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TV Pop Diaries
Pop Music on British Television 1955 - 1999

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.

The show arrived in one of pop's occasional creative troughs. Elvis was out of the Army, but instead of going on tour he went straight into a regrettable Hollywood career, with each movie taking another piece of his soul away. That didn't matter so much for Cliff as he made fewer movies, and were usually much higher quality, and besides, he never relied on just a movie career to be seen, with concert and TV appearances taking him world-wide. But you had to be seen one way or another, and the entry of what just might be a serious contender for the ever-important Saturday evening schedule was to be welcomed.

Initially scheduled for a thirteen week run, the format would have three established pop acts (the 'stars') perform their new release, then introduce an act new to TV, even if they haven't released 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.” There would be another star to conclude each show. Among the new talent introduced in the first series were future hit-makers Helen Shapiro, Frank Ifield, 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-a-like, Spin-A-Disc at the end of the first series. The section was devised by Alan Freeman of Pye Records.

Talking to Disc weekly about Spin-A-Disc producer Philip Jones explained "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 proper 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, when required to vote on a particular new release would 'give it foive' (the maximum rating), with other regulars Jean Carn and Bill Butler, nicknamed The Confederates, would review new American releases. Ahead of the second series ABC Television actively recruited 16 - 19 year olds to appear as panellists on Spin-A-Disc via music papers. Nicholls had auditioned to be a reviewer on the show and was asked during the audition (with five others) to give an opinion on 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. The show had a guest DJ each week, usually a real DJ or sometimes a pop act.

Some acts were also accompanied by a six strong, three boy, three girl dance troupe. However, the acts were there to plug their new release and to that end they lip-synched to the record. It was suggested that many of the artists couldn't, or wouldn't, sing live. Philip Jones explained the show's policy to Disc in November 1961 "Its purpose is to present artists with their latest records, and we don't pretend that they are doing anything else but miming to them. We want the audience to hear the exact studio sounds on the discs. Usually a lot of time and trouble has been spent in obtaining those sounds, and we can't afford to spend that amount of time each week to reproduce the effects of each record in the TV studio."

Despite the show being networked from the second series onwards, some ITV stations only found time in their schedules to broadcast the first half of the show. But while ITV stations Ulster, Scottish and Tyne Tees took Lucky Stars ATV, the London weekend franchise decided to show their own puppet series Supercar instead, claiming that pop music gets a fair airing on TV anyway. ATV London then started playing the show from the beginning of the second series in September 1961, but the ongoing programme 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 more puzzling since Lucky Stars made its debut in the network TAM ratings for the final week of 1961. By Spring 1962 ABC’s decision to persevere with the show is validated as it wins 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. Talking to Disc magazine producer Jones argued about the change of format "By sticking to that principle all the time we would miss a whole lot of good artists who aren't completely new but haven't quite reached the status of fully-fledged stars." Sam Cooke was due to appear on the show about this time and was offered £200 but his management allegedly refused the offer as not being big enough. Cooke later refuted the story, saying he didn't have the time in his UK touring schedule, but he eventually appeared on the show in November.

It was the intention of the show to present songs on TV the day after their release, but this would cause quite a problem to the production team. Jones explained to Disc "We're sometimes faced with just a title and the artist's identity with no record ready to listen to. In cases like this, the set designers have to get cracking with perhaps no more idea of the tune than a few bars hummed over the phone by an A&R man or a song plugger." Talking about the set designs Jones explained "The sets are worth a lot of attention. They help the visual impact of the artists and their discs, and I think they help the artists to come over well if they've got a good showcase. I'm longing for colour TV, I can tell you!" Robert Feust was the shows' first set designer, who, post Lucky Stars, would work on The Avengers and become a successful film director.

ABC’s new studios at Teddington Lock in Middlesex were opened a week earlier than intended 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. However it was always the intention to move the show to Teddington in November, hoping possibly to attract more London-based acts. Most of the shows were pre-recorded on the Sunday before transmission at ABC/ATV's shared Alpha Studios in Aston, with the show briefly moving south to Teddington Lock, but returning to Aston in late April 1963.

Early 1963 sees three regular Spin-A-Disc panellists 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.

By summer 1963 it was felt successful enough to run the show throughout the whole year, so a new summer version Lucky Stars (Summer Spin) was created, 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. During the summer break Brian Matthew resumed his acting career playing the lead in a production of MacBeth in Kent.

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. Talking to TV Times about hosting the show Brian Matthew said "When I first did it the programme included interviews with the stars. They are now out and the result is a quicker show."

Like Ready, Steady, Go! Lucky Stars was a 'Special Fee' show, which meant that artists accepted a lower than normal fee in order to come on and plug their new record. Lower than, for example, the London Palladium show where they would be expected to play live.

