The Old Grey Whistle Test Story


Download Subtitles

SRT

ASS


The Old Grey Whistle Test Story

Jo Brand narrates a profile of the BBC's first flagship live music programme, The Old Grey Whistle Test, which ran from 1971-1987.


Similar Content

Browse content similar to The Old Grey Whistle Test Story. Check below for episodes and series from the same categories and more!

Transcript


LineFromTo

The Old Grey Whistle Test was a real appointment.

0:00:040:00:07

There was nowhere else to get music.

0:00:070:00:09

And there wasn't really anywhere

0:00:090:00:11

you could see the sort of music that I wanted to hear.

0:00:110:00:13

But here you could see people playing it live

0:00:130:00:16

and for real in the studio.

0:00:160:00:17

You'd go to Top Of The Pops for camp treasure,

0:00:170:00:20

you'd go to the Old Grey Whistle Test hoping they'd give you

0:00:200:00:24

the obscurity you'd heard about.

0:00:240:00:26

You'd never know what you were gonna see,

0:00:260:00:28

therefore you wouldn't want to miss it.

0:00:280:00:30

There were some dark times...

0:00:300:00:32

That means it ultimately ended up with 22-minute guitar solos,

0:00:320:00:36

and concept albums about the woods.

0:00:360:00:38

Some of it was pompous beyond belief.

0:00:380:00:41

But there's no doubt that, in its time,

0:00:410:00:43

the Whistle Test was educating an entire generation about music.

0:00:430:00:48

These days, music channels are ten a penny,

0:00:550:00:57

but back in the '70s,

0:00:570:00:59

in the land before MTV, reality pop stars and MySpace,

0:00:590:01:04

rock was hairy, and underground.

0:01:040:01:06

Blokes played serious music, very seriously,

0:01:060:01:08

but for some reason,

0:01:080:01:10

they had difficulty getting a gig on national TV.

0:01:100:01:12

In the late '60s, variety was king,

0:01:120:01:15

and your aspiring pop star soon learnt to host their own show.

0:01:150:01:19

Take a bow, Val!

0:01:190:01:21

Good old Top Of The Pops was BBC1's catch-all for all things pop.

0:01:210:01:26

People who have an audience ought to be heard.

0:01:260:01:29

Perhaps it's my fault that I don't appreciate them.

0:01:290:01:33

The Pink Floyd.

0:01:330:01:34

Now, your more earnest rock fans sought their furtive pleasures

0:01:340:01:38

on the BBC's late night arts programmes,

0:01:380:01:40

where they gave thanks for the few arcane morsels

0:01:400:01:42

that excited their far-out musical taste.

0:01:420:01:45

Until the faithful were finally, truly, blessed

0:01:450:01:48

with their very own music programme.

0:01:480:01:50

The Old Grey Whistle Test launched on BBC2 in 1971,

0:01:530:01:56

as a late-night haven where the acts played music live instead of miming.

0:01:560:02:01

There was a serious divide between rock and pop,

0:02:010:02:04

though there were those who straddled it.

0:02:040:02:06

Basically, rock bands who had hit singles

0:02:060:02:08

were allowed onto Top Of The Pops.

0:02:080:02:10

# Oh Maggie, I couldn't have tried any more... #

0:02:100:02:16

MUSIC: "Top Of The Pops" Theme Tune

0:02:160:02:19

A lot of it was pretty cheesy stuff, really.

0:02:190:02:21

They would get Bowie on, and Alice Cooper, and a lot of Marc Bolan,

0:02:210:02:25

which was quite important, but for those who were fascinated by,

0:02:250:02:28

and starting to be in bands, I think the Old Grey Whistle Test

0:02:280:02:34

was for "serious" music fans and "serious" musicians.

0:02:340:02:38

The weird thing about it

0:02:440:02:46

was the lack of an audience. Y'know, it was done in a studio like this,

0:02:460:02:49

and they're in that amazing atmosphere,

0:02:490:02:52

in an empty studio, without people there.

0:02:520:02:55

Ah, beautiful song, that, it's Richard and Linda Thompson.

0:03:030:03:06

I suppose, maybe what they were trying to do was

0:03:060:03:09

not be Top Of The Pops,

0:03:090:03:11

and Top Of The Pops, a big thing would be the audience was there,

0:03:110:03:14

and the cameras would show them quite a lot,

0:03:140:03:17

and people would jump in front of the camera and go, "Ah!"

0:03:170:03:20

and all this kind of stuff.

0:03:200:03:21

There was a slightly different ethos to the Old Grey Whistle Test,

0:03:210:03:25

where, um, almost it became a little bit too earnest in the end.

0:03:250:03:30

But it was where people took the music more seriously.

0:03:300:03:33

# The decks were stacked The wind blew low

0:03:330:03:37

# The wind blew high! #

0:03:370:03:39

Back then, it really was like, you had to work hard to get your stuff,

0:03:390:03:44

and sometimes The Old Grey Whistle Test would give you the treat

0:03:440:03:48

of giving you what you lusted for but seemed so obscure.

0:03:480:03:51

It wasn't in the charts, it didn't have a commercial reason to exist.

0:03:510:03:55

It had another reason to exist.

0:03:550:03:56

# Got to make her roll Got to make her fly

0:03:570:04:02

# Upon the My-Oh-My. #

0:04:020:04:06

It was new stuff, untried.

0:04:060:04:08

People had never been in a television studio before,

0:04:080:04:11

they'd never been on television, a lot of the artists,

0:04:110:04:14

so that was what made it exciting.

0:04:140:04:17

It was very experimental.

0:04:170:04:19

You would watch The Whistle Test knowing that there was gonna be

0:04:240:04:28

some dreadful noise that you didn't particularly like very much,

0:04:280:04:31

but you were gonna discover something new.

