Variety series that helped launch successful chart-topping careers for two of Britain's most popular singers, Kathy Kirby and Vince Hill, Stars and Garters, voted "The Best TV Series of 1963" by "Weekend" magazine, gave the appearance of being set in a pub filled with real customers as they were entertained with a mixture of music and jokes.
The idea of a variety show set inside a club or pub was not particularly new to television and had been successfully employed as far back as 1947 in the long-running Cafe Continental. But the inspiration for Stars and Garters was more likely a 1962 documentary called Time, Gentlemen, Please! in which Daniel Farson took a look at the pub entertainment scene in London. The documentary featured a comedian and disc jockey by the name of Ray Martine who, the following year, was chosen to compere the new Rediffusion light entertainment show.
The producers of Stars and Garters tried to recreate the atmosphere of 'the local' by inviting members of the public into the television studio for the first show, hoping that they would add to the atmosphere. However, there was one thing they didn't count on: The 'guest' audience was expecting free booze and instead they were presented with weak cordial and coloured water! As the guests showed their disapproval in front of the cameras on the live broadcast a decision was taken that for future shows professional extras would be employed to make up the audience.
Resident singers Kathy Kirby, Vince Hill, Tommy Bruce, Al Saxon, Clinton Ford and Julie Rayne provided the musical entertainment. Ilford born Kirby had been discovered at the age of sixteen by bandleader Bert Ambrose and, soon after appearing on Stars and Garters made a big impact on the music scene with her first hit record, "Dance On", entering the charts in August 1963. Several more hits and her own BBC TV series followed and she soon became known as the 'Golden Girl of British Pop'. However, Kirby never really fulfilled her early promise and by the 1970s she had virtually retired from show business.
Vince Hill, on the other hand, has proved a much more durable star. Born in Coventry, Hill got the taste for showbiz when his mother entered him for a talent contest in a pub, 'The Prospect', in Margate, Kent. Although he won the contest he was unable to accept the prize of a two-week engagement at the venue because he was only 15 and too young to have been there in the first place. By the time Stars and Garters came along Vince was already a successful radio personality having made the break from his group, The Raindrops, to embark on a solo career. He had already had a minor hit with "The River's Run Dry" (June 1962) and made appearances on Parade of the Pops, but almost didn't get the part on Stars and Garters. "Elkan Allen (the series producer) didn't want a ballad singer on the show," Vince told Television Heaven. "I did two pilots before I was given a regular spot." As far as the viewers were concerned it proved to be a popular choice.
Vince has enjoyed a hugely successful career as a recording artiste, TV personality and stage star. His biggest chart success was with "Edelweiss", from the musical 'The Sound of Music' in 1967. Through the '70s and '80s he had several hit TV shows including They Sold A Million, Musical Time Machine and his own musical chat show Gas Street. He says that he thoroughly enjoyed his time on Stars and Garters and thinks it's a shame that the light entertainment format seems to have disappeared from our TV screens. He has even tried to revive Stars and Garters in recent years in one format or another.
Ray Martine (born Raymond Isaacs) had begun his show business career playing at the Bridge House pub in London's Canning Town and this proved to be successful enough for him to give up his job in textiles and menswear. With the benefit of gags written by Dick Vosburgh and Marty Feldman, the Cockney/Jewish comedian soon became a firm favourite with viewers.
Like Kirby, Martine never fulfilled his early promise of stardom, but this may have been due to his reputation of being difficult to work with. Vince Hill remembers that at first he took something of a dislike to Martine. "I thought he was bit too cocky when I first met him and didn't like him at all," recalls Vince. "However, we soon became very good friends and got on famously." It was a reputation that stuck though, and after he was replaced as the host of Stars and Garters Ray Martine was rarely seen on TV again. He made a brief comeback in 1970 in a show called Jokers Wild. Kathy Kirby also proved to be difficult at times.
"There was a blonde female singer booked for one show," recalled Vince. "Kathy Kirby refused to go on. She told the producer 'I'm the only blonde singer on this show', and the poor guest singer was made to wear a dark wig for the recording." For the third series, Kirby was also dropped.
Stars and Garters, without Martine and Kirby was retitled The New Stars and Garters for a few weeks during October - November 1965 and was presented by former Emergency-Ward 10 star, Jill Browne, with assistance from Willy Rushton. The format was used, but in a wider variety sense -and on this occasion, the setting was a Northern working man's club- in the 1970s Granada show Wheeltappers' and Shunters' Social Club.
Published on February 4th, 2019. Written by Laurence Marcus (August 2003). With special thanks to Vince Hill. for Television Heaven.