Spin-A-Disc was replaced in July 1964 during the Summer Spin months by The Pop Shop with Janice Nicholls becoming the DJ/counter assistant. Talking to TV Times about the summer replacement show Philip Jones said "This is a pop show featuring big name stars, so it's a natural step to use stars as comperes. Different stars will act as host each week, both boys and girls." Talking about the Pop Shop insert Jones said "The idea is this: We'll have about twenty youngsters in the studio, listening and dancing to the week's American discs. When we've played the quota - it might be three or four - they will go to the counter of our Pop Shop, where they can pick their favourite of the releases played." Sadly, the title only inspired cheap quips from critics like this from Melody Maker "Sorry, but 'Lucky Stars' Pop Shop looks like Flop Shop." 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 on 31st October 1964 with Janice back in her rightful place, with the 'new style' Spin-A-Disc, as TV Times put it, now including comments from the studio audience.

The show got a new look starting with the 27th March 1965 show, a week before Ready Steady Go! got it’s own cosmetic surgery. The theatre style stage and facing audience has now gone, replaced by a floor stage with the audience sitting in rows around it, arena style, increasing the seating capacity to 700. This also meant goodbye to the wonderful stage sets, but they would be back before the end. The series now has its own resident fashion and dance expert Jackie Crier. According to an NME report "The programme takes on a new look tomorrow (Saturday) with a magazine-type format." The star act each week will start and close each show, while clips from pop movies will also be included. However, it finally meant the end for 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, fed up with the wall of screaming that ruined the show's sound, reprimanded the predominantly female audience, telling them to keep quiet. As a result he was asked to leave the show. Jim Dale had joined the show with the introduction of the summer replacement version Lucky Stars (Summer Spin) and was now invited to host the regular show as well until the end. The summer version of the show would go on location, with the ambition to record two numbers outdoors for each show.

While some acts played and sang live on Ready Steady Go there would be no demand to do so on Lucky Stars. Talking to the Daily Mirror at the time of the 200th show in July 1965 Philip Jones said "There have been changes in format over the years. But the idea is still basically the same. All the artistes mime to their records. That's the way we like it. There is no suggestion at all of us asking artists to sing and play 'live.' The idea is to present the stars with their original record sounds. This can't be done in a TV studio, even with a big band."

The producer would clash with two big acts in the summer of 1965. The Yardbirds turned up late for a rehearsal due to transport problems and were told to go home. Talking to the NME later Chris Dreja apologised "We were sorry to be behind time but we thought they'd be understanding. No fear. The producer had some very snooty attitude about it all. He didn't want to know - us, or the reason we were late. He was almost savage about it. Why can't they be like 'Top Of The Pops' They're a swinging crowd there, and the atmosphere comes across on the show." While Adam Faith was sued by ABC for breaking a contract which told him not to appear on Ready Steady Go the day before a Lucky Stars appearance. The feeling that some artists were getting was the show was now somehow bigger than the stars, which in the long run didn't help in attracting talent.

When the regular show returned in early October 1965 slight changes had been made in order to attract an older audience, but the screaming girls were still there. The show was now 45 minutes long and broadcast 30 minutes later than before. Groups would be limited to two per show, while later in the month The Jo Cook Dancers were hired as the regular dance troupe.

In March 1966 a ban on singers and players miming on TV shows, implemented by the Musicians Union, was announced, but a date for the ban to be put in practice by television stations had not been officially given. However, an ABC spokesman told Melody Maker "We have been approached by the Union to stop miming after April 1 and talks will presumably take place between now and then. We are going on as usual for the present."

On 16th April 1966 the show celebrated its fifth anniversary, only to be cancelled the following week. 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.

The announcement of the show's demise came just after the Musician's Union request for a ban on miming came into effect, and ABC would admit that this was a contributing factor. Talking to Disc magazine an ABC spokesman claimed "There has been no direct edict from the MU, but their views have partly contributed to our decision to end 'Lucky Stars'. We have made several changes over the past five years, and rather than change it again, we decided to scrap it. We are now considering two pilot shows to take up the Saturday slot in the autumn or winter. They will definitely cater for pop fans, but miming will be out." However, when the news about the show's scrapping was reported in the NME ABC claimed that the MU miming band had nothing to do with 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 confirmed that 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.” In the end there was no replacement show, just as a proposed replacement for Ready, Steady Go also never appeared.

A new series of ABC’s Opportunity Knocks filled the gap in July. However, there would a surprise at the end of 1966, a one-off revival. A spokesman told TV Times "It's simply that some of our artistes happened to be involved just now in interesting new projects. We thought it a good idea to get them together in the type of show they and viewers are used to."

The Ken Dodd hosted Doddy's Music Box debuted the beginning of 1967. Lasting for fourteen months it was the only obvious contender to fill the gap left by Lucky Stars.

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.

Despite ABC's support of the show it's sad to report that only three known complete editions are known to exist, along with several isolated clips.

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



1st April 1961 - 25th June 1966, 31st December 1966