0:04:310:04:33

Despite their only show being monickered both "Old" and "Grey",

0:04:370:04:40

the hairy rockers were seriously happy at last.

0:04:400:04:43

But what did the BBC bigwigs

0:04:430:04:45

make of this weird little guttersnipe of a show?

0:04:450:04:48

Whistle Test kind of slipped under the radar,

0:04:500:04:53

as far as the BBC was concerned.

0:04:530:04:55

Nobody at that time was doing anything

0:04:550:04:57

that looked into a slightly more progressive area of rock music.

0:04:570:05:01

And I think the hierarchy of Light Entertainment at that time

0:05:010:05:06

didn't want to go there.

0:05:060:05:07

It wasn't their roots, they didn't feel it was theirs.

0:05:070:05:10

And so I, sort of, in a rather piratical way,

0:05:100:05:13

grabbed it, and made it our own.

0:05:130:05:17

# No-one likes us

0:05:170:05:20

# I don't know why... #

0:05:200:05:22

There was this kind of guerrilla group making these programmes,

0:05:220:05:26

which probably the rest of the BBC didn't really understand.

0:05:260:05:29

Those up top would have been so far removed from it

0:05:290:05:31

that they would have thought,

0:05:310:05:33

that having Lynyrd Skynyrd on, or Randy Newman or whatever,

0:05:330:05:36

was just like Gary Glitter.

0:05:360:05:38

It was just music, and these kids seem very enthusiastic about it,

0:05:380:05:42

and we'd better have it cos they've got a passion for it.

0:05:420:05:44

And the BBC indulged that kind of passion.

0:05:440:05:47

# Come on baby... #

0:05:470:05:49

Youthful passions may have been indulged,

0:05:490:05:52

but the budget was sensibly sparse.

0:05:520:05:54

The show was obliged to adopt a simple visual style,

0:05:540:05:57

where less was definitely less.

0:05:570:05:59

The way the studio was, it was bare,

0:06:010:06:04

it was completely naked, in fact.

0:06:040:06:07

No television video effects, no flashing lights.

0:06:070:06:12

But in a way, that's what kind of gives it a period charm, there.

0:06:120:06:16

Those kind of anal people with lots of records, were going,

0:06:160:06:20

"Yeah, I mean, look, that's an original Peavey amp,

0:06:200:06:23

"and look, they're using the old Arriflex lights...

0:06:230:06:26

"It's incredible..."

0:06:260:06:28

In a way, that becomes a style. Kind of...anti-style.

0:06:280:06:32

# Louis Seize he prefer

0:06:320:06:34

# Laissez faire le strand

0:06:340:06:37

# Tired of the tango

0:06:380:06:40

# Fed up with fandango... #

0:06:420:06:43

It wasn't, you know, wacky camera angles and whip pans and crash zooms

0:06:470:06:52

and holding the camera upside down.

0:06:520:06:53

You know, all these kind of naff, flash things

0:06:530:06:56

that music television people do these days!

0:06:560:06:58

# Against a boy

0:06:580:07:00

# Who is a-whiskey fast

0:07:000:07:03

# And a-honey slow... #

0:07:030:07:08

Here, you could see people playing, live and for real, in the studio.

0:07:080:07:11

And it was a way of discovering new music,

0:07:110:07:14

which you couldn't do anywhere else.

0:07:140:07:16

I remember seeing Randy Newman, and thinking, "That's great...

0:07:160:07:19

"You could just sit at the piano, write a song, and play."

0:07:190:07:23

# Let's drop the big one

0:07:230:07:24

# There'll be no-one left to blame us... #

0:07:240:07:27

We didn't intend it to be that way,

0:07:290:07:31

it was really, absolutely, just a kind of needs must.

0:07:310:07:35

# A model built for comfort... #

0:07:390:07:42

I seem to remember hearing Trampled Underfoot

0:07:420:07:45

and some weird, old, black-and-white footage,

0:07:450:07:48

synched up in time with the music.

0:07:480:07:50

So they were kind of doing their own videos.

0:07:500:07:52

So I think that was pretty innovative, in many ways.

0:07:520:07:55

# Factory air-conditioned... #

0:07:590:08:01

They performed a number of functions, not least,

0:08:010:08:04

they maintained a kind of mystery that a lot of the music had,

0:08:040:08:07

that they had to do the films for,

0:08:070:08:09

because you know, Led Zeppelin,

0:08:090:08:11

whatever else the Old Grey Whistle Test could do,

0:08:110:08:13

it couldn't get Led Zeppelin into the room! No way.

0:08:130:08:16

That's like conjuring up Shakespeare or something!

0:08:160:08:19

It became part of the whole idea of the programme,

0:08:210:08:24

these nutty films that you could get stoned to very easily,

0:08:240:08:28

and gave another kind of texture to what's in the programme,

0:08:280:08:32

made it even more peculiar.

0:08:320:08:34

Don't make 'em like that any more.

0:08:400:08:42

HE YODELS OPERATICALLY

0:08:420:08:45

The rise of The Whistle Test did coincide with the early prog era,

0:08:470:08:51

what, horrifically, is now known as the first prog era,

0:08:510:08:56

which implies there's another one.

0:08:560:08:58

There were some dark times. I wasn't so keen on Camel.

0:09:000:09:03

I remember seeing a dreadful bit of Camel,

0:09:030:09:06

I think it was doing music from The Snow Goose or something.

0:09:060:09:09

And they had some woodwind players,

0:09:090:09:11

a little sort of woodwind quartet, as I recall,

0:09:110:09:14

people playing cor anglais,

0:09:140:09:17

and those school orchestra instruments Eddie Izzard said,

0:09:170:09:19

it's like blowing into a weasel.

