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Pop Music on British Television 1955 - 1999

Thames Television had effectively been awarded the ITV franchises of both ABC and Rediffusion and in among the first batch of programme announcements in summer 1968 was a new tea-time magazine show, Magpie. But instead of re-booting an existing format, they decided to use one of the BBC's. Producers claiming much later on that the show's name came from the fact they stole the format and ideas from BBC's Blue Peter. The show had indeed been set up to challenge the BBC's then ten-year old programme, but Magpie realised that kids wanted some fun after school, so as well as the more worthy items on steam engines and canals they would slip in the odd pop act. To be fair, Blue Peter also did the same, but where Blue Peter would offer established chart acts, Magpie would offer the likes of Yes, and at teatime!

Magpie was a replacement for Rediffusion's Come Here Often, which seems to have had the working title of Magpie at some point in 1967.

Initially a weekly show on Tuesdays from 5.10 to 5.50 pm it would expand to two slots on Tuesdays and Thursdays from February 12th 1969 onwards, and trying to avoid a clash with Blue Peter it would start at 5.20 pm just as Blue Peter finished.

The first hosts were Radio One’s Pete Brady, Susan Stranks (who had made appearances on early editions of Juke Box Jury) and Tony Bastable. Thankfully they didn't indulge in having pets in the studio ready to attack any unsuspecting guests (although they did have the stable-bound pony called Puff). Brady's then current contract with Radio One was written off in order for him to appear on the show, but he would be working for the station again at some point.

A show spokesman, talking to Record Mirror in July 1968 said "It is to be a trendy magazine programme, with guests from the world of pop as well as from other fields. It is not just a 'plug' programme for groups, though various pop artists will be singing on the show."

Even though they started with a clean slate they did decide to include one leftover from the Rediffusion days. Captain Fantastic, the weekly serial starring David Jason and Denise Coffey from Do Not Adjust Your Set would have a new lease of life in the show, occupying the last five minutes of the show in its first few weeks of transmission.

The show was not necessarily targeting older children, but it never patronised them and treated kids as kids who just wanted something different. They knew their audience were just as likely to be into The Crazy World of Arthur Brown as well as The Tremeloes, and not as the Enid Blyton loving, scout-camp types that Blue Peter attracted. You can tell the agenda they were laying out by its theme tune. Instead of taking an existing piece of library music it commissioned one from The Spencer Davis Group, who for the purposes of the show would be renamed The Murgatroyd Band, after the show's mascot who had been named in a competition in Spring 1969. They would also have a 'floating studio', a boat called Magpie moored outside the studio at Teddington Lock, in Middlesex.

The show had a pop slot which was mostly music news, but on occasion acts would appear in person. One of their early films was on Apple Records' Mary Hopkin and her producer Paul McCartney. Another notable show was in November 1968 which had Pete Brady hold up The Beatles new double album claiming "it's still warm in my hands" which was likely as the EMI record pressing plant was nearby and Thames had an ownership association with EMI. Thames had another unlikely pop-loving show in its early days. The Tyrant King was a London Transport inspired romp through the Swinging London in mid-1968 with a soundtrack of Pink Floyd, The Moody Blues, Nice, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, and as a clue to the conclusion, a track by Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Hosts came and went on the show and many see the classic line-up as Mick Robertson, Jenny Hanley and Dougie Rae who were seen every week from the early to mid seventies. Mick Robertson was a Brian May look-a-like who had a brief pop career himself, even appearing on Top Of The Pops on the rival BBC. Jenny Hanley had been a successful actress appearing in Hammer films, Thames' children's shows and London Weekend's We Have Ways Of Making You Laugh in August 1968.

In 1977 they had booked The Stranglers for an appearance on the live show, but the Thames bosses pulled the plug fearing another potential Sex Pistols outburst.

Magpie came to an end in 1980 and was succeeded by a poor procession of shows curiously trying too hard to appeal to a post-punk audience.

In 2009 Network released a DVD set of twelve editions and reunited Hanley, Robertson and Rae for publicity.



30th July 1968 to 6th June 1980