1969 to 1972 – DAVID FROST AT LONDON WEEKEND
BY DAVID TAYLOR
David Frost had made a name for himself at the BBC with ‘That Was The Week, That Was’ and after the follow up ‘Not So Much A Programme, More A Way Of Life’, didn’t get a third series in the election year of 1964, he headed across to ITV to introduce ‘The Frost Programme’ with Associated-Rediffusion.
This was made at Wembley in one of the pair of big Studio 5’s and was an interview programme in which Frost began to adopt the technique of ‘interviewer as aggressor’, that has become very familiar on TV ever since.
At the time though this interview gave some concerns as to whether this was stepping over into ‘trial by television’, but at the time Frost didn’t know Savundra was under already investigation.
Here’s a video clip from, perhaps his most famous Rediffusion interview, with the arch swindler Emil Savundra on 3rd February 1967.
It’s the end of the show in which Savundra, showing no remorse in front of the audience filled with people swindled by him, is confronted by Frost regarding his ‘morals’:
A change-round in ITV
It was acknowledged that in the forth-coming round of licence renewals in 1968, that Rediffusion stood a good chance of being ousted and David Frost formed a consortium to bid for the contract. He assembled a powerful looking group that comprised such names as Michael Peacock, BBC1 Controller and Frank Muir, the BBC Head of Sitcoms; theatre director Peter Hall, plus ITN News Chief Aiden Crawley and Cyril Bennett, the Rediffusion Controller of Programmes, who was prepared to ‘jump ship’ and the Managing Director of GEC, Sir Arnold Weinstock.
By carefully adapting points from the Pilkington report that had criticised ITV so heavily in 1966, Frost’s company looked like it would bring a new look to ITV, based on moving away from more ‘popular culture’ into Arts…with a capital ‘A’, and investigative journalism. Perhaps more like a cross between BBC1 and 2, than ITV had been up to then, but obviously still with commercials.
This gave it the necessary winning appeal, and along with many changes to the other regions, the new company, now called London Weekend Television, was given a three day contract in London. Another company, Thames, was then formed out of the amalgamation of ABC and Rediffusion, to cover the 5 weekdays in the London area.
New studios….new staff?
However before London Weekend could burst into life there were a few things to be sorted out. Like the staff of the existing companies and where the new companies were to be working from.
Some agreements with staff were agreed reasonably easily. Staff being moved from one area to a new company in a different area; ‘re-locating’, were given guaranteed employment with redundancy payments.
However staff like the ones leaving Rediffusion for Thames or London Weekend, weren’t to get anything. They were just moving across weren’t they?
However the ACTT Union said they should get redundancy payments as well ……and the companies wouldn’t agree to this at all.
So it was all likely start badly…as we shall see.
Frost gets a show…every weekend evening
Now effectively heading up LWT, and versed in being a TV interviewer/ comedian/entertainer, Frost now talked his way into being given a show on every night of the London Weekend 3 day transmission period.
Well it possibly didn’t seem like that, because Rediffusion had been showing three Frost shows before as well. They had been on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, but only the Friday show had been on the full ITV Network and LWT were now putting all three of his shows across the the three key ‘entertainment’ nights on TV.
Friday got the’ incisive interviewer Frost’ with Frost On Friday, which was produced by Geoffrey Hughes and with programme consultant Anthony Jay.
Saturday…well that was Frost On Saturday with ‘Frost the Entertainer’; interviews with entertainers and public figures and some music thrown in-between.
The Producer…well that would be Geoffrey Hughes again and Programme Consultant was Anthony Jay again.
And Sunday, was Frost On Sunday and out came the ‘Comedy Frost’, leaning though heavily on Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett.
Hughes and Jay took the evening off and Philip Casson Produced and a biggish cast of writers were involved.
London Weekend starts of with a ‘strike’
LWT started on-air on the Friday 2nd August 1968 and details of that first night has been very well covered on the excellent Transdiffusion website :
“The first programme is ‘We Have Ways of Making You Laugh’, with a stellar cast and crew behind it. Frank Muir, co-writer of the huge radio success ‘Take It From Here’ in the 1950s, was at the top of his game as ever; Kenneth Cope was a big star and light on his feet in a live revue format; Dick Vosburgh had written comedy for all the big names and was an accomplished lyricist to boot. With Bill Turner directing and the incomparable Humphrey Barclay producing, this was a show with good prospects”
“At least, it would’ve been… but as the production assistant counted down, the camera crew and the technicians dropped everything and went for a union meeting. Muir and Co on stage knew immediately that the programme wasn’t happening, but carried on anyway for the benefit of the studio audience.”
And unfortunately that continued for the rest of the evening.
LWT ran a couple of pre-recorded or film shows, a comedy ‘Thingymybob’ and then the first episode of the series ‘The Untouchables’, didn’t make it to air.
Next the first ‘Frost On Friday’, at 9.15 didn’t go out as planned, although the management did put on something of a show. Alas we have no record of it.