0:09:190:09:21

And I remember thinking...

0:09:240:09:26

"Nah, this ain't doing it for me at all, this."

0:09:260:09:28

# If I leave here tomorrow... #

0:09:310:09:35

Lynyrd Skynyrd would probably, to me, sum up that period.

0:09:360:09:41

Free Bird, that went on for ever.

0:09:410:09:43

# Cos I'm as free as a bird now

0:09:450:09:49

# And this bird you cannot change

0:09:520:09:57

# Whoah-oh-oh-oh... #

0:09:570:10:00

It's like they'd been told,

0:10:000:10:02

it was the end of the night and it could just go on...

0:10:020:10:04

There's moments where you think it's ending,

0:10:110:10:14

then they just decide to keep going!

0:10:140:10:15

Theoretically, there was no end to it.

0:10:260:10:28

"Maybe we could make it to the morning."

0:10:310:10:33

Everyone was going, "My God, this stuff is art!"

0:10:480:10:51

Some of it was pompous beyond belief,

0:10:510:10:54

but a lot of it did appeal to enquiring young minds.

0:10:540:10:57

If you didn't dig the heavy sounds,

0:10:590:11:01

there were always the mellow, sensitive singer-songwriters.

0:11:010:11:05

# Old-fashioned she might be

0:11:050:11:08

# Dated like last year's pop song. #

0:11:110:11:15

Typical Old Grey Whistle Test viewer at that time,

0:11:160:11:21

I would imagine to be a bloke.

0:11:210:11:24

I would imagine to be white.

0:11:240:11:27

I would imagine to have longish hair.

0:11:270:11:30

I would imagine to have owned an army greatcoat,

0:11:300:11:33

or perhaps an afghan coat.

0:11:330:11:35

Wearing suede desert boots,

0:11:350:11:38

possibly occasionally wearing a raffia shoulder bag.

0:11:380:11:42

# What a day, a year a life it is... #

0:11:420:11:47

I suppose, typically, bearing in mind, there I am sitting there,

0:11:470:11:50

with my long beard, my long hair...

0:11:500:11:53

I'm sort of, "Oh, this is so cool, this is so great!" You know...

0:11:530:11:57

Um... That's how...

0:11:570:12:00

I was, I suppose typical of my own viewing audience.

0:12:000:12:04

It's dead easy now to knock it...

0:12:040:12:06

But that's what... I looked like that! At 16, I had a bloody beard!

0:12:060:12:10

Because you did, you know.

0:12:100:12:12

That was the way of differentiating from your dad.

0:12:120:12:15

Your dad looked like what ended up looking like David Byrne.

0:12:150:12:19

But then, you didn't want to look like that.

0:12:190:12:21

A point in response to a number of letters we've had just lately

0:12:210:12:25

about the Whistle Test badge.

0:12:250:12:26

There, the star kicker.

0:12:260:12:28

I'm amazed at the number of badge collectors.

0:12:280:12:31

Students loved that show.

0:12:310:12:33

They could stay up late at night, they didn't go out in the day,

0:12:330:12:37

so all your '70s students and people who went to redbrick universities,

0:12:370:12:42

they were absolutely... it was their show.

0:12:420:12:45

# It was early Sunday evening...#

0:12:450:12:48

Already blessed with a sense or heritage

0:12:480:12:50

and a taste for the eclectic, the Whistle Test was a broad church.

0:12:500:12:55

# ..Oh, want nobody... #

0:12:550:12:59

# ..So much you want... #

0:12:590:13:04

It was such a wide variety of music that was being played.

0:13:040:13:07

It wasn't just a prog programme. It wasn't a folk programme.

0:13:070:13:11

Already, because of the albums,

0:13:110:13:12

music in the early '70s was splitting up into tons of genres.

0:13:120:13:16

But they weren't yet getting names like they do now.

0:13:160:13:19

It was either pop or rock, you know.

0:13:190:13:20

Underground music, progressive music,

0:13:200:13:22

but within that you'd have Tim Buckley, Beefheart, Randy Newman,

0:13:220:13:26

Focus and Alice Cooper and the New York Dolls.

0:13:260:13:30

# Flying around New York City so high

0:13:300:13:33

# Like he was my baby... #

0:13:330:13:34

It was pretty eclectic and pretty brave for the times.

0:13:340:13:38

# We just keep on keeping on

0:13:380:13:41

# We just keep on keeping on... #

0:13:440:13:49

We had people like Curtis Mayfield for soul.

0:13:490:13:53

Freddy King, blues guitar.

0:13:530:13:55

Bob Marley and the Wailers

0:14:000:14:02

making their first major TV appearance in 1973.

0:14:020:14:06

# ..Stir it up

0:14:060:14:07

# Little darlin'

0:14:100:14:13

# Stir it up... #

0:14:130:14:15

A very rare moment of these people

0:14:150:14:18

and it was because they made these great albums, great songs,

0:14:180:14:22

that weren't singles and it didn't matter that they didn't sell.

0:14:220:14:25

What was important was the worth and the weight of the music.

0:14:250:14:29

# Yeah!

0:14:290:14:31

# Me, I really would have liked

0:14:330:14:37

# A little bit of tenderness

0:14:370:14:40

# Maybe a word, maybe a smile... #

0:14:400:14:42

The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, I think, doing Next,

0:14:420:14:46

with a string quartet, with rubber masks on...

0:14:460:14:50

I mean, unless this is some strange...

0:14:500:14:53

Unless I'd had a bottle of cider and two Disprins as a kid

0:14:530:14:56

and it's all playing strange tricks on me, I remember that and thinking,

0:14:560:15:01

"Who is this lunatic?"

