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That Was the Week That Was (1962-63)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of That Was the Week That Was (1962-63)
BBC, 24/11/1962-28/12/1963
36x50 min (slot) plus one special, black & white
ProducerNed Sherrin
Writers includeChristopher Booker
 Keith Waterhouse
 Willis Hall
 David Nobbs
 John Cleese
 Jack Rosenthal

Cast: David Frost (Presenter); Millicent Martin; Kenneth Cope; David Kernan; Roy Kinnear; Bernard Levin; Al Mancini; Lance Percival; William Rushton; Timothy Birdsall; Robert Lang

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A satirical look at news and current affairs, featuring sketches, songs and spoof 'news' items.

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The programme that brought satire to British TV almost didn't appear at all. Keen to capture the buzz of the early 1960s satire boom, the BBC commissioned a pilot of a new satirical show. Seeing the results, BBC executives got cold feet, and it was only news that Associated-Rediffusion was planning a similar show - to be fronted by A-R staffer David Frost, who had co-hosted the BBC pilot - that led to the programme getting the green light. Frost abandoned Rediffusion, and the ITV show is now forgotten, but TW3, as it quickly became known, was an immediate sensation.

Frost now presented alone, without the more experienced Brian Redhead, and looked thoroughly relaxed in the role. The ambitious but politically indeterminate 23 year-old was mocked by some of his peers, but even his detractors had to admit that Frost seemed made for television.

Most of the performers were new to the medium, and only Frost and Private Eye founder William Rushton had any real connection with satire. One familiar face was Kenneth Cope, then appearing in Coronation Street (ITV, 1960-). Among the many writers contributing sketches and ideas were Keith Waterhouse and Labour MP Gerald Kaufman.

Early targets included Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, Home Secretary Henry Brooke and Britain's declining global status. Particularly controversial was a 'consumers' guide to religion', which discussed the relative merits of the major faiths much in the manner of a Which? magazine report. Each week the brilliant Bernard Levin tore into his personal bugbears, including public relations workers, restaurateurs and farmers, who he memorably greeted with the line, "Good evening, peasants".

But perhaps TW3's greatest innovation was its presentation. Producer Ned Sherrin was determined to expose the artifice, with visible scaffolding, cameras moving in and out of shot, the cast often reading from scripts. The effect was to give the show an unusually fresh and informal feel.

The show's direct political impact is hard to gauge. Tory Minister Ted Heath blamed it for the "death of deference", but thanks to the Suez debacle and the Profumo scandal (which broke between TW3's two series), deference's days were arguably numbered anyway. Macmillan was sanguine, understanding that it was better to be ridiculed than ignored, and refused to pursue action against the BBC. Nevertheless, BBC executives felt under pressure, and pulled the show at the end of 1963, citing the looming general election as the reason. Few believed them.

Mark Duguid

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Video Clips
1. Britain's global position (1:38)
2. John Grierson's Wonderful World (3:54)
3. South African public relations (1:54)
4. Bernard Levin vs. Sir Charles Forte (4:23)
5. The happy tobacconist (2:43)
Complete edition (8/12/1962) (1:01:21)
Frost Report, The (1966-67)
Spitting Image (1984-96)
This Week 416: Satire Boom, The (1963)
Bron, Eleanor (1938- )
Frost, Sir David (1939-2013)
Grainer, Ron (1924-1981)
Kinnear, Roy (1934-1988)
Martin, Millicent (1934-)
Rushton, William (1937-1996)
Sherrin, Ned (1931-2007)
TV Satire