On Saturday evening 16th February 1957 at 6:00 pm there was a five minute news bulletin.
The first edition of the Six-
The news and features programme Tonight, launched the previous week, filled the gap
from Monday to Friday. With the rumour that ITV were seeking to abolish their toddler’s
truce the BBC needed to respond quickly, and preferably, cheaply. The idea for a
The show also had guest comics each week with Mike and Bernie Winters taking most weeks, but Graham Stark, Charlie Drake, Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers also made appearances.
No major American rock n roll act ever appeared on the show in person, probably due to the British Musicians Union outrage at the new American music, no rock n roll act worth their salt would ever be in a Union, but mostly because the minuscule budget wouldn’t stretch enough to temp any visiting star. Luckily for the BBC the skiffle boom was uniquely British, so they had no trouble finding any number of skiffle combos willing to fill any amount of airspace that the producers had, so there was little or no need to employ any American talent. Besides, many American acts would only appear in the UK when their American chart tenure was at an end. When the bigger British skiffle stars like Lonnie Donegan and Tommy Steele had accepted lucrative tour offers, television gigs at about £25 a time didn’t seem so attractive, so new and cheaper talent was always tempting to a budget conscious producer.
Trad' jazz, a British re-
Other features included a film clip, a sports item hosted usually by boxer Freddie
Mills and an interview. The scripts for the early shows were provided by Trevor Peacock,
better known later as a songwriter and actor, while the later shows were scripted
by Jeremy Lloyd, who would emigrate to America and star in Laugh-
The show proved popular, not just with the audience, but with the BBC too who had
originally intended to rest the show in the summer of 1957, but unusually it was
allowed to run. In late 1957 the producer Dennis Main-
In one early show they hired a Bill Haley impersonator to make an appearance, but not to perform. He had apparently fooled Tommy Steele who passed him in the corridor.
The show became so popular that a movie version was also made in 1957. Regulars,
Don Lang’s Frantic Five became a sort of house band supporting visiting singers.
The hit show American Bandstand had learned how to save money by playing records
and filling the studio with dancers, and this tactic was employed by the Six-
The programme was usually broadcast live from the BBC’s studios at Lime Grove in London, but occasionally made ventures outside with shows from Glasgow in May 1957 and a show on 16th November 1957 from the legendary Two I’s coffee bar in Old Compton Street, London. They also had a boat race featuring Humphrey Lyttelton, Mike and Bernie Winters, Tommy Steele, Freddie Mills, Pete Murray and vocal group The Southlanders.
In early 1958 the show held a fortnightly contest to find the best new skiffle group in Britain. Each week two groups from different parts of the country would compete, with the best acts appearing on a Parlophone album. Also in early 1958 Pete Murray wrote a weekly feature 'Over The Points' for Disc magazine.
On Friday 21st February 1958 the BBC held a cocktail party to celebrate the show's first anniversary, but Jack Good was not invited. A large birthday cake with a miniature train running around the edge was provided by Disc, the music weekly that Jack Good wrote for.
According to Good (after he had left the show) a male singer had got stuck in the toilet during a live transmission and heard the introduction to his song 'The Gift' being played. Thankfully he managed to get out in time to sing the final chorus.
It was announced on 25th March 1958 that Freddie Mills, Pete Murray and Josephine
Douglas would be leaving the show. It was probably no coincidence that ABC had announced
a new show to go head to head with the Six-
Douglas left the show 10th May 1958 to go freelance (producing hit ITV drama Emergency Ward Ten and several Hammer movies), while the show's resident comics Mike and Bernie Winters would also leave the same edition.
Further production upheavals stemmed from January 1958 when producer Jack Good’s
contract was not renewed. Good had intended to take out a touring version of the
show with himself as producer, but had neglected to get the BBC’s permission to use
the name and format. Good was replaced by Dennis Main-
In an attempt to draw viewers away from a new weekly Oh Boy! new producer Russell
Turner recruits six new female presenters to the show in September 1958 – Liela Williams
(who would later go on to present Blue Peter), Hilary Martyn, Eve Eden, Tina Winters,
Margaret Lorraine and Janine Gray. They are referred to as the ‘Six-
Talking to The Stage in September 1958 producer Turner claimed that the show was
getting a thousand letters a week and their musical tastes were learning towards
big band and big names in pop music. For some reason a TV critic would guest each
week, while the best jiving couple each week would be asked back. In October producer
Turner writes a weekly column for Disc, but the show has only weeks left as the show
is effectively doomed. He claims in the first article that the show will make a new
album, in stereo, of three of the show's bands. He also claimed in October "We always
prefer to give the first spin to a disc. If a record has been played on radio or
any other television show it won't normally find a spot on 'Six-
In October Oh Boy experiences problems with some of its regular artists who suddenly decide to leave. Marty Wilde and Ronnie Carroll both find a new home at the Riverside studios. But despite the inclusion of rocker Wilde, the show still prefers to present singers like Carroll and Craig Douglas, who is signed to appear on six consecutive shows.
In late November 1958 the BBC, despite their claim of five million viewers, have to make a decision to allow the show to continue, albeit with more changes, replace it with a new show aimed at teenagers, or drop the show completely. A couple of weeks' later the BBC confirm that "structural alterations to give the show a new look" were on the cards, probably in the new year. A spokesman for the BBC told Disc "Fashions change in music, but whatever the outcome, the format for the new show will be of appeal to teenagers." A rumour that the show will be rested for three months and replaced with a big band show also circulate.
After so many administrative problems and a change in music policy an inevitable
drop in popularity followed. Despite the drop outside broadcasts were still being
planned up to Christmas, including a visit to London Airport. The show was finally
buried after ITV decided to show the frenetic Jack Good produced Oh Boy! head to
head with the Six-
Despite the fact that it was not an exclusively a rock and roll show, and never set out to be, it is often mistakenly referred to as Britain's first rock and roll show, however it made stars of Tommy Steele, Terry Dene, Laurie London, Jim Dale and many other early British pop stars.
Only two shows exist in the BBC archive, one from the final few weeks (22nd November
1958) made at a USAF base, featuring Lita Roza singing atop a fork-