8 Jan 1978 – Series Six (18)

Show Winners Gary Wilmott & Judy. Image: The Stage Media Company Limited

With Celebrity Squares and The Man From Atlantis now taking the early Saturday evening slot in the regional ITV schedules New Faces was moved to the early Sunday evening slot, replacing The Golden Shot, from this show onwards and the next twelve shows, right up until the end of the series.

On the judges panel for first ever Sunday evening show were Muriel Young, Les Reed, Dave Dee and Jack Parnell.

They watched another seven new acts who were looking to secure a place in the first All Winners show of 1978 and the third of the series. They were;

  • Gary Wilmot & Judy (impressionists) from London
  • The Bards (folk trio) from Dublin
  • Paul Damian (vocalist) from Merseyside, originally from Wales
  • Civvy Street (five-piece group) from Warrington
  • Sal & El (female vocal duo) from London
  • Bobby Peters (comedian) from Barnsley
  • Susan Knight (vocalist) from Warrington

The winning act were the impressionist duo of Gary Wilmot & Judy (King / McPhee) who booked their place in the first All Winners Show of 1978. 23 year old Gary and 16 year old Judy were extremely grateful to Alan Clive, from the television impressions show Who Do You Do, after they individually approached him for tuition and he launched them as a duo, as well as producing and writing material for their double act.

Gary came from a musical background with his father, Harry, and his uncle, Alan, being members of the group The Southlanders, who had a hit with The Mole In A Hole, with Harry the bass vocalist who performed the famous line ‘I am a Mole and I Live in a Hole.’

The new delightful and refreshing boy / girl partnership bubbled with happiness, enthusiasm and energy and had been regularly delivering a routine of impressions, songs, comedy, dancing and a spot of tap. In November 1977 the duo had been one of a number of acts to perform at the eleventh Publand Show at London’s Victoria Palace Theatre. The show was released as a live LP and Gary and Judy contributed the track We Work Together, written by Gary and Jeff Titmus.

Shortly after their New Faces appearance, in February 1978, the impressionist duo appeared in a special cabaret evening at the Lewisham’s Riverdale Hall, alongside another New Faces success, vocalist Annie Bright, who scored a record number of points in show 6.8. Compare for the show was Freddie Stuart, another former New Faces contestant. A month later, in March 1978, the duo were the support act for Mike & Bernie Winters at Margate’s Winter Gardens in what would be one of the last shows that the Winters’ brothers would perform as a duo before going their separate ways.

Gary and Judy also performed alongside other New Faces acts later in 1978, appearing at the Prince of Wales, Dalston in a spectacular charity show to aid the leukaemia fund for King’s College Hospital in Dulwich. Tickets were prices at just £2.50 each and among the other talent show discoveries on the bill were Jim Davidson (runner-up series four), Stella Starr and Kirk St James (both series six finalists) and watching in the audience was vocalist Frank Leyton (winner show 4.28).

For the summer of 1979, having returned from cabaret in Las Vegas, Gary and Judy signed for Butlins, playing Bognor Regis, Clacton on Sea and Minehead camps. They delivered a well-balanced, fast-moving revue show that had been created by producer Cyril Dowler OBE to holidaymakers and by the end of the season they had provided entertainment for over 115,000 people.

In September 1979 the BBC launched the new talent show Rising Stars, hoping to fill the gap left by the demise of Opportunity Knocks and New Faces but restricted contestants to those acts already earning a living as professional entertainers. The show was presented by Lennie Bennett and each show featured six acts judged by ten panels of ten people watching the show on television at BBC centres around the country. The weekly winners were those acts gaining the highest score of the week, but the finalists were the top acts in each of the five categories of male vocalist, female vocalist, comedy, musical groups, and speciality, with three additional finalists chosen by viewers postal votes. Gary and Judy appeared in the fifth heat, shown on 11 November 1979, as did comedian Ian ‘Sludge’ Lees (shows 5.6 & 5.15). Their show was won by vocalist Patti Sommers. Earlier shows in the series featured comedians Joey Kaye and Larry Larkin.

Impressions duo Gary Wilmott & Judy decided to split in 1980.
Image: The Stage Media Company Limited

In February 1980 Gary and Judy announced, after three years together as a duo, they would amicably split and Gary would go solo. After honouring all Gary Wilmot & Judy’s existing bookings, Gary appeared in A Touch Of Music Hall in Torquay with juggler and ‘mad hatter’ Eddie Idris. The following year Gary topped the bill at Colwyn Bay’s Prince Of Wales Theatre where he delivered non-stop jokes, impressions and patter, along with showcasing his fine singing voice and dance routines.

