25. Rosemary Clooney with Buddy Cole & His Orchestra – This Ole House (1954)

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It never occurred to me that This Ole House could be about anything other than, well, doing up an old house. To me, and probably most children of the late-70s or early-80s, it conjures up happy memories of Shakin’ Stevens hanging around an old building in the video of his 1981 cover version. What with this, his cover of Green Door, and his love of denim, I think I assumed Shaky was some sort of singing builder as a child. Upon researching the original number one version, by Rosemary Clooney, I found out the dark origins of this chirpy tune, and suddenly the song is probably the deepest UK number 1 up to this point.

Stuart Hamblen was an alcoholic, gambling-addicted singer-songwriter and radio personality. He was constantly getting into scrapes and being bailed out due to his charm. In 1949, he decided to take a different path, converting to Christianity after attending one of Billy Graham’s rallies. He was fired from his radio show for refusing to do beer commercials, and stopped his addictions. While out hunting with a friend, he came across an abandoned shack on a mountain. Upon inspection, they found a dog guarding a dead body. Allegedly, he came up with the lyrics while riding back down the mountain. So, the ‘ole house’ in question is in fact the body you leave behind when you die. Seems obvious when you then read the lyrics, but to be fair, I didn’t do that back in 1981, I was barely reading.

Of course, the fact the tune is so catchy and, (especially by comparison to most number 1s of the day), kind-of rollicking, also obscures the subject matter. It wouldn’t make a bad funeral song. Sod the fact you’re dying, your body has had it anyway, and better times await. Rosemary Clooney belts it out with gusto. Like so many stars of the time, she had been a big band singer first, before rocketing to success with Come On-a My House in 1951, which she hated (yet another ‘house-related’ song). This was one of her most successful years, as that winter also saw the release of the film White Christmas, in which she starred alongside Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye.

Unlike most number 1s of the era, people could actually dance to this! Pop was back at the top. In particular, the piano break is a lot of fun, and best of all, the man with the deep voice singing ‘Ain’t a-gonna need this house no longer…’ is Thurl Ravenscroft, the original voice behind Tony the Tiger! What more could you ask for?

Written by: Stuart Hamblen

Producer: Mitch Miller

Weeks at number 1: 1 (26 November-2 December)

24. Vera Lynn with Frank Weir, His Saxophone, His Orchestra & Chorus – My Son, My Son (1954)

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‘Vera, Vera, what has become of you?’ So Roger Waters sang on Pink Floyd’s Vera from 1980 double album The Wall. It may well be partly because I love that album, but at some point I got it into my head that Dame Vera Lynn had died, a long time back. I was shocked upon researching this to find out she turned 100 on 20 March, 2017. 100! Well done Vera.

What’s more, the Forces Sweetheart achieved an incredible feat in 2017. She released the compilation Vera Lynn 100, making her the first centenarian performer to have an album in the charts. Amazing really, when you consider that she had three singles in the initial UK top 12 back in 1952 (which was actually a top 15 due to tied positions) – Auf Wiederseh’n Sweetheart, The Homing Waltz and Forget-Me-Not. The first of those three had also been the first single by a British performer to be number 1 in the US.

It had taken a long time for Britain to recover from World War Two, so it’s no wonder that Dame Vera Lynn was still in vogue in the mid-50s. However, rationing had just come to an end, so I’m sure this would have been symbolic of a need to finally move on from such traumatic times. Perhaps this is partly why My Son, My Son remains her only number 1 single, and the beginning of her decline in fame. It had been written by Gordon Melville Rees, Bob Howard and trumpeter Eddie Calvert, who had scored a number 1 with Oh Mein Papa back at the start of the year.

I feel bad slating this, but the fact she helped a nation keep sane in the war doesn’t make My Son, My Son any easier to enjoy now. Frank Lee’s production is overblown, with backing vocals from a male voice choir that hurt the ears. The lyrics tap into the spirit of songs like We’ll Meet Again by paying tribute to a mother’s son. You can picture a soldier’s mum singing it in-between sobbing over a letter from her brave boy fighting in another country. It seems trite in this day and age, and possibly to the younger generation back then, keen for something with some energy and spirit. Someone like Johnnie Ray, for instance. Having said that, it was the typical-of-the-time Hold My Hand by Don Cornell that knocked Lynn off the top for a second run as bestseller.

