Come 1989 and Beadle’s About was at its absolute peak, pulling in up to 15.2 million viewers (for an edition screened on 18 November), and more than 30,000 letters a year coming in from members of the public looking to have a loved one fit up by Beadle and his team. Yet the series seemed to attract a constant barrage of newspaper criticism too. “I used to feel very angry about the critics’ lack of knowledge of the programme and their failure to even attempt to understand it,” Beadle comments. “Undeniably Beadle’s About became the Rolls-Royce of its genre and it didn’t happen by chance. It earned that reputation through a great deal of hard work and creative thinking.”
In particular, allegations that Beadle had plagiarised the famous American hidden camera show Candid Camera seemed to incense the entertainer. “He flinches,” noted TV Times journalist David James Smith when he put that very accusation directly to him. “A hand darts for a book. It is an encyclopaedia of popular American TV shows about the size of a flingable breeze-block. I duck. Beadle weaves … ‘No, no, no I bitterly resent the suggestion that we stole from them.'” Beadle then proceeded to outline how the American TV series Truth Or Consequences created by Ralph Edwards had originally introduced to television the notion of playing practical jokes on members of the public (albeit in Truth Or Consequences the practical jokes were played on contestants who had failed to correctly answer questions in an earlier round of the show). This was further developed by Allen Funt, a colleague of Edwards, who devised Candid Camera (much to Edwards’ disgust) and moved the practical joke concept on by targeting unsuspecting members of the public.
Candid Camera found its way to the United Kingdom in the 1960s where it was hosted by Bob Monkhouse, TV magician David Nixon, Jonathan Routh and producer turned presenter Peter Dulay (who on one episode caused a small degree of outrage when his pretence at eating a goldfish – it was really a carrot – led to a young viewer actually chowing down on a real life version). The show ran successfully until the mid-1970s when it was finally rested. However Dulay remained closely associated with the brand. So much so that when Beadle had originally been developing the format for what would become Game For A Laugh, Dulay gate-crashed in on a discussion Beadle was having with Terry Wogan and proclaimed “I hear there’s a programme being made with hidden cameras. If anyone uses them without buying the rights from me, I’ll sue.”
True to his word, when Game For A Laugh began in 1981, Dulay kicked up a very public fuss. However, Beadle, having previously acquired the rights to Truth Or Consequences, knew that Dulay would be unsuccessful in any legal action. While it could be argued that Game For A Laugh was an entirely different beast to Candid Camera, at first glance it is easy to surmise that Beadle’s About was less distinct. However, whereas Candid Camera targeted passersby, Beadle’s About, like Truth Or Consequences, always had a very specific victim in mind. “Truth Or Consequences was the original show where husbands or wives connived to play tricks on each other,” explained Beadle in 1989. “I like to build mini soap operas with the unwilling co-operation of the star; building a storyline so that you know all about the people and bringing them back afterwards to share the occasion. It’s a cold hard business comedy, you have to plot it in detail, always reminding the audience what’s funny and what’s happening.”
Imitation or not, by then end of the 1980s Beadle’s About was in danger of turning into a television phenomenon. In 1992, the Australian sketch show The D-Generation ran a parody of the show in a sketch entitled “Beadle’s A Prick” and in 1993 a member of the public was arrested for trying to tug off the beard of a Police Constable. Apparently he thought it was Beadle in disguise. The “Beadle defence” was also cited by a pig farmer who attacked a government inspector claiming that he thought it was a Beadle’s About stunt, and two Irish workmen digging up a brand new patio in a neighbour’s garden, apparently after receiving telephone instructions from someone claiming to be Beadle. Yet 1989 was to bring a new Beadle show to ITV that would eclipse even the popularity of Beadle’s About to become his most popular series ever.
In preparing for his ill-fated 1988 series, People Do The Funniest Things, Beadle had acquired the rights to a Japanese television show in which members of the public sent in amusing of disastrous home videos. When Denis Norden succeeded in having People Do The Funniest Things cancelled, Beadle took the Japanese format to LWT and proposed it as his next project. “I have often found that my ideas are in advance of the market and it can take a long time to convince people to listen,” he recalls. “And this format too was turned down, for several reasons. The powers that be weren’t keen on a foreign clips show and they said there weren’t enough camcorders in Britain to make it a home-grown hit. LWT was also about to launch its bid to keep its ITV franchise and, because they already had a number of existing clip shows, they didn’t want another one”.
Instead LWT and Beadle worked up Beadle’s Box of Tricks, a half-hour Saturday night magic show in which, amongst other things, Beadle made an entire railway carriage containing Su Pollard disappear. The series, while popular enough was not a great success when compared to the entertainer’s recent track record. In the meantime, Beadle relinquished the rights to the Home video show to an American production company, who made a massively successful series called America’s Funniest Home Videos.This in turn sparked the interest of Action Time, a British independent production company who bought back the rights and sold them on to Granada Television (it was no coincidence that Beadle had some dealings with Action Time during this period).
Granada had not long since launched the network careers of husband-and-wife presenting team Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan. Their daytime series, This Morning,had begun the previous November and Madeley had already had some network exposure hosting some daytime quiz shows for ITV. As such he was perceived as a rising star and consequently, Granada felt he would be the perfect host for their version of America’s Funniest Videos.However the initial pilot of what was to become You’ve Been Framed! was deemed substandard. “It was suggested that I ought to take a look at the show so I went up to Granada and watched the tape” recalls Beadle. “There were many mistakes in it, in my view. The public, I said, just wanted the clips. They’d taken a really simple idea and confused it by adding too much, and although Richard Madeley is a superb professional, he had been miscast.”
Beadle presented a second pilot, that although in his own words was a little “rough around the edges,” was good enough to be broadcast as a one-off to entice viewers to send in further home videos (such that there would enough material to fill an entire series). The reception to the special was extremely positive, and Granada made the decision to put a series into immediate production. Their belief was to prove to be well founded as within two years You’ve Been Framed! would attract upwards of 17 million viewers and 30 to 40,000 video cassettes a year from members of the public keen to have their home movie blooper broadcast. However as with everything Beadle presents, there was a barrage of negative criticism for the series too.
In particular, newspapers were quick to claim that many of the clips had been staged. ” Is it funny?” Beadle retorts. “That’s the bottom line. I mean, ‘Fake! Fake! Fake!’. Oh come on. Grow up, just grow up. This is the newspaper industry trying to tell the television industry how to do it. The newspaper industry is so full of lies, corruption, misrepresentation, bollocks and the most evil, nasty, small minded people and they’re telling us, who have far more controls placed on than them! Unfortunately most of my friends are journalists. And that really upsets me. I love journalists and they are fascinating and fun, but in the end they are working for profit.”
Meanwhile, Sky television was producing its own home video series. In 1990,The Secret Video Show debuted on Sky One presented by Chris Tarrant. The series relied more upon overseas footage than You’ve Been Framed! but was very similar in format. It is today remembered solely for it being Sky’s “contribution” to Comic Relief 3, wherein Tarrant boasted rather disingenuously “forget Beadle, we’ve been doing this for years!”
“You’ve Been Framed! was fantastic to work on but … all things come to an end,” reflects Beadle. “I did the show for nine years and it reached number one in the TV ratings several times. You’ve Been Framed! was a hugely popular, successful and profitable show and I would like to think that it was the most loved family show of its time … [But] I reached the point … where I felt it wasn’t dangerous enough, and it wasn’t as demanding creatively as Beadle’s About.” At its peak, You’ve Been Framed was one of ITV’s most powerful ever weapons in the ratings war.