The Ugliest Girl In Town


This sitcom is famously known as one of the worst television series of all time. Whether it deserves that dubious accolade is up to individual viewers. Its premise is simple if absurd: American boy meets British girl, boy poses for pictures, boy is mistaken for female model, boy travels to England with brother and keeps up the charade. Filmed in London, the series is loud and vibrant and the theme song is memorable. Little else is, though, but that hasn’t kept it from being remembered decades later.

Blame It All On A Bad Dream

One night in 1967, scriptwriter Robert Kaufman (of Ski Party and Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine fame) had a bad dream [1]. He woke up, couldn’t fall asleep again, and picked up a magazine. Inside was an article about Twiggy, the famous model taking the world by storm. Kaufman thought Twiggy looked like a boy. And then it struck him: how about a television sitcom in which a boy is mistaken as a girl model? And how about setting it in London?

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Kaufman brought the idea to Harry Ackerman at Screen Gems, who later explained that he’d “always been intrigued by the possibilities of a television comedy series set in mod London. And here was Bob Kaufman bringing me a comedy idea that would appeal to teen-agers and post-teen-agers, as well as young adults and older folk. I loved it” [2]. And so The Ugliest Girl in Town was born. Ackerman described the series as “an old-fashioned romantic comedy all dressed up in mod apparel for present day appeal” [3].

“I do love your site especially on TV obscurities which brings back many memories, even though it does date me considerably, I do like the one on the UGLIEST GIRL IN TOWN which i am very ashamed to say was a show that I watched religiously-don’t ask me for my logic I was about four or five.”
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In February 1968, ABC tentatively gave The Ugliest Girl in Town a Wednesday time slot before eventually settling on the Thursday 7:30-8PM half-hour where it would compete with Daniel Boone on NBC and a new comedy, Blondie, on ABC [4]. At the time, Harry Ackerman had two shows currently airing on ABC: Bewitched and The Flying Nun. A third series, The Second Hundred Years (also on ABC), had recently been cancelled.

Who Is The Ugliest Girl In Town?

Canadian actor Peter Kastner starred in The Ugliest Girl in Town as Timothy Blair, a young man working at the Harper Talent Agency in the lowest capacity possible: he gets sandwiches and makes deliveries. While delivering a contract to Julie Renfield (played by Patricia Blake), a British actress filming a horror movie in the United States, Timothy falls madly in love with her.

After going to extraordinary lengths to get her to notice him, Julie and Timothy fall madly in love with one another. Sadly, Julie has to return to her native England and Timothy can’t afford to go with her. Enter Gene, Timothy’s brother (played by Gary Marshall), a photographer who has just been contracted to snap pictures of hippies for a London magazine.

To make a long story short, pictures of Timothy wind up being sent to London where the folks at he magazine go wild over them. Only they think Timothy is a female model named Timmy and offer her a contract. The brothers pack up and head to London for two weeks so Timothy can be with Julie. There they meet David Courtney of the Courtney Talent Agency (played by Nicholas Parsons) and his assistant Sondra Wolston (played by Jenny Till).

Peter Krastner as Timothy Blair (and Timmy) – September 14th, 1968
Copyright © TV Guide, 1968 [1]

Julie is initially shocked to see Timothy as Timmy but soon the two are off on a wild modeling tour of London and spend every minute they can together. Meanwhile, Gene and Sondra have fallen in love as well. Two weeks later, when Timothy and Gene are set to return to the States, they can’t because Gene has racked up considerable debt gambling. Plus, Mr. Courtney finds out that Timmy is really Timothy and threatens to have him arrested if he doesn’t keep up the charade so the Courtney Talent Agency can recoup its investment. So, the rouse must continue but that also means Timothy gets to stay in England with Julie.

