Tonight’s Granada… in 1969 

27 September 2017

The TVTimes tells us what was on Granada on Saturday 27 September 1969. Things worth noting include:

“Good afternoon, Mr Muir – nice office you have here at LWT. We’d like to pitch an idea for a new comedy series, featuring a naive schoolteacher and his unruly pupils.”

“Billy Bunter? No, think East End of London. Yes, do have some more coffee, please…”

“So this newly-qualified school teacher – we thought John Alderton maybe? – takes on the worst class in the school. Spivs and wide-boys, a kid with special needs, a plain girl who’s got a crush on the teacher, and a VERY well-developed girl. All with Hearts of Gold!”

“You’re going pale, Frank. You hear the BBC turned down the scripts? Well, I’m not sure that’s quite… Have some of your delicious biscuits!”

I’ve no idea if that was the pitch when John Esmonde and Bob Larbey brought their idea to Frank Muir, Head of Comedy at London Weekend Television, but I can definitely say that Please Sir! – like LWT’s On The Buses – was of its time. No one objected then to sexually precocious schoolgirls showing rather too much thigh: it was the age of St Trinian’s films, after all.

We are all a little more “civilised” now.

That said, as a teenager, I loved Please Sir!, and followed the stories of voluptuous Sharon, “slow-witted” Dennis, love-struck Maureen, “pretending to be tough” Frankie, and lovable rogue Eric. They were more innocent school days. BO. Before Ofsted.

Please Sir! was used to attract audiences for a weekend night’s viewing. And Granadaland audiences certainly needed something to attract them this particular Saturday. The film offering that followed, Tiger by the Tail, was lacklustre. When aired, it was 14 years old – and Larry Parks and Constance Smith were unlikely to excite a 1969 audience. Time Out describes it as a “low budgeter” while the Radio Times sniffs “a tatty little tale”. Make no mistake, this was a Saturday in the Autumn schedules – no Summer fill-in when nobody was watching anyway. Granada – what were you thinking??!

Turning to the start of Granada’s programming on Saturday, 27 September 1969, the first 85 minutes came “free”, or at least did not form part of the quota of broadcasting hours imposed on every ITV company. Educational programmes didn’t count. All About Horses must have cleared the playgrounds of most adolescent girls (and a few boys) – golly gosh, Jessica, it’s the 1950’s Seeing Sport, revamped! Producing company Yorkshire TV would have made sure that “worthy” programmes like this featured heavily in promotional literature (and the ITV Yearbook): ITV companies needed to show they had a mission to educate just as much as the BBC.

Stay Alive was an adult education programme of unknown pedigree. No ITV credit in TVTimes. Even IMDb shrugs its shoulders.

And then Families Talking. “Eee, lad – them were t’days. When you could make a 25-minute programme of talking heads, and still have change of a fiver.” Except it’s LWT, so probably, “Cor blimey, mate – them were the days… etc.”

Other ITV companies seemed underwhelmed by this package: Border and “Midland” screened Stay Alive, followed by All Our Yesterdays – was Brian Inglis considered educational? And what’s with “Midland” – TVTimes, surely you can work out that it was ATV! Harlech meanwhile threw caution to the wind and went with children’s television, Tinker and Taylor – tune in at 1216, children. Please note, NOT 1215!

But there was serious television afoot – four hours of sport, introduced by Richard (did “Dickie” come later?) Davies. It was a “grand” programme, mostly live, with contributions from Leicestershire (ATV?), North Yorkshire (definitely YTV!), Poland (Eurovision?), Crystal Palace and Wembley (generally pre-recorded, LWT or Thames?). World of Sport was not a bad title either: it was a Saturday afternoon fixture for decades – hard to believe it’s all gone.

If anyone needed to contact my grandparents, 4pm on a Saturday afternoon was NOT the time to choose. They lived for the weekly ITV wrestling, and took it all seriously. Of course it wasn’t acting! For 60 minutes, two sedate Southend-on-Sea pensioners would be raging and waving at the screen. Oh, Kent Walton (uncredited?) – you have a lot to answer for!

My strongest memory of Results Round Up was how long the end credits could be. If the programme under-ran, they didn’t bother with fillers, and rolling titles of 2 minutes or more could be expected. Fortunately, the music that accompanied these credits creeping up the screen was one of the all-time great themes. Great television, by accident.

A to Zoo from Granada introduced an animal focus on Saturday teatime television in 1969. This ITV company had made its mark with live animal programmes years earlier when Desmond Morris presented Zoo Time from London Zoo. Apparently, Granada’s Sidney Bernstein was best mates with the London Zoological Society’s Secretary, Solly Zuckerman, and thus began an exclusive partnership with the Zoo way back in 1956, long before Anglia’s Survival series appeared.

Woobinda – Animal Doctor was an Australian television series, prompted by the phenomenal success of Skippy.

By the bottom of the fourth column, the TVTimes copy writer had lost the will to live, or just run out of space. Made by LWT, The Saturday Crowd was a moderately successful variety show that ran for two seasons, and starred Leslie Crowther, Sheila Bernette and Peter Gordeno. Neighbouring regions aired the show 30 minutes later, and preceded it by Wheel of Fortune. Belt and braces.

