While the female singers and girl groups on the British recording scene of the 1960s were typically in their twenties, THE ORCHIDS of Coventry - Georgina Oliver, Pamela Jarman and Valerie Jones - were 14-year-old schoolgirls when they made their first record. Thus, they are contenders for the title of Britain's only true girl group.

[ click on images to enlarge ]

Stoke Park School

Left to right: Pam, George and Val

From the movie Just For You

From Judy comic

The Colosseum, formerly
the Orchid Ballroom

Landscape with red disc,
by Valerie Davies


The girls met at Stoke Park Grammar School for Girls, in the eastern suburbs of Coventry, where they were friends in the same class. Their teachers were elderly, tweedy and stuffy, and the uniform regulations were very strict - the elephant motif on the blazer badge was an obvious target for teasing by pupils from other schools. Apparently, Val Jones was adept at backcombing her hair and pinning her regulation scarlet beret to the back of her head with grips!

In an interview with Coventry Radio DJ Pete Chambers in his book Godiva Rocks, Georgina explains that the trio evolved from break-time gatherings of girls to sing the latest pop songs. Our subjects were the most consistent of these conclaves and often went dancing together on Saturday afternoons at the Locarno Ballroom in the central precinct, and later at the Orchid Ballroom in Primrose Hill Street. One day, having gone alone for once, Pam horrified the others by announcing she had entered them all into a talent contest at the Orchid, "for a laugh". They won the competition, singing Motown and Spector songs, and shared the prize money - one pound.

"We didn't really study music seriously, although Val was a very good pianist," recalled Pam. "Harmony singing was just something we did naturally. We weren't an actual group before the talent competition - in fact, when I told Val and George that I'd entered us they asked me what on earth we were going to do!" Although entered, they didn't have a name for the billing. "Larry made that up at the time, just to fill the gap!"

'Larry' being Larry Page, then manager of the Orchid Ballroom, who had only been in the city for six months. Formerly a pop singer himself, he would go on to achieve greater fame, notably as manager of the Kinks. His choice of name for the threesome was obvious, given the venue - and a good one for a girl group. Thus, the Orchids were born.

Contracted to Decca and assigned in the studio to producer Shel Talmy, their first appearance on vinyl was as backing vocalists for "School Is In" by Johnny B. Great and the Goodmen. Great, real name John Goodison, was another Larry Page discovery from Coventry. Georgina does not recall any other backing work by the group.


Their own debut quickly followed, but not before Georgina had had her front teeth straightened, having had them knocked askew by a flying hockey stick a few days before the session. "Gonna Make Him Mine" was an exuberant and upbeat offering with a sound that was a blend of UK beat and US girl group. Returning the favour, Johnny Goodison and his group provided the backing. A Shel Talmy song, "Stay At Home", was on the flip. Sadly, the record received little airplay, although the girls were heard, but not seen, on Ready Steady Go! when the record backed dancer Patrick Kerr's demonstration of the Hitch-Hiker.

The trio's schoolgirl status was relentlessly exploited. For their first publicity pics they were required to wear school uniform, much to their mortification. "It was Larry's idea to play up the schoolgirl angle. We absolutely hated wearing schooly things, and boy did we complain!" recalled Pam. "We always had to play up the image, so we had to wear school uniform whenever we made personal appearances. We hated that," agrees Georgina. Val confirms that they were really into jazz and soul and certainly didn't want the schoolgirl tag.

School attire notwithstanding, the Orchids had an image all their own. Georgina, the acknowledged leader, standing slightly taller in spectacles with upswept frames, and Pam and Val in mod bobs, adding their youthful vocals with unbridled enthusiasm. Although George usually took the lead when one was required, on other tracks they sang in unison. And when they did, all three voices blended perfectly, their skilful harmonies belying their inexperience. The Orchids had a vivacity on record to match their youth and nowhere was it more evident than on their follow-up.


