1 9 6 9 – 1 9 7 9 (UK)
You cannot begin to imagine how I loathed this show as a child growing up in Yorkshire. To me, it signified that the weekend was over and it was time to have a bath and start getting ready for a new week at school the following morning.
But as a religious light entertainment show with top artists of the day performing songs and hymns requested by viewers, it proved very popular for ten years.
Harry Secombe was a frequent guest on the programme, and the whole tortuous series was produced and introduced by Jess Yates (nicknamed “The Bishop” thanks to his holier-than-thou form of presentation ).
Yates was a former cinema organist who had worked in television since the early 1950s, climbing his way up from designer to writer, producer and director.
Shows like The Good Old Days, Top Town and Come Dancing gave him a grounding in light entertainment that he would exploit when, after some years away from the business, he returned to TV with the fledgeling Yorkshire Television in 1968.
Under his auspices as Head of Children’s programmes, series such as Junior Showtime, The Flaxton Boys and Origami, and the educational How We Used To Live reached the small screen before Yates turned his attention to religious programming with Choirs On Sunday and eventually Stars On Sunday.
The mixture of hymns, bible readings, showbiz and Jess’s sincerity was enormously popular, and the show attracted 15 million viewers with some 5,000 letters – fan mail and requests for particular hymns – arriving each week. Guests included James Mason, Raymond Burr, Dame Anna Neagle, Gracie Fields, The Bachelors and even Edward Heath and Earl Mountbatten.
In 1972, ITV tried to get Stars On Sunday taken off because it was ‘too sweet’, but the Central Religious Advisory Council supported the series and the ITV companies had a moral duty to abide by their statements.
Then in July 1974, came the scandal that rocked Stars On Sunday. The News Of The World reported an affair between 54-year-old Yates and 22-year-old showgirl Anita Kay. The two insisted that they weren’t living together at the time. They did later but split up in 1983 when he was out of work. It was the ultimate ‘bishop and actress’ story.
Anthony Valentine replaced Yates as presenter the following week, and the new series due to start in October was delayed. Yates was unceremoniously dumped as executive producer and there followed a selection of hosts – among them Robert Dougall, Wilfred Pickles, Gordon Jackson, Moira Anderson and Cliff Michelmore – before the series finally ended in 1979.
In his sixties, Yates lived on a pension of £17 a week from Yorkshire Television and his state pension. He said at one point, “I am so keen to work, I would look after the toilets if they asked me”.
Scandal continued to follow Yates even after he died in 1993 when it was discovered that Jess was not, in fact, the real father of Paula Yates (The Tube presenter and one-time wife of Bob Geldof) and that he had been cuckolded by none other than Hughie Green of Opportunity Knocks (Paula’s real dad).