When the British Government finally 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. Chris Griffin
of Virgin Records had tipped off Bolland about the fine work that Tyne Tees had been
doing. Tyne Tees' 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 Razzamatazz. 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. Gerrie had been a fan of Friday night's Ready Steady
Go and Channel Four's chief executive Jeremy Isaacs who, when working at Rediffusion
in London, had to regularly fight through the RSG crowd every week just to get into
the building, so was well aware of the attraction and impact a show like that could
have. When making up his first Channel 4 schedule Isaacs included a Friday night
slot for such a show.
Andrea Wonfor, creator of some of the Tyne Tees shows was dispatched to Channel 4's
makeshift offices at 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.
The show would be divided into "sessions" for each segment. 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 "Give the programme BALLS". Channeling the spirit of 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.
Celebrating the show's hundredth edition Music Week printed a potential run-down
for an edition of Jamming, had it been broadcast.
Here are some of the items included in the original running order submitted to Channel
Four for a show broadcast in the week ending December 4 1981:
Film report on Jobs Express Train and Jobs for Youth Rally in London which took place
Studio - Alexei Sayle, who appeared at the gig marking the end of the rally, adds
his own report/Comic Strip routine.
Presenter link, with Don McCullin's photos of Britain's youth.
Film featuring 19-yeor-old MSC-funded photographer at work, including his views of
life on the dole illustrating Ian Dury's Reasons to Be Cheerful.
Studio - Jammings' own acid minded news commentator puts the finger on the famous
with a round-up of the past week's events.
Studio - Discussion on the state of the music business, from the points of view of
artists, manipulators, and consumers. Guests to include Tony Parsons, Malcolm
McLaren, Ian Dury, Pete Townshend, head of promotion of a major label. Plus kids.
The gig that week would be — Bow Wow Wow, While Heat (unsigned band), Ian Dury.
Andrea Wonfor had to break the news to Gerrie that not only didn't Channel Four want
Jamming, but they had effectively told the potential producers what to do. Wonfor
told him "They want a one-and-a-half hour show and they want it all live, and they
want it in peak time. Not only that, they want to start in November, and they want
24 of them."
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, which came up during a conversation between Gerrie and Bill
Fowler, a concept designer at WEA Records in London. Gerrie had seen the entrance
to the studio in City Road, Newcastle and thought it looked like a tube, although
Isaacs wasn't a fan of the title. He told Wonfor "Now listen, you've got thirty seconds
to justify this preposterous title. I don't want any of our programmes called 'The...
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, wrote the ‘Natural Blonde' column in Record Mirror,
and gained a certain notoriety for her 1980 book 'Rock Stars In Their Underpants',
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, Tony Basil, Jordan, Annie Lennox, Billy Connolly, 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
worked well together and were given the job of chief hosts, supported by five new
faces. Holland had expressed doubts about youth programming and pop television in
general, in fact neither were totally sure about accepting the job. 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.
The pilot show, featuring local band Jank Mamba made a few weeks' before the debut
was considered a disaster. The shows' directors questioned the suitability of the
presenters, with only Muriel Gray coming out of it with any credibility. The decision
had been made about the presenters and Jools and Paula were 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 debut show introduced co-host Jools Holland who tried to proclaim the show as
something special "From now on you'll be watching fantastic Tube", but we would be
the judge of that. The presentation was as amateurish as Ready Steady Go would get,
embarrassing and irritating, but riveting. Five 'new to television' presenting faces
were tried out over the first series, Muriel Gray (who had originally auditioned
with her band), Gary James, Michel Cremona (with possibly the worst voice in TV presenting
history), 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
on the final show of the first series. The five had to be thinned out as some couldn't
present or remember what they were there for, but there would be more obvious problems
with the two lead presenters. On an early show Jools Holland didn't bother to introduce
Robert Palmer by name, leaving the audience not knowing whether to applaud or not
and the band not knowing if it was a cue or not, while Paula Yates' confusion as
to what end of the microphone did what led to near silent interviews, while her flirting
with male pop stars she fancied became predictable and embarrassing. Holland looked
genuinely frightened when he couldn't string a sentence together and appearing uninterested
in the music he was introducing. His belligerence toward the audience might have
been genuine, but Peter Cook did it better in Revolver. If any show ever needed a
script writer it was The Tube, but sadly it never had one and even if it did the
hosts would have probably thrown it away thinking it an act of rebellion and against
the principle of 'live television'. The hosts were an endurance test for the audience,
as well as the artists, and newspapers quickly wrote the show off as soon as it began,
a subject that would be dealt with by Holland many times throughout the show's history.
