The Independent Archive 27 September 1989: `A simple idea, but very revealing at its best'

`Juke Box Jury' has returned to the screen in its Sixties format. Jim White takes a first peek
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The Independent Culture
WEARING A trademark hip-friendly micro-dress, Sinitta waits in the wings, concentrating as Julian Clary pronounces on her new single. It isn't his cup of tea. "After hearing Kate Bush, listening to this was like reading Dickens after flicking through The Sun," says the camp comedian.

"Or the other way round," offers Jools Holland, the compere. "You're right, Jools, yes, the other way round."

Unbeknown to Clary, throughout this exchange the camera was locked on Sinitta, following her struggle to replace a narrow-eyed scowl with a devil-may-care curling of the sides of her mouth. The rest of the panel votes it a hit, "which is just as well", says Holland, "as waiting in our mystery hovel is our first mystery guest . . . . Sinitta."

On she comes, and points at Clary. "This man has no taste." As she says it the camera fixes on Clary. His heavily decorated eyelids drop, and, underneath the make-up, he may well be blushing.

All of which means that the Sixties hit Juke Box Jury is back, complete with the ritual confrontation of mystery guest and rude panel list. Back, too, come the "hit" bell and the "miss" klaxon and, as if they ever went away, the ludicrous fashions.

Juke Box Jury looks much as we remember it. The boy with the quiff and the black polo neck who always seemed to sit in the front row, tapping his Chelsea boots in time to the new Dave Clark Five disc, is back - except that he now has tram lines shaved into his scalp, a Naf-Naf T-shirt, and a new pair of Reeboks to keep the beat.

Though we get a glimpse of the videos, the camera spends most of its time seeking reactions on the faces of panellists and audience. There is nothing profound about it; a middle-aged woman singing cheerfully along tells you much more about a new record than watching the singer miming to it in the middle of a copse.

Jools Holland reckons the reason the programme enjoyed an eight-and-a- half-year run in its original incarnation was that it gave the fans the opportunity not so much to hear the new releases but to get to know their heroes by assessing their reaction to contemporaries' work. "When I watched it as a child," he says, "I used to use it to confirm my own judgement: `I like him and he agrees with me.' Like Desert Island Discs, it may be a simple idea, but it can be very revealing at its best. The difference now is that, as we have grown more sophisticated, we expect panellists not just to be frank, like they were in the original, but to know how to be funny about things."

Not, Julian Clary aside, that there was much frankness on display in the first programme. The panellists veered from the trite (Simon Climie: "This is a pop record, right") to the sycophantic Jermaine Jackson's "I am a close personal friend of Mr Cooper" and "I happen to know Milli Vanilli very well" drew an arched eyebrow from Holland: "Is there anyone you don't know?"

If the Eighties audience has different tastes, it is evident in choice of presenter. The urbane David Jacobs, in his blazer and Garrick Club tie, was the same age, as Holland, in his south London spiv's pin-stripes, when he first presided over the panel.

"A lovely bloke," reckons Holland of his predecessor. "But, as a child, I could never imagine him actually liking any of the records. He came across as very much the fatherly figure, the schoolmaster." Indeed, when Jacobs presented his most memorable edition from the Beatles Fan Club Convention, with all four mop-tops as panellists (Ringo didn't like an Elvis record), his presence avoided a near riot.

"We were doing the show live, and the noise beforehand was unbelievable," he recalls. "So I simply addressed the audience before the boys came on, and said: `Look, we'd all much rather hear what the Beatles have to say rather than a lot of screaming.' And you know what? They were perfectly behaved."

Holland says: "I asked Jacobs for his one piece of advice. He thought about it, then said: `Are you recording two shows at once? Well, make sure you move the audience around so those at the front go to the back for the second show and vice versa.'

"I thought: `Thanks a lot, I was expecting something profound.' But then he said, `Just enjoy yourself', which is, I suppose the best advice . . . It's nothing clever. It's a piece of fun, really."

From the Media page of `The Independent', Wednesday 27 September 1989