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Revolver (1978)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Revolver (1978)
ATV for ITV, 22/7-2/9/1978
7 x 30 min editions plus pilot (20/5/1978), colour
DirectorChris Tookey
ProducerMickie Most
DesignerMartin Davey

Presenters: Peter Cook, Les Ross

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A host of punk, new wave and other acts perform in a converted nightclub for a lively audience goaded by the club's bloody-minded manager.

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While the birth of punk in 1976 had a seismic impact on British music, television was slow to respond; The Sex Pistols' 'God Save the Queen' was famously banned by Top of the Pops (BBC, 1964-) despite making it to number two in the official chart. Some of the more housetrained post-punk acts did make it on to The Old Grey Whistle Test (BBC, 1971-87), where they sat uncomfortably among the show's favoured classic rock and prog artists, but it was two programmes outside the mainstream which really engaged with the new scene: Granada's So It Goes (ITV, 1976-77) and ATV's Revolver.

So It Goes, despite an open-minded booking policy, mirrored Whistle Test in featuring studio performances without an audience. Revolver - admittedly launched in a Summer 1978, after the worst of the anti-punk media frenzy had passed - bravely attempted to capture "all the energy, noise and atmosphere of a rock concert" (as the TV Times put it) by placing a live audience at the core of the show, in the tradition of Ready, Steady, Go! (ITV, 1963-66).

Indeed, Revolver's most innovative element was designed to evoke the confrontational atmosphere associated with punk gigs. Peter Cook was invited to guest on the programme on the strength of the notorious Derek and Clive recordings, which shared with punk a kind of adolescent, deliberately puerile nihilism. In the guise of the seedy manager of the rundown nightclub rented out to the TV company, Cook would appear on a video screen, sneering at the acts and antagonising the studio audience. One guest, Buzzcocks' Pete Shelley, recalled Cook distributing porn magazines, which he encouraged audience members to hold up during sets to put off the bands. Not surprisingly, Cook's contribution is better remembered than that of nominal host Les Ross.

For all its punk credentials, the show's music policy was often bewildering - appearing alongside the likes of X-Ray Spex, Ian Dury and Siouxsie and the Banshees were Kate Bush, Lindisfarne, Bonnie Tyler and the avowedly anti-punk Dire Straits.

Revolver's engagingly chaotic presentation makes it perhaps an ancestor of Channel 4's controversial The Word (1990-95), but in 1978 it drew critical derision and failed to impress ITV managers. Unpromoted and buried in a late night Friday slot (ironically the exact post-pub slot in which The Word thrived), the series was starved of an audience and was pulled after just seven editions.

Mark Duguid

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Video Clips
Buzzcocks - Love You More (1:42)
Ian Dury and the Blockheads - Billericay Dickie (3:38)
Siouxsie and the Banshees - Hong Kong Garden (3:02)
The Boomtown Rats - She's So Modern (1:24)
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