Peter Sellers And Spike Milligan Came This Close To Making A 70s Sitcom

Two facts crop up in everything I’ve read about the sitcom The Melting Pot. One, that the pilot was only ever broadcast once, and two, that a full series of six episodes was later filmed and never shown on TV. According to some sources, Milligan thinks this was because the scripts weren’t good enough, and the casting changes were unwise. Others think the show was shelved because it was racist. Without seeing the paperwork, we may never know the real reason, but Milligan published the scripts for the unbroadcast episodes (which he co-wrote with Neil Shand) through Robson Books, with illustrations by Bill Tidy.

Quite by accident, while looking for other things, I found something very interesting that seems to have been lost to time. The title of this piece gives it away, but we’ll start at the beginning.

And that’s in the Reading Evening Post, on Friday 4th April 1975, buried in the TV Gossip column by Albert Watson.

Good news for Goon fans: Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan are working on a new BBC situation comedy called The Melting Pot.

The turnaround on the show was rather short, it didn’t air in the autumn, it aired on the 11th June (unless you believe Wikipedia which currently says it was 1976).

But that’s a small bit of gossip in a local paper. It may not be true.

Exactly a month later though, on the 4th May, this appeared in the Sunday Mirror as part of Jack Bentley’s TV Spectacular column. Here’s a content warning, the article contains racist language and sentiment, as do many of the following clippings.

I’ve blurred the image, but it shows Bird and Milligan in character, so the pilot had already been shot by the start of May. It’s more than likely that this is the commercial campaign that prevented this comedy coup.

Just over a month later, on the 11th June, The Melting Pot was broadcast on BBC One at 9.25pm, as you can see from this listing in the Daily Mirror.

Over the page, Ken Irwin wrote a casually sexist preview of the show too.

The next day, in the Birmingham Daily Post, Teresa Metcalf gave this cursory review of the pilot.

That reference to this being the first of five is interesting though. Having a browse through the Radio Times, it looks like there was a run of five pilots that summer forming a kind of unbranded Comedy Playhouse season. The next week was Only On Sunday by Clement and La Frenais, starring Trevor Bannister and Peter Bowles. The third one was For Richer … For Poorer, by Johnny Speight, and starring Harry H Corbett as a union shop steward. Then there was Captive Audience, also by Clement and La Frenais, and finally Going, Going, Gone … Free? by Carla Lane, starring Pauline Yates and Beryl Cook.

This may be the reason some articles suggest that the rest of the series was yanked off the air after the first episode was broadcast. But as we can see, it was clearly a pilot in a season of pilots.

Another review appeared that day too, this time by Ken Burgess in the Coventry Evening Telegraph, including more racist language, sorry.

By the 20th of June, the BBC was already briefing that the pilot would not go to a full series, as reported by Andrew Marwood in the Aberdeen Press And Journal.

Contrary to the assertion by the BBC’s spokesperson, a year later this little nugget appeared in the Light Entertainment section of The Stage on 1st July 1976.

Within a fortnight, and before a single shot had been filmed, Spike took to the Sunday Mirror to publicly disown his new series.

This suggests that perhaps Spike himself was the reason the full series never made it to air.

That said, the show was announced once more, this time in the Daily Mirror on the 7th August.

And again, in The Stage a few days later.

And then there was nothing. The show never aired, nor did it appear in the listings, suggesting it was never scheduled then yanked.

It was a full year before it was even mentioned again, here in the Mirror on the 7th June 1977.

Quite why this story crops up then is unclear, but the only quote being from Frank Carson suggests it was him, or his agent, that gave the story to the paper. Spike says nothing, and aside from shadowy BBC officials, the Corporation offers no comment either.

The article mis-dates the pilot too, by a good 15 months.

I’m going to speculate again that it was Spike himself who shelved the show. The BBC had no problem airing the pilot, which it could easily have pulled, and it wasn’t like they weren’t still making shows with the same tone at this point.

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