When the British Government gave ITV the go ahead for an alternative second channel
it was inevitable that a pop show would be a part of the schedule. In 1981 Channel
4 was about to announce its first package of programme commissions for its launch
in November 1982. Mike Bolland (ex-BBC Community Programming Unit) had been newly
appointed Commissioning Editor of Young People's Programming and it would be his
job to commission a pop music show to be broadcast Friday evenings. Tyne Tees' had
been approached as they had the most active pop music commitment of any of the ITV
channels, producing local shows Alright Now, Check It Out and the successful networked
tea-time show Razamataz. Alright Now's Producer Malcolm Gerrie would be his point
of contact. Gerrie, an ex-school teacher had previously worked on London Weekend's
art show Aquarius and had impressed film producer David Puttnam so much that he set
him to work on the David Essex movie Stardust.
Andrea Wonfor, creator of some of the Tyne Tees shows was dispatched to Channel 4's
makeshift offices in ITV to come up with ideas. The first proposal was for six thirty
minute rock shows, but was rejected as being too similar to the BBC's Old Grey Whistle
Test. Wonfor re-drew the boundaries and suggested Jamming, a ninety minute, eight
part pop/rock music series, but with socio/political aspects among its regular features.
Again it was rejected, this time for being too similar to Something Else, BBC2's
early evening youth programme which was having little support or effect. The idea
of Jamming being a late night show was also rejected. Wonfor and Gerrie would be
given another chance by the new channel and told to pitch for a new show which would
be broadcast live for one and three quarter hours on a Friday evening, almost twice
the length of The Old Grey Whistle Test. According to Gerrie Channel 4 Chief Executive
Jeremy Isaacs had told him "Make it live and give it balls". Channelling the spirit
of another Friday evening show Ready Steady Go would be an obvious route. It's notable
that Channel Four repeated clip shows of Ready Steady Go as a summer replacement
for The Tube in 1985.
After these setbacks the whole of Tyne Tees' children's department were called in
for ideas in April 1982. They were determined to keep current affairs and other non-music
aspects in the show. The new show would be called TX105, TX was TV industry jargon
for Transmission, and 105 the number of minutes the show would run for. It was later
re-Christened The Tube, a name suggested by a concept designer at WEA Records in
As this show would be longer than the norm it would need more presenters than usual.
Ex-Squeeze keyboard player Jools Holland had recently hosted an unusual documentary
about The Police recording on the Caribbean island of Monserrat. The show's Director
Derek Burbidge had created an inventive style with quirky editing meant to compliment
the host's jocular presentation. The show won both fans and critics and Holland was
invited to an audition, but wasn't prepared for what came next as he was set to interview
a dead body (played by a very much alive student). Paula Yates had been a journalist
writing for the News of the World and the ‘Natural Blonde' column in Record Mirror,
so the contacts she had in the business made her a trusted name, and therefore a
likely candidate. Like Holland, she also had some previous experience in TV, working
on the Oxford Road Show on BBC2. Future pop stars Jarvis Cocker and Boy George had
also auditioned as hosts before the series began. Other names like Pauline Black,
Bob Geldof, Toyah Willcox, Phil Daniels, Gary Crowley and Tracey Ullman were also
suggested as potential hosts, with more ‘out there’ names like Sir Robin Day! It
was obvious that Holland and Yates would work well together and were given the job
of chief hosts, supported by Muriel Gray (who had originally auditioned with her
band), Gary James, Michel Cremona, Felix Howard, Tony Fletcher, Nick Laird-Clowes
and Mike Everitt. The latter had been taken into custody by the police before he
got a chance to appear, although he did make an appearance at the end of the first
series. Yates was pregnant throughout the first series and would be replaced by actress
Leslie Ash for the second, with Yates returning for the third series until the end.
The first series would be produced by Malcolm Gerrie with Gavin Taylor directing
in the studio and Geoff Wonfor directing some of the on-location videos.
Jools and Paula had been sent over to Hollywood to report on the music scene and
the lives of Hollywood school kids while final preparations were made back in Newcastle
with new producer Paul Corley.
The show would be broadcast live from Tyne Tees' Studio 5 on City Road, Newcastle.
The studio itself surrounded a pub, The Egypt Cottage, occasionally referred to as
Studio 6 as many comedy clips and interviews were broadcast there.The pilot show,
recorded in October 1982 was a disaster, but all went well on the night of the first
broadcast Friday 5th November from 5.15 - 7.00 pm. It was well received with about
a million viewers and impressed Channel 4 boss Jeremy Issacs so much that he immediately
commissioned a five hour special for the following summer.
The first few shows attracted many big names, only too happy to get out of London
for a day or two, with Sting and Pete Townshend agreeing to appear on the first show
with live sets in later shows from The Jam, Dexy's Midnight Runners, Yazoo and Culture
Club among others. The show had gained respect within the musical community quite
quickly with acts like David Bowie even name checking it in one of his videos.
Both of the main hosts became household names almost immediately with Jools' cool,
almost unimpressed demeanour, while his colleague Paula Yates made a technique of
interviewing people while sitting on the microphone. The danger of a live show was
ever present and mock vomiting from a comic, brief nudity, unrehearsed political
outbursts and profanity always just a moment away.