The hosts' swearing on live teatime TV came in for criticism, not just from the media,
but from the show's producers, and one outburst would lead to Holland's suspension
and probably contributed to the show's demise. To be fair, Holland knew what was
going on. Talking to the BBC many years' later he claimed "Actually, we were incompetent,
unprofessional and, in a word, rubbish."
The show would be broadcast live from Tyne Tees' Studio 5 on City Road, Newcastle
with three stages. The studio itself surrounded a pub, The Egypt Cottage, occasionally
referred to as Studio 6 as many comedy clips, links and interviews were done there.
Another pub, The Rose and Crown was opposite the studio too. Despite the reservations
by hosts and producers it was considered that 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 an impressed Jeremy Isaacs called Wonfor's office after it
and said "That was bloody great. I want a five-hour special in the summer", before
slamming the phone down. Although it was shown live in most of the UK an edited version
would be shown at 2.30 pm the following day on Welsh language channel S4C, but this
would be resolved in series two.
Many of the shows in the first and second series would have a theme, hairdressing,
space, heavy rock, fancy dress, dance etc, but practically all of the non-music aspects
would eventually be dropped, as was a proposed weekly sport item.
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 from The Jam, Dexy's Midnight Runners, Yazoo, Depeche Mode 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.
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, but despite giving new acts a chance to be on national
TV the show rarely credited song titles, leaving the public confused as to what or
who they were hearing. Sadly, the show also indulged the very worst that 80's British
Indie could offer. Shelleyan Orphan, a fey musical turn who would perform while two
paintings were being created on stage and then put together like some malformed identical
twin, Swan's Way, a well-dressed, but tortuous, distorted white boy take on soul,
never acknowledging the irony that the result was totally soul-less. Many acts were
paraded in case they could be the next big thing but the law of averages meant that
they had to be right sometimes, with Frankie Goes To Hollywood and Pre Fab Sprout
two of the best in its early days. Jools Holland was also given valuable time to
play live and plug his own records.
The danger of live broadcasting was ever present and mock vomiting from a comic,
brief nudity, unrehearsed political outbursts and profanity always just a moment
away. Sadly, the studio audience were just as unresponsive and bored as any other
British music show and it sometimes made for uncomfortable viewing, with bands playing
their hearts out only to be met with polite, or worse, condescending applause. On
one occasion one band had "bollocks" shouted at them throughout their set.
The theme used 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 the length of the studio, later
replaced by a Roman theme and then by series of cubes, but despite the visual flair
the show would be plagued by a terrible audio mix throughout its life with unbalanced
instruments and compression ruining the sound.
The first series was considered so successful that the ITV network chose to play
compilations of the first series in the summer of 1983 under the title The Tube Return
The second series was reduced to ninety minutes and introduced actress and model
Leslie Ash as Paula Yates' temporary replacement. Gary James and Tony Fletcher, editor
of Jammin' magazine, replaced the previous co-hosts, but Muriel Grey remained. The
introductory live acts in the foyer were also dropped, but despite the time reduction
it gave important UK TV exposure to Z Z Top, Madonna, Big Country, The Alarm, The
Smiths, plus the re-emergence of Tina Turner who had been given a three song live
set live on a Friday evening, just as she had twenty years' before on Ready, Steady,
Go! French and Saunders would appear most weeks as two over-avid fans of Jools Holland,
threatening to stalk him, or worse, give him a Christmas present and would later
re-appear as terrible DJs Carol and Janice, pre-dating Smash and Nicey.
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 featured an explicit
scene of a hooded man being shot in the back. The Tube's intention was to show it
complete, but the decision was made to cut back to the studio at that point to see
a look of mock horror on the face of Muriel Grey, only to have the explicit shot
shown later in slow motion. It was a poor editorial decision, followed by a badly-handled
interview by Muriel Grey that presented its critics a bin-liner full of good reasons
to call for its demise.
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. There
was even a K-Tel tie-in album in 1984.
The show was commissioned for a third series, with Yates' returning. A new set of
opening titles with a new Trevor Horn and Jeff Beck theme and a new Romanesque set
design were evident. The familiar tube strip lighting was now gone, and they also
employed spiral staircases which Ready Steady Go had used in their Kingsway years.
