Oh, Boy!

Oh, Boy!

ITV (Network) ABC Television

13th September 1958 to 30th May 1959

Jack Good’s Oh, Boy! Specially recorded LP, Parlophone 1959

Six-Five Special had operated with co-producers Jack Good and Jo Douglas. The younger of the two, Jack Good, left the BBC after twelve months to join rival ITV and produce the fully-fledged rock and roll show he had always wanted. Oh Boy! (with an exclamation mark), beginning in September 1958. It was named after the recent hit by Buddy Holly and the Crickets (Oh Boy without an exclamation mark), and was billed in the TV Times as “an explosion of beat music”.

Buddy Holly was alive and well when Oh Boy! began. His tragic death, the fatal plane crash – the Day the Music Died – took place on 3rd February 1959, five months after the show’s beginning. It was a shock wave that indirectly affected the programme and Oh Boy! clocked out on 30 May 1959, only eight and a half months from its start.

Tony Hall later presented some shows. He told TV TImes:

Tony Hall  I saw the two trial shows and thought they were the most exciting things I’ve ever seen on television. The lighting, the camera work was great, and I thought the music was swinging more than most of TV’s attempts to present jazz

In this hectic and hairy thirty-minutes live from London’s Hackney Empire the audience sat and shrieked while a succession of young idols stormed the stage. Timed to compete with its rival Six-Five Special on a Saturday night, it differed from its predecessor in a tighter more controlled format and a manic audience separated from the performers as in a real concert. But it was its total devotion to rock music that sounded the death-knell on the former institution. Six-Five Special’s life-force waned and gave up the ghost within a few months of Oh Boy!’s aggressive take-over.

Making the shows

The Vernons Girls rehearsed every day of the week in preparation for each Saturday’s live ‘Oh Boy!’ show. On Mondays to Wednesdays each week the girls would rehearse at the ‘Four Provinces of Ireland Club’ at 13, Canonbury Lane, Islington, London N1. This boys club sported a large ballroom and the girls had to be there by 9am each morning.(travelling from their hotel in Maida Vale by tube) They worked 9- hour days under the direction of dance director Leslie Cooper and their singing teacher, Peter Knight, who were both known taskmasters and perfectionists in their pursuit of producing faultless performances from the girls. The Vernons Girls had to work out their routines by listening to the original records which Knight and Cooper picked up from Jack Good and bought in every Monday morning.  “It was from those original records we had to learn our vocal melody lines and dance routines.” said Barbara. “We nearly always got copies of the records before they were officially released. Basically we had to be near perfect by Wednesday, as on Thursdays and Fridays we would arrive at the Hackney Empire to rehearse with the rest of the cast and bring the whole show together.

Lord Rockingham’s XI, Red Price, Cherry Wainer the Dallas Boys (and to a large extent Neville Taylor and The Cutters) were permanently set up at the Empire Theatre Hackney where they would rehearse their own numbers, and then run through the songs with the guest stars popping in and out throughout the week . The Vernons Girls would then turn up fully rehearsed at the theatre on Thursdays to join the rest of the cast. The whole theatre was a technical minefield. The seating area in the stalls was removed and every square inch was covered with film, sound and lighting equipment and masses of wiring which took up nearly all the ground floor for the series entire 9 month run. Full rehearsals at the theatre on Thursdays and Fridays were tiring, with all the cast present from 8am to 11pm some nights. On Saturdays there was an all day full sound and vision rehearsal until the live transmission at 6pm. Each live show lasted about 28 minutes. Most of the artists could then make their escape for ‘an early night’ by 7.30pm.
Jack Good’s Oh, Boy! website

Some of its stars moved over to BBC’s Drumbeat, an Oh Boy! clone that had started just a month before; while others returned at the end of the summer for ITV’s next fleeting rock excursion Boy Meets Girls. The teenage beat shows ping-ponged back and forth between BBC and ITV with increasing vigour and guaranteed viewing figures, and the Saturday night slot remained sacrosanct. 

Move It

Move It: Cliff Richard & The Drifters, Columbia, 1958

Many names are nostalgically remembered from Oh Boy! including Marty Wilde, Joe Brown, Cherry Wainer (solo), Lord Rockingham’s XI, The Vernons Girls, Red Price. But its abiding claim to fame was launching a lifetime career for the previously unsung Harry Webb, later known as Sir Cliff Richard.