"'And now for a record from those three little girls from Coventry - the Orchids,' said the disc jockey on the radio. And the little dark-haired girl in the back of my car bounced up and down excitedly. 'That's me!' she cried. She was 14-year-old Pamela Jarman, the baby of the singing trio, and this was the first time she had heard their new record 'Love Hit Me' on the radio." So reported the Coventry Standard journalist in December 1963 on the release of the group's arresting second record.

"Love Hit Me" went for the full Spector treatment, leading to a "Britain's answer to the Crystals" tag. This time they appeared on Ready Steady Go! in person to promote its release, and the colour picture shown nearby originates from that performance. Their costumes might not have been school uniforms, but as far as the girls were concerned, they weren't much better. "They were like clown outfits," bemoans Georgina. "We were mortified that we had to appear in those dresses, especially on a programme like Ready Steady Go! where everyone was wearing the latest mod gear! Everyone wanted to look like Sandie Shaw." Val recalls that they were so angry about the dresses that they threatened to refuse to perform - presenter Cathy McGowan had to persuade them to go on.

The record was also played on the BBC's Juke Box Jury, with the girls concealed high up in the audience. Not just any Juke Box Jury, but the 7th December 1963 show, on which the Beatles comprised the jury! Pam remembered this well: "The programme was recorded at the Empire Theatre in Liverpool and the Beatles played a concert to the audience after the show. Only Paul voted our record a hit, and the audience let out a big 'Aaaahhh!' when we stood up! We weren't at all bothered, just really excited!" Val recalls, "After we stood up when the Beatles voted our record a miss I remember John shouting, 'I'll buy a hundred!' He was always my favourite!"

"Love Hit Me" was their only record to get a fair amount of airtime, and a few further TV appearances resulted on the back of it. One was on the children's show Five O'clock Club. Mike D'Abo's first group, A Band Of Angels, was also on the bill and there was a running gag between them and the Orchids that they couldn't stand each other. As D'Abo loudly complained to hostess Muriel Young, "They're nothing but a bunch of schoolgirls!" the girls brushed past him to the mikes, casting nonchalantly disdainful glares!

Despite the attention that "Love Hit Me" attracted, it didn't become a hit. It was, however, the only one of the group's records to boast a picture sleeve, but only in continental Europe. Not that the girls would have approved, as it showed them in regulation school uniform, holding ice-lollies!

More disappointment followed; the group was booked to do a long engagement at Great Yarmouth, but this fell through because Pam was still only 14, which would have contravened employment laws. Although only five weeks short of her 15th birthday, Larry Page was unable to persuade the authorities to let them appear. The local newspaper reported that the news was withheld from the girls, as it would have upset them during their exams.

A Ray Davies song, "I've Got That Feeling", completed their trio of 45s as the Orchids. This time the sound was less Spectorish and more in the style of their first record. The flip side, "Larry", with Pam singing lead, was reputedly chosen in recognition of their mentor. However, it was an American song written by the "Bobby's Girl" duo, Hoffman and Klein, and Canadian girl group the Allen Sisters also released the number as a single in North America. The Allen Sisters' flip-side, Hoffman-Klein's "Never On Saturday", was also recorded by the Orchids, but never issued.

That wasn't the only Orchids recording that remained in the can. As Pam remembered: "There are some wonderful tracks hiding somewhere. We did a fantastic session with Bert Berns, and one with Andrew Loog Oldham too. But somehow the tracks disappeared. Politics, I think."

Georgina recalls: "I do have hand written sheet music for three songs that we recorded but were never released: 'Never On Saturday', 'Kiss My Kisses Goodbye' and 'Jenny Let Him Go'. I also have hand written sheet music for 'Larry' and 'Don't Make Me Mad'. These were usually sent to us a couple of weeks before we were booked for a recording session so we could learn the song and work out our harmony."

There was a further Orchids release that never saw the light of day in Britain. "Oo-Chang-A-Lang" - more Spectorish girl-group heaven and very catchy - was issued, but inexplicably only in America. On the label, the girls were dubbed the Blue Orchids, to avoid confusion with sundry other Orchids in the USA.


