The Tube Story - Part 1

The Tube - 
Channel 4 and Tyne Tees TV 1982 to 1984
Gary’s Tube Memories - Part 1 - The Early Bit

I have lost count of the number of times that people have asked me about the work I did on this show. Up to date I haven’t responded very openly, and have even been a bit guarded about discussing it in any way; now though I think enough time has passed to make it worth sharing some of the extraordinary things that happened during the two and a half years I contributed to it.

Created: Tuesday 13th January 2009
Gary James - From the Tube to The Tube - 
My story

This is the day it all started. Can you spot me though? The 3,000 people who applied to the adverts that appeared in the music press saying “Are you the face for the space?” were invited to auditions in London. From what I can remember it was at a place just around the corner from Marble Arch, up the Edgware Road in London. The day had been marked by torrential downpours, much to the despair of girls who had arrived tarted up like dogs dinners. 80’s fashion was signified by big hair; this did not mix well with heavy rain though, and the consequence of this was a constant queue of hysterical wannabe women queueing up to get into the one small lav’ where they desperately tried to rescue and rebuild.

This photo (above) is interesting as it happens to contain three of the auditionees who were eventually picked: myself, Michelle Cremona (middle row, second from right) and Nick Laird-Clowes (back row, 4th from left in the hat). I don’t recall meeting Muriel Gray or Mike Everitt at the London auditions, and it’s possible that they were seen elsewhere.

The auditioners from Tyne Tees TV were all sat behind three wooden desks just below the stage in the small hall they had hired. It was very impersonal and incredibly open - not much chance of being able to do your pitch privately. I had devised, what I thought then, was a sure fire way of getting through the audition; I was going to rush up to the desk when I was called, bang both fists on the table and demand to know what it was all about. It makes me cringe to think about it now - but remember, it was Thatcher’s Britain at that time; her reign of terror had only just recently begun. They were troubled times and the Punk attitude of young people was still very powerful. It seemed like the only way to get your voice heard back then was to do it in an ‘in your face’ way. I was pretty ‘out there’ at that time - I used to go clubbing with a fantastic gang of people - some of whom subsequently became far better known that I ever did and would end up appearing on the Tube as well, although on the stage as opposed to presentation. Despite Thatcher and her cronies, London was still a great place to party - and this audition seemed to be for something unusually exciting considering how boring television was at that time. I was determined to do whatever I could to get the job.

It transpired that the auditioner I had on my desk was the Executive Producer Andrea Wonfor - I don’t remember who she was with though (there were two per table). When it came to my turn I duly rushed up to the table, but then, in a sudden fit of good taste, I decided that it would be naff to bang my fists. Instead I sat down and told them what I had planned to do and what a rubbish idea it was. I made her laugh - and the rest is history. Andrea Wonfor was quite a powerful TV exec in those days - and would become even more so later on in her career. I adored her - she was a tough cookie, but absolutely fair and great, great fun to be with. Sadly Andrea is no longer with us, but I will always remember her with the great affection.

At the time of the auditions I was working to feed myself with London Transport as a Guard on the Metropolitan Line. The Gay Sweatshop theatre company tour I had been on had broken up shortly before this and I desperately needed something to live on. It was a handy job as the shift work made it easy for me to attend auditions and take on theatre work at odd hours. I remember returning home to the grotty flat I shared in Queens Park, North London to find a telegram on the doormat. It asked me to telephone the show’s producers at Tyne Tees TV in Newcastle immediately for some good news. As you might imagine, this was just about the most exciting thing that had ever happened to me. I ran around the flat shouting “I’ve got it!, I’ve got it!” in absolute ecstasy. In fact I hadn’t got the gig quite yet  . . . I had to go up to Newcastle for a screen test. This took the form of a prepared piece to camera and a live interview with someone of their choosing. When I got there my interviewee turned out to be a local radio DJ from Newcastle’s Metro Radio - though I can’t remember his name sadly. I do recall that he did the night show, and we therefore spent the entire interview having the most bizarre conversation on how best to stay awake when you were being bombarded with calls from idiots and insomniacs. It was great fun and this must have come across because I got the job. It was explained to all of us that the producers had decided not to go with just one presenter to add to the already selected celeb team of Paula Yates and Jools Holland, but to have five newbies who would share the co-presenting task on a weekly rotating basis.

The five people they picked were myself, Muriel Gray, Michelle Cremona, Nick Laird-Clowes and Mike Everitt. All of us had to then decide what we were going to do about our existing jobs. Muriel had a job that she loved at the Scottish National Museum of Antiquities, Michelle was working in accounts at a small furniture company in Kent and Mike was a fork lift truck driver at a company in Barnsley. Nick was a musician with a band called The Act (post-Tube he went on to form the group Dream Academy, who had a massive hit with ‘Life In A Northern Town’). I had managed to persuade London Transport to let me change rest days and move shifts so that I could do the show, and everyone except poor Mike managed to get round the problem somehow. Mike was a really talented presenter but he was married with a family and he told me that when his company refused to let him take part (as they thought it would show them up in a poor light apparently) he was forced to make the choice of The Tube or his day job. It’s a great shame that he gave up this wonderful opportunity although his reasons for doing so were understandable. I am convinced to this day that had he taken the chance he would have gone on to have a successful career in the media - not only was he a talented presenter, but a really lovely guy. The producers must have thought so too, because they broadcast the only filmed interview that Mike had ever done on the show anyway. Mike - you were a diamond.

Once the final team had been announced we were all invited back up to Newcastle for discussions, publicity work and to meet the Tube production team at Tyne Tees Television’s studios in the City Road. Muriel and I had been put up in the Station Hotel on an expense account. We had hit it off right from the start. I just adored her - we shared a similar silly sense of humour that seemed to click immediately. We decided that as Tyne Tees were paying then we would have a bloody good night on them. We ordered Champagne and fabulous food (or what we must have considered as such at the time) and got absolutely peshed. The following day we arrived at the studios looking like we’d been dragged round a field, and with terrible hangovers only to find, to our horror, that the first order of the day was a photo shoot outside the studio with Jools. That picture (the group one outside Studio 5) makes me laugh even to this day - just look at the state of me and Muriel and you can see what sort of condition we were in.
There were two press launches for the show - one was at the Rock Garden in Covent Garden, and the other was at some gaff just off of St Christopher’s Place, near Oxford Street. Channel 4 was to launch as a brand new national TV station on the 2nd of November 1982, only a few days before the first Tube was due to be broadcast (which might explain why I recall two press days). I remember Billy Bragg giving a great mobile performance at the second do - complete with his unique back-borne speaker system. All was set for the launch of the show on Friday November 5th 1982. Muriel was going to be the guest presenter on Show 1 with me doing show 2 the following week. Channel 4 was not available to everyone when it launched (and for some time afterwards too) so we were all unsure about how it would be received. 

Although I had been acting for many years previously and did not suffer from stage nerves to any great degree, I remember being far more edgy about this show than I thought I would be. In Part two I’ll spill the beans about what happened when the show actually started, how it developed and finally what happened when I left.

                                             The story continues in Part 2  . . .