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.


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