As well as their TV appearances, the group popped up in glorious technicolor in the 1964 pop movie Just For You singing "Mr. Scrooge", sporting schooly gear and performing around a brazier in a studio snow scene. Johnny B. Great also appeared in the film, which was effectively a series of what would later be called pop videos, loosely linked by a feeble story line. An American version of the movie, renamed Disk-o-Tek Holiday, added several US acts to the line-up, including girl group greats the Chiffons.

The Orchids also appeared in a comic-strip story in an issue of Judy, the popular girls' weekly. The writer, Pat Watson, interviewed the group. "I remember her interviewing us and asking the usual things," recalls Georgina, "'Who's your favourite singer? What's your favourite hobby? Any funny anecdotes?' It was basically a mini-bio of our discovery and 'rise to fame'."

How did their recording career affect their lives, and how did their friends at school react to the recording stars in their midst? Georgina recalls little reaction: "We were just Georgina, Val and Pam. Sure, they were interested in who we had met over the weekends. Sometimes reporters would ring up to come over and take a few pictures, but it didn't affect our lives that much."

Nor does it appear to have affected their studies, although it coincided with their GCE exams. Contemporary newspapers reported the receipt of prizes for art and said that they had good school reports: "Pamela's was fairly good, though it did say she should pay more attention. Pamela protested that it said that every year! Valerie's was also quite good but according to Mrs Jones, it could have been better. But as Valerie protested, 'She always says that every year!' Georgina is the most serious of the three and a calming influence on the others. Her school report was very good. 'Better than last year,' beamed her mother, 'This singing business has really done her good. It has brought her out. She used to be very shy, but now she has lost all that. That is the only way this has affected her.' 'I am in rather a daze about the whole thing,' said red-haired Georgina, 'None of us have yet realized what has hit us. At the moment it is great fun. But none of us take it seriously. We realize it could fade away very quickly, but we are just having a good time while it lasts.' They would all like to be pop singers, but if they can't be that then Georgina would like to be a commercial artist. Her drawing and painting are very good and she has had a painting exhibited in the Herbert Art Gallery." Val also exhibited there, and Georgina's alternative career plans would eventually prove to be prophetic.

The reporter added: "From what I could gather, being the Orchids meant very little to these three little girls from Stoke Park Grammar School. They are just three intelligent, unsophisticated girls. They still come back from school with their hair untidy and their ties askew. And they are quite unimpressed with their own achievements. They look upon the whole thing as one big joke. 'It's all a laugh really,' giggled Pamela. 'But you must get a lot more pocket money now with all those royalties,' I said innocently. 'You're joking,' Valerie rounded on me indignantly, 'We don't see any of it. It is all put in a bank for us. All we get is our five shillings a week pittance. And it is not enough. We would like to be Mods, but we are Mids 'cause we can't afford the clothes!' Her mother laughed, 'It's a good thing that you don't get the money, otherwise I can see where it would go, records and clothes!'"


Then in 1965, they were finally allowed a change of image and the group was relaunched as the Exceptions. The school gear finally banished and looking like the fully-fledged Mods they had always longed to be - Georgie even ditched her specs - they cut an Ivy League song, Carter-Lewis' wonderfully bluesy "What More Do You Want". But a newspaper reported that they were less than enamoured with this choice: "The Orchids - er, sorry, Exceptions - prefer two other numbers, one they wrote themselves and the other an old Miracles' number." Indeed, the real gem of this release lay on the flipside and it was the "one they wrote themselves" - "Soldier Boy". This was an accomplished, soulful girl-group ballad written by Georgina and so American-sounding that many collectors have for years assumed the track to be by a black Stateside girl group - certainly one of the best British records of its type and probably much more commercial than the official A-side.

