All Eyes on Birthplace of British Rock 'n' Roll

by Ray Setterfield

Event Date: November 16, 1957
Location: London, England, United Kingdom

The BBC’s first pop music show, Six-Five Special, was broadcast on this day from the tiny 2i’s Coffee Bar in London – the birthplace of British rock ’n’ roll.

Six-Five Special was so called because it went out at 6.5pm (6:05pm) on Saturday nights and was created to replace the one-hour “Toddlers’ Truce” on that day. Under the Truce restrictions, no television programmes were allowed to be broadcast on any day of the week between the hours of 6pm to 7pm so that young children could be put to bed.

The Government Minister who oversaw broadcasting in those days was the Postmaster General, a now defunct office held at the time by Charles Hill. He was opposed to the Toddlers’ Truce, saying: “This seems to me absurd. It is the responsibility of parents, not the state, to put their children to bed at the right time.”

Under pressure from the emerging independent television companies, who were losing advertising revenue, Hill abolished the restriction.

Just as the Cavern in Liverpool was to become famous in the Sixties as the performing birthplace of The Beatles, so the the 2i’s Coffee Bar in the Soho district of Central London became a rock ’n’ roll institution in the late Fifties.

Its name came from two former owners, Freddie and Sammy Irani. Live music was played in the basement and it was here that Britain’s first rock ’n’ roll stars were discovered, including Tommy Steele – the biggest pop name of the day – Cliff Richard, Adam Faith, Joe Brown and the later disgraced Gary Glitter, then performing as Paul Gadd.

Adam Faith was among those appearing on the live Six-Five Special broadcast from the 2i’s, as was its most famous celebrity, Tommy Steele who, 48 hours later, would top the bill at the London Palladium’s Royal Variety Performance.

Jack Good, the Six-Five Special producer, endured something of a running battle with BBC executives over the format of the show. He wanted it to be crammed with music but they insisted on including educational and information elements.

Finally, Good resigned and joined ABC, an independent broadcaster, where he launched Oh Boy! – a rival non-stop pop extravaganza which not only established Cliff Richard as a major star, but trounced Six-Five Special in the ratings. Not long after that, the BBC dropped their show.

The 2i’s closed in 1970.

Published: October 6, 2016

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