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Hylton, Jack (1892-1965)

Producer, Musician

Main image of Hylton, Jack (1892-1965)

In some respects, the life and career of Jack Hylton (born John Greenhalgh Hilton in Great Lever, Lancashire, on 2 July 1892) parallels that of his contemporary, Val Parnell. Both were born in 1892, and both were theatrical impresarios who moved into television with the inauguration of Independent Television (ITV) in 1955. But whereas Parnell became associated with variety shows that played a key role in ITV's success , Hylton was seen as being responsible for programmes that, owing to their poor production values, laid the new channel open to the charge of amateurism. Consequently, his contribution to the early years of ITV has been unfairly overlooked.

A popular dance band leader of the 1920s and 1930s and latterly a theatrical impresario, Hylton (he changed the spelling of his name during his early teens), began his television career in July 1955. Contracted as Advisor of Light Entertainment to Associated-Rediffusion (A-R), winners of the London weekday franchise in the recently established ITV network, he founded Jack Hylton Television Productions Ltd in that same month to produce a range of light entertainment programming exclusively for that company.

His first television show, billed as Variety (ITV, tx. 29/9/1955), included sketches from one of his then-current stage revues 'Talk of the Town', with Crazy Gang members Bud Flanagan and Chesney Allen topping the bill. This focus on one of his own stage properties led to adverse criticism, as did the quality of the television production itself, but he nevertheless continued to promote adaptations of concurrent stage productions.

These included Love and Kisses (ITV, 1955), with Arthur Askey in a five-episode version of the stage comedy (a two-hour re-edit was later shown by ABC Television on 23/12/1956); the George Posford/Bernard Grun operetta Balalaika (ITV, tx. 17/1/1957) with Dick Bentley; and These Foolish Kings (ITV, tx. 1/8/1957), with the Crazy Gang performing sketches from their revue at London's Victoria Palace.

However, not everything he produced for television was an adaptation of a stage show, although they usually featured performers whom he either managed or who were currently appearing in his theatre productions.

In this respect, the Crazy Gang and Arthur Askey became familiar faces in Hylton's television shows, each appearing in numerous programmes. The former presented a disastrous game show called Make Me Laugh (ITV, 1958), which did the opposite, killing the Gang's television career in the process, while Flanagan and Allen starred in their own series, Together Again (ITV, 1957). Arthur Askey was more fortunate, starring in the sketch series Before Your Very Eyes (ITV, 1956-58) and partnering Richard Murdoch in the amusing sitcom Living it Up (ITV, 1957-58), modelled closely on their earlier BBC radio show Band Waggon (1938-39).

Further examples of sketch shows, sitcoms and musicals from the Hylton factory include You'd Never Believe It (ITV, 1956), Max Miller's only television series; Alfred Marks Time (ITV, 1956-61), a rare critical success for Hylton, which he produced between 1956 and 1958, the remainder being made direct by A-R; The Tony Hancock Show (ITV, 1956-57), the comedian's first, rather weak, television series (although not without its inspired moments); the excruciating sitcom Gert and Daisy (ITV, 1959), with Elsie and Doris Waters as boarding house landladies; the talent show Youth Takes a Bow (ITV, 1955-56); and Gay Operetta (ITV, 1959), featuring potted operas with the Sadlers Wells opera company.

Undeniably the low point of Hylton's television career was The Rosalina Neri Show (ITV, 1959), featuring a pneumatically constructed Italian starlet of limited (if any) talent whom he had ill-advisedly been trying to elevate to stardom for a number of years (she had debuted on Youth Takes a Bow on 27 January 1956). He failed all too publicly.

Although the production standards could be below par (some of the artists even apologised on air), many of the shows nevertheless proved to be very popular, the quality of the artists obviously proving to be a big draw for many viewers. Some of the surviving shows, although far from all, remain entertaining to this day.

Nevertheless, both Hylton and A-R must have been conscious of the continual critical disparagement, something that undoubtedly would have been reflected onto A-R's position as a franchise holder. Whether or not this was the primary reason, Hylton terminated his contract with A-R in September 1959.

His television adventure came to a close with the final episode of the sitcom Tell it to the Marines (ITV, 1959-60), transmitted on 13 April 1960. Almost inevitably, the series was panned.

In addition to his production activities for A-R, Hylton had also participated in the founding of another ITV franchise holder, Television Wales and West (TWW), in 1956 (transmissions began in January 1958). He remained involved with this company in an executive capacity up until his death from a heart attack on 29 January 1965.

Even if his productions never found critical favour, Hylton himself was obviously held in great affection, evidenced by The Stars Shine for Jack (ITV, tx. 30/5/1965), a tribute show featuring many of the artists who had worked for him.

John Oliver

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From the BFI's filmographic database

Related media

Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Before Your Very Eyes (1956-58)Before Your Very Eyes (1956-58)

Sketch-based vehicle for the diminutive Arthur Askey

Thumbnail image of Dickie Henderson Half-Hour, The (1958-59)Dickie Henderson Half-Hour, The (1958-59)

Popular sketch comedy under the 'Jack Hylton Presents' banner

Thumbnail image of Friday Night with the Crazy Gang (1956)Friday Night with the Crazy Gang (1956)

The ageing but still energetic Gang bring their unique comedy to TV

Thumbnail image of Music Box, The (1957)Music Box, The (1957)

ITV variety show from the Jack Hylton stable

Thumbnail image of Tony Hancock Show, The (1956-57)Tony Hancock Show, The (1956-57)

Hancock's first TV series, more sketch and variety-based than his later work

Related collections

Related people and organisations

Thumbnail image of Associated Rediffusion / Rediffusion TelevisionAssociated Rediffusion / Rediffusion Television

Broadcaster, Production Company