"When we were in London one time for something or other, we happened to mention to Larry that I had written a song," Georgina recalls. "He had us sing it for him. We stood in the Kassner office surrounded by executives and sang them the song a cappella. I can remember standing in front of this big wooden desk feeling very nervous and shy. Needless to say, I guess they liked it. I don't recall the timeline from then to when we recorded it and, no, I had no say in the arrangement or production and wouldn't have had a clue anyway."

This great record, like the others before it, got little airplay and negligible publicity. Sadly, it proved to be the girls' final release. It was the only song Georgina wrote. Around this time, the group "fizzled out." With no hits, Decca appeared uninterested in renewing their contract. None of the girls pursued musical careers thereafter; they would go on to achieve success in other arts and in teaching.

Reminiscences of the recording sessions and life on the road are understandably hazy, but Georgina has a few recollections: "Then, being teenagers, we were only really interested in having fun and thinking about ourselves! I do recall that Bert Berns had a right-hand man, Mike Leander, and somewhere in the recesses of my memory something tells me that Bert was not always well and Mike helped him out. A guitarist called Big Jim Sullivan played on at least one of our records.

"We did a show in Oxford where we shared the bill with Gerry and the Pacemakers. I remember Gerry a little the worse for drink running around backstage in his underwear! Sounds Incorporated were our backing group for the performance. They were great, as they had no clue what our songs were - we had no sheet music - but they just picked it up at the short rehearsal. We met the Hollies on one RSG! appearance and after the show Graham Nash gave us a lift back to Coventry as he was on his way to Birmingham. He was very nice.

"We went to Andrew Oldham's flat once and met the father of the Wilson brothers of the Beach Boys. He gave me a copy of a U.S.-only release album, but I lost it over the years. While we were there, Marianne Faithfull turned up at the door. My one memory of her was that she had a stain on the front of her blouse. Isn't that awful of me!

"If we met any of the songwriters, we probably didn't take much notice. We were sent sheet music to learn, or demo discs maybe. Or sometimes if we were in London, we would go to a rehearsal room somewhere, or to the offices of Kassner Music in Denmark Street and someone would play a number for us on the piano and sing it so we could get an idea. I remember us performing my song at Kassner Music for the bigwigs and then I guess someone transcribed the music from our performance.

"Unfortunately being typical teenagers we weren't really interested in anyone who wasn't 'famous' in our estimation. That meant pop stars and TV stars. We lost out on appreciating all of the talented and creative people we came into contact with, who worked in the background."

Another recollection was of sitting in on a Kinks recording session and tapping ashtrays in time with the music. The recording engineer liked it so much he included it in the recording, but unfortunately no-one remembers which track this was!


It transpires that the track the Orchids cut with Bert Berns was one of his own songs, "Just Like Mine", recorded in October '63. The session also featured Harry Stoneham, Jimmy Page and probably Clem Cattini, who each achieved fame with the Michael Parkinson TV Show, Led Zeppelin and the Tornados, respectively. That track must be worth a release, surely? When asked about the group's unreleased Andrew Loog Oldham session, Pam clearly remembered the three of them riding through London in the back of his limo, giggling as they slid along the plush leather upholstery each time they turned a corner! She said one song they cut was entitled "Society Girl", the Rag Dolls number. One can't help but speculate how much, if any, of his ersatz Spector treatment Oldham gave it. The original was, of course, an answer to the Four Seasons' classic hit "Rag Doll", and a Bob Crewe production. Unfortunately, Universal Music are unable to locate tapes for any of the Orchids' unreleased recordings. If anyone out there has a demo or acetate, we'd love to hear from you! The other unissued songs that Georgina recalls recording are listed in the accompanying discography.


The Orchids have never quite been forgotten, due to a combination of factors: their image, their sound, their association with Talmy, Page, Berns, Oldham et al, and their standing as a rare example of a true British teenage girl group. They command almost cult status amongst enthusiasts of the girl group sound and "Oo-Chang-A-Lang", "Soldier Boy" and "Love Hit Me" remain three of the most sought-after records of the genre on both sides of the Atlantic. There has been a steady stream of reissued tracks, especially in recent years and the group periodically receives retrospective attention.

