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TV Pop Diaries
Pop Music on British Television 1955 - 1999

"At the TV hop, that's where we're gonna bop..."


ABC's weekly popular music show Top Numbers had proved successful, despite its frivolous attitude towards the visual presentation of the songs, but the time had come to move on. ABC had made provision for pop fans with their Top Of The Bill show the previous autumn by including skiffle and pop singers in each show, but maybe it was time to give teenagers their own place to go each week.


ITV announced on the 27th March 1958 that they are considering a new rock n roll show for Saturday evening. One show idea is Saturday Hop, hosted by Jack Jackson, David Jacobs and Johnny Johnson, and the other idea is Oh Boy!, possibly hosted by Pete Murray, who would announce that he is leaving BBC’s Six-Five Special a few days’ later. If an idea is accepted by ITV the show would be produced by Jack Good, who had also recently been let go by the BBC.


After Jack Good’s exit from the BBC after an alleged contract infringement over a potential The Six-Five Special live tour he found a new home at ITV’s midland and northern weekend franchise ABC Television. A pilot show was recorded for executives at ATV's studio at the Wood Green Empire, London on March 12th 1958.


Talking to Melody Maker in May 1958 Jack Good took pot shots at the other pop shows currently on TV "In this show you'll see the stars undisturbed and uninterrupted by amateur skiffle groups, coffee bar cowboys and arty ballet dancers. The show will feature two bands, two vocal groups, and a girl's choir. Aim is to feature 17 numbers in 35 minutes. It will be the fastest show on TV." Talking to the TV Times just before the first pilot was shown Good explained "What is the secret of the "pop" record's tremendous power? I believe the answer can be given in one word--excitement. And this excitement is contained in sound only. The problem for a "pop" music programme on television is clear, then. It is: How can vision be added to these sounds in such a way that, at worst, the excitement is not lost and, at best, it is boosted to an even higher level? Oh Boy! is an attempt to solve this problem."


The TV Times alerted anyone attending the first broadcast to pre-arrange transport getting home "Calling all teenbeats. Well, 250 of them anyway--if they can arrange late night transport from Wood Green for themselves after watching Oh Boy! on Sunday, June 15. This is a new, fast-moving musical show aimed at teenagers. It hits the screen at 10.50 and won't end until 11.30... and by then the tube trains will have ceased to run back into central London. Tickets are free---but watch that transport problem. Send for them to: Oh Boy!, ABC Television Ltd, Film House, Wardour St, W I. And remember ticket holders only can be admitted!"


The first broadcast pilot was shown on the 15th June 1958 as a part of ABC's Preview series, and according to Melody Maker the following week ABC considered the reaction "highly favourable", and despite a follow up show on the 29th June there was a problem scheduling further shows. According to an ABC spokesman "The difficulty is to fit the show into our summer schedules. But it may return in the autumn." However, the series was commissioned, albeit with "certain minor modifications" according to Disc magazine. Jack Good told Melody Maker in July 1958 "The chief problem at the moment is the simple one of accommodation. We want to put the show on at 6 pm on Saturdays but are having difficulty in finding suitable studio space at that time." The show's original location at The Wood Green Empire had been set aside for ATV's Saturday Spectacular, so a new venue had to be found for the new series proper. The Empire Theatre in Hackney, east London was chosen. It also helped that there was a pub next door, where many of the cast and producer Good could be found anything up to twenty minutes before transmission time. It was no co-incidence or mistake that a theatre was chosen to broadcast the show. It was a stage show, like a concert that kids would go to, and would have up to fifty people on stage for the finale.


Good tried to explain the show's title to TV Times just ahead of the full series in September "It hasn't got a hard and fast meaning, but it conveys an impression, a reflection of the way I feel about entertainment."


The first show was transmitted on 12th September 1958 positioned opposite The Six-Five Special from 6:30 to 7:00 pm which on the face of it must have pleased Good no end. Good told Melody Maker "I relish the idea of a really good battle." But in reality the BBC’s show would have come to an inevitable conclusion sooner rather than later, leaving Oh Boy! to pick up the younger viewers who were now leaving The Six-Five Special in droves. The decision to go head-to-head with the BBC was probably not down to Good, but more likely down to perceived advertising opportunities. The show would be transmitted weekly until January 1959.


