That Was the Week That Was
(abbreviated to TW3
) was a satirical television comedy programme shown on BBC television
between 24 November 1962 and 28 December 1963. It was devised, produced and directed by Ned Sherrin
, and presented by David Frost
The programme is considered to be a significant element of the "satire boom" in the United Kingdom in the early 1960s. At this stage in the decade, far from challenging entrenched social attitudes and conventions, the 1960s promised to be a continuation of the socially conservative, conventional and stifling 1950s. The historical significance of this show is that it was the first challenge to convention of the decade. It broke new ground in comedy through lampooning the establishment and political figures of the time. This is so commonplace now that it is hard to believe the practice of satirising political leaders and those hitherto perceived to be our "social betters" had to begin somewhere and was in fact frowned upon - but it began here, over 50 years ago. Later shows such as Spitting Image
would simply not have happened were it not for pioneering shows such as this. Its first broadcast coincided with coverage of the politically charged Profumo affair, and John Profumo, the politician at the centre of the affair, became one of the first targets for derision. He was certainly not the last.
An American version by the same name, also featuring Frost, aired on NBC
from January 1964 to May 1965. Moral Guardians
in both countries repeatedly protested, but it was too late - the genie was out of the bottle and practically every TV show that even dabbled in satire has something of TW3
about it. The programme always opened with a song – That Was the Week That Was
– sung by Millicent Martin to Ron Grainer's theme tune, its words rewritten to include topical issues in the news.
Cast members included cartoonist Timothy Birdsall, political commentator Bernard Levin, and actors Lance Percival, Kenneth Cope, Roy Kinnear, Willie Rushton
, Al Mancini, Robert Lang, Frankie Howerd
, David Kernan and Millicent Martin
(resident chanteuse). 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.
Recurring segments included:
- Timothy Birdsall drawing a (usually politically-themed) cartoon on a blank piece of paper while explaining the ideas going into the picture.
- Lance Percival singing a calypso song inspired by the week's news events.
- Bernard Levin engaging in a debate with one or more members of a particular profession or organisation (such as barristers or hoteliers), usually beginning by reciting a list of reasons why the profession/organisation is a national disgrace and then inviting the guest(s) to refute his arguments.
The series was cancelled in early 1964 as a General Election had been called and the BBC claimed that the programme's material could compromise its impartiality. Sherrin later revived the format as Not So Much a Programme, More a Way of Life
(1964-65, also fronted by Frost) and BBC-3
(1965-66, fronted by Robert Robinson), though neither is quite as fondly remembered as TW3
This satirical TV show included examples of:
- Biting-the-Hand Humor: The BBC were certainly not immune from TW3's caustic putdowns, with various programming and executive decisions being held up to ridicule during the series' run.
- Catch Phrase: David Frost closed each episode with a Title Drop. In the final episode, he expanded it to "That was That Was the Week That Was... that was."
- Political Correctness Gone Mad: Although the series lambasted prejudice in all its forms, they were not above attacking this attitude as well. In the 30 March 1963 episode, a sketch about retail magnate Charles Clore happened to mention that he was of Russian Jewish descent, sparking outraged viewers to accuse the programme of anti-Semitism. The fact that Clore's Jewish heritage had not been mentioned as an insult and that few of the angry letter writers were themselves Jewish prompted Bernard Levinnote to make his monologue in the following week's episode an attack on such attitudes.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: As with all satirical programmes, there were many of these on TW3.
- Bernard Levin began his debate segments by delivering one of these to his guests (representatives of a given profession or organisation), then allowing them to refute his arguments.
- David Frost often delivered monologues denouncing one or more public figures or organisations as corrupt, inept, or both. For example, in one episode he recited a list of MPs who had not given speeches in Parliament since at least the 1959 General Electionnote ; in another, he excoriated Columbia Records A&R head Norrie Paramor for insisting on putting his own bland, forgettable compositions on the B-sides of singles released by artists on the label.
- This sketch takes the form of a parody of This Is Your Life with Frost as host Eamonn Andrews, delivering a "reason you suck" speech to then-Home Secretary Henry Brooke (played by Willie Rushton) for his scandal-plagued tenure in the position.
- Running Gag: Kenneth Cope bursting into a rendition of big musical number (such as "Maria" from West Side Story), only to either stop himself or be stopped after the first line.
- Something Else Also Rises: Parodied in a 1962 episode. Willie Rushton gets into bed with an impossibly glamorous actress/model type. Amid giggling and sighing, foreplay ensues. The camera then cuts to stock footage of waves crashing against rocks, tall chimneys falling, train going into tunnels, etc. We cut back to Willie Rushton and girl, who are still in bed - but soaked through from the waves, covered in brick dust and rubble from the chimney, and smothered in soot from the steam-train. She is screaming. He is wide-eyed with panic.
"Every bloody time we try something, all that bloody lot happens!"
- Song Parody: Although many of the satirical songs on the programme were original, others were set to existing tunes. For example, a song about an outbreak of typhoid at the Swiss ski resort of Zermatt and the resulting local coverup in 1963 was set to the tune of the children's song "Oh dear, what can the matter be?"
Kenneth Cope, Lance Percival: (singing) Oh dear, what can the matter be / We've got typhoid down in our lavatory / We won't tell the tourists 'til Saturday / Have it denied by the Mayor!
Mayor (Willie Rushton): (singing) As Mayor of Zermatt don't accuse me of lying / Though hundreds have caught it and dozens are dying / As long as a few are still ski-ing and buying / I promise it's only a scare!
All three: (singing) Oh dear, look at the Matterhorn / Practically nobody's there!
- Spiritual Successor: Following the 1964 General Election, Ned Sherrin revived the satirical sketch variety/discussion format, still with Frost as frontman, as Not So Much a Programme, More a Way of Life, which ran for 62 episodes (three episodes a week) from 1964-65. Sherrin then revived the format again with the Robert Robinson-fronted BBC-3, which ran for 24 weekly episodes from 1965-66.
- Take That: As with all satirical programmes, TW3 ran on these. From a This Is Your Life parody featuring Frost as Eamonn Andrews and Willie Rushton as then-Home Secretary Henry Brooke in which Frost recited every scandal that had befallen Brooke, to a comparison of six major religions in the style of consumer magazine Which?, to a Black and White Minstrel Show-style musical number attacking racism in the American Deep South, any social institution or public figure was fair game.
- Title Drop: Delivered by Frost at the end of every episode.
- Title Theme Tune: "That was the week that was / It's over, let it go / Ooh, what a week that was / That was the week... that was!"
- Trans Atlantic Equivalent:
- In the United States, NBC aired a version of That Was the Week That Was, also fronted by Frost, from January 1964 to May 1965 (following the cancellation of the UK original). The series was notable for featuring regular musical contributions by Tom Lehrer (who performed several of his songs from the American TW3 on Frost's later BBC programme The Frost Report).
- In Canada, This Hour Has Seven Days, which aired on CBC television for two series from 1964-66, was directly inspired by TW3, though it included more serious discussion of current events amid the satire. The series notably featured contributions from future Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, then a law professor.