Sixties City presents a wide-ranging series of articles on all aspects of the Sixties, penned by the creator of the iconic 60s music paper  Mersey Beat

Six-Five Special



Jon Pertwee and Adam Faith  Six Five Special
On Saturday 6th February 1957 at 6pm the BBC broadcast a short bulletin which was followed at 6.05 by a new programme ‘Six Five Special’, filmed before a live audience. Pete Murray, who co-hosted the show with co-producer Josephine Douglas, announced:
“Welcome aboard the Six Five Special. We’ve got almost a hundred cats jumping here, some real cool characters to give us the gas, so just get on with it and have a ball.”

Jo Douglas then said, “Well, I’m just a square it seems, but for all the other squares with us, roughly translated what Pete Murray said was: ‘We’ve got some lively musicians and personalities mingling with us here, so just relax and catch the mood with us.”

Kenny Ball & his Jazzmen opened and closed the show, which also featured Michael Holliday, The King Brothers and Bobbie and Rudy. The show was only originally scheduled to last for six weeks, but lasted for 96 x 55 minute programmes.
The other co-producer of the initial shows was Jack Good. Later producers were Dennis Main Wilson and Russell Turner. Other presenters were Jim Dale and Freddie Mills. Its mix of rock'n'roll, jazz, sports and general interest items proved such a success that the run of the show was extended. The resident band was Don Lang and His Frantic Five, who used the catch phrase “Time to jive on the old six five.”

His band recorded the show’s theme tune, which began “The 6.5 Special’s steamin’ down the line, the 6.5 Special’s right on time…” They also backed a number of the show’s guest stars.

A lot of the credit for the immediate success of the programme was due to Jack Good, who had his pulse on the mood of teenage Britain.

Unfortunately, BBC management kept interfering with the show, introducing educational elements into it and boxer Freddie Mills was brought in to include a sports section. Good and the BBC didn’t see eye to eye and they fired him, leading to a huge drop in audience figures.

Here is an example of the show as screened on 31st August 1957, which begins with Pete Murray introducing Eric Delaney and his Band who play ‘Ole’ King Rock ‘n’ Roll’ before a jiving audience. Murray next introduces comedian Spike Milligan, playing an inventor called Mr Pym who has created a device that indicates when jelly is present in the room. Liverpool singer Michael Holliday then mimes to ‘Old Cape Cod’, followed by ‘Love You Darlin’’, backed by Don Lang and his Frantic Five. Holliday next introduces the trio of Jo Douglas, Freddie Mills (dressed as a Teddy Boy) and Pete Murray, who sing a comic version of the show’s theme tune.

Lang then performs his latest record ‘White Silver Sands’ and introduces Bill Ross and Lesley who demonstrate a rock‘n’roll dance to the tune of ‘Rex’s Rock.’
American band leader Ray Anthony is introduced by Murray and Anthony claims that there is nothing like the show on American television. During the conversation Anthony mentions that he has made a record called ‘Bunny Hop’, and Bill Ross and Lesley, together with the studio audience, dance to it.
There follows a location clip of Douglas and a group of climbers at the Milestone Buttress in North Wales. Back in the studio, Douglas then introduces Chris Barber and his Band with Ottilie Patterson, who sings ‘Steamboat Bill’, following which the band play an instrumental number. Murray next introduces the Deep River Boys who sing ‘All Shook Up’, ‘Love Me Tender’, ‘When Rock‘n’Roll Came To Trinidad’ and ‘Not Too Old To Rock‘n’Roll.’ The show ends with Eric Delaney and his Band performing ‘The Banana Boat Song.’

