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TV Pop Diaries
Pop Music on British Television 1955 - 1999

Revolver was an unlikely show in one big respect. It was made by ATV. The Midlands' ITV franchise holder had never really committed to pop and rock in the way that Granada or the London stations had.


Mickie Most had been one of the more harsh / honest judges on ATV's mid-seventies talent show New Faces and his desire to seek new talent may have given someone at ATV the idea to suggest that he produce a pop show. Most had no previous experience with TV production, but had been the subject of several documentaries himself and was one of the 'go-to' figures when news reports need a quote about the newest pop fad. ATV's director of production Francis Essex was determined to get a pop show on the air claiming he had wanted "a new sound, new artists and a new style of presentation, to do for modern music what shows like Six-Five Special, Oh Boy and Ready Steady Go did in the past." Most also claiming "If what's in my head gets on to the tape it really will be exciting." The show's director Chris Tookey explained to Music Week "I was asked at the same time as Most to come up with ideas for a show by ATV' s programme controller, Francis Essex. And although I've never directed a tv rock show, my ideas must have gelled with Mickie Most's, so Essex got us together." The first acts to be signed for the show's pilot were done so in December 1977.


The Saturday morning kids' show Tiswas was beginning to make its presence felt nationally, so maybe it was time to replicate the formula with a music show. In fact, Revolver's look, its captions and cartoons were likely made by the same people as Tiswas.


Most's choice of host for the show was also an eyebrow-raiser. Most had seen Peter Cook make spontaneous comments on football show The Big Match and decided he would be the ideal host. But he would not be a host in the Top of the Pops sense, he would be playing a role, that of the Manager of a nightclub, and the bands that played were the ones he booked to appease the similarly short-tempered audience. Cook’s recent notoriety as the funny half of Derek & Clive might also have proved irresistible.


All the bands played live in front of what was probably the best audience pop TV ever saw, responding to the bands by dancing, and to Cook by chanting "off, off, off" at him whenever he appears on the video screen. Recognising the importance of its audience Most told The Stage "There will be two elements in the programme, the acts and the audience. Each is as important as the other. The audience will be an integral part of the show. It will be carefully selected and disciplined. Perhaps I can compare it with the last night of the Proms or the Kop."


A ratty looking ballroom was recreated at the ATV studios in Birmingham, complete with revolving stage, hence the show's name. Cook's un-named manager wouldn't actually appear on stage, but made his occasionally indecent introductions from his office. However, we did wander on stage for the final show.


Two sixty-minute pilot shows were intended to be recorded at ATV's Birmingham studios on 19th and 26th February 1978, but it appears only one was recorded, on March 19th. Talking to The Stage Francis Essex claimed "All our pilots are made with the full intention of transmitting them... We already have the intention of going ahead, otherwise we wouldn't be making this investment." Two sessions recorded between 2.45 - 9.45 pm resulted in the pilot, broadcast on the ITV network, and in an early Saturday evening slot at that, between The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams and a Dickie Henderson special. An early evening time-slot for the show had been Most's intention all along. According to the Daily Mirror the IBA insisted on censoring one Cook ad lib "Sod 'em." "Unfortunately, the audience will now think it's a far worse word" said Cook, guaranteeing that the show would be on the move to a later slot.


Most claimed that once the pilot show was produced he may sit back as an Executive Producer "After all, I've got a record company to run" he told Music Week. Asked if he would use the show as a New Faces type talent show for new acts he said "We will feature support bands, give them their first spot on tv. We do want to break acts, yes, but this is to be a professional show. As for signing anyone, if a band is available and I want to sign it I will. But everyone else will have the same opportunity to sign them as I will." Chris Tookey explained to Music Week the difference between his show and others "This is not a talent show, but we do want to get ahead of the charts. Almost all the tv rock programmes follow the charts." Most told the Daily Mirror at the time of the beginning of the series "The show was originally intended for a six o'clock slot and it is such a punchy programme that people would have felt like going on the razzle after it. Now it's on late at night I just hope everybody will be able to sleep afterwards."