The two following programmes, the ‘ITN News’ and ‘Sports Arena’ then failed to appear and a film documentary about ‘Hollywood star’ Humphrey Bogart did run. It was competing though with a BBC1 documentary about another ‘Hollywood star’ Clark Gable, which had started half-an-hour earlier.
Thames crews had also been undertaking industrial action, so their Friday ‘Today’ show from the old Rediffusion studios in TV House had been stopped by a Union Meeting and that resulted in the Thames staff being sent home.
More industrial action over the weekend eventually produced a complete ITV Network strike, except for down at little Channel TV.
Busking the first Frost On Sunday onto ‘Air’
So, LWT’s first weekend started with a whimper.
Here’s the start of the first ‘Frost On Sunday’ (4th August 1968)….which came from the little ‘World Of Sport’ Studio and was manned, as best they could, by the LWT management:
I enjoyed seeing the World Of Sport cubicle called the ‘fishbowl’ behind the audience in the studio there. That was the home of the World of Sport Editor and his team during the programme and is well remembered by us sound assistants for the amount of sound rigging that was required each week.
This show though, being operated by ‘the managers’, was full of unrehearsed fun, like this:
LWT ratings were crashing and so was the company
LWT idea of the programming of ‘arts’ at peak viewing times was a disaster, but I won’t go over the situation that developed within ITV after the weekend ratings began to ‘crash’. It is so very well summed up over on the ‘Teletronic’ website in this article :
A look at sound coverage on the Frost Shows
Although nothing out of the ordinary, let’s take a look at the technical side of things on both ‘chat’ and ‘entertainment’ shows like these at the end of the ’60’s.
Here’s a photo of Frost in front of the audience in one of the two big ‘Studio 5’s’, A and B.
The superb Fisher booms were most probably inherited from Rediffusion and prominent in this photo are the big audience ‘line-column’ PA speakers. These were 100volt line models, which enabled the amplifiers to be far away in the control rooms, although that way of working had been used for a long time in TV studios.
Hanging beneath each speaker was an audience mic. We were now using AKG D-12 mics (or were they D-20’s?), which were cardiods, positioned to be in the ‘dead zone’ from the fairly directional ‘line-column’ speakers, to minimise pickup of the PA feed. This was a different technique to the BBC, who discriminated against the PA on their audience mics by hanging STC 4038 ribbon mics between each speaker. The ‘figure-of-eight’ pickup of the 4038’s was ‘deadest’ on the sides of the mic, so that reduced the PA picked up from each speaker.
I guess the fact that Wembley Studios had no overhead walk-on lighting grid and also used scaffold poles straddling between the lighting telescopes; which made mic rigging particularly hard, was also a factor in the LWT method.
The centre camera in this photo is on a crane and the picture monitors hung above the audience, would usually have been augmented by a large ‘Eidophor’ front projection screen positioned over the audience, with the projector on a platform at the audience rear.
We used an Eidophor on most audience shows for many years, along with the slung TV monitors and I think the projector remained in ‘black-and-white’.
Alas for sound….the large Eidophor hummed quite noticably and therefore was usually screened to help cut out the intrusive noise. This was so certainly the case when we started ‘pushing’ the audience reaction, for a more exciting sound on our Entertainment Shows.
A ‘Radio Mic’ for Frost
If you look at the ‘Savundra’ interview, you can see that both David Frost and his guest are wearing mics on a lanyard around their necks. These are AKG D109’s and unlike some presenters miked this way, who had to cope with a cable run down a trouser leg, David Frost insisted on using a ‘radio mic’, so that he was more mobile.
Gosh, such newfangled technology! I had never seen one until I arrived at LWT and these things were still in their infancy. The one used in the late ’60’s by LWT, as far as I had remembered was French, however in retrospect that now seems unlikely. So perhaps it was a German built model…although I knew the mic ranges of Sennheiser and Beyer, both of whom certainly did get into radio mics early on.
Anyway it was had a large dark green transmitter, the size of a paper-back book, and much of it’s size was the rechargeable battery. The radio mic pack was a heavy affair to be carrying, either in a jacket pocket, or strapped around your mid-drift.
They were pretty unreliable and had a ‘hanging wire’ aerial that easily got bent or folded up. As a sound assistant, I fairly frequently had to dive into David’s pocket to fiddle with the radio mic. A boom though was always at had to cover during any ‘loss of signal’.
Radio mics only began to be happily used by the Sound Department when the Micron models began to arrive some years later.
Stand mics where possible
I’m sure most Sound Supervisors would say that a studio boom mounted mic provided the best quality, and you could cover a 2 and a 3-handed interview with one, but director’s usually didn’t like them…too restricting for the wide-shots, so the usual ‘sit-down’ interview would be miked with stand-mics….discretely positioned of course.
The Frost On Saturday, the ‘Entertainment Show’ of the ‘three Frost’s’, shown in the clip above from 24th August 1968, has American comedian Stan Freburg explaining why he was now making ‘spoof commercials’ and actually getting American companies to use them to sell products on TV.
