Saturday, 30 April 2011

Time to Jive on the Old Six Records

TV history rule one: never assume that whichever dreary, unadventurous, focus-grouped vice of modern telly you happen to be banging on about is necessarily a recent invention.

Take the latter-day Light Ent producer's obsession with searching, in public and with maximum fuss, for the most “down to Earth” and “ordinary” presenters they can muster, who still manage to be a damn sight better looking than your average Dinenage. A very 20th century thing, that. Well, nineties, possibly. Early 1987 at best.

Of course, it's been going on for as long as the Beeb knew young people existed. When Six-Five Special, the BBC's first pop potboiler, returned for what was to be its last hurrah on 13th September 1958, producer Russell Turner had evidently decided the kids were sick of the sight of Pete Murray's chops, and replaced him with no less than six “pretty girls”, who would handle the links between acts on a rotating basis.

The “Six-Five Dates”, as they were inevitably called, were “carefully chosen to appeal to the greatest cross-section of the public” from over 100 auditionees, “to get contrasting types. We wanted a girl for everybody looking in – and that's what we've got”. This is exactly the sort of over-complicated set-up today's control freak producers love, as they get to play Churchill marshalling the various broadcasting units about, but more often than not leaves the viewing public cold.

Six-Five's gambit was doomed from the start. The only one of the “Dates” to make any impression was former beauty queen Leila Williams, who jumped ship after a few weeks to host new children's programme Blue Peter. The whole thing made The Word's Hufty seem like a resounding success. It came off in the new year to be "remodelled" once more, having received a due kicking from former Six-Five producer Jack Good's mighty Oh Boy! on ITV, and never returned.

For those interested, the other aspects of Six-Five's “big New Look treatment” included two resident bands plus a rotating guest band “of the Ted Heath, Ken Mackintosh calibre”, the biggest permanent set in European TV, and a shock embargo on skiffle and rock 'n' roll. (“Beat music is the prevailing trend now. We shall even find room for a little cha-cha-cha.”) The new Six-Five was agenda setting in all departments, but still found time for Mike and Bernie Winters to come on and give away some puppies.

Another thing about Six-Five – it had a spin-off film. A proper film, released in cinemas, with a plot (of sorts) and a galaxy of celeb cameos. And Mike and Bernie Winters. Even Britain's Got Talent couldn't muster the hubris to launch a big screen version of itself today. Telly used to be insane.

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