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Pop Music on British Television 1955 - 1999

A chat show with music hosted by ex-pirate DJ Simon Dee. Dee had hosted a pilot for a new pop show Discotec in September 1965, about the time that Rediffusion were first threatening to remove Ready Steady Go from the schedules, but his starchy approach and his posh accent seemed out of step with what other popular faces like Cathy McGowan had to offer. Less Carnaby Street, more Saville Row. Neither was there an obvious sense of humour that other TV hosts like Brian Matthew or the other Top Of The Pops hosts were renown for.


BBC Light Entertainment executive Bill Cotton Jnr had bumped into Dee's agent Bunny Lewis at a broadcast of the satire show BBC-3 and had told him that he was getting requests for Dee to appear on children's TV. Lewis suggested that since Dee had proved himself on Top Of The Pops maybe he should be given a chance of hosting his own show. Together with Tom Sloan Cotton approached Michael Peacock, head of Light Entertainment who liked the idea of an early evening chat and music show.


Two pilots were recorded in Manchester, but the first was a disaster, so Cotton was brought in to re-organise, The second one proved more successful and the show was commissioned. For the pilot shows comedienne Joan Turner did a gag involving balancing a glass on her head, while actor Fred Emney played piano for the New Vaudeville Band. Top Of The Pops' Johnnie Stewart acted in an advisory capacity for the pilots. In the meantime in mid-March 1967 both Dee and his manager had been sent to New York to see how things were done there and pick up any tips they might need.


Dee Time was initially broadcast from BBC's Manchester studios, but later moved to London in the hope of attracting more international stars, just as Top Of The Pops had done the year before. It was also the idea was to have a guest co-host for each show, but that was quickly dropped.


The shows' script was provided by Michael Wale and Joe Steeples, who had worked on TWW's recently departed Now.


According to a BBC spokesman just ahead of the show's debut "It will cover the early evening scene for young people and many of the artists will be backed by the Northern Dance Orchestra." But it was important for the host to point out that the show wasn't just non-stop pop, it was principally a chat show with pop guests, "it's not meant to be a pop show as such" he told Disc.


The show itself had memorable opening and closing credit sequences with BBC sports announcer Len Martin giving Dee the the introductory "It's Siiiiimon Deeee", while Dee jumped into a sports car along side a 'dolly bird' for the closing credits. It was during the filming of this sequence that he injured himself.


During his tenure at Top Of The Pops Dee would forget song titles and fluff his lines, so Dee Time would inevitably become the most scrutinised show of its time. Every gesture and utterance would be poured over by the media, and he made himself unpopular almost immediately with his nervous over use of phrases like "there you go" and "can't be bad" after each song. On one occasion he asked comedian Dick Gregory "do you mind if I call you black?" Despite the blunders he must have impressed the BBC bosses as it was decided to extend the show's original twelve week run beyond June 1967 when they had originally intended to rest it until the next scheduled series.


The show attracted seven million viewers in the first week, along with seven thousand fan letters, but the media were out to get him and the show. Talking to Disc in April 1967 Dee remarked "I'm happy. Despite what people have said I'm not trying to be Eamonn Andrews, David Frost or Robin Day. And I don't think that people want to know about legalising homosexuality, our troops in Berlin, birth control or the Rent Act at 6.30 at night. Let's leave that to the late night shows." Dee referred to himself at a "puppet on a string", doing what he was told by those who have TV experience, but he would expect that to change over time. "Obviously I have my own ideas, but when you're given a show of your own you do as you're told."


After only eight shows Dee Time found itself with a combined audience of sixteen million per week. Producer Terry Henebery told Disc "Naturally we are all very gratified. We had not presented a feature of this type before, and as it is produced from one of the regions (Manchester), we did visual some slight difficulties in artist bookings. But it has proved easier than we expected. And those taking part have thoroughly enjoyed being on the show." In mid-May 1967 he was told that the should be extended to September, but Dee found himself with some time on his hands in the summer of 1967 as his show was put aside so that BBC1 could broadcast tennis from Wimbledon, the European Football Cup Final and the third test match cricket. His agent commented "Actually, it suits Simon to be off the air at the end of June and beginning of July, as it may give him a chance to take a well-earned holiday break. Doing eighty minutes of TV a week can be pretty taxing."


The twice weekly show was later condensed down to one show on a Saturday evening from late September 1967, just as Juke Box Jury was going in the opposite direction. It was seen very much as a promotion, despite halving the number of shows. Dee's agent Bunny Lewis explained to Disc "In this respect it is a bit of a disappointment, but the BBC regards the change to Saturday as a promotion. It should mean that instead of the present viewing audience of from between six and a half to eight and a half million, Dee Time should go up to as high as eleven million." Dee himself told Disc "You'd be amazed the number of people I've asked on the show who couldn't make it because of the journey to Manchester." The new Saturday show actually gets an average of ten million per week by November 1967.


He was honest in his assessment for the need of a show of this kind "If I had my way I would like to see the programme on for an hour from 6.30 pm to 7.30 pm every night of the week. Don't get the idea I'm trying to ram Simon Dee down everyone's throat. It's just the idea of 'Dee Time' is one that will always be interesting - a sort of TV 'In Town Tonight'. There's so many fantastic people passing through London every day - I feel there should be a daily show where they can just come on and chat. Just think, Commander Glenn, the American astronaut, was in town the other week, and I missed him!" Talking about the frustrations faced with the show's time slot "One problem is that as the show is at tea-time, there are dozens of subjects I can't discuss. I above everyone, would like to blast out all this crap about flower-power, hippies, drugs and things, but with both adults and children watching, I can't."


