That Was The Week That Was

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That Was The Week That Was
RT1963.jpg
1963 Radio Times cover promotes the return of the programme for a second series.
Also known asTW3
GenreSatire
Presented byDavid Frost
Theme music composerRon Grainer
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Language(s)English
No. of series2
Production
Producer(s)Ned Sherrin
Running timeapprox 50 minutes
Production company(s)BBC
Broadcast
Original channelBBC tv
Picture formatBlack-and-white, 405-line
Audio formatMonaural
Original run24 November 1962 (1962-11-24) – 28 December 1963 (1963-12-28)
Chronology
Followed byNot So Much a Programme, More a Way of Life (1964–1965)
 
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That Was The Week That Was
RT1963.jpg
1963 Radio Times cover promotes the return of the programme for a second series.
Also known asTW3
GenreSatire
Presented byDavid Frost
Theme music composerRon Grainer
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Language(s)English
No. of series2
Production
Producer(s)Ned Sherrin
Running timeapprox 50 minutes
Production company(s)BBC
Broadcast
Original channelBBC tv
Picture formatBlack-and-white, 405-line
Audio formatMonaural
Original run24 November 1962 (1962-11-24) – 28 December 1963 (1963-12-28)
Chronology
Followed byNot So Much a Programme, More a Way of Life (1964–1965)

That Was The Week That Was, also known as TW3, is a satirical television comedy programme that was shown on BBC Television in 1962 and 1963. It was devised, produced and directed by Ned Sherrin and presented by David Frost. An American version by the same name aired on NBC from 1964 to 1965, also featuring Frost.

The programme is considered to be a significant element of the "satire boom" in the United Kingdom in the early 1960s. It broke new ground in comedy through lampooning the establishment and political figures of the time. Its broadcast coincided with coverage of the politically charged Profumo affair and John Profumo, the politician at the centre of the affair, became one of the targets for derision. TW3 was first broadcast on Saturday 24 November 1962.

Contents

Cast and writers

Cast members included cartoonist Timothy Birdsall, political commentator Bernard Levin, and actors Lance Percival, who sidelined in topical calypsos, many improvised to suggestions from the audience, Kenneth Cope, Roy Kinnear, Willie Rushton, Al Mancini, Robert Lang, Frankie Howerd, David Kernan and Millicent Martin. The last two were also singers and the programme opened with a song – That Was The Week That Was – sung by Martin to Ron Grainer's theme tune and enumerating topics in the news. Script-writers included John Albery, John Antrobus, John Betjeman, John Bird, Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Peter Cook, Roald Dahl, Richard Ingrams, Lyndon Irving, Gerald Kaufman, Frank Muir, David Nobbs, Denis Norden, Bill Oddie, Dennis Potter, Eric Sykes, Kenneth Tynan, and Keith Waterhouse.[1]

Programme

The programme opened with a song ("That was the week that was, It's over, let it go ...") sung every week by Millicent Martin, incorporating lyrics referring to the news of the week just gone. Lance Percival would also sing a topical calypso each week. Satirical targets, such as Prime Minister Harold Macmillan and Home Secretary Henry Brooke would be lampooned in sketches, debates and monologues. Other targets were the monarchy, Britain's declining status as a global power, racism (particularly in the American South and South Africa under Apartheid), sexual and social hypocrisy, the class system, and the BBC itself. Well remembered sketches include a 'consumers' guide to religion', which discussed the relative merits of faiths in the manner of a Which? magazine report.

TW3 was broadcast late on Saturday night and attracted an audience of 12 million. It often under- or overran as cast and crew worked through the material as they saw fit. For the first three editions of the second series in 1963, the BBC attempted to limit the team by scheduling repeats of The Third Man television series after the programme, so that they could not overrun. Frost took to reading synopses of the plots of Third Man at the end of each TW3, meaning there was little point in watching. The BBC dropped the repeats and TW3 was returned to being open-ended.

On Saturday, October 20, 1962 the award of Nobel prizes to John Kendrew and Max Perutz, and to Francis Crick, James D. Watson, and Maurice Wilkins was 'satirised' in a short sketch with the Nobel Prizes being referred to as 'The Alfred Nobel Peace Pools'; in this sketch Watson was called "Little J.D. Watson" and "Who'd have thought he'd ever get the Nobel Prize? Makes you think, doesn't it". The germ of the joke was that Watson was only 25 when he helped discover DNA; much younger than the others.

