Some time ago I wrote about my short-lived spell in the BBC2 Presentation Programmes Department in 1973, not long after the demise of Late Night Line-Up in 1972. Its predecessor “Line-up” had started out as a kind of early evening trailer when BBC2 first went on the air in 1964 but later that year it morphed into “Late Night Line-Up” featuring “open and candid discussion among invited guests”, transmitted live after the 9.00 p.m. watershed.
In my earlier post I mentioned Michael Dean, whom I got to know post Late Night Line-Up, as a friend and colleague, when I moved over from BBC2 programme directing to BBC1 Presentation Department as a Network Director (AKA Transmission Control and Trailers.) At that time Michael was working for Auntie as a continuity announcer prior to returning to his native New Zealand, and we used to chat and have a laugh or two in the tea room from time to time, often about NZ , whence I had just returned after a six-year stopover. At the time I knew Michael had worked on Late Night Line-Up, but did not fully realise that he had been a celeb as a “highbrow” arts and current affairs presenter and interviewer on the show, along with colleagues such as Denis Tuohy, Joan Bakewell, Tony Bilbow and Philip Jenkinson.
I only found out recently that Michael had interviewed celebrities such as Peter Sellars, Tony Hancock, Maurice Denham or Morecambe and Wise, and had conducted a long-form panel interview for Man Alive on homosexuality, even more controversial then than now. I had missed all this, living in New Zealand from 1967 to 1973, so this little exercise has been something of a revelation.
When I wrote “Working with Auntie 1973 – 74” I had found only two archive clips of Michael, one of which I see has since been withdrawn, so I thought I would have another go. Searching YouTube for “Michael Dean” still turned up only the one clip, but on reflection I realised that, as a presenter, Michael’s name would be less likely to yield results than the names of his guests or just the programme itself.
Success! I have included seven clips below, unedited. My interest lies not only in Michael’s subtle skills, but also in the responses he teases out of his studio guests on an unrehearsed live chat show. If these excerpts seem old-fashioned, remember that most of them are more than fifty years old. (Please don’t withdraw them, copyright owners!)
Also, get that accent! When I knew Michael I had more of a kiwi accent than he did.
I’m intrigued by the next clip, evidently from a programme called Late Night Lineup, but though it is undated must have been aired after 1979, long after the demise of the original BBC Late Night Line-Up. The clip is about a film called On Giants’ Shoulders and what became of it’s thalidomide star. This may have been recorded in 1986, when Late Night Line Up was briefly exhumed as part of the celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of BBC television. [BFI Screenonline]
Recently the BBC has chosen to release a lot of archive material on Facebook (not the best choice for archive material,) and I found a couple more relevant clips there despite the lack of a decent search facility. To make matters worse the default audio setting used by Facebook is mute, so you’ll have to click on the loudspeaker icon on the player control bar to hear the sound. (Sorry – no way to do this in WordPress!)
Joan Bakewell wrote Michael’s obituary for the Guardian in 2015. “His interviews with Tony Hancock, Morecambe and Wise, Gore Vidal and Peter Sellers were no showbiz soundbites but thoughtful conversations, in which Michael used his modesty and intelligence to steer guests to often revealing insights. But he was no pushover: indeed he developed a bold technique that we came to call “the silent poisoner”. He would ask a straightforward question and, on receiving an evasive answer, he would deploy not the Paxman tactic, but the exact opposite. With sublime self-control he would simply remain silent and wait. It takes nerves of steel to do that on live television.”
Where can I find interviews that are thoughtful conversations on British Television these days? Never mind – in a few days time I will no longer have to pay the licence fee (AKA tax imposed by an unelected and unaccountable body who can’t even manage to pay their employees and contractors fairly.)
BFI Screenonline: Late Night Line Up
“Goodbye” to an old and once revered TV presenter called Michael Dean