Coordination in Saturday night prime time scheduling on the ITV network just did not happen, with neighbouring companies choosing to fit programmes around a 1:55 feature film, while Granada showed a shorter film (1:30) and ran an episode from an adventure series, Strange Report, made by Arena Productions/ITC out of the ATV stable.

Pertti Jarla from Helsinki wrote this in IMDb: “The Strange Report is nowadays quite forgotten compared to the other ITV adventures like The Saint, Danger Man etc. Only one season was ever made. This isn’t, however, because the series flopped; in fact the truth is quite the opposite. The Strange Report was an ambitious series, starring Anthony Quayle as a master detective utilising top science and psychological skill instead of fists and guns. It got good reviews and was very popular in the UK. ITV got so excited, they thought they had a break at the US market and decided to film the second season in the States. As Strange as it may sound, Quayle and his female sidekick, Anneke Wills, decided they didn’t feel like travelling, and the series was axed! How does the series, killed by its popularity, look now? It has a nice swinging 60s look, but it has its problems. Kaz Garas as the male sidekick Hamlyn Gynt(?) is quite a bland character, and although Anthony Quayle does a competent job, Mr Strange isn’t charismatic. It is, however, a quality show, good scripts, good acting, decent production values. The Strange Report genuinely favours wit over action. Strange can talk the criminal to put down his gun instead of the usual shooting and chasing. Definitely a show worth checking out.”

Leap-frogging around the page layout (was the office junior put onto page design that week?), we get to the main cultural offering of the evening – at 10.10pm, Gwen Watford and Antony Hopkins in a one-hour play. The internet has little to say about this production: this was its first airing, and probably its last.

Frost on Saturday was one of three shows made each week by LWT featuring David Frost, the others being Frost on Friday and Frost on Sunday. In 1968 Frost had signed a contract worth £125,000 to appear on American television in his own show three evenings a week. From 1969 to 1972, Frost kept his London shows as well, and made weekly flights back and forth across the Atlantic. No wonder the man eventually died of a heart attack.

Friday’s programme tended to be an interview with one person – boxer Muhammad Ali, politician Enoch Powell and heart surgeon Christiaan Barnard among them. Saturday was more showbiz, with several guests – for example, Frankie Howerd, Dusty Springfield, George Best, Dame Edna and Manitas DePlata appeared on one programme. On Sunday, the emphasis was on comedy: Ronnie Corbett, Ronnie Barker and Josephine Tewson appeared in many On Sundays – and on one occasion, the actors who played the teacher and pupils in Please Sir! were guests on the show. Which would be a fine point on which to end this report, starting and finishing with Bernard Hedges and the Fenn Street children.

Except that would be to ignore the elephant in the room.

This TVTimes edition was an emergency publication. The apology appears on page 3: “This edition of the TVTimes gives a full programme guide to the week ahead: but the continuing dispute at the printers again means the loss of most of our regular features. We apologise…”

A report in “The History of Sun Printers” explains: “1969 – Five weeks of production work are lost, as are several contracts, because of an electricians’ strike in the gravure machine room. At Sun Printers the rate of pay for a compositor (member of the Typographical Association union) is now roughly £30/hr [£480/hr at 2017 prices] for a 40-hr work week. This same year, the Linotype department is closed down for want of work, and a number of compositors are made redundant.”

With the benefit of hindsight, one can see this was a death throe of a whole industry. Roger Rolph worked at Sun Printers in 1961 and then Odhams in 1969. In 2008, he wrote: “What happened to cause the closure of these very successful printing houses? Odhams alone produced some 11 million plus magazine copies per week… while Sun Printers printed TV Times…

“Well, in a few words, technology changes, advertiser changes and corporation changes. The ascent of technology meant that a new competitor had arrived for the long-run magazine market, which the gravure houses had all to themselves for close to 50 years. With cheaper printing production costs over photogravure – wraparound printing plates versus three-quarters of a ton photogravure printing cylinders – the pressure was on for change.

“Corporations could see the final pieces of the jigsaw coming together for the next generation of magazine and printing production, and it did not require the massive press rooms of Odhams and Sun Printers.”

Huge print houses like Odhams and Sun Printers closing down? Why it was as unlikely as the disappearance of ITV programme contractors! Granada, Thames, LWT, ATV and Yorkshire – they’d go on for ever, surely!

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15 responses to this article

Arthur Nibble 27 September 2017 at 11:51 am

A schoolgirl being attacked on a common sounds pretty heavy going for an edition of “Please Sir!”. Talking of which, in real life John Alderton is barely seven years older than his cover star pupil Penny Spencer, who appears to have retired from acting a few years later, possibly due to being typecast in less than Shakespearean projects.

Arthur Nibble 27 September 2017 at 12:11 pm

Me again! I’m intrigued by the Welsh alternative programme “Hyd a Lled”, which translates and “Length and Width”, but can’t find anything out about it. Any takers?

Dave Rhodes 27 September 2017 at 12:56 pm

The premise of the play sounds good, and Gwen Watford’s usually worth watching, but of course, it’s ATV, and therefore ‘missing’.

