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

The Vernons Girls

Vernons Pools
The Liverpool football coupons firm Vernons Pools launched The Vernons Girls as a singing choir in the 1950s, made up of employees, mainly the girls who checked the pools coupons. Initially they were a 70-strong choir and made charity appearances and entertained at old folk’s homes, becoming so popular that Vernons realised the commercial potential for them in promoting the Vernons name.
Vernons funded the choir, which was slimmed down to 16 girls who became professional, and also decided to hire some ‘outsiders’ - ambitious young girl singers in Liverpool who joined the pools firm specifically hoping to become members of the singing troupe.

In 1958 the girls moved to London where they were spotted by television producer Jack Good who signed them up for regular appearances on the BBC show ‘6.5 Special.’ When Good moved to ITV to produce the shows ‘Oh Boy’ and ‘Boy Meets Girl’, he also booked The Vernons Girls as regulars on the programmes as the female element seemed popular in shows which featured such up-and-coming names as Cliff Richard, Marty Wilde and Joe Brown. The girls also began to appear on concert bills, made records in their own right and acted as session singers for numerous artists.

One of the girls, Eleanor Russell, left the group to join The Fordettes, who travelled the country backing singer Emile Ford. She later moved to London where she formed a quintet to entertain at hotels and clubs. The original sixteen also had a couple of other girls as back-up singers and the Vernons Girls at the time included:

Barbara Mitchell, Maggie Stredder, Betty Prescott, Maureen Kennedy, Margot Quantrell, Francis Lee, Jean Owens, Vicki Haseman, Jean Ryder, Vera Brooks, Lynn Cornell, Ann Simmons, Mary Redmond, Ann O’Brien, Joyce Baker, Carmel French, Helen Taylor, Rae Parker, Dilys Jones, Sally Sallies, Gill Graham, Eleanor Russell, Joyce Smith and Sheila Prytherch.

In 1962 due to marriages and ambitions, the girls split into several groups, although Maureen Kennedy, Francis Lee and Jean Owen continued to perform as The Vernons Girls. They signed to Decca Records, featuring Maureen, and reached No.16 in the charts with ‘Lover Please’. They also had minor hits with ‘Locomotion’, ‘You Know What I Mean’, ‘Funny All Over’ and ‘Do The Bird.’

It was this trio who featured with The Beatles on the TV show ‘Thank Your Lucky Stars’ on Saturday April 20th 1963. Later that year they also appeared on the first all-Merseyside edition of ‘Thank Your Lucky Stars’ on June 20th.
The Vernons Girls: Be My Baby

The Vernons Girls were part of The Beatles’ autumn tour of Britain between November 1st and December 23rd 1963 and were included on the ‘Pops Alive!’ show at the Prince of Wales Theatre in London when The Beatles topped the bill on Sunday May 31st 1964. The trio was also booked to appear on The Beatles' Associated Rediffusion Television show ‘Around The Beatles, first transmitted on Wednesday May 6th 1964. Maggie Stredder, Marian Davies and Gloria George became a trio called The Ladybirds and appeared regularly on television on ‘Top Of The Pops’ and ‘The Benny Hill Show.’ At one time Penny Lister became a member.
The Vernons Girls

Joyce Baker left to marry Marty Wilde and joined her husband and Justin Hayward in the trio, The Wilde Three. Joyce was to give birth to Ricky and Kim and her daughter Kim was to become a chart artist in the 1980s.

Mary Redmond and Ann O’Brien became The Redmond Twins. Lynn Cornell and Ann Simmons became The Pearls. The blonde-haired Lynn was a member of The Vernons Girls when they recorded the single ‘We Love the Beatles’, although the novelty record failed to reach the charts. She did have some success as a solo singer with the record ‘Never On Sunday.’

She later joined a group called The Carefrees with another ex-Vernons Girl, Betty Prescott. The other members were Barbara Kay, Johnny Evans, John Stevens and Don Riddell. The group recorded ‘We Love You Beatles’, which was issued in the U.S.A. on London International 10614 and reached No.19 in the Billboard charts, with a chart life of five weeks, making it the most successful Beatles novelty single ever recorded.

