Auditions – the ‘telescope’ that finds new stars


ABC goes hunting for the next big names in entertainment in 1957

Cover of the TVTimes
From the TVTimes for 20-26 October 1957

IN Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham and London the hunt goes on. The hunt for talent. It’s all part of ABC’s plan to present the best possible entertainers in Bid For Fame.

Auditions are given to everyone who applies. And to meet the demand, for 12 hours every day someone, somewhere, is conducting auditions.

With more than 2,000 applications before the series began, entries are still rolling in. Two hundred people are seen every week.

I went to an audition in a Birmingham hotel. Throughout the week, George Stanford, ABC senior studio manager, had patiently considered all the applicants. Out of the 200 acts he had seen, 20 had been asked to return on Friday evening to give a second performance before the critical eye of producer Eddie Kebbell.

I asked George Stanford, weary, and yet still urbane under the bright, naked light of the audition room, how he felt after so much entertainment.

He smiled, lit the umpteenth cigarette and replied: “If these people are willing to go through the ordeal of an audition, then it’s up to me to see them through. Each thinks he or she may have that indefinable something which could make him or her tomorrow’s ‘top of the bill’ star.

Six people wait outside a door
Anxious moments as applicants await their ‘Bid For Fame’ audition

“Six in 100 of these acts will eventually be seen in the show. So even if they don’t come in the final placings, they’ll know they’ve enough talent to be seen by millions of viewers.”

Kebbell, who made the final choice, admitted that this was tough. He hates saying ‘No’ to youthful hopes.

“Many acts need a lot more training; lots more confidence. We tell them so. It may be hard to take, but we don’t hold out false hopes.

“This isn’t just another amateur talent show. Anyone can apply for an audition — whether semi-professional or professional. All we want is a slick, entertaining show. If a television appearance brings success to the performer, then they are happy — and so are we.”

Three people behind a desk
Carol Janner, of Kettering, checks with George Stanford (left) and Herbert Halliday
Two people in a circular cutout
Singers Jimmy Grant and Pat Howard

Birmingham’s Bob Hatch, the comedian who won the finals of the last Bid For Fame series, came along to give encouragement to some of the local artists who were friends of his. He told me that his TV success had meant success in other spheres, such as sound radio.

Good comedians are hard to find. Most acts consist of singers and instrumentalists. There are “pop” singers by the score — and they all sing the hit song of the moment.

“There is a shortage of comedians and solo dancers,” said Kebbell. Two singers who did please him were Jimmy Grant and Pat Howard. They hadn’t applied for an audition but were discovered singing at a church concert on the outskirts of Birmingham. George Stanford had asked them to come along to give an audition for Kebbell.

Newcastle-born Jimmy Grant, who sang Granada in the best Mario Lanza fashion, is a carpenter. He was delighted at the thought of appearing in the show and couldn’t believe that he had been “discovered.”

Pat Howard, a housewife with an eight-month-old daughter, has a powerful voice — “She could be a second Anne Shelton,” said Kebbell.

Brenda Vickers of Loughborough and John Padbury of Oxford are clerks. They have been dancing together for only a few months.

“I’m going to suggest them for the Windmill Theatre,” said Kebbell. If he thinks there is scope for an artist in any other sphere, he is ready to pass on a recommendation.

Two people dance in front of a table with three people behind it
John Padbury and Brenda Vickers step out in lively style…
Two people standing talk to two people behind a desk
…after discussing their routine with the helpful ‘Bid For Fame’ panel

Twenty-one-year-old Sylvia Cooper had travelled 50 miles from Nottingham. I shan’t be home until two in the morning,” she said, “but it was well worth it now I know I’ve passed my audition.”

It was nearly midnight. The week of auditions was over. For the many disappointments, there were just a few successes.

And for these happy people, the long road towards success is open.

About the author

George Bartram was a features writer for the TVTimes.

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