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Tuesday, 26 November, 2002, 17:43 GMT
BBC marks TW3 anniversary
That Was The Week That Was: Roy Kinnear, David Frost and Lance Percival
At the bar: The BBC is celebrating TW3's anniversary
The BBC is celebrating this week's 40th anniversary of the ground-breaking satire series That Was The Week That Was. The BBC's media correspondent Torin Douglas reflects on its enduring impact.

It's hard looking back from these disrespectful days of the 21st Century to convey quite how brave and shocking That Was The Week That Was was.

But TW3, as it was known for short, was the programme that started it all 40 years ago, battering down the bulwarks of the establishment and establishing that anyone - even the Prime Minister - was fair game for satire.

TW3 used an informal melange of sketches, songs, debates and monologues to dissect and make fun of the week's news as well as the newsmakers, including politicians and the royal family.

It went out late on Saturday night, as the pubs were shutting, and - as its notoriety spread - quickly attracted an audience of 12 million.

The programme spilled out from the social and cultural changes of the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Hugh Carleton Green
Hugh Carleton Green backed the show in its early days
John Osborne's play Look Back In Anger had unleashed Angry Young Men on the stage, the revue Beyond The Fringe had brought satire to the West End, and the magazine Private Eye and the Establishment club in Soho had followed.

Soon the irreverence spread to BBC Television, where director general Hugh Carleton Greene was presiding over an unprecedented period of creativity and freedom - much to the anger of Mary Whitehouse and others.

TW3 was launched in 1962, devised, produced and directed by Ned Sherrin, now the presenter of Radio 4's Loose Ends, and it made stars of many of its performers.

David Frost was the presenter, a late replacement for John Bird, who'd been lured to New York with Peter Cook and others from the Establishment club.

That Was The Week That Was: David Frost
The show kick-started David Frost's career
Millicent Martin sang the opening and closing numbers, Roy Kinnear, William Rushton and Lance Perceval appeared in sketches, and journalist Bernard Levin aroused the fury of audiences as he confronted them in heated debate.

Many of the writers and researchers were also getting their first big break. They included Christopher Booker, Caryl Brahms, John Braine, Peter Shaffer, David Nobbs, Peter Tinniswood, Dennis Potter, Herbert Kretzmer, Quentin Crewe and Gerald Kaufman (now a regular scourge of the BBC in his role as chairman of the influential Select Committee for Culture, Media and Sport).

One Kaufman sketch caused a particular furore, highlighting the "silent MPs" who had sat in the House of Commons for years and never even asked a question, let alone made a speech.

One of the MPs tried to protest in the House that it was a breach of privilege but he was greeted with howls of laughter.

Roy Kinnear, William Rushton, Kenneth Cope and Lance Percival
The show grew out of the Soho satire scene
TW3 created a stir from its first programme.

Newspapers were so astonished that they rang Reg Bevins, the Postmaster General, the minister then in charge of broadcasting.

He told them: "I'm going to do something about this" and the quote appeared in the morning papers.

When he got to his office he found a very short note from the Prime Minister Harold Macmillan: "Oh no you're not!"

Had Macmillan known the impact the programme would have on his government the following year, mercilessly lampooning it - and Macmillan himself - during the Profumo scandal, he might have wished he'd allowed Bevins his way.

In the end, after two series, the programme got too hot to handle, even for the liberal Carleton Green.

Several of the BBC governors disliked it and the vice-chairman was reportedly close to resignation. Since 1964 was an election year, it was decided the programme should not continue.

Kenneth Cope
Kenneth Cope was a regular performer
Much of TW3 seems tame now, but it broke the ground for the satires that followed. Spitting Image went much further in ridiculing cabinet ministers and royalty. Channel 4 has shocked the nation with its Brass Eye satire on paedophilia. Rory Bremner, John Bird and John Fortune continue to wound politicians and public figures with their wit.

And later this week, BBC One is to show a naked Margaret Thatcher writhing in ecstasy with Jeffrey Archer on the war cabinet table, in the satirical fantasy-drama Jeffrey Archer: The Truth.

That Was The Week That Was has a lot to answer for.

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26 Nov 02 | Entertainment
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