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Pop on Southern Television 1960 -1969

Follow the Southern Star…

In August 1958 Southern Television became the seventh ITV station to take to the air, covering Dorset, Hampshire, Berkshire, Sussex, Kent and Essex with studios in Southampton and Dover.

While Granada's arrow proudly pointed north, Southern's star suggested we look in the other direction, but very few did. ITV's network schedulers rarely looked at the other side of the Thames which meant they were missing out on some of the more idiosyncratic pop shows of the sixties, most of which were down to Southern's in-house pop producer, Mike Mansfield. The Southern star also looked like a ship's wheel, not a coincidence considering the sheer amount of shows about sailing they broadcast. The station even had its own boat, The Southerner, which was itself a floating TV studio.

Despite being sparsely populated "the south" seems to have provided an over-abundance of pop talent. Kent gave the world everything from The Rolling Stones, The Pretty Things, Kate Bush, Shane MacGowan, Peter Frampton, Fatboy Slim, John Paul Jones, Nitin Sawhney, to the UK's own San Francisco scene equivalent in Canterbury represented by Caravan and Soft Machine, Hampshire gave up The Troggs, Craig David, Howard Jones and Joe Jackson. Among Sussex's famous names are Leo Sayer, Suggs, Keane, Essex gave us Doctor Feelgood, Depeche Mode and Alison Moyet, while Brighton in Sussex and Margate in Kent and Southend in Essex had those lovely mods versus rocker punch ups which made 1964 so memorable and Quadrophenia so essential.

1960 - 1961

Southern kicked off the sixties with only one reasonable music offering, Songs I Wish I'd Written, a twenty minute early evening filler which would extend into 1961. Joining the schedules in April 1961 was Southern's daily news and magazine show Day By Day which from its early days would feature pop acts like Eden Kane, Al Saxon and The Brook Brothers popping into the Southampton studio before heading off for a concert that evening.

May 1961 saw the first edition of Strictly For The Birds starring the West End revue star Dudley Moore with his trio and his chums like Cleo Laine, Johnny Dankworth and Humphrey Lyttelton. The show proved so popular that it was extended to a twice a week showing later in the year. It would be replaced in November 1961 with another British jazz favourite Tubby Hayes in his own series Tubby Plays Hayes, while Eric Winstone debuted another jazz series And It Comes Out Here in December 1961. It's notable that the powers that be at Southern favoured modern jazz, rather then the trad jazz that the rest of the country seemed to be grooving to. That was Southern, get used to it.

1962

The year begins with the potential logistical nightmare that was Personal Call, a show in which organist Frieda Hall and pianist Jack Freedman would play songs requested by members of the public live over the phone. Day By Day continued with its occasional pop guest, but by this time the show had production assistance from a new Southern signing, Mike Mansfield. In February Three Of A Kind starred Wout Steinhuis, Holland's answer to Les Paul and Dorita Y Pepe, a British couple who displayed a confusing visual and musical mixture of both Spanish and Latin American. The same month saw Personal Call's production staff heave a sigh of relief as the live phone call format was abandoned, Ronnie Aldrich on piano, Joe Muddell on bass and James Neale on drums would play songs from cards chosen "at random" from a tombola style drum.

It also has to be pointed out that Southern was one of the few ITV stations to take ABC's Thank Your Lucky Stars on a Saturday night as not all of the stations did.

June 1962 brought us another jazz outing Sweet 'n' Sour, with Art Jones and his Quintet providing the music, while in September singer Rosemary Squires gets her own show, A Handful of Songs. December saw Kenny Lynch performing his hit Up On The Roof on the actual roof of the Northam studios, while of the last day of the year saw Their Kind of Music, a mash-up of Strictly For The Birds and Three Of A Kind with the re-christened Arthur Jones Trio, headlining with Wout Steinhuis and Dorita Y Pepe.

