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Pop Music on British Television 1955 - 1999

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Pop on London Weekend 1970 - 1979

Pop pops along to the South Bank

For reasons that seem to have been lost in the mists of history someone at the ITA thought that highbrow programming was required and appropriate for the new weekend franchise for London starting in summer 1968, replacing the somewhat less than highbrow ATV London, despite that fact that the considered highbrow Rediffusion London had lost its own franchise in the same round of contracts.

The new franchise had been given to the London Television Consortium, and after a weekend referring to itself as Thames Television, soon re-named itself London Weekend Television. The word Consortium made the channel sound like a chamber quartet, which was probably not unintentional. It was probably the desire of the Independent Television Authority who award the franchises to impress themselves by having David Frost on board. As David Frost attested "It's ridiculous to think that people who enjoy serious programmes during the week stop doing so at seven o'clock on Friday night." ITA's then chairman Lord Hill agreed "The changes will bring more imagination, more experiment, new faces, new ideas and a better quality to programmes." While Michael Peacock, the channel's managing director, told The Times "You don't have to be a moron to get something out of London Weekend Television." The station even had its own theatrical repertory company, The Company Of Five.

This round of franchises was notable for the well-known names willing to be associated with a TV channel, regardless of how much input, financial or otherwise, they actually had. Stanley Baker and Richard Burton put their names alongside Harlech's proposal, while David Frost would do the same for the new London Weekend. The difference being Frost would at least hang around for a couple of years, rather than disappear after opening night drinks, never darkening their doorsteps again.

The opening weekend was chaotic as industrial action forced London Weekend off air after about ten seconds. Alongside the promised comedies we didn't see we were spared a Saturday evening with Stravinsky and a new take on BBC's Going For A Song, The Auction Game. Frost had allotted himself three shows over each weekend dedicated to current affairs, modern culture, comedy and music, while the rest of the schedule was an awkward mixture of the posh and the profane.

After a combative live interview with Rupert Murdoch Frost should have realised that the seed of his demise at the station was about to be sown. Murdoch delivered his punishment by taking a shareholder stake in the station. Frost's future was inevitable, and by December 1970 Murdoch was effectively boss and Frost and his company were out.

London Weekend decided not to have a dedicated weekly pop show at the beginning, but did make a few specials with Tom Jones, Lulu, Cliff Richard and Nina Simone, and despite the strike they all got shown eventually, amongst the classical music, arts, Kurt Weill and Jacques Brel. 1969 saw a greater emphasis on light entertainment and their first dip into a regular pop show, Set 'Em Up Joe, hosted by the then West-End star, Joe Brown. But despite its popularity it only lasted one series. Even the introduction of colour TV in late 1969 LWT still couldn't be persuaded to invest in a regular pop show.


Despite its initial reticence it was inevitable that pop would make it's way into the channel and on 2nd January 1970 the station launched a new arts strand, Aquarius. Although the show only tipped its toe into the pond of pop, it gave the world Russell Harty, London Weekend's first and greatest find. Later in the month the ill-fated Simon Dee Show launched. It was an attempt at an American-style late-night show which very few people saw, but featured many familiar faces from the music world, but never the kind of status that his then-boss Frost could attract to his show.

In April LWT gave Paul McCartney five minutes to promote his debut LP. As the David Frost show, which normally would have accommodated it had finished the month before Macca was given early Sunday evening to play the Maybe I'm Amazed promotional clip.

While other stations like Southern had quit pop altogether LWT really got into the swing in the summer with new pop shows each day of the weekend. But first they had some spring cleaning to do. In July Simon Dee would have his show terminated. Deciding, maybe unwisely, to hire another controversial DJ Kenny Everett would become LWT's next hot property with The Kenny Everett Explosion on Fridays. This would be the station's first dedicated pop show since Joe Brown's the previous year. Everett found himself joined by another Radio One DJ Ed Stewart whose show Stewpot was awarded a Saturday teatime slot, while on Sundays Joe Brown was back, this time with Joe.

Easy Listening vocalist Maggie Fitzgibbon was given her own show in August. Maggie's Place gave a home to many familiar faces from the sixties, plus acts like The New Seekers, while the lead signer from the old Seekers Judith Durham was given her own special in August.

Into September and an un-hosted hour-long special, South Bank Summer: All Shades Of Pop, featured Deep Purple, Blue Mink, Richard Barnes, Continuum and an early appearance by Mud, all performing in and around the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Later in the month Kenny Everett could be heard MC-ing Bob Kerr’s Whoopee Band's Making Whoopee. Featuring a couple of ex-Bonzo's the show featured the band's blend of trad jazz and comedy.

