Friday, May 4, 2018

Teenage boy singers (50s & early 60s UK): Craig Douglas, Jess Conrad and Mark Wynter

In the UK mid-fifties, there were a number of teenage boy singers groomed by the industry, to appeal specifically to young female audiences without offending their parents. This was a deliberate attempt to offer alternatives to rock’n roll. The most popular were Craig Douglas, Mark Winter and Jess Conrad

Terence Perkins was born a twin, in 1941 in Newport, Isle of Wight. He had eight siblings and the family had three sets of twins. His mother was a professional singer and sang with the Douglas' sisters on the Isle of Wight. Terence preferred the outdoors to school and would often help the local milkman make his deliveries during the school holiday. This would later earn him the moniker, the 'Singing Milkman'. When he was 16, his mother entered him in a local talent contest and he won by singing Pat Boone’s "Love Letters in the Sand."

As part of his prize he was invited to sing at a variety show on the island. His pose and professionalism impressed London agent Bunny Lewis, who signed him and began was grooming him for a career on the stage in London. There were a number of Terry’s around at the time and Bunny Lewis, his new singing sensation as Craig Douglas after seeing the name outside a house in Scotland. After an appearance on The Six-Five Special, Craig was presented with two huge sacks of fan mail and given a recording contract with EMI.

His first single was cover version of Dion and the Belmonts, "A Teenager in Love" which reached #13 in the UK singles charts in 1959. The follow up single, “Only sixteen” was another cover but topped the charts outselling the original version by Sam Cooke. In 1959, Craig Douglas was voted 'Best New Singer' by the NME.

Craig was more comfortable with dignified pop music and his management quickly aimed him toward a more mature audience. His singing was very emotive but also very clean. He was obviously more comfortable with dignified pop music, such as "Time. " No matter he went on to record eight cover versions of former American hit songs, in his total of nine Top 40 UK singles. In 1961 he was chosen to represent Britain in the A Song For Europe contest with his song "The Girl Next Door", but did not do well. Craig Douglas' time on the English charts ended in 1962 and his major recording career came to a halt a year later with the advent of the Liverpool sound.

He appeared in several movies including Richard Lester's It's Trad, Dad with Helen Shapiro (1962). The Singing Milkman topped the bill on the Beatles' first major stage show in 1963, although their emergence ultimately spelt the end of Craig Douglas's chart career. Craig Douglas continued to perform regularly in clubs, on cruises, and in cabarets, as well as international tours. Today. Craig suffers from a rare condition that affects his legs which means he requires a wheelchair.

Gerald Arthur James was born in 1936 in Brixton, South East London, His father had a flower market at Marble Arch and young Gerald, was soon nicknamed "Jesse" after the American outlaw, Jesse James. From a boy he dreamed of a career in show-business and as a young teenager managed to get a part as a film extra. He worked on his father’s stall to pay for acting lessons in an East London drama school before getting a Film Artistes Association union card. There was already an actor named "Gerald James" in Actors Equity, so Jess took the surname Conrad after Joseph Conrad, as his stage name. The handsome young actor toured the UK with the Charles Danville Company. Between times he appeared in commercials. When television producer Daphne Shadwell saw him see felt he was right for the part of 'Barney Day' in the TV play "Rock A- Bye Barney" which was about a rock and roll performer. I t screened in 1959, and although his singing was over dubbed by Garry Mills, he acting was good enough to get him a part in the Human Jungle TV series where he reprised the role of a trouble rock ‘n roller called Danny Pace in the episode, The Flip Side Man. The role called for him to sing four numbers in character.

Jack Good saw the program and thought Conrad looked like a real pop star and invited him to join the line-up of his new TV series, Oh, Boy! Singing was not Jess’s strongest asset but as he did look the part and was given a recording contract by Decca. His first single release was a cover of Skip and Flip's US hit, 'Cherry Pie.' Which reached #39 in the UK singles charts. His second single flopped and it looked as though Jess's chart career was a none started. Then, his third release, ‘Mystery Girl’ reached #18. In 1961, Jess was voted England's "Most Popular Male Singer" in the 1961 NME annual poll and played the London Palladium and Wembley Pool. The young singer went on to tour the world with other luminaries such as, Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, Brenda Lee, Billy Fury, Marty Wilde, Joe Brown, Eden Kane and Johnny Kidd to name a few. By 1962, and the release of “Pretty Jenny,” Jess’s chart career was at an end. He did continue to make records into the 1970's but with little commercial success.

Jess recorded 'This Pullover' in 1961, the single failed to chart but did receive a degree of notoriety when it appeared in Kenny Everett’s 'Worst Records Of All Time' show in 1977. No fewer than 7 of Jess Conrad's singles were included in the 'World's Worst Record' list, chosen by listeners to Capital FM DJ Kenny Everett's show.

Fortunatley, Jess had his acting career to fall back upon and had been regularly working as an extra and bit part actor throughout the late 1950s and mid-1960s, including Serious Charge (uncredited). He went on to become an accomplished actor appearing in many films, on stage in musical theatre, drama and light comedy and pantomime, as well as numerous television appearances.

To the early Punks he was an icon and featured in a cameo role in the Sex Pistols film The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle.

Jess Conrad continues to entertain and has used his celebrity status to maintain a high profile in fundraising events for various charities.

Terence Sidney Lewis was born in 1943 in Woking, Surrey. They moved to the Elephant and Castle in South London and lived in humble circumstance before his mother remarried and the family later moved to Downham, Kent. It was soon apparent Terry had a pure soprano voice, and he joined the local choir. He soon became the Head Choirboy. His family were all musical and Terry decided aged 13 he would like to become a pop singer. He filled in for called “Hank Fryer and the Rockerfella's” when ‘Hanknd other pop singers sich as Terry Dene ' took a fifteen-minute break for a quick pint. Terry became a regular fill in and was spotted by talent scout, Ray Mackender in 1959 when he was singing in a Peckham dance hall Mackender signed him up. Terry decided to change his name to lessen the confusion with the American comedian, Jerry Lewis and other pop singers such as Terry Dene. Mark Wynter’s first single "Image of a Girl" (1960) reached #11 in the UK singles charts but follow up releases failed to reach the Top Twenty. Then in 1962, Mark Winter reached #4 in the UK charts with a cover version of Jimmy Clanton – "Venus in Blue Jeans".

The follow up single "Go Away Little Girl" (1962) also made the Top Ten at #6. Subsequent releases were less successful but in 1963. Mark was back in the Top Twenty with "It's Almost Tomorrow", which would be his last Top Twenty single. By this time the record buying public had changed their preference to beat groups and many solo artists were either unwilling or contractually unable to make a successful transition. Mark continued to record with other singles and several albums.

By the end of the sixties, Mark Wynter changed his career to actor and has worked in television. theatre and musicals, including Cats and The Phantom of the Opera. In 1994 he created the role of Van Helsing in the studio recording of the opera/musical "Nosferatu" by Bernard J. Taylor. Mark became a well know voice broadcasting on BBC Radio 2 during the early 1990s when he presented daytime shows as well as documentaries. He continues to work and tours the country with an Agatha Christie theatre company. .

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