50 reasons to celebrate LWT’s fiftieth birthday
If you are a child of the 1970s or 1980s (the latter like yours truly), an ITV weekend schedule without an LWT programme would have been unusual. For many, Play Your Cards Right on a Friday night, Blind Date on a Saturday, and Surprise Surprise! on a Sunday night, was appointment to view television.
On its inception, London Weekend Television aimed to raise the standards of weekend television. Light entertainment was more BBC Two than BBC One. In reality, vox populi didn’t want to see highbrow operas. They wanted something lightweight after slogging their guts off in work.
Being in a commercial environment, operas didn’t make for good advertising revenue. By the early 1970s, it was On The Buses and Black Beauty which pulled in the cash for LWT. Which also enabled them to produce arty documentaries and magazine shows like Aquarius and its successor The South Bank Show.
Whereas Granada Television was famed for World In Action and Brideshead Revisited as well as Coronation Street, the toothpaste stripes of Terry Griffiths’ LWT logo meant light entertainment. It also meant well-loved children’s programmes or Sunday afternoon with Brian Walden (Weekend World). Those stripes coupled with Harry Rabinowitz’s ident music really did mean ‘the weekend starts here’.
Without LWT, light entertainment might have been all the poorer. You could say it has been sorely missed since ITV became a single broadcaster instead of a string of regional franchisees.
To commemorate the long defunct ITV franchise’s fiftieth anniversary, we have come up with The Mother of All Listicles. Here’s our 50 (yes, fifty) icons of London Weekend Television, in no particular order whatsoever. A selection which includes people, programmes, and other mementoes of “The Entertainers”.
1. Sir David Frost
Without his help, the London Television Consortium – which morphed into London Weekend Television – wouldn’t have won the franchise from the Independent Television Authority (ITA). He had already been well known through his Frost On… programme on Rediffusion and his satirical works.
2. The London Studios
Whether you call it Kent House, ITV Studios, or The London Studios, LWT’s base was funded by the National Coal Board’s pension fund. Its centrepiece is the tower which, alongside its studios, looked out to the River Thames. Sadly, The London Studios has closed and will be partially demolished. The tower block will be retained for conversion into apartments.
3. The South Bank Show
Thanks to Melvyn Bragg’s delivery and Pat Gavin’s graphics, The South Bank Show established itself as ITV’s premier arts magazine programme. Running from 1978 to 2010 it focused on both the highbrow and populist creative subjects. One programme could be devoted to Paul McCartney, whereas another one could cover the late Michael Powell. Melvyn Bragg’s show moved to Sky Arts in 2012.
4. The LWT Graphics Department
I partly blame LWT for piquing my interest in television graphics, but London Weekend Television’s graphics department had some really talented artists and graphic designers. For many people, Martin Lambie-Nairn is most familiar for the Channel Four Corporation’s logo.
Like Martin Lambie-Nairn’s work, the animations of Pat Gavin and Terry Griffiths stand up well today. John Tribe’s work retains the touch of class it had on its original transmission dates (see his work in Agatha Christie’s Partners in Crime and Hot Metal). Less well known, though seen by many viewers in Currys shop windows, is Al Horton’s handiwork. He did the graphics for World of Sport and its spin-offs.
5. The First Toothpaste Logo
There are several more stages of the LWT toothpaste logo, but the first one by Terry Griffiths was striking for its time. The ‘LW’ is supposed to be a nod to the River Thames.
6. Solari and Genesis
After Terry Griffiths’ 1978 revision, the LWT logo was refined in 1986 with computer graphics. The orange was replaced with red, whereas sky blue was substituted for royal blue. From there came two classy versions of the logo. Genesis was used to introduce ITV networked programmes and had a fade-in effect. Solari, inspired by railway departure boards, was used for regional programming.
7. World of Sport
From 1968 to 1985, London Weekend Television was responsible for Independent Television Sport’s answer to Grandstand. A lot of its popularity was due to some astute appointments: Dickie Davies from Southern Television as anchorperson; and Brian Moore for its On The Ball strand. Not least the all-important Wrestling slot before the football results and The ITV Seven.
