Hosted by Hughie Green, the TV talent show to watch on Monday nights in the 1970s was undoubtedly Opportunity Knocks.
Hundreds of familiar names made their debut on the programme, including Huyton comedian Freddie Starr and Southport singer Berni Flint.
Liverpool comic Stan Boardman, Les Dawson, Paul Daniels, Bonnie Langford, Peters and Lee, Lena Zavaroni, Pam Ayres, Paper Lace and even Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown all appeared on the popular ITV programme.
Hi-de-Hi star Su Pollard famously sang the Oklahoma number I Can’t Say No on the show in 1974 – but was beaten by a singing Jack Russell!
The problem for Pollard was that winners were decided entirely by public vote, even though there was a ‘clap-o-meter’ in the studio recording the strength of audience applause.
There were no such vagaries in the rival talent show New Faces, hosted by Derek Hobson and later Marti Caine. A panel of four celebrities, regularly including record producer Mickie Most and composer Tony Hatch, decided the outcome.
Merseyside had its fair share of contestants there too. Emmerdale actress Malandra Burrows, born in Woolton, was the show’s youngest ever winner at the age of nine in 1974.
Garston comedian, presenter and actor Les Dennis also topped the New Faces’ leaderboard in 1974. On the judging panel when Dennis performed was Dingle-born veteran entertainer Arthur Askey.
Liverpool comedian Ted Ray, who often appeared with Askey on the TV comedy game Jokers Wild, was also a regular guest judge.
Opportunity Knocks was first aired as a BBC radio programme on February 18th 1949 before moving to Radio Luxembourg in the 1950s.
There was a brief run on ITV in the summer of 1956, but the main programme – hosted by Green – was broadcast from July 1964 to March 1978.
Although the clap-o-meter indicated audience preference each week, postal votes always decided the winner. Green insisted that the votes had to be in the viewers’ own hand-writing to ensure fairness.
After its long run under Green, Opportunity Knocks was revived by the BBC in March 1987 with Bob Monkhouse as presenter. He lasted for three years before handing over to Les Dawson for a year in 1990.
The BBC version was the first TV show to use the now familiar telephone vote system to decide weekly winners.
Anarchic Merseyside comedian and impressionist Freddie Starr appeared on Opportunity Knocks in 1967 as part of the comic-beat group Freddie Starr and the Delmonts.
Before then he was the lead singer of Merseybeat rock-and-roll group the Midniters, managed by Brian Epstein.
Starr was a hit with the Opportunity Knocks’ voters as his act topped the leader board for six weeks in a row.
After appearing on the 1970 Royal Variety Performance, Starr was a regular on the TV programmes Who Do You Do and Jokers Wild. He then hosted his own TV shows.
Starr’s six-week stint on Opportunity Knocks was no match for Southport singer-songwriter Berni Flint. The former Royal Navy sailor and window cleaner was voted the show’s best act for no less than 12 weeks!
After two pilot shows, New Faces began its first full series on ATV in July 1973 with Derek Hobson as host. Carl Wayne, formerly of the Move, sang the theme tune You’re a Star.
Contestants were marked out of ten in the three categories of presentation, content and star quality by a panel of four judges.
Joining Mickie Most and Tony Hatch were a host of celebrities including Ed Stewart, Ingrid Pitt, Lionel Blair, Lonnie Donegan and Muriel Young.
The final series aired in 1978 with singer Patti Boulaye as the eventual winner. She was the only contestant ever to achieve the maximum possible mark of 120 points.
Les Dennis came close with 111 points, only marked down by Hatch who gave him nine points for presentation instead of the perfect 10.
It provoked a strong reaction from fellow panelist Askey who broke into a chorus of ‘Tony is a spoilsport.’
Dennis went on to form a comedy duo with Dustin Gee before hosting the panel game Family Fortunes for 15 years from 1987 to 2002. Recently he played Michael Rodwell in Coronation Street.
Malandra Burrows appeared as a child performer on the same all-winners’ show as Dennis in 1974, going on to win the 1978 BBC Merseyside Songwriter of the Year contest at the age of 13.
She played Cathy Bates on the ITV soap Emmerdale from 1985 to 2001 and released a single, Just This Side of Love, in 1990. It reached No. 11 in the UK charts.
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