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In the early 1990's, I.T.V. abolished the 'God slot', meaning that religious programmes could no longer be broadcast in the early part of Sunday evening, instead viewers would have to make do with family movies and game shows of the 'Family Fortunes' variety. It was quite a jump from Sir Cliff Richard singing 'Abide With Me' to 'Honey I Shrunk The Kids'.
'Stars On Sunday', made by Yorkshire Television, was a religiously themed variety show, a sort of 'Sunday Night At The London Palladium' with hymn books. Internationally famous stars of the calibre of Kenneth McKellar, Moira Anderson, Eartha Kitt, James Mason, Harry Secombe and Christopher Lee ( yes, you read that correctly! Old Count Dracula himself used to read extracts from The Bible on this show ) appeared. Normally such talent did not come cheap, but producer and presenter Jess Yates had a knack for persuading stars to work for next to nothing. Perhaps they thought it a worthy cause, like the bands who went on Live Aid in 1985. Perhaps they thought that by going on the show it would greatly increase their chances of reaching Heaven. We shall never know.
Millions tuned in each week to see Sir Harry and co. performing spiritually uplifting songs against a background of cardboard cut-out sheep and tinsel. It was the complete opposite of his later show 'Highway' ( how I miss that! ) which took him around the country.
Not all the 'turns' were stars. There was The Poole Family, Britain's answer to The Osmonds, who grinned their way through the hymn back catalogue. I forget how many there were ( it seemed like a new member joined each week ). The youngest member was chirpy Glyn, whom a T.V. Times reader likened to actor Kenneth Haigh, star of I.T.V.'s sleazy drama 'Man At The Top'. I never found out whether that was intended as a complement or not.
Linking the acts was, of course, Jess Yates, seated before an organ ( a musical one, so don't worry ) which he would then play a la Terry Jones in 'Monty Python's Flying Circus' ( only fully clothed ). Yates was known as 'The Bishop' on account of his oh-so solemn delivery. Watching him you would think you had tuned into a funeral service by mistake. Viewers used to send in requests for hymns. One night, he introduced 'When The Saints Go Marching In' and made it sound as though Judgement Day had arrived. Stanley Baxter did a splendid spoof on his 'Picture Show' called 'Scars On Sunday' in which he caught to a tee Yates' sepulchral manner.
'Stars On Sunday' used to go out ahead of sitcoms such as 'On The Buses' and 'Doctor In Charge' which meant that one minute you were watching David Frost reciting the parable of The Good Samaritan, the next Reg Varney and Bob Grant were insulting Stephen Lewis.
Alas, it came to pass that Yates had been having it off with a woman half his age, and Yorkshire T.V. did thus cast him out into the wilderness forevermore, much to the amusement no doubt of his long-term rival Hughie Green.
The show carried on without The Bishop for a good few years, finally ending in 1979. Other shows moved into the 'God slot', thankfully none quite as stuffy or pretentious. This show did more to promote atheism in Britain than any other, before or since.
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