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TV Pop Diaries
Pop Music on British Television 1955 - 1999

Not only should the 1970s be remembered for heavy rock, prog, glam, pub rock, reggae, punk and disco, but it should also be remembered for rock musicals. But it just isn't. Jesus Christ Superstar, Godspell, Grease, The Rocky Horror Show, Evita and all the others are somehow regarded only as a West End phenomena, regardless of all the chart hits those shows provided. Singers who could also act and actors who could also sing were in demand, but apart from David Essex they were not considered real pop stars.


New Yorker Howard Schuman had been a successful TV scriptwriter since he came to the UK in the late sixties, and ended up taking an idea about a female rock group to Thames Television. Rock Follies tells the story of three out of work actors and singers who find each other at an audition and form a singing group, The Little Ladies. Of the trio only Julie Covington had musical credentials, having sung the songs of Pete Atkin and Clive James on TV and a couple of very rare LPs in the late sixties, while her EMI album in 1970 was well received by critics. The show follows the group through meeting, formation, endless auditions, life on The Road and eventual, but brief, success, while each episode would conclude with a fantasy musical sequence.


However, there was a back story that the public were not aware of at the time. Female trio Rock Bottom had released a couple of singles for RCA and singer Annabel Leventon had the idea to tell their story in a TV show using drama and song. Writer friend Howard Schuman, who had co-written one of their singles, agreed that the idea was a good one and made an approach to Thames Television. However, no contract between Rock Bottom and Thames had ever been signed. Rock Follies was based around Rock Bottom without their knowledge or permission. Annabel Leventon took Thames to the High Court in the early eighties and won. The DVD version now carries a caption at the end stating that 'Rock Follies was based upon an original idea of the Rock Bottom Group'. The true story was told in Leventon's book The Real Rock Follies, published in 2017.


For the first series the order of the names in the opening credits were Charlotte Cornwell (Anna), Julie Covington (Devonia/Dee) and Rula Lenska (Nancy/Q), although this would change by the second series to Lenska, Cornwall, Covington, while Sue Jones-Davies turned the trio into a quartet.


The lyrics were written by Schuman with music written by Andy MacKay of Roxy Music, while the backing band featured Peter John Van-Hooke of Argent. The songs were described at the time of the first series by Stanley Reynolds of The Times as "purposefully awful", which pretty much hit the spot. The songs mirrored the Warner Brothers musicals of the late twenties and thirties with matching camp set design and costumes.


MacKay's involvement led to a soundtrack album release by EG Records via Island, entering the chart at number one. An irate Johnnie Walker announcing the album chart on Radio One berated its success, having beat Led Zeppelin's Presence to the number one spot, claiming that it's something when the world's biggest rock band are outsold by a bunch of actresses.


The series mirrored the way the real TV audience felt about the group. One could sing, while the other two...? But despite the series never making the top twenty ratings list Thames commissioned it for a second series.


The second series, Rock Follies Of '77, attracted Rocky Horror Show stars Tim Curry and Little Nell into making an appearance, while the song OK gave them a top ten single, despite being unofficially banned by Top Of The Pops. Although things seemed to be going well, a strike by ITV production assistants brought the show to an end after episode three. Months later the show was back, and after a two hour resume of the first three shows the remaining episodes were broadcast, but it was too late, literally, they were broadcast after the News at Ten. Everyone seemed to have lost interest. Despite OK's success as a single the second album missed the top ten. However, Julie Covington had more success on her own. Her recording of Don't Cry For Me Argentina from Evita took her to number one, and would have several successful follow ups. In 1983 Charlotte Cornwall returned to drama and music, playing rock singer Shelley Maze in the ITV series No Excuses, which had its own soundtrack album.


Although the first series was repeated in 1976 it has not been seen on UK TV since, but thankfully Network released both series on DVD while both albums are available on CD. The show hasn't been forgotten and the trio got back together for an interview on the Jonathan Ross TV show in 1991 and a BFI Q&A in November 2019 together with Howard Shuman and Andy MacKay.



ROCK FOLLIES / ROCK FOLLIES OF ‘77


Thames

24th February 1976 - 30th March 1976

4th May 1977 - 6th December 1977