Old Gray Whistle Test 1972
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The Old Grey Whistle Test was an influential BBC2 television music show that ran from September 1971 to 1987. It was devised by maverick BBC producer Rowan Ayers. The programme hosted many seminal acts of the era, including the first British TV performance of Bob Marley and the Wailers as well as little known acts of whom any footage is now considered precious, such as Judee Sill.
The show's focus on "serious" rock music rather than chart hits was emphasised by a lack of showbiz glitter: bands would often perform their songs in front of plain wooden boards (actually the backs of set walls from other programmes filmed in the same studio). As with many BBC productions, this was (initially at least) as much a matter of money as of style; other late night shows of the time, having only 'minority' appeal, also had to be content with spartan sets.
The series' opening titles consisted of an animation of a male figure (known as the 'Star Kicker') made up of stars dancing. The programme's title music, with its distinctive harmonica theme, was a track called "Stone Fox Chase" by a Nashville band, Area Code 615.
The first host was Richard Williams, features editor of Melody Maker, the music weekly. During this period, there was a remarkable correlation between the featured artists on the show and those appearing on the magazine's front page. Eventually, Williams was replaced by DJ Bob Harris (nicknamed "Whispering Bob Harris", due to his quiet voice and "laid back" style). Bob Harris became notorious among the younger generation for calling the New York Dolls "mock rock." The Dolls' performance on the Old Grey Whistle would strongly influence the British punk movement.Anne Nightingale took over as host in 1978 when it was felt the programme was behind the times in its failure to embrace punk. This was acknowledged when The Adverts opened Nightingale's first show, T. V. Smith beginning with the words "At last the 1978 show" (a pun on the television comedy At Last The 1948 Show) and a sigh of relief that the programme was finally contemporary. In the early 1980s Andy Kershaw, David Hepworth, Mark Ellen and Richard Skinner also took turns as presenters.
Apart from the music, the show also offered a dose of humour. For example, when a Japanese group called The Sadistic Mika Band appeared, a stagehand arranged for the name of the programme title (usually hung on the back wall) to be spelled as The Old Gley Whistle Test, a joke on the Japanese pronunciation of the word "grey".
In 1983 the programme was moved to a live mid-evening slot. The title was abridged to Whistle Test and the title credits and music were changed.
The final show was broadcast at the end of 1987; material included "Hotel California" by The Eagles, live from 1977, and "Bat Out Of Hell" by Meat Loaf.
The executive producer of the The Old Grey Whistle Test was Mike Appleton. Derek Burbidge and Kate Humphries directed and videoed many of the artists. The audio was always of prime importance. Gregg Baily was the recordist for the show on location. Other directors and camera operators were Martin Pitts in the USA, and for England, John Metcalfe and Tim Pope and many others. Location shoots all over the world were an essential part of the programme.