Sunday Night at the London Palladium Pt.2
The ‘Beat the clock’ section of the show was a product of American television. Manager of the Palladium Jack Parnell saw it, liked the idea of audience participation that it involved, and clinched a deal to sandwich ‘Beat the clock’ between the show’s two commercial breaks. The concept was simple but very effective with the audience at home. Basically ‘Beat the clock’ was a series of party games played by members of the audience on stage. They consisted of throwing balls at targets, balancing cups and saucers, keeping balloons in the air while clambering into baggy trousers or Wellington boots, or negotiating blindfold a simple obstacle course. One game required two blind fold contestants to locate each other and kiss within sixty seconds, making only kissing sounds to guide them towards each other.
The early shows relied on games borrowed from the American show, and it was an unsuspecting summer show audience at the Windmill Theatre in Great Yarmouth who acted as guinea pigs when they were first tried out in this country. Palladium TV producer Albert Locke took a car load of props and £100 in cash to Yarmouth where Tommy Trinder was appearing. With the theatre management’s permission, Trinder stopped the show and introduced the audience to the joys of ‘Beat the Clock’. ‘We agreed to do twenty minutes,’ says Locke. ‘But Tommy was loving it, dashing about the stage handing out fivers. It was forty-five minutes before we called halt.’ However more importantly, the audience liked ‘Beat the clock’, too. There were a lot of rough edges too smooth, but the games played that week in Great Yarmouth provided the nucleus of the party fare during the first tentative weeks of the Palladium television show. Although a success with the public the ‘Beat the clock’ section of the show was never short of critics. Newspaper reviewers called it ‘degrading’ and ‘an insult to human dignity’. By today’s standards these were nothing and was just fun. When Bruce Forsyth took over as compere, he really came into his own with the game and showed an ability to work audiences which help lead years later to ‘The Generation Game’ (1971-77 & 1990-94) where similar fun games and challenges played by the public were used to entertain the TV viewers.
When comedian Jimmy Tarbuck took over as compere ‘Beat the Clock’ was dropped. Sunday Night at the London Palladium ran for 12 years – with breaks during the summer, ending with an Anglo-American series hosted by stars including Lorne Greene and Roger Moore. The final show had Bob Monkhouse in the compere’s seat and the bill toppers were three ex-comperes that the Palladium show had made into stars – Forsyth, Vaughan, and Tarbuck.
The series was revived in 1973, a year after Val Parnell’s death – when ATV boss Sir Lew Grade restored the Palladium show to the Sunday night screens along with ‘Beat the Clock’ which was renamed to ‘Anything you can do’ and new host Jim Dale an all-round entertainer and later comedian Ted Rogers. Back also came the Tiller girl dancers and the famous ‘starlight’ theme. However, the programme failed to re-establish itself in the TV ratings, what did not help was two bomb hoaxes which cleared the theatre and kept the top of the bill off the screen, and the cost of each show had escalated to £50,000 – compared to with £8,000 in 1955 and £20,000 in 1965. To help save the show former Producer Albert Locke came out of retirement to take charge of production, immediately replacing the Tiller girls with a more modern ‘Second Generation’ dance group and comedian Ted Rogers took over as compere from Jim Dale. Rogers won rave notices, which helped to establish him as a leading act and went on to host the highly successful game show ‘3-2-1’ (ITV 1978 – 88), but the old magic of the Palladium show had gone, which resulted in it being cancelled.
However, in wanting to finish the amusing moment on one of the bomb hoax occasions. When the all-clear was given the artists returned to finish the show. At the finale, one act was missing. ‘Where’s Charlie (Drake)?’ everyone asked. Then, as the stage began to revolve, a sinister figure appeared out of the darkness of the wings, raincoat collar turned up, hat pulled low over the eyes carrying a ‘bomb. The fuse was well alight, and for a second people held their breath. ‘Hello my darling’s’, said the figure. It was Charlie Drake, and the bomb was courtesy of the prop room. The show very nearly ended with a bang!
Eric Cuttler has a strong interest in showbusiness and has written several articles on comedy, pop music and TV light entertainment & drama for leading publications and newspapers. He started his career in the theatre before moving into television as a production manager for ITV.