According to Kastner, it took about an hour to turn him into Timmy [5]. Playing Timmy didn’t really bother Kastner who explained “they pay you a fortune for doing these things and if I can live on nothing in London and we run a few years I’ll have enough money to produce my own films” [6]. He did admit that “it felt a little strange the first time I tried on the costume. But then I got used to it” [7].

The Episodes

Although its premise was absurd it was also a relatively simple one and it wasn’t difficult to come up with plots for episodes. Just think up situations where Timothy-as-Timmy is in danger of being found out. What would happen if Timmy was cast in a cameo role in a movie and it required a nude scene? How would Timothy deal with that? Or what if Timothy was called up for National Guard duty while still in London posing as Timmy? Or what if Timothy developed appendicitis while posing as Timmy and winds up being sent to the women’s section of a hospital?

Peter Kastner as Timothy Blair

Other episodes involved Timothy and Gene’s parents visiting the two in London and learning the truth from Timothy while Gene tries to convince them his brother is working for the Secret Information Agency; Timmy is the number one suspect when a pair of diamond earrings go missing after a dinner party; Julie’s teenage sister becomes suspicious of Timmy; Timothy is accused of kidnapping Timmy; a publicity stunt has Timmy writing an advice column and his advice breaks up a marriage; Scottish singer Lulu mentors Timmy, who will be releasing her own single.

By the time The Ugliest Girl in Town premiered, Mod had evolved into Swinging London. The series was filmed in London and reflected to some degree whatever was actually going on in the city. There were bright, loud clothes and bright, loud music.

What The Critics Thought

For the most part, television critics were savage in their reviews of The Ugliest Girl In Town, with James Doussard of The Louisville Courier-Journal writing that the series is “as humorous as terminal cancer” [8].

Ben Gross of The New York Daily News stated that he “couldn’t believe any of it” while Harry Harris of The Philadelphia Inquirer said that it had “some basically distasteful overtones.” Richard F. Shepard wrote in The New York Times that the series was “the most vapid half-hour in the nation last night” and Newsweek‘s Harry F. Waters suggested it was the “first television series aimed directly at the 12-year-old transvestite.”

Peter Kastner and Patrica Brake as Timmy and Julie Renfield

Not all critics were entirely negative, however. In its review, Time argued that “here and there [it] amusingly needles the fashion pacesetters.” Bevo Baker of The Dallas Morning News wrote that “it’s funny in spite of a premise which is still raising eyebrows;” Lawrence Laurent of The Washington Post felt it was “better done than most of the original retreads of this season;” and Rick DuBrow of UPI said it was a “wild, half-hour comedy.”

What The Viewers Thought

The premiere episode of The Ugliest Girl In Town, aired Thursday, September 26th, 1968, drew a lowly 16 share in the New York City overnight Nielsens (covering just that city’s viewers) and a third-place 22.9 share in the 26-city overnight Trendex report (covering 26 cities where all three networks competed) [9]. The following week’s episode did better, with a 24 share in New York City (ranking first in its time slot) and a 27.3 Trendex share (ranking second in its time slot) [10].

According to “fast” national Nielsen ratings covering the first week of the new season (September 23rd through September 29th), the premiere of The Ugliest Girl in Town ranked 70th out of 86 programs [11]. It should be noted that during that first episode, The Ugliest Girl in Town faced the first half-hour of a two-hour Ironside episode, not its regular Daniel Boone competition.

In New York City, the October 10th episode could only muster a 14 share from 7:30-8PM, slightly better than the 9 share local programming drew on ABC from 10:30-11PM that same evening [12]. The writing was on the wall.

The End Of The Ugliest Girl In Town

In mid-November, ABC revised its Wednesday, Thursday and Friday schedules and The Ugliest Girl in Town was cancelled [13]. Ironically, Harry Ackerman’s The Flying Nun would move to fill the 7:30-8PM time slot vacated by the series. The final episode of The Ugliest Girl in Town was broadcast Thursday, January 30th, 1969. A total of 17 episodes were aired (three others were reportedly filmed but never shown by ABC).

