The Tube

1982 | United Kingdom

Filmed in Newcastle-upon-Tyne The Tube was a radical and innovative music programme shown on Channel 4 throughout the 1980s. 

Before we had The X-Factor, Britain's Next Top Model and just about every other 'make-them-a-star' reality show, a nationally advertised competition was run to find the five co-presenters who would go on to make their name in TV. Muriel Gray, Gary James, Nick Laird-Clowes, Michel Cremona and Mike Everitt supported the main presenter Jools Holland and Paula Yates. The show was a major platform for new bands to be seen, and old bands to revive their career. Three or four artists performed each week on The Tube, including Bon Jovi, Cliff Richard and Duran Duran. There was no conscious choice of music genre throughout the show. The music was very varied and the audience was always kept guessing as to what kind of music would be showcased next. 

The Tube soon came to be considered important in the careers of musicians due to the significant affect it could have on sales of their music. The Proclaimers had their first top 10 song after performing "Letter from America" on the show and Ringo Starr held the show in such high regard that it was one of the only interviews he gave (filmed at his Tittenhurst Park home) after The Beatles split, and Madonna made her TV debut on The Tube. At the time, it was one of the only programmes to feature bands singing live, as opposed to miming, and before we had the wide range of music channels we have now the show was also one of the first programmes to feature music videos. However, it courted contoversy. 

Outrageous behaviour such as swearing, nudity and uncensored antics were common features of the show from the guests and the presenters. Rik Mayall drank a whole tin of chicken soup, before throwing up straight into the camera and all over Jools Holland. It was this unpredictability that kept the audience tuning in week after week. Chris Phipps an assistant producer on The Tube remembers "When The Tube was first commissioned, a lot of people said 'Newcastle? They're never going to get people up there'. But we did-we had everyone from Paul McCartney, Whitney Houston and Tina Turner to Elton John, The Police and The Jam."

As well as music, the show focused on popular culture including fashion and comedy. Vic Reeves performed, as did French and Saunders. The magazine style of the programme made it very popular with the youth of the 80s and also created a show that had not been seen previously. It was a great alternative to the sometimes cheesy Top of the Pops

The presenters went on to be as famous as the bands they interviewed. Paula Yates became known for her outrageous flirting during interviews before tragically dying of a heroin overdose at the age of 41. Jools Holland is still considered a big name in music presenting, hosting BBC Two's flagship music show, Later...with Jools Holland regularly featuring legendary musicians and brand new acts from around the world, all performing live. On The Tube, his piano playing ability along with his strong language ensured he stood out when interviewing the big names. However Holland's swearing got him in trouble and caused a national scandal in January 1987 when he swore during a live trailer that was aired between children's programmes, leading to The Tube being taken off the air for three weeks. The producer quit soon after and The Tube was axed. 

There have been several spin offs of The Tube. A Midsummer Night's Tube broke the record for being the longest continuous live music show in TV history. It was five hours long and created a lot of publicity. When the series ended, Sky 1 broadcast a one-off show and then in 2006 it was recreated as an online radio show for Channel 4. More recently Channel 4 has shown a programme called Rewind the Tube which looked back at the influence and drama that came from the show. Despite the rave reviews, The Tube definitely had its critics. However, love it or hate it, there is no denying that The Tube holds an important place in music history.


Published on February 9th, 2019. Written by Suzanna Hayes-Goldfinch (2014) for Television Heaven.

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