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. 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". Channelling 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 found 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 and wrote 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, 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 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. 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
The pilot show, made a few weeks' before the debut was 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 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. Despite the reservations
by hosts and producers it 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
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. However the show used too many
presenters 'new to television' who couldn't present or remember what they were there
for. That aspect was pure embarrassment.
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 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 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 poet, Mark Mywurdz (aka Mark Hurst), but he wouldn't make it
to the third series. Practically all of the non-music aspects would be dropped, as
was a proposed weekly 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, just as she had twenty years' before on Ready, Steady,
The Tube would in its time pick up many awards, and its influence quickly spread
around the world, leading to international sales. 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 presenter Paula Yates. Yates had drawn to 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 Ure backstage 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.
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.
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.
A new feature for the final series was Square Celebrities, a game show hosted by
Jools with the questions posed by Vic Reeves whilst being hoisted up and down the
set which was made to look like Celebrity Squares. A similar idea would later be
re-used by One Hour With Jonathan Ross.
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. John
Cummins, head of youth programming at Channel 4 responded to reports that show was
to be taken off as "rubbish." He would claim that his original comment was "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 didn't. 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. Paula announced on the 10th April 1987 show that The Tube had been
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,
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.