For those that don’t know, Big Centre TV is the new local channel for Birmingham, Solihull, Walsall, Wolverhampton and the Black Country. The channel launches, on Freeview Channel 8, 28th February 2015 (You can retune your Freeview TV from 2nd February) and is co-owned by former ATV and Central TV presenter Mike Prince and former teacher and Classic TV archivist Chris Perry.
On Saturday 31st January, I was one of the lucky few to witness the recording of The David Hamilton Show, one of their first studio recordings at their new Walsall base.
With the average age of the show guests and presenter calculated at 75 you might question my interest in the programme, but the line-up of the new chat show promised some great stories and there were a couple of musical guests that promised to liven up the proceedings, so I contacted a friend and we went along to see a little piece of local TV history being made.
Arriving at the Goldmine studios in good time, we waited in reception until we could find someone to tell us where we needed to go. Peeking through the studio doors we were treated to a keyboard playing Jona Lewie, knocking out a boogie-woogie style jam with the show’s houseband and it sounded great. The show host, ‘Diddy’ David Hamilton was easy to spot in his shocking blue jacket, plain black trousers and that ever familiar face that never seems to look any older, he must use a great moisturiser.
By the time we were shown into the fairly sparse studio by Chris Perry our audience numbers had doubled and the four of us took our seats, carefully laid out by Chris, this really was a well kept secret. Before filming commenced our quartet was almost doubled as another three people joined us and so in front of an audience of just seven the recording of the first show commenced.
I spent most of the first hour of the recording desperately trying to recall where I knew one of the cameramen from. I’m great with recognising familiar faces but hopeless at remembering where I know them from and even worse with matching the face to a name, so I was constantly distracted as I tried to place the face. Eventually, and after a quick scroll through my phone contacts I’d got it. It was Lee Bannister from the ATVLand in Colour team, who were extremely friendly and I was very grateful for the help they gave me when I was gathering information for my first TV Locations walking tour back in 2012.
We were told that the show would be playing some archive clips of the guests, but we unfortunately would not see the clips today, they would be cut into the footage for broadcast in March, so we had to use our imagination and applaud the clips after each one had been ‘played’.
As the tight houseband belted out the shows theme tune, David Hamilton, now wearing shocking blue trousers to match his jacket, strode confidently to centre stage and introduced the show, which was to be themed around Top of the Pops. After medley of TV themes, expertly played by the band, the first guest was introduced, the legend of TV pop shows and former radio DJ, now 89 years old, Pete Murray. Chatting openly about his days on Radio Luxembourg, Six-Five Special and of course Top of the Pops, Murray was an interesting guest with a fantastic memory for detail that defied his senior years. Being one of the first group of ‘Pops’ presenters, along with Alan Freeman, David Jacobs, and Jimmy Savile, it lead David to ask some expected questions about the later which Pete handled quite well, however it will be interesting to see which of his comments actually makes the final cut as the subject matter is an obviously difficult legal minefield. Murray was charming and still full of fun, jiving along in his seat to the music from the band and it was clear that he and Hamilton were dear friends, which made the interview a pleasure to witness.
Next up was another former ‘Pops’ presenter and Radio DJ, Ed ‘Stewpot’ Stewart, who began by revealed the origin of his nickname by lifting his shirt and rolling his ‘Stewpot’ stomach. Fortunately, TV viewers are unlikely to witness this spectacle as a problem with microphones forced a retake of his show entrance and wisely Hamilton did not go down the same avenue of questioning a second time. Stewart spoke fondly of his memories of his radio show Junior Choice and the TV show Crackerjack (“Crackerjack” – was the muted reply from the seven strong studio audience, but reply we did). He even name-checked the short lived Ed and Zed TV show before speaking about Top of the Pops. Stewart’s brief part in the 1973 Lynsey De Paul hit Won’t Somebody Dance with Me was discussed as he fondly remembered the talented singer-songwriter who sadly died in October 2014.
The interview ended with Stewart revealing he keeps his wallet on a chain, which was prompted by Hamilton questioning if he’d ever paid for a drink in the bar. As Stewart pulled a crisp £20 from his wallet, claiming it had been there since Christmas, it was obvious that it was not just the houseband who were tight. This was another good humoured and interesting interview with the former colleagues exchanging jokes and sharing memories of their times together in radio and TV.
Unfortunately the planned musical guest for show one, Tina Charles, had been snowed in and was unable to travel to Walsall to record her slot on the show. This was a real shame as we were sure she’d have been singing her 1976 number one hit I Love to Love (But My Baby Loves to Dance) as well as reducing the overall average age for the show by a couple of years to just 73.
