1 9 8 3 – 1 9 9 2 (UK)
Produced by the newly formed TV-am, ITV debuted its first breakfast show on 1 February 1983 with the Famous Five – Angela Rippon, Michael Parkinson, David Frost, Robert Kee and Anna Ford. Meant as ITV’s answer to the BBC’s Breakfast Time the show was (like Breakfast Time) an homage to American networked morning shows.
Starting at 6.00am with the price of pigs and other farming news, and running seven days a week, the show promised viewers not only news and entertainment but also what David Frost called ‘sexual chemistry’.
This seemed to mean that seated on their fawn-coloured sofa, he could make silly remarks when either Anna Ford or Angela Rippon was trying to link items or ask straight questions.
But despite the glamour of the practised presenters, always in suits or smart dresses, despite their militaristic weatherman, Commander David Philpott, despite their answer to the Green Goddess, the even more frantic ‘Mad Lizzie’ (Lizzie Webb), audiences dropped to a disastrously low level and there seemed to be only about three companies willing to advertise their wares in the breaks.
In April, both Anna Ford and Angela Rippon were sacked by Timothy Aitken, one of the bosses of the ailing company.
These dismissals followed the axing of David Frost as anchorman, and Robert Kee being moved to “special projects”.
Michael Parkinson stayed longer, though he was most visible at weekends when he and his wife Mary were hosts on a magazine programme which combined chummy chats with their showbiz friends, fairly embarrassing snippets of ‘comedy’ and pre-recorded items from Nick Owen, the station’s sports reporter and soon to become frontman.
In June, at a reception held by Lady Melchett, Anna Ford expressed her views on the way she and Angela had been treated by throwing a glass of wine over Jonathan Aitken MP, her former boss.
The show seemed destined for the scrap-heap until a then little-known TV executive called Greg Dyke decided to introduce a new recruit in grey nylon fur – one Roland Rat.
Then Anne Diamond arrived from BBC Birmingham with her perky girl-next-door manner which made her a favourite with viewers. Her partnership with Nick Owen proved more palatable with early morning audiences than the porridgy partnership of soppy Selina and frumpy Frank – They had Breakfast Time trapped!
When Roland (and his pal Kevin the gerbil) appeared in the school holidays in April 1983, ratings rose by a whopping 52%. Anne and Nick owed an awful lot to those puppets . . .
Kevin the Gerbil