Don Lang Six-Five Special

Six-Five Special Skiffle proved to be a popular ingredient in the series and Lonnie Donegan was a regular guest. Other performers on the programme included Tommy Steele, Terry Dene, Chris Barber’s Jazz Band, George Melly, The Bob Cort Skiffle and Wee Willie Harris. The series ended on 27th December 1958, although there had been an LP of the show issued on Parlophone PMC 1047 in 1957 and a film was to follow. Chas McDevitt wrote about the show in his book ‘Skiffle: The Definitive Inside Story.’ He commented:
“Originally planned as a ‘filler’ programme to take up the extra hour that had been sanctioned between 6pm and 7pm, the ‘Six-Five Special’ was aired immediately after the Six O’Clock News…..In an era when television was still finding its feet, it turned the whole process on its head. No attempt was made to hide the cameras, the audience was part of the show and a genuine air of excitement was generated, marred only by the rather stilted performance of the main presenter and co-producer, Josephine Douglas.

The brain behind the show was Jack Good, who later went on to produce the classic TV series for ATV, ‘The Oh Boy Show’ and, years later, the seminal US television music show ‘Shindig.’
Radio Luxembourg disc jockey Pete Murray was brought in as a presenter to give the proceedings an authentic pedigree and comedy was supplied by Mike and Bernie Winters, with interpolations from the former champion boxer, Freddie Mills.
A great deal of excitement came from the fact that this was a live broadcast and few filmed extracts were ever included.
This is most unfortunate because nothing remains of the show on film; this was long before the days of the ubiquitous video. One of the few clips one can see nowadays is that of the opening credits to the movie ‘Six-Five Special’, a train rumbling over the rails to Don Lang’s version of the title song.

Without the luxury of film for reference, in hindsight the ‘Six-Five Special’ was probably much blander than it is remembered to be. Nevertheless, it revolutionised the manner of presenting the music of that era, be it skiffle or rock'n'roll and helped establish many of the name groups. On a couple of occasions it had been produced on tour, as far afield as Glasgow, and featured variously the Donegan and the McDevitt groups as well as local skiffle groups like The Black Diamonds, who had reached the Scottish finals of the International Skiffle Competition.
One such memorable event was when the show came from the actual 2 I’s coffee bar in Soho. To see the technicians scrambling about the confined space with their cameras and microphones; to hear the excitable floor manager trying to rescue the proceedings from chaos is a piece of television history that should have been committed to film.

In a space 25ft x 12ft they were able to film the audience, the jivers, the presenters and the groups, which included Don Lang’s Frantic Five, the King Brothers, Chas McDevitt’s Skiffle Group with Shirley Douglas, Wee Willie Harris, Larry Page (later to become a renowned record producer to The Kinks and The Troggs) and Laurie London. Use was made of the ground floor coffee bar area, which housed a long counter with Gaggia machines, a large jukebox and various fixed seating arrangements. All in all, a cameraman’s nightmare."

Freddie Mills was found dead, shot in the head, in 1965. Theories about his death ranged from suicide, that he had been arrested in a public toilet and charged with homosexual indecency, that he had murdered eight prostitutes and was afraid he was due to be caught and that Chinese gangsters who were after his club had shot him. Trombonist Don Lang’s real name was Gordon Langham – and he was to play trombone on The Beatles' White Album. He died in August 1992.
Jim Dale, who has been based in New York since 1980, has appeared in numerous films and is the voice of Harry Potter on the series of audio books issued in the U.S.
Pete Murray Six-Five Special

Also see Sixties City: Pop and Music Television Shows




Mersey Beat Magazine Bill Harry attended the Liverpool College of Art with Stuart Sutcliffe and John Lennon and made the arrangements for Brian Epstein to visit The Cavern, where he saw The Beatles for the first time. Bill was a member of 'The Dissenters' and the founder and editor of 'Mersey Beat', the iconic weekly music newspaper that documented the early Sixties music scene in the Liverpool area and is possibly best known for being the first periodical to feature a local band called 'The Beatles'. He has worked as a high powered publicist, doing PR for acts such as Suzi Quatro, Free, The Arrows and Hot Chocolate and has managed press campaigns for record labels such as CBS, EMI, Polydor. Bill is the critically acclaimed author of a large number of books about The Beatles and the 60s era including 'The Beatles Who's Who', 'The Best Years of the Beatles' and the Fab Four's 'Encyclopedia' series. He has appeared on 'Good Morning America' and has received a Gold Award from the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors.


Article Bill Harry 2017               Original Graphics SixtiesCity 2017

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