Ex-Southern Television production legend Mike Mansfield was brought in by London
Weekend to help flesh out Saturday Scene with some much needed live musical appearances.
A one-off pilot was shown in March 1975 and was considered successful enough to commission
for a whole series, starting September 1975. Although it was intended as a weekend
show, the show debuted on Anglia the Wednesday before.
Supersonic appeared at an odd-time for British pop, bridging the tail-end of the
more poppy faction of Glam Rock and the punk and disco era. The show featured the
first flops from the likes of Roy Wood, Gilbert O'Sullivan, Alvin Stardust, Slade
etc. Speaking to TV Times late 1976 Mansfield claimed boredom was his motivation
for the show. "I was sick of watching groups who seemed to be rooted in concrete.
Any director could shoot that standing on their eyelashes. I wanted to contribute
something visually. I was sure the audience was tired of staring at guitars too,
they wanted to see people. But of course they have to be the right people."
Andy Bown was brought in to record the theme (also released as a single, he even
made an appearance on the show to promote it).
The visual style was similar to the Granada produced tea-time weekday pop shows with
screaming girls kept at a safe distance from the stars, but what made the show different
were the visual effects. Top of the Pops could only offer dry ice and only on special
occasions, but Supersonic gave us a blizzard of confetti which would get stuck in
the throat of singers, massive fans blowing G forces sideways across the stage and
very tall podiums and pedestals where the singer dare not move for fear of falling.
On one occasion Gary Glitter was put into a harness and flown over screaming fans
for which he was insured for a million pounds. To add to the sense of hysteria Mansfield
left a microphone open for the fans to scream and shout their love for whoever was
on, particularly notable for David Essex when he appeared in late 1975. Apparently
600 different camera shots were used to make the first show alone.
Each act was introduced from the control room by producer and director Mansfield
himself, while any passing celebrity walking through the London Weekend corridors
would be roped in to help introduce an act. Mansfield created his own catch phrase
as every time an act was about to perform he would demand his assistant "cue Alex
Harvey", "cue Roy Wood" etc. This would lead to a 1980s ITV series for Mansfield,
Cue The Music, while a silhouette of him cueing in an act became his end credits
trade mark, a bit like Johnny Stewart’s jacket slung over the shoulder at the end
of Top Of The Pops. Mansfield chose all the artists who appeared and gave them free
reign to do something more experimental, for example allowing David Essex to perform
the seven minute title song to his concept album All The Fun Of The Fair, instead
of just plugging the new single. All the acts either performed live, or had re-recorded
the track especially for the show.
There was briefly a tie-in magazine which in 1975 gave away a flexi disc of Mansfield
talking to the Bay City Rollers. In 1976 a small corner of the studio was set aside
to shoot a video for Elton John and Kiki Dee's Don't Go Breaking My Heart, also directed
The show must have somehow made its pop culture mark as Benny Hill added the show
to his roster of pop show spoofs along with Ready Steady Go, the Old Grey Whistle
Test and Top Of The Pops.
After briefly moving the show to tea-time it returned to Saturday mornings, but not
before giving punk its first exposure since the Sex Pistols’ Bill Grundy outburst
when the Damned appeared in February 1977 performing Neat Neat Neat.
Despite Mansfield's Busby Berkeley aspirations there was a perception that the kind
of pop music that the show presented was on its way out, particularly with the advent
of disco which really wasn't represented on the show, other than disco-flavoured
pop. The show was cancelled in Spring 1977, however, clips would be sold for US syndication
in the show Twiggy's Jukebox in 1978, while the show itself returned for a one-off
Christmas special on Channel 4 1983.
A truly fascinating look at British pop at one of its occasional turning points.
After disco and punk there would be no going back and for Mike Mansfield it seemed
to be the end of his second golden era.