Rock Follies

1976 | United Kingdom

Innovative and groundbreaking musical comedy drama with a storyline that was almost as sensational off the screen as it was on. 

Rock Follies began with three struggling actresses deciding to audition for a west-end style play entitled 'Broadway Annie.' Although they are successfully cast the show itself only ever rises to the dizzying heights of mediocrity and, unsurprisingly, closes leaving the trio out of work. More out of necessity than friendship and a little encouragement from the show's musical director, Derek Huggins, the girls decide to form their own rock band called the Little Ladies. The band goes on a tour playing pubs, clubs and bars around provincial Britain, which soon places a strain on their relationships with partners, business contacts and each other. As their fortunes rise and fall they come into contact with fortune hunters, sleazy industry types and manipulators, and end up at one point performing in a soft-core porn film. 

The group was made up of Nancy (Rula Lenska), Dee (Julie Covington) and Anna (Charlotte Cornwell) after the producers had tried out endless combinations of trios in order to find the right chemistry. It worked; because the series became a smash hit and, in a case of life imitating art, the Little Ladies had a top ten hit with a single called 'OK?' and between seasons (the second was called Rock Follies of '77) Julie Covington had a number one hit with 'Don't Cry For Me Argentina'.

Rock Follies was groundbreaking in so much as it was the first musical drama in serial form and featured all original songs and music, with Busby Berkeley inspired fantasy sequences that laid the groundwork for the later series Pennies From Heaven by Dennis Potter. It was also unusual in portraying strong female central characters, and having an overtly feminist message. The format also anticipated the age of the music video and MTV, being made at a time when the music video itself was in its extreme infancy. 

The original music was penned by Roxy Music saxophonist Andy Mackay. The show won a BAFTA award in 1976. Industrial action during May 1977 threatened production of the second series causing the last few episodes to be postponed until November. But this series pushed the style further in an experimental direction focusing more on the music and fantasy sequences and sophisticated video effects. The group were joined by Rox (Sue Jones-Davies) and guest actors included Tim Curry and Bob Hoskins. 

Rock Follies was shown in the USA on public service television, and rapidly became something of a cult, but the second series was felt to be too raunchy for sensitive American tastes with its frank portrayal of sex, drugs and rock 'n roll. As a result the second series wasn't shown on US television until 15 years later. 

In the UK there was a storm of controversy when another all-girl group claimed that ITV had stolen their original idea for the series. Annabel Leventon, Diane Langton and Gaye Brown, the all-girl group called Rock Bottom and their former manager Donald Fraser gave the idea to Thames television who signed them under contract. The series was to be part fact and part fiction, the factual part being based on the actresses' own experiences, and was to focus on both the group and the individual members' lives to contrast their collective character with their individual characters. A confirming letter was sent to the parties involved stating that Thames was to 'acquire an option on your services in connection with a possible new series'; that the actresses were to have first refusal should the series be proceeded with; and that if they declined the offer Thames was to have the right to make the series with three other actresses. However, when the idea was accepted ITV recast the group without offering the actresses the agreed option. It was a move that cost the company a £250,000 out-of-court settlement. 

Trivia

The 2nd series, due to the industrial problems ITV suffered, Rock Follies of '77 (eps 1-3) was also repeated later in the year as a 'feature length edition,' with a duration of 90 minutes and was shown one week before continuing with the first showing of eps 4 - 6 in November of 1977.







Published on January 25th, 2019. Written by Laurence Marcus (29 November 2007) Trivia: Lol Parker-Foord for Television Heaven.

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