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TV Pop Diaries
Pop Music on British Television 1955 - 1999

A talent show originally from an Australian format, and like its Monday night rival Opportunity Knocks, not without controversy. The show had a panel of four showbiz professionals who would comment on each act. Pop maverick Mickie Most, Alan Freeman of Pye Records (owned by ATV), Lonnie Donegan, Tony Hatch (also of Pye Records) among others would give their opinion, however toxic. Tony Hatch in particular relished the Mr Nasty moniker given to him by the tabloids. The first pilot show had TV critic Clive James on the panel for the one and only time. Producer Les Cocks had also worked for Pye Records as a manger. Although ATV's charter disallowed them access to a direct management deal for any of the acts, it didn't stop them from being signed to Pye Records.


The show would be open to people sixteen years old and above regardless of professional or amateur status and each would be given a minimum of three minutes to impress the producers. Like Opportunity Knocks the show would on occasion give a second chance to acts who had been professional but had never made it. Many hopefuls complained about the audition process, but for the 1974 series Les Cocks auditioned 2300 acts in February alone, choosing 200 acts for inclusion. There were however, several names who already had work lined up and used the show for much needed TV exposure. "Artistes new to network television" was how the request for talent was worded in the advertisements. However, acts who failed the first time could be allowed back to try again after two years if they hadn't appeared on TV in between. There would now be two TV showcases for new talent, New Faces and the well established Opportunity Knocks. Les Cocks told Music Week "Also we try not to use acts who have been on Opp Knocks, but it's hard to stop some of them if they don't mention it." he also made it clear that Bridge Over Troubled Water was the most sung song at auditions.


Each act would be judged on presentation, content and star quality, which would be changed to 'entertainment value' in 1975. Like its rival Opportunity Knocks it also found real talent. Comedian and actor Lenny Henry, songwriter, comedian and playwright Victoria Wood, Britain's first popular woman stand-up comedian Marti Caine, and comedian and actor Les Dennis were among those who made a long-lasting and valid career thanks to the show.


Ahead of the beginning of the second series, Francis Essex told the Daily Mirror "In our last series it was a talent show built round a panel of judges, this time the main feature win be the panel itself with the acts built around them. We're extending the show — but only including one more act. This will ensure that the panel plays a larger part." The panellists Hatch and Most got £100 per appearance.


One of the more successful pop groups to appear were Sweet Sensation, seen very much as a Jackson 5 clone. Their Sad Sweet Dreamer was not only a UK number one, but a big hit in America. However, Tony Hatch had already signed the band a few months before their appearance and had declared an interest.


The third series, starting in September 1974 ran for an unprecedented forty weeks and saw the final at the London Palladium with the winner flying off to Las Vegas for a booking.


Les Cocks talking to Music Week in February 1975 said "We've never dropped a judge for being too strong in his views. We did drop women panellists because we found viewers didn't much like them." In May 1975 Pye released a compilation album of some of the most popular music acts from the show.


For the fourth series beginning late 1975 a viewers' panel was introduced alongside the experts panel. 5000 acts had been auditioned for this series.


There would be a winner each week, but initially there were no prizes as such, the exposure to agents and the public was considered reward enough according to the producers. However the chance of six weeks' work in Bailey's Nightspot clubs was added in 1974, while the overall winner was given the the opportunity to play at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas to the 1975 series.


In December 1975 Les Cocks announces a new voting system with four members of the public voting in the studio. Admitting flaws in the previous voting system "We've never been happy about the postal vote system. We know it can be rigged too easily. We think this method is fairest for everyone."


For the series beginning September 1976 the viewer's voting panel was dropped the producers felt that both the professional studio panel and the viewers were voting the same way. The Viewers' Winners show would be replaced with a Near Misses show.


By late 1977 with Hughie Green's announcement that his Opportunity Knocks was to come off the air in the new year it also seemed that New Faces was doomed. Regular panel member Clifford Davis spilt the beans about the backstage arguments to his newspaper the Daily Mirror. He talked about about his repeated sackings, claimed that performers' union Equity had complained about his comments about some of the acts on the show, while he also alleged fellow judge Tony Hatch repeatedly walked out of the show. He also raised Hatch's suspicions about the quality of some of the acts "Like me, he wonders if the production team include bad acts just to give the panel something to talk about." Clifford also raised suspicions about conflict of interest "It's all very well to keep moaning about the poor quality of the performers but, every now and then, the show DOES come up with some worthwhile talent. When it does, Tony Hatch is among the first to write songs for them or produce their records."


The show was moved from prime time Saturday evening to Sunday afternoon at the beginning of 1978 which was the first sign of an upcoming P45.


The show was never very popular and according to an article in The Stage "New Faces has consistently appeared in the bottom half of the network league tables." The show had constant criticism for its own constant criticism of its acts, but as Tony Pratt of the Daily Mirror said ahead of the series in September 1976 "I can't understand why some people are upset by the panel's forthrightness. The contestants are willing victims who know what they are letting themselves in for, and without blunt comment the show would lose its drama."


New Faces was brought back to ITV screens in the 1990s, this time hosted by previous winner Marti Caine, but the show was just as unpopular this time around.


Among the pop talent discovered were Showaddywaddy, Sweet Sensation (on Pye Records), Patti Boulaye, Sheer Elegance (on Pye Records) and session singer Max Bacon.



NEW FACES


ATV

31st May 1973, 7th July 1973 (broadcast pilots), 29th September 1973 - 2nd April 1978