The third guest had also recorded a number one hit single and performed it on Top of the Pops, when Where Are You Now (My Love) knocked the Beatles’ Ticket to Ride off the top of the charts. Jackie Trent, one half of the hugely successful songwriting partnership with her husband Tony Hatch, was the final guest of the first show. During their prolific songwriting careers, Trent and Hatch were known as ‘Mr & Mrs Music’, and they wrote hits for some huge stars. Trent shared tales of meeting Elvis Presley, getting phone calls from Frank Sinatra and of course discussed some of the many hits they wrote for Petula Clark. Hamilton revealed that Trent has a busy year ahead with a musical based on her life opening in Stoke and her autobiography due to be published, both of which were discussed during their chat. I couldn’t help feel that Trent’s writing career had a lot more stories to share but the limited time allowed meant that we we left wanting more, but I guess it will be in the book if we want to know.
At the break between the shows the freezing January temperatures had chilled the huge studio space and my friend and I were treated to a much welcome cup of hot chocolate from two of our fellow audience members which just about warmed us up enough to stick around for show two.
After a quick break and a change of suit, this time in pale blue, the ever cheery Hamilton was striding back into the studio to introduce another medley of TV themes from the house band, before continuing the Top of the Pops theme from show one with another couple of guests connected to the show.
The first guest was John Henshall, former ‘Pops’ cameraman and photographer. Henshall worked at the BBC for many years and worked on a variety of shows, including Top of the Pops. He’d come prepared with props and photographs to share with the TV audience (as well as the seven gathered in the studio) from his long career in television and video production. His main story revealed the facts around the ‘lost’ David Bowie performance of Jean Genie from 1973 which he had kept a copy of since recording the performance using one of his custom made fish-eye lenses. He also demonstrated one of his kaleidoscope lenses and shared some experiences of his foray into the work of the pop music video, working with artists such as Paul McCartney, David Bowie and Kate Bush, as well as many others. Being the only person I’d not seen on TV, having spent most of his career behind a camera, Henshall was a pleasantly interesting guest with some great anecdotes to share. It was a lengthy interview so I’m not sure how much will get broadcast, but I hope it gets some reasonable airtime as I found him fascinating to listen to.
As any lasting feeling finally ebbed out of my toes and fingers, Hamilton introduced the final guest for today’s recording, Jona Lewie. As you may recall, we’d seen Lewie sound checking earlier in the afternoon, when he was dressed in grey tracksuit trousers and a grey hooded top. We assumed that he would be off to make-up and wardrobe before his appearance on the show, but as he emerged from behind the curtain and strode confidently towards the chairs in the middle of the studio it was evident that this WAS his wardrobe for the day. It may have been an odd choice for many, but Lewie looked comfortable in his attire and, you know what, I was glad he wore it as it’s part of his eccentric character which makes him so likeable. He’s not conforming with the modern clean cut pop image, he’s his own man and a very talented musician to boot, so we should allow him his comfortable gear and hear what he has to say. What he does say is very interesting. He talks about his musical background and style and his biggest hit, and no it’s not the one you are thinking of right now. Back in 1972 he had a hit called Seaside Shuffle with a group called Terry Dactyl and the Dinosaurs, which reached number two in the charts (Stop the Cavalry only peaked at number three), so this was the initial discussion point, before Hamilton moved him onto the 1980 solo hits that his name is more often associated with. After another interesting discussion about a career in music it was time for Lewie to take to the keyboards for three songs, although unsure if all three will make the final cut as he was only scheduled to play two.
We were treated to performances of the oddly named Rearranging The Deckchairs On The Titanic, a title which Lewie carefully explained the origins of, You’ll Always Find Me In The Kitchen At Parties, the song that is now known for being the tune of the recent IKEA advert and a final track introduced simply as Kaleidoscope Boogie. As the final note faded out I couldn’t help think I’d experienced something a little bit special. Not only was this a brilliant musical performance by Lewie, excellently backed by the house band, but the first two shows of this new local TV show were in the can, well possibly a digital memory card but you know what I mean.
This is an very exciting time for local TV and I wish this enthusiastic group of TV makers every bit of success as they venture into a new era of Birmingham TV production. There are further recordings of the David Hamilton show in February and March so once I know the details I’ll share them here and hopefully they will have to break out just a few more rows of chairs for the next batch of recordings as it’s worthy of a much larger audience and extended support.
The first show of the series will be broadcast at 8pm on Tuesday 3rd March 2015 on Freeview Channel 8, Big Centre TV.
All Photos copyright Mike L Morton, used with permission
The images displayed are directly from the Facebook source and no copies of them are hosted on this site, therefore I cannot guarantee their availability.