Tuesday, 20 December 2016
565 The Late , Late Breakfast Show
First viewed : 4 September 1982
BBC One launched its autumn season with a new vehicle for Noel Edmunds, moving into adult TV with a prime time light entertainment show. It was produced by Michael Hurll who also did Top of the Pops and had a live musical act each week although it was always a safe choice.
It was a strange, hybrid show which had both derivative and innovative elements. The Golden Egg Awards for amusing recent bloomers was clearly trying to steal them from under Dennis Nordern's nose and The Hit Squad's practical joke set-up was a lame attempt to compete with Game For A Laugh on the other channel. On the other hand it was well ahead of the curve in featuring funny video clips sent in by viewers, launching the entire premise of You've Been Framed.
The other main feature of the show - and the one that would eventually sink it - was Give It A Whirl where a member of the audience would be assigned some challenge via a fairground roulette wheel. The options ranged from dangerous stunts to Generation Game - style tasks. How they got on would then feature on the following week's programme. It was clearly rigged; when a dear old lady stepped forward you knew she wasn't going to be fired out of a cannon. Lo and behold, the needle dropped on "Make A Pop Record". The resultant abortion, "Have A Cup of Tea" recorded with Chas and Dave was so bad I don't think they even bothered releasing it.
The show had teething problems and ratings for the first series were poor. Co-host comedian Leni Harper was bumped after half a dozen episodes. Then there was Peel. Hurll had made major changes to Top of the Pops aiming for a continuous party vibe then bafflingly , at the start of 1982 , persuaded Radio One's most esoteric DJ John Peel, who'd evaded the programme for over a decade , to resume a regular presenting slot. Peel's incongruous, self-deprecating presence was an immediate hit so Hurll signed him up for this as well.
On the first show, he was in the studio and gave a little monologue that would have been fine for a late night changeover on R1 with David "Kid" Jensen but was embarrassingly unsuitable for a 6pm Saturday evening TV slot. From the embarrassed titters that greeted his mention of going to see a band called Christians In Search of Filth during the week, it was clear the studio audience had no idea what to make of him. It was so badly pitched , you wondered how his usually sound judgement could have gone so awry.
After that Peel was switched to being the outside broadcaster for the stunts that couldn't be accommodated in the studio. In September 1983 he narrowly avoided being maimed or killed by flying metal when a car turned over at speed and he never appeared again. According to Edmunds they never spoke after that.
Perhaps some of Peel's chagrin was down to the choice of replacement. Mike Smith was at the absolute opposite end of the DJ spectrum to Peel, an ambitious self-publicist with no interest in music whatsoever. His willingness to be the butt of Edmunds's jokes, whilst stood in the rain until his own big gig came along, became a distinctive feature of the show.
As to the musical content it did manage to lay down a couple of marks in musical history. The first series climaxed with what, until earlier this year, was the last public appearance by Abba. It was preceded by an exquisitely awkward interview with the band, with poor Edmunds visibly struggling with the Scandinavian winter's chill they'd brought over with them.
By the second season the ratings had improved and artists appearing on the show could expect to see a sales boost in the charts the following week. This gave Edmunds another awkward interview to manage. Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson had made another single together , "Say Say Say " and then lazily decided not to make a video for it ; after all, Queen and David Bowie hadn't bothered for Under Pressure two years earlier. That however was a decent song. "Say Say Say " sounded like an outtake from Off The Wall and an outtake from Back To The Egg had been bolted together by a welder. After two weeks in the charts, the public correctly divined that this Event Single was actually mediocre rubbish and it started to drop from its number 10 peak.
A dismayed Macca quickly got off his arse and on to a plane to California to shoot a video with Jacko. He then presented it to Top Of The Pops but the programme had a longstanding rule that they didn't feature songs that were going down the charts and Hurll commendably stood his ground against McCartney's special pleading. He offered McCartney a slot for the video on this show provided that he came in for an interview, his first for the BBC in a decade.
With ill grace McCartney accepted the offer, much to the displeasure of Olivia Newton-John who hadn't expected to be playing second fiddle to anyone on her appearance. Macca brought along Linda to eat up some of the time. I thought Edmunds handled it well. He knew neither of them wanted to be there and that he wasn't going to get any great revelation out of the former Beatle but he stayed in control and didn't give him too many opportunities for monosyllabic answers. The single duly climbed back up to number 2 so Macca got the pay-off he wanted but there was no mistaking that he'd been brought down a peg. It was a considerable coup for Hurll who'd faced off against a megastar and got him to dance to his tune.
Perhaps Macca and Peelie derived a modicum of pleasure from the show's grim demise. Despite the latter's near escape, the show had continued with the daring stunts and just over 30 years ago sent hod carrier Michael Lush to his death in a shoddily prepared bungee jump stunt. They were prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive in a landmark case and made a big pay out to Lush's family. Edmunds declared he couldn't carry on immediately after the accident and so the show terminated in the most abrupt fashion in November 1986.