TV Pop Diaries

Popular Music on British Television

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15th June 1958 - 30th May 1959

ABC's Top Numbers had proved successful, despite its frivolous attitude towards the visual presentation of the songs. But the time had come to replace it. ABC had made provision for pop fans with their Top Of The Bill show the previous autumn by including skiffle or pop singers in each show.

After Jack Good’s exit from the BBC after an alleged contract infringement over The Six-Five Special 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.

After a two week test run in June as a part of ABC's Preview series, a series was commissioned, albeit according to Disc with "certain minor modifications" with the first show 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, 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.

Advertised in the TV Times as “an explosion of beat music”, the show was broadcast live from The Empire Theatre, Hackney in London 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 as artists had to fly or train in from all over the country as some acts were on tour. Marty Wilde flew down from Edinburgh for two hours' of rehearsals before flying back. Apparently on one of the early shows Marty Wilde's driver takes him to the the BBC's Wood Green studios by mistake.

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.

Hosted by Jimmy Henney and Tony Hall, 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 producers encouraged. The Musical Director was Harry Robinson who had selected a new group of mostly jazz musicians who recorded for Decca under the name of Lord Rockingham’s XI, while The John Barry Seven also shared musical duties. Also resident were the girl group from Liverpool The Vernons Girls, along with a constant supply of Larry Parnes acts Marty Wilde, Billy Fury, Duffy Power, Cuddly Duddly, Vince Eager, plus other acts like The Dallas Boys, Tony Sheridan and Cliff Richard whose national debut 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 here. The script was usually provided by Trevor Peacock, later a much-respected West End writer, author of hits songs for Joe Brown and co-star of the Vicar Of Dibley. 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.

Two of the early regulars on the show Neville Taylor and Kerry Martin were quickly signed to Parlophone Records who would also go on to release the Oh Boy! Album.

The show was also 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".

ABC, together with local newspapers organise trains to get kids down to the studio in London and as a bonus they get to meet their idols backstage before transmission.

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.

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." Harry Robinson (aka Lord Rockingham), the show's Musical Director, had his contract renewed with ABC in March and it was assumed that 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, but had agreed to drop his claim after his contract with the show was renewed.

By April 1959 the show was holding its own as far as rating were concerned, unlike The Six-Five Special which had fallen off the ratings radar, as had Dig This, its sequel. Other ITV shows were suffering the same fate with The Jack Jackson Show and Cool For Cats both past their ratings heights.

Despite the show’s obvious appeal and success it only ran for one series. This was unknown at the time of the final show as a new series was mentioned 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".

However there was one last 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. It would be Good's last show with them.

The BBC had tried to emulate and retaliate with Dig This! and then Drumbeat on a Saturday evening, but failed. Since the BBC were copying the format Good was preparing 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 had been booked for the second show in the next series. 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.

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. Good made a return to Britain in 1968 with a reunion show, while 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.

Good later tells Disc magazine in June 1960 that he had been offered the chance to produce an Oh Boy styled show for German television.

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