0:15:010:15:04

# One day I'll cut my legs off

0:15:040:15:07

# Burn myself alive

0:15:070:15:09

# I'll do anything to get out of life

0:15:090:15:12

# To survive, not ever to be next... #

0:15:120:15:16

I'd never heard of the song,

0:15:160:15:17

I'd never heard of Jacques Brel, I'd never heard of Alex Harvey,

0:15:170:15:20

the guitar player was a Pierrot clown, you know,

0:15:200:15:23

it was like, blimey!

0:15:230:15:25

# Not ever

0:15:250:15:29

# Not ever to be

0:15:290:15:36

# Next! #

0:15:360:15:37

Unbelievable. It were like that hit me right between the eyes.

0:15:420:15:46

The presenters of Top Of The Pops

0:15:460:15:48

were middle-aged DJs who were, I guess, safe uncles.

0:15:480:15:53

For the Whistle Test, I guess the idea was that the presenter would be

0:15:530:15:58

a cross between an older brother figure and a really hip lecturer.

0:15:580:16:04

Tomorrow night, the National Film Theatre in London

0:16:040:16:06

begins a season devoted to pop in the cinema...

0:16:060:16:09

The first Whistle Test presenter was Richard Williams,

0:16:090:16:12

who was a writer from Melody Maker,

0:16:120:16:14

and one of the best critics of his generation.

0:16:140:16:18

If it's Tuesday, it must be Whistle Test.

0:16:180:16:21

He was replaced by the quintessential

0:16:210:16:23

Whistle Test presenter, Bob Harris.

0:16:230:16:26

Their current visit to Britain

0:16:260:16:27

coincides with the release of a new LP called I'll Play For You.

0:16:270:16:31

But they're playing for us tonight two songs from the LP Summer Breeze.

0:16:310:16:35

It's Seals And Crofts.

0:16:350:16:36

# See the curtains hanging in the window

0:16:420:16:45

# In the evening on a Friday night... #

0:16:450:16:48

In the early '70s,

0:16:480:16:49

Old Grey Whistle Test and Bob went together perfectly.

0:16:490:16:53

It very much became Bob's world, really.

0:16:530:16:55

That was really nice...

0:16:590:17:00

The style of presentation, the laid-back, late-night thing

0:17:000:17:04

which is easy to lampoon now, and has almost become a cliche...

0:17:040:17:08

Nice!

0:17:080:17:09

Tonight on Whistle Test, we've got Rex Higgins, Steve Flea,

0:17:150:17:19

the Wretched Admiral Sphincter, Grunties, Hot Nadgers, Red Buttocks

0:17:190:17:24

and Toe The West Sprocket, so it promises to be really good.

0:17:240:17:29

Bob Harris was essentially a nice hippy

0:17:290:17:32

who introduced nice hippy groups.

0:17:320:17:35

It was really nice.

0:17:350:17:37

We were talking earlier about the kind of venues that you're doing.

0:17:370:17:41

They're really enormous venues you're playing.

0:17:410:17:44

Yeah, and they get bigger and bigger.

0:17:440:17:46

-How many people came to the concerts?

-Five.

0:17:460:17:49

-5,000?

-No, five. 12 with the roadies.

0:17:490:17:53

In its time, it was so original, so clever and so ground-breaking

0:17:530:17:58

and he just said, "Give me some of that."

0:17:580:18:00

He loved the music, that was important, and he knew about it.

0:18:000:18:05

And when somebody loves and knows about something, you listen to them.

0:18:050:18:08

For some time now, Ry Cooder has been regarded

0:18:080:18:11

as an ace session player.

0:18:110:18:12

His record company says he has loaned his identity

0:18:120:18:15

to countless artists during the past half decade,

0:18:150:18:18

and the list is long, including Captain Beefheart, Taj Mahal,

0:18:180:18:21

Little Feat and many others.

0:18:210:18:23

He's in this country for a few days

0:18:230:18:26

and we're lucky he's visiting our studio. This is The Vigilante Man.

0:18:260:18:30

He was like an educator.

0:18:330:18:35

But he was feisty too, despite the gentleness.

0:18:350:18:38

It was a BBC expert crossing over into the strange new world

0:18:380:18:41

of underground rock.

0:18:410:18:43

The fact that I introduce all the music on the Old Grey Whistle Test

0:18:430:18:47

doesn't mean I recommend all of them.

0:18:470:18:49

Some things, for sure, that being one, but not everything -

0:18:490:18:52

this next band being a case in point.

0:18:520:18:54

Mark Radcliffe, in particular, still holds a grudge towards me

0:18:540:18:59

because I said on air that I didn't like Roxy Music.

0:18:590:19:02

# Maybe

0:19:020:19:04

# If you wanna find a lover

0:19:040:19:07

# Then you look no further

0:19:070:19:10

# For I'm going to be your only

0:19:100:19:14

# The searching... #

0:19:150:19:16

Bob, who I'd come to trust as my kind of music buddy,

0:19:160:19:21

you know, cos that was all we had,

0:19:210:19:23

and I remember him at the end of it, he said,

0:19:230:19:26

"Well, if that's the future of rock'n'roll, you can keep it."

0:19:260:19:30

I was so disappointed because I thought,

0:19:400:19:43

"Oh, Bob, I like you and you're on the telly and you're cool,

0:19:430:19:47

"but this is obviously fantastic, Roxy Music.

0:19:470:19:50

"We're going to have to go our separate ways here, Bob."

0:19:500:19:52

# ..Like he was my baby

0:19:520:19:55

# Like he was my baby... #

0:19:550:19:57

Everybody who saw it remembers the appearance of the New York Dolls.

