The Series Four Gala Final of New Faces ditched the London Palladium, used for the series three final, and instead was broadcast live from ATV’s Studio One on Saturday July 31 1976. It was produced by Albert Stevenson, directed by John Pullen, and Johnny Patrick was again the musical director and the show was hosted by Derek Hobson.
The judging panel for the Gala Final were Bernie Rothkopf from the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas, Martin Jackson, Jack Parnell and, returning for his fourth consecutive New Faces final panel appearance, Tony Hatch. They would select a winner from just seven finalists who would be guaranteed a Las Vegas booking.
After 32 weeks of shows the final line-up, the smallest in the show’s history, featured three groups, two comedians, a vocalist and a ventriloquist which made it the final with the greatest variety of acts to date. The acts were;
- Sparrow (five-piece group)
- Johnny Hammond (comedian)
- Cissy Stone Band (six-piece group)
- Roger de Courcey (ventriloqust)
- Scoby Smith (five-piece group)
- Jim Davidson (comedian)
- Eve Adam (vocalist)
The previous series winner Marti Caine also performed as the guest act for this show.
As this show is the only one of the seven finals from the 1970s series where a recording no longer exists in any archive the details of the scores and placings are limited, but the top three acts were;
- Roger de Courcey (ventriloquist) – 370 points
- Jim Davidson (comedian) – 332 points
- Eve Adam (vocalist)
Gala Final winner Roger de Courcey and his bear Nookie impressed the judges beating Jim Davidson by 38 points, Tony Hatch awarding the ventriloquist an almost perfect 96 points.
Having starting out in entertainment as a trained opera singer, it was a chance meeting in Stony Stratford, near Buckinghamshire in 1971 that changed everything for Roger. Killing time in his dressing room he sorted through a pile of items stored for a future jumble sale and found a delightful teddy bear who he picked up and took on stage with him. It was an immediate hit and suddenly Roger realised a whole new opportunity. He worked on teaching himself ventriloquism and that’s how the act started.
Nookie bear developed from the scruffy teddy bear in that store cupboard dressing room and now they had just won the prize of a two week Las Vegas engagement.
In the months after their win Roger and Nookie made three appearances at the London Palladium, including one at the Royal Variety Show, made numerous TV appearances and continued to tour the cabaret circuit, with their routine changing depending on the audience they were playing to.
It would be over twelve months before they fulfilled their MGM Grand, Las Vegas booking, supporting Hollywood star Dean Martin for a full two week engagement in October 1977. The shows were such a success that Dean Martin himself personally invited the pair back to the Celebrity Room at the MGM Grand for a further two week engagement in February 1978.
Runner-up Jim Davidson did tell some funny stories and went on to have a hugely successful TV career for many years following his initial three performances on New Faces.
Third placed act Eve Adam did enough to ensure she would always be in demand and is still performing music and in theatre productions in 2020.
The bizarre antics of Cissy Stone and Her Band ensured, like the other groups, they continued to earn a living in the pubs and clubs and for a short time at least, no doubt commanded a higher fee than they might otherwise have done.
Comedian Johnny Hammond once again, as he did in the All Winners Final that won him his place, finished his act with a song and sounded a little bit like Ken Dodd, but it wasn’t enough to break into the top three on the night.
One piece of footage from the final has come to light during my research. The performance of the group Sparrow in the Gala Final singing At The Alamo the first song of the two they performed can be seen on Facebook. They followed this with a second song Grazing In The Grass, which had been recorded by Friends of Distinction in 1969.
The clever set design for the two songs was totally different with orange light and a burning flames backdrop for the first anthemic style song. The second, lighter and more upbeat track, was performed before a blue sky, fluffy clouds and yellow sun backdrop in bright white light.
South London group Scoby Smith would split up just one year later. After their TV success some of the group wanted to go on the road and others wanted to continue playing local venues. A record company even offered them a contact but that also came to nothing. Some members of the group went on to form a new group, Scoundrel, leaving Scoby Smith’s manager, Gil Lucas to complain ‘we might as well have never appeared on New Faces.’
Sparrow – At The Alamo
Credits: Thanks to Tom Marshall (Sparrow) for the video footage of the Sparrow Gala Final performance. Also thanks to Glen Darlow who confirmed the scores for the first two acts.