Murray complained to the host "I can't understand why you're being so beastly to me. You've got a very big future. They need men like you in the gent's toilet in Leicester Square." To which Jacobs replied "Mention my name and you'll get a good seat." The producer spoke to the two after the show.


The original theme tune was Juke Box Fury and a version credited to Ozzie Warlock and The Wizards was released by HMV. It would later be replaced by Hit Or Miss by The John Barry Seven, at the suggestion of David Jacobs after it had been judged on the show.


In August 1959 the show is extended for a further 13 weeks and is moved from Monday to Saturday going head-to-head with ABC's new Boy Meets Girls. Russell Turner tells Melody Maker "The show has been such a fantastic success - much to everyone's surprise." However, Pete Murray's 13 week contract would be replaced by a week-by-week contact meaning he would have to leave. While in October 1959 the BBC announces the show will be extended until March 1960. Producer Turner explained to Melody Maker "The show's success is due to two tremendous audience pulling features - discs and the appeal of panel games. Music publishers say that the series is the biggest 'plug' in the business."


In autumn 1959 the idea of a twice-weekly show was proposed from January 1960. Russell Turner claimed in Melody Maker "Negotiations are proceeding and there is a very strong chance of the deal going through. The extra series will give us a chance to play the better type of record. But apart from this the format will be the same. The mid-week editions will be taped directly after the weekend shows."


The show's potential to make or break a record drew the attention of critics, especially Labour MP, Roy Mason who effectively accused David Jacobs of payola in the House of Commons in December 1959, and again in Spring 1960. Jacobs was at the time also working for Pye Records and wrote a weekly column for a paper. Mason had also made similar allegations about Cool For Cats.


In April 1961 Stewart Morris leaves his producer role, passing it over to Bill Cotton Jr who tells Melody Maker "The format will stay exactly the same." Under Morris the show had gone from seven and a half to fifteen million viewers. However as soon as Cotton took over it was suggested that the format would change with a teenager and a DJ put into the panel. Although this was never intended it lead to a denial from the show's producer Billy Cotton Jr who revealed that he would sometimes get insulting letters claiming that the panel know nothing about pop music, without realising that was the point. Johnnie Stewart told Disc in November 1961 "I like to have at least two, possibly three people on the panel who are connected with the recording industry. The third may or may not know about the business and the fourth may be a Zsa Zsa Gabor. Nobody can say that she knows anything about the business but what she has to say is interesting." Talking about having popstars themselves casting judgement on others on the show "In my opinion it hasn't worked. It hasn't improved the entertainment quality of the programme. Most of the record stars on the show have been incoherent. I must say that Cliff Richard when he was on made sense, but he was the only one so far."


By mid 1961 there were rarely any BBC shows in the TAM audience top ten ratings, but it was notable that when there was an ITV whitewash the top rated BBC show was often Juke Box Jury, sometimes with a share of just below 50%. The show would make the bottom half of the TAM ratings top twenty occasionally throughout 1962.


In December 1961 the smoke from Bunny Lewis' cigarette wafting across the other panellists leads to complaints and a subsequent smoking ban on the show.


In October 1962 rumours in the industry suggest that the show was to be cancelled. Bill Cotton Jnr tells Disc "Those reports created a wrong impression. All that is happening is that we are conducting a pilot show in private to see if it is possible to extend the present show in some way. If this happens, the length of the programme will increase. but otherwise it will be 'Juke Box Jury'." It was confirmed in late 1962 that the format of the show would not be altered.


The public's irritation with juror's getting it wrong led to then producer Neville Wortman telling Disc magazine in December 1962 "We don't keep detailed statistics of the voting, but the panellists are ahead on forecasting hits correctly." Adding, "I've said it before and I'll say it again right now: Juke Box Jury is meant to be an entertainment - not a jury of four experts dissecting the latest pop issues. We average an audience of twelve and a half million every week, and it's a family audience. The teenagers certainly take a close interest in the actual discs played, but the older people are equally interested in the reactions of the studio audience and the views of the celebrities on the panel, whether they're experts or not." He conceded that getting an 'expert' on each week's panel might advantage the show. "I usually go after a singer or disc jockey in this respect. People like Pete Murray, Alan Dell and Carole Carr always give excellent value. I know that some people think there should be more teenagers on the panel. But it's much easier said than done. Finding a youngster who can talk fluently and informatively about records is a big problem."


The show was cruelly labelled "joke box jury" in the media, but the jury and host would occasionally get things comically wrong. On a May 1963 show the song Foolish Little Girl by The Shirelles was played, leading Pete Murray to comment that the group had just had a hit with Sherry, to which fellow juror Andy Williams tried to correct him by claiming the hit was Big Girls Don't Cry. Host Jacobs also chipped in by saying that Big Girls Don't Cry was actually a hit for The Purcells.


