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TV Pop Diaries
Pop Music on British Television 1955 - 1999

Broadcast from the spiritual home of show business in Britain. At the time of ITV’s debut in September 1955 the theatre was owned by Val Parnell who was a business associate of Lew Grade, owner of ATV, who was related to artist 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 games had to be tested beforehand to make sure that they were winnable, and in a Daily Mirror article in January 1960 the two workers responsible, electrician Norman Stone and stage hand Fred Pearson could only speculate how much money they could have won had the rehearsals been for real. Although the format for Beat The Clock was imported from America, the games themselves were devised by ATV's Jim Smith. The original opening credits featured model Patricia Kenyon turning the theatre programme's pages, although Tommy Trinder referred to he as 'Mrs Bradshaw'.


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.


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.


The show was initially broadcast live and when the commercial break was being shown to those at home a young woman would walk on onto the Palladium stage with a placard naming this evening's sponsor during the break.


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


In late 1959 singer Craig Douglas was involved in a showdown between the show's producers and his agent, the legendary Bunny Lewis. Lewis insisted that his client be given three songs and second billing, while the producer's probably felt quite rightly that since he only had one hit behind him two songs would be enough.


Despite his popularity with the public, Trinder was not a popular man within the industry and plans were afoot to replace him. Aware of his reputation he called his  autobiography Ham and Ego. His eventual replacement was another comedian Bruce Forsyth who brought the show into the Cliff Richard and The Shadows era. However by September 1960 Forsyth was already performing two shows a night in Blackpool and then having to return to London to host this show. He had been told to take things easy on medical advice, so it was likely that he would drop the weekly Palladium show as a result. It was rumoured that Des O'Connor would take over as host, with fellow comedian Ted Rogers also on the short list, but instead the job went to little known comic Don Arrol who had been seen on TV appearing that summer in one of the many seaside shows. When Forsyth returned he took the show 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.


Norman Vaughan took over in September 1964 after Forsyth had left to take the lead in a West End stage musical and lasted until the following summer. His script writer was Eric Merriman was also been working on Kenneth Horne's comedy radio hit Beyond Our Ken. The scripts were so fresh that Merriman would be handing them backstage to Vaughan between each act.


The show was still popular ten years' after its debut, and a show headlined by Frank Ifield in April 1964 becoming the third most watched show that year. 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. But by the summer of 1965 even Val Parnell had finally recognised that maybe it was, after a decade, time for a change. Ratings had been dropping all year. Instead of its assured top three placing it was now missing the top ten, sometimes as low as 19th. The big stars no longer wanted to be a part of what was someone else's show. It was also suggested that the closing down of so many theatres in time lead to a talent supply drought, with most of the new talent, particularly in comedy, now coming from clubs, and many of those performing material which producers would never allow on TV.


The show was re-booted as The New London Palladium Show in September 1965 in time for ITV’s tenth anniversary and with Jimmy Tarbuck now in charge the show promised two big stars each week instead of one and a new choreographer, Hugh Lambert, who had previously worked on the Ed Sullivan Show. The 'Sunday Night' prefix was removed to accommodate international sales while it also gave ATV the chance to pre-record the show on a Saturday night. Several ITV stations, including ABC, would broadcast it an hour before ATV. Writers for the new re-boot were Round The Horne scripters Barry Took and Marty Feldman, while Beat The Clock was retired from the show.


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. When in 1965 Parnell was asked why The Stones' had not played the show, he reasoned "I think they're worried because we don't have recording studio conditions here." Despite the change in hosts over the years the show was, quite rightly, seen a feather in any hosts' cap.


By late 1966 it saw a different host for each show, usually the top act that week, following the success of the version recorded for the American NBC network.

In April 1967 ATV announced that the show would return in the autumn, but it would now have to alternate with TV specials recorded at their Elstree studios. 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. An ATV spokesman told Disc in August 1967 "The reason for less Palladium shows is the large selection of variety to accommodate in the autumn schedules. There are 26 'Spotlights' and a number of Morecambe and Wise shows. The change is not because the London Palladium Show is dead or has lost its appeal."


With the ITV franchise change in July/August 1968 leading to a significant change of geography ATV no longer held the weekend contract for London, so the Palladium show disappeared from the schedules after March 1968, but returned for a final series in January 1969.


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 cash-incentive game show ‘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. More problems came their way when the BBC effectively banned its performers from appearing on the show, so no Bruce Forsyth, Cilla Black, Morecambe and Wise etc. But ATV could call on its own connections to get talents like Larry Grayson, Des O'Connor, Petula Clark, Tom Jones, Gilbert O'Sullivan and Cliff Richard, but eventually they couldn't even rely on them. The eight show series was seen very much as a trial, and an expensive one at that, costing ATV £400,000, with Jim Dale coming in at £1000 per show.


A modern day version of the show Tonight At The London Palladium 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.


Network released two multi-disc DVDs of the surviving footage, which in turn would be played on Talking Pictures TV in 2020, who would play two recently discovered shows in 2021.



VAL PARNELL’S SUNDAY NIGHT AT THE LONDON PALLADIUM / THE LONDON PALLADIUM SHOW / THE NEW LONDON PALLADIUM SHOW


ABC/ATV

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