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TV Pop Diaries
Pop Music on British Television 1955 - 1999

The demise of Discs-A-Gogo left a hole in the TWW schedules but creating a look-a-like show wouldn't make any sense, so it was up to producer Chris Mercer to come up with a new format, deciding that a music and comedy show aimed at the early evening audience would suit the bill.

Talking to Melody Maker in early 1966 he said "When we were putting Now together we had to decide which of the old Discs A Gogo formula to eliminate and which to retain, and whether a more intelligent approach away from wild hysteria would be better. I knew the kids would appreciate this because we had done market research and one of the things they liked about the old Discs A Gogo was that we didn't have this hysterical quality. From this, the Now formula evolved and is still evolving."

Michael Palin had been hired as the resident comic, performing filmed silent sketches inserted between the studio-bound pop performances, while Wendy Varnals (later to co-host A Whole Scene Going) would be one of the studio hosts introducing the acts and offering comment on whatever the new scene was that week. Cynthia Pettigrew from Discs-A-Gogo was also on hand to present and to perform in sketches with Palin, as was future recording star Murray Head, but Head and Varnals soon left, leaving just Palin and Pettigrew. The producers also used a team of dancers brought in from London discotheques. Palin later said that he was paid £30 per show, increasing to £40 if he did location work.

Co-creators Michael Wale and Joe Steeples had until recently been writing for satirical and sketch shows BBC3, The Braden Beat and The Frost Report, and after Now they would go on to work on the BBC's Dee Time. Wale would later go on to write for Tony Hancock's Australian series in 1968 and become a Radio One presenter in the early 1970s.

In an interview with The Independent in 2008 Palin recalled that it was an impersonation of the then Prime Minister Harold Wilson that helped land him the job. Talking about staging the show "It was very cumbersome, with four presenters and two or three groups who had to be got on and off the small stage. Top of the Pops could have three or four big names but we could afford only one and had to take whatever we could get for virtually nothing." Palin also had the unenviable job of trying to balance his hosting duties with his wedding, leading to a two day honeymoon between shooting commitments.

Some of his silent film sketches would be accompanied by a chart hit, for example a film where he was a long-distance runner had The Spencer Davis Group Keep On Running playing in the background.

Bryan Michie, programme controller at TWW described the show as an experiment. Talking to The Stage he said "We will continue to change and shape the programme according to viewer reaction. We are definitely abandoning the all-pop show to give a wider view of young people today, who have changed since the first days of beat music and beatniks."

Among the many acts who made the effort to go down to Bristol to appear were Manfred Mann, Tom Jones, The Animals, Yardbirds and from America Patti LaBelle and The Belles, Doris Troy and Lee Dorsey. The show seemed to have definite R&B leanings as it hired Georgie Fame to write the theme tune. American acts were targeted as the production team felt that their presentation was much more interesting than their own home-grown acts. Sometimes the American acts were allowed to perform up to four songs per show, and many were appreciative of the effort TWW made, with Wilson Pickett commenting that the show had the best sound of any of the British pop TV shows.

On 26th January 1966 Tracey Rogers joined the presentation team, and it was also rumoured that singer Billie Davis might be hired as a commere. In February 1966 TWW moved the show from Wednesday evening to Friday evening, having already dropped Ready Steady Go from its schedules. The show was pre-recorded on Wednesday which gave time to edit in the pre-filmed comedy sketches for transmission.

The comedy aspect attracted pop stars who wanted to play along. On one occasion Spencer Davis impersonated Bernard Levin as a part of show's weekly Pop Periscope piece which looked at the pop music press, while a quote from Gary Walker/Leeds suggests there might have been a plot each week. Talking to Disc magazine he said "I've not come across a pop show like this before. The story theme is such a good idea." The show would also have a weekly fashion film feature.

The 1st July 1966 edition featured ten local bands hoping to win the show's Popportunity Now contest. Producer Chris Mercer went through all 153 entries, calling in 26 of them for audition before whittling them down to ten for the broadcast. Tom Jones and Spencer Davis were among the judges.

The show was good enough to impress the usually bored and sarcastic London music press. Just before the show's demise Record Mirror devoted an entire page to a show which was only seen in one region well outside of London. Quoting producer Chris Mercer "'Now' differs from all other pop shows in that it takes a wry look at the real world behind the hysteria and ballyhoo whilst still giving the kids what they want in the way of music, dancing and other pop items. We take the view that the pop fans are intelligent and critical, and not nearly as gullible as the publicity boys suggest. So we don't try to insult their intelligence by lumping together a handful of star names and throwing the show together around them." Maybe he was taking a pop at Ready Steady Go's recent decision to give over a large portion of the show to a 'star' name. "We also try to vary the format as much as possible from week to week, so that, by never sticking to a stereotyped routine and constantly incorporating new ideas, the show maintains its fresh approach."

Despite its success, "fresh approach" and respect in the press and music industry it was announced in mid June 1966 that the show would come to an end the following month, just as Thank Your Lucky Stars was coming to an end. Bryan Michie claims "The pop scene is changing this year and our next teenage programme might have to be a different type of show. We will study the position this autumn". Show writers Wale and Steeples were not surprised at the decision saying "We believe in perishable pop shows." TWW's next show would be very short-lived Herd at the Scene in September 1966. Cynthia Pettigrew went on to work on Ready Steady Go in London.

Although it's thought that none of the original full shows exist several of Palin's filmed inserts exist in the ITV archive and the National Library of Wales.



22nd December 1965 - 15th July 1966