Old Grey Whistle Test, The (BBC-2 1981-1987 with Bob Harris)

UK / BBC Two / Broadcast 29 September 1971 – 31 December 1987

Music show. In a world accustomed to Top of the Pops, this was a show on which the bands performed album tracks and were interviewed after they had played. The music was live and, since the idea was to air new sounds, many of the bands were making their first television appearance. Presenter Bob Harris recalls how the show’s name was inspired by the doormen in grey suits who worked at the music publishing houses in London’s Denmark Street , known as ‘tin pan alley’: “It was a ‘tin pan alley’ phrase from years ago. When they got the first pressing of a record they would play it to people they called the old greys. The ones they could remember and could whistle having heard it just once or twice had passed the old grey whistle test.”

The program went out on BBC-2, last thing on a Tuesday night. If things were going well on the show, it would stay on air. Some shows ended after 25 minutes while particularly good ones sometimes extended to an hour and a half. After an incredible 16 year run featuring the greatest artists from rock, country, punk, new wave and alternative, The Old Grey Whistle Test ended its historic broadcast life in 1987. From the 24 December 1983 episode the series title was shortened to Whistle Test.

Besides Harris other presenters over the years included David Hepworth and Anne Nightingale,

America and Lesley Duncan were guests on the first edition and Gary Glitter of all unlikely people was guest on the final edition of the show.

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