1963

While 1963 kicked off with Their Kind Of Music, Personal Call and a series starring popular light opera star David Hughes change was in the air. It was rumoured that The Beatles had once turned up at the door of the Dover studios on route to Hamburg, but were turned away. For Southern, the change began on the 24th of April with Kenny Lynch singing The Beatles' Misery to a group of bloodhounds on Day By Day.

Record review shows were a popular and cheap format, but if you could get an audience and a few happy amateurs involved, just like Juke Box Jury, all the better. ATV's failed pilot Dad You're A Square ended up on Southern's desk, courtesy of producer Barry Langford, and after a couple of pilot shows it was greenlit for broadcast in June. The show seemed to be Juke Box Jury as produced by an anarchist. Records that didn't make the grade wouldn't just be humiliated by comments or mere banishment, they would be physically destroyed by any means that came to hand, broken, smashed and blasted. It seemed to be anti-pop, just at the time when British pop was finally gaining its own identity. Jazz band leader Eric Winstone would take over the presenting duties in September. Maybe it was just Southern's jazzers getting their own back, but they wouldn't have long to wait for the station to get back on its musical track with How To Enjoy Jazz Without Really Trying, debuting in August. The notoriously anti-pop Steve Race was now appearing on Southern's Personal Call, among other shows, but he wouldn't have it all his own way. The Fabs finally made it to Southampton on 22th August 1963, performing She Loves You and for so many their world turned.

In October Manfred Mann would appear in a ten minute feature on Day By Day about the blossoming UK rhythm and blues scene, but jazz wasn't far away as the same month saw the one-off documentary The Story of a Jazz Musician. They persisted with jazz programming in November with The ABC of Jazz, a thirteen part series, again with Steve Race at the helm. The same month saw the station prepare for an invasion. The Beatles were coming back. The band had agreed to an interview at the station so they boarded up the glass doors and windows, had members of staff (including their weatherman Trevor 'The Weather' Baker and Richard 'Dickie' Davies) dressed as decoy Beatles complete with wigs, while police had been deployed inside and outside the building. It was director Mike Mansfield who took the call that they wouldn't be appearing after all due to a band member's "illness" and he had to break it to their fans waiting outside. All five of them. To be fair they actually appeared on Day By Day on 3rd December.

Dusty Springfield chose Southern to help kick start her solo career with the documentary Say I Won't Be There, also broadcast in November, while Robin Hall and Jimmie Macgregor began their series Robin and Jimmie and Rhythm and Blues at the end of the year. If it seems a bit incongruous that a pair of Scottish folkies would make a series for the south of England, it's worth pointing out that Southern was part owned by Dundee's D C Thompson publishing.

1964

1964 continued with Dad You're A Square and The ABC Of Jazz, while the station gets into the Blue Peter racket with Three Go Round in February. Three presenters trying not to act like teachers and introducing the occasional pop act. The first show featured hit song-writer Mitch Murray encouraging kids to give it a go by entering the show's contest. With song-writers becoming as well known as the stars that perform their songs this contest was probably the best thing TV could have done at that time. This was followed up later in the month by Story Of A Songwriter, a late night look at the word of pop's hidden heroes. Southern also dabbled with folk with Folk Music from Down Under, while Clinton Ford was given his own late night series Sing A Little Song in March, replaced as host by Donald Peers the following month.

Dad, You’re A Square proved so successful that the show was taken on the road, and broadcast from different venues each week, with the great Kenneth Horne briefly hired as chairman. Story of A Songwriter was followed quickly by the one-off Story Of A Folk Singer, featuring Hoyt Axton in May. Sensing that the Juke Box Jury format had had its day Southern decides to replace Dad You're A Square with a new pop quiz show in June. Discwizz was hosted by Muriel Young, and aided by Disc writer Penny Valentine and Decca Records' Tony Hall. A pop act would appear each week, with the likes of Adam Faith and Dusty Springfield taking the train down to Southampton.

