6 Nov 1976 – Series Five (9)

Show winners The Medium Wave Band.
Image © The Stage Media Company Limited

The judging panel for show nine of the series saw the return of some recently added experts with Tony Blackburn and Peter Prichard back for their second show and David Bell making his fourth appearance. They were joined by the familiar face of regular New Faces judge Mickie Most who by this stage had made over forty appearances.

They watched the following seven acts all looking to book themselves a place on the next All Winners Show;

  • Billy McGowan (comedian / impressionist) from Leigh-on-Sea
  • The Medium Wave Band (six-piece group) from Southern England
  • Billy Beck (comedian / vocal) from Liverpool
  • Blue Harmony Boys (trumpet duo) from Newcastle
  • Mike Dennett and Chic (ventriloquist) from Sheffield
  • Sue Adams (vocalist) from Birmingham
  • Steve Eden (vocalist) from London

The show winners were the group Medium Wave Band who secured the first slot in the second All Winners Show of the series, scheduled for broadcast on Christmas Day 1976. The group had been together for at least two years having begun 1975 with a performance in Runcorn as a five piece group which they followed with a successful 1975 summer season performing at Les Arches Hotel in Jersey.

A story in the stage, in April 1979, detailed the members as Trevor Payne (keyboards), Doug Macllwaine’s drums), Andy Humphries (lead guitar), Steven Horton (bass), Jan Thompson and Julia Franklin (vocals), however, it is not certain that this was the line-up that featured on New Faces. This line-up did feature on their Medium Wave Band LP that was released in 1978 and featured many of the songs that featured in their stage shows. In November 1979 they performed at the Nottingham club The Big Heart (formerly The Heart of the Midlands) alongside Rod Hull and the Three Degrees. Among the select audience of 720 guests were Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress of Nottingham and Princess Margaret, who was introduced the band after the show.

Runner-up, London vocalist Steve Eden. Image © The Stage Media Company Limited

Vocalist Jeff Phillips was listed as appearing on this show in The Stage, however, newspaper reports in 1977 have confirmed that another vocalist, Steve Eden, finished second on the show so it looks like he may have been drafted in to replace Jeff at short notice.

Steve had been resident in London for seven years and sang with the Eddie Jones combo, but he was no stranger to Birmingham as he had been the singer and compere at the Santa Rosa Club and worked for two years as a stage hand at Birmingham Hippodrome.

Steve, a former apprentice toolmaker, paint-sprayer, silk-screen printer and driver’s mate, sang his latest single If I Had A Million Dollars, which would go on to be the theme song for the Hammersmith Jubilee Fund with all the royalties donated to the funds for the Fulham, Hammersmith and Shepherds Bush Jubilee celebrations.

Six months before her debut TV appearance on New Faces, Birmingham vocalist Sue Adams was performing with the Syd Lawrence Orchestra alongside singer Roy Marsden. After her appearance she secured the position of resident singer at the Night Out in Birmingham. During her time there she appeared on the same bill as The Grumbleweeds, Bob Carolgees, The Rockin’ Berries, Matt Munro, Guys and Dolls, Charles Aznavour and The Three Degrees.

Sheffield ventriloquist Mike Dennett and puppet Chic.
Image © The Stage Media Company Limited

Mike Dennett and Chic’s appearance on New Faces did not go as well as they would have liked, as they were panned by every panel member, with the exception of record producer Mickie Most. During their performance Chic’s arms and legs fell off, but that was part of the act, however the panel didn’t realise, apart from Mickie Most. The ATV studios were bombarded with viewer’s complaints about the panel’s treatment of Mike.

Mike was born in Nottingham and first got the Ventriloquism bug when he saw Peter Brough and Archie Andrews. That enthusiastic seven year old swiftly bought a basic doll and was helped on his way by Nottingham ventriloquist Neville King who became his mentor. He soon made his first stage appearance with his mum, singer Eva Dennett.

Ventriloquist Mike is the last surviving UK artist to perform with comedy legends Laurel and Hardy. He appeared on the same bill as Stan and Ollie at the Nottingham Empire on December 21, 1952 at just 10 years of age. Mike received a last minute call to join Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy’s Christmas Party after original ventriloquist Harry Worth fell ill. The drummer in the theatre band was a musician who lodged with Mike’s parents and he knew exactly who could step in to replace Harry.