0:19:570:20:03

# ..Like he was my baby... #

0:20:030:20:05

Poor old Uncle Bob could not cope.

0:20:050:20:07

This is not why he opened his youth club.

0:20:070:20:10

# ..Like he was my baby

0:20:100:20:13

# M-M-M-My baby... #

0:20:130:20:15

Mock rock.

0:20:170:20:18

I think in two words I'd nailed them pretty accurately.

0:20:180:20:22

Did I really like them? No, I didn't particularly.

0:20:220:20:25

Everybody whose soul contained

0:20:250:20:28

a spark of real rock'n'roll spirit immediately hated him.

0:20:280:20:33

He basically, er...

0:20:330:20:36

He didn't know this, but he was actually kicking off

0:20:360:20:39

the whole punk thing when he called us a bunch of rubbish in 1973 on TV.

0:20:390:20:43

Who's watching this thing? It's all your next bands.

0:20:430:20:47

# I am an anarchist... #

0:20:470:20:49

In 1976, punk's blasphemous assault on the old music

0:20:490:20:52

was ignored by Bob and his producers,

0:20:520:20:55

who seemed to regard rock musicians as superior beings.

0:20:550:20:59

I think it was Whistle Test's darkest hour probably,

0:21:010:21:04

for people of my age,

0:21:040:21:07

was its slow reaction to punk.

0:21:070:21:10

I've wondered whether punk rock was anything to do with music.

0:21:100:21:13

# White riot, I wanna riot... #

0:21:190:21:23

There was music within the punk movement that I thought was good.

0:21:230:21:26

And I thought there was an awful lot that was crap.

0:21:260:21:29

And, er...

0:21:290:21:31

just because you can jump up and down and spit

0:21:310:21:33

it didn't mean necessarily,

0:21:330:21:35

for my money, that it was worthwhile.

0:21:350:21:37

It would have shattered the atmosphere of the programme,

0:21:370:21:40

they felt, to have introduced it.

0:21:400:21:42

There is a world that Bob's a part of where they like to give something

0:21:420:21:46

a good few years before they feel it's entered the canon.

0:21:460:21:50

The show's idea of enjoyment

0:21:510:21:52

involved sitting in a field or a spartan studio,

0:21:520:21:55

but punk was about the sheer energy of the music,

0:21:550:21:59

and, more importantly, the audience.

0:21:590:22:01

The punk kids who came in just hated me, the programme,

0:22:010:22:06

virtually everybody on it.

0:22:060:22:09

They were determined to drive a wrecking ball right through

0:22:090:22:13

the centre of everything the Whistle Test represented.

0:22:130:22:18

And there I am in the middle, going, "But what is there not to like?"

0:22:180:22:22

# I wanna be... #

0:22:220:22:26

It was the day that the Sex Pistols had signed with A&M.

0:22:260:22:31

They'd done quite a bit of damage there

0:22:310:22:34

and they roared up to the Speakeasy.

0:22:340:22:36

A guy comes over to me and said,

0:22:360:22:38

"When are the Pistols going to be on Whistle Test?"

0:22:380:22:41

It didn't matter what I said, he took a swing at me.

0:22:410:22:46

This was the trigger for all hell breaking loose.

0:22:460:22:50

You'd never believe it,

0:22:500:22:51

that violence could erupt to such a scale in such a closed environment.

0:22:510:22:56

Sid Vicious had broken a bottle, I've got my back to this wall,

0:22:560:23:01

and six or seven guys came at me with broken glass in their hands.

0:23:010:23:06

I was going, "Listen, guys..." They came at... I was so lucky

0:23:060:23:10

because about 10-12 people got in-between them and me.

0:23:100:23:14

And I discovered later it was the Procul Harem road crew.

0:23:140:23:18

# I was feeling kind of seasick... #

0:23:180:23:21

Mm, heavy.

0:23:210:23:22

The idea of Sid versus Bob is such a classic idea of a confrontation.

0:23:220:23:26

Suddenly there was a huge chasm in British culture

0:23:260:23:29

between those that could sink back into complacency,

0:23:290:23:33

and it was almost pipe and slippers stuff,

0:23:330:23:35

the way they listened to their music,

0:23:350:23:37

nice songs about love, doodling about, you know, the pixies,

0:23:370:23:42

and Sid, who was like a figure from a kind of '68 revolutionary Paris,

0:23:420:23:46

you know, everything was going to change.

0:23:460:23:48

It was a wonderful, symbolic moment.

0:23:480:23:51

Punk had to happen. It was very important.

0:23:510:23:54

What had happened - and don't blame Bob for this - you had pomp rock.

0:23:540:23:58

Rick Wakeman would be the first to admit

0:23:580:24:01

that doing his show on ice was really going too far.

0:24:010:24:05

And everything was gone up its own ass and it was too pompous

0:24:050:24:10

and taking itself far too seriously.

0:24:100:24:13

When you get that, you think, "Oh, it's finished."

0:24:130:24:16

The Whistle Test suffered from that, and I'm sure that Bob Harris did,

0:24:160:24:21

because, whatever his musical taste was,

0:24:210:24:24

he was never going to be able to reinvent himself as a punk rocker.

0:24:240:24:28

He was, quite clearly, old school,

0:24:280:24:31

prog rock and could never pretend to be anything else.

0:24:310:24:35

As you can see, we have them back tonight with their new image.

0:24:350:24:38

Can I present to you, Dr Hook?

0:24:380:24:40

I was quoted at the time as saying

0:24:400:24:42

I thought I'd become the Ken Barlow of rock.

0:24:420:24:45

I, for my own sanity, also felt that I had to step away from it and go,

0:24:450:24:50

"Right, I'm going to start again."

