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Late Night Line-Up (1964-72)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Late Night Line-Up (1964-72)
BBC, 1964-72
More than 3,000 editions transmitted

Presenters: Joan Bakewell; Dennis Tuohy; John Stone; Michael Dean; Nicholas Tresilian; Sheridan Morley; Tony Bilbow

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Discussion series which originally began as Line-Up, before moving to a late night slot in September 1964.

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The live late night arts discussion programme has established itself in a clearly defined space at the margins of the TV schedule and is generally regarded as an uncontentious vehicle for debating a wide range of arts topics, including television itself. However, when this type of programme first appeared, in the form of Late Night Line Up (BBC, 1964-72), the very idea that TV should turn a critical eye on itself upset many of the programme makers whose work came under scrutiny. It proved no less trenchant when dealing with a myriad of other topics.

The programme started life as Line Up (1964-), a nightly ten-minute preview of the channel's evening programmes. As the fledgling BBC2 was deliberately pioneering new types of content, it was initially felt that viewers might benefit from this sort of teaser to help guide them through its schedule. However, what soon became apparent was that by reversing the Line Up format it would be possible to develop a programme that looked back over the evening's events.

As it turned out, Late Night Line Up did far more than that. It quickly established a reputation for lively arts-based debates and intellectual rigour. Guests included writer Allen Ginsberg, modernist composers Karlheinz Stockhausen and John Cage, comedy scriptwriter Johnny Speight, artist Marcel Duchamp, who discussed Dadaism and Surrealism, and Serge Danot, who talked about his creation of The Magic Roundabout (BBC, 1965-71; 1974-77; Channel 4, 1992).

The programme, which ran last on the schedule weeknights, also spawned a weekend counterpart, The Look of the Week (BBC, 1966-67), and a music show, Colour Me Pop (BBC, 1967-68), which featured Frank Zappa, Jethro Tull and The Nice amongst others. At the centre of this growing cultural empire was presenter Joan Bakewell, who was christened "the thinking man's crumpet" by writer and comedian Frank Muir. The throwaway remark, intended as a joke, unfortunately stuck, partly because Bakewell was both intelligent and the epitome of '60s chic - a Mary Quant for the chattering classes. She was also hugely successful.

Viewed today, Late Night Line Up often looks uncomfortably earnest, while guests' propensity to smoke heavily is even more striking. However, its importance outweighs its curio factors and its lasting legacy was acknowledged in 1986, when Late Night Line Up was briefly exhumed as part of the celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of BBC television.

Anthony Clark

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Video Clips
Bakewell, Dame Joan (1933-)
BBC2 (1964-)