A 1969 Space Oddity: David Frost’s Moon Party

Ground control to Major Frost?

  • Broadcasted: 1700 hours, 20 July 1969 – 0300 hours, 21 July 1969 (ITV);
  • Presenter: David Frost;
  • Showbiz guests: Sammy Davis Junior, Cliff Richard, Lulu, Englebert Humperdinck, Peter Cook, Mary Hopkin, Hattie Jacques, Eric Sykes;
  • Interviewed guests: Ray Bradbury (walked out before interview), A.J.P. Taylor, Dame Sybil Thorndike, Desmond Morris;
  • Produced by: London Weekend Television;
  • Further information: original VT long deleted.

Just over 45 years ago, rolling news meant correctly folding today’s copy of The Daily Telegraph. The thought of broadcasting for 10 continuous hours was unheard of in 1969. Television used to finish an hour or so after the public houses did. Sky News wouldn’t surface till twenty years later, and Rupert Murdoch was only months away from taking over The Sun from the Daily Mirror‘s owners.

Today we think nothing of 24 hour news channels. Seeing Michael Aspel and Angela Rippon at unheard of times for charitable endeavour too was a bit of novelty (ITV Telethon) in May 1988. That ran for 36 hours across all the ITV networks with regional updates. Children In Need set the precedent in November 1979 with a format we would soon be familiar with. That of cajoling viewers to pledge donations, testimonies of children, and a fair amount of padding with studio guests.

Ten and a half years before, there was one event that kept the world’s viewers glued to its sets. That of the Apollo 11 moon landings on the 20th and 21st July 1969. Both the BBC and ITN covered the moon landings in great depth. To break up the newsiness, over on ITV was a 10 hour extravaganza hosted by David Frost.

David Frost’s Moon Party

Imagine the hubbub of Jools Holland’s Hootenanny with a lunar theme, only for 600 minutes instead of 60 minutes. It was hailed as an entertainment and discussion programme with David Frost in LWT’s Wembley studios between news bulletins. Guests included Cliff Richard, Englebert Humperdinck, Sammy Davis Junior, Hattie Jacques, Cilla Black and Lula. Amidst the entertainment was serious discussion by A.J.P. Taylor discussing the ethics of space exploration (with Sammy Davis Jr.). Today’s equivalent would be Professor Brian Cox discussing the Maven landings with Michael Bublé.

Prior to being interviewed, one of the guests walked out. Ray Bradbury left the Wembley studios, objecting to the show’s frivolous nature. It was billed as featuring “relevant facts about the moon landing” with “a wealth of outside comment”, but one critic stated it “broke the mood of awesome solemnity” associated with such occasions.

With the marathon format another trip to the unknown, half of the guests passed out. Englebert Humperdinck passed out twice and had to see a doctor. Lulu was whacked out on pills. David Frost would sit out the full ten hours.

David Frost’s Moon Party was never saved for posterity. The whole ten hours was wiped out to save money on precious videotape, though some sources cite embarrassment as a second reason. If you check Sir David Frost’s entry on IMdb.com, Moon Party is omitted. As for video footage, forget it.

S.V., 23 September 2014.

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