With so many great American blues singers heading for the UK Southern chipped in with Evenin’ With Jimmy Witherspoon in September, while Sonny Boy Williamson turned up at Day By Day in December. Robin Hall and Jimmie MacGregor followed up their 1963 show with The R&J Road Show in October. To round off the year Mike Mansfield would produce his own series featuring his favourite female singers. Ladybirds was a fascinating mini documentary featuring Britain's greatest singing talent, starting with Petula Clark, talking about her beginnings and where her career is now.

1965

Three Go Round would continue to offer up the occasional pop star at tea time, while Ladybirds afforded us a peek into the lives of some of our greatest singers. The series would make a comeback in June with another batch and, although it didn't look like much, what Southern did was usually not what you would expect from the other ITV stations. Pop The Question replaced Discwizz in October, with Muriel Young still present, with The Chart Busters also joining the Southern stable the same month. It was another look behind the scene of the pop industry, this time hosted by Shaw Taylor, who had also appeared on Pop The Question.

1966

The year begins with an All-Star Pop The Question, featuring Twinkle, Billie Davis and Anita Harris. February saw Southern jumping on the folk bandwagon again with My Kind Of Folk with a guest each show talking about their folk routes and playing songs, which is all the more bizarre as the host was jazzer George Melly, but it did give Davey Graham a job as a resident guest. According to Melody Maker Dusty Springfield was to appear in an "as yet untitled Southern TV show, produced by Mike Mansfield on January 28". January also brings another Mike Mansfield directed show, starring American singer Ketty Lester. Maybe it was the jazzer's continuing revenge, but the station appeared to spend a lot of time examining the dark underbelly of pop and it was to Ricky Valence they would turn to in February with The Star Who Went Pop, looking at the short career of the one-hit wonder. The pilot of yet another pop quiz show, Countdown was shown in April, again with Muriel Young in attendance, however Pop The Question would continue into the summer. A second Countdown played in the summer, with the full series beginning in October.

A projected series starring Unit 4+2 never materialised, but Tommy Moeller from the group would be of service to Southern over the next year or two.

1967

In late 1966 Southern begin filming a four-part series A Tale Of Two Rivers, namely the Thames and the Seine. The story of the rivers and the people who walk alongside them was told through song by Petula Clark, Lulu, Sandie Shaw, Marianne Faithfull and Adam Faith from the UK and from France Claude François and Richard Anthony. The series was meant to be shown in early 1967, but after the first edition it was pulled and not shown complete until the following year, about eighteen months after it was filmed. Southern seemed to show more support for its next show, As You Like It. It was a mixture of location and studio clips as a pop star would take to the streets to ask members of the public for song requests that would then be sung in the studio. The show attracted some big names from the pop world, but wasn't shy in using promo clips of non-attendees like The Beatles, but of more interest they also made their own films with the likes of The Move, The Tremeloes, Alan Price, Petula Clark and The Bee Gees.

In May they gave French superstar Claude François his own starring show after his appearance in A Tale Of Two Rivers, despite the fact that his recent English language single Bench Number 3, Waterloo Station had not been a hit. Southern were thinking of their own national song contest in Spring 1967 to be held in either Brighton or Southampton, but nothing came of it.

Interference by Brian Epstein on behalf of his stoppy starlet Cilla Black led to a shorter than usual edition of As You Like It on 27th June 1967. Mike Mansfield told Disc "On Monday I was 'phoned by Brian Epstein, who said that unless Cilla was switched to top billing, I was to cut her part in the show. On a matter of principle, I cut Cilla's spot." He also said "To Sandie's credit, she told me to give Cilla top billing rather than spoil the show."

Programmers' decided that a new show New Release (broadcast 8th September) would go head to head with a potential re-boot of As You Like It (broadcast 15th September), with the pubic deciding which one would be commissioned. This very public gamble didn't pay off as the public liked neither, so Southern took the matter into their own hands and gave the imaginary prize to New Release which, after Jonathan King dropped out, was to be hosted by Tony Blackburn.

