- Noel Edmond’s first show since Multi Coloured Swap Shop
- Started in 1982 and ended in 1986
- Stunt segment cause of the death of Michael Lush in 1986
- Premiered the video of ‘Say Say Say’ with Paul McCartney & Michael Jackson
- Featured the last TV appearance of ABBA in the UK
The Late, Late Breakfast Show was a BBC television light entertainment show broadcast live on Saturday evenings from 4 September 1982 to 8 November 1986. It was presented by Noel Edmonds, initially with co-host Leni Harper and also featured Mike Smith and John Peel. The “Give It A Whirl” segments featured dangerous stunts. Multiple serious injuries resulted from these stunts, including the death of Michael Lush in 1986. The show was cancelled in the aftermath of his death.
The show was the first show Edmonds presented in the Saturday evening variety slot, who had quit his Saturday morning children’s show Multi-Coloured Swap Shop earlier that year. Its theme tune was written by Gary Kemp and performed by Spandau Ballet. It was produced and directed by Michael Hurll. Initially, the show struggled in the ratings and seemed unlikely to survive beyond its first series. Initial co-host Leni Harper was dismissed after the third show and various revamps took place to bolster the ratings. Eventually, the inclusion of some of the biggest names in the music business as special guests helped raise the profile and ratings for the show.
The Swedish group ABBA appeared twice in the first series, making their last ever TV appearance on the show. Edmonds would often interview the music guests live via satellite, although it became obvious in many cases, most notably the appearances of Rod Stewart and Duran Duran that he was in fact posing questions to an already recorded interview with another station and his questioning was being dubbed over the original interviewer.
The show was described as a “mag prog [magazine programme] especially for those who get up late on Saturday, featuring comedy, pop music & a few surprises”. Regular features on the show included “The Hit Squad”, which was a hidden camera section, pop music performances, and “The Golden Egg Awards”, which featured various outtakes. During the “Give It A Whirl” feature a member of the public would call in and have the “Whirly Wheel” spun to select a stunt, in a similar setup to gameshow Wheel of Fortune; after spending the week training, they would perform the stunt live on the next show.
Despite the appearance of choice, the wheel was in fact rigged to select a pre-arranged stunt; on one occasion the wheel chose the wrong stunt, and Edmonds called the hidden technician controlling the wheel out in front of the audience to apologise.
The author Helen Fielding, who later wrote the Bridget Jones novels, worked for a time as a researcher on the programme.
The video of the Paul McCartney & Michael Jackson single ‘Say Say Say’ had its controversial UK TV premiere on the programme. The $500,000 video had not been ready when the track debuted in the UK singles chart. By the time it was finalised, the track had fallen in the chart. McCartney flew to London with the intention of premiering the video on the BBC’s flagship music programme Top of the Pops, but the show had a strict policy that no single that had dropped in position could feature, and refused to show it. A furious argument ensued, with BBC staff reporting McCartney was threatening to withdraw all his music from the corporation.
As a compromise, the BBC offered to air the video two days later on The Late, Late Breakfast Show, which featured weekly live music performances, but rarely aired videos. The BBC agreed to air it on the programme only if McCartney appeared live and gave an interview. He reluctantly agreed and appeared with his wife Linda live on the show on 29 October 1983; his first live UK TV appearance since 1973.
The interview was stilted and the McCartneys made little or no effort to answer any of Edmonds’ questions. After some reportedly hostile backstage production negotiations, the programme’s entire show was built around the ‘medicine men’ theme of the video and the guest who had been booked to appear that week Olivia Newton John had to agree to appear to promote the video in a skit, reportedly against her will and she expressed anger at having her ‘starring’ role in the show downgraded into a lesser guest spot to make way for the video and McCartney.
The airing of the video on this show was successful as the track climbed back up the chart the following week and aired on Top of the Pops on 4 November 1983.
There had been concern that the show’s stunts were too dangerous; indeed, the BBC was twice threatened with legal action by the Health and Safety Executive to stop planned stunts such as plucking a member of the public from an exploding chimney by helicopter. The BBC themselves described the stunts as “some of the most daring feats ever seen on British TV”. On 10 September 1983, stunt driver Richard Smith fractured his pelvis and injured his head, neck and back after crashing at 140 mph (225 km/h) during one such live stunt – an attempt to leap more than 230 feet in a car. Also in 1983, Barbara Sleeman broke her shoulder after being fired from a cannon; she would later say “The BBC don’t give a damn. They just want the viewers.”
On 13 November 1986, self-employed hod carrier Michael Lush was killed during his first rehearsal for another live stunt. The stunt, called “Hang ’em High”, involved bungee jumping from an exploding box suspended from a 120 ft-high crane. The carabiner clip attaching his bungee rope to the crane sprang loose from its eyebolt during the jump. He died instantly of multiple injuries, and the show was cancelled on 15 November after Edmonds resigned, saying he did not “have the heart to carry on”. Rumours, denied by the BBC at the time, that Edmonds had been due to resign to launch a career in American television proved incorrect.
Although the inquest recorded a verdict of misadventure, the jury were informed of several failures on the part of the BBC. Graham Games of the Health and Safety Executive stated that the clip could have been opened by the weight of a bag of sugar, and demonstrated that the clip sprang loose 14 times in 20. David Kirke, a bungee specialist from the Dangerous Sports Club, stated that a similar stunt he had been involved in had used three ropes, as opposed to the one rope used by the BBC, and shackles in the place of carabiner clips. The safety officer, Andrew Smith, was not on hand, and no supervision or demonstration from a trained stuntman had occurred. There was also no way for Lush to contact the ground once he was in the air, and nobody in the air with him in case he changed his mind; the jury heard that he delayed for almost two minutes before finally being instructed to make the jump. Furthermore, despite advice against it, the BBC production team had insisted on the use of an elasticated bungee rope.
The BBC made an ex gratia payment of approximately £120,000 to Lush’s family. While the coroner recommended that safety officers be on hand during any such future stunts, BBC managing director Bill Cotton stated that there would be no future programmes that exposed members of the public to risk. After the inquest, Noel Edmonds said “If I was to continue my career at the BBC I would want to be fully confident about any production team I was provided with.” He returned to the BBC’s Saturday night lineup two years later, presenting The Noel Edmonds Saturday Roadshow.
Subsequently, the BBC was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive for breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. In court, Maurice Pallister, representing the HSE, further explained that the stunt would not have been rehearsed by any professional without an airbag in case of falls, and that “stunt experts” had told him that even professional rehearsals should have taken weeks, rather than days. He exonerated the programme’s visual effects designer, who “had taken a high standard of safety and doubled that to ensure it was doubly safe”. However, he explained that the show’s producer had only discussed the stunt with the safety officer by telephone, and reiterated that the safety officer was not present at the rehearsal. The escapologist retained as Lush’s trainer, Paul Matthews, was only experienced with theatrical tricks and had not performed the stunt required for the show. The BBC was fined the maximum amount of £2,000, plus costs. The magistrates chose not to refer the case to the Crown Court, where there would have been an unlimited penalty.