Following last weeks All Winners Final this was the first New Faces heat of 1975. On the panel for this heat were Tony Hatch, Martin Jackson, George Elrick and Ted Ray.
The seven acts, new to TV, aiming to impress the selected panel of judges were;
- Lenny Henry (impressionist) from Dudley
- Joanna Starr (female vocalist) from Harrogate
- The Winter Brothers (mental illusionists)
- Con O’Shea (singer / accordionist) from Middlesex
- Force (seven-piece group) from Gloucester
- The James Boys (vocal / instrumental trio) from Southend
- Tony Ravel (vocalist) from London
The winner of the heat was the young 16 year-old lad from Dudley who went by the name of Lenny Henry. He won over the judges with his comedy impressions and booked his place in the next All Winners Final.
Shortly after the show aired Lenny was signed to appear as a guest on The Golden Shot, a show also filmed and produced at the ATV Studios in Birmingham. The host of The Golden Shot, Bob Monkhouse, was an obsessive TV collector who kept video recordings of many different shows. By the time of his death in 2003 Bob had amassed over 50,000 video tapes of shows, many rare and wiped by the TV companies.
The TV Archive team from Kaleidoscope were contacted by Bob’s daughter to see if the archive was of any interest, they took away tens of thousands of tapes for analysis. They almost threw away one bag, assuming it was rubbish, but closer inspection uncovered five missing episodes of The Golden Shot, and at the very end of one of these tapes was the only surviving record of Lenny Henry’s first TV appearance, winning this heat of New Faces.
Lenny recently revealed the last minute advice offered to him that he is sure was what guaranteed him work for the next ten years. His act started with an impression of Frank Spencer, “Hello Betty, who saw the Queen on Christmas Day then?” He’d been doing the routine in clubs around Dudley and knew his act backwards, but New Faces Director John Pullen suggested he start with his back to the audience.
Lenny wasn’t convinced but John Pullen asked him to trust his judgement, so he did. The audible gasps from the audience when the voice doing the comedy impression was revealed to be a young black teenager with a cheeky face confirmed that it was sound advice and the huge laugh that followed it secured his comedy career. He completed his act with impressions of Top Cat and his gang, comedian Dave Allen, actor James Stewart and New Faces judge Clement Freud.
Joanna Starr, the vocalist from Harrogate, entered the business at the age of seven. She had been singing on the club circuit since 1969 and was also a former Tiller Girl. By the time of her New Faces appearance she had appeared all over Europe and the Middle East, with her friends naming her the Wandering Starr.
This wasn’t Joanna’s first big break. Back in June 1972, while performing at Wakefield Theatre Club, she slipped while stepping off stage and broke her ankle in two places. She was only expected to be out of action for a few weeks but three months later she was still performing with the aid of crutches after the leg failed to mend as quickly as expected.
Her eye-catching performance in this heat resulted in the panel being unanimously enthusiastic about her obvious talent and customer appeal.
In the years after her appearance on New Faces Joanna toured Germany, Denmark, South and East Africa, Cyprus, Malta and the Middle East. The year after her appearance she released her first LP, Portrait of a Starr, performed a summer season of shows in Jersey with a 12-piece backing orchestra and appeared on TV shows Pebble Mill at One, Stars on Sunday and the Morecombe and Wise show.
Irish singing personality, Con O’Shea played his own giant cordovox accordion the instrument he designed and had made for himself at a cost of nearly £2,500. The electronic accordion could produce individually or simultaneously the sounds of piano, organ, bass, strings and flute. Con admitted to being a little nervous to have to face the New Faces panel but he was hopeful that the national audience potential of the show should help fill the empty weeks in his schedule for 1975.
Before appearing on the show Con’s musical travels had taken him from Glasgow to Portsmouth, and a trip to Belgium and a tour of the United States were just two his the highlights from 1974. Con had released a couple of EPs in Britain and had just released his first LP, This is Con O’Shea, published on his own label.
Billed as ‘Two brothers with one thought in mind’ The Winter Brothers were mental illusionists who after the show had some small success with their act Mysteries Of The Mind.
Their audience baffling performances also took them into children’s entertainment and they worked a long season on the Aquarium Sun Terrace for the Brighton Corporation as well as cabaret shows all over the Home Counties.