For one heady moment in 1960, the young, cocky, emergent post-war generation found an answer to to our square (as we used to say) elders and betters who rubbished the new pop culture as uncouth and uncivilised.
The answer came in the unlikely juxtaposition of John Freeman, the distinguished broadcaster and politician who has recently died, two months short of his 100th birthday, and singer Adam Faith, who died in 2003.
John Freeman entered UK living rooms in 1959 with his BBC programme Face to Face, a series of 35 interviews with prominent public people from a range of backgrounds.
The programme’s style was intense and dramatic. You didn’t see Freeman’s face, only the back of his head. The camera focused on the individuals being interviewed, mercilessly focusing on their responses to their interrogator’s polite, probing, persistent questions.
Luminaries in the spotlight included Bertrand Russell, Carl Gustav Jung, Martin Luther King (pictured above) — and Adam Faith, pop singer and teen idol, best known at that time for his hits, What Do You Want, Poor Me and Someone Else’s Baby.
Viewers for this interview on December 11, 1960 included those who gleefully anticipated a remorseless exposition of Faith and the generation he represented as uncultured and lightweight, and those who fearfully anticipated the same.
But what did we get? To the bafflement of some and the delight of others, a well-spoken, polite, thoughtful young man, interested in philosophy, whose musical tastes included Sibelius and Dvorak, and whose favourite book was J D Salinger’s The Catcher In The Rye.
A new accent
For a glorious short period, Adam Faith was the thinking teenager’s idol.
His accent was different, a bit rough, a bit Cockney, characterised by his pronunciation of ‘baby’ as ‘bi-bee’ (oh yes, that old West London lingo).
He was associated with the legendary 2i’s coffee bar in London’s Soho, a showcase for musicians such as Tommy Steele, Vince Eager, Vince Taylor, Terry Dene, Joe Brown, Marty Wilde and Lonnie Donegan.
He was in Beat Girl, the 1960 Soho-based film about youthful rebellion, and which featured his song Made You, which was banned by the BBC for its dodgy lyrics.
All this, and a challenging familiarity with classical music and contemporary American literature — here was a voice we were proud to identify with.
Alas, the light burned brightly for a short period only. Adam went on to have a successful and varied career, but the persona revealed under John Freeman’s spotlight disappeared.
It was a strange moment and an exciting one, a meeting of the establishment and a young pretender, which in a way anticipated the way in which rebellion and rock ‘n’ roll became respectable, sooner than we might have thought.