Live from the Palladium – what went on in the commercial break

Of course, the current ITV Sunday Night at the Palladium isn’t the first time the commercial network has staged a big weekly show from the most famous variety theatre in the world. Or even the second. Or the third, if you count the 1970s ATV revival as a separate show, which I do. Sadly, the current show, while a very creditable effort, isn’t live, and lacks the oomph of a real living orchestra in the pit. LWT’s Live from the Palladium had one of the best bands in the business, led by Alyn Ainsworth.

Have you ever watched a live television show and wondered what went on in the commercial breaks? Well, one of the things that can be achieved in the two or three minutes is to record a couple of theme tune stings for flying into the show later. On 9 October 1988, the top of the bill on LWT’s Live from the Palladium was singer Dionne Warwick. For her spot, Ainsworth’s chaps (with a couple of exceptions, including the great Harold Fisher on drums, Dionne having brought her own drummer and pianist) had to decamp from their position in the orchestra pit to the Palladium stage, and had only two and a half minutes to get there. To buy them a little time, the end of part two and part three stings were pre-recorded during the first break, and here, courtesy of a studio tape, is what happened.


Peter Prichard

I’ve just heard the sad news that Peter Prichard, agent and manager to the likes of Bob Monkhouse, Jimmy Tarbuck and Ray Alan, has died. He was very helpful to me when I was writing Turned Out Nice Again, and when I interviewed him in his office, I asked him about a story I’d been told by Jack Parnell. Peter confirmed that it was exactly as Jack had told it. Here’s how it appeared in the book.

“The international guest stars at the Royal Variety Performance were not always best remembered for their performance, such as Mario Lanza’s involvement in the 1957 show. Grade agent and personal friend Peter Prichard had been deputed to keep an eye on the singer and notorious drunk. Unfortunately, a rehearsal call caught Lanza asleep, and he rose from his slumber to hit Prichard. Prichard explained what had happened to Leslie Grade, whose first reaction was that treating one of his agents like this was unacceptable, and that Lanza should be removed from the show. Pragmatism prevailed and Grade replied ‘Peter, let him do his song, then, when he comes off, hit him back’. Word of the altercation soon got out, and resulted in a Daily Mirror reporter doorstepping Prichard’s grandmother. Explaining what had happened in the hope of eliciting more information, the reporter was told “Oh, most probably. Peter fights all the kids in the street”. Momentarily, in his aged relative’s mind, the successful theatrical agent had regressed to being a Shepherd’s Bush street bruiser.”

Prichard’s grandmother was no stranger to show business herself, as he explained.

“At the turn of the century, the theatres had their own carpenters, because they made all their own scenery and things like that. My grandfather had been a stage carpenter when it was a profession, but he went from theatre to theatre. My grandmother’s bid to fame was that she had been wardrobe mistress on Buffalo Bill’s last tour of England. Her sister, my great aunt, had a boarding house and some of the cast lodged with her. She said that it included the American Indians who were in the show, because they weren’t allowed in the hotels in London. We had a lot of the props still in the cellar, but we were bombed. We had a load of spears, bows, arrows and shields of the Red Indian period that were left there.”

Dickie Henderson

I’m Brian, He’s Dickie

Dickie Henderson is something of a forgotten figure in show business these days, but between the end of the Second World War and his death in 1985, he was a big star. Truly an all-round entertainer, he sang and danced well, and had a great eye for visual comedy. He undermined his outwardly suave manner constantly with slapstick routines, the most famous of which involved a microphone cable and a clueless stage hand.

In 1957, Brian Tesler, the BBC’s brightest young light entertainment producer, was wooed away to join the commercial television company ATV. However, for his first show at the new place, a Val Parnell Saturday Spectacular, he was offered a lacklustre bill of Harry Worth and a ditzy panellist from the game show Yakety Yak, with Lew Grade protesting that everybody else was busy in pantomime. Tesler knew who he wanted, and decided to mark his territory by refusing to budge. When I interviewed him in 2005 for my book Turned Out Nice Again, he told me the story:

“I went away so miserable. I didn’t want to do a variety bill. Two of the last things I’d done at the BBC had been with Dickie Henderson Jr. One was a Billy Cotton show in which I had Bill and young Bill with young Dick and old Dick. The two old men and the two young men, with a very good script written by Jimmy Grafton. It had gone very well, and I had great admiration for Dickie. He was in the American idiom. He sang, he danced, he had a great sense of humour. The microphone routine was terrific, just a terrific routine. And he’d also been the guest on the last Pet Clark show at Riverside studios. They’d done a duet, and I thought if I can get the chance, I want to do a show with Dickie. I phoned him, I phoned Jimmy, and I said ‘Look, I’ve got a date and I don’t like what they’ve given me, I’d like the three of us to do a show’. They said terrific idea, so we met for lunch, and it was obvious it was going to be great.

