With the return of MASTERPIECE: Grantchester, there have been some changes to the sleepy little town in this new season. The fourth season promises civil rights, Elvis, a new love interest for Sydney, a new vicar of Grantchester, and — of course — murder. While we're just getting used to the new Reverend, Will Davenport — and brooding about the departure of James Norton’s Sydney Chambers — that isn't the only thing changing in town.
Besides his leather jacket and shiny motorcycle, the new Reverend (played by Tom Brittney) has another modern interest — rock 'n’ roll. While Geordie attributes the death of society to Elvis, Will Davenport could not be happier to change with the times. Out with Sydney's jazz, and in with the rock 'n' roll of the 1950's. Yet, in this pre-Beatles landscape, the genre is a bit different than the British Invasion. To celebrate this changing sound of Grantchester, we have compiled a list of fast facts about British rock 'n’ roll in the 1950’s:
1. American music became popular in the United Kingdom starting in World War II, when soldiers would share records with each other, allowing for British youth to remain up to date with changing music styles in America. This history of music sharing made England primed to receive this revolutionary new music genre from America.
2. Rock 'n’ roll first came to the UK through the film Blackboard Jungle (1955), which featured the song "Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley and the Comets in its opening sequence. It was the first time a rock 'n' roll song had been used in a Hollywood film, and people clamored for more. The following year the United Kingdom got another taste of rock 'n' roll through the film Rock Around the Clock (1956), a musical that focused on the band that had changed America — and the UK — forever.
3. Both films were hits in England, inspiring young moviegoers to act up by ripping up seats in theaters in order to dance. As a result, American rock 'n’ roll was banned on many of the BBC operated radio stations, due to the supposed delinquency these films encouraged.
4. The teenagers of the baby boom were more working class than their American counterparts, and they often spent their new free time experimenting with new musical styles as a method of distraction from the chaos and destruction left over from World War II — London was still littered with bomb sites, and the new economic growth was uneven in its effects.
5. British rock 'n’ roll began with the advent of skiffle, a genre of music that had grown out of traditional American jazz music. Skiffle, unlike the rock 'n' roll it would foster, was characterized by instruments that could be made out of household objects, such as jugs, brooms, and washboards.
6. The most popular skiffler was Lonnie Donegan, who enjoyed a series of hits in the late 1950’s that brought national attention to this new type of music. His song "Rock Island Line" was said to have inspired British rock 'n' roll to come.
7. As rock 'n’ roll grew in the U.S, the British struggled to keep up with this new wave of music. Instead of fostering original acts, many record labels opted to create acts that mimicked the sound of America bands – acts like Marty Wilde, Johnny Gentle, Cliff Richards and the Drifters.
8. Tommy Steele is credited with being the United Kingdom’s first rock ’n’ roller, launching into national fame with the release of his song “Rock with the Caveman.” Steele was the first teenage star to marry the sounds of British skiffle and American rock 'n' roll, creating an new, British sound in the genre.
9. Some of the earliest adopters of rock 'n’ roll were “Teddy Boys,” young men and women who wore Edwardian inspired clothing and who were at the forefront of the British subculture. These young men and women were among the first to call themselves "teenagers," linking rock 'n' roll to the younger generation.
10. Ultimately, the early British rock 'n' roll bands were considered of limited significance, both in America and in their home land. However, the bands that followed – acts that were considered R&B like the Rolling Stones, or the Yardbirds, or 'beat' bands like the Beatles, would go on to change the face of the music industry.
British Cinema of the 1950s: The Decline of Deference
I Wanna Be Me: Rock Music and the Politics of Identity
British Hit Singles
The British Invasion: From the Beatles to the Stones, The Sixties Belonged to Britain
The 50s: A Decade of Music That Changed the World
Rock and Roll: A Social History
The Subcultures Reader