It’s precisely 50 years since the first edition of TONIGHT, the Beeb’s topical teatime tryst helmed by the impeccable, unflappable, infinitely three-piece-suitable Cliff Michelmore.
Cliff, together with cohort Alan Whicker and anyone else who’s still alive, is down at BBC Television Centre this very evening at a special celebratory dinner laid on by the D-G himself Mark Thompson. You can only hope Mark has his ears pinned back far enough to take on board whatever avuncular anecdotery Cliff sees fit to dispense over the melon balls and Hollandaise sauce. For much of what made Tonight not only hugely influential but compulsively watchable should, by rights, still be practiced on telly today. Not least on THE ONE SHOW, due back later this year.
Such ingredients can, at one remove, be boiled down to:
– a theme tune you can a) hum when you’re walking down the street b) hear above the noise of doing the pots and c) acts as a cheerful clarion for anyone in the vicinity to get in front of the box tout suite
– a set that looks like your friend’s dad’s study
– opening patter that refers to some impossibly mundane subject of conversation and which allows the host to begin by musing, “Well, I don’t know about you, but…”
– someone interviewing colourful local people with a story to tell in a dementedly far flung corner of the British Isles, preferably in inclement weather
– someone interviewing colourful local people with a bizarre object to show and tell on a patch of gravel just outside the studio, also preferably in inclement weather
– a co-presenter sitting to one side of the studio in a sort of booth/cubby hole, to which the main host can turn with a raise of the eyebrow and the words: “If ever there was one person to tell us why, from tomorrow, we’ll officially all be one inch taller, it’s…”
– a whimsical topical song, neatly distilling the salient points of an otherwise earnest news item into a jovial caper with funny rhymes and a crap punchline which allows the singer to look faintly uncomfortable and the host to roll their eyes in mock-despair
– a luminary figure (politician/captain of industry/media mogul) in the studio doing something out of character for 30 seconds or so (riding a unicycle, wearing 3-D glasses, tasting an unusual foreign dish) before grimacing and allowing the host to crack: “Don’t give up the day job!”
– a long-running partwork wherein a famous friendly face flies the world/walks from one coast to the other/engages in a series of jobs that involve the phrase “back at the coal face”
– a Bernard Levin-esque brainbox who comes on regularly to pontificate wryly and articulately about something that’s been bothering them
– viewers’ capricious correspondence
– and last but definitely not least, someone who’s appearing in something on telly later that very night, who comes into the studio to plug their show, chuckle and say, “I couldn’t possibly tell you that!” when asked about what will happen to their character, and who then chats in an agreeably animated fashion with the host while the signature tune plays out.