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TV Cream has taken it upon itself to remember those moments when programmes didn't go out as usual - by compiling our Top Ten Strikes.
THE BEST EVER TV STRIKES
10) THE MISS WORLD STRIKE, BBC, NOVEMBER 1979
If Miss World was one of the biggest TV shows on the planet, how come they always chose presenters that virtually nobody in Britain had ever heard of, let alone the rest of the planet? The 1978 contest was presented by Paul Burnett, for Christ's sake. In any case, the 1979 beano, the last on the Beeb, was proceeding as normal under the auspices of Sacha Distel and Esther Rantzen before all the sound men walked out halfway through. The hundreds of millions of viewers all around the world were then treated to Ray Moore sheepishly cueing up Futtock's End starring Ronnie Barker. Clive James reviewed the show in The Observer and asked why Ray couldn't tell us why the show had gone off the air, memorably pointing out that, "We didn't need a lolly to suck." Still, it's a marvellous picture, isn't it?
9) THE EQUITY DISPUTE, TV-AM/C4, FROM 1982
With Channel Four and TV-am launching in the early 80s, the advertising industries came up with an idea - because less people would be watching the programmes than those on ITV, why not pay the actors less? Equity, not unsurprisingly, thought this was a crap idea and refused to appear in adverts on the fledgling new services. Hence the first advert on TV-am was fronted by a boring businessman in a suit from the marketing department of Walls Sausages, while C4 sometimes didn't have enough adverts to put in the breaks, sticking on "Next Programme Follows Shortly" captions instead.
8) THE TALE FROM TWO THOUSAND YEARS AGO, BBC, MAY 1994
The most recent addition to the list, this one-day Beeb walkout was memorable for a) Toby Anstis having to explain why Newsround couldn't be shown, and introducing Hokey Wolf instead, b) the regional news in the North West consisting of some bloke reading it out over a still of the logo, and c) the marvellous continuity announcement, "In place of today's Breakfast News, a tale from 2000 years ago."
7) THE MUSICIAN'S UNION STRIKE, BBC, MAY 1980
In most disputes all you tend to lose is the news, which nobody's interested in anyway. In 1980, though, it was different, because the BBC's announcement that they were disbanding a number of orchestras to save money saw members of the Musician's Union down tools on Beeb programmes, with chilling circumstances - no Top Of The Pops for three months. Still, some good came out of it, as during the dispute Michael Hurll was appointed producer, so without it we wouldn't have seen the glorious party atmosphere of the early 80s. It was also good news for Sheena Easton, who got to appear almost every week when the programme returned in August because all of her singles had charted.
6) THE ITV SHAKE-UP, 1968
The changeover in ITV companies in the 1968 franchise round was not achieved as smoothly as the ITA may have liked. For tragicomedy, you can't beat the launch of LWT, which had got two minutes into its first programme - the live comedy show We Have Ways Of Making You Laugh - when the technicians walked out, although the cast and crew remained unaware of this until they'd completed the entire programme. At the same time, David Frost's chat show had to relocate to the World Of Sport studio, not quite the suitable home for relaxed and cultural conversation. Then the whole of ITV collapsed, and an emergency network service had to be bunged together, throwing out anything they had on the shelves. Also worth nothing is the simple and effective strike action taken by Yorkshire TV technicians in 1970: instead of News At Ten, viewers saw a note saying "Yorkshire TV have threatened to sack us. We are going on strike. Goodnight."
5) THE NUJ DAY OF ACTION, ALL CHANNELS, AUGUST 1985
This one came about when the BBC refused to screen a documentary about Northern Ireland, which the National Union of Journalists felt was because of government interference. In protest they staged a one-day walkout, which meant there was no news on any TV or radio channel at all. ITN News was replaced by episodes of Survival, Radio Four's news programmes were replaced by classical music, BBC TV news was replaced by - of course - cartoons, and even the in-vision Ceefax was hauled off the air, replaced by a caption apologising for the loss of service. You don't think No Need To Shout! wrote itself, do you? Inevitably, the following week's Radio Times (which was also affected by the strike) was full of letters from people wishing it was like that every day.
