28 February 2010

1983: TV-am and Breakfast Time - Breakfast TV Arrives...

Breakfast TV arrived in 1983: on the BBC we had Selina Scott, Frank Bough (in some lovely jumpers) and Francis the weatherman. The style was sofa-based and relaxed.

TV-am, ITV's breakfast time service, was also sofa based but a little more formal as Angela Rippon, Anna Ford, David Frost, Robert Kee and Michael Parkinson, "The Famous Five", set out with their "mission to explain". The mission never really got off the ground, and it wasn't long before "The Famous Five" had been replaced by Anne "don't call me Annie!" Diamond, former sports presenter Nick Owen, weather girl Wincey Willis and Roland Rat - "Yeeaaarrrgggh!".

Here, we take a look back at some of the highs and lows of breakfast TV in the 1980s, beginning with a couple of newspaper articles from 1982, when TV-am was in its planning stages...

Esther Rantzen joined the TV-am enterprise, but dropped out before it reached the screen. Although it was, apparently, "an absurd financial sacrifice" - Daily Mirror, 9/3/1982. TV-am's loss was That's Life's gain as the BBC show continued with its original leading lady at the helm.

From the Sunday People, 6/6/1982...

David Frost means to give us a laugh along with the snap, crackle and pop of his new breakfast TV station.

"I'd like to make the presentation humorous wherever possible," he told me. "People don't like to be hectored in the morning."

And another thing. He wants to scotch the notion that presenters Anna Ford, Angela Rippon, Michael Parkinson, Peter Jay and Frost himself will be flirting with each other on the programme, as some stories have suggested.

"I was giving a talk and saying that the chemistry between the presenters should be allowed to work so they could laugh, disagree and ad-lib with one another," he explained.

"But I never said anything about sexual chemistry.

"Anyway, sometimes it will be Anna and Angela on the show together!"

He laughs a lot old Frostie, which is hardly surprising because the emergence of his new company is certain to put money in the bank, apart from being "the most amazing venture I've ever been involved with."

Frost hopes that "Good Morning Britain", as it will be called, will start early in February.

"It's so marvellous to start something brand new," he said, "where no one says, 'Well this is how we used to do it.'

"The main thing is that it adds up to more than 21 hours of original TV a week - more than any other company. We're not buying big American series."

Apart from the news we hope to include our own items for the shopper. Arts and religion on Sunday."

And good news for parents - "We hope to perform a public service for them by allowing them to lie in while we entertain the children at the weekend.

"We also hope to do a lot of sport - particularly overnight sport from America and Australia."

There's more to read if you click on the picture of the article above. I rather enjoyed David's final comment - speaking about possible problems with early rising for the new venture, and his TV-am colleague, Michael Parkinson, he said:

"Parky says he's going to save time by going to bed dressed."

Sensible man!

From the Daily Mirror, 7/1/1983:

Rise and shine! Here's Diana Moran, the keep-fit instructor who will be putting viewers through their paces early each morning when BBC Breakfast TV starts on January 17.

Diana, who has hopped over to the Beeb from HTV, practices what she preaches. She is in her forties, but regular excercises keep her figure in splendid shape.

Her husband John, a wine merchant director in Bristol, said proudly yesterday: "She certainly doesn't look more than thirty. But the fact is, she has one son who will be 22 next week and another of 19."

An HTV spokesman said sadly: "She must be one of the most beautiful women in Britain and we are sorry to lose her.

"But obviously the BBC breakfast job was an offer she couldn't refuse."

TV-am soon came up with "Mad Lizzie" Webb, a rival for the Green Goddess.

From the Sunday Mirror, 9/1/1983

In eight days’ time, the BBC fire the first shot in the snap, crackle and pop battle of breakfast TV.

The commercial channel joins the fray on February 1.

The Beeb’s fight for breakfast audiences will be spearheaded by Frank Bough and Selina Scott, who has joined them from ITV.

In the BBC’s five days of broadcasting (ITV will be on the air every morning), they promise regular spots on astrology, cooking, gardening, health, reviews of the morning papers and “tasty bits of gossip”.