The Tube dummy family ("The Scrotums" as Holland would call them) featured in the
new credits and were also found squatting in the foyer, but the sound was still as
bad as before and the songs were still not credited. It turned out the new look was
just papering over the cracks. The show itself was still a shambles. Jools, Paula
and Muriel were now the only presenters, but maybe getting new hosts would be necessary
to save the show, particularly Muriels' spikey, finger-pointy stance which made her
unpopular and wouldn't have been missed, but at the same time it would be admitting
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.
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, Nigeria and both sides
of the Berlin wall.
The show would also occasionally extend into late-night specials like The Midsummer
Night's Tube and the five-hour long 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
shows’ own resident (and unwelcome) poet, Mark Miwurdz (aka Mark Hurst), thankfully
gone by the third series. Although its foray into political debate didn't always
go well with The Redskins' outburst being silent as a microphone was not live. Proving
that they were playing to a politically disinterested audience the then leader of
the Labour Party Neil Kinnock was being interviewed in the studio, a member of Aswad
was caught on camera asking “who's that?”
The Tube would in its time pick up many awards, and its influence quickly spread
around the world, leading to international sales, but not a franchise.
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 Paula Yates drew her then boyfriend
Geldof's attention a BBC TV News report the night before 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 Ultravox's Midge Ure via a backstage phone
call at The Tube, "let's make a record". Three million copies of the Band Aid single
were sold in the UK alone within two months.
The fifth series opened up with a new version of the opening credit sequence, but
the Roman set design survived, alongside some new Roman statues. A large video screen
was employed, just like Top Of The Pops. Interviews were now done on set in the studio
or the green room rather than at the pub or in the foyer. It still attracted top
names like McCartney, REM, Dire Straits and Townshend, but curiously sidestepped
the new-new-wave of British indie, the so-called C86 bands. Timing appeared to be
an issue as the 13th December 1985 show wasted so much time with non-music items,
leaving the Fine Young Cannibals to play only two songs to the live TV audience,
leaving another three unbroadcast. This time around four stages were used leading
to probably the best series of the lot.
In February 1986 Jeremy Isaacs, chief of Channel 4 confirmed that the show would
be repeated. He had suggested before that the show could not be repeated until Channel
4 were given permission to extend their broadcasting hours. The show would be repeated
at 10.30 pm the following Tuesday, but this would be later moved to Sunday lunchtime
with the final series, albeit with changes made from the live broadcast. Malcolm
Gerrie told Music Week "It's something we have been keen to secure since the show
began in 1982. It is the best present Channel Four could have given The Tube for
1986 and I find it refreshing at a time when the BBC is cutting back its pop and
rock output that C4 is prepared to extend its own." He was referring to the recent
cutbacks suffered by Top Of The Pops and Whistle Test.
In April 1986 the show celebrated its 100th edition with guest host Clive James,
lots of celebrity greetings and the unwelcome return of Mark Mywurdz. There was also
a celebratory night out for the show held at The Marquee Club in London featuring
many of the acts that had appeared on the show over the previous four years.
Meanwhile to celebrate the go-ahead for the channel tunnel, their excuse, the show
was given nearly five hours of live space in July. Euro Tube had contributions from
all over Europe, with Frankie Goes to Hollywood, The Pet Shop Boys, The Smiths among
others representing the UK.
The final series began in late October 1986 and debuted two new presenters. Felix
Howard was a child model, having appeared in Sting and Madonna videos, and although
it looked as though he enjoyed his time on the show, he was a terrible interviewer.
However, he wasn't there live on the show for the first two weeks' due to an insurance
issue, resolved as Felix put it by "taking a piss." Decades later he would become
an important figure in the British record industry, heading up departments at EMI
and Universal. Sadly, Wendy May was an unfortunate return to the amateur, monotone
co-presentation style of the early series.
There would also be new, noir-ish opening titles and a new tuneless theme. The new
squares set design looked overwhelming, austere and oppressive, a sure sign that
things were not good. The Tube wasn't alone in making set design mistakes. Both Thank
Your Lucky Stars and Ready Steady Go had ruined the atmosphere by poor set design
choices. A new feature for the final series was Square Celebrities, a game show hosted
by Jools with the questions posed by light entertainment King Vic Reeves whilst being
hoisted up and down the new set design which was made to look like Celebrity Squares,
or the inside of a Rubik's Cube.
It was also obvious that not everyone was playing live now, the new set design with
one large and other smaller stages probably made it difficult for all but the main
act to play live. The familiar Tube entrance leading from the street into the studio
had now gone and the audience now look as though they enter via a hole in the wall.
