And welcome to another Creamguide, with all the usual gubbins you’ve come to expect. And as ever we welcome your letters, addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
18.30 Dad’s Army
Bit of a quiet start to the week, with no Big Match, but we do have the return of this. The big telly news this week is that to coincide with the Cop26 conference, all the soaps are joining forces with various characters appearing in the others to raise awareness of climate change, a bit like the raiders in Whizzer and Chips, which seems to suggest some kind of soap universe where Coronation Street is a real place in the world of ‘stEnders and so on. Surely the most exciting soap crossover since the Emmerdale plane crash got on the front page of the paper in Brookie.
22.00 Music Vault
This sounds a bit of a novelty, as well as owing a bit to Guy Garvey’s From The Vaults series on Sky Arts, as for the next six weeks Edith Bowman is going to be rummaging through the BBC Scotland archives to find some notable performances, promising both familiar and long-forgotten clippage. Not sure what shows we’re going to see performances from, but there are plenty of Saturday morning programmes from Glasgow to fillet, plus short-lived series like FSd and No Stilettos which haven’t been seen for a while. Looks like it’s not exclusively reserved for Scottish acts either, so fingers crossed for Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci on Fully Booked before the series is out.
BBC Radio 2
13.00 The Official All-Time Female Artists Album Chart
It’s National Album Day, the day that isn’t Record Store Day but along similar lines in its attempt to promote the art of the physical LP, and which has never really caught on despite Radio 2 going all in on it most years. This year the day is themed around female artists, which means an all-woman playlist on all the shows from 6am to midnight, and in place of Pick of the Pops it’s Jo Whiley with a retro chart show of all. These charts of the very biggest sellers always tend to make for rather predictable listening given by their very nature they feature a lot of songs you hear a lot, but maybe Jo will move away from Side 1 Track 1 in some cases.
23.00 Being Frank: The Chris Sievey Story
On a pretty quiet weekend, it’s worth highlighting another outing for this fantastic film, a labour of love by director Steve Sullivan. Everyone who knew or worked with Sievey seems to suggest he was one of the funniest and most creative people they’d ever met, but he never really became the big star they all assumed he would be. This was partly thanks to bad luck, most obviously when an appearance by The Freshies on Top of the Pops was cancelled at the last minute due to a strike, but also because he was determined not to compromise and do things his own way, regardless of how uncommercial they were, and hence his TV appearances were often not on comedy shows but on things like Granada Reports and No 73. But Frank Sidebottom was always a delight when he turned up in the most surprising places, and we get to see plenty of that here, and we’re especially delighted to see extensive discussion of his work as a columnist for Oink!
The Blair and Brown series continues at nine, though it’s moving out of the Cream era now with this week’s edition discussing the aftermath of the most boring election of all time, 2001. That said, what we’d give for a tedious election like that these days rather than one where the entire future of the nation seems to be at stake. And if you’re a politic anorak there’s more fun here with a round on Thatcher, but don’t worry if you find it all quite dull as someone else is doing Buffy The Vampire Slayer.
In this feature we intend to cover all types of television, and so after last week featuring the ultimate example of brainless Saturday night telly, this week we’re looking at one of the most self-consciously serious TV shows of them all. Try and make it up til midnight, it’s...
THE LATE SHOW (1989-95)
Although it began in 1989, the seeds of The Late Show were sewn 25 years earlier with the launch of Late Night Line-Up on the embryonic BBC2. Initially devised to preview the channel’s programmes, over eight years it became a hugely creative series discussing the arts, entertainment and social issues, its open-ended nature and 52 weeks a year schedule meaning absolutely anything went in terms of presentation and debate. Ever since it came off air in 1972 there were endless calls for a similar series, and eventually new BBC2 controller Alan Yentob commissioned thrusting young producer Michael Jackson to devise and edit a new arts show, broadcasting 45 minutes a night, four nights a week. At 11.15 on Monday 16th January 1989 the howling wolf was heard for the first time and The Late Show was on air.