By April 1983 Gary’s success saw him appear on ITV’s Punchlines which was hosted by Lennie Bennett who invited contestants to remember ‘What they heard and where they heard it.’ Also on the show was Aiden J. Harvey, the winner of the New Faces series two final. Gary also took the role of teacher, question-master and umpire for the new BBC1 comedy series So You Want To Be Top which offered a light-hearted look at the obstacle race of school life and offered hints and guidance on how to impress friends and win teachers’ approval. In March 1984, just six years after winning this show, Gary was added to the bill of the 1984 Children’s Royal Variety Performance performing with stars such as Donny Osmond, Musical Youth and Bucks Fizz. This led to more television work including comedy series such as Copy Cats and Saturday Gang, and appearances on London’s regional magazine programme The Six O’clock Show. In 1985 his summer season in Blackpool was followed by a headline grabbing performance at that year’s Royal Variety Performance.

In September 1986, just eight years after appearing on this show, Gary was back on New Faces ’86, however this time he was providing feedback on the acts from his seat in the judges box at Birmingham’s Hippodrome Theatre. He was one of just three of the original ATV series acts to return as judges for the series, the other two being Maggie Moone and Jim Davidson. The Central revival of the show was of course hosted by series three final winner Marti Caine.

Gary’s rapid rise to fame continued in December 1986 when he was surprised by Eamonn Andrews, while rehearsing for the pantomime Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at Lewisham Theatre, to become the latest star to be given the This Is Your Life treatment. The original New Faces host, Leslie Crowther, provided a filmed tribute as part of the show. At the end of the year Gary was one of the acts featured on a compilation of various original New Faces shows compiled by producer Paul Madden for Channel 4 television. The show Starmaker: New Faces also featured footage of performances from Patti Boulaye, Lenny Henry, Marti Caine, Les Dennis, Roger De Courcey, Aiden J. Harvey and Sweet Sensation.

1986 saw Gary first venture into pantomime, appearing in Snow White at the Lewisham Theatre. He has since appeared in over 20 pantomimes across the county including Aladdin, Cinderella, Dick Whittington and Peter Pan. In 1988 Gary toured as Fagin in Cameron Mackintosh’s Oliver! the first of many theatre productions that he is now best known for. Over the years he has appeared in shows such as Me And My Girl (as Bill Snibson), Copacabana, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (as Caracticus Potts), Half A Sixpence (as Arthur Kipps), Chicago (as Billy Flynn), Oklahoma! (as Ali Hakim), The Wind In The Willows (as Badger) and Wicked (as The Wizard). Gary was awarded the honour MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) in the 2018 Queen’s Birthday Honours List for his services to Drama and charity.

Runners-up The Bards scored 106 points, the highest reported score for an Irish act on the show, and also scoring in excess of 100 points were the group Civvy Street. Both acts made further appearances, competing again in the third Near Misses show of the series on 5 March 1978.

Runners-Up, The Bards from Dublin.
Image: Unknown (found on www.irish-showbands.com)

The founding members of The Bards, Diarmuid O’Leary and Pat Ryan, started performing together in 1968 playing the Dublin bars as duo Diarmuid and Pat. The first use of the name The Bards came in 1970.

In 1973 they were asked to perform in the Castlebar Song Contest which prompted the duo to add of female vocalist, Rena Aherne, to the line-up. A year later they added a permanent female vocalist to the group, with Kathleen O’Brien joining Diarmuid and Pat. Kathleen soon left the trio to get married and she was replaced by Anita O’Neill, who also didn’t stick around too long due to the busy workload impacting her day job. In early 1975 Ann Keaveney, the sister of Rena Aherne, joined as the female vocalist and the trio completed a twelve week tour of the USA and Canada, playing universities and clubs, and they released their first album, a live recording titled Ireland’s Bards, in 1976.

In 1977 the group released the Polydor single I Once Met A Man, written by Rena Aherne. By the time of their New Faces appearance original member Pat had left the group, giving up on his potential music career to concentrate on his day job, and was replaced by multi-instrumentalist Christy Sheridan (mandolin, bouzouki, banjo and guitar), who joined Diarmuid (guitar and vocals) and Ann (vocals, keyboards and bodhran).

It was a few years after their success on the show that the group registered their first chart success. In April 1980, they reached number seven in the Irish charts with Lanigan’s Ball, a six minute traditional song produced by Bill Whelan, who would go on to be one of the top producers in Ireland and compose the worldwide hit, Riverdance in 1994. The track Lanigan’s Ball also featured on their 1980 LP The Bards.