During Lynn’s fortnight at number 1, Great Britain defeated France at the Parc des Princes in Paris to win the first ever Rugby League World Cup, on 13 November.

Written by: Gordon Melville Rees, Bob Howard & Eddie Calvert

Producer: Frank Lee

Weeks at number 1: 2 (5-18 November)

 

23. Don Cornell with Orchestra directed by Jerry Carr – Hold My Hand (1954)

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Frank Sinatra’s three-week stint at number 1 with Three Coins in the Fountain came to an end when he was replaced by another crooner. Don Cornell (born Luigi Varlaro) was a super-smooth baritone singer from the Bronx. He had been a singing waiter, until a fight with someone over a racist remark caught the eye (not literally) of a boxing promoter. Varlaro won twenty professional fights, but decided to walk away when asked to throw a fight for money. Sounds like a pretty decent guy, all in all. He became a guitarist but his bandleader Sammy Kaye decided to promote him to frontman and introduced him one night as Don Cornell, without giving him prior knowledge.

Fast forward a few years and Cornell was now doing well as a solo artist. In 1952 he had a hit with I, which, weirdly, was the only song title made up of a single character until Prince’s 7 in 1992. Hold My Hand had been written by Jack Lawrence and Richard Myers and featured in the romantic comedy Susan Slept Here (1954), starring Dick Powell in his final role, and Debbie Reynolds.

The song suffers in comparison to Sinatra’s. Although Three Coins in the Fountain isn’t Ol’ Blue Eyes best, his voice has aged better than Cornell’s, which now sounds a bit too polished. I’ve also had a lot of singers like this to listen to now. Having said that, the orchestra improves it, with little flourishes to keep the ears interested. We’ve had worse. Although record buyers decided they preferred it to Three Coins in the Fountain, Hold My Hand lost out to it in the Best Original Song nominations at the following Academy Awards ceremony. It only went to number 2 in the US, but stayed on top in the UK for four weeks, and then a further week after Vera Lynn had her fortnight of glory with My Son, My Son.

In another example of how God-fearing we still were back then, (see David Whitfield’s Answer Me), the BBC considered banning Hold My Hand for the opening line, the apparently blasphemous ‘So this the kingdom of Heaven’. Cornell agreed to record this again and change it to ‘So this the wonder of Heaven’. Laughable, really.

Cornell’s success tailed off in the UK, though he still performed well in America. He was one of the first stars to be included in the Hollywood Walk of Fame, in 1963. He died in 2004, aged 84.

And what was occurring outside of music at this time? On 13 October, Chris Chataway broke the 5000m world record. Six days later, Britain agreed to end its occupation of the Suez Canal. Colonel Gamel Abdul Nasser had recently come into power in Egypt, and both sides agreed that British troops would be withdrawn in 1956. It didn’t quite work out like that…

2 November saw the radio premiere of Hancock’s Half Hour. One of the most influential comedies of all time, it was written by Alan Galton and Ray Simpson, and introduced the world to troubled comedian Tony Hancock, playing an exaggerated version of himself.

Written by: Jack Lawrence & Richard Myers

Producer: Bob Thiel

Weeks at number 1: 5 (8 October-5 November, 19-25 November)

Births:

Singer Adam Ant – 3 November

 

22. Frank Sinatra with Orchestra conducted by Nelson Riddle – Three Coins in the Fountain (1954)

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In 1954, Frank Sinatra was the comeback kid. The early 50s had seen his career slump drastically. His Mafia connections had caused problems, he had left his label, Columbia, Hollywood had rejected him, and his audiences were dwindling. However, his suitably bitter performance in World War Two drama From Here to Eternity in 1953 earned him rave reviews and marked a spectacular turnaround in fortunes. He even later won an Oscar for Best Supporting Role, but before then he had signed with Capitol and released a cover of the now-creepy-sounding I’m Walking Behind You, which was a UK number 1 for Eddie Fisher & Sally Sweetland.

