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TV Pop Diaries
Pop Music on British Television 1955 - 1999

It was quite a coup for the BBC to acquire the services of Shirley Bassey whose United Artists release The Singles Album was one of the biggest sellers of the early seventies, and although she was still having album chart entries she wasn't a regular on British TV, although she had appeared on Top Of The Pops in 1975 promoting Good Bad But Beautiful.


Ahead of the series she was given a one-off special, Shirley Bassey, broadcast on BBC2, Good Friday 16th April 1976, with music provided by Arthur Greenslade while the dancers were choreographed by ex-Young Generation regular Nigel Lythgoe. She was back on BBC1 on 15th July 1976 in Grand Prix Night Of The Stars from the Royal Albert Hall, London, an hour-long celebration for the forthcoming British Grand Prix held on the 18th July.


The series must have been seen as the best way to remind a larger audience that had stopped buying her records that she was still here. The producers must have been happy with the one-off special as Greenslade and Lythgoe were retained for the series. Greensalde was now a regular on her studio recordings at this time, as was recording engineer Martin Rushent, later to produce The Stranglers, The Human League among others. Three's A Crowd were the resident backing singers.


Despite the number of TV appearances and specials over the years, this would be her very first TV series in Britain, with the first show broadcast by BBC1 Saturday 30th October 1976, sandwiched between new episodes of The Duchess of Duke Street and Starsky and Hutch. There were no shortage of stars willing to appear on the show, Charles Aznavour, The Three Degrees, Janis Ian, Johnny Nash, Gilbert O'Sullivan, Morris Albert, Stan Getz, Mel Torme, Bobby Goldsboro, Rod McKuen. In fact, songs by several of these artists would be covered on her next album Love, Life And Feelings which got her back into the UK LP chart, reaching 13. But there was still a feel of 'cheap' about the presentation with the set design (there was none), but the reality was that this show could have been fronted by Lulu, or Cilla or Cliff, with only her hits to distinguish it was any other show of its type or time.


Location filming did not go smoothly. She got soaked filming of a sequence for the song Don't Rain On My Parade while aboard a lifeboat, fell from a horse in one clip and would regularly trip over her Old English Sheepdog Emma who appeared in each show. The dog had also attempted to eat diamonds that Shirley had been pouring from one hand into the other in one sequence filmed at Cartier's in London. She also fell over a couple of times while water-skiing. In one clip she was in a hot air balloon miming to One A Clear Day. Producer Stewart Morris explained to the Daily Mirror "We had a heavy load — with a sound recordist and lots of heavy equipment as well as Shirley. We managed to get airborne but the air currents changed and the pilot had to make an unscheduled landing in a field. The locals were a bit surprised."


The Daily Mirror reported towards the end of the first series that despite taking a prime spot in the Saturday night schedules previously held by highly successful Two Ronnies her show had fared badly, starting way down the top twenty rankings before disappearing completely. The last show was 4th December 1976, and preparations would have been made for a return to the BBC, however it would take three years.


Her 1978 album The Magic Is You would be her last for United Artists and managed one week in the UK top forty LP chart, so a taxi was booked for Television Centre for her second series. This time it would be broadcast fortnightly, alternating with Mike Yarwood In Persons and placed in the schedule between Secret Army and for the second time, Starsky and Hutch. Despite the fact that ITV was on strike it still didn't attract a huge audience. It was in reality the tail end of these kind of singer-led shows that had started back in the sixties with the likes of Lulu and Cilla. Despite guest shots from Lulu, Demis Roussos, The Three Degrees, The Drifters, Third World and The Nolan Sisters it looked and felt like a show that could have been made five years' previously. The public had enough. Apart from a special for ITV in 1983 she would rarely been seen on UK TV until the late 1990s.


However, she enjoyed a well-deserved renaissance in the last fifteen years of her career, ending with a top ten placing for her final album, I Owe It All To You, in 2020.


The shows were repeated by the Super Channel in the 1990s and on BBC4 in early 2022.



SHIRLEY


BBC1

30th October 1976 - 4th December 1976

29th September 1979 - 8th December 1979