The Jubilee line

Sunday, October 14, 2007 by

Five years ago, Channel 4 was so miserable the only mention of its 20th anniversary came from Richard Whiteley on Countdown. Happily – presumably to cheer themselves up after a rather grim year – they’re making much more effort in celebrating their silver jubilee, with More4 screening archive shows every night in October. For my money, the most intriguing so far was Friday’s repeat of The Tube.

For all its legendary status, The Tube seems to have been distilled in recent years into just a handful of “greatest hits” – performances from The Jam or Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Paula talking about Sting’s underpants and the story about Jools saying “fuck”. That’s why it was great to get a rare chance to see a whole 100 minutes of an episode, especially as when the show was actually running my idea of great music TV was Shakin’ Stevens on Saturday SuperStore. It’s kudos to More4 that they selected the final episode of the first series, first broadcast on 18 March 1983, which despite featuring a slowly-becoming-very-famous U2 as guests was in all other regards a completely bog-standard normal episode rather than an atypical special.

The biggest surprise, perhaps, was how little Paula Yates actually contributed to the programme – she can’t have spent more than about five minutes on screen in the whole thing. Indeed, some of the items, including a brief interview with Bono, were instead presented by a man called Mike Everett, who was apparently supposed to have been a regular host but was unable to do so as he was in prison when it started. Meanwhile Muriel Gray’s only role on the show was to introduce the hosts of Switch, the show that was replacing The Tube the following week (“Straight after The Addams Family!”).

Oddest of all, though, was a very long film – 25 minutes, in fact – on the music scene in Northern Ireland, linked by a DJ from Downtown Radio and featuring performances from four or five local bands. You’d never see anything like that, in terms of length or style, on music TV these days, but it was clearly worth doing, as all the interviewees pointed out that Northern Ireland, at the time, basically didn’t have a music industry, with one or two tiny record labels operating out of bedrooms and one radio show. It’s hard to imagine in these days of MySpace that bands could make their first ever national TV appearance and be completely unknown to all but about a dozen people in Belfast.

Of course the show itself turned out to be as shambolic as its legend suggests, with Paul Young just turning up for no reason and Jools trying to be as rude as possible (pronouncing “balcony” as “bollock-ony”, which particularly amused Paula). Jeremy Isaacs said one of the things he liked most about The Tube was that Tyne Tees didn’t just devote a studio to it but its entire building, and indeed there was a genuine sense of an event about proceedings that can only happen when it’s the biggest thing in town.

The repeat was certainly an eye-opening watch and illustrates how fascinating it is to see a live show in its entirety many years on without all the contemporary stuff (“Straight after The Addams Family!”) being edited out. Well done to More4 for some smart archive rummaging. Can we have a complete Saturday Live next, please?


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