The same day that Oh Boy debuted Jack Good also tested the waters with another production for ABC, Sam and Pete, starring DJs Sam Costa and Pete Murray who's name had been previously been attached to Oh Boy!. Good found himself in the position of rehearsing and staging two shows each week. But it appears that the second show disappeared, possibly with no shows actually broadcast.


Advertised in the TV Times as “an explosion of beat music”, the show was broadcast live with a very loud, animated audience compared to the polite, respectful, well-tempered youngsters who attended The Six-Five Special broadcasts.


Four days of rehearsals were necessary for the first few shows, so acts that were on tour had to fly or take the train from all over the country to attend. On one occasion Marty Wilde had to fly down from Edinburgh for two hours' of rehearsals before flying back, while on another occasion his driver took him to the the BBC's Wood Green studios by mistake.


Hosted on alternate weeks by Jimmy Henney (from Chappell Music publishers) and Tony Hall (who had been working at Coral / Brunswick Records), it was a live stage show and probably came as a shock to an older audience more used to appreciative applause at the end of each number rather than the continual screaming which the producer encouraged. Henney had done TV work before, interviewing on BBC's Off The Record and as a reporter on The Tin Pan Alley Show. Hall was new to TV. Talking to TV Times he said "I saw the two trial shows and thought they were the most exciting things I've ever seen on television. The lighting, the camera work was great, and I thought the music was swinging more than most of TV's attempts to present jazz. I applied for an audition and, of course, I'm delighted to get this chance on television and extremely happy to be associated with Oh Boy! I only hope I will be able to match the pace."


The musical director was Harry Robinson who had selected a new group of mostly jazz musicians who would later go on to have a couple of hits of their own on Decca under the name of Lord Rockingham’s XI, also sharing musical duties were The John Barry Seven. Providing the vocals were a girl group from Liverpool, The Vernons Girls (all sixteen of them), along with a constant supply of Larry Parnes acts Marty Wilde, Billy Fury, Duffy Power, Cuddly Duddly and Vince Eager, plus other acts like The Dallas Boys, Tony Sheridan and Cliff Richard whose national debut on the first show sparked considerable sales life into his first single, Move It. Unfortunately, the nursery rhyme lyrical approach to rock and roll offered by The Six-Five Special continued in Oh Boy!


A disc spot was to be included, with only American songs / recordings used, but this might have been dropped quickly.


The script was usually provided by Trevor Peacock, later to become a much-respected West End writer, author of hits songs for Joe Brown and co-star of the Vicar Of Dibley in the 1990s.


After Tony Hall's call of "OK, come and get it, it's Oh Boy!" the music started and didn't stop until the hosts intervened or it was a well deserved half time break. The music was relentless, as was the audience. This was the first time an almost out of control audience had been seen and heard on a British TV show outside of mocking news reports. Talking in his weekly column in Disc magazine Good said "For 'Oh Boy!' we want plenty of kids who like beat music and who are prepared to kick up a row and let themselves go". Oh Boy! recognised that things were changing in the British music scene, so it becomes the first post-skiffle pop show.


On the first show Bertice Reading wanted to sing It's A Boy, while Jack Good wanted her to perform the other side of the record, Splish Splash. She was also due to sing Rock Baby Rock and the end of the show. She told Melody Maker "I said if I couldn't pick my own numbers I wouldn't appear." She was then fired from the show and the contract for her five remaining appearances declared void. Jack Good then replaced her with Dudley Heslop who performed Splish Splash as Good's requested. To help the first edition ITV cut the intended commercial break.


Inevitably, both Six-Five Special and Oh Boy! announced that their show was most popular on the night, but Oh Boy actually got the edge.


Two of the early regular singers on the show Neville Taylor and Kerry Martin were quickly signed to Parlophone Records, while the label would also go on to release the Oh Boy! soundtrack album, recorded on Sunday 19th October. It would go on to sell 30,000 copies. The cover displays the show in its full colourful glory, a real bonus since the show was only shown in black and white. Good made it known in his regular article in Disc in late November 1958 that the band are wearing bright pink suits, deep blue shirts and grey ties, while bandleader Harry Robinson wears an ultramarine suit with a maroon bow tie. He also said that The Dallas Boys and Neville Taylor The Cutters are equally shocking in emerald green suits, while The Vernons Girls are dressed "chiefly in pink with white and grey stripes, with an occasional splash of lemon."