Jackson was eager to point out that The Late Show’s definition of the arts was deliberately as broad as possible, encompassing design, broadcasting, comics and pop culture as much as the fine arts, and set out its stall in its mission statement that said it thought Bob Dylan was as important a poet as John Keates. And despite being live, daily and topical, it wasn’t going to be tied to reviews of first nights or an if-it’s-Tuesday-it-must-be-architecture format, but a flexible approach fronted by an array of hosts including Tracey MacLeod, Sarah Dunant, Michael Ignatieff and Paul Morley. Films would mingle with studio discussion, although a lot of them seemed to end in a bit of a shouting match.
Somewhat confusingly, although The Late Show began in January 1989, another Late Show had been on BBC2 since the previous September. This was The Late Show with Clive James, the first fruit of Clive’s new deal with the Beeb, which was very much the ultimate Clive format with him discussing art, politics and philosophy with his clever mates. This continued as a separate endeavour on Fridays alongside the Monday to Thursday series for the first half of 1989, though the most memorable edition was of course the episode on Red Nose Day which was invaded by Lenny Henry and seen on BBC1 and BBC2 at the same time.
It’s fair to say that a combination of Newsnight and The Late Show for an hour and a half every night made late evening BBC2 a bit forbidding, the two shows sharing a liking for endless round table discussions and arch reporters making self-consciously quirky films. But The Late Show, such was its catholic approach to the arts, did offer some slightly more accessible fare, such as this special episode from the summer of 1989 devoted to the new Batman film.
No arts show can ever be universally popular, though The Late Show probably did more than most to enjoy some credibility within the arts, though its determination to cover absolutely every genre and discipline meant it was inevitably a bit frantic and there were some crunching gear changes during the programme. It enjoyed a loyal audience, although you felt quite a few people were watching it because they thought they should, Steve Coogan speaking for many people we think when he said he did try to watch it but every time he saw Sarah Dunant all he could think was “why don’t you take off those ridiculous glasses”. Here are some of the highlights of 1989, including the notorious appearance of The Stone Roses.
Despite being a suitably slick and forward-thinking programme, The Late Show spent its first two and a half years in the antiquated Lime Grove studios, the rickety rabbit warren down the road from TV Centre that the Beeb bought as a “temporary” measure in 1950 and were still using forty years later despite it being woefully unsuitable for modern broadcasting, which is probably one of the reasons why it was so loved. Eventually in the summer of 1991 the famous old building was finally vacated and Cliff Michelmore, who had probably appeared on more TV from the studios than anyone else, was invited to have the last word - although Peggy Ashcroft died the next day so they all came back to do her obituary. The Late Show then moved down Wood Lane to share Studio 7 with those unlikely bedfellows Going Live.
A vast team of producers and directors worked on The Late Show, and from Michael Jackson downwards, many of them were from the first generation who had grown up with TV as a mass medium, and as such were the first to really embrace its past. Indeed the Lime Grove commemorations led to the Late Show team producing an entire day of programming on the August Bank Holiday devoted to the studios, as well as a host of other theme nights plundering the archives, from One Day In The Sixties to At Home With Reeves and Mortimer, though the highlight was of course the majestic TV Hell.
Despite that abortive Stone Roses performance, The Late Show became noted for its coverage of rock music. Michael Jackson suggested that its viewers were probably of the age where they were starting to expand their horizons from rock towards world and classical music, although it’s fair to say that the majority of its musical acts were still white blokes with guitars. But The Late Show did fill something of a gap, what with Whistle Test rather unfortunately being axed just as the CD boom saw heritage acts get a second wind as everyone bought their albums again, so it welcomed numerous acts, both established and new, into the studio. It was a particularly important programme in showcasing grunge and alternative rock, compiling many of these bands into a special programme in 1993. But, as the title suggests, there’s no Nirvana.
