Archive Post: That Was The Week That Was

This post was originally an article for my 60s fanzine that existed in the mid-nineties. There has been some mild editing for corrections and to remove outdated information. 

In late 1962 a TV programme took to our screens that would make quite an impact on whoever watched it. Born out of the so-called satire boom of the Footlights and Oxford Revues (which surprisingly didn’t contain very much satire at all) and hot on the heels of the Establishment Club in Soho and the birth of the long-running satirical magazine Private Eye came That Was The Week That Was (or TW3 to its friends!)

Looking at the show’s eventual format it is not easy to imagine the original two-presenter format, with David Frost being joined by Brian Redhead (who fronted The Tonight Show in which TW3 roots were firmly planted). Nor is it easy to imagine each programme lasting two and a half hours like the initial pilot.

By the time the programme made it on to the air, there was a single linkman in the form of David Frost, introducing the show and linking the various sketches. Originally John Bird was asked to front the programme, but he was committed to going to the US with the rest of the regular cast of the Establishment Club, though he, Eleanor Bron and John Fortune did feature in the first pilot.

TW3 went a long way in breaking through traditional televisual barriers and led the way in the kind of vocabulary that was allowed on television thus paving the way for shows such as Till Death Us Do Part and Steptoe And Son. By allowing the viewing public to see the mechanics of the studios; the cameras, audience and stage managers etc, it eliminated the difficult task of orchestrating things to keep them out of shot on a live sketch-based show.

Another unusual aspect of the programme was that the current affairs department rather than light entertainment made it. This was probably because the LE department had a very flippant attitude to satirical pieces, which was not in keeping with the attitude of TW3.

A regular feature of the show was the catchy theme song sung by Millicent Martin which had new lyrics each week to reflect the events in the news. (In the April 11th 1963 edition of the Radio Times Millicent Martin attributed her athletic voice to “hard work and having buck teeth.”) Lance Percival also made a musical contribution in the form of an improvised calypso on a subject suggested by audience members. Bernard Levin would be on hand to interview guests most weeks, and during the first season, Timothy Birdsall would make appearances producing speedily drawn cartoons. (Unfortunately in the period between the first and second series he died of Leukaemia.)

Other regular faces on the show were – Willie Rushton, David Kernan, Roy Kinnear and Kenneth Cope. The BBC would regularly receive complaints about the show, usually from people who had completely misinterpreted the sketches. TW3 was definitely a show that provoked strong reactions in both its supporters and detractors, there appeared to be no sitting on the fence where this programme was concerned.

The first series ended with the beginning of the Profumo Scandal, and the arrival of the second series was heralded by a Radio Times front cover. Inside the issue, dated 28th September 1963, an article promised: “this time it will run straight through to next April.” Alas, this wasn’t to be. By the end of the year, a general election was looming and the BBC felt pressure to remain neutral to all parties. Coupled with the increasing public protest this spelt the demise of TW3 from our screens, though it was soon followed by a rather similar show called Not So Much A Programme More A Way Of Life (something that could easily have been said of its predecessor.)

Identification with TW3 crossed both class and educational divides. In the April 25th 1963 edition of the Radio Times it was pointed out that “right from the first week there has been a sequel of Sunday morning ‘post-mortems’ in pubs and homes, Monday morning analysis in newspapers or Tuesday afternoon questions in Parliament.” Sixth-formers would read the papers carefully so they could fully understand the show, thus be “with it” and able to talk it about with their friends afterwards.

In an article regarding the last show the Radio Times (dated 26th December 1963) said “Everyone will have their own personal reaction to the departure of a programme that was never merely liked or disliked but aroused passionate debate for and against. Whatever else may be said about TW3, it could never be ignored.” And that certainly seems to have been the case.

Author: A-M

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