Janice Nicholls' cheeky working-class humour made her Thank Your Lucky Stars' lucky mascot, but Juke Box Jury made the mistake of attempting to manufacture their own teenage mouthpiece by using 'posh' girls like Jane Asher, Alexandra Bastedo, Gay Emma and others, failing in the process. Talking to the Daily Mirror about recruiting teenage opinion makers in December 1963 producer Neville Wortman said "We're always keen to use teenagers on the panel — the trouble is finding the right ones. We've held auditions that have all started promisingly. But it takes some doing to cope with a half-hour show and comment on up to ten records of varying styles, I know lots of people viewing at home feel they could do the job as well as the panel, but it's a lot tougher than it looks. And it really needs people in the world of entertainment to do the job entertainingly."


Notable editions include The Beatles taking over the show in December 1963, pushing the show into the top ten ratings for the first time since February 1962, while The Rolling Stones took over the following year and in the process abandoning the traditional hit or miss board.


By 1964 the weekly audience averaged twelve million, however irritation from other BBC programme makers at it’s space-taking residency in the schedule saw the show shifted to an earlier time slot on Saturday evening, together with a shorter running time.


A later producer Barry Langford explained that he would take on average about sixty new releases every week to youth clubs and try them out on the members, the most popular would them be included on that week’s show. Langford had taken over the producers' role in Spring 1964 and vowed to eliminate any potentially anti-pop jurors.


In mid-1964 the producers introduced film clips for some of the songs instead of the usual camera pointed at the reactions of the audience. About the same time the red 'on' lights on top of the cameras were removed as were the audience facing monitors which, it was felt, was making the audience feel self-conscious.


In Spring 1965 a new recording of the theme was made by Ted Heath and his orchestra.


In late 1966 the then producer Terry Henebery was replaced by Albert Stevenson who promised to have a new set designed, but it would only be a cosmetic change as it was obvious that the show was on its last legs. A new seating arrangement and a new juke box was introduced, while a solo member of the audience became the 'casting voter'. Adding to any worries the producer had David Jacobs was forced to deny that he was leaving the show as he had recently left Top Of The Pops. Stephenson wished to include ten records per show so he encourages the panel to speed up their responses, while a new opening credit sequence replacing the spinning records intro is also on the cards. Another change occurs with the 3rd December 1966 shows when the show's jury changes to an all-DJ format, however the producer couldn't confirm if this was a permanent decision. A couple of weeks' later Stevenson was claiming that the show was a "tremendous success." "The show came alive and the panellists did not repeat themselves. I had several calls at my London home over the weekend praising it." The all-DJ format was extended into the new year for six shows. However, the same DJs were also appearing each week as hosts or co-hosts of Top Of The Pops leading to over-exposure and accusations of favouritism. Stevenson left the show in January amid accusations that the DJs had turned the show into a comedy. Jacobs later admitted to Disc "I simply hated the all-DJ panel. It became too 'in'. There were too many 'in' jokes." Bill Cotton Jr, Assistant Head of Light Entertainment denied anything of the sort "It is our policy to switch around producers on 'Jury'." Pete Murray said at the time "We all understood we were to go on the panel and 'enjoy ourselves'. We were told to remember that we were in show-business, and not to 'play it too straight'. I have appeared on both kinds of panel, and speaking personally, I much prefer the present format. The old type was rather like doing the Epilogue without the message. In other words, death!" However, ahead of his own chat show Simon Dee told Disc "The four-deejay panel did not do so well from the viewpoint of voting hits. For instance, we turned down Engelbert and Petula's new singles!" David Jacobs mentions on a late 1966 show that the panel get it right 67% of the time.


Another change came with the 25th February 1967 show when two of the all DJ panel were sacrificed in favour of two women "connected with the pop scene" taking their place in an attempt to give the show a fresh look. The four DJs will still appear in a duo rotation each week, similar to Top Of The Pops. However again, on the 8th April the show reverted to its celebrities only panel format. With a show in constant flux and apparent indecision it was just a matter of time before time would be called. Talking about the switch back to the old format Pete Murray told Disc "...they must have some people on the panel who know what they are talking about... otherwise, it's like having somebody discussing a book who can't read."


Despite the show's longevity the BBC still seemed be happy enough by May 1967 to re-commission the show until the 23rd September. Despite the assurance however, the end was in sight. While producer Colin Charman was on his honeymoon in June 1967 David Mallet, ex-Shindig director, took his place.


Despite the later shows exposing contemporary music like Pink Floyd and Moby Grape to a Saturday evening audience the producer's saw no problem with booking jurors like Jessie Matthews and Beatrice Lillie towards the end of the show's run.


The show was moved from Saturday to Wednesday evenings in late September 1967, which is usually the first sign of an upcoming P45. In addition it was moved from its London studio up to Manchester. Bill Cotton Jr explained the reasoning "It is moving to Manchester purely because of studio availability. The demand on studios is not as great in the north as down here (London)." The new version of the show would be transmitted live whenever they can. Currently the show is transmitted live and pre-recorded on alternate weeks. This means of course all the invited jurors would now have to fly up to Manchester, paid for by the BBC.


