Poster of the movie Rock Around the Clock

The movie, ‘Rock Around the Clock’ remains a fitting tribute to perhaps the unlikeliest rock and roll trailblazer of them all.

THIS DAY IN MUSIC 9TH Nov. 2010

Parents had spotted that their teenage children seemed restless but couldn’t work out why. Even the ‘Richmond and Twickenham Times’ had noticed…

“The youngsters who throng the streets of Richmond at night are dissatisfied… talk with them and you will find a deep rooted contempt of a routine pattern of living… the day-to-day world does not suit them. There is an underlying desire for escape but from what? It is something that they could not put into words.”

MALCOLM HENDERSON ’Richmond and Twickenham Times: August 25th 1956

Happily, a chubby, avuncular American with a kiss curl was about to put it into words for them…

Bill Haley   portrait
bq.. “On your marks. Get Set. Now ready? Go! Everybody razzle dazzle!”…

With one accord the audience leapt to its feet and started bopping about in a way I had never in my life seen before! I was looking at the screen and then the audience, back and forth, as though I was at Wimbledon. I was totally bowled over by the simple display of animal force and energy – and I loved it."

JACK GOOD – TV Producer

Trocadero riot

The avuncular American was Bill Haley and the name of his message was ‘Rock ’n’ Roll!‘ It had been lurking around for a few months and some of its earliest stars had already made their mark but Bill Haley had been first in the field and now he was about to demonstrate his success in a ’novelty musical’ feature film called ‘Rock Around the Clock". Described in the “Rich and Twick” as the ’first film to plead the cause of the newest craze in modern dance music’ the film starred Bill Haley and the Comets, and a slew of other tidy ‘teen-pleasers’ like the Platters and Freddie Bell and the Bellboys. When the film premiered at the Trocadero in Piccadilly early in September 1956 the police were called to break up a crowd of rowdy teenagers jiving in the aisles. The following day a letter appeared in ‘The Times’

“The hypnotic rhythm and the wild gestures have a maddening effect on a rhythm loving age group and the result of its impact is the relaxing of all self control.”

steve race

Even our very own popular piano playing pundit and party pooper Steve Race chipped in…

“Rock and roll is one of the most terrifying things ever to have happened to popular music. The promotion and acceptance of this cult is a monstrous threat…let us oppose it to the end.!”

STEVE RACE Melody Maker May 1956

Now this monstrous cult with its crepe and drape teddy boy suits, ducktail haircuts and boisterous behaviour was coming to Richmond and Twickenham cinemas – larger than life and twice as noisy …and the adult populace was nervous, especially after reading this review …

Jiving

‘The title appeared – Rock Around the Clock. There was a shout of “doyng” – a teenage cry. Then a loud, wild shout beat out, with a sudden throbbing, like an express train rushing through a station. One, two, three o’clock, four o’clock ROCK! Five, six, seven o’clock, eight o’clock ROCK!… The audience roared the words as jivers whirled across the screen. The stamping and finger-snapping started again. A boy in front stood up and started jiving in front of his seat. A policeman appeared at the end of the row and pointed firmly at him. The boy hesitated for a moment, looked at his friends, and then walked sullenly out with the policeman, followed by some of his friends. There was a mutter of resentment, but the stamping went on.’

THE OBSERVER September 16th 1956

‘Rock Around the Clock’ opened at the Gaumonts in Richmond and Twickenham on Sunday and Monday, 2nd and 3rd of September. Although police were standing by in case of trouble the only incident occurred in Richmond on Monday…

teddy boys

Mr L Cobb the relief manager said “We had a spot of bother when a couple of Teddy boys started jiving in the gangway. They soon went back to their seats when the police arrived. It was all over in about ten minutes.” When asked if family audiences were staying away from the film Mr Cobb said, “I was surprised at the number of middle-aged and elderly people who have seen the programme. Box office takings are good.”

There was some shouting during the showing of the film in Twickenham but the manager, Mr Roy Girdler, aged 27, declined police assistance and turned out 10 noisy youths himself. As result he was immediately promoted to manage the larger Odeon cinema in Uxbridge.

teddy boys and girls

The only other reported disruption was when Alex McCoy, the manager of the Ritz in Richmond, decided to promote his film for the week “My Teenage Daughter” by parading a trad jazz band around the streets on the back of a lorry, but… “After the trouble that has been caused by the rock ‘n’ roll film in Richmond and elsewhere I decided to cancel the promotion. People not knowing the difference between traditional jazz and rock ‘n’ roll might have misjudged what it was for.” Brian Rutland, the leader of the jazz band said later, “It’s a great pity. All the boys were looking forward to playing on the back of a lorry.”

And so “Rock Around the Clock” passed into history along with Bill Haley, his kiss curl and his middle aged associates to be replaced by younger, meaner and sexier performers like Elvis and Buddy, Eddy and Gene and Chuck and Fats. As for the parents – it just something else for them to worry about.

A clip from “Rock Around the Clock” featuring Bill Haley

Dancers Earl Barton and Lisa Gaye and some hip jive talk, daddio! Coming in on a cloud!

— from Martyn Day