In October multi-media genius Kenny Everett gets an upgrade as he moves to Saturday evening with Ev, but it's another short-lived vehicle. In November professional time wasters the Youth International Party gave David Frost the headlines he both feared and craved, as The Deviants’ mouthpiece Mick Farren claimed, on live TV, that American Yippie Jerry Rubin was a "cunt." Frost matched the bored disdain that Bill Grundy would serve The Sex Pistols six years' later.


The year gets off to a bad start for Kenny Everett who only finds out via a TV voice over that his series Ev is finished. Not even the remaining shows would be broadcast, while Ed Stewart's show continues. Entertainers Leslie Crother and Dickie Henderson play host to familiar music guests on their respective series.

In April Aquarius give Elton John his first UK documentary special, bafflingly titled Mr Superfunk. The same month sees LWT giving Adam Faith a much needed lifeline. Budgie was the story of an ex-con trying to go straight despite the interference of his old boss Charlie Endell. The day after Budgie's debut Roger Whittaker, late of BBC1's Whistle Stop, hosts a new series Whittaker’s World Of Music a mixture of pop and dance.

In July LWT broadcasts a one-off documentary, It's Called God Rock, featured Quintessence, Ashton, Gardner & Dyke and the Radha Krishna Temple.

In November another one-off special Top Twenty Special is broadcast, featured the Dougie Squires Dancers with guests Mungo Jerry, Gilbert O'Sullivan, John Kongos and Blue Mink among others. Plainly intended as a Christmas special, this plays a few days before the annual Royal Variety Show, which LWT also broadcasts this year. A rare discussion about pop music and television featuring Britain's biggest pop star Marc Bolan, along with Edgar Broughton, John Peel, Tony Palmer is broadcast in December.


The new year brings another Elton John Aquarius special, this time a concert at the Royal Festival Hall with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. In March Aquarius meet up with John and Yoko, newly decamped to New York, but it was the following month that London Weekend took its first nibble at glam rock, the genre that many would associated with the station and the sole domain of the producer that they would hire, Mike Mansfield. Until then rock and pop were still 'owned' by the arts and it was Aquarius' Humphrey Burton who would present and interview Marc Bolan's T Rex for Music in The Round. They were the biggest act in Britain since The Beatles and to have them play live was a coup.

Saturday teatime was still the best position for any pop show. The Six-Five Special, Oh Boy!, Thank Your Lucky Stars, Time For Blackburn had all benefited from the best prime time positioning and that's exactly where they placed The Rolf Harris show. The show presented Blue Mink (who seemed to be the station's go-to band), Ray Stevens, Fame and Price, Kris Kristofferson & Rita Coolidge, among others.

The next show to benefit from Saturday teatime exposure was 2G’s And The Pop People, debuting in June. It was another dance and group series starring Douggie Squires' Second Generation dance troupe, the 2G's of the title. Each show would be hosted by a Radio One DJ and featured The Bee Gees, Lulu, Slade, Argent, Gilbert O'Sullivan, Head Hands and Feet, The Move, ELO and Scott Walker in the middle of his MOR phase. Although it only lasted one series, it was an important step forward, then slide to the side, then step-kick, step-kick...

The same month saw the debut of a late-might chat-show hosted by another Aquarius alumni, Russell Harty. Acts like Marc Bolan would pop up for a song and an interview from a man who would try to get beneath the thin veneer of pop stardom, not to expose it out of spite or jealousy, but genuine interest and concern. Harty's background was as a school teacher, rather then a sneary hack that could smell a weakness, or better, scandal and provoke from that angle. Even the name of the show Eleven Plus belied his background. By October he was back with a new series and a new title, Russell Harty Plus. It had taken four years, but LWT had firmly re-imagined itself as the station that entertains and in late 1972 you could turn on and see an assortment of singers and groups on shows like The Rolf Harris Show, The Reg Varney Revue, even The Stanley Baxter Show played host to Blackfoot Sue, plus American imports like The Osmonds and Jackson 5 cartoon series and The Partridge Family.

Also this year sees the debut of its long-running current affairs strand Weekend World, broadcast on Sunday lunchtimes. Although the content is not really of interest here, apart from an interview with John and Yoko, the producers chose as its theme Mountain's Nantucket Sleighride, easily the coolest TV theme of all time.


Russell Harty and the American shows will continue into the new year, but in February Russell Harty gets something of a coup. Michael Parkinson on the BBC was infatuated with Hollywood legends, so couldn't be bothered with the likes of David Bowie, which was his loss. The first of Harty's encounters with the Lord Stardust was in February where he was interviewed and played Drive In Saturday and My Death. He would by followed by Rod Stewart and the Faces, Steeleye Span, Roger Daltrey and Ringo among others.

While the show was on its summer holiday LWT would fill it with things like the late-night Disco Champions ‘73 contest. Few people used the word 'Disco' in those days, so LWT was really on the ball.