Garry Marshall and Jenny Till as Gene Blair and Sondra Wolston

News of the cancellation was welcomed by critic Howard Pearson, television editor for the Deseret News, who had predicted the cancellation at the start of the 1968-1969 season. Pearson noted it would be a costly failure for ABC due to the expensive of producing the series in London and then blasted it as “a tasteless production from the start.” He also argued that “the network knew it had a loser from the beginning. They didn’t make any effort to improve the scripts. The situations were suggestive without being humorous, and the program’s single-joke line could have been told in one half-hour show” [14].

Perhaps one reason for The Ugliest Girl in Town‘s lack of success was the number of stations airing it. In September 1968, the series was cleared on 162 stations, compared 217 for Bewitched, 212 for The Flying Nun and 210 for That Girl [15]. On the other hand, ABC’s Here Come the Brides, seen on only 152 stations, and The Mod Squad, seen on 158 stations, both fared better than The Ugliest Girl in Town and were renewed for the 1969-1970 season. So station clearance alone can’t explain why the series failed.

“I’d just like to add another bit of trivia I happen to know about the theme song to The Ugliest Girl In Town. It was written by the well known Brill-Building team of Howard Greenfield and Helen Miller, who also penned many other 60s hits such as the Shirelle’s Foolish Little Girl, Bobby Vee’s Pretty Little Charms and Gene Pitney’s It Hurts To Be In Love.”
Dan H.

The theme song to the series, titled simply “The Ugliest Girl in Town,” was written by Howard Greenfield and Helen Miller, produced by Bill Traut for Dunwich Productions and performed by the Will-O-Bees. The full-length version runs 2:06 and was issued by SGC Records on a record single along with “I Can’t Quit Lovin’ You Baby.” It’s a catchy song, one that viewers of the series in 1968 will never be able to forget. The Paris Sisters later covered the theme song. Here are the full lyrics:

Who owns that fabulous face?
The ugliest girl in town.
Whose clothes are setting the pace?
The ugliest girl in town.
Since the day she came upon the scene,
She made the cover of every magazine.
She’s got the whole world in a spin.
She’s so out that she’s in.

Guys are bustin’ to date
The ugliest girl in town.
Girls are trying to imitate
The ugliest girl in town.
You don’t have to be a Mia or Sofia,
This is the year of the clown.
Be the chiciest, freakiest, ugliest girl in town.

Colgems Records released a Peter Kastner single, “I Just Can’t Get Over You,” in late 1968 to coincide with the debut of the series. Popular Library published an original tie-in novel written by Burt Hirschfeld.

In what can only be called a shockingly misguided marketing strategy, cosmetics company Yardley of London was a “major sponsor” of The Ugliest Girl in Town [16]. Yardley described the series as “a wild, way out, fun-filled romp” [17].

Works Cited:

1 “ABC-TV’s ‘Ugliest Girl in Town’ Is a Boy.” Record Newspapers [Troy, NY]. Newspaper Enterprise Association. 13 Jul. 1968: B-7.
2 Ibid.
3 Ibid.
4 “Networks rush fall TV plans.” Broadcasting. 19 Feb. 1968: 76-77.
5 “Birth of New Series Said Result of Offhand Remark.” Leader-Herald [Gloversville-Johnstown, NY]. 6 May 1968: 8.
6 Ibid.
7 Scott, Vernon. “‘Ugliest Girl in Town’, Actually Canadian Man.” Schenectady Gazette. United Press International. 26 Aug. 1968: 12.
8 All reviews excerpted in the October 1968 edition of Broadcasting (“Continuing comments on new TV offerings, 60).
9 “Old shows hold own as season commences.” Broadcasting. 30 Sep. 1968: 9.
10 “CBS ekes out MNA win.” Broadcasting. 7 Oct. 1968: 9.
11 Gowran, Clay. “TV Today: Only 3 New Series in Top Ten in Nielsen Count.” Chicago Tribune. 8 Oct. 1968: B21.
12 “CBS still has MNA lead.” Broadcasting. 14 Oct. 1968: 10.
13 “A.B.C. to Replace 6 of Its TV Shows With 5 New Ones.” New York Times. 14 Nov. 1968: 95.
14 Pearson, Howard. “Another Prize-Winner?” Deseret News. 27 Nov. 1968: 8B.
15 “Missing links in the TV chains.” Broadcasting. 13 Jan. 1969: 49.
14 “Y&R, B&B involved in Yardley shuffle.” Broadcasting. 19 Aug. 1968: 40.
15 Dougherty, Philip H. “Advertising: Selling Business to Students.” New York Times. 2 Apr. 1968: 74.