Larry Parnes, manager of many of Oh Boy's regular singers threw a hissy fit in October 1958 by denying the show the further services of Marty Wilde. According to Jack Good "The real trouble arose from the fact that Parnes was not too happy about Cliff Richard appearing in the same programmes as Marty. He wanted some sort of guarantee contractually that Marty would have certain positions in the running orders of the shows - opening numbers, finales, and such. I couldn't agree. I am sorry about this. He and Cliff Richard got on very well together. He made no objections to Cliff appearing on the same shows." To which Parnes commented "ABC-TV has an option on Marty for seven shows after he had completed the first six. This option was to be signed within a week of Wilde doing the first show. But ABC-TV have not done so. added to this are the differences I've had with Jack Good when he would not let Marty feature his hit records on the show. So I pulled right out. I cannot wait around for Jack Good. Other offers for Marty have been pouring in." Marty claimed "I am not unhappy about leaving this show." However, in his weekly Disc article the following week Jack Good mysteriously recounted "Recently in Oh Boy I have been forced to act in a way that bears out the principle that no one is indispensable to our show." At about the same time another regular Ronnie Carroll 'defects' to The Six-Five Special. After a couple of months, sensing the demise of The Six-Five Special, Larry Parnes tries to make peace with Good, hoping that Wilde could appear again, once his pantomime duties in Southport were compete. Despite the spat, Wilde would be Good’s go-to star for his next project.


At the same time as Six-Five Special's Russell Turner was ebullient about his show's future, Jack Good was more honest. When asked about the show's future after the first 13 week run he told Melody Maker "I don't know the plans after that. For all I know the thing might well come off. It all depends on the ratings. We only have the figures for the first show so far - and you can't really judge until after six programmes. Frankly, I am pretty confident about the future of the show." In late October 1958 ABC give the go ahead for at least another 13 shows after the first 13 shows are broadcast.


The show was a hit with the public. The TAM rating (which took the percentage of homes that could view the show and do so for more than six minutes) constantly increased throughout the latter part of 1958 leading to a 51 share when Tommy Steele appeared on the show in November. In real numbers this was over seven million people, taking three quarters of The Six-Five Special's audience. By the beginning of 1959 The Six-Five Special was gone, replaced by an Oh Boy! knock-off called Dig This! Talking to The Stage Jack Good speculated "The fact that their show looks like being something on the lines of Oh Boy! doesn't worry me at all. It would have worried me had they decided to do something entirely different. Will I change the format of Oh Boy? No. I'll only change it when I think teenage tastes have changed, and I don't foresee anything like that happening yet".


In a nice publicity coup ABC got together with local newspapers to organise trains to get kids down to the studio in London, and as a bonus they get to meet their idols backstage before transmission. While Lord Rockingham's XI single Hoots Mon not only becomes big hit record, but is played twice on rival Six-Five Special.


Jack Good must have been pleased, or at least relieved that the show was going so well that he treats many of the show's stars to a night out at the Tropicana Club, Soho on the night of 17th October 1958.


In November 1958 ABC issued a press statement claiming it "has the facts and figures to prove" that Oh Boy has "three times the viewing audience of 'Six-Five Special'." Russell Turner of Six-Five Special disputed the figures "It is an undeniable fact that our show has an audience of over five million over the age of 16 each week. We don't include viewers below that age group in our official ratings. If we did, the total would be far higher. Televiewers able to receive both the commercial and BBC programmes always top the total audience for 'Oh Boy!'"


On 29th November 1958 Benny Hill performed a spoof of the show 'Oh Dear' on his ATV Saturday Spectacular. Jack Good claimed "I feel highly flattered, for an impression by such a great star as Benny Hill certainly sets the hallmark on our show. It was brilliant, bitingly accurate and extremely funny." Good claimed that the producer of the Sadler's Wells production of Schwanda the Bagpiper came along to Oh Boy in November 1958 to record the screams for the opera's Hell scene.