In 1985, the Coventry Evening Telegraph published a letter from Georgina seeking contact with the other members. Pat Watson, who had written the cartoon piece for Judy, got in touch and sent her a copy of it. More significantly, in the late 1990s, the girls received further belated attention when writer Debbie Horsfield got in touch with all three Orchids for background info in connection with a TV drama series she was writing. The series was called Sex, Chips and Rock & Roll. She had intended it to be about a girl-group, but upon realising that all the successful female outfits were American, changed her mind. "I wanted to write a drama about what was happening in Britain," she told the Telegraph. "In the end I decided to write about a boy band and not a girl band." However, this was not before she had been inspired by the Orchids' story, having met Georgina in London. "They were only about 15 or 16 and I just found the whole thing fascinating. They were just ordinary girls, but suddenly their lives changed overnight."

Georgina recalls being contacted by Debbie's research assistant two years before the program went out: "My best friend and I arranged to meet Debbie in London. We went for lunch and she interviewed me. She also looked at my scrapbook and took it to a copy shop to get the whole thing photocopied. We met later in Trafalgar Square so she could return it." Debbie's initial appeal for contact information in the paper led to the Orchids getting front page billing and a double spread, with several quotes from Val, who summed up the Orchids' career thus: "I do think we made good music and Georgina had a super voice, but it happened so quickly for us and by the time we were 18, it was all over."

An edition of the BBC Midlands programme Inside Out was to be dedicated to the Orchids in 2004, and both Georgina and Pam were contacted, as were the authors of this article. A reunion was even mooted, but the series editor blocked the project at the last minute. We suggest you address your letters of complaint to him/her. Georgina was, however, interviewed by Pete Chambers for the Pop Into The Past feature on Bob Brolly's BBC West Midlands show. "Gonna Make Him Mine" and "Soldier Boy" were played, with the latter causing quite an on-air stir.

Perhaps things may have been different for the Orchids if… If their records had received the airplay they deserved… If they hadn't had to perform in school uniform… If the Beatles had been more generous on Juke Box Jury… If "Soldier Boy" had been an A-side… If the unissued tracks had been released…

In adulthood and with their incarnation as the Orchids/Exceptions far behind them, the three women achieved success in their chosen career paths. Pam went on to become the head teacher of a school in Scotland. Valerie has taught and lectured in art and design at schools and universities and is now a full-time artist. And Georgina relocated to Vancouver, where she is an artist and designer, but still sings occasionally, mostly in a choir.

Coventry's Orchid Ballroom in Primrose Hill Street became the Tic-Tock Club and is now the Colosseum Club. The Locarno Ballroom is now the city's Central Library, where much of the research for this article was carried out. Stoke Park is now a co-educational comprehensive school and college, mostly still housed in the distinctive 1930s buildings in which the group first met.

Georgina sums it all up: "We made very little money, if any, from any of our appearances or record sales. I remember getting the odd cheque or postal order for a few pounds but no great amount. We have never received any residuals from any of the later reissues and I didn't even know about them until a fan contacted me through Friends Reunited a few years ago. I informed Val who also didn't know. We had no idea that there was such an active interest in the Orchids. We were around for such a short time and weren't even a one hit wonder. We had no say in what we recorded or what appearances we made. We just did as we were told. We would have preferred singing more Motown type songs, which we were really into at the time. I recall we did have a 'discussion' with Larry Page once about doing something more bluesy or soulful, but he said he knew what was best! We didn't have a say in anything. But we enjoyed it - having fun, meeting famous people. It was an adventure. We went along for the ride!"


