Lonnie Donegan - filming of the Six Five Special 1957

The life of singer Lonnie Donegan, who was a regular performer on the ITV network back in its earliest days, is to be charted in a documentary for the channel.

Downton Abbey’s Mr Carson may have hung up his butler’s jacket for good but even as his final scenes were being shot, actor Jim Carter was already at work on a remarkable and long cherished film about the King of Skiffle, 1950s singer Lonnie Donegan.

“Jim Carter’s passion for uncovering and sharing the genius of Donegan, infused with his personal memories of its impact on his life, and supplemented by contributions from some of the greatest names in rock music who were similarly affected, provides a joyous, surprising and moving evocation of a hugely influential and perhaps under-valued figure in our pop music and culture.” – Jo Clinton-Davis, Controller of Factual, ITV

In Jim Carter: Lonnie Donegan and Me, the actor shares his life-long passion, which began aged 11 when he saw Lonnie play at a seaside variety theatre on a summer holiday, as he tells the story of his profound impact on pop culture and a generation of British musicians who went on to conquer the world.

The hour long documentary features Jim’s lively encounters with some of those seminal rockers who were inspired to take up music by Lonnie Donegan. Sir Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Roger Daltrey and Sir Van Morrison tell Jim how, initially using tea chests, washboards and even home made guitars, they were inspired by Lonnie Donegan to make the music which would set them on the path to superstardom.  Later fans such as Jack White of The White Stripes also reflect on the importance of Lonnie as a figure in the development of popular music.

Though now almost forgotten or remembered for novelty hits like ‘My Old Man’s A Dustman’, Lonnie was once the most famous singer in Britain. His high energy and self-styled Skiffle music helped the nation to shake off the postwar greyness of the1950s and jump-start the teenage music explosion of the 1960s.

Without Lonnie there might have been no Beatles and the film exclusively airs the earliest known recording of 16 year old John Lennon, singing one of Lonnie’s hits with his Skiffle group The Quarrymen in 1957. It also unearths archive footage from Lonnie’s hit prime time 1960s TV show, Puttin’ on the Donegan, seen again for the first time since it aired.

Jim traces Lonnie’s rollercoaster life and career, meeting Lonnie’s fans and family, including his first wife and his widow, as well as his son.  And Jim’s own wife, actress Imelda Staunton, reveals her views on life with a Lonnie Donegan fanatic.

“For over 40 years I saw him perform and he was the most exciting thing I’d ever seen. I loved his music, it got my heart racing. He was the King of Skiffle, he changed music in this country – and for that, Lonnie, I thank you!” – Jim Carter

The film will air amidst 60th anniversary celebrations of Lonnie’s breakthrough hit ‘Rock Island Line’ – the first of 16 Top 10s and the record that started it all.

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Pictured Top: Lonnie Donegan on the set of The Six Five Special for the BBC in 1957
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