“I went back to the office and I phoned Lew. I said ‘Lew, I know it was very nice of you to offer me Harry Worth, but I really want my first show to be my show. I’d like to do the Dickie Henderson show’. He said ‘Val won’t like it’. Dickie had been the star of a series that Dickie Leeman had produced for ATV, called Young at Heart, that hadn’t been at all successful. So I went to Bill Ward, who was head of department, told him what had happened. He said ‘I’ll have a word with Val’. He came back and said ‘Val says all right, but it’s not going to be called The Dickie Henderson Show, it’s just going to be a Saturday Spectacular with Dickie Henderson.’

“So I was very naughty, we were all very naughty. The side of Wood Green had the stage, and down where the orchestra pit had been there was just a hole. Down the other side, the side of the wall, there was an area, it was very narrow, but you could use it. I put black material with stars on it with beautiful showgirls in glossy dresses in front of it, and had the camera crabbing along the line. Terrific music, the first caption, star-studded, said ‘Val Parnell presents Val Parnell’s Saturday Spectacular’ And there was Dickie standing by a hat rack, with a clapped out piece of cardboard that said ‘The Dickie Henderson Show?’. So we didn’t really call it the Dickie Henderson Show, and it wasn’t spectacular, because it had a question mark, but we got away with it. It was a very good show, it had some very good things in it, and bless his heart, Val sent me a telegram, and said ‘It was a terrific show, you can do more Dickie Henderson shows in future, and they can be called The Dickie Henderson Show’.

“That established me at ATV better than I could have expected, because I hadn’t done what was expected and taken what I was given. So from then on I was able to do what I wanted to do. If they gave me stars, and they very often did, I never turned another show down, and I never had any problem with budgets.”

Billy Cotton Eric Sykes Hattie Jacques Wakey wakey

The LE Confidential advent calendar – day 24

For the last day of Advent, let’s have an old favourite. From the Christmas Eve 1961 Billy Cotton Band Show, here’s old Bill with Eric and Hattie, miming to the Beverley Sisters’ recording of I Saw Mummy Kissing Santa Claus. Such a simple comic idea, but done so gleefully. Merry Christmas to you all.


The LE Confidential advent calendar – day 23

Another clip from the Philip Jones Silver Jubilee Show, in which Mike Yarwood does a lovely take-off of his boss, the head of light entertainment at Thames Television, Philip Jones.

Tinsel king on a Dansette

The LE Confidential Advent Calendar – day 22

A bit of regionalia for today, marking the move of Anglia’s news operation back from the converted bowling alley in Magdalen Road to Anglia House in 2005.

Severn Sound

The LE Confidential Advent Calendar 2013 – day 21

I was thrilled to receive an early Christmas present in the post today from Office Pest. It’s a tea towel promoting what would have been my local ILR station had I been living in my part of Gloucestershire in the 1980s. Severn Sound launched in 1980, becoming Heart Gloucestershire in 2008. A far cry from the days when Kenith Trodd presented a weekend show of 78 rpm records.


The LE Confidential Advent Calendar – day 20

A picture taken in 2002 from the nearby Funkturm of the Sender Freies Berlin studios (now Rundfunk Berlin Brandenburg). Believe it or not, Les Dawson made a show here in 1974 with Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen.

Stan Tracey

The LE Confidential Advent Calendar – day 19

More Stan Tracey? More Stan Tracey. This number comes from the 1969 BBC2 special Love You Madly, mounted to mark the 70th birthday of Duke Ellington. Made and transmitted in colour, it survives only as a monochrome telerecording. However, I’m sure I can see chroma dots, so maybe it would be possible to restore the colour signal. Whatever the hue of the visuals, the music is peerless, and the soloist is Ian Carr, biographer of Miles Davis and a much-missed gentleman.


The LE Confidential Advent Calendar – day 18

One of the grand traditions of this calendar is featuring publicity gewgaws. We’ve had ITV pedometers and jute bags. Here we have a wind-up mobile phone charger, promoting ITV’s Big Clean Up. For the full promotional effect, I’ve placed the items on my Daybreak mouse mat.