That Was the Week That Was
|That Was the Week That Was|
|Also known as||''TW3''|
|Presented by||David Frost|
|Theme music composer||Ron Grainer|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of series||2|
|Running time||c. 50 minutes|
|Original network||BBC TV|
|Picture format||Black-and-white, 405-line|
|Original release||24 November 1962 – 28 December 1963|
|Followed by||Not So Much a Programme, More a Way of Life (1964–1965)|
That Was the Week That Was, informally TWTWTW or TW3, was a satirical television comedy programme on BBC Television in 1962 and 1963. It was devised, produced and directed by Ned Sherrin and presented by David Frost. An American version by the same name aired on NBC from 1964 to 1965, also featuring Frost.
The programme is considered a significant element of the satire boom in the UK in the early 1960s. It broke ground in comedy through lampooning the establishment and political figures. Its broadcast coincided with coverage of the politically charged Profumo affair and John Profumo, the politician at the centre of the affair, became a target for derision. TW3 was first broadcast on Saturday, 24 November 1962.
Cast and writers
Cast members included cartoonist Timothy Birdsall, political commentator Bernard Levin, and actors Lance Percival, who sang topical calypsos, many improvised to suggestions from the audience, Kenneth Cope, Roy Kinnear, Willie Rushton, Al Mancini, Robert Lang, David Kernan and Millicent Martin. The last two were also singers and the programme opened with a song – That Was The Week That Was – sung by Martin to Ron Grainer's theme tune and enumerating topics in the news. Frankie Howerd also guested with stand-up comedy.
Script-writers included John Albery, John Antrobus, John Betjeman, John Bird, Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Peter Cook, Roald Dahl, Richard Ingrams, Lyndon Irving, Gerald Kaufman, Frank Muir, David Nobbs, Denis Norden, Bill Oddie, Dennis Potter, Eric Sykes, Kenneth Tynan, and Keith Waterhouse.
The programme opened with a song ("That was the week that was, It's over, let it go ...") sung by Millicent Martin, referring to news of the week just gone. Lance Percival sang a topical calypso each week. Satirical targets, such as Prime Minister Harold Macmillan and Home Secretary Henry Brooke were lampooned in sketches, debates and monologues. Other targets were the monarchy, Britain's declining status as a global power, racism (particularly in the American South and South Africa under Apartheid), sexual and social hypocrisy, the class system, and the BBC itself. Well-remembered sketches include a 'consumers' guide to religion', which discussed relative merits of faiths in the manner of a Which? magazine report.
On Saturday, 20 October 1962 the award of Nobel prizes to John Kendrew and Max Perutz, and to Francis Crick, James D. Watson, and Maurice Wilkins was satirised in a short sketch with the prizes referred to as the Alfred Nobel Peace Pools; in this sketch Watson was called "Little J.D. Watson" and "Who'd have thought he'd ever get the Nobel Prize? Makes you think, doesn't it". The germ of the joke was that Watson was only 25 when he helped discover DNA; much younger than the others.
TW3 was broadcast on Saturday night and attracted an audience of 12 million. It often under- or overran as cast and crew worked through material as they saw fit. At the beginning of the second season in the autumn of 1963, in an attempt to assert control over the programme, the BBC scheduled repeats of The Third Man television series after the end of TW3. Frost suggested a means of sabotaging this tactic to Sherrin, and he agreed. For three weeks, Frost read out the plot of The Third Man, until the repeats were abandoned following the direct intervention of the BBCs Director General Hugh Greene.
Frost often ended a satirical attack with the remark "But seriously, he's doing a grand job". At the end of each episode, Frost usually signed off with: "That was the week, that was." At the end of the final programme he announced: "That was That Was The Week That Was...that was."
For the edition on Saturday, 23 November 1963, the day after the assassination of United States President John F. Kennedy, TW3 produced a shortened 20-minute programme with no satire, reflecting on the loss, including a contribution from Dame Sybil Thorndike and the tribute song "In the Summer of His Years" sung by Martin with lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer. This edition was screened on NBC in the US the following day, and the soundtrack was released by Decca Records. A clip, featuring Roy Kinnear, was shown in the David L. Wolper documentary film Four Days in November and on the History Channel 2009 documentary JFK: 3 Shots that Changed America. In addition to the Millicent Martin studio recording of "In the Summer of His Years" issued in the US by ABC-Paramount, other versions were recorded and released by Connie Francis (MGM), Mahalia Jackson (Columbia), Kate Smith (RCA Victor), Sarah Vaughan (Vernon) and The Chad Mitchell Trio (Mercury); the Francis recording became a Top 40 hit on the Cash Box pop singles chart in January 1964. BBC presenter Richard Dimbleby, who broadcast the president's funeral from Washington, said the regular programme was scrapped when news of the assassination was received and that the programme was a good expression of the sorrow felt in Britain.
After two successful series in 1962 and 1963, the programme did not return in 1964. The reason given by the BBC was that 1964 was election year and political material could compromise the corporation's impartiality.
Prime Minister Harold Macmillan was initially supportive, chastising the Postmaster General Reginald Bevins for threatening to "do something about it". However, the BBC received many complaints from organisations and establishment figures. Lord Aldington, vice-chairman of the Conservative Party, wrote to the BBC's director-general Hugh Carleton Greene that Frost had a "hatred" of the Prime Minister, which "he finds impossible to control". The programme also attracted complaints from the Boy Scout Association, upset by an item questioning the sexuality of its founder Lord Baden-Powell, and the government of Cyprus, which claimed a joke about Archbishop Makarios, the country's ruler, was a "gross violation of internationally accepted ethics".
