The Jazz625 Story 

5 October 2005

Director Terry Henebery discusses the programme that set the gold standard for jazz on British TV

On the all-too-rare occasions when jazz gets an outing on television, many viewers make inevitable, and often unfavourable, comparisons with Jazz 625. A well-informed presenter, a superb sound balance and an uncluttered approach to camera work and direction all combined to set a gold standard in the televisual representation of jazz.

It was also in the right place at the right time. The end of the long-standing deadlock between the Musicians’ Union and the American Federation of Musicians meant that big names from the US were coming over to Britain for the first time since the 1930s. Meanwhile, it was a fertile time for British jazz, with the likes of Tubby Hayes, Johnny Scott, Tony Coe and John Dankworth all very much in the ascendant.

John & Cleo

The creator of the programme and its producer throughout its run was Terry Henebery. A clarinettist by training, he had joined the BBC Television Service in 1955 as a sound operator, after several years serving in the Grenadier Guards, interspersed with study at the Royal Academy of Music. He then moved over to radio light entertainment at Aeolian Hall as a producer in 1958. His legitimate musical training had been supplemented with a growing love of jazz, initiated by his friend Ronnie Ross, which soon became useful in his professional life. “Jimmy Grant, the producer of Jazz Club said ‘I’ve got to do a new programme called Saturday Club. Could you do Jazz Club?’. I’d been attached to Jimmy to learn the ropes and he said he’d keep an eye on me in the early stages. So, I spent four-and-a-half years doing Jazz Club. At the BBC, you became specialised, if you weren’t careful.”

He returned to television in 1963 as one of the new producer intake recruited for the opening of BBC2. “They were offering secondments to television, training attachments, so I applied for one and went through the course at Woodstock Grove, down in Shepherd’s Bush, which was the training establishment. It was 6 weeks of intensive learning how to be a director, all the grammar, learning to do it the right way. To this day, I still think it’s the best training anybody could have ever had, because nobody got it in any other part of the industry.”

For light entertainment producers, the training course culminated in three practical exercises: directing a scene from a sitcom, illustrating three gramophone records and a free choice. For his free choice, Henebery called in a favour from his Jazz Club days. “You had a budget of 60 quid. I was ringing up all my contacts from radio, guys like the Alex Welsh band, and saying ‘Look Alex, there’s a probability that I’ll get a series to do. Would you come and do this for threepence?’ ‘Yeah Tel, we’ll do it’. So I did a Jazz Club with an audience at Riverside [a former film studio in Hammersmith, then used by the BBC – now an arts centre]. That final exercise was recorded on 22nd November 1963. Now, what happened on that day? We’d done the rehearsal and somebody said ‘Come and have a half of beer, Terry, don’t get too tense’. When I got back, the crew were all in the gallery, and suddenly up comes this ‘Normal Service is Interrupted’, a news flash. The atmosphere…the hairs, if you had any, on the back of your neck stood up. You never forget what you were doing. That was my baptism of fire in many ways.”

The hoped-for series materialised, but not quite in the way Henebery envisaged. “Bill Cotton (then Assistant Head of Light Entertainment Group (Variety), Television, or ‘AHLEG(V) Tel.’, as he was known in memos) called me in and said ‘Look, you’ve done the course, Michael Peacock, the controller of BBC2, would like to do jazz. Can you come up with a format that would work?’ I explained that I was just about to go on holiday, and Bill said ‘Write from the holiday’. So, I took some paper, and I was sitting on the beach in Portugal writing up my submission for an idea of how to do jazz. I saw it as being a formatted programme with interviews and profiles, not going into the studio with the Buddy Rich big band for an hour and just getting it down on tape. They said ‘No, we don’t have the money’. If it had been produced in the environs of the music and arts department, Humphrey Burton-land, I might have done that, which would have been to me a very interesting way of doing it. But that was denied, because of budget, and they wanted to turn it around and get something on the screen quickly.”

Ellington's sax section

Some of the inhabitants of Humphrey Burton-land were none too pleased that jazz had been handed to Light Entertainment, suggesting that serious music needed serious presentation, and fearing that LE would come up with an emasculated variety show, minus the dancing girls. In the event, their fears were unfounded. The first jazz show was a gala presentation entitled Ellington in Concert, (see photo above) recorded at the BBC Television Theatre during the Duke’s visit earlier in the year, and hosted by Steve Race (below), who presented many of the early Jazz 625s.

Steve Race, Jazz625 presenter

It went out on BBC2 on 21 April 1964 – planned to be the channel’s second night, but which turned out to be the opening night after a fire at Battersea Power Station had blacked out Television Centre the previous night. Henebery was not yet a fully-fledged director, so he shared responsibility with a senior producer. “I worked with Yvonne Littlewood on that very first thing. I helped, because she knew I could be of some use to her, but she was very experienced in her own way of pointing the cameras at the right things and making it elegant. She was such a wonderful hard worker, she never ceased. So, that began the whole stream of what became Jazz 625.” Within a couple of weeks of the series’ start, Henebery had won his director’s spurs.

