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

It's Trad Dad!

It's Trad Dad! A 78 minute black and white Amicus/Columbia Pictures film released in 1962 starring Craig Douglas and Helen Shapiro (who was only 15 at the time), directed by Richard Lester; produced and with a screenplay by Milton Subotsky. It was released in America under the name ‘Ring A Ding Rhythm’. Producer Subotsky had originally made the movie ‘Rock Rock Rock’ in 1956 and moved to Britain in 1960 with his business partner Max Rosenberg. The two formed a company called Amicus Films and ‘It’s Trad, Dad’ was their first production.

Subotsky decided to virtually re-package ‘Rock Rock Rock’ in an English setting with the current British musical trend, Traditional Jazz. Subotsky had seen Dick Lester’s Oscar nominated ‘The Running, Jumping and Standing Still Film’ and also his 30-minute pilot short ‘Have Jazz, Will Travel.’ Subotsky had a tradition of giving a chance to first-time directors and offered Lester the opportunity of directing his first feature film. When Subotsky gave him the script, Lester thought it was the synopsis.

He recalled, "Subotsky sent me a 24-page script and I said ‘I think I can do something with it’ - it was with pop-stars, with Gene Vincent and Helen Shapiro and a lot of Trad bands, so I said, ‘I've been around this kind of music all my life. I think I know how to deal with it as soon as you get a first draft screenplay I'd be delighted to read it.’

He said, ‘That's the shooting script and you start in three weeks.’ I said, ‘But it's only 24 pages long’ but he said, ‘You'll find a way to pad it out.’ “So we gathered these poor pop people with this feast of moveable sets behind them and shot them three a day. At the end of the last week of shooting, the Twist started - Chubby Checker and his first big Twist success. So I said to Milton "I think it would be a great idea. We could be the first film in history to have the twist in it. He's in New York. I could go over and shoot him." And he said "If you pay your own way you can go." So I did and we got him in the film, and that was one of the contributing factors to getting ‘A Hard Day's Night’."

‘It’s Trad, Dad’ was filmed in three weeks at a cost of £50,000 and Lester did travel to New York at his own expense to film Chubby Checker although, due to the rush-release of ‘Twist Around The Clock’, he didn’t produce the first film to introduce The Twist, as he’d intended.

To an extent, Lester was also able to choose which performers he’d like to include in the film and says, “To my utter shame, I rejected George Melly, because he never sang in tune. Not that the others did, but George was even more noticeable.”

It's Trad Dad! The brief plot revolved around Craig (Craig Douglas) and Helen (Helen Shapiro), who are among the young residents of “a New Town which must remain nameless” who enjoy listening to Trad Jazz on the jukebox of a local coffee shop.

The town Mayor (Felix Felton), together with his councillors, decides to ban the use of the jukebox as he believes it has a harmful effect on teenagers. The two youngsters decide that they mustn’t allow their favourite music to be banished and decide to prove its popularity by organising a rock and jazz concert.

They visit a radio station, engaging the help of a disc jockey. When the Mayor hears about the concert he decides to try and prevent it happening and finds a way to block the coach carrying the disc jockey and entertainers with the use of a series of traps, even having the police erect a road block. Craig and Helen manage to fill the gap until the coach finally gets through by presenting some of the local talent. Seeing how much the youngsters are enjoying the music, the adults grudgingly accept that they were wrong. Liverpool actor Derek Guyler, who was to appear in ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ was the narrator.

Trad jazz (in Dixieland style), had received a surge of interest in Britain, but it was soon to die down.
If the film had concentrated on the jazz artists it would rapidly have become dated, however, a number of popular music acts were included as well as American rock and R&B artists among the 26 musical numbers featured in the film.

The jazz groups were Chris Barber’s Jazz Band, with Ottilie Patterson (performing ‘Down By the Riverside’ and ‘When the Saints Go Marching in’), Acker Bilk & His Paramount Jazz Band (performing ‘Frankie & Johnny’), the Temperence Seven (with ‘Everybody Loves My Baby’ and Let’s Have A Dream) and the Dukes of Dixieland, Kenny Ball & his Jazzmen, Bob Wallis & his Storyville Jazzmen and Terry Lightfoot and his New Orleans Jazz Band (There Is A Tavern In The Town).

The British pop artists were Helen Shapiro (‘Let’s Talk About Love’,‘Sometime Yesterday'), Craig Douglas ('Rainbows’, ‘Ring-A-Ding Day’), John Leyton ('Lonely City'), the Brook Brothers ('Double Trouble') and Sounds Incorporated (backing Gene Vincent). The American artists included Del Shannon ('She Never Talked About Me'), Chubby Checker (‘Lose Your Inhibition Twist’), Gary U.S. Bonds ('Seven Day Weekend'), Gene Vincent (‘Spaceship To Mars’), Gene McDaniels ('Another Tear Falls'), the Paris Sisters: Albeth, Priscilla, Sherrell, ('What Am I To Do?’).
Helen Shapiro

Helen Shapiro Three British disc jockeys were also featured – Pete Murray, Alan Freeman and David Jacobs, although they are portrayed as rather egotistical people, which was part of Lester’s parody of the current musical scene. He was also satirising the attitude of adults to young people and said, “I prefer the social attitudes of the young people to the disapproval of their parents. If you deal with a subject then you have to take sides somewhere so I’ve chosen the side which I have the most sympathy for.”

Lester also introduced a lot of humour into the film. The narrator announced, “These are the recording studios, barred to all except highly skilled technical staff” and suddenly Helen and Craig make their way into the studio with a tea trolley. Another time they try to enter the studio and an officious jobsworth (Hugh Lloyd) obstructs them. Craig then turns to the camera and says, “Can’t you do something about this character?” and a hand appears with a custard pie and plants it in the doorman’s face.

There is also almost a sense of surrealism about the film, such as the absence of a name for the New Town. As we enter it there is a sign stating “You Are Now Entering...” but the name of the town is missing and the shops themselves have no individual names, simply labels that state ‘Bank’, ‘Restaurant’, ‘Travel’, ‘Discs’, ‘News.’

Lester was able to use many of the innovative techniques he was to include in ‘A Hard Day’s Night’: shooting with multiple cameras. For instance he’d have three cameras filming each musical number three times, affording him a variety of visual and editing possibilities.

For a relatively light pop musical, the reviews were extremely positive. David Robinson wrote in the Times newspaper: "Lester's immoderate interest in technical tricks - speeded up action, multiple exposures, eccentric angles, tricky masking and so all done with such frank enjoyment and at such a determined pace that criticism is disarmed".

Reviewer Philip French called it "One of the most imaginative British movies of the decade." Lester would later admit: "I've had the best reviews out of ‘ It's Trad, Dad’ that I've ever gotten".
Craig Douglas

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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