Historians have identified TW3 as breaking ground in comedy and broadcasting. Graham McCann said it challenged the "convention that television should not acknowledge that it is television; the show made no attempt to hide its cameras, allowed the microphone boom to intrude and often revealed other nuts and bolts of studio technology." In the 1960s, this was unusual and gave the programme an exciting, modern feel. TW3 also flouted conventions by adopting "a relaxed attitude to its running time: loosely structured and open-ended, it seemed to last just as long as it wanted and needed to last, even if that meant going beyond the advertised time for the ending [...] the real controversy of course, was caused by the content."
Its subject matter has also been praised. McCann says: "TW3...did its research, thought its arguments through and seemed unafraid of anything or anyone.... Every hypocrisy was highlighted and each contradiction was held up for sardonic inspection. No target was deemed out of bounds: royalty was reviewed by republicans; rival religions were subjected to no-nonsense 'consumer reports'; pompous priests were symbolically defrocked; corrupt businessmen, closet bigots and chronic plagiarists were exposed; and topical ideologies were treated to swingeing critiques."
TW3 was live and recordings were not made of all editions, although only two editions are missing; the first pilot, and the 13 April 1963 edition. A compilation of surviving material was shown on BBC Four to celebrate the 40th anniversary. In a list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes up by the British Film Institute in 2000, voted by industry professionals, That Was The Week That Was placed 29th.
Sherrin attempted to revive the formula with Not So Much a Programme, More a Way of Life but was less successful.
An American version was on NBC, initially as a pilot episode on 10 November 1963, then as a series from 10 January 1964 to May 1965. The pilot featured Henry Fonda and Henry Morgan, guests Mike Nichols and Elaine May, and supporting performers including Gene Hackman. The recurring cast included Frost, Morgan, Buck Henry and Alan Alda, with Nancy Ames singing the opening song; regular contributors included Gloria Steinem, William F. Brown, Tom Lehrer and Calvin Trillin. The announcer was Jerry Damon. Also a guest was Woody Allen, performing stand-up comedy; the guest star on the final broadcast was Steve Allen. A running gag was a mock feud with Jack Paar, whose own programme followed TW3 on the NBC Friday schedule; Paar repeatedly referred to TW3 as "Henry Morgan's Amateur Hour."
The American version is largely a lost program, although the pilot survives and was donated to the Library of Congress by a collector. Amateur audio recordings of most episodes also survive. After the series' cancellation, Lehrer recorded a collection of his songs used on the show, That Was The Year That Was, released by Reprise Records in September 1965.
In the American version, an episode showed a smiling U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson contemplating an easy 1964 campaign against the Republican nominee, U.S. Senator Barry M. Goldwater of Arizona. The satirists sang that Goldwater could not win because he "does not know the dance of the liberal Republicans", then a substantial component of the GOP, many of whose members had supported Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller of New York for the Republican nomination.
A Canadian show, This Hour Has Seven Days, aired from 1964 to 1966 on CBC. Although partially inspired by That Was The Week That Was, the Canadian show mixed satirical aspects with more serious journalism. It proved controversial and was cancelled after two series amid allegations of political interference. This Hour Has 22 Minutes, created by Newfoundland comic Mary Walsh, has been running since 1992 although the two are not related.
An Australian show, The Mavis Bramston Show, aired from 1964 to 1968 on the Seven Network. It grew out of the recent local theatrical tradition of topical satirical revue—most notably the popular revues staged at Sydney's Phillip Street Theatre in the 1950s and 1960s—but it was also strongly influenced by the British satire boom and especially TW3 and Not Only... But Also.
The New Zealand show A Week Of It ran from 1977 to 1979, hosted by Ken Ellis, and featuring comedians David McPhail, Peter Rowley and Chris McVeigh and comedian/musicians Jon Gadsby and Annie Whittle. The series lampooned news and politics and featured songs, usually by McPhail and Gadsby, who continued with their own show, McPhail and Gadsby in similar vein.
A Dutch version, Zo is het toevallig ook nog 's een keer, aired from November 1963 to 1966. It became controversial after the fourth edition, which included a parody of the Lord's Prayer ("Give us this day our daily television"). Angry viewers directed their protests especially against the most popular cast member: Mies Bouwman. After receiving several threats to her life she decided to quit the show. The show was praised as well: in 1966 it received the Gouden Televizier-ring, a prestigious audience award—though it turned out afterward that the election was rigged.
On April 21, 1985 in the United States, the ABC network aired "That Was The Week That Was" as a special, hosted by David Frost (also serving as an executive producer) and Anne Bancroft, and featuring future Saturday Night Live cast members Jan Hooks and A. Whitney Brown and puppetry from Spitting Image.
Kristy Glass and Kevin Ruf starred in a remake of TW3 for ABC's Primetime Live in the fall of 2004. Soon after its premiere, Shelley Ross, the executive producer, was fired and TW3 ended with her dismissal.
An Indian version titled The Week That Wasn't was launched and hosted by Cyrus Broacha.
Cleveland, Ohio, local personality Ghoulardi (played by Ernie Anderson), host of WJW-TV's Shock Theater in the 1960s, ran clips of local celebrities and politicians and satirised them in a Shock Theater segment entitled That Was Weak Wasn't It?
- McCann 2006, p.156
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- Stuart Jeffries, "This'll kill you", The Guardian, 16 January 1999, p. B5.
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- That Was The Week That Was at BBC Online
- That Was The Week That Was at TV.com
- That Was the Week That Was at the British Film Institute
- That Was the Week That Was at the BFI's Screenonline
- That Was the Week That Was at the Museum of Broadcast Communications
- That Was the Week That Was at the Internet Movie Database