Rolf Harris continued to occupy Saturday teatime with his show and guests like Freda Payne, Lulu and Neil Sedaka.

Russell Harty was back in July, and in a move that David Frost would have approved of, he was given shows on both Saturday and Sunday with guests like Donovan, Wizzard, Pearl Bailey, Charles Aznavour, David Essex, Marianne Faithfull, Rod Stewart, Chuck Berry and even a contribution by The Rolling Stones, albeit on tape. The calibre of acts making themselves available for what was only supposed to be a chat show would be the envy of any pop show producer.

On Saturday 3rd November 1973 London Weekend begins to make better use of its operating hours by introducing a Saturday morning kids' strand, Saturday Scene. Hosted by actress and would-be Blue Peter presenter Sally James introducing American cartoons, any pop promo clip that came to hand, clips from new movies, Junior Police Five, Tarzan and the occasional star interview.

LWT closed the year with a Gilbert O'Sullivan special with guests The O'Jays and Elton John.

From 1972 until 1977 London Weekend pretty much became the home of glam, playing host to just about everyone from the creators Bowie and Bolan, to the poppier side like Glitter, Alvin Stardust, rockers like Mud, Suzi Quatro and The Sweet, teeny boppers like The Bay City Rollers, and art rockers like Roxy Music. Glam was at home on the South Bank.


Saturday Scene and Russell Harty would make it into 1974, and there would be a treat for both audiences on the morning of Saturday 19th January as LWT plays Russell Harty Plus Pop, a compilation of some of the best music performances from the late night show, aimed at the Saturday Scene crowd. A necessary supply of pop acts would parade through the revolving doors of the South Bank compound throughout the year, but they also devoted time to more progressive rock.

One Saturday morning in July was given over to the likes of Camel and Michael Chapman in What The Butler Saw, a one-off, promotional short from Gama Records.

Expanding his empire to Fridays from July onwards the short lived Harty Welcomes had its fair share of pop acts.

In September Saturday Scene creates its own show within a show London Bridge which would also play host to pop acts, usually being interviewed, while a drunk Rod Stewart popped up on Russell Harty's show on 18th October 1974 to embarrass himself and the other guests.


Things would step up several notches on Saturday 1st March 1975 with the first edition of Supersonic. Mike Mansfield, who had been such a presence at Southern Television in the sixties, had now moved to London Weekend and given his first series since Time For Blackburn, seven years' before. The show was distinctive, it was not the lazy Top Of The Pops knock off that it could have been, but something which not only made the pop star guests occasionally look like gods, but made Mansfield himself part of the show and a star worthy of impersonating and Mickey-taking. The first show pulled no punches, Rod Stewart, Status Quo, Gary Glitter, The Bay City Rollers, Gilbert O'Sullivan, Alvin Stardust, acts worthy of their own specials. In fact, some acts would have their own show under Mansfield's time at LWT. Despite the inclusion of Supersonic in the station's schedules pop acts continued to appear on other shows like Russell Harty and Saturday Scene.

In April The Bay City Rollers starred in their own TV special Once Upon A Star, a tie-in with their new LP, but like What The Butler Saw the year before it was in effect a promotional feature part-funded by a record company, something that would be a feature of LWT pop shows.

In June not only do we get a new show, but a presenter new to TV, journalist Janet Street-Porter. The London Weekend Show debuted with an article featuring Kilburn and The High Roads, a band currently playing the pub rock circuit. The show took a Whistle Test view of the current rock scene, not unusual as both Street-Porter and Bob Harris had previously worked at Time Out.

Saturday Scene and Supersonic both returned in September, with Supersonic given a teatime showing later in the month. While the next special broadcast in October would be given to David Essex performing songs from his concept album All The Fun Of The Fair.

Bowie returns to the Russell Harty show in November, but regrettably, America was beginning to ruin him. The interview via satellite from Los Angeles found the dame disinterested, touchy and coke'd up.

In late October Russell Harty takes the plane to Los Angeles to meet Elton John ahead of his show at Dodger's stadium. Little did Harty know that he had caught Elton on the verge of a suicide attempt. The resulting documentary, one of the finest of its time, was broadcast a few days' before Christmas.

Supersonic pulls out the stops with its Christmas show on the 27th December featuring Gary Glitter, Leo Sayer, Marc Bolan, Alvin Stardust, Linda Lewis, Slade, Mud, Justin Hayward & John Lodge, Sweet, David Essex, The Bay City Rollers, just about the best line-up anyone could have expected. However, the 1976 charts would shed some of these acts to make way for disco.


