The Tube was a United Kingdom music television programme, which ran for five series, from 5 November 1982 to 26 April 1987. It was produced by Tyne Tees Television for Channel 4, which had previously produced the similar music show Alright Now and the music-oriented youth show Check it Out for ITV; production of the latter ended in favour of The Tube.
The Tube was presented live by hosts including Jools Holland, Paula Yates, Leslie Ash, Muriel Gray, Gary James, Michel Cremona, Felix Howard, Tony Fletcher, Nick Laird-Clowes and Mike Everitt. The brand name was relaunched by Channel 4 as an online radio station in November 2006. The show was directed by Gavin Taylor; Geoff Wonfor directed some of the insert videos along with other staff programme director of Tyne Tees Television Martin Cairns. Many other specials were made, including one for the eve of the millennium.
The Tube was a showcase for many emerging 1980s bands.
The Tube was an important outlet for the performers. For The Proclaimers, performing “Letter from America” on The Tube was instrumental in helping the Scottish duo to their first top ten UK hit; it was also responsible for introducing Frankie Goes to Hollywood to their record label ZTT and its co-owner, and their producer Trevor Horn.
In addition to being the launchpad for new and upcoming performers, The Tube became known for its high-profile music performance ‘scoops’ from established world class bands such as U2 live at Red Rocks, Robert Plant, Bo Diddley and ZZ Top. The show was also fortunate to persuade Ringo Starr to give one of the first post-Beatles interviews in an extended article on his work with Marc Bolan and T. Rex, filmed at his then (and previously John Lennon’s) house, Tittenhurst Park. It was during the 50th show in November 1984 that Bob Geldof allegedly ran into Midge Ure and suggested the idea of a fund-raising single for the Christmas market to help the Ethiopian famine, the project that would become Band Aid and later Live Aid.
The Jam performed on the first edition of the show in 1982, it was their last live TV appearance together before they split up at the end of the year.
The cornerstone of the shows was the live performances from three or four bands each week. In an era where most music TV shows featured non-stop miming, the fully live sets by the guest artists were innovative (but the sound mix was often very poor, with a curious quality that made it sound like everything had been ‘phased’). The programme would start with a 45-minute magazine section consisting of interviews, fashion items and comedy appearances by a wide range of alternative artistes such as Frank Sidebottom, Vic Reeves (before his association with Bob Mortimer), Foffo Spearjig and even French & Saunders. During this section Yates would become known for conducting rather flirtatious interviews: in 1985, for example, she prompted Sting to remove his trousers.
The main presenters were supported, for the first two series, by five newcomers who were picked following a nationally advertised competition: these were Muriel Gray, Gary James, Nick Laird-Clowes, Michel Cremona and Mike Everitt. The supporting presenters took turns to co-present. The show usually featured four or five band appearances per week, with one main extended session to close. The format of the show was extended following Series 1 with a number of special events – most notably A Midsummer Night’s Tube (1984), a 5-hour version broadcast live from the Tyne Tees studios, the pub across the road from the studios and The Hoppings annual fair in Newcastle. This ground breaking broadcast was, at the time, the longest continuous live music show in television history and received much critical and technical acclaim.
Studio 5 was also used to produce a spin-off show called TX45. This show ran for two series hosted by Chris Cowey and produced by Jeff Brown and featured local bands such as The Kane Gang, Caught in the Act, Secret Sam, She and President. The programme’s theme music, the instrumental “TX45”, was by Sophie and Peter Johnston, based on the song of theirs, “Some Sunny Day”. A video clip of them performing it is available.
Many stars drank in the neighbouring pub The Egypt Cottage, using it as a green room. Jools Holland said “A legendary amount of things happened in the Egypt Cottage, and the Rose and Crown when it was on the other side of the road. Everyone – the likes of Miles Davis, Paul McCartney – who came up for The Tube will have sat in that pub.” The pub was demolished in 2009.
In 1986, the series had a summer replacement named Wired which lasted two series.
In January 1987, during the fifth series, Jools Holland used the phrase “be there or be ungroovy f*****s” during a live trailer for the show. The incident caused a national scandal, as the trailer was transmitted at a peak children’s viewing time and the show was taken off air for three weeks as a result. Holland was reprimanded by Channel 4, as this was not the first time he had accidentally sworn on the live show. The show’s producer, Malcolm Gerrie, and Tyne Tees’ Director of Programmes, Andrea Wonfor, announced their resignations in March. They cited as reasons for doing so a mixture of internal bickering, political pressure and “stifling bureaucracy and heavy-handed moralism”. A further series was never commissioned. In truth, the viewing figures for the series had dropped significantly, and the original format had been watered down. Some people close to the show had said that Holland’s swearing was seen as a convenient way of ending the show. The presenters’ live interviews and filmed magazine items were nervously watched by the show’s producers and editors as well as Channel 4 executives, especially when certain pop stars and celebrities not known for their shy and retiring nature were being featured. It was this that gave the show the curious feeling of ‘anything might happen’ that actually made it the success it was.
For Holland, Yates and Gray it was the launch pad for successful careers in television.
In 1999 The Tube was brought back for a one-off live special on Sky1 entitled “The Apocalypse Tube”. Hosted by BBC Radio 1’s Chris Moyles and Donna Air, the show came live again from Studio 5 at Tyne Tees and the bar of the Egypt Cottage next door.
In 2005 Tyne Tees Television moved from its City Road complex on Newcastle Quayside. In July 2006 Studio 5 of the TTTV City Road site was leased by an evangelical money church, and the whole complex was demolished in 2010. The famous Tube neon sign was bought at auction by Tyne and Wear Museums for a future display at the Discovery Museum in Newcastle’s Blandford Square.
Acts that appeared on The Tube-
Art of Noise
Big Audio Dynamite
Dexys Midnight Runners
Echo & the Bunnymen
Fine Young Cannibals
A Flock of Seagulls
Frankie Goes to Hollywood
Fun Boy Three
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five
The Human League
The Jesus and Mary Chain
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
Pet Shop Boys
The Psychedelic Furs
Public Image Ltd
Siouxsie and the Banshees
The Style Council
Tears for Fears