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CUDDLY DUDLEY (& the Redcaps)

In the 1950’s, Dudley Heslop was probably the best known black rocker in the 1950’s UK thanks to many TV appearances on the famous "Oh Boy" show.  With ambitions to fame one of the first acts was to drop his surname and label himself “Cuddly Dudley”.  With his Big Band background, the re-branded “Cuddly Dudley” made his debut on the Oriole label with the Charles Ross Orchestra.  Rock ‘n’ Roll, having taken over America, was now breaking big in the UK and various “traditional” acts were re-aligning themselves to include the new sound and increase their appeal with a younger audience.  Dudley, managed by Guy Robinson who also looked after Johnny Kidd's early career, used to have himself promoted as Bristol's "answer" to the Big Bopper!

Meanwhile, Jack Good was spreading the appeal of Rock ‘n’ Roll to the UK teen audience via a series of original television shows centred around artists and audience but in a more dynamic "show" way rather than the conveyor-belt approach that the future “Top Of The Pops” would take.  His current show broadcast by the BBC was entitled “Oh Boy!” and would feature all the top UK rockers of the day from Cliff Richard and Billy Fury plus a multitude of others like Vince Eager and Johnny Gentle.  The backing was often provided by the Harry Robinson Band masquerading under the rather British title of “Lord Rockinghams’ XI”, who went on to a famous no.1 of their own, “Hoots Mon!” in 1958.

It was while Good was looking for new talent for this new show that Dudley was given his big break as a solo singer and with his big grin and smart suits with flashy ties Dudley became an instant hit with the viewing public.  In late 1958 the programme was encapsulated on an LP issued on the Parlophone label and Dudley featured on two tracks, "Hey Hey Hey Hey" (later covered by the Beatles in a medley with “Kansas City”) and "Lets Rock While The Rockings' Good".

In 1959 his debut single for HMV was released, coupling "Later" with "Lots More Love" (HMV Pop 586).  In January he featured in a film called “Latin Quarter” (filmed in the London nightspot of the same name) with the likes of Lord Rockinghams’ XI and Cherry Wainer.  During one of his dance routines Dudley fell off the stage, injuring ligaments in his leg, however it was not enough to prevent him appearing on the next edition of “Oh Boy!” the same week!  The following month Cliff Richard was indisposed with a sore throat and having to rest needed urgent deputising. Dudley was the man, although he had to be rushed to Euston, train ride to Manchester and finally taxi to Wigan to deputise in two shows that evening.  It was worth it; both times he brought the house down. Next day it was straight off to Newcastle while the next day was at Sheffield.  Finally it was back to London in time to appear at the 'Regal' in Edmonton, while in between making appearances on "Oh Boy" and "Top Numbers"!

In September, Dudley appeared in the “Big Pop Prom” at the Albert Hall and the following month acquired his own backing group, an all-black combo called The Embraceable Four”.  There were many more television appearances over the course of the year, which rounded off with one in Brussels.  In 1960 he was support to top American vocal group the Platters and released his second single “Too Pooped To Pop” coupled with “Kiss In Between” (HMV POP 725), the A-side of which was penned by Chuck Berry.

Year Label A-side / B-side
1959    HMV POP586    Lots More Love/ Later 
1960    HMV POP725    Too Pooped To Pop/ Miss In- Between 
1961    Ember S136    Sitting In A Train/ One That I Like 
1964    Oriole ICB9    Blarney Blues/ Peace On Earth 
1964    Oriole ICB10    Way Of Life/When Will You Say You'll Be Mine 
                Redcaps only
1963    Decca F11716    Shout / Little Things You Do
1963    Decca F11789    Talkin' 'Bout You / Come On Girl
1963    Decca F11903    Mighty Fine Girl / Funny Things

London band the Redcaps backed him in 1960 and 61.  Their highly regarded line-up consisted of Johnny Patto on guitar, Johnny Spence on bass, Frank Farley on drums and Vic Cooper on Keyboards.  Dudley had left HMV and signed to Ember Records (later to be the refuge of John Barry after leaving EMI).  Cuddly and The Redcaps recorded and released one single, the topside of which was called "Sitting in A Train" / "One That I Like".  After this failed they eventually parted company and Johnny Kidd recruited the Redcaps (minus Cooper) when his previous crew of Pirates jumped ship.  Suitably renamed the Pirates, they evolved into a powerhouse of a trio and, with Green replacing Patto through illness, were influential in revitalising Kidds’ charting career with the top ten hit “I’ll Never Get Over You” in 1963.

For Dudley, the early 1960’s saw Cabaret work as well as other singles on the Piccadilly and Oriole labels, after which he moved into Ska Music and worked with the Bluebeats.  Cuddly Dudley may have broken through ahead of his time whereas, had he been part of the early 60's R'n'B movement he may have fared better and been allowed to develop both as a performer and recording artist.  Nevertheless, to those fortunate enough to have seen him, Dudley will be fondly remembered for his enthusiastic appearances on the "Oh Boy" TV shows.

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