Several new ideas were pitched by producer Sydney Lotterby to tie-in with the move of venue and broadcast day. He told Disc "I was talking to David Jacobs while he was on holiday in Torremolinos about the idea of the audience casting votes on the discs played, and he was very keen. It's just a question of how we are to do it. We can't very well have a show of hands - that would give a very classroom effect. We may be able to fix up electronic buttons. We'll have to go into it." There was also the suggestion of a new big-band version of the theme tune, while more pop personalities could be on the jury. Lotterby claimed "We would like to see people who are held in esteem in the pop world on the panel." Producer for the new Manchester season was David Bell, who had previously produced Stramash the BBC in Glasgow.


There was no show on 8th November 1967 despite hiring Tony Blackburn, Brenda Lee and Gene Pitney to be on the jury. A British Heavyweight boxing bout between Henry Cooper and Billy Wright was shown instead of the David Nixon Show and Juke Box Jury was replaced by the Nixon show. Further evidence that Juke Box Jury was being sidelined by the schedulers.


Jacobs had been offered a new radio show on BBC's Light Programme replacement Radio 2 and told Disc that moving to Manchester was a problem "It has hit my offers of work with Radio 2 rather badly, because Wednesday cuts right across any plans that were being made for a daily programme." It transpired that in the autumn of 1967 Jacobs had suggested that he leave the show. Talking to the Melody Maker in December 1967 Jacobs said "I felt I had done all I could and said all I could on the programme. It had been a long and lovely time but it was time to go on to something else. The BBC said they would think about it and about ten days later they told me that they had decided to take it off." Jacobs' agent, Bunny Lewis, told Disc in late 1967 "David and 'Juke Box' are parting on the best of terms. David said he wanted to be free to do other things about five weeks ago. The BBC have though for some time about ending 'Juke Box', but David's request may have toppled it over the brink." Talking to Melody Maker about the show's demise Jacobs claimed "After a time, I realised that quite a few people knew that the programme was to end. Than last week when I went to Manchester for the show, the studios were full of reporters and photographers because the story had leaked. My agent asked the BBC what I should say and they said 'nothing'. This made me look a bit of a twit because the next morning I heard the end of the programme announced on the 8.30 news in my hotel bedroom in Manchester."


The show was officially cancelled by the BBC in late November 1967, with the replacement All Systems Freeman ready to start in the new year. However, if it wasn't ready then the producers of Juke Box Jury would continue into 1968. David Jacobs, talking to Disc in late 1967 said "I would be quite prepared to carry on for a short while if they wanted me to. But I feel an eight-an-a-half-year run is enough for anyone. It's ridiculous, though, for anyone to say the programme is now a 'miss'. The run speaks for itself."


The final show brought back two faces from the very first show, Pete Murray and Susan Stranks. The show had been pre-recorded in Manchester a few days' before broadcast and David Jacobs was expecting some kind of surprise for the finale. However, he was in for a shock. "It fizzled out in a most unshowmanlike manner. There was a complete lack of imagination. I got a message to say we had to be off in twenty-eight minutes - and thought there must be a surprise in store, since I knew the show ran to twenty-nine minutes and thirty seconds. I got a surprise all right! We went off early so they could run a trailer for another programme." Jacobs had his own suggestions on how the show should finish. "We tried to get all of The Beatles, of course - but couldn't. And I suggested we should have the whole thing 'live' in London and a panel of forty people altogether - changing over after each record. I was very disappointed actually." Pete Murray told Disc "It was rather like a good meal. When you come to the end you've enjoyed it - but you couldn't eat it again. 'Juke Box' had been tired for a long time. Even new faces didn't give it a lift."


The show never targeted the teen audience in favour of the larger ‘family’ audience and as a result it out-lasted Thank Your Lucky Stars and Ready, Steady, Go! Despite the occasional set design and schedule changes it never changed its basic format, which probably contributed to its longevity like Top Of The Pops. But it's appeal was perfectly summed up by weekly music paper Disc in 1967 as "the programme that draws its audience like angry bees round a honey pot."


The show was revived twice by the BBC, once in 1979, hosted by Noel Edmonds, which included a legendary encounter with ex-Sex Pistol John Lydon. The format hadn't changed. This time around producer Roger Ordish, who worked on the penultimate show back in 1967 brought in additional verdicts from five of the BBC's local radio stations and members of the public. In 1989, after a one-off edition made by the Arena production team, a new reboot was made by Noel Gay Productions and hosted by Jools Holland. Unlike the Edmonds hosted version this time people seemed to be having fun.


For more information about the show please visit the Juke Box Jury web site.


"... and now this is where we take our leave of you."


JUKE BOX JURY

BBC / BBC1

1st June 1959 - 27th December 1967

Re-vamp 16th June 1979 - 18th August 1979

One off show 19th March 1989

Second re-vamp 24th September 1989 - 3rd December 1989