TV Pop Diaries

Popular Music on British Television

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1st April 1961 - 25th June 1966

Despite the short life span of the Jack Good TV shows ABC decided to try yet again with a new Saturday evening pop show, this time concentrating on new releases, rather than singers conforming to the traditional variety show format of safe cover versions or novelty numbers. BBC and Radio Luxembourg DJs were hired as the hosts, rather than more traditional television personalities. Pete Murray would be the first, with Keith Fordyce deputising on holiday breaks, later replaced by Brian Matthew, who in turn was replaced by Jim Dale. ABC's Philip Jones would direct the show.

Scheduled for a thirteen week run, the initial format had a pop act perform their new release, then they would introduce an act new to TV, even if they haven't made a record yet. As TV Times put it at the time “The top stars of the record world perform their latest hits and present their tips for tomorrow's hit parade.” Among the new talent introduced in the first series were Helen Shapiro, Dudley Moore and Danny Williams. The show made a big enough impact locally to warrant not only a second series, but a one-off Juke Box Jury look alike, Spin-A-Disc at the end of the first series.

Spin-A-Disc’s pilot show was broadcast and producer Philip Jones told Disc "The programme will be set in a coffee bar club and I am going to have a panel of two boys and two girls who will be ordinary teenagers with something to say." "The programme will consist of the latest pop releases and the panel will be asked whether they would buy them and give their reasons. They will then vote, giving each disc so many points out of five." The record with the most points will be Record of the Week. The show opened with teenagers dancing, and after the intro was through they would then sit around the cafe set during the rest of the show.

The show returned in September 1961 with a regular ‘show within a show’ slot for ‘Spin-A-Disc’ which would make a star of Midlands local Janice Nicholls who would, when required to vote on a particular new release would 'give it foive' (the maximum rating), with other regulars Jean Carn and Bill Butler who, nicknamed The Confederates, would review new American discs. Nicholls had auditioned to be a reviewer on the show and was asked during the audition (with five others) to give an opinion to Brenda Lee’s Speak To Me Pretty to which she promptly fell off her stool. She was invited back week after week and ended up staying three years. The discs they heard each week on Spin-A-Disc would not be played to them before the show was recorded, with different tracks played during the run-through. Spin-A-Disc was replaced in July 1964 by The Pop Shop with Janice Nicholls becoming DJ Assistant. Every week the show would employ a guest DJ, usually a real DJ or sometimes a pop act, while a six strong, three boy, three girl dance troupe was also employed. Despite the show being networked from the second series onwards, some ITV stations only showed the first half of the show.

Despite Ulster, Scottish and Tyne Tees taking Lucky Stars ATV, the London weekend franchise decided to show their own puppet series Supercar instead of Lucky Stars claiming that pop music gets a fair airing on TV anyway. An ongoing territorial dispute between ABC the show's producer and ATV London led to the decision by ATV to drop the show in January 1962 and replace it with shows from its own catalogue dating back several years. ABC would later drop ATV's highly successful Sunday Night at the London Palladium from its own schedules. ATV's move was ironic since Lucky Stars made its debut in the network TAM ratings for the final week of 1961.

By Spring 1962 the show had won Melody Maker's Top TV Show award.

When the show returned for its third series in September 1962 the debut acts had been dropped in favour of an 'all-star' format, which it would stick with until the show’s demise.

ABC opened its new studios at Teddington Lock in Middlesex a week early on December 11th 1962 in order to record three appearances by Cliff Richard and The Shadows, to be seen in three consecutive shows the same month.

Early 1963 sees three regular panelists Janice Nicholls, Ray Nortrop and Billy Butler all make records themselves, while 600 Beatles' fans petition host Brian Matthew to have the band on the show. They get their way.

Most of the shows were recorded on the Sunday before transmission at ABC/ATV's shared Alpha Studios in Aston, with the show briefly moving south to Teddington Lock, then returning to Aston in late April 1963.

By summer 1963 it was felt successful enough to run throughout the whole year, so a new summer version Lucky Stars (Summer Spin) was broadcast, hosted by Pete Murray.

As the weekend franchise holder for the north and midlands ABC Television was well-placed to pick up any Mersey talent, hosting two Mersey only specials, each reaching exceptional viewer ratings.

Lucky Stars was a great show which featured virtually all the major acts of the era, but strangely it never received the kind of nostalgic accolade that Ready, Steady, Go! or Top Of The Pops would receive. However, the one show everyone who saw it remembers is the first Mersey Beat special in June 1963, watched by just under twenty million viewers, although by late 1963 the regular audience was around six and a half million per show.

After the show's Summer Spin outing the regular show returned on 3rd October 1964, but it was announced that the Pop Shop item would be dropped in favour of "a show within a show" feature, meaning Janice Nicholls would have to find new employment. However it would return a few weeks' later with Janice back in her rightful place.

The show got a new look starting with the 3rd April 1965 show, a day after Ready Steady Go! got it’s own cosmetic surgery. The series also had its own resident fashion and dance expert Jackie Crier. However, it meant the end of Janice Nicholls, the show's only true star and like Monica Rose on Double Your Money one of the few members of the public to make it big in the pre-reality TV era. Her weekly fee of seven guineas (seven pounds, seven shillings) would later be the subject of an Equity and Variety Artistes Union enquiry as they felt it was too low.

In 1965 host Brian Matthew had reprimanded the predominantly female audience for screaming too loud and as a result was asked to leave the show. He gave way to Jim Dale as the host with the introduction of the summer replacement version Lucky Stars (Summer Spin) and remained host of the regular show until the end.

When the regular show returned in early October 1965 slight changes mad been made in order to attract an older audience, but the screaming girls were still there. Later in the month The Jo Cook Dancers had been hired as the regular dance troupe.

The announcement of the show's demise came in April 1966, just after the Musician's Union request for a ban on miming came into effect, although ABC were quick to stress this was not a contributory factor in their decision.

Talking to The Stage's Television Today section an ABC source claimed "before every summer season we have discussed whether to rest Lucky Stars but in the past we have decided to continue the show - usually under the title of Lucky Stars Summer Spin. This year we came to the conclusion that we should drop it at last and start afresh. The pop music scene has changed so much recently that we felt it was better to do this than alter the format of Lucky Stars yet again". The article also claimed that two two pilot programmes for a potential replacement were about to be made. Producer Philip Jones also said at the time "I think we must just 'thank our lucky stars' for having had a good run and go all out to make a success of the new show we will be putting in its place later on in the year". There was no replacement show, just as a proposed replacement for Ready, Steady Go also never happened.

Before the end came many ITV stations had begun to move the show to Sunday, only to move it back to Saturday just before the final edition, but it was dropped by most of the ITV stations by 16th April 1966 including ATV London who replaced it with Anglia’s country drama Weavers’ Green. A new series of ABC’s Opportunity Knocks replaced the series in July.

Due to ABC’s strong international sales drive the show was shown as far away as Australia, albeit with local hosts and a few musical replacements. It’s also likely that producers of NBC’s Hullabaloo had seen the Lucky Stars format when producing their own show.

Kevin Mulrennan's e-book looks at the shows history in detail. Available now from Amazon.