1 9 5 2 (UK)
1 9 5 5 – 1 9 5 6 (UK)
Aware that their younger viewing audience was growing increasingly ambivalent towards dance-band programmes such as Television Dancing Club (that amounted to little more than radio performances on television), the BBC’s Light Entertainment department decided to go for something livelier and shamelessly rip off a show that had been running on the American NBC network for about a year – Your Hit Parade.
The programme the BBC produced was strikingly similar, even though the title had been clipped back to Hit Parade and there was no commercial sponsor to call the shots as the Lucky Strike cigarette brand did in the USA.
Having run into copyright issues with the panel game What’s My Line?, BBC executives were wary of similar problems arising again, but after taking legal advice, it was felt that the format was sufficiently different for no rights to be infringed and the show went ahead, airing first on 14 January 1952 and then running once a fortnight.
Each edition of Hit Parade featured a collection of songs performed by Cyril Stapleton & his Augmented Orchestra with resident vocal groups Rita Williams & the Music Makers, and the Stargazers.
There were individual vocalists, too – Eve Boswell, Dick James and Lee Lawrence joining Carole Carr in the earliest shows, with Diana Coupland (later star of the sitcom Bless This House), Monty Norman (who went on to both marry Coupland and compose the James Bond theme), Bruce Trent and Jean Campbell later.
The song mattered more than the performer as far as the listeners or viewers were concerned, so the show wasn’t obliged to book any particular artist to perform their latest hit. The Hit Parade Dancers supported the vocalists, visually bringing the lyrics of the songs to life.
Featured songs were chosen similarly to those for the American show – sheet music and record sales, and the most popular requests on radio programmes – although there was also a band spot that allowed the airing of older tunes. Around eight songs were squeezed into each half-hour show, and much was made of each song’s position in the chart, with the relevant numeral somehow built into the performance or set design.
Hit Parade aired for less than a year, although it was strangely exhumed in 1955. Cyril Stapleton’s band was now gone, replaced by the BBC’s Concert Orchestra, and vocal support now came from the George Mitchell Singers.
Three different formats were tested in the first three shows, but the concept was ultimately unsuccessful.
The BBC eventually replaced it with the Tin Pan Alley Show, starring Billy Cotton with remnants of the Hit Parade team.