On 13 September 1958, Oh Boy!, the first all-music show for teenagers began on ITV. Producer Jack Good had previously worked on the BBC’s Six-Five Special, but had wanted to make it music-only. When the BBC declined, he resigned. The show featured top stars and future hit-makers, including Cliff Richard, Shirley Bassey, Conway Twitty and Billy Fury. The show’s house-band were Lord Rockingham’s XI, a group of session musicians led by Harry Robinson, who had also worked on Six-Five Special. Other notable members included Benny Green on saxophone (he later became a Radio 2 presenter) and Hammond organ player Cherry Rainer.
In addition to backing artists on the show, they began recording novelty instrumentals for Decca. First single Fried Onions didn’t chart, but Robinson was on to a winner when he decided they should record a jazz-rock’n’roll hybrid version of traditional Scottish song The Hundred Pipers. The lyrics were ditched and replaced with four terrible over-the-top Scottish dialect outbursts, namely, ‘Och aye’, ‘Hoots mon’, ‘There’s a moose loose aboot this hoose’ and ‘It’s a braw, bricht, moonlicht nicht’. As Robinson was Scottish he decided he should be the one to perform these, risking inciting hatred from his fellow countrymen. All in all, it sounds like a terrible idea, doesn’t it?
It wasn’t. Hoots Mon is an excellent novelty single and I love the fact something like this was once able to make it number 1. The band are having a whale of a time, and it’s infectious, you really can’t help but enjoy it too. It’s also surprisingly heavy sounding for its time. Apparently, the engineer wasn’t happy with the bass and wanted the band to re-record it. Record buyers with lightweight needles even complained that the vinyl would jump, and it became banned in some factories as workers couldn’t stand the noise. It would have made a great Christmas number 1 and nearly was, but Conway Twitty’s It’s Only Make Believe overtook it after three weeks at the top.
Oh Boy! was replaced in 1959 by another Good project, Boy Meets Girls. Lord Rockingham’s XI hadn’t been able to maintain their fame, and also had to settle out of court with the real Lord Rockingham (hang on, there’s a real Lord Rockingham?), so they disbanded at the same time. Robinson moved into arranging and conducting songs for musicals, and subsequently became a noteworthy string arranger for several folk artists of the late 1960s. In particular, his work on Nick Drake’s River Man is sublime and sometimes I think it might be the best use of strings I’ve ever heard in a ‘pop’ song.
I first heard Hoots Mon, like lots of 50s and 60s songs, in an advert. Maynard’s Wine Gums used it in 1993 and rewrote the most famous line, coming up with ‘There’s juice loose aboot this hoose’. A mad caricature of a Scotsman manically chews sweets while items around the house come to life courtesy of Aardman Animations (incidentally, this very track was number 1 when Nick Park was born. Clearly, it was meant to be). If only all adverts were as ridiculous and fun as this. I hope Robinson enjoyed this remake. Sadly he passed away in 1996.
One of my favourite groups of all time, the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, reformed in 2006 for an amazing anniversary gig at the London Astoria. One of the live highlights of my life, they decided to carry on for a while, and released an album, Pour l’amour des Chiens in 2007. It was patchy, but one of the highlights was Hawkeye the Gnu (get it?) a reworked version of Hoots Mon, featuring vocals from Stephen Fry. An inspired decision, and I’m only surprised the band never recorded it in their original incarnation.
While Hoots Mon was riding high, The British Electronic Computer Exhibition, the world’s first of its kind, was held at Earl’s Court in London. It ran from 28 November to 4 December. On 30 November, viewers of Armchair Theatre were left puzzled when actor Gareth Jones disappeared inbetween scenes during the play Underground. The drama was broadcast live, and Jones had suffered a fatal heart attack. Bizarrely, his character was supposed to suffer one later in the programme. The rest of the cast were forced to improvise an ending, which I imagine was a bit of a mess. As winter began, the country’s first motorway, the Preston Bypass, was opened by Prime Minister Harold Macmillan on 5 December.
Written and produced by: Harry Robinson
Weeks at number 1: 3 (28 November-18 December)
Animator Nick Park – 6 December
Actor Gareth Jones – 30 November