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Variety in the finest tradition

Author: idiosyncratic_anomaly from Manchester, Engand, UK
29 November 2003

A mainstay of ITV's Sunday night schedule for five years, host Jimmy Tarbuck introduced a medley of artistes, both established and otherwise, from the worlds of singing, dancing, comedy and musicals. During its run, Dionne Warwick, Shirley Bassey, Roy Orbison, George Benson, Bruce Forsyth and Donny Osmond all topped the bill at least once.

In all, three seasons of shows were screened from Her Majesty's theatre with David Bell as producer and Alasdair MacMillan his director: Season 1 (1982/83) - 8 episodes x 60 minutes; Season 2 (1984) - 8 episodes x 60 minutes; Season 3 (1985) - 6 episodes x 60 minutes. A pre-recorded montage of the series' most memorable moments, interspersed with Jimmy Tarbuck reminiscing, also aired as "Laughs from Her majesty's".

1986 marked the serial's first change of venue and programme title with a further 6 shows (x 60 minutes) broadcast from London's Piccadilly Theatre, again with Bell and MacMillan at the production helm. Unlike Her Majesty's, however, "Live from the Piccadilly" was not a ratings success, mainly due to poor guest selection, although a rival BBC maritime soap opera - Howard's Way - screened at the same time, was also in the ascendant.

In 1987, the programme switched venue for the final time to the London Palladium, airing as "Live from The Palladium" thereafter. In total, a further 3 seasons of shows were televised, this time with Marcus Plantin (later to head the ITV network) as producer, alongside director Ian Hamilton: Season 5 (1987) - 6 episodes x 60 minutes; Season 6 (1988) - 6 episodes x 60 minutes; Season 7 (1988) - 4 episodes x 60 minutes plus 1 episode x 90 minutes.

Although the Palladium shows were largely a success, the capitulation of then LWT programme chief Greg Dyke to youth-obsessed advertisers, wishing to exploit the spending potential of southern softies, resulted in the demise of many shows popular with northern viewers, among them the "Live from...." series. A final highlights show - "Laughs from The Palladium" - did, however, appear in 1990.

Alyn Ainsworth, TV's Mr Music, supplied the orchestral arrangements and accompaniments for the serial's entire run, while the Brian Rogers Connection - an established dance troupe from ITV gameshow 321 - provided the fancy footwork during series 1-3 before being replaced by the Alan Harding dancers in 1986.

That the Bell/Plantin format possessed the magical x-factor can be attributed to a number of variables. Firstly, it represented the perfect vehicle for comedian Jimmy Tarbuck as the genial compere who, during his tenure of the programme, became British television's highest-paid entertainer. Secondly, with the exception of the Piccadilly shows, the serial had the right mix of guest stars and proved a launch pad for many of today's established acts. Les Dennis, Michael Barrymore, Brian Conley and Joe Longthorne, to name a few, were all rewarded with their own series after appearances on the show. And, for any who accused the format of being regressive, the programme even numbered the likes of Steve "Alan Partridge" Coogan and Hale & Pace among its "new wave" comedy stars who guested through the years. Finally, it was perhaps the unpredictability of live television, never more apparent then when fez-topped comic Tommy Cooper collapsed and died on the show, which enabled the armchair viewer to feel part of a variety spectacle.

As modern day television executives wallow in the mediocrity of cookery and home improvement shows, it's worth reflecting that the absence of "variety" programming has removed an important pathway to stardom for the new generation. This is evidenced in the lack of "legitimate" stars on the small screen today.

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