The title of the show referred to the fact that BBC2 was broadcast on the 625-line UHF system rather than the 405-line VHF system then used by BBC1 and ITV. It was one of a series of programme strands including Theatre 625 and Cinema 625, none of which had as memorable a theme tune. “The sig tune was the 6th, 2nd and 5th notes of the scale. Steve wrote that. He said ‘Do you want me to write something for the theme?’. Latterly I spread it around because Steve was not a well man. Humph[rey Lyttelton] came in, and I used Peter Clayton here and there. Humph (below) was just so good at doing it off the top of his head. He’s a national treasure, isn’t he?”

Humphrey Lyttleton

At first, Henebery expected that he would be making the shows solely with the best home-grown talent. The first show after that inaugural Ducal blast was an ‘all-star jam session’ featuring George Chisholm, Kenny Baker, Tony Coe, Roy Willox, Laurie Holloway, Jack Fallon and Lennie Hastings; followed a week later by the Tubby Hayes Quintet with singer Betty Bennett. “I don’t know where it all came from with Tubby – the inventiveness. Apart from the tenor, he could play the vibes like a dream, and flute. He was a lovely, loveable guy and it was just sad to see the way he destroyed himself. There were so many of them. Phil Seamen, Dave Goldberg, they all got into the bloody drugs scene.”

However, by the time the series was underway, Henebery had managed to secure the likes of Oscar Peterson, Dave Brubeck and the MJQ with Laurindo Almeida making a guest appearance. This was how it happened: “One day I got a call from Harold Davison, the impresario who was well known for bringing in the big American stars, particularly in the jazz area, Ella and so on. He said ‘Would you be interested in Oscar Peterson showing up for it? I said ‘Yes, very, but what about the exchange?’ He said ‘No problem. He’s Canadian, isn’t he?’. Now, I didn’t know then that Oscar wasn’t American. And it was the trio, the great trio with Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen. Harold said ‘No problem. I’ve got the Dave Clark Five going out and doing the Ed Sullivan show, so I’ve got exchange. As long as the unions are happy.’

“So, I had to go to Bill Cotton, my boss, and say ‘We’ve got a marvellous breakthrough, Bill, but I’ll need a bit more money on the budget, because it’s not coming in at the same rate’. I think it was going to cost a thousand pounds.” At this time, the total budget allocation for a Jazz 625, including the cost of the (admittedly minimalist) set and the 35mm film or video tape used to record the show was £800, so £1000 on the artist alone was quite a leap, but in retrospect, great value, as Henebery remembers. “This is 1964. £1000 for Oscar Peterson and the trio to record an hour. Can you believe it? So he said ‘Is he any good?’ I’ll always remember Bill saying that to me. So that began the avalanche of people coming in.

“Another situation where I had to go to Bill Cotton and ask for some more funds was when I was offered, by Harold Davison’s office, the Woody Herman band – that great band with Sal Nistico on tenor. I went to Bill, and he said ‘Has he still got a band?’ I said ‘Very much, you want to hear it’. I went down with the sound engineer, Len Shorey, and another member of my team to Portsmouth Guildhall, and they were booked to do two concerts on the same evening. The first house, there’s hardly anybody in. Tubby Hayes and some of the guys had come down from London to hear the band. They start playing Blue Flame, the curtain went up and you were pinching yourself.”

This was not the first time on the tour that Henebery had encountered Herman. The plan was to see the band in Scandinavia and discuss the plans for the programme, popping in to see Mel Torme in Copenhagen to discuss another programme. A flight to Stockholm and a long car journey to the Herman band’s hotel brought the news that they were just heading out of town, with the next show a long way away “So, I’d gone all the way to Scandinavia to hear the band, and I didn’t have the gall to say to anybody that I never heard a note played, but when they did the show, it was fantastic.”

“There would be a great influx of American players coming in for the autumn to do a European tour, and we’d stockpile the shows while they were here. You were picking off trying to get into places where you could do it. Some of the time you were out on the road doing it as OBs.” One of the main venues for these OBs was the Marquee Club, although some were mounted at the original CTS studio in Bayswater, including the Art Blakey, Jimmy Giuffre and Erroll Garner 625s, while others were recorded at LAMDA. When Jazz 625 was not on the road, it took up residence at the BBC Television Theatre, the old Empire, on Shepherd’s Bush Green. Henebery and his team – which included production assistants Colin Charman, Jim Moir and Vernon Lawrence, not to mention sound experts like Len Shorey, Graham Haines and Chris Holcombe – soon built up a peerless reputation for quality, expert handling on set and polished results. A letter in the BBC archives from Jimmy Giuffre expresses immense gratitude and admits that he’d never met such a friendly, professional crew.

Many shows of its era are ill-represented in the BBC archives, as they were either junked after transmission or, if broadcast live, not recorded at all. Happily, this is not the case with Jazz 625. With video tape recording still in its infancy, machines were in heavy demand. So, many programmes, particularly in the drama field, were ‘telerecorded’ onto 35mm film, from a feed of the studio output. This method made editing a lot easier, and has aided the survival of programmes recorded in this way. “The early ones survive because they were recorded on telerecordings, on film. With a lot of the VT, the philistines at the Beeb just wiped the tapes.”

