Shows the viewers don’t see


ABC are using Alpha Studios in Birmingham for a novel idea: testing 18 pilot shows they may never make

Article from the TVTimes Midlands edition for 10-16 March 1957

Exciting new programme ideas are being tried out in the Birmingham ITV studios. ABC chiefs have given instructions for 18 new shows to go before the cameras with full crews, cast, costumes and sets.

But none of them will be going on the air yet. They will be studied critically by company officials.

The 18 programmes range from simple panel games to “really big productions.” And under this system a show can be scrapped after a “dummy run” should it not come up to standard.

“We confine ourselves to the cost of one show, whether it be play, musical, revue or quiz game,” said an ABC official. “Much better to have a sample show and then modify it or reject it if it is not suitable.”

One of these “dummy runs,” shown to a sample audience in Birmingham, was a panel game called Full House. It was devised by Roy Ward Dickson, who was the chairman, and had a panel of three comprising Elaine Grand, Wally Reyburn and Pamela Russell.

Contestants were engaged couples who had to try and stump the panel; 1,300 couples applied for the show – four couples were chosen to appear.

The idea is that if a couple manage to stump the panel in four minutes they win a bedroomful of furniture. They would then come back the next week to try for another roomful of furniture and so on until they got a houseful. Hence the title, Full House.

The “dummy” panel in action. From the left: Pamela Russell, Wally Reyburn, Elaine Grand. If couples can beat them they win a roomful of furniture

Another feature of the show was Memory Table, in which a married couple had to memorise as many objects as possible before being blindfolded.

Here appeared all the elements for a successful show: atmosphere created by the minutes ticking away, youthfulness, glamour, humour and gimmicks — even to a pageboy presenting a bouquet to each contesting couple.

What did the audience think of it? Average comment was “very good.” Everybody present filled in a card on which they wrote their candid comments. These cards were collected by producer Eddie Kebbell and forwarded to the powers-that-be at ABC Television.

Typist Kathleen Neal, of Birmingham, thought Full House had all the elements of a first-class show. Mr. A. Tyler, also of Birmingham, agreed, and added that he thought Pamela Russell was a distinct asset to the panel.

“I should like to see her on TV much more,” he said. “She has been missing since she appeared in Quite Contrary.”

Mr. and Mrs. Griffiths having their test on the “Memory Table.” They, and other “guinea-pigs,” like this show, hope to see it screened regularly

Mr. F. Doherty, a commercial traveller, of Four Oaks, said: “There’s lots of room for improvement, but I think it could become a popular show. The panel should alternate between using two girls and one man and two men and one girl.”

Said Mr. and Mrs. A Griffiths, who have been married 28 years and took part in the Memory Table: “We should very much like to see the show again.”

Miss Beryl Tibbitts and her fiancé, Mr. B. Wyer, said: “We thought the panel were particularly good. They got on with the job without trying to make impressions. We think it’s a novel giveaway show. For couples like us, who want to get married, it presents a wonderful opportunity.”

These audience comments and the views of the officials of ABC Television will be the decisive factors for the future of Full House — and other such “dummy run” shows, and this “television test bed” will serve an important function in the interest of entertainment.

A group of engaged couples await their turn to try to beat the panel

Howard Thomas, head of ABC, tells me he is particularly interested in “spontaneous-looking” programmes. One of the ideas he is trying out is for a casual, off-the-cuff programme of the kind so popular on American TV.

No matter how the 18 projected programmes differ in concept, they have one great thing in common: they are all based on brand-new ideas.

The cost of the full-scale tryouts will come to many thousands of pounds. This may appear an expensive way of finding new programmes, but it is an essential method for a week-end company whose tightly-packed schedule leaves little room for experimenting with shows that may or may not make the grade with the viewer.

During the next few weeks Mr. Thomas will be keeping a sharp lookout for possibilities for the 11 p.m. – midnight slot on Saturdays. “I call it the teenage time, and I think it is going to attract a tremendous audience,” he says.

Leave a Reply