"An amateur sounding vocalist who sings wrong notes and out of tune": the BBC's verdict on the "devoid of personality" David Bowie in 1965

David Bowie at the BBC, 1965
(Image credit: Alisdair MacDonald/Daily Mirror/Mirrorpix via Getty Images)

Rejection often goes hand in hand with the artistic process, as many great musicians are only too aware: would anyone remember the name of 1960s A&R man Dick Rowe had he not famously told The Beatles' manager “guitar groups are on the way out, Mr Epstein” when turning down the chance to sign The Fab Four to Decca Records?

The old maxim 'whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger' is one that musicians might like to keep in their heads when first navigating the choppy seas of critical appraisal. They might also do well to keep in mind the story of young 'Davy Jones', a teenager fronting a Kent-based R&B band, who in 1965 were deemed unworthy of national radio airplay by the British Broadcasting Corporation, due to the fact that their vocalist was evaluated as "devoid of personality", "amateur sounding" and “not particularly exciting”. Ouch.

In later years, to be fair, one imagines that David Bowie, as he was subsequently known, would have been rather tickled as the memory of these insults.

The story of the BBC's rejection of Davy Jones and The Manish Boys, after their audition for the corporation's Talent Selection Group is included in a new book, Bowie at the BBC: A Life in Interviews by Tom Hagler.

"I think there were seven people [on the panel], the great and the good and just some ordinary people," he tells The Telegraph. "Only two gave them a hit and five said no, not good enough to go on the airwaves."

Thanks, however, to John Peel, Bowie would get a second audition at the Beeb, and this time, he made the grade. In a taped message for an edition of This is Your Life dedicated to the iconic DJ, Bowie paid tribute to Peel's enthusiasm for music, and noted with his tongue firmly in his cheek that Peel helped him get, "freewheeling access to a lifetime of singing all the wrong notes."

Davy Jones and The Manish Boys' appearance on BBC TV show Gadzooks! It's All Happening in 1965 was not without controversy though. The show's producer Barry Langford insisted that Bowie cut his hair, which he refused to do, and the group organised demonstrations at Television Centre with banners stating 'Be Fair To Long Hair'. The band were allowed to appear on the show with the condition that if they got complaints, their fee would go to charity. The show was broadcast on BBC 2 on Monday, March 8, 1965. No complaints were made.

UPDATE: This article has been corrected following an email from Michael Whitehead, the former drummer of the Manish Boys, who points out that it was this band, not The Lower Third, as originally stated, who were rejected by the BBC's Talent Selection Group.

In his email, Mr Whitehead adds: 'The Manish Boys with Davy did eventually appear on “Gadzooks” after the fans contacted the producer to complain and to let Davy and the Boys on the TV show, which he did.

In 1965 Davy and the Boys recorded under the producer, Shel Tammy on Parlophone records, I Pity the Fool, and Take my Tip

The group also were a supporting group on the “Gene Pitney Tour,” on the last week of the tour, which included The Kinks, Gerry and the Pacemakers, and Marianne Faithful.'

Thank you to Mr Whitehead for the correction. 

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.