8. Weekend World
Once upon a time, ITV used to be a pretty good source for serious current affairs programming. Granada brought us World In Action, whereas Yorkshire Television gave us First Tuesday. London Weekend Television brought us Weekend World, which (for younger viewers reading this) is like The Daily Politics though more staid and articulate. Starting in 1972, its first presenter was Peter Jay, who was succeeded by Brian Walden and Matthew Parris.
Weekend World used to go out on Sundays at 12 midday. One of its researchers went on to become a big noise for New Labour: Peter Mandelson.
9. Sir Bruce Forsyth
For many children of the 1980s, the late Sir Bruce Forsyth would be associated with one LWT programme: Play Your Cards Right. Brucie was an all-rounder – as proven by his track record with the BBC, ITV, and live performance work. In 1978, he was poached from the Beeb to host Bruce Forsyth’s Big Night, which showed some promise though flopped.
10. Denis King
You knew you were in for a treat when you saw this gentleman’s name on the credits. With LWT, Denis King’s best known work was Galloping Home – the signature tune for The Adventures of Black Beauty. Adapted from the Anna Sewell novel it was repeated well into the late 1980s. Lesser known are Denis King’s compositions in End of Part One.
11. The Six O’Clock Show
Well before The One Show though just before Nationwide‘s departure, The Six O’Clock Show offered an easy transition into the weekend. It had a live audience, features, and a regional news bulletin. It went out at 6pm on Fridays in London, presented by Michael Aspel. Reporters included Danny Baker and Janet Street-Porter. Originally edited by Greg Dyke, Paul Ross succeeded him during its six-year run (from 1982 to 1988).
12. Wembley Studios
Wembley Studios was LWT’s first base. Inherited from Rediffusion London it had a proud history with the likes of No Hiding Place, Take Your Pick, and Ready Steady Go!. Before its final series, most of On The Buses’ indoor scenes were filmed there.
13. On The Buses
After a turbulent first year, there was one situation comedy which marked a turning point in the franchisee’s fortunes. Sexist, bawdy and down to earth, On The Buses was of its time. It had characters which most of its 15 million viewers could identify with in the late 1960s to early 1970s. Yet, alongside another well-loved programme at the time (Upstairs Downstairs), it brought some financial stability to the ITV franchise.
14. Ident changes
Much as we appreciate good design and slick presentation, we are for giving creatives free reign to muck about now and then. Thanks to Messrs Griffiths and Gavin, we saw the LWT ident being smashed by an animated William Brown. A move which led to a smashing set of opening titles. Literally.
15. The rise of Jeremy Beadle
Journalist, writer, presenter, and quiz compiler Jeremy Beadle rose to fame as a researcher for Game For A Laugh with LWT. Besides creating practical jokes he was one of four co-presenters of the zany programme. In 1986 he hosted People Do The Funniest Things which later led to Beadle’s About. By 1990 he moved to Granada Television to host You’ve Been Framed whilst presenting his best known hidden camera show till 1996.
16. Aliens in rural Dorset
Sticking with Jeremy Beadle, we couldn’t miss out his best known prank on Beadle’s About. With a little help from Clive Doig, Janet Elford was on the receiving of an alien invasion. On returning to her Dorset home, she found police tape around her garden. A few minutes later a rather convincing alien appeared from a clump of soil.
Ms. Elford, somewhat startled, scares the alien and tries to offer it a cup of tea. As you would do if aliens entered your backyard, in Dorchester as well as Dukinfield.
17. It’ll Be Alright on the Night
In 1977, Denis Norden spawned a monster with his wry look at televisual cock-ups. After its first airing in ’77, It’ll Be Alright on the Night became an occasional feature with a plethora of spin-offs. For the best part of an hour, celebrities could gain a repeat fee for their blunders. Without Denis Norden’s programme, there would have been no Auntie’s Bloomers on the BBC. Nor…
18. Clive James on Television/Floyd on Television/Tarrant on TV
Instead of cock-ups, Clive James’ programme looked at televisual blunders of a different kind: awful television per se. Clive James on Television saw The Observer‘s one-time TV critic poke fun at ridiculous formats or adverts that wouldn’t have seen the light of day on ITV. LWT’s programme also popularised Endurance, one of Japan’s most famous/infamous game shows.
