John Ammonds Interview Part 2
Feature from 2013Continued…
“One of the shows I worked on was called something like Treble Chance, and on it was Jimmy Young. It was a sketch type show which I enjoyed as it was right down my street. A change from producing dance bands and timing the programme. A scripted show was much more interesting.”
It wasn’t long before he was looking to better himself and move into area that held most interest.
“In 1954 I saw an advertisement on the BBC notice board for a variety producer in Manchester. It meant moving my family up there, but I wanted to be a variety producer so I went for it. Luckily I got it, and we did a lot of light entertainment up there. This was still all radio work and there were four producers working in the variety department up there at the time; me and three others. The big advantage in going to Manchester for me was that the head of the regional radio was also the head of television.”
John now had his eye on television, but still had plenty of work to do in radio, and it was during this time that he first came into contact with Morecambe and Wise.
“While I was there I did many shows including working with Jimmy Clithero on his show called the Call Boy; this was before the more well-known Clithero Kid show he did later. It was here I worked with Morecambe and Wise for the first time. It was on a radio show called You’re Only Young Once, or YOYO as it was known.”
Little did he know that these two young comedians would play a massive part in his life. For now though, they were just another act that appreciated his experience in getting them across to the listening audience.
“I had seen them in variety theatres.”, he says, “At that time they were plenty of theatres so they could get work easily on the road. I was aware of their work when I took on this sketch show series and I thought they were very good. They took to radio very easily, and every week we had special guests like Deryck Guyler and Hattie Jacques who would take part in the sketches with them.”
“The only full time writer we had then was a man called Frank Roscoe and between him, Eric and Ernie, the shows were created. They had gag books full of jokes from comedians they had seen throughout the years, and they used them to inject jokes into Frank’s scripts.”
An interesting glimpse into the early working of Eric and Ernie, but this was well before they became famous. The days of hard rehearsals and original material were some way off. John goes on to explain how the show got thrown together.
“Eric and Ern would be touring around the country somewhere and they would arrive at the theatre. We would meet up on Sunday morning; they would be tired from travelling from wherever they were performing and would get their first look at the script. It was a skeleton of a script and the show was to be broadcast that evening. We would sit round and virtually assemble the script a few hours before broadcast. Any guests would be called in later when the script was in some kind of shape so they could get a bit of rehearsal in.”
“With it being a Sunday no one else was working so I had to even copy all the scripts myself to give out to the people on the show.”
In those days there was no long credit list for shows and the producer did more than produce. He had a hand in the script, the jokes, sound, direction and dealing with the guests and stars.
Still doing radio, he was desperate to get a break in television and his decision to move to Manchester earlier would pay off.
“In London there was an iron curtain between the radio and television departments, but in Manchester they were run by the same man. I worked a several shows with a chap called Barney Colehan who later went on to do The Good Old Days from the Leeds City Varieties. One of the shows we did was a magazine show called Lets Make A Date, filmed in a converted church.”
Now working as both radio and television producer, the BBC sent him on courses to learnt all of the aspects of television producing so when a full TV producer’s job came up, he would be ready.
Morecambe and Wise made their first television show, Running Wild, which famously bombed, but John missed out on producing the show. He recalls seeing them and feeling sorry that the talents he had witnessed on YOYO were not to be seen.
“I did see a few of them and it was sad to see that they didn’t get off to a good start. We had groomed them in Manchester on the radio and with our team they were becoming popular. With Running Wild they had to go to London and nobody down there had worked with them before.”
“I don’t think they were quite ready for a television show.” He says honestly, “They had done a few television slots like the Winifred Atwell show, but their own series was a different matter. On other shows they just did there act, nothing more ambitious, and I think Running Wild was too much too soon.”
While Eric and Ern were struggling, John was making great strides in his career.
“I continued producing, and one of my successes was Harry Worth. Everyone remembers the window reflection gag, which was filmed in St. Ann’s Square, Manchester by the way.”
While filming in Manchester for that series, John met a man who had been bombarding him with scripts for the last year. Script after script would land on his desk, proclaiming to be written with Morecambe and Wise in mind. John didn’t need them, but thought they were quite good.
“He had some good ideas,” remembers John, “and was a good comedy writer but just not for Eric and Ern. I was being measured for suit in Manchester during the filming of the Harry Worth show and the chap with the tape asked if I knew him. I confessed I didn’t. He then told me he was the man who kept sending me those scripts.”
That person was Vince Powel, and he soon turned in his tape measure for a pen when John gave him his first break.
Back to Harry Worth, and John makes a surprising claim.
“I consider Harry Worth to be one of my greatest personal successes.”
He left that hanging for a while.
“He had a stand-up comedy act that he’d been doing for ages with two ventriloquist dolls, but I gave him his first situation comedy roll. We did a pilot in Manchester and then sent it to London and we got a series just on the strength of the pilot.”
“Harry went on to be quite a big star after that, doing summer season and other things, all on the back of the television work. He always said that he would never have made it without me.”
“After about eight series of Harry Worth, Harry told me he didn’t want to do another because of all the travelling. He had to travel from London where he lived, up to Manchester and back again. He decided to stay in London for the next series, I decided to stay in Manchester.”
© morecambeandwise.com 2013