0:24:500:24:52

Can I introduce you to the lady

0:24:520:24:54

who will be with you through the coming months?

0:24:540:24:56

It's that ace canoeist, Anne Nightingale.

0:24:560:24:58

Road To Ruin... Thank you, Bob.

0:24:580:25:00

..is the title of the Ramones' fourth album.

0:25:000:25:03

They arrived this morning from touring the Continent.

0:25:030:25:06

One, two, three, four!

0:25:060:25:08

# You know, it's generally known

0:25:160:25:20

# You've got everything at home

0:25:200:25:22

# Kisses out of desperation

0:25:220:25:25

# Bring you more aggravation

0:25:250:25:28

# And you don't come close

0:25:280:25:30

# You don't come close... #

0:25:300:25:33

A fresh presenter was needed and Annie Nightingale created

0:25:330:25:38

a more welcoming atmosphere than Bob would have done.

0:25:380:25:43

Hello and welcome to Whistle Test, coming to you from Siberia.

0:25:430:25:46

Well, Shepperton, actually, but it's close...

0:25:460:25:49

Maybe it was easier with a different presenter and I think, possibly,

0:25:490:25:53

some of the punk lot hadn't wanted to be on the Whistle Test

0:25:530:25:57

because they associated it with Lynyrd Skynyrd, if you like.

0:25:570:26:00

At last, the 1978 show.

0:26:020:26:04

Effing and blinding, pogoing and gobbing made its way onto the show.

0:26:040:26:09

Well, almost.

0:26:090:26:10

The Test finally featured its first punk outfit, the Adverts, in 1978.

0:26:100:26:15

# We talk in hope to hit on something new

0:26:150:26:18

# Tied to the railway track

0:26:200:26:22

# It's one way to revive But no way to relax

0:26:220:26:26

# We're just bored teenagers

0:26:260:26:29

# Looking for love Or should I say emotional rages

0:26:290:26:32

# Bored teenagers Seeing ourselves as strangers... #

0:26:320:26:36

Once punk had been welcomed into the Old Grey fold,

0:26:360:26:39

the show became a platform for spirited performances with attitude.

0:26:390:26:43

LYRICS INDISTINCT

0:26:430:26:46

# I don't want to be nice

0:26:510:26:55

# I think it's clever to swear

0:26:550:26:58

# Best heed some sound advice

0:26:580:27:02

# I would look elsewhere... #

0:27:020:27:04

There were classic performances, like the Damned.

0:27:040:27:07

I stood in front of them to introduce them like I normally did.

0:27:070:27:11

I knew something was going on behind me. I knew they were playing games.

0:27:110:27:15

What?!

0:27:150:27:17

Then they played Smash It Up and thought they'd take it literally,

0:27:170:27:21

so they smashed up the entire studio set.

0:27:210:27:24

I think they enjoyed themselves.

0:27:370:27:40

There was a delightful air of sacrilege about the whole thing.

0:27:400:27:44

The hoolies had arrived.

0:27:440:27:46

Annie for a moment gave it a little kick, not least the feminine kick,

0:27:460:27:50

in the sense of something that, you know,

0:27:500:27:52

wasn't necessarily about archiving the music alphabetically.

0:27:520:27:57

Yes! The girls got him in the end...

0:27:570:27:59

It was quite a jolt to have a woman fronting a rock show at that time.

0:27:590:28:03

Almost like a suffragette, really.

0:28:030:28:05

I mean, she pioneered it being acceptable for women to do that.

0:28:050:28:10

And she was great, she wasn't trying too hard.

0:28:100:28:13

Squeeze are in the studio tonight to play two tracks from the album -

0:28:130:28:17

It's So Dirty and firstly, Slap And Tickle. Here's Squeeze.

0:28:170:28:21

When Squeeze eventually came in

0:28:320:28:35

to these 1950s, beautiful acoustic panels - the thing behind me -

0:28:350:28:39

came in and saw those, you know,

0:28:390:28:41

this is the real studio where they actually do it, it was so exciting.

0:28:410:28:45

It was great.

0:28:450:28:46

We wanted to liven it up and take the earnestness out,

0:28:460:28:49

so they said, "If one of you want to make an announcement, you can."

0:28:490:28:53

So we concocted this rather appalling joke.

0:28:530:28:56

There's just been a message sent in from reception.

0:28:560:28:59

Would the owner of the blue Ford Cortina, registration number PEN 1S,

0:28:590:29:04

please go to reception as he's blocking a fire exit. Thank you.

0:29:040:29:09

A bit of rather babyish, schoolboy humour.

0:29:090:29:13

Cos PEN 15 spells "penis", you see.

0:29:130:29:15

Just spelling it out there.

0:29:150:29:17

There were a lot of acts who sort of arrived with punk and who were

0:29:220:29:27

just carried along in its slipstream.

0:29:270:29:30

And, for a programme like the Whistle Test,

0:29:300:29:33

which was basically always an establishment programme,

0:29:330:29:39

it was probably a lot easier to cope with some of the slipstream acts,

0:29:390:29:43

both in terms of, you know,

0:29:430:29:45

the amount of complaints they'd generate,

0:29:450:29:48

and how they were likely to behave in the studio.

0:29:480:29:51

They might have a little sneer to let the punks know

0:29:510:29:54

they were something to do with the punk movement,

0:29:540:29:57

but they weren't actually going to cause any serious trouble.

0:29:570:30:01

Along with the new wave came David Hepworth in 1980.

0:30:010:30:05

Yet another music journo with an A Level in rock'n'roll.

0:30:050:30:08

And now for something completely different...

