If the producers of 1970s TV series Black Sheep Squadron (formerly entitled Baa Baa Black Sheep) were looking for guest stars, Peter Frampton probably wasn't at the top of the list. It was a show about a squadron of misfit American WWII fighter pilots based in the Solomon Islands, and Frampton was English. He also had long hair, and if we know anything about the grooming habits of soldiers, it's that short hair was enforced.
But on April 6, 1978, Frampton appeared on the show's final episode, resplendent in uniform, with his hair very much in need of a trim. If anything, it was no shorter than the shoulder-troubling trusses that adorned the cover of his breakthrough live album, Frampton Comes Alive!, released two years previously.
In the episode, one of the Black Sheep, First Lieutenant "Bobby" Boyle – played by actor Jake Mitchell – damages his aircraft and makes for an island known as "England". He comes down and is found by a "coastwatcher" played by Frampton, who must help reunite Boyle with his squadron before the Japanese arrive.
This might sound like an unlikely story, but there was some logic to the narrative. Coastwatchers were military intelligence operatives stationed on remote Pacific islands, whose job was to watch enemy movements and rescue stranded Allied soldiers. And a coastwatcher – who might be stationed in the jungle for months at a time – would presumably have limited access to hairdressing facilities. So Frampton's lustrous curls? Almost believable.
Frampton got the role after spotting actor Robert Conrad – who played the squadron's commanding officer Major Greg "Pappy" Boyington – in a Los Angeles restaurant.
"I'm a huge fan, and I said: 'If you ever need a walk-on on one of your shows…'" Frampton told Classic Rock. "Ten days later I get the script. A Little Piece Of England, it was called. And my character was on every page. I was like the guest star. I wasn’t very good on the first day of shooting, because I was nervous. But I improved. I learned my lines and everybody’s lines."
"There was a young actor in the show, and since My Country 'Tis of Thee has the same melody as God Save the King, they had him singing My Country 'Tis of Thee and me singing God Save the King at the same time," Frampton wrote in his 2020 memoir, Do You Feel Like I Do. "We're pulling up the flag in the morning, having a spot of tea. I was supposed to be an eccentric English earl, so I had long hair. But I had streaks in it – in 1943!"
Frampton's enthusiasm for the role was only heightened by the disappointment he'd felt over his contribution the same year to the disastrous jukebox musical Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, in which he'd played Billy Shears: "Barry Gibb asked me why I did the show, and I said: 'Because we just spent six months making this shitty movie, and I haven’t said a damned word.'
"I wanted to find out what it was like acting. I was going to have fun and be on a programme with my favourite actor. I had more fun in that week than I did in six months on Sgt. Pepper."
Frampton's acting career never really took off, although he did famously play himself on Homerpalooza, the much-loved episode of The Simpsons, but he still harbours some silver screen ambitions.
"My daughter still wants me to be on an episode of Law & Order SVU," Frampton told Classic Rock. "I could play the old guy on the street with the cup, saying: 'Just put the money in here,' while dribbling, but who, it turns out, is the witness they really need [laughs].