Frost often ended a satirical attack with the remark "But seriously, he's doing a grand job".[2] At the end of each episode, Frost would usually sign off with: "That was the week, that was." At the end of the final programme he announced: "That was That Was The Week That Was...that was."

Kennedy tribute

For the edition broadcast on Saturday 23 November 1963, the day after the assassination of United States President John F. Kennedy, TW3 produced a shortened 20-minute programme with no satire, reflecting on the loss, including a contribution from Dame Sybil Thorndike and the tribute song "In the Summer of His Years" sung by Martin with lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer. This edition was screened on NBC in the US the following day, and the soundtrack was released by Decca Records. A clip of this broadcast, featuring Roy Kinnear, was shown in the David L. Wolper documentary film Four Days in November and more recently on the History Channel 2009 documentary JFK: 3 Shots that Changed America. In addition to the Millicent Martin studio recording of "In the Summer of His Years" issued in the US by ABC-Paramount, other versions were recorded and released by Connie Francis (MGM), Mahalia Jackson (Columbia), Kate Smith (RCA Victor), Sarah Vaughan (Vernon) and The Chad Mitchell Trio (Mercury); the Francis recording became a Top 40 hit on the Cash Box pop singles chart in January 1964. BBC presenter Richard Dimbleby, who broadcast the president's funeral from Washington, said that the regular programme was scrapped when news of the assassination was received and that the programme was a good expression of the sorrow felt in Britain.[3]

Cancellation

After two successful series in 1962 and 1963, the programme did not return in 1964. The reason given by the BBC was that 1964 was an election year, and it was felt the show's political material could compromise the corporation's impartiality.

Reception

Prime Minister Harold Macmillan was initially supportive, chastising the Postmaster General Reginald Bevins for threatening to "do something about it".[4] However, the BBC received many complaints from organisations and establishment figures about the show's content. Lord Aldington, then the vice-chairman of the Conservative Party, wrote to the BBC's director-general Hugh Carleton Greene saying that Frost had a "hatred" of the Prime Minister, which "he finds impossible to control". The programme also attracted complaints from the Boy Scout Association, who were upset by an item questioning the sexuality of its founder Lord Baden-Powell, and the government of Cyprus, which claimed that a joke about Archbishop Makarios, the country's ruler, was a "gross violation of internationally accepted ethics".[5]

Historians have identified TW3 as breaking new ground in comedy and broadcasting. Graham McCann said the programme succeeded as it challenged the "convention that television should not acknowledge that it is television, the show made no attempt to hide its cameras, allowed the microphone boom to intrude and often revealed other nuts and bolts of studio technology."[6] In the 1960s, this was still unusual and gave the programme an exciting, modern feel.[7] TW3 also flouted conventions by adopting "a relaxed attitude to its running time: loosely structured and open-ended, it seemed to last just as long as it wanted and needed to last, even if that meant going beyond the advertised time for the ending [...] the real controversy of course, was caused by the content."[6]

Its subject matter has also been praised. McCann says: "TW3...did its research, thought its arguments through and seemed unafraid of anything or anyone...Every hypocrisy was highlighted and each contradiction was held up for sardonic inspection. No target was deemed out of bounds: royalty was reviewed by republicans; rival religions were subjected to no-nonsense 'consumer reports'; pompous priests were symbolically defrocked; corrupt businessmen, closet bigots and chronic plagiarists were exposed; and topical ideologies were treated to swingeing critiques."

Legacy

TW3 was live and recordings were not made of all editions, although only two editions are known to be missing; the first pilot, and the 13 April 1963 editions. A compilation of the surviving material was shown on BBC Four to celebrate the programme's 40th anniversary. In a list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes up by the British Film Institute in 2000, voted for by industry professionals, That Was The Week That Was placed 29th.

Sherrin attempted to revive the formula with Not So Much a Programme, More a Way of Life, but this was less successful.