Seeing the imminent departure of BBC's Six-Five Special ABC sought to stick the knife in further by commissioning a new audience ratings report. It claimed that the average weekly viewing figure for Oh Boy during October 1958 was 7,200,000, of which 5,200,00 were over the age of 16. Talking to Disc an ABC spokesman would claim "It would seem therefore that the adult audience for Oh Boy is equal to, and may be even larger than, the combined adult audience for The Six-Five Special in BBC only homes and in ITA homes taken together." However, when it was obvious that the Six-Five Special was on its way out Jack Good told Melody Maker in November "I only hope that we have such a long and successful run." An extra Christmas show appeared on the 27th December 1958, probably intended as a spoiler for the final Six-Five Special on the BBC. An ABC spokesman told Disc "It will depend on getting agreement from the other programme contractors. But we are considering a bonus production."


Talking at an Oh Boy party Jack Good talked about an un-named star of the show "He'll have tremendous hate value. On an extremist show like this, here are a lot of acts that millions of people loathe so much they just have to turn the show on. They hate them so much, they can't stop watching."


The promised stage show began on 25th January 1959, but was not the tour that had been expected, only playing at one venue, the Commodore Theatre, Hammersmith, London. The show would play twice nightly, with only one show on Saturday so that the artists could keep their appointment at the TV studio. The show featured Cliff Richard, Vince Taylor, Lord Rockingham's XI, Neville Taylor and the Cutters, The Dallas Boys, Cherry Wainer, Peter Elliott, 'Cuddly' Dudley, The Vernons Girls, with comperes Jimmy Henney and Tony Hall. Talking to Melody Maker in October 1958 about the possibility of a live show Good told them "But if the TV shows are still running, any concerts would have to be in the London suburbs so as not to interfere with the weekly transmission."


Jazz trumpeter Humphrey Lyttelton, arch rival of rock and roll, wrote in his Melody Maker column in December 1958 about the war between Oh Boy and The Six-Five Special "Between the two shows there can scarcely be an unemployed sessioner in London at six o'clock on a Saturday." It was true that many of the resentful jazz community were gainfully employed for rock and roll shows, both on TV and stage each week, some earning far more than they would have on a jazz tour.


In January 1959 it was announced that the show would come to the end of its run in May, with a new show coming in September. Jack Good Tells Melody Maker "I intend to look back on each edition of the show and find out exactly what was right or wrong. When I have finished I shall know whether there will be any changes in format when we return in September."


On 26th February 1959 ABC call a meeting to discuss the show's future. ABC Programme Controller Ron Rowson tells Melody Maker "In a programme of this type we have to keep ahead to hold the big audience we have established. It is quite possible that we shall look for a new sound for the 13 week series of programmes from March 7. It is necessary to review shows of this type from time to time otherwise they might die."


On Monday 9th March 1959 the show's Musical Director Harry Robinson receives a letter from Ron Rowson telling him that his contract had ended. He would eventually have his contract renewed, but the possibility of him leaving had rattled Good. Robinson had attempted to register the names Lord Rockingham, Lord Rockingham's XI and Lord Rockingham 2nd XI. In response Jack Good publicly claimed that he "is the sole originator and proprietor of Lord Rockingham's XI." The dispute goes to the High Court in London. The potential loss of his MD prompted Good to hire replacements. Bill Shepheard would take over as Musical Director from 14th March, alternating with John Barry from the 28th March onwards. Talking to Melody Maker an ABC spokesman claimed "It is no reflection on Harry Robinson that we have decided to make a change. We always review programmes from time to time and decide whether or not they carry on in their existing format. For some time we have thought 'Oh Boy' could do with a shake-up." It was unknown whether the members of the band would stay with the show or go with Robinson, who was in the process of creating his own band Harry Robinson and the Hootsmen. Sax player Cyril Reubens told Melody Maker "It is all very strange and upsetting. Everyone in the band seems divided, so we haven't decided one way or the other." However, the 14th March show sees five members of the band replaced. In the meantime Bill Shepherd along with Robinson had been attending show rehearsals in Islington. By late March Robinson had withdrawn his complaint against Good and rejoined the show. In a joint statement both parties claimed Robinson recognised that the name was "the sole property of Mr Good and can only be used with Mr Good's permission." As a result of the agreement Robinson takes Lord Rockingham's XI out on a UK tour and abandon the Hootsmen band idea. Ron Rowson of ABC tells Melody Maker "After due deliberation we have decided that as 'Oh Boy' has only 11 weeks to run in the current series, the musical formation of the show will not be changed. Harry Robinson's contract will be renewed. However, other changes will be made in the show. We intend to introduce some of the top singing stars of America and Britain."


