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Pop Music on British Television 1955 - 1999

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Twist! - like we did on television

Britain was ready for The Beatles, I don't care what anyone said, we had it coming. We all know that America's rock n roll steamroller was running out of steam. Diluted, herring-boned straight jacketed pop stars like Bobby Vee would only appeal to twelve-year old girls while the boys needed something better to do. There wouldn’t be long to wait. What we weren't ready for was rock and roll's final throw of the dice.

The original inspiration ‘The Twist’ by Hank Ballard and The Midnighters was originally only a B side in 1958. Later flipped by DJs and covered by Philadelphia’s Chubby Checker in 1961 the million selling song would live a strange life of its own, both as a cult (only black teenagers knew of it’s true origin) and the biggest dance craze since the Charleston. Twist records, twist movies, twist food, twist competitions and twist television would only help to artificially prolong the dance’s lifeline. The beginning of 1962 saw Britain’s first attempt to take the modern dance phenomenon to the masses and invite everyone to Come Dancing. Granada’s Personal Appearance: Trad With A Twist broadcast between 8 and 9 pm on Wednesday, 17th January 1962 seemed to be a shotgun wedding between Britain’s fading trad jazz and the new dancehall sensation, introduced by Gary Marshal and directed by Granada mainstay Philip Casson, it starred the great Ronnie Scott with Ottilie Patterson, Chris Barber's Jazzband, Terry Lightfoot and his New Orleans Jazzmen with token twister, the King himself, Chubby Checker. Chubby also checked into the legendary Thank Your Lucky Stars on Saturday 31st March with a clip from his Twist Around The Clock feature film.

The next incursion onto the airwaves came on Monday 9th April with Associated Rediffusion’s Let’s Twist To Win part one from 9:15 - 9:30 pm. As the TV Times asked at the time ‘Who are the best Twist dancers in London? "Spotters" have been combing the Twist Clubs and dance halls of London for weeks choosing dancers to take part in the great Twist Contest. Tonight you will see the elimination round. Tomorrow at the same time, the final’. Pop poppet Louise Cordet provided the vocals, but there’s no account I can find of who provided the music. Daphne Shadwell directed this two-parter. Even Ready, Steady Go! would also have a competitive dance element in it’s early shows, while Top of the Pops cruised into the world of the competitive discothèque dolly in early 1970.

The following month on Tuesday 8th May, the most bizarre entry onto the dance-floor occurred when Associated Rediuffusion’s Let’s Twist In Paris broadcast between 9:15 - 9:30 pm (you notice these twist shows seem to come in 12-15 minute chunks) hosted by none other than twist-meister himself, David Frost. Quite why Rediffusion would ask the king of Saturday night satire to host an international twist contest is anyone’s guess. TV Times certainly didn’t ask. ‘They have been twisting in Paris for a year now, much longer than in England. So they ought to be better. But are they? 'Associated-Rediffusion' cameras cross the channel for a contest to find the best twisters in Paris. Tomorrow night at the same time you can see the winners compete against London's best’. Another short two-parter over two nights, this time directed by another future Ready, Steady Go! Legend Rollo Gamble in Paris on the 8th, with Daphne Shadwell taking over the reins in London on the 9th.

Frosty would be back on Wednesday 20th June with AR-TV’s Let’s Twist On The Riviera from 9:15 to 9:30 pm. Once again, Rollo Gamble’s passport would be put to good use. ‘In the past few weeks the cameras have shown twisting in London and Paris... now let's twist in the South of France where the sun-tanned beauties dance in bikinis, and even the palms seem to be swaying to the twist’.

BBC not allowing Rediffusion’s summer Franco excursions to embarrass them invited France’s favourite Brit Petula Clark to participate in Twist! Music With A Beat on Saturday 7th July from 10:45 - 11:15 pm. The first of a series of six with Oh Boy! regular Don Lang re-inventing his Frantic Five as ‘His Twisters’, along with other late fifties jazzmen Tony Osborne & His Mellow Men, The Viscounts (possibly with future pop manager Gordon Mills), and the most tempting of all a dance-off between the cast of Compact versus a team representing Juke Box Jury. Other face-offs over the next few weeks saw The Sid James Team take on The Dennis Lotis Team (judged by David Jacobs and Louise Cordet), and the cast of Z Cars hoping to see off The Archers.

Rediffusion hoped to take more historic reasoning with its next offering on Sunday 12th August, Do You Come Here Often? The Story of Dancing: From The Waltz to the Twist 9:45 – 10:45 pm, hosted by Mike Sarne.

It was up to Lord Grade to get his wallet out and persuade Chubby Checker to come back to the UK to film his own special to be shown on Friday 7th September. ATV’s The Chubby Checker Show was broadcast from 10:10 - 10:40 pm. Checker hosted, with British guests The Brook Brothers, Valerie Masters, and Red Price. Quite why it was on so late, even on a weekend was unknown, signifying that maybe the companies felt that they were just peddling the last lap with pop music. By 1966 many ITV stations would similarly relegate Ready, Steady Go! to a late night slot.

Towards the end of 1962 it was also evident that this dance marathon was coming to an end, with only professional dancers like Lionel Blair showing any enthusiasm. Friday 2nd November saw one extant edition of BBC’s Pops And Lenny play out with the ensemble doing the ‘Lambeth Walk Twist’. By the end of the year the word Twist would now take us on another journey, not to the dance-floor but in front of the hearth at home gawping with wonder. Monday 17th December’s People And Places broadcast by Granada 6:35- 7:00 pm featured Liverpool’s The Beatles performing not only their debut hit Love Me Do, but their own take on Twist And Shout.

Twist – over and out.