Sadly, Henebery’s later jazz series, such as Jazz Goes to College (1966), Jazz at the Maltings (1968) and Jazz Scene (1969) are not so well represented, having been made on VT. With the exception of a couple of shows from each series, all that survive are memories. On Jazz Goes to College, Henebery and his production assistant Jim Moir, later to become Head of Light Entertainment and Controller of Radio 2, were able to play Father Christmas to various students’ unions around the country. “Jim had been to university himself at Nottingham, and he loved getting on the phone to the students’ unions and saying ‘Hello, this is the BBC here. We’re thinking of maybe if we could record in the Union, come and have a look at the venue. We’re thinking of bringing the Modern Jazz Quartet in.’ They’d say ‘We can’t afford the bloody Modern Jazz Quartet’. He’d say ‘No, no. We pay you a facility fee.’ So you ended up with Earl Hines in the Oxford Union, in the debating chamber. They couldn’t believe they were getting all of this entertainment for free; in fact, getting paid for it.”

Then there were the feats of musical stamina, the most notable occurring at Ronnie Scott’s in 1969. “One of the Jazz Scenes at Ronnie’s featured the Clarke-Boland band, which was appearing there at the time. So, we did the rehearsal trot-through in the afternoon, all the songs, got the cameras looking at the right things, and got the running order sorted out. We recorded the programme with a freebie audience coming in, then at 10 o’clock, we pulled all the cameras out, and they went on and started the set, at 10.30. I was there with Vernon Lawrence, who was my PA then, and the vision mixer, Bruce Milliard, who was good on music, and loved the jazz things. He could cut on the beats. We were sitting there watching that set, and I said ‘It’s incredible to think that band have played this afternoon, done an hour’s recording for us, and now they’re going to play two more gigs’. Sax No End is phenomenal. That bit of soli playing at the end: five guys playing like one.”

There was, however, the odd hairy moment, such as the opener of 1968’s Jazz at the Maltings series, recorded at Snape, in Suffolk. The venue was suggested by Bill Cotton because Henebery had been recovering, after a motor accident in Switzerland, at his parents’ house in nearby Leiston. The acoustic was, however, far from ideal for a shouting big band. Added to which, the headliner, Buddy Rich, had not been told that the show over 100 miles away from Television Centre. “He’s sitting in the back of Harold Davison’s limo, driven by Harold’s personal driver Ernie, going out, up the A12. All the way, Buddy’s reading the paper, and grumpily saying to Ernie ‘How much longer to this goddamn place?’ ‘Not long, Mr Rich’. He’d only got to about Romford. So eventually he gets there, I’m summoned out by the floor assistant, who said ‘Buddy Rich is here and he ain’t happy’.

“So he gets out of the car, and with this slight limp I’ve got, I try to get a bit of sympathy. ‘Hello Mr Rich, welcome to the Maltings’, and he looks and there’s this 16mm camera there from Late Night Line Up. His first words to me were ‘Are you responsible for this? I’m not happy’, and he’s right in the lens, this glowering face. Eventually, I get him into the dressing room and smooth him down, whatever you’d like refreshment wise. ‘I just want to get this fucking thing done and get out of here’. ‘What is this goddamn place?’ he asked. I explained that it was the cultural home of Britain’s foremost, at the time, composer. He said ‘Oh, we’ve got a great arrangement of Greensleeves, we’ll do that’. So, Ben Britten and Peter Pears are in the hall at the very moment when Buddy kicks this off, it was a very fast 6/4 version of Greensleeves. They’ve got the 2 dachshunds, Ben and his friend, they heard about 4 bars of this noise and beat it. The strings of the English Chamber Orchestra, with that wonderful vaulted timbered ceiling, would sound wonderful, but not a bloody drum kit crashing away in a big band. Fortunately, we didn’t go into the full three weeks of recording for another fortnight. So, the designer and Chris Holcombe said ‘We’ve got to get some chicken wire up in that ceiling and put some sound absorbing material up there’. These poor guys were getting rashes on their hands, because it was this fibreglass stuff that you put in your loft. So we did that series and brought in some top-class artists.”

After Jazz Scene, Henebery found himself accepting an offer he couldn’t refuse from London Weekend Television, the prelude to a long and successful freelance career which took him to, among other places, Thames, the BBC again and finally, Yorkshire, in which county he has settled. Of all his many programme credits, he is still perhaps best known for those pioneering jazz programmes, but he remains modest. “I meet people, guys in the business, who say ‘Oh that was a great series’. I did whatever I could in the time we had to do it.” And what a time it was.

You Say

3 responses to this article

maquih 6 May 2013 at 8:49 am

Possibly my favorite TV show of all time!

barry stevens vt editor 21 March 2016 at 5:48 pm

How is Terry? I worked with him and Vernon Laurence in 1966 at the Centre in VT

Lynda Handley 10 January 2024 at 8:43 pm

I knew Terry and would love to know how he is.

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