Classic TV Revisited: That Was The Week That Was



That Was The Week That Was was a ground-breaking satire which ran on BBC One from 1962-1963 and lampooned the Establishment and turned unknowns (David Frost, Millicent Martin, Roy Kinnear, Lance Percival, William Rushton) into household names.

Bright-eyed and fresh-faced black-and-white satire show.

Produced by Ned Sherrin.

Why was it so good?
It was the first of its kind. It ridiculed the three Rs.

What reading, writing and arithmetic?
Heavens, no. Religion, race and royalty. This was 1962 and those things were deemed too important to tease.

Who was in it?
It was fronted by the virtually unknown David Frost. He was partnered by Millicent Martin, Roy Kinnear, Lance Percival and William Rushton, to name but a few.

Didn’t it cause a bit of a stir?
Dear me, yes. Bernard Levin angered people with his plain-speaking attitude and one vicar in Cheshire got really, well, rather cross.

What did he say?
In his parish mag, he called Levin a “thick-lipped Jewboy”.

Was satire new to TV?
Absolutely. Some viewers hated the Establishment being criticised. Hard to believe, I know.

…Jokes fell flat?
Not with most of its 10 million viewers. But Ned Sherrin and Frost were called “pedlars of filth and smut and destroyers of all that Britain holds dear”.

Rather. And people hated Frost’s teeth, Roy Kinnear’s beer gut and William (he wasn’t called Willie then) Rushton’s lack of dress sense.

How did the show work?
Producer Ned Sherrin explains: “The whole point was that it picked up on events that week.” He adds: “We did the first sketch ever commissioned by the Royal Family.” (Princess Margaret).

Sherrin met her at a party and she asked him: “Why don’t you do a sketch about the absurd reverential way the press reports us?” So the next week the team did a skit about the Queen’s barge sinking in the Thames.

Didn’t the BBC impose ridiculous rules on entertainment shows in those days?
Yes, but TW3 (as it came to be known) escaped them.

That Was The Week That Was

Roy Kinnear, David Frost and Lance Percival.

It was made by the Current Affairs department.

I don’t follow.
Well, the BBC Light Entertainment section forbade gags like “How do you make a Maltese cross?” and equally silly jesting.

How do you?
Poke him in the eye.

It must have brought the house down.
In a way it did. Gerald Kaufman dug out a list of MPs who hadn’t spoken in the Commons for more than 10 years.

The silent minority?
Sort of. The Government, led by Alec Douglas-Home, was slowly falling to bits and most of the MPs listed were Tory.

Did they pass a motion?
A motion? Some of them passed bricks! One red-faced Honourable Member called for the BBC to be impeached.

Did it take the mickey out of everyone?
No, Frost and co. showed discretion.

The evening after President Kennedy was shot, the show contained almost no jokes at all.

Must have been dull.
No way. Millicent Martin sang In The Summer Of His Years. The ultimate show-stopping moment. Not a bad effort bearing in mind she’d been given the words at 4pm that day. “It showed we could do something very moving and very serious,” she said.

Worst moment
“Good evening, peasants,” said Bernard Levin to a dozen farmers.

Best moment
“We’re used to dealing with dumb animals.” Farmers’ reply to Levin.

Do say
“If you’re Home Secretary, you can get away with murder.” (Frost) “But he’s doing a grand job.”

Don’t say
Impeach the cheeky swines!

Not to be confused with…
Weekend World, That’s Life, Alan Weeks.

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