Let’s begin in the middle. On Thursday 9th July 1987, The Stage’s Television Today had this front page headline.
So, how did we get here? How did we get to the point where Central insiders were telling the papers that the Independent Broadcasting Authority had ordered them to wipe the tapes of a sitcom? Why was a decidely grown-up show being shown in the early evening slot in the first place? And why had it caused such a furore?
We’ll go all the way back to the 24th May the year before, when the Daily Record had a tiny little piece announcing a new show.
It seems that by the 11th July, filming of the sitcom had begun, and the Birmingham News caught up with Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson for a quick chat.
That’s quite the spread for a show that is only just being made. It’s clear it was being lined up already as the new The Young Ones, with little or no mention of most of the cast, or the writers Richard Hall and Simon Wright. (The ‘older ones’ they allude to is Filthy, Rich And Catflap).
That balance was redressed a few days later in the Nottingham Evening Post.
Hardwicke House was being filmed in Nottingham, so this makes sense. Back in the Birmingham News, on the 18th July, the writers got a short article too.
So it’s pretty obvious that Central are already pushing their new show, and it’s controversial nature, at least in the local press. The initiative moved into the national press on the 19th July, when Tony Pratt reported in the Daily Mirror.
And even out of the tabloid glare, this time in The Stage on 14th August, who at this point were having nothing to do with the sensationalism.
It the 2nd of January in 1987 now, and it’s Pam Ferris’ turn to be featured in the Birmingham News.
Alongside the emotive language, we also see the first mention of the scheduling plan to open with an hour long episode, followed the next evening by the first of the half hour episodes.
Pam got an even bigger spread on the 18th January, this time in the Birmingham Weekly Mercury.
About a week before the sitcom’s premiere, this deeply disturbing two page article appeared in the Daily Record, on the 16th February.
Quite why anyone thought this was an appropriate tone to take promoting a show that was due to air in an early evening slot is far beyond me.
But the intent to push the shock angle is increasingly clear now. Take this, from the Derby Daily Telegraph on 20th February.
And it features the extraordinary claim that they are already filming the second series.
The tone was still rather more subdued in The Stage that week, but the reappearance of the same quotes and wording are telling enough that these articles were written based on a press release. Central wanted The Young Ones analogy, and they wanted the shock front and centre.
A version of these articles crops up across all of the Midlands publications that week, all mentioning the Three Rs, and all mentioning how the series will make Grange Hill look like a convent.
And here’s the Liverpool Echo …
… and the Aberdeen Evening Express …
… just to show that this push was nationwide now. There’s dozen of the same article, syndicated across the regions, spreading as far as Dublin.
The day after the hour-long special, most mentions of the show are in the listings for the first of the half hours. Most of the ire for the show was published in The Sun, I believe, as there’s very little to be found elsewhere right away.
The Daily Mirror makes first mention of the scandal on Saturday 28th February, and reports that the series has been cancelled.
I like that David Bradbury’s review in the Sunday Mirror the next day was clearly written before the series was cancelled, and no-one bothered to amend it.
As I don’t have access to the Sun’s archives, and nor can I find much of the backlash reporting outside of some letters …
… it’s hard to judge just how uproarious the uproar really was.
But Central themselves were briefing that the majority of complaints were about the scheduling rather than the content, and that they fully expected Hardwicke House to be put back on in a much more appropriate slot.
When the decision to broadcast at 8pm was made, or why, in uncertain. Nick Smurthwaite, writing in The Stage nearly a week after the show has been axed, thinks it should have been on in a kid’s slot.
And he drops in the nugget that a future episode features Rik and Ade.
Which brings us back to that sensational headline from the same publication on July 9th.
And the coda that arrived by way of a letter a fortnight later.
And we know Keith is telling the truth, because, well …
Usually, when a show is being pushed so heavily as shocking, it turns out to be far from it (citation needed (see The Eleven O’Clock Show?)). So how come this time, the shock did arrive?