Westy 27 September 2017 at 2:57 pm

Dunno when her last acting credit was, but I saw Penny Spencer in one of the David Jason ‘Lucky Feller’ episodes that Gold are rescreening after all these years.

How about a David Jason feature at some point, that doesn’t concentrate on his career from Only Fools onwards?

It’s strange how he’s suddenly relented over screening certain early material.

Wouldn’t have minded seeing ‘Edgar Briggs’ as well!

Geoff Nash 27 September 2017 at 4:37 pm

From what I recall of this period the ITV companies had more or less waved the white flag on Saturday nights. LWT had haemorrhaged viewers with it’s highbrow programming and BBC1 walked in almost claiming the Saturday audience to themselves. It’s as if the 7 day companies left the burden of weekend programming to LWT allowing them to spread their better shows across the week.

Richard Jones 27 September 2017 at 5:19 pm

Hyd a Lled was a quiz – and that’s all I know about it!!

Nigel Stapley 27 September 2017 at 5:53 pm

“…Richard (did “Dickie” come later?) Davies…”

Curiously, there may be a connection between the two main programmes discussed in this piece.

I’m fairly sure that Dickie became Dickie to avoid confusion with the Richard Davies who appeared as Price the science teacher in Please, Sir!

Nigel Stapley 27 September 2017 at 6:01 pm

Oh, and a reply to Arthur:

Hyd A Lled is somewhat before my time (and we couldn’t get Harlech – aka ‘The Welsh’ – round our way at that time, especially not with a Band I/III aerial mounted on a wooden post in the back garden because it had been blown off the roof. It was OK for Winter Hill because th back garden faced out that way).

The title does mean ‘Length And Breadth’, with the ‘…of the country’ understood

Alan Keeling 27 September 2017 at 8:43 pm

Woobinda – Animal Doctor was at episode 22 of this Australian series about a vet, filmed on grainy 16mm stock, whilst later on in the evening, the anglo-American series, Strange Report was on its 5th episode, but ran for only a short season.

Jeremy Rogers 27 September 2017 at 10:11 pm

Richard Davies was always called Dickie by his wife and friends etc, but was credited more formally as Richard on TV until Jimmy Hill persuaded him that he should insist on being called Dickie as it sounded more friendly and was what he was known as anyway. Can’t really imagine Jimmy Hill being billed as James …

Mark Jeffries 28 September 2017 at 8:27 pm

Actually, David Frost’s American series for Westinghouse Broadcasting was five days a week–he’d record five 90-minute shows over Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in a Broadway district theater called the Little Theater and fly back to London Thursday evening. For the American series, there was a live band led by the eminent jazz musician, broadcaster and educator Billy Taylor, but “By George!” was still the theme music. The show opened every day with a close-up of Frost running down the guest lineup and then cuing Taylor by saying “OK Billy!” Cut to animation over shot of stage and applause as Frost entered.

And most of you should know that the “Wheel of Fortune” in the regions was a different quiz–we’re about 6 1/2 years away from the American premiere of Merv Griffin’s version of Hangman.

Victor Field 29 September 2017 at 7:46 pm

Anthony Quayle didn’t mind going to Australia to do the tops and tails for “The Evil Touch,” which didn’t rate a peak slot on ITV as far as I know.

Paul Mason 1 October 2017 at 9:21 am

Where do I start? Dickie Davies (from Huyton,near Liverpool) was a 70s creation.

Talking about the 1970s the TV Times was printed at the long demolished Eric Bemrose printers in Aintree.

Another sadder Liverpool connection was Liz Gebhardt from Please Sir,hailed from here but died of cancer aged 50.

Please Sir was supposedly inspired by the Sidney Poitiers film To Sir With Love but that wasn’t a comedy.

I always thought A to Zoo was presented by Dr. Desmond Morris, although that I may have confused with Zoo Time. DM will be 90 next year, all being well.

Woobinda is a name I had long (and just as well) forgotten.Another serving of Antipodean sheep-dip, there is more in the TV Times than in the Wikipedia page.

Wheel of Fortune was the short lived Michael Miles devised show but Granada didn’t take it. Miles died in 1971.

As for David Frost he supposedly took one of his shows from Simon Dee, probably the Friday one.
David Frost aged rapidly but he lived into his 70s. He died on the Cunard liner Queen Elizabeth during a cruise, He may have been giving talks on board in front of an audience.

Alan Keeling 2 October 2017 at 3:52 pm

Yes, Paul it seems the you’ve confused A to Zoo with Zoo Time. A to Zoo was was filmed on 16mm film stock in 1960 at London Zoo for Granada TV. Each programme dealt with a different letter of the alphabet, with 13 episodes. The series producer was Derek Twist who worked on the Douglas Fairbanks presents (1953/57) tv series.

Andy Roberts 31 May 2020 at 4:03 pm

Sexually precocious schoolgirls haven’t gone away – see the Jack Whitehall vehicle Bad Education for evidence. It’s basically Please Sir with so much post-postmodern irony it’s virtually the same show. PS Always thought Dickie Davies came from my former hometown of Wallasey, the other side of the Mersey from Huyton.

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