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The Hello,

with the

Jazz Guitar

Newsletter No.36

Last week, on the 15th July, saw the anniversary of the very first Guitar Club show, broadcast on BBC Radio in 1957. We continue our newsletter Guitar Club series: last week we looked at its origins, this week, its evolution... The first series was commissioned for 8 shows in the 3rd quarter of 1957, each of 45 minute duration. As per Ken’s own original suggestion, he served as compere for the show, introducing the performers, as well as having his own musical slot. His performances were backed by the resident Guitar Club Group, led by Ike Isaacs, which played the intro and outro music for the programme. Three guest performers also featured and there was usually one song where all the performers played together, along with Ken and Ike’s Guitar Club Group. The show was broadcast live from the Piccadilly 1 Studio, in front of a studio audience, with rehearsals taking place the same afternoon. The tickets to the show were extremely popular, including amongst the BBC staff. Two notable audience regulars were Johnny Beerling (who later worked with Ken on Roundabout, going on to become the legendary controller of Radio 1 in its heyday) and Bernie Andrews (who famously had the foresight to record all the Beatles’ performances at the BBC, when the BBC did not, thus allowing the BBC later to release the CD Beatles Live at the BBC). Bernie was a huge fan of Guitar Club and, having worked alongside Ken and Johnny on Roundabout, went on to resurrect and produce the four Guitar Club specials of 1966. The first series was a success and the BBC commissioned a further 5 shows for the 4th quarter of ’57. The format was tweaked: reduced to the original recommendation of 30 minutes. The big coup was its ‘promotion’ to the prime time spot of Saturday evenings at 6.00pm. This proved a popular move and 1958 saw Guitar Club commissioned for the whole year, from week 8 to week 51. It was to retain its Saturday evening slot and include a special Christmas Edition. However, one big change was introduced: BBC staff announcer Roy Williams replaced Ken as compere. Ken continued to introduce his own regular playing slot, still supported by Ike and the GC Group, however, the change of compere proved unpopular. In August of 1958, the show’s producer, Johnny Kingdon wrote a long letter to the BBC imploring them to reinstate Ken when the show returned in the autumn. He argued that Ken was synonymous with Guitar Club. Not only had it helped elevate him to the status of nation’s favorite guitarist, he was also the automatic choice of compere for any guitar, folk or skiffle festival or concert. While Ken had a quiet authority, Roy Williams was ‘unable to generate any warmth towards the audience’. Other guitar players were considered, such as Bert Weedon, Malcom Mitchell, A.P. Sharpe, Ivor Mairants and Chappie D’Amato, but none were felt to have Ken’s mix of musical knowledge and ability, combined with his ‘refined nature ideally suited to the type of atmosphere we try to create in Guitar Club’. The plea worked and Ken was duly reinstated. Despite solid audience approval ratings and very positive comments from those who tuned in (especially guitarists), the BBC still felt that Guitar Club’s 1% share of the listening audience was not as great as they expected. The head of planning queried “what’s wrong? I find this an excellent programme”. He conjectured that the programme was not getting the benefit of the audience tuning in for the 6.29pm weather forecast, which ran Mon - Fri, and staying tuned for the show. He was even prepared to investigate with the Met Office to see if they would be able to supply weekend weather forecasts! Next week, we head into 1959 and off on tour…

Linda and Marc

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© Five Feet Films Ltd 2012

Newsletter 36  

Weekly newsletter for the documentary The Man with the Jazz Guitar, a film about jazz guitarist and radio broadcaster Ken Sykora

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