19. An Audience With…
Starting with a six-part series with Jasper Carrot in 1978, An Audience With… assumed its best known guise in 1980 with Dame Edna Everage. The original premise featured a comedian with celebrity guests, in a light-hearted show. In later years, singers would be bestowed a similar accolade with Diana Ross, Cliff Richard, and Mick Hucknall among others.
20. London Community Unit
Back when ITV franchises had a soupçon of public service broadcasting, each franchisee had programmes like This Is Your Right which empowered viewers to stand up for themselves. Offering a similar voice for its viewers in London and surrounding area was the London Community Unit. Local groups could book a free 30-second slot on LWT to recruit volunteers on their Community Information Service.
21. London Minorities Unit
Giving a voice to less well-represented sections of the community was LWT’s London Minorities Unit. This focused on programming aimed at BAME communities, mental health, LGBT and disability issues. One programme was Skin, produced by Trevor Phillips who later stood as running mate to Frank Dobson, Labour’s Greater London Mayoral candidate in 2000.
22. Upstairs, Downstairs
Before Julian Fellowes’ Downton Abbey brought success to ITV in the last decade, there was one costume drama that set the gold standard for ITV. Co-created by Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins, it focused on the lives of the monied classes upstairs, and the servants downstairs in a Belgravia house. Shown on ITV’s 10.15pm slot (on a Sunday night), it steadily became a success, running from 1971 to 1975.
The continuing drama series, spanning the years from 1903 to 1930 also looked at the changes in that time, such as the First World War and the Wall Street Crash. It made stars out of John Alderton (also appearing in Please Sir! at the time), Nicola Pagett and Gordon Jackson.
23. Bruce Forsyth’s Big Night
No TV historian could ever forget Bruce Forsyth’s Big Night for several reasons. Running time is one of them; ITV’s Saturday night ratings war with the BBC was another. The programme, first aired in Autumn 1978, provided a two-hour showcase for Brucie’s talents. It included star guests, interactive features, a revival of The Glums (from Take It From Here), and a game show (The Pyramid Game, hosted by Steve Jones).
The programme’s multi-faceted nature was years before its time. The interactivity in Sofa Soccer would be echoed in computerised form in future years. Contemporary reviewers in ’78 thought the programme was too long. From the wreckage came Sammy and Bruce, a one-off special in 1980 which restored Brucie’s pre-eminence as an all-round entertainer. The Pyramid Game would become a standalone quiz show by LWT with later episodes produced by Television South (TVS).
24. End of Part One
The phrase “once seen, never forgotten” could have applied to Andrew Marshall’s and David Renwick’s comedy series. It sent up the continuity, advertisements and television programmes of the day. Even the ITV/BBC ratings war was sent up in its second series. Its first series featured a couple (Norman and Vera Straightman) whose home was a studio set, sending up Coronation Street. The programme was inspired by Marshall and Renwick’s radio comedy, The Burkiss Way.
Only two series of End of Part One were made, going out at 5.30pm (in 1979) and 4.00pm (in 1980) on Sundays. Bringing the series to life was Denis King’s musical scores and the LWT graphics department (John Tribe, assisted by Michael Minas in the last two episodes). Highlights included Tony Aitken as Dickie Davies being wired up to a lie detector in a World of Sport sketch, nuclear attacks being announced in the style of election results, and The Fat Ladies’ Embarrassment Game sketch.
25. Greg Dyke
Before his previous roles as Director-General of the BBC and chairperson of the Football Association, Greg Dyke was noted for his work with LWT. Like Peter Mandelson, whom we mentioned earlier, he too worked on Weekend World. After his success with The Six O’Clock Show, he transformed TV-am by sending a rat to join its sinking ship (Roland Rat).
He would later join TVS before returning to LWT as Director of Programmes in April 1987. Under his tenure, costs were cut in preparation for its ITV franchise auction bid in 1992. Among some sports fans, his least popular move was the end of Saturday afternoon wrestling, at one time a staple of World of Sport.
26. Studio One
With space for a live audience of 638 people, Studio One of Kent House was the largest of its ten studios. For many viewers sat at home, this was the home of LWT’s biggest productions. For example: Play Your Cards Right, You Bet!, any of the An Audience With… programmes, and Tipping Point.
27. Gabriel’s Wharf
There was more to the modernist charms of Kent House for LWT’s palatial quarters. Next door was Gabriel’s Wharf, a Victorian building. Formerly owned by William Younger’s brewery it became a scenery store with extra studio space. Studio 8 was at the home of This Morning after its move from Albert Dock, Liverpool.
