MURIEL YOUNG had “a whale of a time” learning to interview people for TV ready for the opening of Independent Television.
For a country programme she visited a crystal salt works, then a group of home winemakers; finally a mink farm. This proved to be an exciting, frustrating but hilarious experience.
“One of the minks got away, you see,” said Muriel. “And it took us more than two hours to get it back. The scene was a very funny one.
“The mink had hidden itself in a barn. By the time we realised it was there, it had grown dark, so we turned on our camera lights in order to see.
“There we were, cameramen, lighting men, sound men, myself, all scrambling about on the floor or climbing up ladders, carrying nets and prods and goodness knows what else, trying to flush this little blighter from his hiding place and catch him.
“Only when it was over and we’d nabbed him, did it strike us how really funny it all was.”
It was a matter of trial and error all the way. It was decided that there should be an O.B. “dummy-run” from a model engineering exhibition being held at London’s Earls Court and Muriel was asked to conduct some interviews. A brigadier who happened to be a model railway enthusiast eventually volunteered to be interviewed on his hobby.
“We had been talking only a second or two,” said Muriel, “when I began getting very strange signals from a member of the production staff. I thought he wanted me to get closer to the brigadier, so I moved in closer.
“The poor man immediately shied away. But I was still getting these signals, so I moved right after him.
“Once again he shied away. But the next time, when I moved closer, I got him in a firm grip and held on to him. And I continued to hold on to him until the interview was finished.
“Imagine my horror when the director called me over at the end of it and snorted rudely: ‘Muriel, you know you must never handle people you’re supposed to be interviewing.’
“But I kept getting signals!” I replied, hurt.
“They weren’t signals,” protested the floor manager. “I was simply winding up my microphone lead so that I wouldn’t trip over it!”
There was another spot of trouble with a different subject.
On Sunday, September 18, 1955, with only seven days before the first Sunday Night at the London Palladium was seen. Bill Ward, Head of ATV’s Light Entertainment, spent the day at Wood Green Empire with his team running through a final rehearsal with all the stars except Gracie Fields, who had promised to fly in from Capri in time for the show.
Most of the rehearsal went like clockwork, for Ward’s team were all ex-B.B.C. men to whom this kind of operation was a fairly routine job.
The only bit that didn’t go like clockwork was the act which involved a clock — Beat The Clock.
Bill Ward explains: “Our first B.T.C. set was extremely heavy and cumbersome and it took a great deal of effort to shift it about. We were faced with only a 2½ minute break for commercials in which to get the set before this out of the way and the heavy B.T.C. set into position.”
For an hour Bill Ward and his team wrestled with the task. But it was a job which looked as though it would defy organisation. It did not seem possible to do it within the 2½ minutes.
Then on to the stage strolled Lew Grade. “It’s no good,” he said to Ward. “You’ll never be able to do it.”
Stung by this lack of faith. Ward snapped back: “Don’t worry, it’ll be all right.”
“It won’t happen, it won’t happen,” insisted Lew Grade.
“Look, I’ll bet you it will,” said Ward.
“Done,” said Grade immediately.
“What’s the bet?” asked Ward.
“A week-end in Paris, all expenses paid.”
“For my assistant, Frank Beale, as well?” asked Ward.
“Yes. But my money’s safe,” said Grade.
“Needless to say, it wasn’t,” says Bill Ward, now Executive Controller, Elstree Studios of ATV. “I told Frank that there was a bet on and one worth winning. So we did it! And two months later when the first rush of starting ITV had eased off a bit, we had our week-end at the George V hotel in Paris. That’s the kind of man Lew Grade is to work for.”
As Managing Director of Moss Empires, owners of the Palladium, showman Val Parnell later lent his name to the full title of the show which was soon to become famous and which was to uncover so many stars now well known to the public.
“But you know, the idea of putting the show on TV wasn’t mine at all,” says Val Parnell.
“To the best of my recollection, it was Lew Grade’s. Of course, until I retired recently, I took the final decision as to the shape of the show and the artists who appeared on it.
“I’m glad to say we discovered quite a few big names such as Bruce Forsyth, Norman Vaughan and Jimmy Tarbuck.”