He’s miked with one KM54, Neumann’s ‘miniature valve mic’, positioned centrally to cover both chairs.
And a clip from the same show with John Lennon and Yoko Ono being interviewed; although Stan Freburg butts in straight away from the audience with a pointed question:
John explains his current ‘art exhibition/happening’:
Those clips were ‘tele-recordings’, and suffer with the noisy optical soundtrack background, along with film dust and scratches on the image. The additional little horizontal drop-outs in the picture, do give away that it came from a 2″VTR copy though.
There is one Frost Show that was occasionally remembered by LWT staff in later years, as it was ‘taken over’ by demonstrators and got so out of hand that Frost had to make rapid move from Studio 5A, into the adjacent Studio 5B, to continue the show. I’m not aware of any surviving video copy though.
Here’ s a Frost on Friday, from October 1969; and this is now from a 2″ VTR copy. It’s a ‘5-handed’ interview about The Death Penalty. The clip here, from a ‘Network DVD’, is in colour, although it would have been transmitted in black-and-white, as the first night of ITV colour transmissions was 15th November 1969, the following month.
Here, 6 Neuman KM84 mics, are suitably parked between the guests.
The speech quality of Canon Collins, on the far right of the guests in that clip shows a fair amount of ‘LF’. With no channel EQ on the valve Marconi mixing desk, no high-pass filter was applied to tailor his mic’s bass response, but it’s good to hear that the mix is ‘nice and bright’ overall. We did use a box of plugin equalisers fairly often now though.
The Neumann KM84 was the first of the 48volt phantom powered mics. Sound assistants in TV were delighted to be freed from the rigging of power supplies….well eventually, because those old Marconi desks inherited from Rediffusion, didn’t have built in 48v powering and so external power supplies were still needed at this time. Though the new Neumann phantom PSU’s were smaller and only a standard XLR went to the mic, we had to wait for the arrival of the new Neve consoles before ‘freedom’ really arrived.
Above is a photo of David Frost, during the opening sequence to a Frost On Sunday in which he delivered a series of alas, often rather weak jokes. He’s wearing his AKG109 ‘radio mic’, but also being covered by a boom with a U67. Waiting in the background and covered by the other boom are Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett, behind the Floor Manager, David Yallop.
David isn’t ‘pulling a talkback cable’ around, so these are the days when another innovation had arrived, ‘Radio Talkback’ from the Director.
A notable character, David Yallop often contributed scripts to the Frost shows as well as other comedy shows, and also wrote for the Granada TV series ‘Crown Court’ . He did finally became a full-time writer of books, mainly about unsolved murder mysteries.
The camera is a brand new EMI 2001. These were bought when the arrival of ITV in colour demanded new cameras and they then equipped the new South Bank Studios and also LWT OB’s for many years.
The change over from the valve Neumann U67 to the phantom powered U87 mics, once mixing desks arrived with 48v fitted to the mic inputs, also improved the rigging of the booms. They no longer needed a mains feed to the large PSU which sat on the boom platform, or the special Neumann multipin mic cable to the boom.
Frost On Sunday was a comedy show, which relied heavily on Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett for the real laughs, plus, like the Saturday show, it had music.
Here’s Juliette Greco, demonstrating two aspects of French music. There’s some beautiful, very sexy singing; with in this case just an accomplished guitarist, and err, some strange ‘accordion chords’ in the backing with her Trio, and some ‘particular French’ style singing, in the second tune:
You can see why the American jazz trumpeter Miles Davis so fell in love with her on his first visit to Paris back in 1949.
Juliette is on an AKG C-28 mic, fitted with the ‘long extension tube’, the VR-30, and in fact in the second song, the piano has one as well. That ‘chugging’ accordion is such a hoot I think.
Finally, here is an extremely funny sketch, from the same show by the Two Ronnies:
You can tell in that clip, that the audience in those wasn’t that big. This made ‘pushing for laughs’, did tend to give you only an inevitably small sounding audience! This was solved with the move to The South Bank, with larger audience seating and better miking, plus having some ‘new techniques’ for getting a more exciting audience sound.
Credits and references:
ALL THE FROST ON FRIDAY, SATURDAY AND SUNDAY SHOWS THAT HAVE SURVIVED, ARE AVAILBLE FROM ‘NETWORK’, ALONG WITH A VAST COLLECTION OF OTHER HISTORIC TV SHOWS FROM BOTH ITV AND THE BBC.
BROWSE THEIR CATALOGUE AT:
Many thanks for the use of the clips shown above, which so help in demonstrating the history of TV sound.
1: Transdifussion is a great website for stories from ITV’s past:
2: “Teletronic, the Television History Site” is another website with lots of TV history:
3: ‘Crown Court’ was a Granada TV courtroom drama, with the jury comprised of members of the public, that was transmitted in the afternoons. It started in 1972 and ran until 1984.
More details on the Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crown_Court_(TV_series)