The theme for the first few series was Star Cycle by Jeff Beck and Jan Hammer, later
replaced by a new theme by Trevor Horn with Jeff Beck.
The first set design used multi-coloured florescent tube lighting running across
the studio, later replaced by a series of cubes, with an almost Celebrity Squares
feel to it. However, the show would be plagued by a terrible audio mix throughout
its life with unbalanced instruments and compression ruining the sound.
The first controversy the show would have to deal with involved the showing of The
Rolling Stones' Under Cover (Of The Night) promo video which showed an explicit clip
of a man being shot in the back. The intention was to show it complete, but the decision
was made to cut back to the studio to see a look of mock horror on the face of Muriel
Grey, followed by a daft interview with Mick Jagger and the video's director Julien
Temple. It was also about this time that they expanded into the Late Night Tube,
an occasional special in which superstar videos were given their debut. Michael Jackson's
Thriller and Frankie Goes To Hollywood's Two Tribes were both given their own specials.
In 1985 Tyne Tees added TX45 to its pop roster, a spin-off show which used Studio
5's facilities to promote local acts, hosted by Tube producer Chris Cowey.
Superstars like Queen and The Police would be given concert specials in the first
series, but despite the attraction of big names it would more importantly give many
acts their first TV exposure with Frankie Goes To Hollywood and The Proclaimers just
two of the bands the show debuted.
Taking time away from their north-east base they would also occasionally venture
to Belfast, Glasgow, Liverpool and other cities to present their local talent. Film
reports were also shot in Los Angeles, Israel, Jamaica, Japan, Africa and both sides
of the Berlin wall.
The show would occasionally extend into late-night specials like The Midsummer Night's
Tube which would run for several years, and the five hour Euro Tube in 1986.
The new wave of British comedy would also be well represented with appearances by
French and Saunders, Vic Reeves, Rick Mayall, Fuffo Spearjig, Fry and Laurie, plus
the show had its own resident poet, Mark Mywurdz (aka Mark Hurst), but wouldn't make
it to the third series. Practically all of the non-music aspects would be dropped
as well as a proposed sport item.
The second series gave important exposure to Z Z Top, Madonna, Big Country, The
Alarm, The Smiths, plus the re-emergence of Tina Turner who had been given a forty
minute live chunk of the show.
The Tube would in its time pick up many awards, and its influence quickly spread
around the world, leading to international sales of the show. So successful was the
first series that the ITV network chose to play edited compilations of the first
series in the summer of 1983, called The Tube Return Ticket.
In the very first show guest Pete Townshend after being made to watch The Who's footage
at Woodstock (shown later that night on Channel 4) claimed the mistake the hippie
generation had made was the sincere belief that they could genuinely change the world.
Jools agreed that shows like The Tube couldn't change anything let alone the world.
Two years' later in November 1984 Ultravox made a live appearance on the show and
singer Midge Ure had been sidetracked by Boomtown Rats' singer Bob Geldof, the then
boyfriend of Paula Yates. Yates had drawn to Geldof's attention a BBC TV News report
by Michael Beurk on the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Eastern Africa. Instead of
merely dipping into his pocket Geldof had an idea which he put to Ure backstage at
The Tube "let's make a record". Three million of them were sold in the UK alone within
At the beginning of the final year Jools let slip an obscenity during a live trail
on ITV where he suggested “Be there or be un-groovy fuckers.” He was suspended for
six shows, while two senior producers Andrea and Geoff Wonfor both quit the show
a week later. Urban myth has it that the show was taken off the air for three weeks
as punishment, but it wasn't. The show continued with Paula hosting solo, but it
was evident that the show was collapsing around her and the end was inevitable. Jools
returned on the 6th of March for the next few weeks but was not present for the final
show on the 24th April 1987.
After The Tube moved out Studio 5 was re-designed and became the home for the short
lived network chart show The Roxy.
Series one producer Malcolm Gerrie would later head production company Initial which
produced The Brits award show for many years. Geoff Wonfor would direct The Beatles'
Anthology in the mid-nineties with Jools Holland as the interviewer, while production
man Chris Cowey would go on to produce Top Of The Pops in the late nineties. Jools
Holland presents Britain's longest surviving music show Later With Jools Holland.
Paula Yates died suddenly in 2000.
Such has been the affection and nostalgia for the series that there have been been
two separate series of compilations, one broadcast by Channel 4 in 1995, and another
in 2010 for Sky Arts.
Attempts at revivals led to a short-lived radio spin-off from channel4.com in November
2006, while the only notable TV revival was a three hour one off debuting on Sky
One on 20th November 1999. Apocalypse Tube was directed by Geoff Wonfor and featured
new presenters Chris Moyles and Donna Air. Channel 4 broadcasts an alternate edit
of the show with new footage on New Year's Day 2000. Andrea Wonfor, who at the time
was Managing Director at Granada Productions, co-produced the show and was confident
that it could be revived in the longer run. Talking to Broadcast magazine in November
1999 she claimed "All of us would love to see it come back for a 26 week run in 2000".
Malcom Gerrie and Geoff Wonfor favoured a return for the 30th anniversary in 2012,
but nothing happened.
Despite the show's continuing ridicule, mostly by pop culture critics and people
who probably never saw it, it's inspiration for later shows like The Word and TFI
Friday is obvious.