UK Releases


Decca F.11743 (20 September 1963)
Music Director: Mike Leander
Production: Shel Talmy & Michael Stone
STAY AT HOME (Shel Talmy)
Music Director: Mike Leander
Production: Shel Talmy & Michael Stone

Decca F.11785 (29 November 1963)
LOVE HIT ME (Shel Talmy)
Music Director: Charles Blackwell
Production: Shel Talmy & Michael Stone
DON'T MAKE ME MAD (Matthew Berry, James Benny Poitier)
Music Director: Gordon Franks
Production: Marvin Holtzman

Decca F.11861 (1964)
Music Director: Charles Blackwell
Production: Shel Talmy & Michael Stone
LARRY (Henry Hoffman, Garry Klein)
Music Director: Gordon Franks
Production: Marvin Holtzman

Decca LK 4620 (13 March 1964)
"Just For You" Film Soundtrack LP
MR. SCROOGE (Tony Hiller, Shel Talmy)
Production: Shel Talmy & Michael Stone


Decca F.12100 (5 March 1965)
WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT (John Carter, Ken Lewis, Perry Ford)
Production: Larry Page
SOLDIER BOY (Georgina Oliver)
Production: Larry Page

US Releases


London 9637 (1964)
LOVE HIT ME (Shel Talmy)
Music Director: Charles Blackwell
Production: Shel Talmy & Michael Stone
DON'T MAKE ME MAD (Matthew Berry, James Benny Poitier)
Music Director: Gordon Franks
Prodruction: Marvin Holtzman

London 9669 (1964)
OO-CHANG-A-LANG (Shel Talmy)
Production: Shel Talmy & Michael Stone
Music Director: Charles Blackwell
Production: Shel Talmy & Michael Stone

Known Unissued Recordings:

NEVER ON SATURDAY (Henry Hoffman & Garry Klein)
KISS MY KISSES GOODBYE (Philip L. Barr & Wilbur Meshel)
JENNY LET HIM GO (Penny Lewis)
JUST LIKE MINE (Bert Russell) (October 1963)
Music Director: Mike Leander
Production: Bert Berns
SOCIETY GIRL (Bob Crewe, Sandy Linzer, Denny Randall)
Production: Andrew Loog Oldham

Backing Vocals:

Johnny B. Great and the Goodmen
Decca F11740 (1963)
SCHOOL IS IN (Gary Anderson)
Music Director: Mike Leander
Production: Shel Talmy & Michael Stone

Reissues on LP:

"Liverpool 1963-1964 Volume 2" See For Miles CM125 (1983)
"Girl Zone" Impact ACT 008 (1986)
"Girls In The Garage Volume 2" Romulan UFOX03 (1987)
"Girls With Guitars" Impact ACT 012 (1989)

Reissues on CD:

"Pop Inside the 60s Vol. 1" See for Miles SEECD 386
"Girls In The Garage" Romulan UFOX02-2 (1997)
"The Girls' Scene" Deram 844 897-2 (1999)
"Go Girl: Dream Babes Volume 4" RPM259 (2003)


There is a scarce European picture sleeve issue of "Love Hit Me"/"Don't Make Me Mad" (Decca 23.467).

"I've Got That Feeling" also recorded by the Kinks (UK Pye) and Deanna Shenderey (UK Decca).

"What More Do You Want" also recorded by the Ivy League (UK Piccadilly).

"Jenny Let Him Go" also recorded by Antoinette (UK Decca.).

"Larry" and "Never On Saturday" also recorded by the Allen Sisters (US Shell).

"Society Girl" also recorded by the Rag Dolls (US Parkway).

"Just Like Mine" also recorded by the Renaults (US Wand) and Betty Harris (US Jubilee).

With thanks to Georgina Johnstone (Oliver), Valerie Davies (Jones), Pam Hepburn (Jarman), Pete Chambers, Rob Hughes, Mick Patrick, Bob Solly and the City of Coventry Public Library.

For more on Coventry music, see Pete Chambers' book Godiva Rocks:

For articles on fellow '60s Coventry singer Beverley Jones:

Stoke Park School: http://www.stokepark.coventry.sch.uk/