Tonight’s ABC-TV… in 1959 

20 September 2017 tbs.pm/13854

The TV Times tells us what was on ABC in the North on Sunday 20 September 1959.

Ah, TVTimes cover stars Hughie Green and Michael Miles – four years after the birth of ITV (Incidentally, Happy Birthday ITV for 22 September! Your present itv management won’t remember.)… I digress, four years after the birth of ITV, is it too much to hail these quizmasters – or quiz inquisitors – as among the saviours of Associated-Rediffusion, and thus Independent Television?

Hughie Green’s Double Your Money and Take Your Pick with Michael Miles were mainstays of ITV programming from the very start in 1955. Both had begun on Radio Luxembourg, so arrived on our screens with a loyal audience. I’m surprised to see “Double Your Money” being broadcast as late as 8.35pm on Monday nights in 1959; in subsequent years, it was moved to earlier in the schedules to pull in the prime-time audience.

According to Wikipedia, Double Your Money ran for 260 thirty-minute episodes. Throughout its time, the show was one of the most consistently popular programmes on British television. The quiz format was similar to The 64,000 Dollar Question, with prize money approximately doubling at each question up to £1,000. When contestants hit the £1,000 Treasure Trail, they were placed in a sound-proofed “isolation booth”, where the fan was turned off and the temperature grew, making contestants sweat and look nervous.

Take Your Pick was the first game show broadcast on UK commercial television. At the start of the show, contestants would answer a series of questions without using the words yes or no, in what was known as the “Yes-No Interlude”. If they said yes or no, they were gonged off the stage. However, if they lasted a minute, contestants could answer more questions to win modest monetary prizes. At the climax, contestants would be offered the choice of whether to “take the money” (take all money they had earned so far) or “open the box”, which could contain good prizes such as a holiday or a washing machine. It could also contain booby prizes such as a mousetrap or a bag of sweets.

Neither Green nor Miles enjoyed a good press over the years. Hughie Green was often mocked for his permanent door-to-door salesman’s smile, his Canadian accent and his catchphrase “I mean that most sincerely folks”. He had numerous affairs; his children described family life as “highly dysfunctional”. He fathered his first illegitimate child when he was 17, but his most notorious act became public knowledge after he died of lung cancer and the News of the World revealed him to be the biological father of producer Jess Yates’ daughter, Paula. Paula only learned about this from reading the newspaper.

Michael Miles’ ill-treatment was less deserved. Rumours of an alcohol problem were unfounded; he in fact had epilepsy and often locked himself in his dressing room, ashamed of his condition.

Turning now to programmes for Sunday, 20 September, 1959, ABC Television ruled the weekend roost both in the North and in the Midlands. Hence their justification for calling themselves a Network. This edition of the TVTimes served both sides of the Pennines, it was only later that the 7-day Lancashire franchise was awarded to Granada, and Yorkshire Television began broadcasting from Leeds.

The ITV companies had worked out that religious programmes and adult education programmes were exempt from the strict broadcasting hours quota imposed by the GPO. So Southern’s church service from Worthing, the farming OB and ABC’s book programme are free of quota. “Proper” broadcasting only begins with a 1941 Ealing Comedy film starring Will Hay as a hapless schoolteacher, his classic role. Ninety minutes of “showbiz soccer” is squeezed – probably mercifully – into under half an hour courtesy of ABC Midlands’ OB unit, and then Bob Monkhouse occupies a game-show slot he was to own in future years when The Golden Shot was developed.

5.45pm sees a programme guaranteed to get TBS followers’ juices flowing. Advertising magazines were a desperate attempt by ITV companies to generate more advertising revenue – they were permitted, for a while, by the ITA rather than see these commercial companies fail. The programmes, often broadcast live, often included demonstrations of the products being advertised. What could possibly go wrong…?! The blurb in the programme listing announces the programme is intended for “housewives, homemakers and husbands” – oh, how things would change half a century later! Further information about the products shown was available from ABC’s Manchester offices, so my guess is that a similar programme was being transmitted at the same time for Midlands viewers from studios in Birmingham.

In the very early days of ITV, all UK television closed down on a Sunday from 6pm to 7pm – because that was when Evensong would be sung in churches throughout the land. And the UK was a nation of churchgoers. Well, sufficiently for the GPO to impose a television blackout. Oh, how things would change half a century later!

But along came TWW with the brilliant idea of Land of Song/Gwlad Y Gân – oooh, there’s nice! Starring Ivor Emmanuel, not forgetting the Pontcanna Children’s Choir, the programme featured rousing Welsh singing and dancing. It placated the authorities, it educated a lot of people (including me!) that there was a country called Wales, and it gave employment to a lot of singers and dancers, some of whom were actually Welsh. When you consider that the BBC’s all singing and dancing show was The Black and White Minstrel Show, Land of Song emerges with grace and dignity.

