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TV Pop Diaries
Pop Music on British Television 1955 - 1999

Chelsea was a weekly international cabaret show broadcast from what used to be the Chelsea Palace Theatre, King's Road, London. After the theatre closed in March 1957 it was re-designed to be a TV studio, as the re-purposing of cinemas, theatres and film studios was an obvious and cheaper way to house studios in the early days of cash-strapped British TV. Granada's owner Sydney Bernstein had made his name managing a chain of cinemas and theatres, so would have access to buildings like these.


It was a studio bound variety show, without an audience, probably trying to appropriate a night club atmosphere. The chosen director Coby Ruskin had previous experience in working on on high-profile American TV shows like The Colgate Comedy Hour. He would stay in the UK do make episodes of Sword of Freedom for ITC before returning to the USA to work on The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Andy Griffith Show, Love American Style among many other hit shows. Ruskin was just one of many North American directors, writers and producers like Dick Lester and Sidney Newman who came to the UK when commercial TV began in 1955.


Resident vocal group The Granadiers would be led by session singer Cliff Adams, while Peter Knight was the show's musical director. The show would have a host for the first few series, but by early 1959 the idea was dropped. The debut show starred American ventriloquist Edgar Bergan and French singing star Jacqueline Francois giving us a taste of what was to come.


On 8th April 1958 the show was moved to an earlier spot, so became Chelsea At Eight. There would also be Chelsea Summertime in 1958, featuring regular singer Maureen Cannon, before returning to its nine o'clock spot in autumn 1958.


A TV Times piece in 1957 explained "The aim is to increase the variety by featuring artists not normally associated with variety shows." As such, it enticed some of the best names in the business, including violinist Yehudi Menuhin, and in the process receiving the biggest fee the show had paid anyone. The following week, Stephane Grappelli appeared. The two violinists would late make recordings together. The show favoured jazz and blues acts like Diahann Carroll, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Johnny Dankworth, The Jazz Couriers, Abbey Lincoln and Ella Fitzgerald, but the show would become famous for hosting Billie Holliday's final TV appearance, and her only known visual take of her song Strange Fruit, broadcast on on 18th March 1959. A colourised version of the clip was used in a 2020 documentary.


After a panto' production of Cinderella featuring many of Granada's stars the show came to an end.



CHELSEA AT NINE / CHELSEA AT EIGHT / CHELSEA SUMMERTIME


Granada

17th September 1957 - 27th January 1960