But The Late Show would have an even bigger musical legacy. Mark Cooper was the Late Show producer most interested in rock, and with most of the rest of the production team more concerned with making fancy films, he noticed the studio was pretty empty most nights and you could fit a couple of bands in it. Hence at midnight on 8th October, The Late Show got an extra forty minutes or so for the first edition of Later. This was such a small scale show that it took a while for it to even get a proper name, being initially billed as Late Show Music Special in the Radio Times, while Cooper had modest hopes, saying “It is not intended to be rock- or chart-orientated, although we do hope to feature some mainstream artists." The Neville Brothers, Nu Colours, The Christians and D-Influence were on the first show, with Jools Holland on presenting duties, and things went so well that it spun off into its own series in 1993 and it’s still going nearly thirty years later as the Beeb’s flagship music show.
And it wasn’t the only spin-off from The Late Show to have a life outside the series. Despite Michael Jackson’s determination to not be stuck with regular strands, from early 1994 the Thursday edition was rebranded as Late Review, with a panel of commentators giving their opinions on the week’s big cultural happenings, and Mark Lawson in the chair. This wasn’t especially a new idea, and Lawson is awful, but somehow it started to get a bit of a cult following. No doubt the casting had a bit to do with that, with several panellists making increasingly frequent appearances and eventually creating a famous five of regular guests with their own familiar obsessions – Bonnie Greer, Germaine Greer, Tony Parsons, Allison Pearson and Tom Paulin, the latter of whom became such a cult figure for his somewhat emotional reviews that an indie band named themselves after him. Over the years it could be pretty heavy going, the panel cheerfully turning their noses up at anything vaguely popular, but you’ve got to say that for continuing in some form or other for about twenty years it was one of the most successful arts strands in TV history.
Indeed, apart from one or two exceptions, all arts shows seem to have a pretty short shelf life. In 1995, The Late Show’s founding editor Michael Jackson was now controller of BBC2, and axed it, seemingly having realised from the other side how much it was costing. It wasn’t quite the end of it, though, as Late Review continued until the end of the nineties and, after a brief spell on Sunday evenings, was enveloped into Friday’s Newsnight for another decade, while Later with Jools Holland is still going to this day. The 11.15 slot on BBC2 then became a free-for-all, still with some arts programmes but also home to the likes of Seinfeld and Larry Sanders which were a bit more fun, though as most of the Late Show production team went on to major roles in British TV, its legacy still lives on via Inside Culture, various BBC2 and BBC4 theme nights and much more besides.
From a modern perspective, The Late Show now seems a bit of an irritating show, self-consciously quirky and, in its quest to do things differently, responsible for some bloody awful pieces of television. But there’s something exciting about having a piece of unscripted and unplanned live telly in the schedules that can cover absolutely anything at all, and we’d love the idea of something like that these days. Though much like The Late Show, for all that we’d probably enjoy the idea more than the actual programme.
21.00 Lenny Henry: Young, Gifted and Black
22.15 The One Lenny Henry
Alongside the continuing Good Life and One Foot repeats, BBC4 continue to delve into the comedy archive on Tuesday nights, this week with a couple of shows devoted to Lenny Lenny Len. The first one is the Imagine from a few years that was made to coincide with his autobiography, though it’s the second show that’s most interesting. You may recall The One Ronnie, the special Ronnie C show from Christmas Day 2010, but you may not recall that a year later there were similar shows starring Jasper Carrott, Griff Rhys Jones and Len himself, which were seemingly made for Christmas but in the end flung out in odd slots during January. The Len one was, to all intents and purposes, a new edition of The Lenny Henry Show, so it’s a bit of a novelty, with new characters alongside old favourites like Delbert Wilkins.
BT Sport 3
22.15 Glenn Hoddle: Extra Time
As the repeat of the Greavsie doc proved last week, BT Sport produce some excellent football documentaries and we’d be quite happy if they made one about every single player and team in the history of English football. Here’s the latest, about one of their regular pundits, although we’ve always found it a bit strange that he gets so much media work when he basically lost the England job through being inarticulate and unable to explain his views without causing offence. Nevertheless he’s always been renowned as one of the great thinkers of the game, both as a coach and as a player, with the failure of several England managers to make the most effective use of his talents a familiar refrain on back pages and phone-ins for many years. He’ll reflect on all of that plus, as the title would suggest, his life after his terrifying near-death experience three years ago.
