1 9 5 7 – 1 9 5 8 (UK)
The BBC were determined to fill the 6 pm to 7 pm timeslot (the so-called “Toddler’s Truce” designed as an hour’s respite from television to allow parents to put young children to bed) on Saturdays with a show for teenagers – something they could enjoy before they went out dancing or to the cinema.
And so, on 16 February 1957, the Six-Five Special came down the line – its name taken from its timeslot (it followed a five-minute news summary) – courtesy of Rock & Roll impresario Jack Good.
Among the names also considered for the new programme were Hi There, Live It Up, Take It Easy, Don’t Look Now and Start The Night Right, before agreement was reached on the railway-suggestive Six-Five Special.
Opening with a train sequence to Johnny Johnston’s urgent rhythmic theme music (“over the points, over the points”), Six-Five Special was the forerunner to many other pop shows with its studio audience of 150 kids jiving and clapping.
The show was introduced by Josephine (Jo) Douglas and former Radio Luxembourg DJ Pete Murray, with Don Lang and his Frantic Five and former boxer Freddie Mills in support.
Murray’s opening lines on the first show seemed calculated to cause maximum bemusement: “Hi there. Welcome aboard the Six-Five Special. We’ve got almost a hundred cats jumping here, some real cool characters to give us the gas, so just get with it and have yourself a ball.”
Fortunately for older viewers, Douglas communicated the same sentiment in BBC speak: “Well, I’m just a square it seems, but for all the other squares with us, roughly translated what Pete Murray just said was, ‘we’ve got some lively musicians and personalities mingling with us here, so just relax and catch the mood from us, will you?'”.
Adam Faith made his television debut on the programme, and regular performers were young Tommy Steele and the Steelmen and ‘Little’ Laurie London who had ‘the whole world in his hands’ after his first appearance.
But rock ‘n’ roll was just part of the music mix. An early classical segment proved short-lived, but jazz featured prominently, as did Skiffle. There were spots on cinema and sports, wholesome features on hairstyling, and a hefty dose of comedy with Mike and Bernie Winters becoming the resident comics, and Spike Milligan becoming a regular visitor.
The BBC also felt that the show should ‘say’ something, and so a priest in a dog-collar came in and did the hand jive to prove that the church was alive and kicking.
Six-Five Special was broadcast originally from Lime Grove and later from the Riverside Studios alongside the Thames in Hammersmith and soon built up a huge following of over 8 million viewers which led to a film (6.5 Special), two stage shows and a concert version.
It was a row over the concert version which led to producer Jack Good being sacked by the BBC.
He promptly took his talents to ITV where he created Oh Boy! in 1958. Ironically it was Oh Boy! that effectively killed-off Six-Five Special.
Following Good’s departure, Jim Dale assumed the mantle of host, but the show had lost much of its zest. The show kept rolling for another year, until – five years before Dr Beeching – the Six-Five Special was cancelled, bowing out with The Six-Five Special Party on 27 December 1958.