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Just the ticket (1974)

1974-10-26 Guardian.jpg

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OVERHEAD the trains are rumbling across Hungerford Bridge, taking the weary shells of Charing Cross commuters back to Kent. But in the chill evening outside the BBC's Playhouse Theatre, a short walk from Trafalgar Square, there is an air of expectancy. Motor coaches disgorge parties of giggling women; and the queue outside the Playhouse grows longer.

Tonight the first of a new series of Morecambe and Wise radio shows is being recorded with two of the biggest names in British show business, here, now, on stage for an hour. And it won't cost the audience a bean.

The tickets are complimentary, and all the audience has to remember is to laugh instead of smile. The microphone cannot pick' up smiles, and a joke without a laugh is deflated. But where did this audience come from ? Thin. air ? Rent-a-crowd? If -this series isn't going to be broadcast immediately, how did they even know, about it ?

The answers can be traced to the second floor of a BBC block just round the corner from Broadcasting House. The BBC ticket unit can fix you up with anything from a live lunchtime classical concert on Radio 3 to a recording of Monty Python's Flying Circus : if you don't mind waiting a bit for Python,' of course, Tickets for that, says Trevor ' Bath, who is in charge of the ticket, unit, are a bit of a status symbol. And don't ask him about Top of the Pops either, although everyone does, because the show's own producer gets the audience for that.

Otherwise Bath and his staff try to see that an over-sixties dub from Bedford receives tickets for a TV or radio programme they will enjoy when they next roar down the motorway in their coach looking for the action. Equally the unit has' to see that the producer of a children's programme finds a children's audience turning up for his show and not an over-sixties club from Bedford.

"On average there are about two dozen BBC radio and television programmes each week requiring a studio audience." says Bath, and that can mean a figure of perhaps 144 for something like a David Frost programme: which comes from a small studio, to 385 for a Show at the Television Theatre in Shepherd's ,Bush, or more for a radio show at the Playhouse."

But organising audiences is not as straightforward as it sounds. Far a start, some shows have more ticket applications than they can satisfy. Morecambe and Wise, and Cliff Richard, for instance, are subjects of thick files of letters at the ticket Unit : waiting. lists far if and when they do another television series.

" They are among the most popular artists," says Bath. " On the other hand, getting -people to take tickets for a nevr comedy series which doesn't star anybody particularly famous is perhaps the hardest task. People like a degree of familiarity with what they are going to see, either in the programme or the star.

And even something like a Frost or Parkinson programme, or one of the In Concert series, is difficult because the potential audience always asks who is going to be the subject, and we're often unable to tell them."

The overall ticket allocation for any one programme goes in a variety of directions. The producer gets some, the BBC staff can apply, the commissionaires at the various studios are sent seine to hand out to casual inquirers on the day, and other tickets are dispatched to local hostels and youth club associations Who can always produce the core of an audience if need be at short notice. And then there are the written public applications.

"You wouldn't believe some of the letters we receive," says Bath. "They ask for tickets to see Dr Who, The Pallisers, Blue Peter, or even Any Answers. They don't seem to realise that we never have audiences for those."

Actually, some other programmes which deliberately give the impression of having an audience, don't either. One lady who wrote persistently for a ticket to see They Sold a Million couldn't believe the applause was dubbed. "In that case," she wrote to the ticket unit, "who is Vince' Hill saying ' Good evening' and Thank you' to ? "

Mostly. the would-be ' audiences know what they want, and, says Bath, " if they can 'give us a month's notice, then we can usually let them ,have tickets for' the programme, or type of programme, they like."

There is a minim= age limit of seven for television audiences, which sometimes makes it difficult to find a suitable audience for a show like Basil Brush. "If we offer Basil Brush to children over ten, they just don't want to know " says one of Bath's assistants. " All they want to see is Top of the Pops."

Some of the letters the unit receives enclose cheques, which have to be sent back ; the writers simply can't believe that in 1974 you can still get something for nothing more than a stamped addressed envelope. Others have caught on : one man sends hatches of half a dozen envelopes at a time for a weekly ticket for Friday Night is Music Night.

Bath, a former studio supervisor for the BBC, which is the equivalent of a theatre front-of-house manager, is nostalgic for the days when a radio show ' was more of an occasion, like television shows are now." But perhaps the fact that some radio shows are recorded at lunchtime has something to do with it.

The unit habitually sends out more tickets than it has seats for radio shows, because experience has proved that a lot will fall on stony ground. Even for the Morecambe and Wise radio show. 800 tickets went out for less than 500 available seats, though their popularity had Bath urgently estimating the size' of the queue outside, on the night and wondering if he had overdone it. But eventually everyone got in by the time the comedians began their. warm-up. " Good evening." said Eric Morecambe. "I expect you're wondering why we sent for you...."

Disclaimer: These citations are created on-the-fly using primitive parsing techniques. You should double-check all citations. Send feedback to whovian@cuttingsarchive.org

  • APA 6th ed.: Temple, Cliff (1974-10-26). Just the ticket. The Guardian p. 11.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Temple, Cliff. "Just the ticket." The Guardian [add city] 1974-10-26, 11. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Temple, Cliff. "Just the ticket." The Guardian, edition, sec., 1974-10-26
  • Turabian: Temple, Cliff. "Just the ticket." The Guardian, 1974-10-26, section, 11 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Just the ticket | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Just_the_ticket | work=The Guardian | pages=11 | date=1974-10-26 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=24 April 2019 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Just the ticket | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Just_the_ticket | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=24 April 2019}}</ref>