Juke Box Jury

Juke Box Jury

1st June 1959 to 1967

After the initial success of Six-Five Special the BBC didn’t hold the top cards in the television pop music stakes for quite a while. In 1959 with the growing realization that rock and roll just might be here to stay after all, it stole back the lead from ITV by funding two different pop programmes almost simultaneously. One was the live music Saturday night showcase Drumbeat; the other, and the unexpected winner, was the more modest Juke Box Jury, so low-key it was tucked away on a Monday evening. A few months later it moved to the hallowed Saturday slot where surprisingly it ran for eight years, into and throughout much of the Swinging Sixties. In 1962 its weekly audience was twelve million.

The idea behind Juke Box Jury was simplicity itself. Borrowed from the American radio model, to which medium most would assume it naturally suited, it featured smartly-dressed host David Jacobs playing snatches of new 45s on his jukebox while a panel of four celebrities voted them a Hit or Miss. 

Disc Break” ATV 1959. Jack Parnell & Anne Shelton predict the hits and misses

It wasn’t the first British show to do it either. ATV had run Disc Break in the summer of 1959, hosted by Jack Parnell with a cartoon spot (cf. Old Grey Whistle Test) and an LP slot. The “disc prediction” feature was one-to-one with a celebrity, no jury involved, but the hit or miss concept was there.

David Jacobs introduces the show

Far easier to produce than a live music show Juke Box Jury held the attraction to the viewer of both hearing some brand new records and agreeing or disagreeing with the extremely unqualified panel. Then the audience had cards with HIT and MISS to show their opinions. Initially it was a live transmission, but soon they realized how easy it would be to do two shows in a day with the audience, so one was live, and one videotaped for the next week. The tapes were erased, because they were topical and were seen as having no use afterwards, and also because tapes were expensive, and the fact that they could be reused was part of their advantage over filming.  There was no market for foreign sales of the series, and no prospect of a domestic repeat.  Two shows survive on film from late 1960.

The first panel for the pilot show had Pete Murray (DJ), Alma Cogan (singer), Gary Miller (singer) and Susan Stranks (teenager). The eight records played on the first programme included Personality by Anthony Newley (followed by the original version of the same song by Lloyd Price and his Orchestra), Say One for Me by Bing Crosby and More, More, More Romancing by Jo Shelton.

No, the show was not in colour. BBC photo for magazines.

One famous show in December 1963 had a jury panel comprised of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, and was broadcast from the Empire Theatre, Liverpool.

Of course they gave them an Elvis single, Kiss Me Quick, to vote on:

Paul: What I don’t like about Elvis are his songs. I like his voice. This song reminds me of Blackpool on a sunny day.
Ringo: Last two years Elvis has been going down the nick.
George: If he’s going back to old tracks, why not release My Baby Left Me? It’d be a number one. Elvis is great, his songs are rubbish.
John: It’ll be a hit. I like those hats with ‘Kiss Me Quick’ on.
The Beatles Bible online (LINKED) … it has every song with comments.

4th July 1964. The first five person panel

Another show in July 1964 featured  all five of The Rolling Stones, and a third in 1967 featured The Seekers, these were rare exceptions. Not necessarily were the panellists pop celebrities, or even singers for that matter. Pete Murray, another DJ was a regular guest. They often had not the remotest connection with music of any kind, and another regular was Katie Boyle. Katie Boyle was an Italian aristocrat by birth, and was an actress and TV personality appearing on What’s My Line? for years, then graduating from Juke Box Jury to presenter of the four British-held Eurovision Song Contests, where she entertained audiences by being beautiful, multi-lingual, but somewhat tipsy. Other guests were Sean Connery, Peter Sellers, Jayne Mansfield, Twiggy (two names that shouldn’t go side by side) and Thora Hird. Phil Spector was a rare qualified panellist.

6 June 1964: Johnny Morris, Diana Dors, Charlie Drake & Jessie Matthews on the panel

These guests gave the show its all-family appeal, so that everyone could identify with someone on screen.  

A hit got a ting on a bell. A miss got a farting hooter blast. Whether a record was voted a Hit or a Miss was of course totally irrelevant. Nobody was checking. The programme never seemed unduly bothered about reminding us later that it had got an unlikely prediction right, mainly because it had got an equally likely number wrong. But panellists panned records at their peril because from 1961 on, each week at least one of the featured record artists was secretly sitting in ‘The Hot Seat’ behind a screen listening to their comments. The viewers could see the artist but the panel couldn’t. Not, at least, until the record was finished and the singer appeared from the wings to shake hands and smile (through clenched teeth) at the jurists who had just given them the thumbs down. Embarrassing or gratifying, it was all good television. 

Cilla Black, who appeared nine times, remembered her first show when she was asked what she liked best about a Heinz record and replied ‘the hole in the middle’ only to have Joe Meek’s blonde boy protégé emerge from the wings. Afterwards another guest told her that you always knew because the green light glowed on the camera pointing behind the screen.

 The regular host, David Jacobs, whose initials were fortuitously ‘D.J,’ was ideally suited to keeping the show precariously balanced across the generation gap. Seen as a member of the older generation by the young, and a nice young man by the old, he managed to maintain a neutral stance towards the pop records he played; though one suspected this was largely due to his lack of interest in most of them.

The Music

Hit & Miss: The John Barry Seven plus Four, Columbia 1959

Juke Box Jury was a record programme pure and simple, no live or mimed performances; and thousands of 45s were spun on the Juke Box over its eight and a half years. The original theme was Juke Box Fury by Ossie Warlock and The Wizards. It was replaced by Hit & Miss by the John Barry Seven which became the regular instrumental signature in 1960 and was itself a hit in that year.

By early 1967 the format was creaking. The News of The World had attacked David Jacobs for playing It Can’t Happen Here by The Mothers of Invention, and two of the jury for voting it a hit in late 1966. The BBC had to remove The Addicted Man by The Game from a recorded show because of drug references, and for its remaining year it was decided that pop stars and personalities were untrustworthy. They might have realized that a few years earlier in October 1964 when Marianne Faithful commented on a disc, ‘I’d like it at a party if I was stoned.’

They were replaced by a panel of malleable DJs, who were, after all, BBC employees. They started on 3rd December 1966 with  Pete Murray, Jimmy Savile, Alan Freeman and Simon Dee. In the last few months, the production was shifted from London to Manchester.

 By the end of 1967 Juke Box Jury and its polite and genial host were finally ousted by a more ‘In’ personality in the shape of Simon Dee and his up-to-the minute chat extravaganza Dee Time. At tea-time. In essence a talk show rather than a music parade this more or less marked the end of Saturday tea-time’s long-held pop music identity.

The show was revived twice, first in 1979 with Noel Edmunds, then again for two seasons in 1989 and 1990 hosted by Jools Holland. Jools Holland rescued the Hit and Miss theme, but in a jazzier version by Courteny Pine.

Originally written by Paul F.Newman, amended by Peter Viney