Thursday, 14 July 2016
443 The Big Time
First viewed : 11 June 1980
This show was on to its third and final season when I tuned in. It was created ( and initially narrated ) by Esther Rantzen and was an early "reality" show where amateurs or beginners in a field were given a crack at appearing on the big stage through the good offices of Auntie Esther. The results were always prerecorded and the programme given a smooth narrative arc. The programme had attracted controversy in the first season in 1976 when Fanny Craddock was invited to comment on the efforts of an amateur chef. Craddock went badly off message and tore the woman to shreds. Rantzen saw that she didn't appear on BBC TV again.
I actually only watched the one episode when it was first broadcast, the opening one where a 27 year old schoolteacher from Burnley wanted to become a professional wrestler and the doyen of the circuit in Britain, Max Crabtree, agreed to put him on the bill at the Royal Albert Hall. Keith Rawlinson was a mild , religious, rather callow young man , with a touch of Craig Cash about him, who fancied getting in the ring despite weighing less than 12 stone.
By this point Rantzen had turned over narrative duties to her acolytes so it was Paul Heiney who followed his adventures without concealing his bafflement as Keith spent three months getting seven bells knocked out of him by the likes of Tally-ho-Kaye ( who the programme revealed to be a pretty nice guy in contrast to his ring persona ) and Cyanide Sid Cooper. He found the time to pose the question about match-fixing to which ring commentator Kent Walton provided a not entirely convincing anecdotal answer.
At the end of the three month training period Heiney proclaimed that Keith was "beginning to look like a wrestler" but nobody else seemed very convinced and they were proved right on the night. Keith , re-christened "Rip" was up against "Golden Ace " John Naylor, a taciturn but generally fair lightweight from Wigan who despatched him without breaking sweat. In the first round he got Rip's leg in a painful submission hold and Keith, not recognising the trouble he was in , refused to submit. Eventually Naylor let go but the damage had been done and Keith was hobbling. A further attack on the leg produced an instant submission. Keith struggled through two more rounds, probably by Naylor's leave, and then had to throw in the towel.
Crabtree later agreed to film a sequence where he supposedly saw Keith off at the stage door at the end of the night. In reality Keith was taken straight to hospital but that wasn't the ending Esther wanted. The poor guy was still receiving treatment months later . To his credit, Crabtree offered to find him a job on the circuit but I'm guessing he stuck with teaching.
The most famous episode of all three seasons followed three weeks later when it followed the first steps of Sheena Easton 's career. Although the programme ended on a note of uncertainty because her first single, Modern Girl, hadn't made the Top 40 , she had another one lined up to go once the episode had been aired and 9 To 5 shot up the charts. I didn't see that one until it was repeated, half a dozen hits for Sheena later , in 1981.
The programme was re-vamped, for the better in my opinion, as In At The Deep End which we'll come to in due course.