Lulu and Adam Faith were both lined up for their own series, both to be produced by Mike Mansfield, but neither happened. In October Southern announce that they were going to produce The Bee Gees TV special Cucumber Castle, due to start filming on 4th December 1967 at Leeds Castle in Kent, while November sees another Bee Gees announcement from Southern. They are to make a special based on songs from the first album, while the band themselves will write a song on the spot for inclusion. Christmas would have seen a pop flavoured panto' starring Anita Harris, but again nothing happened.

1968

New Release won the fictional battle and debuted 5th January 1968 with the jovial and amusingly opinionated Tony Blackburn, annoying Esther & Abi Ofarim, Paul Jones and Anita Harris with his on-screen comments. To be fair, there was a review aspect to the show with guest reviewers each week. He would also (regrettably) never pass up an opportunity to plug his own records. Blackburn had signed to MGM, as had Kenny Everett, Jimmy Young, Ed Stewart and Tony Brandon, virtually guaranteeing Radio One airplay for anything on MGM. Despite that, if a dedicated treasure hunt for pop TV shows ever occurred then New Release and its successor Time For Blackburn should be in serious consideration for two of the best shows to try and find. Speaking of lost shows, A Tale Of Two Rivers has another go at the hurdles, successfully this time, with all four editions finally broadcast in April and May. Tony Blackburn had impressed the producers at Southern enough to warrant the re-boot of New Release as Time For Blackburn! The review aspect of the show would be dropped however, but he would still sing, and as often as would allow.

In February Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich were to have a TV special based on their song The Legend of Xanadu, again nothing happened, while a projected series for Esther and Abi Ofarim to be produced by Mike Mansfield also never materialised.

The jazzers would make their presence felt in a more permanent manner this year as the station ident has a new eight (or nine) note acoustic guitar jingle, written by Steve Race, which would stay with the company until the end of its contract in 1981.

Paul Jones was to have his own series made by Southern sometime this year as announced in the press in late 1967. Whereas Long John Baldry was approached by Southern to read a series of late night horror stories in August, but sadly it never happened either.

Children across the country hold a special affinity for the show that Southern debuted on 30th October 1968. Little Big Time was hosted by Freddie and the Dreamers, a band who, outside of the series, no-one would really have any interest in, but here they finally made sense. A few weeks before Christmas 1968 Southern broadcast A Carol For Christmas. They had invited top songwriters like The Bee Gees and Tony Hatch & Jackie Trent to write a new "classic" Christmas song.

1969

And this was the end, basically. Time For Blackburn continued for another few editions and was not re-commissioned, while Freddie and his chums would continue to confront the Overworld and Underworld for the next few years. Mike Mansfield would go to London Weekend and make the wonderfully batty Supersonic. Southern would rein in any desire to make another pop show until the completely undocumented Blast Off, a pilot shown without any announcement one Saturday tea-time in 1977. Featuring The Damned, Sandie Shaw and Liverpool Express, the Michael Aspel hosted show seemed to return to the songs and review format of New Release. It seems to have been even less well remembered than the station's alien intervention later in the year as someone claiming to be Vrillon from the Ashtar Galactic Command interrupted an evening news report with the suggestion that we were doomed. Maybe it was a coded message from the IBA telling Southern that their time was up.

Summing up

I wish you could have seen what I saw in the sixties. These wonderful, slightly bonkers shows from the imaginative Mike Mansfield. The thoughtful insights into the working minds of pop stars in Ladybirds and Chart Busters. The pop-psych world of New Release and Time For Blackburn. Even the monochrome looked paisley-tinted. Southern was as far removed from Swinging London as it could be, but not geographically. Southern was Conservative with a big C, a very big C. So why it transmitted such much music and so many series is a bafflement.

The station lost their franchise at the end of 1981, giving way to TVS, a station who also indulged in a slew of pop shows, only to quickly abandon them, as Southern did so many years before.