February 1954 saw the release of his album Songs for Young Lovers. Featuring I Get a Kick Out of You and They Can’t Take That Away from Me, it is still considered one of his best. The same month, his duet with Doris Day, Young at Heart, was a huge hit. Three Coins in the Fountain was the title track for a new romantic drama. With lyrics by US star collaborator Sammy Cahn and music by UK songwriter Jule Styne, the song refers to the traditional act of throwing a coin into Rome’s Trevi Fountain and making a wish. They had been asked to write the song without any knowledge of the movie whatsoever, and it was so rushed that 20th Century Fox didn’t sign a contract, meaning the composers were screwed over the royalties. Charming.

The song isn’t that memorable, and although I’m no Sinatra expert, it doesn’t strike me as up there with his classics. But what does shine through is the quality of his voice. That warm, unmistakable timbre to his croon just puts him head and shoulders above other stars of the era. And of course considering the rushed nature of the song’s creation, it’s not too shabby. It earned him his first UK number 1, and he stayed at the top for three weeks. It also went to number 1 in the US too, but performed by The Four Aces. In 1955, it earned Sinatra another Oscar, this time for Best Original Song.

During Three Coins in the Fountain‘s reign, the UK singles chart increased in size from its initial 12 to 20. It’s also worth me pointing out that this chart, that first began in 1952, was originally only seen in the New Musical Express. However, it is now considered to be the most important chart of the time, until it was overtaken by Record Retailer from 1960 to 1969.

Written by: Jule Styne & Sammy Cahn

Producer: Voyle Gilmore

Weeks at number 1: 3 (17 September-7 October)

 

21. Kitty Kallen with Orchestra directed by Jack Pleis – Little Things Mean a Lot (1954)

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David Whitfield and Mantovani’s Cara Mia took up the number 1 spot for virtually the whole summer in 1954, somehow. As the nights started to grow darker, US singer Kitty Kallen finally got a look in with Little Things Mean a Lot. It had been written a year earlier, with lyrics by Edith Lindeman, a newspaper editor, and disc jockey Carl Stutz, both residing in Richmond, Virginia.

Kitty Kallen, born Katie Kallen, became a star as a child, with her own radio show in Philadelphia before she became a teenager. She joined the Jimmy Dorsey Band at 21 and sang the vocals for his US number one Besame Mucho, later covered by the Beatles on Beatles For Sale. Her recording of Little Things Mean a Lot saw her career go up a notch, hitting the top of the Billboard charts before doing the same in the UK.

It’s a rather sweet little number, and a move away from Kallen’s big-band stylings to something approaching pop. She sings a list of ways in which her lover can make her happy, and luckily for him, they’re all easily enough done. She’s a very low-maintenance partner. Beating Lennon and McCartney by ten years, she points out expensive jewellery isn’t important to her. Money can’t buy her love. Was this their inspiration? Possibly. By the end of 1954 the song had sold over two million copies, and with her beautiful voice and striking looks, she found herself topping polls to be the most famous female singer around. It all went wrong from there.

In 1955, her throat began to seize up, but only affected her when performing live. This convinced her the problem was psychological, and she spent five years with psychotherapists, none of which helped matters. Instead she found relief in religion, and returned to performing for a few years before retiring in the mid-60s.

Bizarrely, after she retired, several other women tried to pass themselves off as Kitty Kallen. In 1978, she and her family were baffled by reports of her death. It transpired one of her impersonators had died. ‘Ol’ Blue Eyes’ wasn’t having it though. Frank Sinatra (whose Three Coins in the Fountain took over at number 1 the week after Little Things Mean a Lot) called the family to offer his condolences, but wouldn’t take no for an answer when Kitty’s husband explained and said she was just sleeping (perhaps a bad choice of words, in retrospect). He refused to hang up until he could hear her voice. Kallen actually lived until 2016, dying at the ripe old age of 94.