Radio Luxembourg's Rob Jones had as applied for the job of resident stage MC on the show, but in the end the job went to legendary club DJ and co-owner of Ensign Records Chris Hill, giving the show access to rising punk-poppers The Boomtown Rats in the process. Rob Jones would end up hosting Granada's tea time pop show Breakers in the summer of 1978.


The show would also feature Les Ross, who would run the hot dog stall and give his opinion on how things were going, sometimes contradicting Cook. His actual job seemed to be to introduce the support bands and read out rock anniversaries. Talking to the Daily Mirror Ross claimed "We prepare about 100 burgers and the same number of hot dogs before the show — but they go so fast that we've had to put somebody on guard to make sure there are still some left on Les's stall when we get to his spot."


When the show's series debuted it was given a day-glo three page feature in the TV Times which tried to sum up the attitude of the music and even explained how to do the punk dances the "pogo" and the "clockwork movement". Mickie Most sums up Cook's role in the article "He'd like to see bingo, but he's putting up with rock because it's a living". Cook's references to Duffy Power, Vince Eager and others gave away his own rock an roll preferences, but doubtless confused the audience, which was probably the idea. Buzzcocks’ Pete Shelley later recalled that Peter Cook had distributed pornographic magazines to the front row of the audience to hold up in front of the bands in an attempt to put them off.


Each week the bands would play live to an audience of about a hundred people, and in a nod to New Faces a new, un-signed band would get the chance to play as a ‘support band’, several would be signed as a result. The Autographs sign with Mickie Most, who had also recently lost his other token punk outfit, The Vibrators from his RAK label to CBS.


There was also an archive clip spot Revolver Reviver, which played clips from Top Of The Pops, Ready Steady Go, The Beat Room and Oh Boy among others, an idea also used on the Old Grey Whistle Test and later on, OTT.


On the 12th August edition The Sex Pistols promo clip with Ronnie Biggs was due to be shown. According to the Daily Mirror, "Once word got around that escaped train robber Ronald Biggs was to appear with the Sex Pistols in REVOLVER (most ITV regions, 11.0) there was an understandable fuss. Two MPs complained and officials of the Independent Broadcasting Authority saw the film. But before it was banned ATV's programme controller Francis Essex cut the number out of the show because he thought it was not good enough."


For the final show Public Image Ltd were due to appear, but somehow ended up in Camber Sands, Sussex instead of Birmingham where the show was being recorded, some two hundred and fifty miles away. The band had decided not to appear after initially agreeing, leading to the inclusion, at very short notice of The Rich Kids, featuring Glen Matlock. Thankfully, Cook made a snide remark about the incredible ability of a band to get in a van with their instruments and arriving in the right place at the right time.


The show's roster of acts looked remarkably like the first series of So It Goes from 1976 with an unlikely mix of relatively straight, traditional rock with a few newer, punk and reggae acts thrown in.


As the series was coming to an end Mickie Most told the Daily Mirror that he had only intended to work on one series of the show, "I decided at the start to do only one series. It's had its good moments and its draggy ones. If they want any help on a new series I'll give it, in a small way", leaving ATV with the task of moving the show on without him. It was also unlikely that Cook would want to do a second run, so it was brought to a halt. Chris Hill announced the closure of the club by the Independent Bingo Authority (IBA) on the final show due to protests by the police and local council.


Despite the show's origins at an ITV channel which had little interest in pop culture Revolver was one of the brighter ideas that pop television ever had, but despite ATV's reticence towards pop they would try again with a couple of Jack Good projects and the concert series Rockstage before they lost their franchise.


This was the best of everything. An involved, sometimes abusive audience, the occasional pantomime horse, live music, and an abhorrent host who knows nothing about modern music. Who knew this was the way things should have been done.


Edited versions of the shows were repeated by VH-1 in the 1990s.


Peter Cook rules OK - Chris Hill is king of the kidz - Les Ross flogs junk food...


REVOLVER


ATV

20th May 1978 (broadcast pilot), 22nd July 1978 - 2nd September 1978