In October 1956, Queensland cinemas premiered a film that had caused a storm of controversy in Britain only a month earlier. That film was Rock Around The Clock, a fictionalised account of the rise of rock ’n’ roll. The film featured Bill Haley and his Comets ( pictured during their visit to Brisbane in January 1957), who had recently shot to fame bringing this new sound to a global audience.
Some sections of the community believed the new music promoted rebellious behaviour among teenagers, leading to crime and juvenile delinquency. In September, there had been hysterical reports from British media concerning “disturbances” during screenings of the film. Even the Queen, on holiday at the time at Balmoral, had requested to view the film, presumably to see what all the fuss was about. “This week England has trembled to the thunder of ‘Rock and Roll’,” trumpeted Melbourne’s The Argus newspaper, with reports of teenagers dancing in the aisles, singing, yelling, abusing theatre managers, wrecking seats and causing a nuisance outside cinemas as the partying spilled onto the streets.
Premieres in Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide had caused a similar stir, though when it came to the Brisbane premiere at the Tivoli theatre on October 18, audiences were more restrained, albeit under close surveillance. The Brisbane Telegraph reported on the first-night screening: “As soon as teenagers … started to clap their hands and tap their feet in time with the music, torch beams flashed from the hands of well drilled usherettes … Two couples who started to jive in a side aisle were most unpopular. They were stopped after a few bars by service boys.”