In March 1959 Jack Good announces "Oh Boy is now being filmed weekly for later transmission in the United States." This suggests that nothing was being kept in the archives beforehand. But more importantly this is the first time that UK rock and roll music is sent in the other direction. Since there would be a gap of several weeks between the UK and US transmission Good has to be careful in choosing American songs for his singers for fear of sounding out of date by the time the show reaches America. The songs now chosen would have to be a mixture of brand new American songs going up the chart there and British songs. There would however be a legal snag regarding artist contracts and musical copyrights that would have to be overcome beforehand.


Sometime in April 1959 a strange memo from Good appeared on the desks of many of the senior staff of the show. (Oh Boy! was) "the most imitated show on television. It is therefore of the utmost importance to both artists and production staff that everything to do with the show becomes strictly confidential. Remember spies are everywhere - ours as well as theirs - and a source of leakage will not remain hidden for long."


By April 1959 the show was still holding its own as far as rating were concerned, unlike the BBC shows which had fallen off the ratings radar and had been de-commissioned, but other ITV shows were would suffer the same fate with The Jack Jackson Show and Cool For Cats both past their ratings highs. Talking to Melody Maker in April he was asked about his feelings toward the show now it was coming to the end, Good claimed "Yes, I'm enjoying it as much as ever, though when this series ends in May I'm going to take two and a half months' holiday." Talking about the largely female audience who attend the show at the Hackney Empire he said "Those girls aren't typical. The fans who come to see the show are silly girls who want to touch the artists and get autographs and make a nuisance of themselves screaming during the show, but there are 8,000,000 viewers and they're not all youngsters. Research has shown that the majority of our viewing audience is male. All sorts of people enjoy 'Oh Boy'. There's even a percentage about 10 per cent who tune in just to hate it. They detest the show but can't turn it off." Turning his attention to agents he continued "The worst thing about this work is the way I'm constantly pestered by agents and publishers with new discoveries. It's got so that we have to leave the phone off the hook at rehearsals or I'll spend all time on it." Talking about the show itself "Our hardest job is arranging the schedules. We use up to 15 numbers a show and it's all rather 'samey' material so we try to arrange the running order to give the maximum possible contrast."


In May The Mills Brothers made an appearance. Along with Brenda Lee and Conway Twitty the show had begun to bring over American acts. An ABC spokesman told Melody Maker "This is part of a new policy to feature top American names in conjunction with British song stars." Talking specifically about one of the acts "The booking of Conway Twitty represents the first time an artist is being brought over direct from the States. It has cost us a lot of money, but we think the idea will pay off." Jackie Wilson was due to appear on the 23rd May show, but didn't. BBC's Drumbeat would try the same tactic with little success.


Theatrical promoter Arthur Howes decides to put on another Oh Boy stage show, starting 3rd May at the Odeon, Tottenham Court Road, London and if it was successful it will be taken on tour. Hall and Henney will compere with Cliff Richard and The Drifters, Cherry Wainer, The Vernons Girls, The Dallas Boys, Neville Taylor and the Cutters and Cuddley Dudley will appear, alongside a new group The Four Playboys. The previous Lord Rockingham's XI tour had been poorly attended with some early shows only a third to a half full.


Despite the show’s obvious appeal and success it only ran for one series. A new series was mentioned on the final show and in May 1959 Jack Good flew to America to sign some American talent to appear on the next series of Oh Boy! due to begin in September with Jerry Lee Lewis, Jackie Wilson and The Coasters among the acts he wanted to book. However, Good returned empty handed telling Disc magazine "There is no point in bringing over American artists just because they are American". He also responded to claims that the show would not return in September "That's the first I've heard of it. I can promise that the show will be back in September.” While on holiday in Germany and Italy in June 1959 he told Melody Maker "I shall be watching television shows and hope to gain a few ideas for 'Oh Boy' when it returns in the autumn." Before he left he was in the audience for the BBC's rival show Drumbeat on 6th June 1959. He was introduced to the audience by Stewart Morris. Good later said "It was a very good production."


