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Popular Music on British Television

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ATV 25th September 1955 - 2nd February 1969, 28th October 1973 - 14th April 1974

Broadcast from the spiritual home of show business in Britain. At the inception of ITV the theatre was owned by Val Parnell who was a business associate of Lew Grade, owner of ATV, who was related to manager Bernard Delfont. The mass array of British and international talent in the hands of the Grade / Parnell / Delfont triad made sure that they were never short of acts to fill the show with.

The first chosen compere was Tommy Trinder, who along with introducing all the variety, comic and musical acts also had the honour of hosting the insert Beat The Clock in which members of the audience had to participate in games and complete them in under a minute to win a prize. The Trinder Years (with help from other guest hosts including Robert Morley) saw appearances from Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, The Crickets with Buddy Holly, Mario Lanza among others.

Accompanying the artists on stage were The Skyrockets Orchestra, led by Jack Parnell, while legendary dance troupe The Tiller Girls opened each show, replacing the George Camden Dancers who were hired when the show began.

For summer 1956 the show de-camped and moved north for Sunday Night at Blackpool but he would continue hosting Beat The Clock in the show which was sent to London via a microwave link from a bowl-shaped dish on the roof of the Winter Gardens. The show was presented by George and Alfred Black, rather than the usual Grade/Parnell involvement.

Despite popularity with the public, Trinder was not a popular man within the industry and plans were afoot to replace him. His eventual replacement was another comedian Bruce Forsyth who brought the show into the Cliff Richard and The Shadows era and then into the Mersey Beat years when he brought Beatlemania to 20,000,000 people one Sunday night, just a few weeks before their Royal Variety Performance.

Despite the show's endurance it was still popular ten years' after its debut. So successful that in February 1965 that the Licensed Vituallers Association in south-east London complained to ITV that the later showing of the programme together with old feature films that followed was damaging their trade.

Forsyth would in turn give way to Norman Vaughan, Jimmy Tarbuck and occasionally Dave Allen who tried his best with the Rolling Stones in 1967. However, the late 1966 shows saw a different host for each show, following the success of the version recorded for the American market.

The 'Sunday Night' prefix was removed in the mid sixties to accommodate international sales while it also gave ATV the chance to pre-record the show on a Saturday night.

In April 1967 ATV announced that the show would return, but in in autumn it would have to alternate with TV specials recorded at their Elstree studios.

But despite ATV's apparent desire to let the show slide it was still a big ratings winner. In fact it was the third most viewed entertainment show of 1967 after the Royal Variety Show and Miss World. It was possibly the desire of many of the British acts to have their own series rather than make frequent appearances on variety shows like this that made it less attractive to appear on.

The show’s appearance and concept changed little throughout its lifetime. Despite still topping the ratings chart in 1967 the show was brought to an end in 1969.

A short-lived comeback in 1973-1974 failed, hosted this time by Jim Dale. The original theme ‘Startime’ by Eric Rogers is kept, but the IBA insist that ‘Beat The Clock’ is no longer included. It’s replaced by the charity fund-raising ‘Anything You Can Do’ game. The first show included fifteen minutes of ballet leading to complaints from both critics and public.

A modern day version runs to this day on ITV, albeit during the week.

Notable shows include The Beatles in 1963 and 1964, The Rolling Stones who failed to appear at the traditional ‘Startime’ revolving stage finale and an ailing Judy Garland, who had to be helped on and off stage by compere Jimmy Tarbuck in January 1969.