The TV year ahead… 1963

4th January 2013

Once again it’s the time of the year when I look back to see what lay ahead for viewers fifty years ago. Twelve months ago I posted The TV year ahead… 1962, and our blog archive has my post about the television year that was 1960 as well as the one for 1961. Today let’s imagine it is 4 January 1963 and anticipate what television has in store over the coming months. Yes, I know, we can hardly contain our excitement about the first television appearances of The Beatles and, in the autumn, the premiere episodes of Doctor Who. But there are other debut pleasures too, including The Human Jungle and Space PatrolWorld in Action starts in the coming year too, and the life of the Independent Television Authority will be extended until 1976. October will bring the good news that excise duty of £1 on the UK television licence fee is abolished, although at the same time the cost of the fee itself will be increased by that same £1 to the princely sum of £4.


The first notable debut of the year will be World in Action to be launched on the 7th of the month as Britain hunkers down during the big freeze. Granada Television’s hard-hitting investigative series will run until 1998. The first edition takes a look at the atomic arms race. The day before will see Cliff Richard and the Shadows as the guest stars on ATV’s Val Parnell’s Sunday Night at the London Palladium – and if its pop music on television that interests you, see TV Pop Diaries: 1963 for an exhaustive list for the year. Granada’s new local magazine show Scene at 6.30, with Michael Parkinson as one of the hosts, will also start this month, and will during its first year will present both The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

A week after Cliff at the Palladium, the BBC will broadcast the play The Madhouse on Castle Street in the Sunday-Night Theatre strand. This co-stars a young American folk singer called Bob Dylan who has been invited over from the States by director Philip Saville to take on the role. No copy of the play is known to exist and a recording remains perhaps the much-sought-after holy grail of archivists everywhere. The following Sunday, the broadcasting hours of the ITV network will be extended and at 10am the network will start showing television’s first adult education programmes.


The month will see the start of The Plane Makers, an ATV series about, as Anthony Clark writes at BFI ScreenOnline, ‘the day-to-day story of a multi-million pound aerospace company, its new jet plane, its test-pilot, its workers and its ruthless and hard-nosed managing director John Wilder [played by Patrick Wymark], the embodiment of modern, unflinching capitalism.’ After the series comes to an end in 1965, it will later mutate, with Wilder and Wymark, into The Power Game (1965-69).

Another major drama offering this month will be the almost-forgotten Moonstrike (the link is to a detailed Action TV episode guide), a 27-part BBC series about wartime covert operations against the Nazis. The creator Robert Barr has been a pioneer in the 1950s of studio documentaries and many of the early scripts will be written by Allan Prior.


On 23 March the new BBC TV Centre will host the eighth Eurovision Song Contest. Sixteen countries took part, with Britain being represented by Ronnie Carroll who sings ‘Say Wonderful Things’. Denmark will win, and – astonishingly – a full recording of the 95-minute broadcast, as directed across three studios by Yvonne Littlewood, is available on YouTube (albeit with a dubbed Dutch commentary).

On the 28th of the month, ITV will screen Joan Kemp-Welch’s production of Harold Pinter’s delightful chamber drama written for television, The Lover, with Alan Badel and Pinter’s then wife, Vivien Merchant. For BFI ScreenOnline, Mark Duguid writes, ‘From its striking opening, in which two sets of silhouetted fingers tap upon a drum and entwine themselves like a pair of mating tarantulas, the play creates an atmosphere of eroticism unusual for television in 1963.’

Two days later, ITV will show the first episode of  The Human Jungle, with Herbert Lom as psychiatrist Dr Roger Corder. The series is made for ABC Television by the intriguing production company Independent Artists. The super-cool (and still instantly recognisable) title music is composed by Bernard Ebbinghouse, and played by John Barry and his orchestra.

On the last day of the month, the advertising-based magazine and drama productions known as Ad Mags, like Jim’s Inn (ITV, 1957-63), will be discontinued by order of the Postmaster General.


The BBC’s second stab (the first was in 1956) at adapting Jane Eyre will come to the screen as a Sunday evening classic serial; Richard Leech is Mr Rochester and Ann Bell is Jane. Crane will be a new contemporary drama series from Associated-Rediffusion with Patrick Allen as Richard Crane, a businessman who buys a beach café and boat in Morocco. Other A-R drama series that will start this year are the offerings for children, Badger’s Bend (January), Sierra Nine (May) and Smuggler’s Cove (August).

Much excitement this month will surround the launch of the 7th of the puppet sci-fi series Space Patrol (1963-64), which is produced by Gerry Anderson’s former associate Roberta Leigh. The series has a detailed and informative Wikipedia entry.


Two notable entertainment series that will present their first editions this month are The Stanley Baxter Show (1963-71) and the pub entertainment show Stars and Garters (1963-66). Of the latter, David Sharp at BFI ScreenOnline writes:

The repertory cast was a mixture of music-hall/variety performers of mixed renown, middle-of-the road singers, one or two genuine pub-singers and the Alan Braden Band (plus the trio to back them), with occasional big-name guests. The show is said to have made stars of Vince Hill and Kathy Kirby, and gave Kim Cordell unexpected exposure; most performers had record contracts of some kind. Martine, a quick-witted East End comic from the Deuragon Arms, Hackney (and the Iron Bridge Tavern), who also played West End supper clubs, had an act so ‘blue’ that Rediffusion paid Dick Vosburgh, Marty Feldman, Barry Cryer and others to write clean gags for him.

