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Terry Henebery, BBC producer who gave The Beatles their radio debut on Saturday Club – obituary

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Published Time: 16.05.2024 - 15:40:47 Modified Time: 16.05.2024 - 15:40:47

‘They’d come into the studio and horse about

‘They’d come into the studio and horse about. You had to crack the whip and say: ‘Come on, chaps!’ They’d be lying on the floor, giggling’

: Popperfoto

Terry Henebery, who has died aged 91, was a versatile television and radio producer who first brought the Beatles into the nation’s homes, producing their debut on Saturday Club and their own series Pop Go the Beatles for the BBC Light Programme.

His preference – bluntly stated at times – was for jazz or classical music. Trained as a clarinettist, Henebery got to know the greats of jazz, persuading the likes of Oscar Peterson, Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald to perform for the BBC.

His career ranged from producing Bruce Forsyth in The Generation Game with the BBC and Tommy Cooper specials – and Kenny Everett’s televisual debut – for London Weekend to the game show 3-2-1 and a concert by James Galway in Jerusalem with Yorkshire TV.

But it is for his work with the Beatles that Henebery is best remembered. His output can be heard on the 1994 CD set Live at the BBC, featuring many songs never otherwise recorded by the Fab Four.

: Paul Popper/Popperfoto

With the Musicians’ Union imposing strict limits on “needle time” with disc jockeys, the BBC in the early 1960s mainly served up a diet of “live” music, with dance bands imitating the hits of the day. The practice would reach its nadir with the Joe Loss Orchestra’s rendition of Bob Dylan’s Rainy Day Women # 12 & 35 with its chorus “Everybody must get stoned”.

From 1958 to 1963, Henebery was a producer of such shows, cutting his teeth on Jazz Club, Trad Tavern and Go Man, Go!, of which he produced 200 episodes. His tastes intruded at times; he had Alexis Korner barred after an excursion into rhythm-and-blues, and vetoed a weekly showcase for Chris Barber, rating him a prima donna.

The Beatles first appeared on BBC radio on January 26 1963, on Saturday Club, with Henebery in the control room. They had had fleeting chart success with Love Me Do, and weeks before had recorded their first album, Please Please Me, at Abbey Road with George Martin, but away from Liverpool they were little known. Their set comprised Some Other Guy, Love Me Do, Please Please Me, Keep Your Hands Off My Baby and Beautiful Dreamer. They appeared on Saturday Club nine times more, performing their own songs and R&B material from America.

: Popperfoto

Late that spring, with the Beatles topping the charts, their manager Brian Epstein negotiated their own Tuesday evening show: Pop Go the Beatles. The BBC set a budget of £100 per episode.

During its run – Henebery producing 13 shows out of 15 – the Beatles performed 56 songs, 25 of which they did not release on disc. Guest performers included the Searchers, the Hollies and the Swinging Bluejeans.

Henebery recalled of the sessions: “They’d come into the studio and horse about. You had to crack the whip and get on the loudspeaker talk-back key quite a lot and say: ‘Come on, chaps!’ They’d be lying on the floor, giggling.

“I remember afternoons at the BBC Paris Cinema studio where you were just looking at the clock, throwing up your hands in horror and thinking: ‘Will they ever settle down?’ People would get locked in the toilets and fool about. But you were, at the end of the day, getting some nice material out of them.”

It took time for Henebery to see the Beatles’ music that way. In the early days he would chunter: “Those bloody Beatles, they haven’t got a clue. I hate this music” – forgetting that Jane Asher, Paul McCartney’s girlfriend, was sitting quietly in the control room. His opinions did mellow: by 1966 he was producing a programme titled Chris Barber’s Brass Band plays the Beatles.

By the time Pop Go The Beatles finished its run that September, Beatlemania was rampant. The group’s radio days were almost over – and Henebery was reassigned to television for the start of BBC Two, where he launched the iconic Jazz 625 series.

: ITV/Shutterstock

Terence Patrick Henebery was born at Eltham, south-east London, on September 4 1932. His father worked for the Brigade of Guards; his mother was a pianist who accompanied silent movies at the local cinema. Leaving Bromley Grammar School, he studied clarinet at the Royal College of Music, interspersed with service as a musician with the Grenadier Guards – playing in Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation parade.

He joined BBC Television in 1955 as a sound operator, and in 1958 moved to radio light entertainment as a producer at Aeolian Hall. Encouraged by his saxophonist friend Ronnie Ross, he spent four and a half years with Jimmy Grant producing Jazz Club. Through the Flamingo Jazz Club in Soho he got to know Ronnie Scott and Tubby Hayes, helping them break through to stardom.

When the Light launched its Saturday lunchtime show Go, Man, Go! in January 1959, showcasing “rock, cha-cha, jazz and the top of the pops”, Henebery was chosen to produce it. Directed by David Ede, it featured the Oscar Rabin Band and singers.

After two years, at the height of the “trad” jazz boom, the format was shifted away from big-band music to include jazz artists such as Barber, Ken Colyer and Humphrey Lyttelton. The first pop singer to guest was the US artist Dion in September 1962. Henebery also produced some editions of Saturday Club, presented by Brian Matthew – including the Beatles’ first.

: BBC

For BBC Two’s launch in April 1964, he developed Jazz 625; the title emphasised the better picture quality of the new channel, broadcast on 625 lines, over BBC One’s 405.

Bill Cotton, then Assistant Head of Light Entertainment (Variety), commissioned the first series – having rejected Henebery’s proposal for a programme with interviews and profiles because of budget constraints. The BBC, Henebery lamented, “were keen to turn it around and get something on the screen quickly”.

Jazz 625 ran for two years, benefiting from the ending of an inter-union dispute that had made it hard for US jazz artists to perform in Britain, and a fertile time for British jazz, with musicians like Hayes, Tony Coe and Johnny Dankworth gaining international respect.

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