Written by: Edith Lindeman & Carl Stutz

Producer: Milt Gabler

Weeks at number 1: 1 (10-16 September)

 

 

20. David Whitfield, with Chorus and Mantovani and His Orchestra – Cara Mia (1954)

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Doris Day’s Secret Love had a second, lengthy eight-week stay at number 1 after toppling Johnnie Ray’s Such a Night. During that time, Diane Leather became the first woman to break the five-minute mile, and on 29 May, the IRA returned after a long period of inactivity. Eventually Secret Love ran out of steam and on 2 July, Hull’s favourite soprano David Whitfield returned to number one with his version of Cara Mia, with dual credit going to popular conductor Mantovani and his orchestra. Both were at the height of their fame and had previous chart-toppers to their name, Whitfield with Answer Me and Mantovani had The Song from The Moulin Rouge. This track easily outdid the success of both, and stayed top of the pops for a mammoth ten-weeks, a UK record at the time.

Cara Mia, Italian for ‘My Beloved’, was credited to Tulio Trapani and Lee Lange. In fact, Trapani was Mantovani, who had arranged the song, and Lange was producer Bunny Lewis. Why did they use aliases? I’m not sure, but it’s the first time we’ve seen a number one with credits for pseudonyms. Why am I mentioning it? Because there’s not a lot that can be said about the song itself, unfortunately.

We’re back in the rather ‘dull, overblown sludge’ territory that seemed so popular in the early 50s, after a run of interesting tracks. Whitfield can hold a note, that’s for sure, but once more I find myself asking how this could be number 1 for so long. Then again I did the same when Bryan Adams lasted so long in the 90s, so perhaps it’s going to be a common theme with the biggest sellers.

Neither artist had a number one again, although Mantovani continued to enjoy huge sales figures for a never-ending stream of albums until his death in 1980. Whitfield fared less well, and although he still had success for a few years, including recording the theme music to the TV series The Adventures of William Tell, he fell out of favour when rock’n’roll took hold. It also didn’t help that he would turn down offers to go to America, preferring to stay put in Hull. He too died in 1980, of a brain haemorrhage while touring Australia.

To end the blog on a more positive note, rationing finally came to a complete end on 4 July, with the news that people could get their hands on as much meat as they liked. Cor!

Written by: Tulio Trapani & Lee Lange

Producer: Bunny Lewis

Weeks at number 1: 10 (2 July-9 September)

Births:

Musician Neil Tennant (Pet Shop Boys) – 10 July
Singer Joe Jackson – 11 August
Singer Elvis Costello – 25 August

Deaths

Physician Henry Valentine Knaggs – 11 July

19. Johnnie Ray – Such a Night (1954)

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‘Poor old Johnnie Ray sounded sad upon the radio
He moved a million hearts in mono.’

Immortalised in the video and opening line of Come On Eileen by Dexys Midnight Runners,  it’s a shame that it seems to be what US singer and songwriter Johnnie Ray is best known for these days. As great a song as it is, he deserves better. In many ways the prototype eccentric rock’n’roll star, he was troubled, sexual and most of all, different. He wasn’t a cardigan crooner or your typical teen idol, but for a time he was just as popular. He was a big influence on Elvis Presley, who later covered this song, and Morrissey wore a hearing aid in the early years of the Smiths. He did this because Ray became deaf in his left ear as a child. This no doubt contributed to his unique vocal performances. Ray was one of the first, if not the first star to show you could turn your weaknesses into your greatest strengths. He was influenced by, among others, Kay Starr, whose jazzy, rhythmic singing on previous number 1, Comes A-Long A-Love was one of the earliest signals of rock’n’roll to make the charts. In 1952 he enjoyed his first big success with the double-A side (a rarity in itself back then) of Cry/The Little White Cloud That Cried. On 30 April, his cover of Such a Night became his first UK number 1.

Such a Night had originally been hit for soul group The Drifters. It was songwriter Lincoln Chase’s first big hit, and caused some controversy for being a bit too racy for the 1950s. Johnnie Ray had no qualms about not only covering it, but making it sound positively filthy by the usual standards of the day. The lyrics and rhymes are very basic, but it’s all about the delivery with this song, produced by hitmaker Mitch Miller. Ray doesn’t hold back, he grunt and groans, and makes it clear he’s not just talking about kissing his girl. Finally, sex had made it’s way to the top of the charts (the nudge-nudge wink-wink of Guy Mitchell’s Look at That Girl barely compares) and already the likes of Frankie Laine started to look old-fashioned by comparison. It’s not quite there yet, and Ray would do better, but the ingredients of rock’n’roll and pop are noticeable.