A rather more elevated offering starting this month from the BBC will be The Spread of the Eagle, a nine-part adaptation from producer Peter Dews of Shakespeare’s ‘Roman plays’: Coriolanus, Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra. The project is an attempt to repeat the success of the ‘history plays’ erial An Age of Kings from three years before, but despite the presence of Robert Hardy, Peter Cushing, Keith Michell and others it will prove far less popular with both critics and audiences. Coriolanus will be a particular trial, and neither of the later plays will stand a chance to recover from this.


The month will see the first of 66 episodes of the Victorian police procedural series Sergeant Cork, which is created by Ted Willis and stars John Barrie and William Gaunt…


while the summer will also see the start of the Sid James comedy drama Taxi!, which is also created by Ted Willis. On 7 July, The Rolling Stones will perform for the first time on television, on Thank Your Lucky Stars. The Dick Emery Show (1963-81) will start on 18 July. And although there’s no precise transmission date, this is perhaps the place to note that the BBC has put online an early The Sky at Night from 1963, with Patrick Moore and Arthur C. Clarke.


On the 9th pop TV will get a much-needed makeover with the first episode of Ready Steady Go! (1963–1966). From now on the weekend will start with this Associated-Rediffusion show conceived by Elkan Allan, who was later an influential television previewer for The Sunday Times. Perhaps less well-known but – on the basis of the article which this links to – as significant in another way will be the series Citizen 63. Patrick Russell writes:

Each episode [of this five-part series] focused on ‘one person… part of our society’, and employed thoroughly modern 16mm techniques to enable a worm’s-eye view of a Britain on the cusp of great change. The opening film, ‘Barry Langford’, about a flamboyant Brighton-based businessman with one foot in the music industry, had the greatest notoriety…

Later programmes featured more familiar character types: a police inspector, a shop steward, a scientist, and a teenage girl. Though there is narration situating them, each is once again captured in his or her own milieu by extensive mobile observational footage, much of it genuinely improvised, as well as interviewed in the studio. Stills and freeze-frames are among the modish devices employed to convey a sense of dynamism, and to foster the viewer’s impression of each film as a sort ofverité kaleidoscope.


This autumn the Clean Up TV Campaign will be launched by former teacher Mrs Mary Whitehouse. She would doubtless have approved of the gentle Southern Television series Out of Town (1963-81) fronted by Jack Hargreaves which will begin at some point (I can’t find the exact date) during 1963. As an extensive Television Heaven review details, the show

offered viewers a fascinating insight into the ways of rural life of years gone by, as well as the dwindling traditions and values of the people who inhabited a world devoid of technology and who quite gratefully distanced themselves from the rat-race of modern life.


The BBC will start showing adult education programmes, and ATV will debut the portmanteau spy series Espionage. Rather more momentously, 4 October will see The Beatles’ first live television appearance (they had appeared in recordings before), on – inevitably – Ready Steady Go! Wonderfully, the tape survives – ignore the silly opening and start with Dusty Springfield’s intro, after which the boys sing ‘Twist and Shout’ and ‘She Loves You’.


On 10 November the ITV presentation of Royal Variety Performance from the London Palladium will attract more than 21 million viewers, which will be the highest UK television audience to date. Compere Bruce Forsyth will introduce Shirley MacLaine, Max Bygraves and The Beatles. Famously, John Lennon introduces ‘Twist and Shout’ by saying, ‘I’d like to ask your help. Would the people in the cheaper seats clap your hands? And the rest of you, if you’ll just rattle your jewellery.’

Just under a fortnight later,  the assassination of President Kennedy in Dallas will come the day before William Hartnell’s first appearance in the opening episode of Doctor Who, An Unearthly Child. So many people complained of having missed it (because of the disruption to schedules caused by the assassination) that on the following Saturday Episode 1 was repeated followed by Episode 2. On the same evening as the first Doctor Who, 23 November, That Was The Week That Was will broadcast its famous, non-satirical JFK tribute programme. The series, which began on 24 Nov 1962, will on 28 December 1963 see its last edition, from which this next clip comes


The month will see the pilot of the Thora Hird-Freddie Frinton sitcom Meet the Wife (1963-66), but this is the way to go out – Granada’s great show which will be first shown on 18 December 1963, I Hear the Blues. John Hamp is the producer, Philip Casson the director, and the stars include Willie Dixon, Memphis Slim, Victoria Spivey, Muddy Waters and Sonny Boy Williams.

Details of the 1963 Christmas schedules are here courtesy of CTVA. Now, what have I missed from the rest of the year?


  1. craig melson says:

    Why Space Patrol cannot be taken seriously!

  2. Helene says:

    Around the same time period, we had something similar to “Space Patrol” in the states called “Fireball XL-5.” In spite of its corniness, it was one of my childhood favorites at the time … a kid’s precursor to “Star Trek.”

    • John Wyver says:

      Helene, Fireball XL5 was produced in Britain by Gerry Anderson, with whom Roberta Leigh had worked previously. He went on to make the most famous of all puppet sci-fi, Thunderbirds – and he died very recently. Fireball Xl5 was a great favourite of mine too.

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