The sterile, austerity-chic also accounted for the new off-stage presenters area
which was just a white wall and some TV screens.
Timing was still an issue, with the 14th November 1986 accommodating a poor, time-wasting
routine with Jools reviewing videos, while at other end of the show Patti LaBelle
performed six songs which had to be cut as they ran out of time. A weekly MTV News
piece came and went after a couple of weeks. However, despite the mess the show couldn't
stop breaking new acts and this series brought us Curiosity Killed The Cat, Swing
Out Sister, The Proclaimers, Hue and Cry, and Terrence Trent D'Arby. However, it
was evident that not all bands could make it to the live show so had to pre-record
live sets for inclusion later. The studio audience had previously acted as extras,
but their presence was limited, sometimes missing completely, contributing to the
shocking sterility of the final year. The Tube made the same mistake that Ready Steady
Go and Thank Your Lucky Stars had made with too many changes, alienating its audience.
Playing it safe ruined the show, and it began to look like some of The Tube's summer
replacement shows. For some reason someone didn't want it to be The Tube anymore.
During the introduction to the 12th December show Jools asks Paula "Are you looking
forward to it" to which she replied "Not really", and Jools concurs "No, me neither."
Jools later admits that it wasn't the best show they've ever done, which is an odd
way to hand in your notice. They could hardly contain their indifference now, with
Paula particularly looking tired and bored. She gave the impression that she loved
pop stars, the way they looked and their clothes, but not particularly bothered about
the music they made.
In January Tyne Tees broadcasts the last edition of Razzamatazz, its successful tea-time
pop show. You don't cancel a show as popular as that unless you have something else
proposed to replace it. This should have been a warning sign to the production team
at The Tube.
At the beginning of the final year Jools let slip an obscenity during a live trail
on Children's ITV. After turning away from the camera having done what he thought
was the trail he exclaimed "you groovy fuckers." Holland thought that this 'trail'
was a studio crew wind-up, similar to one, which according to Tyne Tees' Royston
Mayoh, he had been caught out on six months earlier. 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. Holland probably decided to leave the show during his time off, and
likely made the Laughing Prisoner special, broadcast on 6th April, while he was away
on suspension, using it as an explanation of his future departure. The show continued
with Paula hosting solo, but it was evident that the show was collapsing around her
and the end was inevitable. John Cummins, head of youth programming at Channel 4
responded to reports that show was to be taken off as "rubbish." He would later claim
that his original comment "At the time I wrote the letter, it was true." He claimed
that the decision to axe the show was a part of the restructuring of Channel Four's
music output. "Our decision on The Tube was a hard one to make but we know it is
the right one. We are unhappy in one way but one good thing is that there is an opportunity
to employ people who have worked on it to do something new and better." They did
neither. Jools returned to the show on the 6th of March for the next few weeks but
he was not present for the two final shows. Paula had announced on the 10th April
1987 edition that The Tube had been cancelled. Maybe getting a new set of hosts and
a new production team could have saved it, but maybe it was easier to abandon than
to renovate. On the final show the doors to the studio were shut for the final time,
the doors baring the phrase 'the weekend ends here.' After The Tube moved out Studio
5 was re-designed and became the home for the short-lived network chart show The
Roxy later in the year.
Series one producer Malcolm Gerrie would later head production company Initial which
produced The Brits award show for many years, along with the short lived The White
Room in the mid-nineties. 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, while 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 broadcast 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. But there was no hiding the fact that the show's irritating presentation
style distracted it from its real role, bringing us new live music, but it was an
important failure. It gave time to new acts, which any show could do as it's a cheap
option, but it had the guts to go for the big names who surprised everyone by actually
turning up and playing live, and despite the obvious lack of interest shown by some
of the presenters they were probably feeling what many of the home audience were
feeling anyway. Its Smash Hits meets indie fanzine attitude made it probably the
finest pop show since Ready Steady Go.
Network released a two-DVD set of the best bits from the first series, but despite
the promise of a volume two it was never followed up, likewise The Laughing Prisoner
forty-minute special from April 1987 was due to be released as a single disc in 2013,
but again never appeared.
If you have any favourites you would like to see included in the upcoming Easter
special on 20th April 1984 then write to "Easter Ideas", Tyne Tees Television, P
O Box 1AL, Newcastle Upon Tyne, NE99 1AL.