The attention to detail is shown best in their approach to gardening.

In Plymouth, the climate normally puts plant growth three weeks ahead of other parts of the country.

So, a special garden has been created there to give viewers time to plan their own strategy.

Jolly music, a logo of the rising sun, followed quickly by the genial face of Frank Bough announcing: “A very good morning to you,” will greet viewers at 6.30am.

But programme editor, Ron Neil, has given strict instructions that viewers must be treated gently at such a delicate hour. No boisterous rise and shine or exhortations to get up and going.

The two and a half hour programme will have no special item lasting longer than three minutes in case the bleary-eyed feel they’re getting a lecture with their cornflakes.

There will be no pinstripe suits for the men, who include David Icke on sport and Francis Wilson with the weather.

Pullovers, shirts and ties are more the order of the day.

Selina Scott has been “advised” to go for open neck blouses and a generally casual air.

Glamorous dresses and heavy jewellery are out.

The same goes for newsreader Debbie Rix, who will be giving news bulletins on the hour.

Viewers will also be shown how to keep fit by a lady named Diana Moran who will be dressed in green and nicknamed The Green Goddess!

All this has been noted by commercial TV-am where personalities are clearly going to be trump card. Their main star, David Frost, promises that we are all going to be riveted spell bound to our chairs, toast in hand and marmalade dripping down our cuffs, watching famous people reacting with one another like mad.

Backing him up will be Angela Rippon and Michael Parkinson.

Frost calls it “sexual chemistry”.

TV-am’s Anna Ford is complimentary about the Beeb’s approach.

“There are many things about the BBC that I admire,” she says.

“And they have the weight of the BBC machine behind their show. A lot of experience. But the trouble with experience is that it can turn into a rut if you’re not careful.

“Just look at our breakfasts compared to theirs. The guests on our show will get Bucks Fizz, kedgeree and proper ham and eggs.

“My memory of BBC breakfasts is that you’re landed with a pale half-cooked greasy sausage and thick, lukewarm tea!”

“What we’re doing is totally new,” trumpets Anna. “We’re out on our own.”

It won’t just be the breakfasts that surprise the interviewees when they arrive at TV-am’s headquarters in Camden, London. The entire place - which still resembles a building site at this late hour - has the air of a Hollywood film set.

There is a Chinese pagoda that doubles as a bar. A staircase designed after one leading to an Egyptian tomb.

Live trees will soon sprout from giant tubs in the foyer.

All this cuts no ice with Frank Bough who is more used to the BBC’s changeless corridors.

Frank’s team has a two week start on Anna’s - the BBC show goes on the air in just eight days time.

But with typical BBC meticulousness, since last Monday they have staged “real time pilots” every morning - meaning that the team have to turn up on time and go through the programme as if it were actually being transmitted.

The early hour will not deter MPs from plonking themselves in front of the camera. Ron Neil polled every MP about their willingness to appear and got a 95% response.

“Only three MPs said they would not wish to be disturbed at such an hour.”

They say that curiosity killed the cat. Both the BBC and ITV are praying that curiosity will be the making of them - that viewers who switch on to see what breakfast TV is all about will be hooked.

Meanwhile, just in case anyone at TV-am - where 70% of the staff are women and the average age is 29 - is under the illusion that Frank Bough, having achieved all he has in television, might be getting a little soft in his early middle age, here’s a warning from the man himself.

“When I first got this job,” he says, “one or two people said, ‘Frank, you’ll waltz it.’

“That’s not how I feel at all. It’s a challenge to me, a new adventure. I’ll be giving it every ounce of energy I have.

“For me, it’s like starting again.”


NAME OF SHOW: Breakfast Time


STARTING DATE: Monday, January 17 1983

RUNNING TIME: Two and a half hours (6.30am - 9 am Monday to Friday)

HIGHLIGHTS: Full news bulletins on the hour, summaries every fifteen minutes. Regional news and traffic every fifteen minutes. Guest newspaper reviewers. Resident doctor dealing with an ailment-a-day plus phone-in. Keep-fit with Diana Moran (nicknamed the Green Goddess because she will be dressed in green). Gossip column. Astrologer. Big U.S. coverage.

