Stop-gap TV show that became a cult
“SIX-FIVE SPECIAL” – which became one of the most shows ever transmitted on BBC Television, was presented as a six-week stop-gap – to give the planners sufficient time to conceive something with more appeal!
Variety Section, Department Chief, Ronnie Waldman, scratch-ed his head in bewilderment, wondering just how this extra hour at his command could be handled.
The one which struck him as most suitable for that time of evening (when youngsters were home from their football and shopping, but before leaving for a cinema or dance-hall), was a joint idea submitted by Jack Good and Josephine Douglas.
Jo and Jack were given the go-ahead, but on the understanding that the show would run for six weeks. They worked hard, evolved a format—and on February 16, 1957, the artists and production team assembled in Lime Grove’s Studio E, to present the very first “6.5 Special”.
A tall, fair-haired young man named Pete Murray had come to their attention—his exuberant personality had proved very popular on various ITV shows, and his five years as a disc-jockey with Radio Luxembourg implied that he knew more than most people about modern trends in music. So Pete got the job. and became an immediate success.
In an effort to cover as many interests as possible, Freddie Mills was brought into the programme, with a view to introducing ratting sporting celebrities.
The impact was quite astounding. Listener viewers became stronger after each show, with mail flooding in from all parts.
After only three weeks, Ronnie Waldman’s problem had melted away; there was no need to worry about a replacement for the “6.5”.
Efforts were made, often successfully, to secure visitors; then, as an experiment, the Bing Crosby-Louis Armstrong duet – Now You Has Jazz”, was shown as an excerpt from the film, “High Society.
Jerry Lee Lewis, The Platters, Frank Sinatra and Charlie Gracie. And, in most cases, the excerpts have been in advance of the films themselves being screened in a cinema.
The very fact of a disc being featured on “6.5” prompts thousands of youngsters to become interested, thereby giving it a head-start in the race for the best-sellers. In two instances, Buddy Holly’s “Peggy Sue” and Jackie Wilson’s “Reet Petite”, there was a lapse of two or three months before the discs climbed into the charts. But with other offerings from Larry Williams,
Jimmie Rodgers, The Crickets, Danny and the Juniors, and the “Johnny Otis Show’’, their records shot into the top table with surprising speed—particularly Paul Anka, too.
The character of the musical content has, of course, changed appreciably since it first began. Initially, there was an attempt to cater for every taste, even to the extent of classical music; followed by a phase when the accent was largely on skiffle, then it settled into a parade of “youthful music” – to please the majority of teenage tastes. An innovation introduced early in 1958 was the National Skiffle Contest (every fortnight), which had previously proved successful in leading variety theatres.
Names and reputations were made on the ‘6.5”, with many artists achieving their first big break in the series. Although some of the potential stars were discovered at auditions, in many cases the producers went out and found the talent for themselves – in coffee bars, night clubs, and provincial music-halls. Other artists, who had already attained a degree of fame, enhanced their prestige because they had become associated with “6.5 Special”.
Don Lang’s Frantic Five are running through a number on their platform; then, in another comer of the studio, star singers are trying over songs with their pianists. Elsewhere, the regular team is still perfecting sequences – from a dressing’ room down the corridor comes the strain of a group loosening up.
Then follows the last-minute tidying-up process….cutting out entire songs (if the over-run is lengthy) or chopping a few sentences of speech, when only seconds must must be saved.
A tremendous pace is maintained throughout the transmission. Apart from the producer’s instructions beforehand, the spectators are left to their own devices; those who have not been positioned for the camera’s benefit, are free to wander at will around the studio – if they can squeeze their way through the crowds.
Frequently the artists themselves, when they have played their parts or while waiting to go on, mingle with the audience to share in the fun.
Somehow, out of the day’s havoc and confusion emerges a very real, vibrant and living programme — which sets viewers’ feet tapping all over the country—irrespective of age.
Of course, sometimes there are mistakes, but that only adds to the casual, friendly and totally unsophisticated atmosphere.
The slightly-amateurish attempts at comedy made the situations even more hilarious, which suited the informality of the programme – whereas the slick patter of a polished comedian could have been out of place. However, the humour was given a rest from February 1, 1958 – when an interview spot was introduced, including *New Musical Express” critic, Keith Goodwin.
A HAPPY SHOW
The “6.5” is essentially a happy show. Everyone who appears on it, all who come to see it, and millions who watch it at home, all capture the spirit of light-hearted gaiety. Programme over, the studio is
virtually deserted. Apart from a few musicians collecting their parts, only studio hands remain to demolish the sets, in preparation for the next programme from that studio.
In the street outside, a crowd armed with autograph books await appearances of the stars.
From the difficult beginning, when the seeds were sown, the “6.5 Special” took root and blossomed forth into top-line television entertainment. American visitors have commented that it is unique; there is no programme comparable in the States. More than that, it has lent its name to many successful stage presentations, besides a film – surely an indication of the show’s high reputation.
Three concert and variety packages have taken the road – different in construction, but based upon “Six-Five Special”, and all presenting many artists associated with the show.
Countless articles have been written in numerous newspapers and magazines; songs have been composed especially for the series – besides two long-playing records (on Decca and Parlophone) dedicated to the “6.5” and starring many of its artists have become big sellers. Then, of course, this book has been published – surely, all these things combined, add up to the highest compliment and tribute ever paid to a TV pro¬gramme anywhere in the World.