28. Agatha Christie (adaptations)
Agatha Christie’s work have provided rich pickings for LWT’s continuing dramas, so much so we could have a separate blog post on that subject alone. In a nutshell, London Weekend Television applied a lot of great detail to their adaptations.
Once again, our friends from the LWT graphics department provided the visual wizardry, in an appropriate period style for each series. Standing head and shoulders above the rest is Pat Gavin’s work on the Agatha Christie’s Poirot titles. His Art Deco style titles complement Christopher Gunning’s theme music really well. Coming a close second is John Tribe’s work on Partners In Crime.
29. Just William
Sticking with the subject of literary adaptations and the collected works of Pat Gavin, is LWT’s adaptation of the Just William books. Based on Richmal Crompton’s works, its adaptation is fondly remembered by 1970s children. Less so for Adrian Dannatt’s performance as William Brown, more so for Bonnie Langford. Before being an assistant on Doctor Who and co-presenter of The Saturday Starship, she played Violet Elizabeth.
30. Handover time
Before the 27 October 2002, Friday nights meant a changeover from the weekday franchise holder to LWT for London viewers. From 1968 to 1982, Thames Television would finish for the week at 7pm. After 1982, 5.15pm. From 1993 to 2002, Carlton would handover to London Weekend. Before 1968, this was the case in Northern England when ABC Television provided your weekend’s entertainment instead of Granada Television.
31. A plug for Planet Hollywood
If you wanted to end a long-running chat show in style, you could have done so by turning it into an advertorial. In 1993, Aspel and Company pulled off a real coup when Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis and Sylvester Stallone were invited to The London Studios. The real stinger lay in its interviews which became an hour-long Ad-Mag for their Planet Hollywood restaurant in London. Cue several bored audience members and viewers trying to feign interest in its interior design and overpriced burgers.
32. In Bed With Medinner
Back in 1988, the IBA allowed its franchisees to broadcast well after midnight. Granada Television and LWT gave us Night Time with programmes like America’s Top Ten, The Hit Man and Her, and Prisoner: Cell Block ‘H’. For the post-pub time, there was enough room for nostalgia and irreverence.
Hosted by Bob Mills, In Bed With Medinner took an irreverent look at some forgotten aspects of ITV. For example, an episode of Granada’s Good Health (hosted by Gordon Burns) with an unconventional smoking experiment. There was reference to the trippy graphics in one of LWT’s early attempts at children’s programming (mid-1970s magazine show London Bridge). Sadly, the only thing you can see at 1am on ITV is a roulette wheel.
Today’s music lovers think nothing of automatic radio stations, free from DJs and in some cases, advertisements. In 1975, producer Mike Mansfield was years before his time Supersonic, a popular music show which dispensed with presenters. Instead of, say Simon Bates or Keith Chegwin introducing each act, you had a behind-the-scenes view of an editing desk. Mike would use his microphone to summon the act on stage before cutting to a shot of, say The Sensational Alex Harvey Band’s performance of Delilah.
34. Metal Mickey
Weighing half a ton, Metal Mickey boogie boogied his way to our screens in the late 1970s. First seen as a guest on Runaround and Larry Grayson’s Generation Game, LWT gave the robot his own television series. With writing by Colin Bostock-Smith and Mickey Dolenz’s creative output, it ran for three years. From 1980 to 1983, it was a staple of ITV’s Saturday teatime slot, just after World of Sport.
35. Cilla Black
For many mid to late 1980s viewers, weekends meant Blind Date and Surprise Surprise. The driving force behind the two programmes was Priscilla White. Or Cilla Black if you prefer. After having her own show on the BBC and a few hit singles under her belt, the glory days had passed by the early 1980s. In 1983, Surprise Surprise became a… surprise hit. Which was followed by her most enduring programme Blind Date. Both programmes have been revived but, going off the viewing figures, some yearn for the charisma of ‘our Cilla’.
36. Janet Street-Porter
One of the great joys of ITV’s federal structure was its ability to nurture talent inside each franchisee’s broadcasting area. Janet Street-Porter, born in Brentford, started out as LWT’s face of youth orientated programming. Her first job was as a reporter for the London Weekend Television Show. Then she went on to bigger and better things like editing The Independent on Sunday. Plus a previous stint with the Beeb where she gave us the Def II slot on BBC Two.