Some years later, Land of Song was beset by a row over pay. The local Welsh singers realised their fees were very small compared with the fees being paid to the orchestral musicians and dancers brought in from London. TWW had not regarded the Welsh singers as full-time professional musicians and their rates were therefore much lower, despite the main burden of work falling so heavily upon them. The Musician’s Union stepped in and, after negotiation, TWW agreed to offer the local singers professional rates. But this in turn put a heavier burden on the show’s budget, and the producers seized the crisis as an opportunity to review and “refresh” the show.

But let’s cut to the chase. The highlight of the day’s programming has to be Val Parnell’s Sunday Night at the London Palladium. If you ever watched it in its heyday, the filmed opening titles will set the hairs prickling on your neck. So simple, dammit – ATV logo (zoom in), super on fireworks, mix to title card (zoom in), mix to front of theatre still, mix to Palladium sign on diagonal, then Palladium on the other diagonal, star wipe to film of audience entering theatre, then doorway wipe to live shot of audience seated… It’s classic telly.

Curtains open on the Tiller Girls. My, they were athletes! Hoofing up and down the stage, smiling, and never a step wrong. Their extraordinary feet were an extraordinary feat. (Sorry.)

Bruce Forsyth comperes “Beat the Clock” from the Palladium show in 1961

And then Bruce Forsyth! In his final years, National Treasure though he was, I’m afraid I found him hard-going. But he landed the role of Palladium Show compère in 1958, after years of travelling the UK, working seven days a week, doing summer seasons, pantomimes and circuses, specialising in a strong-man act! Suddenly, he was hot property. His presence in front of thousands of people in the theatre and millions watching at home was breathtaking. I was age 10, and even I could see it.

The middle part of the Palladium Show was a game called “Beat The Clock”. The format was an import from America where it was a popular stand-alone show. In the UK, though, it was a 15-minute interlude before the star act. But Bruce brought his unique talent to the segment – a precursor to The Generation Game and similar shows. Contestants were asked to do silly things, aided and abetted by Bruce. Sometimes he would slip the winning tennis ball into the basket with impish glee and the whole nation would love him for it! I loved it especially when the segment threatened to overrun, Bruce had to gabble faster and faster, the curtains closed on him as he uttered the final word. Cut unforgivingly to commercials. Brilliant stuff!

Oh, and the Palladium Show could entice the biggest international stars. This week, “for the first time in your homes”, Jane Russell. That is impressive. Other guests over the years included Bill Haley, Chubby Checker and Sammy Davis, Jr; Judy Garland, Bob Hope and Johnnie Ray; Liberace, Petula Clark, the Seekers, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

The show always ends using the huge revolving stage where the Tiller Girls, the compere and the night’s guests stand beside giant Palladium letters as it slowly revolves to the familiar end tune of the show. I would have loved – just once – to see behind the curtains after they closed.

Terrific showmanship. Well done, ATV.

As distinguished a part of ITV, in its own way, ABC’s Armchair Theatre completes the Sunday peak time offerings. English character actress Hermione Baddeley stars this week in a play specially written for Armchair Theatre. The production credits Sydney Newman as producer, a Canadian who played a pioneering role in British television drama from the late 1950s to the late 1960s. He initiated two hugely popular television programmes, the spy-fi series The Avengers and the science-fiction series Doctor Who, as well as overseeing the production of Armchair Theatre and other groundbreaking social realist drama series such as The Wednesday Play (BBC).

Fellow Canadian William Kotcheff was responsible for directing this and some of the best-remembered Armchair Theatre productions. During another play, Underground, transmitted live on 30 November 1958, Kotcheff was required to cope with one of the actors suddenly dying while between two of his scenes. More successfully, Kotcheff also directed the following year’s No Trams to Lime Street by Welsh playwright Alun Owen.

The final programme of the evening, before the Epilogue, reports regional election news from studios (really?!) in Manchester. (Sorry, Yorkshire viewers, your time will come.) A UK General Election was to be held on 8 October 1959. It was the third consecutive victory for the ruling Conservative Party, led by Harold Macmillan. Both future Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe and future Conservative leader and eventual Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher first entered Parliament at this election.

Father Columba Ryan of Hawkesyard Priory, Rugeley, gave a late-night thought before close-down. He was an early pioneer of religious broadcasting, producing and narrating films about the religious life. Living on the edge of Cannock Chase in the Midlands, he delivered the Epilogue across both ABC regions from the Birmingham studio.

And finally… take another look at the front cover. Let’s be charitable, in the days before PhotoShop, the image was a valiant effort – but how many elements had to be cobbled together to produce it? It’s a scalpel and paste job from at least three different pictures, surely? Was the “rivalry” between Michael Miles and Hughie Green a double bluff? Could they really not bear to be in the same photographic studio together?

Whatever the truth, nearly fifty eight years later

Double Your Money, and try to get rich.
Double Your Money, without any hitch.
Double Your Money, it’s your lucky day.
Double Your Money, and take it away!

and

“This is your quiz inquisitor, Michael Miles, saying good night, good luck and cheerio to you all. Good night everybody!”

are still firmly stuck in my memory. That’s an astonishing legacy for two quiz programmes. Thank you ITV.