BBC Radio 4
11.30 What’s Funny About...
Got a letter this week which suggested that Damon Rose, as mentioned last week, must have been mistaken when he suggested Stephen Merchant was involved in the creation of The Office as the episode of this series about that the other week didn’t mention him once, it apparently being a 100% Gervais production. This week we’re looking at another famous sitcom everyone forgets was a co-write, Fawlty Towers, and Peter and Jon have invited John Cleese to talk about it. Obviously you always brace yourselves for a Cleese interview these days, but his commentaries on the Fawlty Towers DVDs are really good because he clearly watched all the programmes again before doing them, which isn’t always a given, so he could offer some suitably informed and informative comments, so hopefully he’ll be as enlightening here.
19.00 Back in Time for School
This series from 2019 is getting another repeat run most nights this week, where Sara Cox takes a class of teachers and pupils through a century of education. In this episode we’ve reached the General Collapse of Secondary Education, the eighties, which means plenty of fun involving business studies, 8-bit computing and a music lesson turned school disco with special guest Nik Kershaw.
17.00 Blue Peter
Last week both this and The One Show on the same night were presented by two blokes, which you don’t see very often these days. But don’t worry, because Richie and Adam were kept in line by a returning Konifer Huq, in her current role as children’s author and science communicator, and it’s always a treat to see Blue Peter alumni make a return. It’s the show you never leave, which is another reason why it’s so ace.
22.00 1970: Britain’s Biggest Hits
23.30 The 70s’ Greatest Pop Groups
This channel has been doing brisk business on Fridays recently luring in floating viewers who may have just watched Pops on BBC4, and if you’re a bit bored of that now we’re well into the nineties, it looks like you’ll have the opportunity to spend the rest of the year reliving the seventies instead. The former here is the first of a ten-part series of presumably cheap and cheerful clip shows, this one no doubt including some exceptionally ropey footage indeed, then it’s The Jackson 5 and The Osmonds to ease you into the weekend.
20.00 Top of the Pops
Meanwhile, as we go to press we’re yet to experience the new look Pops, but we see that Tony Dortie and Mark Franklin have already tweeted in anticipation. Certainly we have a bit of a ghoulish fascination about the whole thing and it’ll be interesting to see just how many ideas they fling at the wall in the first weeks to see what sticks. This is certainly one of the most memorable of the early editions, though for all its radical new look the combined age of the performers here must be near some kind of record, with the triumphant return of Slade and the one and only appearance of Eric Idle. All that, and a Dannii Minogue performance which you’d think would have convinced them this no miming policy is a terrible idea, but sadly not.
20.30 Top of the Pops
One thing that’s still a part of Pops is its incredibly eclectic line-up (as mentioned in the announcement before it every week), although while this was one of its great strengths before it’s perhaps a bit of a drawback now with the exponents of “real music” seeming laughably out of place among the teen-terrific raves. Here’s a show you’d have to be demented to enjoy all the way through, with Kiri Te Kanawa alongside 2 Unlimited and Carter USM (three days before their most famous TV appearance), but the most famous performance is by Vic Reeves, who sang into a camera in a washing machine in rehearsals but on the show itself that had been removed and they’d also drunk a great deal of alcohol. One thing that everyone can celebrate, though, is that it’s finally sixteen weeks and out for a certain record.
Here’s a documentary produced and directed by Alex Winter, in his proper day job these days, which intends to be the definitive biography of Frank Zappa, as it’s the first one ever to gain access to his own personal archive of millions of records, tapes and films, which was apparently in some state of disrepair but much of it has been lovingly restored and is shown here for the first time. It’s no surprise there’s so much as he was surely one of the most prolific musicians of his generation, recording a whopping 62 albums, though we’re not sure even his greatest admirers could manage to sit through all of them, as quite a lot of his work was, you’d have to say, an absolute racket. But when the mood took him, what a racket!
23.05 The Old Grey Whistle Test
And if Pops and Zappa has been quite enough of a bewildering array of sounds for one night, why not relax with some laid-back folk rock, as Bob no doubt had a whale of a time introducing Janis Ian in concert at the TV Theatre, first shown in October 1976 and, we think, not any time since.