37. Mind Your Language
Filed under They Probably Wouldn’t Commission This Programme Any More, Mind Your Language was for a time LWT’s most popular sitcom (15 to 20 million viewers). The comedy series focused on ESOL (English as a Second Oral Language) students trying to learn English. Keeping the class under control was embattled teacher Jeremy Brown (played by Barry Evans).
With dialogue centred around each student’s mispronunciations and language barriers, none of Vince Powell’s and Harry Driver’s scripts would be politically correct at all. The series ran from 1977 to 1979 though saw a revival in 1986 for export markets. Only three ITV franchises aired all 13 episodes produced by Tri Films in a late afternoon slot: Granada, Anglia and Central.
38. Peter Lewis
At one time, many ITV franchises had live continuity links and LWT was no exception. Its continuity announcers included Barri Hayes, Ruth Anders, Verity Martindel, Sue Peacock, and Peter Lewis. Mr. Lewis was the first person to broadcast from LWT’s South Bank Studios. Before joining LWT, Peter was well known in Wales as a presenter on Television Wales and West. By 1977, he became the station’s chief continuity announcer, a position he held for 20 years.
39. Trish Bertram
From the first person to do continuity at South Bank Studios, we go to the last voice of LWT. In 1982, Trish Bertram joined the station whilst providing continuity announcements for Channel Four and Super Channel. In 1990 she was the chief announcer for British Satellite Broadcasting’s Galaxy channel. After Peter Lewis’ retirement, Trish succeeded him as chief announcer for LWT, with a similar role for the whole ITV network. With Glen Thompsett (now of LBC fame), she was the last voice of LWT on the 27 October 2002.
40. The Big Match
In 1970s London, the dulcet tones of Brian Moore meant football highlights courtesy of The Big Match. For the best part of an hour there would be highlights of two football matches in the LWT/Thames area with Moore’s analysis between games. Partly through its involvement with Independent Television Sport, The Big Match became a nationwide highlights programme after the 1982-83 season.
41. The music of Rod Argent and Peter van Hooke
How did we get from football to a former member of Argent and another musician? Well, Messrs Argent’s and van Hooke’s compositions were the sound of 1980s ITV in my view. Particularly Aztec Gold, their signature tune for World Cup ’86. Also the jangly theme tune to The Two of Us, a semi-forgotten sitcom starring Nicholas Lyndhurst and Janet Dibley. For most of the late 1980s, other familiar works included Hot Foot (the theme to ITV Athletics – replacing Richard Myhill’s piece) and Goal Crazy (for The Match).
42. Live at Her Majesty’s/the London Palladium/The Piccadilly
As well as innovation, London Weekend Television also found room for tradition: the Sunday night variety show. Ever since Sunday Night at the London Palladium popularised variety programming on the haunted fish tank, there had been many innovators. Throughout the 1980s it was Live at Her Majesty’s Theatre (or the London Palladium or The Piccadilly) which followed in its footsteps. Its main Master of Ceremonies was Jimmy Tarbuck.
43. The Stanley Baxter Picture Show
Whereas lavish costumes, sets and complex lighting are de rigeur in professional theatre, The Stanley Baxter Picture Show succeeded in replicating this at South Bank Studios. With each episode being an expensive undertaking, only a small number of episodes were made by LWT. His sketches and repertory company made each show an occasional treat.
44. Game For A Laugh
In 1981, Game For A Laugh was an instant hit for London Weekend Television. Featuring Henry Kelly, Sarah Kennedy, Jeremy Beadle and Matthew Kelly, it included practical jokes and daft games. Whether via the filmed inserts or studio based shenanigans, its participants were seen as the real stars of the show. Like The Generation Game did, albeit in more anarchic form.
The format was previously pitched to the BBC as Gotcha! with an unaired pilot showing Paul Daniels as its presenter. It also owes a debt to a few other LWT shows, such as Jeremy Beadle’s programmes and You Bet!.
