Essex and its 120 number ones marks 60th music chart anniversary

Dame Vera Lynn
Image caption Dame Vera Lynn was born in what was, at the time, Essex

With Guglielmo Marconi opening the first wireless factory in Chelmsford, Essex can claim to be the county that gave the world radio.

But as well as creating the airwaves, it boasts connections with many of the most successful songs sent across them.

The county has links to at least 120 songs which held the top slot in the UK singles charts.

The charts are 60 years old and to mark the anniversary, BBC Essex has commissioned a special series exploring the county's relationship with pop.

First, the numbers.

There have been 82 pop stars with Essex links to have had hits in the top 40.

Of these artists, 46 reached number one.

Sir Cliff Richard

These chart toppers include the likes of Dame Vera Lynn, who was born in 1917 in East Ham, which was part of Essex until 1965. She is joined by the likes of Mcfly, Blur, Rod Stewart, Olly Murs and Procol Harum.

And then there is the spread.

With the exception of the 1980s, the number of Essex number ones has risen decade by decade.

A humble three number ones were achieved during the 1950s, including Dame Vera's 1954 hit My Son - My Son, rising to 20 in 1970s, 27 in the 1990s and up to 40 in the 2000s.

During the 1980s, there were just 12 number ones.

What surprised Mark Hardie, who researched the county's musical history for the series, was the sheer number of musicians with connections to Essex.

"I discovered Sir Cliff Richard spent a couple of years living in Nazeing, Micky Dolenz of The Monkees married at a church in Great Sampford and Dame Claire Bertschinger, from Sheering, was the Essex nurse who inspired Bob Geldof to start Band Aid.

"The series isn't just about the artists who are from the county, but those pop stars and musicians with links to Essex.

"The original T Rex drummer, Bill Legend, is from Barking, Helen Terry was a backing vocalist with Culture Club and grew up in Maldon, and the Appleton School Choir in Benfleet featured on Any Dream Will Do with Jason Donovan in 1991. They reunited earlier this summer, 21 years after being top of the UK singles and albums charts."

One of the more unusual global successes was a song written by a young Essex DJ by the name of Paul Hardcastle.

'Really strange'

His anti-war themed tune Nineteen marked the 10th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War. The lyrics focused on the average age of the American soldiers sent out to fight in the south east Asian conflict.

Image caption Sandie Shaw was 'discovered' during a talent show competition

That a young man from Essex had written the song, was an oddity not missed by veterans of the war.

The hit song did not just go to number one in the UK, it also claimed the top slots in 12 other countries as well.

Describing the experience, Mr Hardcastle, who has lived near Ongar since the mid-80s, said: "I was a normal kid going around the clubs and having a nice time.

"We didn't know if it was going to be a hit. I wasn't prepared for it.

"It came out on the 10th anniversary of the end of the war. It went straight in at four and then to number one.

"Everyone reacted brilliantly. What was really strange was the American Vietnam veterans - I must have had 600 letters from America.

"They were all saying 'thank you very much for keeping this in the news, but its a bit strange that a young British kid has done a record about our war'."

For others, being at number one was simply a bit strange.


Chelmsford's Tracie Young was a backing singer in Beat Surrender by The Jam. "I was very proud to be part of it but the whole experience was very surreal," she said.

"I was 17, I had just left college and suddenly here I am working with this guy all of my friends idolised."

Sandie Shaw, a welder's daughter from Dagenham, had three UK number ones.

Her first came when she was just 17.

She was 'discovered' during a talent show competition in Ilford in which she came second.

"Somebody saw me there," she said. "I was only 16 at the time. I worked for six weeks at Ford and that's the only other job I ever had. I never had any 'in between' stage."

The series, 60 Years of Essex Number Ones, will be broadcast on BBC Essex on 26, 27 and 28 December and on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.

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