3. Russ Abbot
Russ Abbots Sketch shows were a big part of Saturday night TV throughout the 80s. Initially with his madhouse and then later simply entitled the Russ Abbot Show. His characters and guest stars were firm favourites with the British Public.
Russ Abbot’s Madhouse and The Russ Abbot Show showcased his talents as an all-round entertainer, attracting millions of viewers. This show was especially popular among younger viewers, prompting two annuals to be published in 1982–83. These annuals featured comic strips based on popular characters, plus some publicity photos of Abbot in a variety of guises, including his well-known James Bond satire featuring characters named Basildon Bond and Miss Funnyfanny (based on the fictional MI6 spy duo James Bond and Miss Moneypenny).
In 1993, Abbot hosted an Elvis special of Stars in their Eyes, originally to be presented by Leslie Crowther, who suffered serious injuries in a car crash in October 1992. Abbot was brought in as a temporary host and this was the only episode he hosted. He was replaced by Matthew Kelly, who then hosted the show until 2004 as Crowther was unable to return and he died in 1996. From 2000, Abbot played the lead role in the British National Tour of Doctor Dolittle. Taking a break over the Christmas period, Abbot stepped down for Phillip Schofield to take the part but returned to the tour subsequently. In 2003, his “See You Jimmy” character (called C. U. Jimmy) came third in the Glasgow Herald’s poll to find the most Scottish person in the world, behind Iain and Jimmy Krankie.
4. Cannon and Ball
After serving their apprenticeships on the club scene Cannon and Ball were quickly noticed by TV execs and became firm favourites of the British Public. They were the kings of light entertainment throughout the 80s and their own show just titled ‘The Cannon and Ball Show’ achieved some of the highest ratings of the time!
Their first TV appearance was in 1974 in the variety show The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club before landing a performance on Bruce Forsyth’s Big Night, although their segment didn’t make it to broadcast. In 1979, LWT offered them their own series, The Cannon and Ball Show, which premiered in ITV on 28 July 1979. Further series followed each year through to 1988, along with Christmas and Easter specials. They were the subjects of This Is Your Life in 1981 when they were surprised by Eamonn Andrews.
In 1982, they appeared in a feature film, The Boys in Blue, based loosely on the Will Hay film, Ask a Policeman. The Boys in Blue was regarded critically as weak in comparison and was their only cinema outing. They also featured in a comic strip Rock on Tommy, which was published in the magazine Look-in. Their popularity coincided with the rise of alternative comedy, with its emphasis on more socially relevant and political concerns. As time passed, Cannon and Ball’s popularity began to decline, though they were not the only comedy act to suffer as comic tastes shifted. During the 1980s, Greg Dyke, the then Head of Programming at ITV station TVS and later to hold a similar position at LWT expressed a concern that northern comedy shows may not suit southern tastes. By the 1990s, the duo were seeking a change in direction and appeared in their own sitcom Cannon and Ball’s Playhouse, the spin-off series Plaza Patrol and their game show Cannon and Ball’s Casino. Plaza Patrol saw them play security guards in a shopping mall.
5. Late Late Breakfast Show
This is where Noel Edmonds began his domination of Saturday Night TV! Starting with the Late Late Breakfast Show in the 80s, moving on to Noel Edmunds Saturday Roadshow which of course paved the way for Noel’s House Party in the 90s!
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 fired 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.
6. Little and Large
Little and Large had very big shoes to fill in 1978 when their new show filled the slot left by Morcambe and Wise. Whilst their show ranfor years on the BBC they never quite managed to reach the Dizzy heights of Eric and Ernie!
Little and Large were a British comedy double act comprising straight man Syd Little (Born Cyril Mead in 1942) and comic Eddie Large (born Edward McGinnis in Glasgow in 1941). They formed their partnership in 1962, originally appearing as singers in local pubs around north-west England. After deciding to concentrate on comedy, Little and Large’s big break came in 1971 when they appeared on ITV talent show Opportunity Knocks. They went on to win the show, which turned them into household names virtually overnight. Within five years, the duo had their own primetime show called The Little and Large Tellyshow (later called The Little and Large Show). This began with a pilot episode in 1976, which earned the pair a commission for a series beginning in 1977 on ITV. The series transferred to BBC1 from 1978, where it remained until the show was finally cancelled in 1991.
Eddie Large was generally the funny man while Syd Little was the more serious ‘straight guy’. Eddie Large performed a number of impressions, particularly cartoon characters like Deputy Dawg and Woody Woodpecker, while Syd Little simply stood next to him, looking perplexed and distressed. They continued to appear in theatres and pantomimes, including “Babes in the Woods” written by Ian Billings. The two were at the peak of their popularity, along with Cannon and Ball, in the 1980s. However, as mainstream comedy moved away from their pantomimish style towards alternative comedy, their popularity dwindled.
7. Paul Daniels Magic Show
Probably the most prolific performer on the list Paul Daniels Magic Show ran every year from 1979 – 1994! His magic sets were on every 80s kids Christmas list!
In 1978 ITV gave Daniels his own Sunday night show, Paul Daniels’ Blackpool Bonanza. His first series for the BBC was For My Next Trick, where Daniels appeared with several other magicians and singer Faith Brown. This led to Daniels presenting his own television series, The Paul Daniels Magic Show, on BBC1 from 1979 until 1994. As well as featuring tricks and illusions for pure entertainment, he also included a regular segment (the “Bunco Booth”) in which he exposed the confidence tricks of street charlatans. He also replicated the kind of results that have impressed researchers of the paranormal and parapsychologists in a segment called Under Laboratory Conditions, thereby demonstrating his scepticism about claims made in these fields. Daniels starred in his own stage show, It’s Magic, at the Prince of Wales Theatre from 10 December 1980 until 6 February 1982. At that time, the show was one of the longest-running magic shows ever staged in London. By this point he was already working with his future wife, Debbie McGee, whose role as his assistant would become a major feature of his act. She had first worked with him on his summer season show in Great Yarmouth in 1979.
In addition to his magic shows he hosted other television series during the 1980s and 1990s, including three BBC1 quiz shows: Odd One Out, Every Second Counts and Wipeout (all of which were based off short-lived American game shows), and the children’s television programme Wizbit (also for the BBC), about a magician called Wizbit and a rabbit called Woolly, who lived in Puzzleopolis. In 1987, Daniels hosted a controversial Halloween live special of his magic show where he replicated a Harry Houdini escape from an iron maiden. The trick was deliberately staged to give the illusion that the escape had gone tragically wrong and Daniels had been killed – he was later broadcast as having successfully escaped from the device.