In 1971 Mike Dennett and Chic became the first ventriloquist act to perform on the Butlin’s Minehead Gaiety Theatre stage and twelve months later they were performing at the Butlin’s holiday camp at Bognor Regis. In fact Mike and Chic were hugely successful and became regulars at the Butlin’s holiday camps during the mid-70s.

At the age of 76, Mike was still performing with dummy Chic right up until the Covid-19 pandemic put the brakes firmly on live performances. You can see his March 2020 ‘adult’ oriented performance at the Bloomfield Club on his Facebook page. Sadly Mike was hospitalised after suffering a stroke in September 2020 where he also contracted Covid-19. Thankfully, after a month in hospital unable to see anyone due to the pandemic, Mike was allowed home and his physiotheraphy is reportedly going well and he seems to be on the road to recovery. If you do read this Mike then best wishes for speedy and full recovery.

The Blue Harmony Boys as a foursome when they were enjoying another successful Summer Season in Jersey. Image © The Stage Media Company Limited

In the years preceeding their appearance on the show The Blue Harmony Boys had enjoyed five years of successful summer seasons in Jersey, as a duo, trio and a foursome, but made their TV debut just as a a duo.

The young 21 year-old impressionist Billy McGowan, was born in Scotland but had relocated to Leigh-on-Sea by the time of his appearance on the show and his London accent certainly diguised the fact he’d lived for fourteen years in the Glasgow area.

Eighteen stone comedy impressionist Billy McGowan. Image © The Stage Media Company Limited

One of his stage impressions included the character of Benny from Crossroads, I wonder if he took the chance to make contact with Benny actor Paul Henry while he was in the Broad Street Studios?

Some of his other impressions included, the then England manager, Don Revie, New Faces regular jusge George Elrick, Willie Rushton, Uri Geller and even poet Pam Ayres. By the late 1970s Billy started using the name Willie Who for his cabaret work, but continued to use his own name for the television commercials he was now making. He also continued to expand his repertoire, adding Mavis from Coronation Street, David Bellamy and Reginald Bosenquet to his performances giving him over 40 different impressions to include in his act.

Comedy impressionist Billy Beck. Image Trinity Mirror. Digitised by Findmypast Newspaper Archive Limited.

Back in the early 1960s comedy vocalist Billy Beck went by the name Johnny Sandon, the firstname after Johnny Cash and surname taken from a pub near Anfield, and he fronted a group called The Searchers. Johnny Sandon, with his rich country and western voice, and The Searchers were extremely popular on the dance hall and Liverpool club circuit, regularly appearing at The Iron Door in the city.

In February 1962 Johnny Sandon and The Searchers played their last show together at the famous Cavern, after which Johnny Sandon left to join the Remo Four as he thought they had a greater chance of success. In December 1962 The Remo Four supported The Beatles and they signed for Brian Epstein’s NEMS Enterprises.

Shortly after Johnny left the Searchers they recorded their first single, Sweets For My Sweet, which launched the group up the charts and made them a huge success on the pop scene, with six top ten UK hits. Johnny continued to perform with the Remo Four until 1964 when he decided to go solo. As a solo artist he released three singles in 1964, Sixteen Tons, Donna Means Heartbreak and The Blizzard.

By 1968 Johnny Sandon had started adding impressions to his singing and was moving his act more towards comedy and in 1969, as a comedy act, he supported Stella Starr who would also later appear on New Faces, finishing runner-up in the Gala Final of the sixth and final series of the 1970s.

By the time of his appearance on the show he’d reverted to his real name, Billy Beck, and was performing his comedy act on the club circuit. He later retired from the comedy club circuit having never quite made it the success he so desperately wanted and eventually took a job as a taxi driver,

Having narrowly missed out on finding success as a singer and also missing hitting the big time as a comedian, Billy still continued to perform occassionally into the mid-90s. Tragically, just before Christmas Day 1996, wracked with the regrets of missed opportunities, Billy Beck committed suicide aged just 55 years-old.

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