The group became a four-piece in 1982 when Fran Curry (keyboards) joined the trio and they released a version of The Oldest Swinger In Town, written by English folk singer Fred Wedlock. In 1985 they added Michael ‘Smithy’ Smith (bass) to the line-up and performed as a five-piece group until Ann left in 1986. They then became known as Diarmuid O’Leary and the Bards and delivered more of a comedy act, supporting Daniel O’Donnell in 1987, and continued to perform throughout the 1990’s before Fran Curry left to pursue a career in broadcasting just before the new millennium. In 2011 Martin Murray (fiddle, mandolin and banjo) was added to the line-up and the group were playing live shows until at least 2012. 

High scoring act Civvy Street went on to qualify for the Gala Final by winning the Near Misses show in March 1978.
Image: The Stage Media Company Limited

Five-piece group Civvy Street did enough to earn an appearance on a second show, which they took full advantage of winning the Near Misses show on 5 March 1978 to claim a place in the series Gala Final.

The group members were Christine Lord (vocals), Pete Troughton (bass, vocals), Steve Willingham (guitar, vocals), Steve Lord (keyboards, vocals) and Ian Fielding (drums).

In September 1978 the group signed a contract with DJM Records, and were chosen, as a direct result of an advertisement in The Stage, as a support act on the Johnny Mathis tour, which included two shows at the London Palladium.

In March 1979 headlined a show at the New Cresta in Solihull delivering an opening act that typified the forties revival scene that Manhattan Transfer had made so popular. Their emphasis on the forties were clear, performing songs by The Andrews Sisters and Glenn Miller. Then, in complete contrast, they also delivered sounds of the fifties and sixties, with numbers like Summer Nights from Grease and Something’s Coming from West Side Story. They were supported by one-man comedy band, Bruce Thompson, who also made two appearances on New Faces (shows 3.23 and 3.37).

Welsh vocalist Paul Damian (real surname Jones), who had relocated to Merseyside, didn’t fair too well with the panel despite going into the show with some confidence. Speaking to the local newspaper before his show, Paul claimed he wasn’t really worried about facing the panel and said, ‘the main thing is you are getting some exposure. You put your penny in and you take what comes out, I suppose I’m just a little bit nervous as it’s a long time since I’ve been on TV. He added ‘you’ve just got three minutes in which to give a hundred per cent of yourself in front of millions. You’ve just got to give it a bit of clog. What else can you do?’

His previous television appearance, on BBC Wales, didn’t go exactly to plan either. Appearing as a duo, having prepared a version of Sloop John B, Paul and his partner in the double act were informed that they would not be allowed to sing a song in English. Fortunately Paul remembered they had been playing a Spanish number called Cuando Calienta El Sol, and while it wasn’t Welsh, it certainly wasn’t English. They were allowed to sing the song, but their performance didn’t earn them any more work on Welsh TV.

Paul started his singing career at the age of 20, by singing in a pub and likened himself to Andy Williams or Jack Jones rather than Tom Jones. Paul was from the South Wales village of Pontrhydyfen, which was also home to actor Richard Burton. Being a small village, Paul knew Richard and his family and had even met Liz Taylor too. The actor Anthony Hopkins also came from the same village and Paul used to sit next to him at school.

The lack of enthusiasm from the judges didn’t seem to impact Paul’s career and in the March after his appearance on this show Paul picked up the £700 first prize in a local Search for a Star contest at Eccleston Social Club and he also secured whole string of cabaret dates that included a Morocco booking in July 1978. In August 1979 Paul was one of the support acts for Birmingham comedian Johnny Carroll, who had won New Faces show 2.11 and appeared in the series two Grand Final, when he played at the King’s Nightclub in Great Barr, Birmingham.

Comedian Bobby Peters had been around the club circuit since the early 1970s, where he performed with a rather nervous yet effective delivery, with jokes such as ‘Mum, it’s the rent man are you going to pay him or shall I go out and play?’ While some of his humour was a good deal blunter than that example, it was always well told.

Before her appearance on the show the Warrington vocalist Susan Knight had been performing on the Chandris Cruise ships the Regina Prima, Fiorita and Victoria as part of the 1977 summer season of entertainment packages on behalf of Rex Grey Spectaculars. The same package saw former New Faces act Tommer Puppets (winner of show 3.22) perform on the Amerikanis cruise ship also owned by Chandris Cruises, who were based in Greece.

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