Image Credits:

1 From TV Guide, September 14th, 1968, Page 58.

Originally Published January 1st, 2004
Last Updated February 10th, 2013

5 Comments

  • Larynxa says:

    At least TUGIT had a good budget, and the sets & locations were real.

    A 1970s Canadian sitcom called “The Trouble With Tracey” had practically no budget, and the sets couldn’t stand up without wobbling. The show was a DAILY sitcom (so no time for retakes or decent scripts), and eventually, the script-writer (Goodman Ace, of the old American radio sitcom “Easy Aces”) got tired of merely borrowing from his old “Easy Aces” scripts, and began using them in their entirety, just changing the names of the characters.

    Tracey was played by Diane Hyland, and her long-suffering husband was played by Steve Weston. Both were excellent performers, but they were saddled with this terrible drek. Even though I was only 4 when I watched it, I knew it was bad, very bad.

    Of all the terrible sitcoms in the world, “The Trouble With Tracey” surely ranks as the absolute worst of the worst.

  • David says:

    This is one of those concepts that sound promising for a movie, but not a series. “Some Like It Hot” and “Tootsie” were in a similar vein. However, even “Bosom Buddies” started getting away from the men in drag premise during its second season.

    I would think someone at the network would have thought, “What if this is a major hit and it runs for years? How many stories can we get out of this guy keeping people from finding out he is not a woman?” On the other hand, one could say that about another Harry Ackerman show, “Bewitched:” “How many stories can we get out of this woman keeping the suburban neighbors from finding out she is a witch?” I read an article from early 1968 that mentioned all the upcoming fall series, and “The Ugliest Girl in Town” was described as a “Charley’s Aunt” in contemporary London. That is an interesting take on it, but again, that was a play and therefore did not have to have new situations written every week.

    The show does have a very catchy theme song!

  • RRRTTTWWW says:

    I wonder what would happen if the networks decided to do an updated version of The Ugliest Girl In Town—-in todays media—that show might go over big…..when it was popular in 1968 & 1969 the TV audience was not ready for something like a guy dressing in drag (yet comedian Berle had been doing that for years before Mr Kastner) Maybe the ABC network should give the show another shot—call me crazy—but a updated TV show like that would be interesting—after all didn’t we have Bosom Buddies?

  • RRRTTTWWW says:

    What would happen if networks decided to do an updated version of THE UGLIEST GIRL IN TOWN? Back in 1968 & 1969 the TV audience technically wasn’t ready for a program where the lead character dressed in drag—that was why the show failed—-but I think that maybe an updated more sophisticated modern version of the show could be a hit……..I use to watch the UGLIEST GIRL IN TOWN when I was a kid on ABC…..I definiately remember that adorable theme song…also—Timmies outfits were definately wild—but hey! it was the 1960’s that was to be expected……I think an updated version with better story plots could be a hit……..and if it isn’t it would be atleast worth a shot……

  • RRRTTTWWW says:

    By the way—does anybody remember mid-1970’s TV SHOW LOVE SYDNEY with Tony Randall—some say that was the first show where the lead character was gay—–I vaguely remember that show but I preferred him better as Felix Unger in the Odd Couple—–

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