Alternative versions

An American version of TW3 was on NBC, initially as a pilot episode on 10 November 1963, then as a series from 10 January 1964 to May 1965. The pilot featured Henry Fonda and Henry Morgan, guests Mike Nichols and Elaine May, and supporting performers including Gene Hackman. The recurring cast included Frost, Morgan, Buck Henry and Alan Alda, with Nancy Ames singing the opening song; regular contributors included Gloria Steinem, William F. Brown, Tom Lehrer and Calvin Trillin. The announcer was Jerry Damon. Also a guest was Woody Allen, performing stand-up comedy; the guest star on the final broadcast was Steve Allen. A running gag on this version of the show was a mock feud with Jack Paar, whose own program followed TW3 on the NBC Friday schedule; Paar would repeatedly refer to TW3 as "Henry Morgan's Amateur Hour." After the series' cancellation, Lehrer recorded a collection of his songs used on the show, That Was The Year That Was, released by Reprise Records in September 1965.

In the American version, an episode showed a smiling U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson contemplating an easy 1964 campaign against the Republican nominee, U.S. Senator Barry M. Goldwater of Arizona. The satirists sang that Goldwater could not win because he "does not know the dance of the liberal Republicans", then a substantial component of the GOP, many of whose members had supported Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller of New York for the Republican nomination.

A Canadian show, This Hour Has Seven Days, aired from 1964 to 1966 on CBC. Although partially inspired by That Was The Week That Was, the Canadian show mixed satirical aspects with more serious journalism. It proved controversial and was cancelled after two series amid allegations of political interference. This Hour Has 22 Minutes, created by Newfoundland comic Mary Walsh, has been running since 1992 although the two are not related.

The New Zealand show A Week Of It ran from 1977 to 1979, hosted by Ken Ellis, and featuring comedians David McPhail, Peter Rowley and Chris McVeigh and comedian/musicians Jon Gadsby and Annie Whittle. The series lampooned news and politics and featured songs, usually by McPhail and Gadsby, who continued with their own show, McPhail and Gadsby in similar vein.

A Dutch version, Zo is het toevallig ook nog 's een keer, aired from November 1963 to 1966. It became controversial after the fourth edition, which included a parody of the Lord's Prayer ("Give us this day our daily television"). Angry viewers directed their protests especially against the most popular cast member: Mies Bouwman. After receiving several threats to her life she decided to quit the show. The show was praised as well: in 1966 it received the Gouden Televizier-ring, a prestigious audience award.

Kristy Glass and Kevin Ruf starred in a remake of TW3 for ABC's Primetime Live in the fall of 2004. Soon after its premiere, Shelley Ross, the executive producer, was fired and TW3 ended with her dismissal.

An Indian version titled The Week That Wasn't was launched and hosted by Cyrus Broacha.

Parodies

Cleveland, Ohio, local personality Ghoulardi (played by Ernie Anderson), host of WJW-TV's Shock Theater in the 1960s, ran clips of local celebrities and politicians and satirised them in a Shock Theater segment entitled That Was Weak Wasn't It ?[8]

References

  1. ^ McCann (2006). p. 156. 
  2. ^ Stuart Jeffries, "This'll kill you", The Guardian, 16 January 1999, p. B5
  3. ^ "A British Program Honoring Kennedy Shown Over NBC". The New York Times: p. 10. November 25, 1963. 
  4. ^ "BBC marks TW3 anniversary". BBC News. 26 November 2002. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/tv_and_radio/2516511.stm. 
  5. ^ Hastings, Chris (17 June 2007). "Tories helped take TW3 off the air". The Daily Telegraph. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1554790/Tories-helped-take-TW3-off-the-air.html. 
  6. ^ a b McCann, Graham (2006). Spike & Co.. London: Hodder & Stoughton. pp. 313–314. ISBN 0-340-89809-7. 
  7. ^ Image Dissectors - TV Trends: Conspicuous Cameras
  8. ^ Watson, Elena M. (2000). Television Horror Movie Hosts: 68 Vampires, Mad Scientists and Other Denizens of the Late Night Airwaves Examined and Interviewed. Jefferson, North Carolina, United States: McFarland & Company. ISBN 0-7864-0940-1. http://www.mcfarlandpub.com/book-2.php?id=978-0-7864-0940-2. 

External links