Originally proposed to the BBC under the title "Saturday Night," this late-night satirical review of current events built a huge audience, going from 3.5 million viewers on its opening (November 24, 1962) to ten million by end of its first season (April 1963). The most famous "TW3" sketch, "What Is a Mum?" (aka "Mother's Day"), was written by Dennis Potter and David Nathan from an idea by Jack Rosenthal. Using a format introduced on Jackie Gleason's recordings ("What Is a Boy?", "What Is a Girl?"), popular during the 1950s and also satirized by Steve Allen ("What Is a Freem?"), "What Is a Mum?" depicted a housewife in terms of ad slogans: "She thinks every washday is a miracle. And since she adds the extra egg to everything except the bacon, she is probably constipated as well." Other Potter-Nathan sketches satirized Tories, predictions in the "Sunday Express," Q&A with a spokesman for the South African government, Adam Faith songs, and Hugh Carleton Greene. The American "TW3" (... Written by
Bhob Stewart <email@example.com>
Born too late (1960), for years I knew about TW3 by repute (from my two elder brothers). Some time in the late 70s, archive clips of this groundbreaking show started to be shown on TV, and I could see for myself - in spite of the technical advances of the intervening years - its amazing boldness and novelty.
It is hard to equate the present-day Sir David Frost, a jowly man in late middle age who currently conducts "soft", Sunday-morning interviews with politicians, with the gauche young man of the same name (if lacking the title) forty-odd years earlier, who gamely (if ineptly) participates in the revue-type sketches of TW3.
I myself was a young man in the 1980s; I was amazed not by the datedness of TW3 (although its B&W minimalism - which must have been so striking in the very early 1960s - seemed antediluvian twenty years later), but by the savagery of its satire. A sketch about Henry Brooke, the then-Home Secretary, was far fiercer than anything in "Spitting Image".
Far more important than Frost's gauche anchor was the magnificent Millicent Martin, a sexy jazz singer who declaimed (with only minimal rehearsal) complex, tongue-twisting ditties freshly-minted from the scriptwriters' slimline Remingtons.
Other regulars were the late, great comic actor, Roy Kinnear, a comparatively youthful Kenneth Cope (a good few years before "Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased)"), the irreplaceable Lance Percival (whom I was always too shy to approach when I saw him walking his basset-hound - only marginally more hangdog than he - near Parson's Green) and Timothy Birdsall, the handsome and charismatic cartoonist doomed to die of leukaemia at 26 halfway through the series.
There were lapses, of course. Sometimes it just wasn't funny. Other times it was hopelessly naive (the gushing JFK tribute, for example). The series was cancelled late in 1963, because, post-Profumo scandal, the General Election (which was not, in fact, held until October 1964) appeared to be in prospect.
They needn't have bothered. Harold Wilson's Labour Party won anyway!
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