Cast your mind back to 1992: do you watch Bobby Davro’s Public Enemy Number One on the Beeb, or shun Paul Shane for Shadow? If you did, Gladiators was required Saturday night viewing for 1990s children. Though an American import, the British version improved upon the original by its slick production values. With John Fashanu and Ulrika Jonsson, the derring do of Wolf and Shadow alongside its challengers made for compulsive viewing.
Besides the banter between Gladiators and Challengers, its games were a cross between It’s A Knockout, Total Wipeout, and the assault course on The Krypton Factor. The joy of duelling with giant earbuds trying to scale a plaster rock is a sight lost on today’s children, who are used to digital tablets instead of Saturdays in front of the box.
46. Hello Dali!
Before The South Bank Show, LWT’s arts magazine programme was Aquarius. Hosted by Humphrey Burton, Peter Hall, and Russell Harty in its seven-year run (1970 – 77), some episodes were devoted to a single artist. On the 24 May 1973, in Port Lligat, Russell Harty met up with Salvador Dali. This led to Hello Dali!, the most celebrated documentary of the series.
Throughout the documentary, Harty gave the viewers a candid view of Dali’s daily life. His siesta includes a psychedelic dream sequence which is followed by a chat with Captain Moore. Hello Dali’s approach would later be seen in Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekends – three decades on.
47. Telethon ’88/’90/’92
Back in 1988, ITV’s response to the BBC’s Children in Need and Comic Relief campaigns was Telethon. Covering all franchisees from Grampian to Channel Television, LWT’s Studio One was used for each 27 hour long continuous broadcast. Michael Aspel presented all three (Spring Bank Holiday weekends in 1988 and 1990, and on the 18/19 July 1992).
We mustn’t forget that ITV Telethon wouldn’t have been possible without Thames Television’s help. In 1980 and 1985, Thames Television (within its broadcasting area only) had two telethons. One on the 02 October 1980 (Thursday), and a two-day telethon on the 29/30 October 1985.
48. Cannon and Ball
After a successful stint on Granada Television’s The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club, Tommy Cannon and Bobby Ball bagged a slot on Bruce Forsyth’s Big Night. Or so we thought when their sketch was ditched for more Brucie. In the summer of 1979 (after Michael Grade saw the dropped clips) they finally got their own series produced by LWT. Two weeks into the series, the 11-week long ITV strike delayed the duo’s other four episodes.
Nevertheless, the 11-week strike was a temporary blip for Oldham’s finest double act. They packed box offices across the UK, with record-breaking summer seasons filling Blackpool’s North Pier theatre. Another 69 episodes were produced until 1988 with six seasonal specials.
49. Night Thoughts
Forgotten somewhere in the midst of time on ITV is religious programming. During the 1980s there was Morning Worship and Highway. LWT gave us Credo, close to the Weekend World slot. Before LWT closed down on Sunday nights, their closing programme had a religious theme. Enter Night Thoughts.
In a darkened continuity studio, a religious speaker broadcasted his or her thoughts on Christianity. Speakers included the then chaplain of London Heathrow Airport. Also Paul Boateng, who later became a Labour MP for Brent South and Junior Health Minister under Frank Dobson.
After Night Thoughts (or before then, Sit Up and Listen), came the weather forecast, the National Anthem, and a friendly message by Ruth Anders or Peter Lewis telling you to switch off your set. By 1988, an anachronism when ITV began 24-hour broadcasting. On the 28 October 2002, ITV’s federal structure of individual franchisees for each region followed suit. On the eve of that fateful day, London Weekend Television switched off with good grace.
50. LWT’s last day, 27 October 2002
The 27 October 2002 was a sad day for British TV historians: the last day of ITV under its federal model. A few mergers later, led to the inevitable: a single ITV with its news programmes being the sole reminder of its regional structure. Instead of going all bleary eyed or blunt, LWT marked its final day in the best possible way. With a full-service startup sequence, displaying both analogue and digital transmitter details.
To round off proceedings was LWT’s last example of on-screen continuity, featuring Glen Thompsett and Trish Bertram. For good measure, we round off this post with a few YouTube clips for London Weekend Television’s last day on air. If I were you, get the hankies ready. Here’s why they billed themselves as The Entertainers in the early 1980s.
If you can add to our Fifty Icons of London Weekend Television, feel free to do so. Feel free to comment on our existing ones.
S.V., 02 August 2018.