0:30:080:30:11

Hepworth's old NME sidekick Mark Ellen was also drafted in

0:30:110:30:14

to take us into the '80s,

0:30:140:30:16

as the show's take on hip, young gunslingers.

0:30:160:30:18

..What we've got on the programme tonight.

0:30:180:30:21

On tonight's programme, in the studio...

0:30:210:30:23

When Ellen and Hepworth took over,

0:30:230:30:25

I didn't know who they were, I'd no idea who they were, um...

0:30:250:30:29

it turned out they were journalists. Who knew?

0:30:290:30:32

This chap on my right actually claims

0:30:320:30:34

that this week he was rung up by a look-alikes agency

0:30:340:30:37

and asked to play the part of Paul McCartney in a film.

0:30:370:30:41

This is your opportunity to confirm or deny this rumour.

0:30:410:30:44

It is actually true, but I turned it down

0:30:440:30:46

because I didn't feel I looked young enough for the part.

0:30:460:30:49

They were a fairly good double act.

0:30:490:30:51

And it stuck true to the tradition of not being too showbiz,

0:30:510:30:55

not trying too hard

0:30:550:30:56

they always looked like they'd tumbled out of some pub

0:30:560:30:59

and just kind of rolled in and done it.

0:30:590:31:03

When I was offered this job,

0:31:030:31:05

they made a lot about the opportunities for travel.

0:31:050:31:08

Last week, Shepherds Bush, this week the Regal Theatre in Hitchin.

0:31:080:31:13

# Once in every lifetime... #

0:31:130:31:15

In the early '80s, the TV landscape was changing

0:31:150:31:18

and comedy was now the new rock'n'roll.

0:31:180:31:21

# ..Oh, my darling, can't you see?

0:31:210:31:23

# Young ones... #

0:31:230:31:25

OK, pop music, let's go.

0:31:250:31:28

Anyone here like the Human League?

0:31:280:31:31

The Old Grey Whistle Test plodded doggedly on,

0:31:310:31:33

but the other music shows were moving with the times.

0:31:330:31:37

Even Top Of The Pops blew up a few balloons

0:31:370:31:39

and partied on down with the decade of excess.

0:31:390:31:42

# Wham, bam, I am a man... #

0:31:420:31:46

I guess the Whistle Test seemed a little shop-worn

0:31:470:31:52

by the '80s.

0:31:520:31:55

Channel Four had just launched The Tube,

0:31:550:31:58

which was fast, noisy and brash.

0:31:580:32:00

The Tube was big budget, live and early evening.

0:32:020:32:05

It had a noisy audience and mixed comedy and music -

0:32:050:32:08

a combination the Whistle Test had always struggled to master.

0:32:080:32:12

Hello and welcome to The Tube.

0:32:120:32:14

'I think the spontaneity made The Tube lively'

0:32:140:32:17

and it wasn't at all earnest and it was genuinely anarchic

0:32:170:32:21

because nobody knew what they were doing.

0:32:210:32:23

At the other end here, you've got a suburban living room.

0:32:230:32:26

What's going on?

0:32:260:32:27

The Tube was very much a post-punk programme,

0:32:270:32:32

deliberately made as a reaction to the Whistle Test,

0:32:320:32:36

by then looking very old and very grey.

0:32:360:32:39

It's currently at number 43 in the LP chart, isn't it?

0:32:390:32:42

It was 37 last week, which means it's going down.

0:32:420:32:45

The Tube was about the moment, it seemed to represent

0:32:450:32:49

the excess of the moment, it was of the '80s,

0:32:490:32:52

and the Whistle Test, still this worthy attempt

0:32:520:32:55

to give you music that someone had decided was good for you.

0:32:550:32:58

There's your man, on stage, Loudon Wainwright.

0:32:580:33:01

CHEERING AND APPLAUSE

0:33:010:33:03

WHISTLE TEST THEME PLAYS

0:33:050:33:07

That tune you just heard, Stone Fox Chase, by Area Code 615,

0:33:070:33:11

that's the last time you'll hear it associated with this programme

0:33:110:33:15

because, from the beginning of the next series,

0:33:150:33:18

which starts auspiciously enough on Friday 13th January,

0:33:180:33:21

we've given it the elbow.

0:33:210:33:22

Two of the words of the programme's title are to be brutally lopped off

0:33:220:33:26

and from now on it's going to be known solely as The Whistle Test.

0:33:260:33:29

Good evening, this is Whistle Test...

0:33:320:33:34

Classic sign of weakness - you can't even stick to the brand name.

0:33:340:33:39

It would take more than new titles, an almost-snazzy new set

0:33:390:33:42

and a couple of new, young presenters

0:33:420:33:44

for the Whistle Test to stop feeling like the graveyard shift of rock TV.

0:33:440:33:49

How do you link a video of Paul Young

0:33:510:33:53

with the first live TV performance of a group hailed

0:33:530:33:56

as the most controversial band since the Sex Pistols?

0:33:560:33:59

Perhaps critics of this programme

0:33:590:34:01

who say it's still old and very grey could offer some idea.

0:34:010:34:05

I suspect they couldn't, so all I'll say is sit back, hold tight

0:34:050:34:09

and enjoy the total noise and summer sounds of the band that

0:34:090:34:12

can't get a gig anywhere except on this programme -

0:34:120:34:16

the Jesus And Mary Chain.

0:34:160:34:17

# Grass grows greener on the other side

0:34:240:34:28

# The corn grows sweeter on the other side... #

0:34:290:34:33

Things like Whistle Test really should just stick to what they do

0:34:330:34:36

because it's kind of its own thing. I think that's where sometimes

0:34:360:34:39

people running programmes and channels and things make a mistake.

