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Six-Five Special (1957-58)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Six-Five Special (1957-58)
BBC, tx. 16/2/1957-27/12/1958
black & white
ProducersJack Good
 Jo Douglas
 Dennis Main Wilson
 Russell Turner

Presenters: Pete Murray, Jo Douglas, Freddie Mills, Jim Dale

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Live music and dancing for the benefit of an enthusiastic audience of 'swinging cats'.

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TV's early attempts at creating 'youth' programmes may look uncomfortably staid and patronising today, but when broadcasters first started to address their teenage audience the idea of youth culture was almost as new as TV itself, so some failures were inevitable. In amongst these early attempts was Six-Five Special (BBC, 1957-58), which was significant for two reasons - its success and its time slot.

Until 1957 the BBC and ITV had observed the 'toddler's truce', an hour-long break in transmissions between 6 and 7pm designed to let mother bundle small children into bed. This came to an end on Saturday 16 February 1957 when the BBC filled the silence with a five-minute news bulletin and a new teen show featuring live music, broadcast at five minutes past six. Produced by Jack Good, who later launched ITV's pop music show Oh Boy! (1958-59), Six-Five Special - its name taken from its time slot - was initially only intended to run for six weeks, but its mix of rock 'n' roll and jazz, and sports and general interest items proved an immediate success and the show's run was duly extended.

The programme's first presenter was Pete Murray (later to front Thank Your Lucky Stars (ITV, 1961-66)), who opened the first show: "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." This was followed by a translation by co-producer Josephine Douglas: "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.'"

The house band was Don Lang and his Frantic Five, who backed many of the guest acts as well as providing the programme's theme song - "The 6.5 Special's steamin' down the line, The 6.5 Special's right on time" - which was accompanied by suitable footage of a speeding steam train. Among the singers to benefit from the Frantic Five's accompaniment was Skiffle singer Lonnie Donegan, a regular on the show, and the crooner and former ballet dancer Jim Dale, who later presented the programme. He later followed Pete Murray's lead and fronted the final run of Thank Your Lucky Stars before making a name for himself as a comic actor in the Carry On films.

Anthony Clark

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Complete edition (55:19)
Production stills
Dale, Jim (1935-)
Pop Music TV