NAME OF SHOW: Good Morning Britain (preceded by Daybreak)

COMPANY: TV-am (commercial)

STARTING DATE: Tuesday February 1 1983

RUNNING TIME: Three and a quarter hours (6 am - 9.15 am)

HIGHLIGHTS: Four summaries of morning papers. 20 minutes of weather reports. Arts reviews and previews. Travel guide. Keep fit. Cooking with the stars. Fashion and make-up spot. Special weekend programmes - Michael Parkinson hosting sport and leisure show (Saturday), “Rub-a-dub-Tub” children’s show (Sunday). 17 commercial breaks.

This screen capture shows the scene on BBC1 before Breakfast Time went on air for the very first time on 17 January, 1983.

ITV - the scene before TV-am's first broadcast on 1 February, 1983.

Unsettled times at fledgling breakfast television station TV-am. The "Mission To Explain" was aborted, Anne Diamond and Nick Owen took over the sofa, wine flew, and Wincey Willis, "Mad Lizzie" Webb and Roland Rat turned up.

Daily Mirror, 2/6/1983...

BBC news girl Anne Diamond is joining TV-am's troubled breakfast show "Good Morning Britain".

Anne quit "Nationwide" last week claiming they hadn't given her enough to do. She will take over from TV-am's Lynda Berry - who is going on holiday - and join Nick Owen.

Editor Greg Dyke said: "She has got lots of fun and sparkle about her in addition to a good track record as a journalist."

He revealed that they have until December to prove the show is a success.

But Anne isn't worried.

"I do not think it's too much of a gamble to leave the safety of the BBC for TV-am," she said. "I'm sure we've all got a great future."

Daily Mirror, 16/6/1983

Anna Ford took her revenge on the man who sacked her from TV-am by soaking him with wine at a posh party.

She spotted her former boss Jonathan Aitken among the scores of guests, calmly walked up to him and threw her glass of white wine in his face.

"It was a good shot - I hit him four square," 39-year-old Anna said yesterday. "And if I had been a man I would have punched him on the nose."

Mr Aitken, a Tory MP, retorted: "It was a surprise attack, but being the father of three young children I am quite used to dealing with nursery tantrums."

Back to Anna: "I am glad I did it and before Jonathan Aitken criticises my behaviour he should consider his own. He has treated me monsterously and ruined my life."

Mr Aitken and his cousin Timothy fired Anna and Angela Rippon in April. Anna was dismissed for breach of contract after publicly supporting sacked Peter Jay, the breakfast station's original boss.

Her revenge attack came at a post-election party at Lady Melchett's Chelsea home.

Amongst the guests were former Premier James Callaghan, Lord Hailsham, interviewer Sir Robin Day and senior diplomats and their wives. Mr Aitken said: "I was chatting to a former American diplomat and Lady Reay. The next thing I know, a glass of wine hit me in the face.

"Everybody was surprised, to say the least."

He said Anna "scuttled away" without saying a word. "Not true," replied Anna, saying she and her husband Marc Boxer simply decided to leave.

Still the war of words went on. Mr Aitken said Anna was probably upset at the good ratings new presenter Anne Diamond is winning for TV-am.

"Nonsense," replied Anna. And she said she had received "not a penny" of her reported £60,000 golden handshake, now the subject of a legal wrangle.

Any regrets about her attack?

"It was white wine," said Anna. "Now I wish it had been red."

From humble beginnings as TV-am weather girl to the dizzy heights of Treasure Hunt (all right, I know she never actually set foot in Keith's helicopter!), we liked Wincey.

Where has she gone? And was she really called Wincey?

Lizzie ready to exercise. I loved the fashions of the 1980s, the colours worn by women AND men. With the fitness craze raging, workout gear was also trendy and of its time...

Lizzie kept smiling as she showed us the route to fitness.