However there was one (nearly) final hurrah at The Northern Royal Variety Show at the Palace Theatre, Manchester on 23rd June 1959. Oh Boy! had been invited to put on a live performance in front of the Queen Mother as a part of the festivities. Jack Good had chosen The Dallas Boys, Cliff Richard, Marty Wilde, Cherry Wainer, The Vernons Girls and Lord Rockingham's XI.


The BBC had tried to emulate and retaliate with Dig This! and then Drumbeat on a Saturday evening, but both failed. Since the BBC were copying the format Good felt it was time to move on and prepare his next move. A new series of Oh Boy! was expected and announced by Ron Rowson, programme controller of ABC in March and scheduled to begin 12th September 1959, but it never appeared. An article in the New Musical Express on the 8th May 1959 put the return date as 19th September, with Cliff Richard tentatively booked, and Gospel singer Renee Martz booked for the second show. It was possible that Lord Rockingham's XI would not return for the new series, so Bill Shepherd might have become the new musical director. In August 1959 an ABC representative said "It's definitely on!" Rowson, talking to the New Musical Express, said "When the programme returns in the autumn, it will not be in its present form and will probably even have changed its title. It will be as different from the present presentation as Oh Boy! was from 6.5 Special". Good however was moving on to another project, the Marty Wilde vehicle Boy Meets Girls for ABC. ABC had plans to vacate the theatre in London and move to Manchester for the first six shows which also didn't meet with Good's approval. Talking to Disc in August 1959 Jack Good said "The show will have an entirely new format, but it is our intention to keep it as fast moving and as popular as before." Marty Wilde and The Vernons Girls would be resident on the new series which gave a clue as to Good's intentions.


In April 1959 Jack Good signs with Decca as an Artiste and Repertoire (A&R) man. Speaking to Melody Maker about the signing Frank Lee of Decca said "This has been a costly undertaking, but it well worth it to have a young man of Jack's talent." Good still had connections with Decca as late as 1964 when he assigned his American discovery P J Proby to the label.


A party is thrown on the stage of the Empire, Hackney for the staff and stars of the final show, broadcast 30th May 1959, while the previous Saturday a farewell party was held at the Strava Ballroom Club in Canonbury Lane, which had been the rehearsal room for the show since the beginning.


Melody Maker confirms in August 1959 that Oh Boy is set to return at 6.30 pm on the 12th September. However, this time the show will be broadcast from ABC's studios in Didsbury, Manchester. There may be a dry run of the show a week before on the 5th with ABC's executives watching on closed circuit TV. The article also confirms that Harry Robinson will be replaced by new musical directors Bill Shepherd and Tony Sheridan. Cliff Richard, Marty Wilde, Cherry Wainer, Red Price and The Vernons Girls had been booked to appear. However, Good wasn't finished with Harry Robinson just yet. Good produced a charity show at the Royal Albert Hall on 24th September featuring many of Oh Boy's stars, under the title Pop Prom, and all the acts were accompanied by Lord Rockingham's XI and 2nd XI, directed by Harry Robinson.


On Tuesday 18th August 1959 ABC announce that Oh Boy will be replaced with a new series Boy Meets Girls.


The show had an unexpected new lease of life in the summer of 1959 when the American ABC network bought the series as a summer replacement show. Brenda Lee, a previous guest on the UK show, was employed to film new introductions. The NME claimed that it was proposed that the new version of Oh Boy! would also be shown in the USA, as a part of the Dick Clark Show. Good had made a contact with America and was to America that he brought back the Oh Boy! format in the shape of ABC's Shindig! in 1964. However, Good tells Disc magazine in June 1960 that he had been offered the chance to produce an Oh Boy! styled show for German television.


Good made a return to Britain in 1968 with a ‘kind of’ reunion show for ITV which prompted a new Lord Rockingham album on Columbia. A fully fledged revival came about in 1978 on ATV, followed by Let’s Rock! in 1981, making a star of Shakin' Stevens in the process.


Only three complete shows are known to exist, while some rehearsal footage can be found on You Tube.


For further information about this classic show go to the Oh Boy! Website.


Any Melody Maker reader wishing to see the show can get tickets from "Oh Boy!" ABC-TV, Film House, Wardour Street, London, W1.




OH BOY!


ABC

15th June 1958, 29th June 1958, 12th September 1958 - 30th May 1959