THE eyebrows shot up. “Me? Square?” Producer Jack Good spluttered indignantly at the idea. Then he added: “Well, perhaps physically. But that’s as far as it goes.”
Jack, the man who looks more like the Oxford undergraduate he once was than the TV producer he is now, was talking about ABC’s Boy Meets Girls.
He beamed and said: “You might say the show’s gone square though. Comparatively, that is.”
Comparatively, because this 28-year-old veteran of two teenage rock ‘n’ roll TV successes has a reputation for blasting the viewers almost out of their seats.
But that’s finished. The bounce of Jack’s last series, Oh Boy!, has been toned down. So much so, that some are saying that Jack is going square.
Jack explained: “It’s not true, of course. Rock ‘n’ roll is not as overwhelming as it was. But there is nothing sudden about the change.
“Popular music is tending to become more melodic and less frantic. The arrangements are sweeter and the whole atmosphere is different – like the new show.
“Oh Boy! taught me that there is no substitute for personality in entertainment. The high spots always came when an artist got something of himself across.
The attack can become just as boring as the slow, dragging pace. We shall us an occasional ‘wild’ number, but the accent is on friendliness and the programme is aimed at a wider audience.
“We are out to capture the elder brothers and sisters of the teenagers. And the mums and dads, too.
“I have never been a rock ‘n’ roll producer. I have been a producer of excitement. It’s not the music that counts, it the thrill.”
Giving viewers the thrills and excitement are some of the old favourites from Oh Boy! Among them is petite South African organist Cherry Wainer and her cousin, drummer Don Storer; sax star Red Price; the Vernons Girls from Liverpool; and Marty Wilde, the show’s compere.
Twenty-four-year-old Cherry is not worried about the soft-pedal technique “It’s quite a change of course,” she said “but I like all kinds of music and I’m enjoying every minute of it.”
Said cousin Don: “This quieter atmos phere gives us a better chance to get a number over.”
Don and Cherry – they were last in South Africa almost two years ago – both love England. “Apart from the weather,” said 30-year-old Don. “I know you are all blowing your tops about this summer you’ve just had, but really it was no better than are many winters in Durban.” Producer Good is bringing into the programme guest artists and new stars from America and the Continent.
On a recent two-and-a-half month tour of Europe he found Little Tony and His Brothers. They will be making their second in the show appearance tomorrow (September 26).
Little Tony is 18. He sings in English but he does not yet speak it fluently.
His guitar-playing brothers, Enrico, 16, and Alberto, 21, are also up against the language difficulty. But when I met them, all three were talking excitedly to British rock ‘n’ roller Terry Dene. He speaks no Italian, but he discovered that the language of rock ‘n’ roll is international.
Little Tony took to rock ‘n’ rolling a year ago and already has many discs to his credit. He has won top prizes in rock ‘n’ roll festivals, too.
When he became interested in it he took English rock ‘n’ roll records to an elderly English language teacher to learn them parrot-fashion. It has paid off handsomely.
Many people think he is Italian. But though he lives in Rome he comes from the tiny, mountain-top Republic of San Marino.
And he proudly produces his Roman identity card, which describes him as a “foreigner,” to prove it.
The friendly, family atmosphere of the show is being exploited in a glamorous way – with the 16 Vernons Girls.
The group – all are aged between 17 and 25 – has two understudies. They attend rehearsals and learn the routines so that if a girl falls ill or leaves to get married there is always a replacement available.
“The Vernons are the first group who have not been presented as girls who look alike and dress alike,” said Jack Good.
“They are a nice bunch of kids; there is nothing of the stainless-steel glitter of the ordinary show girl about them. They are happy and friendly.
“After Oh Boy! we decided that if the public knew more about them they would go for them in a big way.”
Jack has in mind chiefly viewing mothers and their sons. He would like the mothers to regard the girls as their daughters and the sons to regard them as their sisters.
Dance director Leslie Cooper said: “The girls are being featured more in the new show than they were in Oh Boy! and we think it will serve to increase their popularity.”
The girls get plenty of fan mail. And 23-year-old Margaret Stredder, who wears spectacles, gets more than any of them.
Silver-blonde Margaret has seven pairs of glasses (one for each day of the week) and a regular boy-friend.
But the boy the girls “dig” the most is 19-year-old Marty Wilde, star of the show. He has a taste for fast cars as well as fast music.
Marty, owner of a sports car, told me: “I don’t get much time for motoring these days. I’m far too busy.”
The new role of compere? Marty thinks it’s terrific. “I’m very excited about it. It’s the biggest break for me so far and I hope this new show is going to be a great success.”
Marty is not worried that the general tone-down will lose him some of his fans. “I think I shall gain 10 new fans for every one I may lose. This treatment of the programme is just what teenagers want.”
Twenty-year-old Terry Dene, who shares Marty’s interest in speed (he has a motor-cycle), agreed.
“I have been doing more ballads than rock ‘n’ roll numbers and I have found that they have gone down better,” said Terry. “I don’t think people want to be knocked out of their seats any more.
“I wouldn’t say that rock is dying, but there is a swing towards the quieter numbers.”
Quiet, sweet, friendly. That’s Boy Meets Girls. It’s not the mixture as before, but it’s the formula that should give Jack Good his hat-trick of TV hits.