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11 responses to this article

Pete Singleton 20 September 2017 at 11:46 am

A great piece that evoked many memories David.

The contestants on TYP I believe we’re just ‘picked’ out of the audience, so there would be a lady in one of those coats all buttoned up, hat and National health specs and all. No pretence of looking like they were dressed up for the occasion!

Surviving recordings of ‘Palladium’ show some members of the audience smoking. Surely a sign of the times! I always tried to catch a glimpse of the main camera at the back of the stalls too, when audience shots were selected. Your description of the opening titles is spot on and now my musical ear worm of the day is ‘da-da, da da da da da, da-da…’

It’s hard to imagine now just how much TV was a family affair on a Sunday evening in those days. Or am I just looking through my rose coloured spectacles? No, I don’t believe I am!

Alan Keeling 20 September 2017 at 11:47 am

Tomahawk was the British title for the Canadian series called Radisson, produced by Omega Productions/Radio Canada at Montreal Studios, this 1957 series was fairly similar to ITC’s Hawkeye. Tomahawk had a second showing on Saturday afternoons in 1963 & was distributed by Associated British Pathe.

Arthur Nibble 20 September 2017 at 1:54 pm

Jane Russell’s recording career included a stint in a female gospel quartet who had a two-million selling US top 30 single in 1954.

I wonder if the director of “Music Shop” was the same Reg Owen (a well known orchestrator, composer and conductor) who’d had a US top 10 and UK top 20 hit earlier in the year with “Manhattan Spritual”?

Alan Keeling 20 September 2017 at 3:55 pm

“Storm Riders” was episode 8 of Cheyenne from season 1 of the series (1955/56), in fact Cheyenne was part of a rotating series under the umbrella title of Warner Brothers presents…. Cheyenne was shown every 3 weeks & alternated with other series such as Kings Row & Casablanca.

Alan Keeling 20 September 2017 at 4:00 pm

“Night Flight” is episode 12 of The Flying Doctor (1959). The series had mainly a British cast & was filmed at ABPC studios at Elstree with location filming in Australia. Repeat runs were shown up to the mid-sixties.

Royston Mayoh 20 September 2017 at 4:42 pm

You may be interested to know that one young man on Double Your Money managed to get to the Treasure Trail.He won, in the green room after he approached HUGHIE GREEN and offered his services as a Manager. Green explained that if a manager could get more work that Green could himself then YES! He would like manager. The contestant left. The following week that very same contestant came back and plonked a contract for a years ‘personal appearances’ for Hughie. It was worth a small fortune. The contestant also had another contract with him. It was a commitment that this contestant would become HUGHIE GREENS MANAGER on a undisclosed percentage. Both contracts were signed!! End of story !!!
Oh! The name of the student/contestant/new manager
It was a very young JOHN HEYMAN who stayed as Hughies manager and also went on to be a very influential FILM PRODUCER and become Father of DAVID HEYMAN Producer of the HARRY POTTER FILMS.

David Heathcote 20 September 2017 at 5:52 pm

I was conscious when I wrote this article that it would be read by those with a greater knowledge of ITV than I had, and especially of ABC Television and Associated-Rediffusion.

It’s good to hear a positive story about Hughie Green, and how he got a manager. Thank you, Royston!

Paul Mason 22 September 2017 at 1:12 am

Double Your Money and Take Your Pick I remember from childhood. Both came off with the 1968 franchise changes.
The Music Shop I don’t remember but Teddy Johnson and his wife Pearl Carr entered Eurovision with Sing Little Birdie, which gladly I don’t remember. The only stand out thing about this couple is they were born TJ in 1919 and PC in 1920 and they are STILL ALIVE but retired. They may be the first (former) celebrity couple to reach 100, all being well.

Paul Mason 22 September 2017 at 1:16 am

Apologies. Teddy Johnson was born in 1920 and Pearl Carr in 1923, making them 97 and 94, so 100 is a bit of a stretch yet, but still they are alive.

Geoff Nash 24 September 2017 at 3:58 pm

After the ’68 franchise changes “Take Your Pick” morphed slightly into Southern’s “Wheel Of Fortune” (not to be confused with STV’s version in the ’80s) even having the same signature music, I think it may have even included the Yes-No Interlude as well. I may be wrong on this but I do remember it looking somewhat familiar.

Similarly Yorkshire’s “The Sky’s The Limit” seemed to have certain similarities with “Double Your Money” especially towards the end with contestants being placed in the ‘Pressurised Cabin’ akin to the soundproofed ‘Isolation Booth’.

Paul Mason 1 October 2017 at 11:51 pm

Granada took The Sky’s The Limit but NOT the Michael Miles Wheel Of Fortune. Granada were always picky about what they took from the network. Granada missed the first few seasons of Sale Of The Century, only bending in 1974.

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