10 August 1961 saw Britain apply for membership to join the European Economic Community. Six days later, John Harte’s theatrical adaptation of DH Lawrence’s controversial Lady Chatterley’s Lover opened at London’s Arts Theatre. It was the only version to be staged until a second version in 2016. On 23 August, police launched a manhunt into the A6 murder. This brutal attack resulted in the murder of scientist Michael Gregsten, who was shot dead, and his mistress, Valerie Storie, was raped and shot five times, leaving her paralysed. And two days from then, Birmingham police launched a murder inquiry when the body of missing teenager Jacqueline Thomas was found on an allotment. It was 2007 before Anthony Hall was charged with her murder.
During this three-week period, Helen Shapiro became the youngest female number 1 artist. Aged only 14, but blessed with a smoky, mature voice beyond her years, she enjoyed two chart-toppers in 1961. She had been born in London’s Bethnal Green in 1946, and her pre-fame years were spent growing up in Clapton. She was too poor to own a record player, but learnt to play the ukelele, and her unusually deep voice earned her the nickname ‘Foghorn’. A precocious talent, Shapiro became the singer of Susie and the Hula Hoops at the age of ten. Mark Feld was the group’s guitarist, still years away from changing his name to Marc Bolan. When she reached 13 she began lessons at The Maurice Burman School of Modern Pop Singing, based in London’s Baker Street. The school was famous for having produced Alma Cogan, who had reached number 1 with Dreamboat in 1955. Burman was so astounded by Shapiro’s voice, he waived his tuition fee, and brought her to the attention of the UK’s top producer of the time, Norrie Paramor. The EMI hit-maker refused to believe she had only turned 14, until she visited his office and sang St Louis Blues at him. Only a few weeks later she cut her first single, the ironically-named Please Don’t Treat Me Like a Child, which reached number three after her appearance on ITV’s new pop music show Thank Your Lucky Stars. The song’s writers, John Schroeder and Mike Hawker, teamed up again for the follow-up You Don’t Know.
Were it not for the novelty of a teenager sounding wise beyond her years, I’m not sure You Don’t Know would have done as well as it did. Shapiro’s voice is great, and you can see why she caused such a fuss at the time, but the song is too stately and rather dull, ultimately going nowhere. It’s all very well to sound mature, but the team behind her would have done better to try and capture her youthful energy at the same time – something they would achieve with her follow-up single later in the year.
Written by: John Schroeder & Mike Hawker
Producer: Norrie Paramor
Weeks at number 1: 3 (10-30 August)
Felt singer-songwriter Lawrence – 12 August
Actress Saskia Reeves – 16 August
Tears for Fears singer Roland Orzabal – 22 August