17-year-old Cliff, whose first record Schoolboy Crush – a cover of Bobby Helm’s American record hit – had been released a few weeks before Oh Boy! began, appeared in the second show reportedly billed lowest on the roster. Jack Good claims he only allowed Cliff a spot provided he sang the flipside of the record, the home-grown rocker Move It. Later feted as the first authentic example of British rock and roll Move It was at Number 2 in the charts within weeks, helped not inconsiderably by the young star’s charismatic dynamics. Jack Good got him to ditch the acoustic guitar and shave off his sideburns,

Jack Good He was malleable. I thought something could be done with this boy. I always got him to look up at the camera, head tilted down and the eyes up and the angled shoulders forward. Then suddenly grabbing his arm as if he’d been poked by some hypodermic syringe. We presented it as if it was beyond him not to be a smoulderer – yet he didn’t mean to be! That was the excitement! “He was very slim, very innocent looking but he couldn’t help being a smoulderer. He used to get fortunes in pennies – when a penny used to be a real sized penny – thrown at him on the stage by these angry boys. There would be girls falling about and going into hysterics and foaming at the mouth and these furious boys chucking these great pennies at Cliff. Poor fellow! They didn’t know it wasn’t his fault… had to wear this pink jacket and smoulder! After Move It was a hit, the audience reaction was such that he couldn’t help but be exciting because he didn’t have to do anything. The spotlight just came on him and the whole audience went wild.
BBC TV Interview, 1981

Effortlessly Cliff Richard became the undisputed star of the weekly show, appearing in twenty of the thirty-eight shows; the biggest name in British pop until the rise of the Beatles. One of those odd facts that stick in the memory … Cliff was born five days AFTER John Lennon, who at that time was playing for free at the church fete.

Part of the success was down to a hissy fit by manager / promoter Larry Parnes, aka “Parnes, Shillings and Pence.” You can tell who he managed by their stage names: Marty Wilde, Billy Fury, Vince Eager, Georgie Fame, Johnny Gentle, Dickie Pride. Parnes was incensed that Cliff was stealing the spotlight and applause from Marty Wilde, and said he’d withdraw Marty from the show. He expected Good to back down, but it didn’t happen. Marty miseed sixteen shows in a row, and Cliff reigned supreme.

Hoots Mon! Lord Rockingham’s XI, Decca 1957

Lord Rockingham’s XI (there were thirteen of them) had the biggest single hit with Hoots Mon! This rewrite of the traditional A Hundred Pipers gave the line Hoots mon! There’s a moose loose aboot this hoos! to posterity. They were a bunch of session men led by Harry Robinson who were assembled specifically as the house band for the programme. Cherry Wainer played Hammond organ. Red Price played tenor sax, coming from the Ted Heath Band. He’s credited as Britain’s first rock saxophonist. Benny Green, the jazz sax player, was a on baritone sax. He wore sunglasses in a vain effort to conceal his identity. Rockingham was meant to be “rockin’ em’” and the XI was like a cricket team (The Lords Taverners XI). Unfortunately a real Lord Rockingham emerged from the dusty recesses of the aristocracy and sued them. The group only lasted as long as the show. Red Price later said:

I’ll let you into a secret: we used to tune one tenor sharp, one flat, one baritone sharp and one flat…. and that’s how we got that fucking awful sound

Oh Boy! was short-lived but the floodgates had now opened for pop music on British television.

The Songs

Two of Oh Boy’s popular names, Joe Brown and the Vernons Girls, did not have hit records until some time after the demise of this show. 

The Happy Organ, Cherry Wainer, Pye-Nixa 1958

Red Price (Week End) and and Cherry Wainer (The Happy Organ) both released solo singles on Pye. Red Price’s single (£20 mint) is the most collectable Oh, Boy! spin-off.

Week End: Red Price “Star of Jack Good’s Oh, Boy!” Pye-Nixa, 1958

The Jack Good’s Oh Boy! album claims that it was recorded in one session on the evening of October 19th 1958, the day before the sixth edition of the programme.

It was recorded exactly a year after the Six Five Special album to the day. There are CD reissues with the album versions of both shows.

It also says that the earlier show was the “coffee bar era” and the music was frantic, erratic and had an intimate and amateur flavour. Then it says that the music on Oh, Boy! was much more streamlined and professional. Listening to the CD supports this. It sounds way better, the lyrics are less daft, and the guitarist is playing better.

Most obviously, the young Cliff Richard rocked way more effectively than his predecessors on the earlier show, Terry Wayne, Jim Dale, The King Brothers and Laurie London.

The hits

Lord Rockingham’s XI
Hoots Mon! 1958 #1
Wee Tom 1959 #16

Marty Wilde
Donna 1959 £3
A Teenager In Love 1959 #2

Cliff Richard
Move It 1958 #2
High Class Baby 1958 #7
Mean Streak 1959 #10
Never Mind 1959 #21

Article by Paul F. Newman, amended and added to by Peter Viney