Drugs would come to the fore in August 1967 when one of the 'beautiful people' (it's not known who) was due to be interviewed on the show but were caught smoking pot in the dressing room beforehand. Speaking about the incident Dee said "I would have thrown out the Prime Minister if I'd caught him smoking marijuana in a dressing room before my show."


However, the show's format quickly became unpopular with the music business as the show's producers decided they didn’t want artists turning up just to plug their new single and dared to provide alternate material for them to perform. During one show in late 1967 British jazz trio The Peddlers and Brenda Lee both refused to perform the songs chosen for them by the producer and walked off. Adding to the controversy in September 1967 the former managers of singer Ross Hannaman sued Dee for libel. Despite this the BBC proved their continuing approval by extending the show for a further three months in the summer of 1968.


Such was his influence that for Christmas 1967 he decided to reward his 10,000 strong fan club membership with a copy of his own moral guide. The "Dee Code" was according to his manager Bunny Lewis "... a worthwhile effort. Young people are looking for some leadership on issues that concern them. They get so little leadership from The Establishment - politicians, the church and so on. But Simon can really do something. Apart from his fan club members, there are some eleven and a half million viewers of Dee Time and another six million on Luxembourg. He can at least give some sort of guidance to young people." There were ten pieces of advice in the Code, which began "To be young in years is great; to be young in spirit is greater." The Code required respect for parents, racial integration and love, but to be wary of drug-taking, "certain forms of war and debasement of one's body" (according to Disc). The fans were then asked to sign the declaration supporting the principles of the code. Taking things further in January 1968 he created a National Debt Fund for Britain after record producer Mickie Most and Herman Hermits' singer Peter Noone announced on the show that they were donating their royalties from I Can Take Or Leave Your Loving to the I'm Backing Britain campaign. Bunny Lewis explained to Disc "Simon fell for the idea in front of 11 million viewers. I can't see how he can avoid doing it now. Donations have been flooding in since the show. I understand one man in Cornwall sent a cheque for £1000 immediately after the programme. I could cheerfully chop Mickie Most's head off! We all believe in I'm Backing Britain, or course, but this is not the way to do it!"


The show was popular, but Dee wasn't, and he wasn't spared barbs from within the industry, the most apt of which was Stanley Baxter's take on his BBC1 show where he played both Dee and his 'guest' Jack Benny, while the Melody Maker's Dawbar suggested "..after As You Like It and now Good Evening I'm tempted to think the BBC has a gentleman's agreement with ITV to make Dee Time look good."


The show didn't adhere to the usual operating manual, a fawning introduction, star walks on, plugs what they have to plug while trying to show a sense of humour, then thank you and goodnight. Dee was savvy and intuitive, he played the part of host but it was his party they were invited to, so wouldn't be bullied into ingratiating himself if he felt the plugee didn't deserve it. He would occasionally provoke argument inspired by the topic of whatever it was they were plugging if he felt it necessary. The format was considered successful enough to copy and ITV fought back with Good Evening I'm Jonathan King, also on Saturday evening. However, his agent Bunny Lewis claimed that a part of the show's success was that Dee was so sycophantic with Hollywood stars that he gave them an easy ride. Agents back in Hollywood requested that their stars would only do Dee's show, furthering Dee's opinion of himself. Despite the backstage problems television and movie stars were queuing up to appear on the show, but Dee's self-confidence took many of the stars by surprise. But to some his self-confidence reeked of self-importance. Dee knew that people were as likely to be tuning in for him as they were for the stars and his demands on the senior staff at the BBC would inevitable take their toll. At one point he demanded that he be given access to politicians to interview on the show, which was unheard of in 1969, although common now. Dee even proposed the idea of a new programme with a more serious interview format, even going as far as drawing up a programme budget.


In late 1968 it was suggested that the show was going to be "rested" for three months, in order to allow Lulu's new show to take root. Instead, he found himself removed and shunted down to a Monday evening slot, but by March 1969 he was back on Saturday evenings again.


In September 1969 a rumour of the Radio Caroline organisation's plans to launch a TV station with Simon Dee as a host led to a threat of a "friendly warning" from the BBC. In response Dee told Melody Maker "All the BBC do is to provide me with employment. As long as I do my job, what I think about is nobody's business."


In October the BBC decide to change the name of the show from Dee Time to just 'Simon Dee' as Robin Day's new current affairs show Day Time sound too similar. Day's seeming importance spoke volumes on how the BBC saw not only Dee but Light Entertainment in general. Dee's contract was up for renewal in December, and this decision to change the name suggested that they had had enough of him and remind him that they already had people to do the serious interviews.


By this time (1969) it is difficult to find much information about who was appearing on Dee Time as the BBC gave the daily newspapers no advance information about it, but happily did so for other shows.


Dee was earning about £150 per show at the beginning of his BBC contract, ending up in 1969 with about £250 (pre-tax) which was still substantially less than Eamonn Andrews and David Jacobs at ITV. By the end of 1969 Dee's excessive wage demands meant that an approach from ITV wouldn't be long in coming, and he quit the BBC in late 1969. There would be no Caroline Television, so he moved to David Frost's year-old channel. His tenure at London Weekend was almost abstract in its nature.


In 2003 Victor Lewis-Smith persuaded Dee to host a new one-off new edition of Dee Time as a part of a documentary about the former star, although visually it looked more like the London Weekend show.


Like so much TV from the sixties there is very little evidence of his presenting and interviewing style as only two BBC shows and about fifteen minutes of London Weekend footage exist.



DEE TIME


BBC1

4th April 1967 - 20th December 1969