Russell Harty, Supersonic, The London Weekend and Saturday Scene all made it intact into the year of punk, but that wouldn't happen until the end of the year. LWT continued with all the familiar faces, familiar shows and familiar sounds. Despite the fact that glam's flame had pretty much gone out by now the acts were still available, besides Marc Bolan was back from tax exile so could do Supersonic, presumably his money was running out. He was back, but in April we said Goodbye, Gary Glitter, a special which the bewigged, corset wearing old-timer made his exit, but he would be back at LWT on Christmas Day.

Another record company promo special starring Sailor and The Sutherland Brothers and Quiver filmed in Southend played in May, while in July a tie-in with Capital Radio in London results in a Jethro Tull special, based on their new album, Too Old To Rock N Roll Too Young To Die.

More specials appeared over the summer, one starred Linda Lewis and John Miles, while another, Late Night Stardust featured Alvin Stardust, Widowmaker and Carl Wayne.

On 31st July Mike Mansfield excels himself by producing three specials all shown on one evening - The Hollies, The Bay City Rollers and Superpop '76, another show made with the help of record companies. Two Mike Mansfield produced specials followed in August. The first starring The New Seekers, while Rollin’ Bolan gave us a taste of what was to come in 1977 with the teatime show Marc.

Despite giving all and sundry their own special in September LWT made the terrible decision not to broadcast The Muppet Show, seeing it exclusively as a children's show, despite showing Sesame Street.

By October Supersonic was back to Saturday mornings, but at the end of the year The London Weekend Show had caught onto punk rock. Supersonic’s viewers were introduced to punk via The Vibrators, an interesting choice for a Saturday morning kids’ show.


Time was running out for Supersonic and Saturday Scene, as both shows seemed glued to the genre that bore them. But it wasn't their fault, that's what the record companies fed them, and by this time LWT would release records themselves, via DJM, albeit with no success, not even with TV themes.

February sees the introductory edition of the epic All You Need Is Love, Tony Palmer's look at the history of popular music from Africa to glam rock. A precursor to the later musical histories by Ken Burns on jazz and country music.

The London Weekend Show seemed to give more time to punk and its industry, like fashion, indie labels etc.

April saw Supersonic sail into the sunset, with a disgruntled Mike Mansfield blaming the fire service who had expressed genuine concerns about studio pyrotechnics. Thankfully, The Damned had been allowed into the studio just before the end, giving health and safety more real concerns.

In July LWT came over all Seaside Special with Hi Summer. Complete with its Carl Wayne sung theme it presented lots of fun at the seaside shenanigans with resident singers Lena Zavaroni and Pearly Gates.

By September time was up for Saturday Scene too, as Sally James was now heading to ATVLand to help Chris Tarrant co-host Tiswas, initially much to Tarrant's annoyance. It would be replaced by Our Show, a Saturday morning magazine format with a live audience of children, all hosted by stage school types including Mellisa Wilkes, Susan Tully, Graham Fletcher, Elvis Payne, Jamie Forman and Nicholas Lyndhurst. The show wouldn't last long as it was awful, but the rise of Tiswas meant that Sally James would be seen again on LWT at some point.


Aquarius, the show that had London Weekend had hoped would define the seventies was disposed of and The South Bank Show, a much more coherent, and pop friendly proposal made its debut in January with a Paul McCartney special.

The channel was now spending less money and more time on late night MOR concert specials, probably brought in from other countries. Variety shows seem to be the future home for pop on the South Bank and Bruce's Big Night Out, debuting in October, was expected to be their can’t fail Saturday night blockbuster. It's not difficult to do. You know the rest. Dolly Parton, Sammy Davis Jr, Bette Midler and Karen Carpenter were all booked in vain. Big stars couldn’t save a poor format.


LWT would continue with its various ‘shows’, The Saturday Show, The London Weekend Show and The South Bank Show, while Russell Harty continued to host his own show until his defection to the BBC a couple of year’s later.

Although Tiswas reigned unquestioned, other stations also gave it a go. Southern had The Saturday Banana, while LWT tried and failed with Our Show, so it tried, tried and tried again with The Saturday Morning Show, almost now completely forgotten.

Their Celebrity Concert and On The Road live specials would be broadcast late at night, but were brought-in shows, not home-made.

And that's how London Weekend saw out the seventies. In the eighties it would be an entertainment behemoth, putting right the wrongs of Bruce Forsyth’s Big Night with a conveyor belt of variety shows, some based on sixties' formats like Live From Her Majesty's, Live From The Palladium, Candid Camera stunt shows like Game For A Laugh, with no music specials of any note, just a mush and all featuring a curious sound mix, accentuating the brass section and louder-than-it-should-be audience noise.

A station that had highbrow intentions, perhaps to impress the ITA and use it as a short cut to a franchise had by the end of the decade turned into a colour version of ABC.