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Classic TV Revisited: Sunday Night At The London Palladium

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Many of the big names in variety, light entertainment and music in the past five decades appeared on this Sunday night staple. It ran on ITV from 1955-67 then again in 1973 and then again in 2000.

Appearance?
Landmark variety show which was the first to bring international stars into people’s living rooms.

Why was it golden?
Several reasons: The Tiller Girls, the Beat The Clock gameshow and the revolving stage. It also made stars of comperes Bruce Forsyth, Jimmy Tarbuck and Norman Vaughan.

How did it begin?
It was originally called Val Parnell’s Sunday Night At The London Palladium, after the owner of the famous theatre. Screened by ITV 25 September 1955, the first show was hosted by comic Tommy Trinder and starred Gracie Fields and US singer Guy Mitchell. When a power failure blacked out ITV, Trinder ad-libbed for two hours. As the picture came back, he said: “Welcome to Monday morning at the Palladium!”

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Who else hosted it?
Bruce Forsyth took over from Tommy Trinder in 1958 and was an instant hit, drawing 14m viewers. Audiences loved his natural ability to ad-lib, his handling of the gameshow element Beat The Clock and his then catchphrase “I’m in charge”. He was succeeded by Don Arrol in 1960, then Norman Vaughan and Jimmy Tarbuck. Other comperes included Hughie Green, Bob Monkhouse, Robert Morley, Roger Moore and Des O’Connor.

What was Beat The Clock all about?
It was nothing to do with smashing up timepieces. It was a race against time as members of the audience competed in silly games to win a £1,800 jackpot. Tasks included catching table tennis balls in a butterfly net. It was based on a US quiz show.

Any disastrous moments?
Plenty. Hughie Green was hit by falling scenery and Harry Secombe fell through a trap door. Judy Garland was too upset to go on the revolving stage and the Rolling Stones also refused as it didn’t fit their rebellious image. Mario Lanza accidentally punched his bodyguard, Frankie Howerd sparked a protest by carrying the Union Jack upside down and Norman Vaughan dropped a rifle and nearly broke his toe. Four hosts together – Jimmy Tarbuck, Bob Monkhouse, Bruce Forsyth and Norman Vaughan.

Any other memorable moments?
During an Equity strike in 1961, which robbed the show of its guest list, Bruce Forsyth and Norman Wisdom saved the day. They were members of the Variety Artists’ Federation and performed together live for the entire 60-minute show. Their act included a slapstick routine with stepladders and buckets of wallpaper paste, which made an awful mess.

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Was it popular?
At its peak 28m people watched it and it became the main topic of conversation on Monday mornings. Every major artist worth their salt – including The Beatles and Bob Hope – appeared on the programme. It ran for 12 years until 1967 and was briefly revived in 1973 with Jim Dale as compere. Bruce Forsyth brought it back as Tonight At The London Palladium in 2000 but it flopped.

Distinguishing features?
High-kicking Tiller Girls and their distinctive dance routines. And the revolving stage on which stars gathered for the finale of the show. Inevitably there were occasions when it broke down.

Do say:
“Variety is dead. Long live variety.”

Don’t say:
“Variety was not the spice of my life.”

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Not to be confused with:
Never On Sunday, Live From Her Majesty’s.


Alastair James is the editor in chief for Memorable TV. He has been involved in media since his university days. Alastair is passionate about television, and some of his favourite shows include Line of Duty, Luther and Traitors. He is always on the lookout for hot new shows, and is always keen to share his knowledge with others.

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