1 9 8 2 – 1 9 8 7 (UK)
125 x 90 minute episodes
Channel 4’s live Friday night music show with edge and attitude debuted on Bonfire Night in 1982, just three days after newcomer Channel 4 had taken to the air.
The first show featured Heaven 17, Bananarama, Duran Duran and – first up – Sunderland band The Toy Dolls. But the real bonus was having The Jam, who used the occasion to surprise the nation by declaring they were splitting up.
Produced by Tyne Tees Television from its Quayside base in Newcastle, the show would clock up more than 100 episodes and make stars of its co-hosts, former Squeeze keyboard player Jools Holland and the late Paula Yates.
There was real chemistry between Jools and Paula which just worked. She was constantly trying to shock him and never succeeding – They were a bit like Bonnie and Clyde.
The 105-minute (or 90-minute as it was to become) show was broadcast live, and therefore it was very dangerous . . . Viewers (and occasionally the presenters) never knew what was going to happen.
Paula once used the f-word (linking the programme from the studio roof, she blurted “it’s fucking freezing up here”, unaware she was on air) and received a stern warning, while Jools was suspended for six weeks for swearing during a live trailer – telling people to watch the show or be an “un-groovy fucker”.
Nudity and uncensored antics were common features of the show from the guests and the presenters. Rik Mayall drank a whole tin of chicken soup, before throwing up straight into the camera and all over Jools Holland. It was this unpredictability that kept the audience tuning in week after week.
There were also topical contributions from valiantly uncool punk poet Mark MiWurdz (real name Mark Hurst) and features on anything from hairdressing and portrait artists to fashion and the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
The show was devised by Malcolm Gerrie and Andrea Wonfor, who called it The Tube because of the Perspex tunnel entrance to their office.
A nationally advertised competition was run to find the five co-presenters who would support Holland and Yates, resulting in a lineup of newcomers Muriel Gray, Gary James, Nick Laird-Clowes, Michel Cremona and Mike Everitt.
There hadn’t been anything like it since Ready, Steady Go! in the 1960s, and at the time, producer Chris Phipps said: “Music TV had been running out of steam and The Tube was the antidote.”
The audience was predominantly made up of the same invited people every week. They had been given ‘punters passes’. “If you had a fresh audience, they’d spend an hour looking in wonderment at all the equipment,” says Phipps. “You don’t want people gawping at the cameras.”
Apart from the lasting effect the show had on the British music scene, comedy regularly made up 30% of the show, with Vic Reeves making his TV debut on The Tube with a spoof of Celebrity Squares called Square Celebrities.
Stephen Fry, Robbie Coltrane, Alexei Sayle and French & Saunders were all semi-regulars, along with a lunatic comedian called Foffo Spearjig, aka “The Hard”, a Geordie tough man who appeared in filmed inserts. Dressed in a black-and-white striped jumper he endured extreme physical torments each week, but never admitted to any pain (“Felt Nowt!”).