0:34:390:34:43

They make a knee-jerk reaction and say,

0:34:430:34:45

"Let's make Whistle Test not so old and grey,

0:34:450:34:48

"let's make it a bit more funky to combat The Tube."

0:34:480:34:52

But you should probably just carry on doing it the same.

0:34:520:34:55

There's only so many ways you can rearrange the furniture,

0:34:550:34:59

bring in new presenters,

0:34:590:35:01

and generally try and snazz it up

0:35:010:35:04

before you have to admit the Old Grey Whistle Test

0:35:040:35:08

is your dad's rock show.

0:35:080:35:09

..Bruce Springsteen and Jimmy Page.

0:35:090:35:11

In 1987, guitar rock was declared officially dead

0:35:110:35:14

and the Whistle Test was sacrificed on the altar of "youth TV".

0:35:140:35:19

There's no doubt that, by the time it was taken away

0:35:190:35:22

by a BBC that was very self-conscious about progress

0:35:220:35:25

and Janet Street-Porter's vision of a new kind of television,

0:35:250:35:29

guitar rock, the Whistle Test idea of guitar rock,

0:35:290:35:32

would have seemed as old fashioned as George Formby and Gracie Fields.

0:35:320:35:36

It shouldn't have come to an end,

0:35:360:35:38

but I'm sure that it's those fairly arbitrary decisions that are made

0:35:380:35:43

by people who want to come in and make their own mark.

0:35:430:35:46

Of doing things that are very hyper-trendy and of that moment.

0:35:460:35:50

There's nothing wrong with that,

0:35:500:35:52

but there's nothing wrong with having what was there as well.

0:35:520:35:56

It doesn't need to be either or.

0:35:560:35:57

Sorry, sir, you can't park here, it's a restricted area.

0:36:000:36:04

Jools sometimes calls Later "Grandson of Whistle Test".

0:36:040:36:08

Which is probably about right, actually.

0:36:090:36:12

You know, the ethos of Whistle Test did then transfer across into Later.

0:36:120:36:17

Later's more like Russian roulette,

0:36:170:36:20

even in the way the camera spins round.

0:36:200:36:23

Your turn! Then you stand watching all the other bands and thinking,

0:36:230:36:28

"They sound good, I bet we'll be shit."

0:36:280:36:30

I guess you didn't get that on the Old Grey Whistle Test.

0:36:300:36:33

I think it was a bit too respectful to the music, really.

0:36:330:36:37

Fantastic!

0:36:370:36:39

I'm so pleased that the one-and-only Mr Paul Weller is here too.

0:36:390:36:42

# I've got a feeling from the floorboards up

0:36:500:36:53

# Call it a calling if you like that touch... #

0:36:530:36:56

Later With Jools upheld that great tradition of interesting live music,

0:36:560:37:00

but done in a different way, and it's good it's there.

0:37:000:37:03

Whether it would be there if not for Whistle Test, who can tell?

0:37:030:37:07

So, was the show truly great?

0:37:070:37:09

Has the Old Grey Whistle Test stood the test of time?

0:37:090:37:15

Do I really need to ask?

0:37:150:37:17

When we're done making all the jokes about Bob Harris,

0:37:170:37:21

the archive of performances the Old Grey Whistle Test generated

0:37:210:37:25

represent the absolute crown jewels

0:37:250:37:28

in terms of the rock and pop of its time.

0:37:280:37:31

# You've done too much Much too young... #

0:37:340:37:36

Everybody got tarred with the same brush,

0:37:360:37:39

so if something was going to be interesting,

0:37:390:37:42

it was down to the fact that the people in front of the camera

0:37:420:37:45

were interesting, be that musically or they had a funny way

0:37:450:37:48

of performing or something.

0:37:480:37:50

It gave you a level playing field, which we English do like,

0:37:500:37:55

so you either shine on it or fall depending on,

0:37:550:37:59

you know, your abilities.

0:37:590:38:01

Wherever else you see a band,

0:38:010:38:03

on Top Of The Pops or In Concert in the '70s,

0:38:030:38:05

it just doesn't have the same strangeness as it does

0:38:050:38:08

when you see an Old Grey Whistle Test clip.

0:38:080:38:10

And the words behind them - Old Grey Whistle Test.

0:38:100:38:13

They've become abstract.

0:38:130:38:15

And absolutely, Arctic Monkeys would recreate that because,

0:38:150:38:19

looking back on it, 30 years later, that's really strange.

0:38:190:38:22

Those who are interested in music now would yearn for that.

0:38:220:38:26

# ..Like a robot from 1984

0:38:260:38:27

# From 1984... #

0:38:270:38:30

There's a kind of retro, '70s food revival.

0:38:300:38:34

You know, everybody's saying,

0:38:340:38:36

"Actually, I always liked prawn cocktail

0:38:360:38:40

"and chicken Maryland and rum baba."

0:38:400:38:42

I liked all that and I'd like to have all that again.

0:38:420:38:46

I liked the Whistle Test and I'd like to have that again.

0:38:460:38:50

# I said I bet that you look good on the dance floor

0:38:500:38:53

# Dancing to electro-pop like a robot from 1984

0:38:530:38:57

# I said from 1984. #

0:38:570:39:01

Mm, that's what it's all about.

0:39:060:39:08

Jo Brand narrates a profile which celebrates the life and times of the BBC's first flagship live music programme, The Old Grey Whistle Test, which ran from 1971 to 1987. It looks at the music, the presenters, the TV rivals, the sparse studio and the legacy, finds out why Bob Harris whispered, what Sid Vicious tried to do to him and what Camel did with a woodwind quartet and why. All these questions are answered and many more, followed by loving compilations of those early 70s years, the era that time forgot.