1987: Studio Audience for HTV West

Blog post, May 29 2014

One episode that didn’t make it into the book Free State, though perhaps it should have done, was the evening in 1987 when a coach load of people from the Glastonbury Assembly Rooms went up to HTV West’s Bristol studio for a show called ‘The Weekend Starts Here,’ an informal chat/magazine show. This story appeared in the ‘Times of Avalonia’ but it is absolutely true:

What fascinates me is how they managed to get us there, encouraged to wear ‘lots of bright coloured clothes,’ without having any idea what the show was about – and when we arrived, there on the other side of the studio was another audience, from the Nailsea Operatic Society, who’d been persuaded to come in formal evening wear, dickie-bows and starched collars. The contrast was quite noticeable.

The dress rehearsal was a run-through of interviews and sketches, with a phone-in poll whilst the show was going on of ‘Do you think it’s still a man’s world?’ (57% thought it was, but no matter) – the guests included Jilly Cooper and a collection of women doing ‘men’s’ jobs, including the captain of the Clevedon ladies’ rugby team. The thing was, they kept calling all the women ‘ladies,’ even the highly feminist car mechanic and carpenter, who eventually said they were women not ladies, and up went a cheer from the Glastonbury audience. The management said well done and they could do with some more of that when we went on air. We’d already caught a few comments going over the mikes about “We’ve got a right lot here from Glastonbury,” and “I thought Pilton festival ended in August.”

Then came the munchies break when we got to mingle and meet these types. The captain of the ladies’ rugby team got her special hair-do mussed up by some young anarchists from the impromptu Glastonbury Women’s Rugby Team. A prop that went with one part of the show, a wooden signpost with GLASTONBURY written on it, got a circle chalked around the A when no-one was looking. Also someone produced a large bag full of home-grown, and by the time the show a was ready to go out (live) we were up for much more pranks and capers.

So we sat there toking (one floor-crew guy said “Look, you’re not supposed to smoke in here – please put it out or else give it to me”), and strange people and things started going on – including several professional actors, mostly from local pantomimes, who hadn’t been there for the rehearsal. A short sketch taken from a slushy romantic novel set the tone; and there was a man with topical jokes (“We asked Ian Botham if he preferred playing on grass or Astroturf. He said he hadn’t tried smoking Astroturf”); and the woman carpenter very bravely said “I don’t want to talk about myself, I want to talk about the fact that everybody on the studio crew here is a man …” at which the presenter quickly cut her off and went immediately into the adverts, with howls and shouting from the Glastonbury benches.

The second half included the world’s worst impressionist (the straight audience laughed at him and we laughed at them), a totally hammed-up item about ghosts, a rustic type describing a walk round historic and legendary Glastonbury, and various other nonsense, some of which was deliberately slanted in an effort to wind us up.

The presenter and one or two of the actors picked up on us and seemed to enjoy getting a reaction, even if it was negative. We broke all the studio audience rules by not laughing if it wasn’t funny and not applauding if it wasn’t any good. The main problem and cause of all the mayhem was that the material was so boring. Nevertheless everyone who went had a wonderful time and the woman who’d actually set up our coach trip – some sort of programme assistant at HTV – was seriously worried that she’d lose her job. This morning there are people in town saying we were the most unruly TV audience ever to appear on the air and we presented quite the wrong impression of Glastonbury and it didn’t ought to be allowed. Never mind.