Like many of the best entertainers, be they musicians, actors, or comedians, Ray had personal issues, which no doubt helped with the intensity of his live performances. He would pull his hair, drop to his knees and cry, earning the nickname ‘Mr Emotion’ (in this television performance of Such a Night, he reminds me of Jarvis Cocker). He had alcohol problems, probably in part due to his sexuality. Being gay and in the public eye in 1954 wasn’t easy, to put it lightly. In 1951 he was arrested for soliciting an undercover police officer for sex. As he wasn’t famous back then, the newspapers didn’t make a big deal of it. A year later, he married Marilyn Morrison, who knew of the arrest but reckoned she could change his ways. She couldn’t, and they divorced in 1954.

On 6 May, the day before Secret Love by Doris Day returned to the top of the charts, athlete Roger Bannister made history by becoming the first person to break the four-minute mile, despite terrible weather conditions.

Written by: Lincoln Chase

Producer: Mitch Miller

Weeks at number 1: 1 (30 April-6 May)

Deaths:

Journalist JC Forbes – 6 May

18. Doris Day with Orchestra conducted by Ray Heindorf – Secret Love (1954)

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US smash-hit musical western Calamity Jane was first released in November 1953. Loosely based on the life of the title character and her alleged romance with notorious folk hero “Wild Bill” Hickok, it starred Doris Day and Howard Keel in the central roles. Doris Day was one of the most well-known singers and actresses of the era. Originally she wanted to be a dancer, but an accident forced her out of action and she discovered a talent for singing. The sugary timbre of her voice and film-star looks soon captivated radio, film and television audiences, right from her first hit, Sentimental Journey, back in 1945.

On 16 April, 1954, UK singles buyers saw sense and decided that a song from the film, Secret Love, was more deserving of the number one spot than the execrable I See the Moon by the Stargazers. The ballad was written by composer Sammy Fain, with Paul Francis Webster providing the lyrics. With lyrics describing the joy of finally being able to tell the world of a love kept under wraps, Day was visibly moved when Fain visited her to play it for the first time. The day of the recording, she warmed-up her voice, cycled to the studio and announced to musical director Ray Heindorf that she would only perform one take of her vocal. Despite understandable misgivings, Heindorf was ecstatic after the take, agreeing that she could never outdo herself.

It would seem this song had special meaning for Day, she clearly loved it and it shows in that one-take performance. A cut above other songs of this ilk, her authentic vocal turns from typically sweet to barely-contained delight at times. The stirring strings replicate the chorus and add to its hit factor. Secret Love gave Day her fourth US number one, and won the Academy Award for Best Original Song on 25 March. However she caused controversy by refusing to perform it at the ceremony. The subsequent bad press saw Day housebound with depression for some time afterwards. Nonetheless, a few weeks later it became her first UK number 1.

In a clear display of how mad our record-buying public can often be, I See the Moon returned to the top after only a week. Not for long though, and on 8 May, Secret Love toppled Johnnie Ray’s Such a Night, beginning eight weeks as best-selling single. Day soon came out of the doldrums and continued to entertain for decades to come. In fact, she’s one of the few stars from this era still with us.

Written by: Sammy Fain & Paul Francis Webster 

Producer: Ray Heindorf

Weeks at number 1: 9 (16-22 April, 8 May-1 July) *BEST-SELLING SINGLE OF THE YEAR*

Births:

Footballer Trevor Francis – 19 April
Entertainer Gary Wilmot – 8 May

Deaths:

Mathematician Alan Turing – 7 June

17. The Stargazers with Syd Dean & His Orchestra – I See the Moon (1954)

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On 24 March, 1954, following an eight-day trial, The Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, Peter Wildeblood and Michael Pitt-Rivers were convicted for ‘conspiracy to incite certain male persons to commit serious offences with male persons’. Sent to prison for being gay, basically. Perhaps the most long-winded reason in history, this was the charge that sent Oscar Wilde to prison in 1895. Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, Home Secretary at the time, had promised to ‘rid England of this plague’. Lord Montagu had already been in court a year earlier, and claimed he was part of a witch-hunt to commit someone high profile. Montagu continued to protest his innocence, and eventually public opinion turned in his favour, and his case is considered one of the main reasons for the reform of the law on homosexuality.

