1 9 5 7 – 1 9 6 5 (UK)
Tonight was broadcast every weekday, beginning in 1957 with an audience of just 1 million, but by the end of the year soaring past the 5 million mark.
The start of Tonight followed the death of the magazine Picture Post, and some of the show’s most popular contributors came from there – among them Fyfe Robertson, Trevor Philpott, Slim Hewitt and later Kenneth Allsop.
The presenter was Cliff Michelmore, and he introduced weird and wonderful stories from the above-mentioned reporters, together with Derek Hart, Macdonald Hastings, Geoffrey Johnson Smith and a new reporter named Alan Whicker.
Cy Grant sang a topical calypso, written by Bernard Levin, and there was a little ditty from folk duo Robin Hall and Jimmie Macgregor (who went on to host The White Heather Club for five years).
The first woman reporter on the programme was Polly Elwes, who recalled a typical Tonight tale; “I had to do a story about some sheep on Ilkley Moor which, because the moor wasn’t fenced, were getting into people’s back gardens and eating their chrysanthemums. We did a recce and there were sheep, loads of them, doing just that. Next morning when we came to film it there wasn’t a sheep in sight. So we went up on the moors, found some sheep, drove them down and put them into the gardens!”
Human guests included Brigitte Bardot and Jayne Mansfield, both interviewed by the show’s resident charmer, Geoffrey Johnson Smith.
Cliff Michelmore recalled the arrival of La Mansfield thus; “She was wearing a leopard skin affair which looked as though she had been poured into it. It hugged every bit of her body tightly down to her ankles. She shuffled across the studio floor and stood leaning against a piece of scenery. When offered a chair or a stool, she declined, informing us ‘This dress aint for sittin’, this dress aint for walkin’, all this dress is for is leanin’.”
Although the title was re-used in 1975 for a late-night show, Tonight really ceased to be ten years earlier when, after some 1,800 editions, Cliff Michelmore could no longer say: “The next Tonight will be tomorrow night”.
Geoffrey Johnson Smith