There was a vogue in the mid-to-late 1980s for women to wear stockbroker/skinhead red braces with their workout gear, as demonstrated by Lizzie here.

TV-am workout woman "Mad Lizzie" Webb was flying high in 1987, with the release of two workout videos. In a late 1980s interview, she recalled how she first came to TV-am...

"I'll never forget my first morning on TV-am in May 1983: I'd never done any television before. I'd taught in stage schools, and was at the Italia Conti school when Lena Zavaroni and Bonnie Langford were there - but I had no intention at that time of being on TV myself.

"Then Greg Dyke was brought in to save TV-am from closure, and he wanted a dance teacher to combat the BBC's Green Goddess, Diana Moran. His assistant mentioned she went to a class given by 'a mad girl called Lizzie'. He started calling me Mad Lizzie before we even met.

"The assistant rang me, but I said I was already happy with what I was doing. Then she rang again and said: 'He's pleading with me so at least meet him'. I agreed - and a week later I was on the air, live.

"We'd had no rehearsals. The stage manager was waving his hands about and I hadn't a clue what the signals meant. Then Nick Owen said: 'We have Mad Lizzie, doing some excercises,' and I was on.

"I stood in front of the sofa with Nick sitting right by me - he was in camera shot and desperately trying to edge out. I shook from head to toe. I could see my fingers shaking. That was four and a half years ago and I can still remember that feeling of not knowing what I was about.

"It was a magic moment, and unforgettable because the feelings inside me were so strong, but I couldn't show them. The slot only lasted about three minutes, but to me it seemed to go on and on. Afterwards, there was a great feeling of relief - and then I just collapsed in a heap."

I remember Lizzie being relentlessly bright eyed and bushy tailed at obscene hours of the morning as I readied myself for work. But I liked her. She seemed genuinely enthusiastic, friendly and jolly.

I particularly remember her catchphrase: "shake it out!"

But at that time of the morning I preferred to slouch.

Still, Lizzie was one of a number of factors in the fitness-mad 80s that set me thinking and, finally, ambling off to the gym. I'm thankful, because although in my early 40s, I still workout a little and feel pretty darned fit!

A 1988 magazine profile of Mr Mallett.

Before 1983, there was no television early in the morning. As kids in the 1970s, we used to make our own amusement. Times was 'ard.

I remember getting stuck in my wardrobe early one morning during the summer holidays, c. 1973...

I'd been pretending that the wardrobe was a Tardis, had gone inside, made a weird, wheezing groaning noise in imitation of the materialisation sound, and, on trying to step out on to the lush and probably hostile surface of the planet Zarkoff (or some such), found that the door was stuck and I was trapped. My terrified cries finally brought my parents from their bed.

1980s children were spared such traumas, and 1980s parents could snooze peacefully. Well, they could from 1983 onwards. Children could sit, square eyed, lost in the colourful world of TV-am's children's fare.

Rub-a-Dub-Tub, Roland Rat and The Wide Awake Club were amongst the pioneering shows in this brave new world of breakfast telly, and a much-loved hero of mid-to-late 80s children was one Timmy Mallett, who presented The Wide Awake Club and, in the school holidays from October 1985 onwards, Wacaday.

Wacaday featured pop (and other) guests, the lovely Michaela Strachan as a presenter (for a while, anyway), features from around the world, games, and several odds and ends like "Drop Your Toast".

"Drop Your Toast?!" I hear you cry. "Whatever's that?!" It was all quite simple. In this slot viewers' names would be read out in the hope that the shock would make them drop their toast!

In the summer of 1986, a word association game called Mallett's Mallet was added to the proceedings. It included the large pink and yellow mallet in the photograph - contestants going off the rails would be hit with it!

In 1990, a smaller mallet called Pinky Punky made his debut. Apparently he often wanted to go to the toilet.

Yes, really.

Inspired lunacy, great entertainment for kids of all ages and no need to go anywhere near the wardrobe.

Relive it all


. said...

What an excellent post!

Anonymous said...

Wincey's christian name is Winsome, apparently.