4) THE SCENE-SHIFTER'S STRIKES, BBC, 1980, 1983, 1988
A triple bill of disputes over studio facilities. The 1980 walkout is memorable for Blue Peter stoically carrying on regardless, meaning that Si, Saz and Pete presented a few episodes sitting on the floor of a completely empty studio. That's the spirit! 1983 saw various programmes relocating to the only furnished studios available, so The Late Late Breakfast Show moved to the Top Of The Pops studio, while Saturday Superstore opened for business in the Play School studio - and, fact fans, Mike Read was off sick that week so Mike Smith stood in for him. The third walkout came about right at the start of 1988, so the huge clock that Wogan had on the set for their New Year's Eve show stayed there all the way through January. Programmes such as Carrott Confidential and Jim'll Fix It had to come from Tel's set as well, with curtains everywhere to disguise this. Crimewatch decamped to Grandstand's studio, while Going Live at least showed a bit of ingenuity and pretended that Trevor and Simon had demolished the normal studio.
3) THE PRE-CHRISTMAS STRIKE, BBC, DECEMBER 1978
A two-day walkout just before the festive season saw blank screens on BBC1 and BBC2, with the only thing transmitted being a sound-only news bulletin on all TV and radio channels at 10pm. This had the knock-out effect of increasing ITV's audience massively, and meant that the most popular programme of the year was Sale Of The Century, which picked up 21 million viewers. We also think this is the year (though his autobiography doesn't make it that clear) when Bill Cotton had to compile two BBC1 schedules for Christmas Day in case of industrial action, and we'd have liked to have heard the continuity announcement, "We're unable to bring you The Queen's Speech; instead, here's Barney Bear."
2) THE TV-AM STRIKE, 1987-88
Technically this shouldn't be in the chart because it wasn't actually a strike - it started with a one-day walkout by technicians, but Bruce Gyngell refused to let any of them return the next day, and ran the channel virtually single-handedly for six months. However the hundreds of bizarre television moments that were produced justify its inclusion. At the start of the strike the channel broadcast non-stop repeats, and the first Creamguide heard of it was when The Wide Awake Club was replaced by a repeat one Saturday, and at the ad breaks Timmy Mallett came on sitting at the sofa to explain why there wasn't a normal programme. Of course these repeats, including Batman, Happy Days and Flipper, were all shown in the wrong order, with two-part episodes never completed and bits missing, and Sales Director Tony Vickers once boasting he'd shown part of an episode of Flipper backwards, although we're not entirely sure how that's possible. Eventually live content returned, but with tea ladies and secretaries being responsible for much of the output you were normally guaranteed about one technical cock-up every five minutes, and the whole programme basically consisted of Anne Diamond pointing at pictures of Princess Diana in the day's papers. All together now: no change THERE, then.
1) THE ITV STRIKE, 1979
Without a doubt the best strike in TV history, just because of its simplicity - ITV was off the air entirely from August to October, with programmes being replaced by a simple white on blue caption apologising for the loss of service. The only other thing that went out that summer were IBA Engineering Announcements, which showed up on Tuesday mornings unbilled as they always had. The Beeb, of course, enjoyed complete dominance of the airwaves, with shows like Blankety Blank and To The Manor Born picking up around 15 or 20 million viewers each night. Even the funeral of Lord Mountbatten grabbed an audience of 17 million. The only ITV channel to stay on air through all this was Channel TV, who were truly stretched to breaking point with an hour of regional news each evening and a few repeats they could grab from anywhere (such as The New Avengers). Just as everyone in St. Helier was collapsing from exhaustion, the dispute finally ended at 5.45pm on 24th October and ITV returned with The Mike Sammes Singers, the news form Leonard Parkin, Quatermass and, while they finished making some new programmes, almost non-stop 3-2-1 for a week. Many would argue that ITV hasn't been anywhere near as good since. One thing's for sure - we shall surely never see the likes of it again.