The number 1 single at the time was I See the Moon, by the Stargazers. It had knocked Eddie Calvert’s Oh Mein Papa from the top on 12 March. If Calvert’s nine-week run seems odd now, well, I See the Moon having a five-week stint, followed by a further week later, is just staggering.  It was written by US playwright and composer Meredith Wilson, who later became best known for being the man behind hit Broadway musical The Music Man.

This was the radio comedy group’s second number 1. The first, Broken Wings, was quite a staid, serious affair.  I’d take that over this though. The song itself isn’t too bad, but the production and performance are nauseating. The only real selling point is that it offers a curious glimpse into what passed as comedy in 1954. Produced by Dick Rowe, who also produced Broken Wings and (How Much is That) Doggie in the Window?, there are self-consciously wacky noises that harm the ears,. The Stargazers, for some unfathomable reason, decide to sing as though they are pissed-up and tone deaf. Easily the worst number one so far, I’d have to say. And yet Rowe went on to sign, among others, the Rolling Stones, Them and the Small Faces.

For five weeks this was considered the best song in the country, until Doris Day took over with the more deserving Secret Love. Yet somehow I See the Moon went back to number 1 on 23 April! The Stargazers had one more number 1 in 1955 with Dickie Valentine. I haven’t listened yet, but i’m guessing it beats this.

Written by: Meredith Wilson

Producer: Dick Rowe

Weeks at number 1: 6 (12 March-15 April, 23-29 April)

Births:

Actress Leslie Anne-Down – 17 March

Deaths:

Rugby union international James Peters – 26 March

16. Eddie Calvert – Oh Mein Papa (1954)

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As 1954 began, Frankie Laine was finally relinquishing his grip on the charts. He wouldn’t peak at the top again until 1956, and that would be his last. On 8 January, trumpeter Eddie Calvert, from Preston in Lancashire, took over from Laine with his cover of Oh Mein Papa.

Oh Mein Papa was, as the title suggests, a German song. It was written by Swiss composer Paul Burkhard in 1939 for the musical Der Schwarze Hecht and became his most successful tune. It concerned a young woman remembering the days her father worked as a clown. Yes, really.  These days, you’re most likely to know it from an episode of The Simpsons, in which Krusty the Clown sings it with Rabbi Hyman Krustofsky in the episode Like Father, Like Clown.

Calvert was born into a family who loved brass band music, but became particularly interested in the trumpet. Following World War Two, he graduated from amateur to professional dance orchestras. He earned the nickname ‘The Man with the Golden Trumpet’ (aren’t they all?) after appearing on the TV with the Stanley Black Orchestra, and the name stuck for the rest of his career. He was a BBC radio and TV star by the time he cut his chart-topping version of Oh Mein Papa.

 

Oh Mein Papa did as well as Frankie Laine’s initial run at the top with I Believe, remaining there for nine weeks. Impressive, and somewhat bizarre, all things considered, but it’s only just 1954 and musical tastes didn’t just suddenly improve. Progress took its time. Although classed as an instrumental, a choir occasionally sing the song’s title. Other than Calvert’s trumpet, there is an incredibly dated-sounding organ. It’s certainly of it’s time. Interestingly, in the charts at the same time, was Eddie Fisher’s vocal version. Despite his previous success, he was unable to beat Calvert, whereas in the US, the opposite occurred.

Calvert was the first artist to receive a gold disc for an instrumental record. It was also the first number one to be recorded at the legendary Abbey Road Studios, which was a good few years off becoming the go-to studio for the likes of Cliff Richard.

Meanwhile, on 12 February, a report was issued by the British Medical Committee suggesting a link between smoking and lung cancer. Smoking was still considered cool for a long time to come though, especially in the music world.

Written by: Paul Burkhard

Producer: Norrie Paramor

Weeks at number 1: 9 (8 January-11 March)

Births:

Writer Iain Banks – 16 February
Actor Anthony Head – 20 February
Snooker player Willie Thorne – 4 March
Swimmer David Wilkie – 8 March

Deaths

Actor Sydney Greenstreet – 18 January
Royal Navy Captain Ronald Niel Stuart – 8 February