As a solo singer Lynn was booked to appear on the special all-British edition of the U.S. TV series ‘Shindig’ on which The Beatles appeared. Lynn had lived quite close to Paul McCartney in Liverpool and during rehearsals at the Granville Theatre, Fulham, she was able to talk over old times with Paul. She was also married to Andy White, the drummer on the recording sessions for The Beatles’ ‘Love Me Do’ and ‘P.S. I Love You.’

Maggie Stredder and Jean Ryder became The DeLaine Sisters. Betty Prescott, Margot Quantrell and Vicki Haseman became The Breakaways, who signed to Pye Records in 1962 and issued the single ‘He’s A Rebel’. Margot Quantrell married Tony Newman, drummer with Sounds Incorporated. After 12 months Betty left to appear in a summer season and Vicki left due to some personal problems. Margot was left to perform on her own until Vicki returned and they were then joined by Jean Ryder and recorded ‘That Boy Of Mine’ in 1963.
The Vernons Girls with The Beatles
The Breakaways appeared with The Beatles on The Little Richard Show at the Empire Theatre, Liverpool on Sunday October 28th 1962.
They also backed various artists on numerous hits including, in 1964 alone: Lulu on ‘Shout’, Cilla Black on ‘Anyone Who Had a Heart’ and ‘You’re My World’, Dusty Springfield on ‘Stay Awhile’ and Petula Clark on ‘Downtown’.

The Vernons Girls The Ladybirds Vicki, real name Victoria Mary Haseman, was the eldest of three children and was born in Liverpool on August 23rd 1940. As a teenager she was a member of The Liverpool Philharmonic Choir. She was to marry Joe Brown in 1963 and the couple had a daughter, Samantha, born on October 7th 1964, who was to become a hit singer in her own right as Sam Brown. They also had a son, Peter, who is now a record producer. The Breakaways became the resident singers on ‘Ready, Steady, Go!’

Jean left for a short period and another former Vernons Girl, Anne Simmons, deputised for her. They continued to record and appear as session singers and also backed Clodagh Rodgers performing ‘Jack In The Box’ in the 1971 Eurovision Song Contest.

The group eventually split up in the 1970s and continued with solo careers. Sadly, Vicki contracted cancer and died in Henley on Thames on June 16th 1991.

As mentioned, Eleanor Russell, the daughter of a well-known Liverpool industrialist, was one of the original Vernons Girls who left the group to join The Fordettes, who travelled the country with Emile Ford. She then began to run her own quintet and in 1963 married Barry Kingston of HMV Records. Maggie Stredder joined the Vernons Girls in 1957. That was the year when Jack Good asked Maggie not to remove her glasses when she appeared on his television shows.

She left the sixteen strong group to form the vocal group The Two Tones and in 1963 they added a third voice when they became the trio The Ladybirds, who were extremely popular on television variety shows, appearing on most of the major series of the sixties – Les Dawson, The Two Ronnies, Morecambe & Wise, Little & Large, Tommy Cooper, Shirley Bassey, Benny Hill and Mike Yarwood.

The other two girls were Marion Davies and Gloria George. They re-formed as The Vernons Girls when they were asked to appear on Cliff Richard’s 30th Anniversary concert at Wembley Arena. In 1990, Maggie Stredder decided to re-form The Vernons Girls as a trio, with Sheila Bruce and Penny Lister. Maggie was born in Birkenhead on 9th January 1936 and has published her autobiography ‘The Girl With The Glasses.’ Sheila had originally been one of Paul McCartney’s earliest girlfriends – and he’d broken her nose by throwing a ball in her face. At one time she was married to Tommy Bruce, the gravel-voiced singer noted for his hit recording of ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’. She also had a solo career and won the ITV ‘New Faces’ show. The trio continues to perform.

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 Text Bill Harry               Original Graphics SixtiesCity     Other individual owner copyrights may apply to Photographic Images

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