❚ THE MOST INFLUENTIAL TV SERIES in British history – the lodestar for all future comedy, and more – won no fulsome retrospective from the BBC on its 50th anniversary today. Only a brief item on the Today show reminded us how the earth tilted at 10:30pm on this night in 1962 with the launch of TW3 – the adopted shorthand for That Was The Week That Was. New research reveals that this politically insolent television voice of Britain’s nascent satire movement attracted complaints by the thousand. “No other programme has so many files in its correspondence section,” we were told this morning by historian Morgan Daniels on the Today programme. What it had done, according to Private Eye’s first editor Christopher Booker in his landmark 1969 book The Neophiliacs, was finally to break free from the Presbyterian straitjacket of Lord Reith, the BBC’s founder. Within weeks pubs started emptying on Saturdays as the nation made a ritual of rushing home to catch TW3’s 37 broadcasts which grew an audience of 12 million in less than a year.
A galaxy of leading “Northern Realist” writers and national newspaper journalists contributed razor-sharp sketches and what little remains available on video makes today’s comedy seem lily-livered. TW3 made the career of Sir David Frost who was its “classless” front-man at the age of 23. Though many satirists say they achieve no lasting change, on tonight’s Loose Ends radio show, Frost insisted that satire does have a knock-on influence in its day, even if it may not reform legislation in the long term. TW3’s second series was curtailed on December 28, 1963, for fears it would unbalance the general election campaign of 1964.
TW3 captured a zeitgeist unique to the 60s before they began to swing. Booker argued in The Neophiliacs: “It was a final drawing together of almost all those threads which had been working for ‘revolution’ and sensation in the England of the previous seven years.” [Namely, since the election of 1955 when slippage of the tectonic plates supporting Britain’s centuries-old class system saw the subsequent rise of the “unposh” intellectual and of John Osborne’s “angry young man”] … “[TW3] brought the destructive force of the satire craze to a mass audience.”
Britain was changing. Deference was on the way out, The Beatles were on their way in. The satire boom was in full swing…/ Continued inside
❏ Year-ending round-up of TW3 highlights, Dec 1963 (above) – includes notorious Mississippi number with black-and-white minstrels in the week a white protester walking from Alabama to Jackson was shot dead by the road … The consumer guide to religion … Timothy Birdsall draws the Duke and Duchess of Eastbourne … MPs who have not spoken in Parliament are named and shamed … Bernard Levin harangues a pride of lawyers with their failings.
➢ Click through to compare and contrast the satirists of the 60s with the “alternative comics” of Alexei Sayle’s generation when they formed the Comic Strip – Analysis by Shapersofthe80s from 1980