Herman’s Hermits were one of the most interesting of the original wave of British Invasion groups. Unlike The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, The Hermits didn’t threaten authority figures with a longhaired look and loud guitar rock.
In fact, they were a pleasant, polite group of chaps who sang pleasant music hall-style ditties that people of all ages could enjoy. In the process, they scored eleven Top 10 hits in America.
The Hermits were originally called The Heartbeats until they got a new lead singer, Peter Blair Denis Bernard Noone. The Heartbeats included engraver Karl Green on bass, barber Barry Whitwam on drums and student Derek Leckenby on lead guitar. Telegraph engineer Keith Hopwood later threw in his lot with the group.
Noone, who had taken formal drama lessons, found less mundane employment as a television actor. Using the stage name ‘Peter Novack’, one of his most celebrated parts was that of Len Fairclough’s son in Granada TV’s Coronation Street.
Someone thought Peter looked like the Sherman from The Bullwinkle Show but instead called him ‘Herman’ due to mishearing the name. The band renamed themselves Herman and the Hermits – later shortening it to Herman’s Hermits – and began to perform in their native Manchester.
They quickly gained a local following, a pair of managers, and the attention of pop producer Mickie Most. Most saw a potential superstar in Peter Noone (whom he thought resembled John Kennedy) and quickly went to work in the studio.
However, only Noone performed on the early recordings: the band was replaced by professional session musicians, including future Led Zeppelin members Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones.
The Hermits’ first single was I’m Into Something Good, a cover of an old pop tune propelled by Noone’s exuberant, high-pitched vocal and a bouncy arrangement. It shot to #1 in the UK and broke the band in the US by going to #13 at the end of 1964.
Herman’s Hermits began to tour the USA in 1965, hammering home their Britishness at every opportunity. The touring paid off, making Noone a pin-up in teen magazines and setting the stage for a string of smash hits.
Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat went to #2. The follow-up, the wistful ballad Mrs Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter, went to #1 and stayed there for three weeks.
Next up was a #4 cover of the Sam Cooke song Wonderful World, followed by the boisterous music hall classic I’m Henry the Eighth, I Am.
Henry gave them their second #1 and was followed by another Top 10 hit in Just A Little Bit Better.
1966 was another year of Top 10 hits for The Hermits, starting with A Must To Avoid in January. Other hits from this year included the gentle Listen People and another music-hall oldie, Leaning On A Lamp Post. The next year, they continued to storm the charts with songs like There’s A Kind Of Hush.
In 1968, The Hermits got their own feature film in the form of Mrs Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter. Noone also played the title role in a television production of Pinocchio.
The decline of Herman’s Hermits in America was due in large part to the arrival of The Monkees. It was surely no accident that the group’s heartthrob, Davy Jones, had a Manchester accent and had been a supporting actor in Coronation Street.
Herman’s Hermits continued to record until their split-up in 1970. Noone went on to a solo career in England and divided his time between recording and acting. He had a brief return to the music scene with his ‘new wave‘ band The Tremblers in the early 80s.
The Hermits drifted into the cabaret graveyard, even fronting themselves with a makeshift “Herman” in new rhythm guitarist Garth Elliott. A version of the band still tours frequently, but drummer Barry ‘Bean’ Whitwam is the only original member in the line-up.
Their music still has the same timeless, effervescent charm it always has and continues to entertain pop music fans of all stripes today.
Derek ‘Lek’ Leckenby
Barry ‘Bean’ Whitwam