THE BLACK COUNTRY BUGLE, SEPTEMBER 30, 2020
DID you know that daytime television as we know it was pioneered here in the Midlands?
If you’re of a certain age you may recall Lunch Box, the daily, live chat show that was made in Birmingham by ATV Midlands. The programme was the first of its kind and was broadcast at mid-day in the Midlands from 1956 to 1964 and the show was hosted by Noele Gordon.
The programme had a magazine format, with Noele interviewing guests and chatting with the house band, Jerry Allen and his TV Trio, between musical numbers, sketches and viewers’ letters. One of the resident singers on the show was Eula Parker.
On the show Noele would perform stunts, such as entering a cage of lions or riding and elephant, skin-diving, driving a steam train or training with the army. Black Country historian Ian Bott has loaned to the Bugle his copy of an early 1960s brochure produced by ATV that gives fascinating details of their output at the time. The booklet describes Lunch Box:
“Each morning there is a rehearsal for the day’s programme, with the appearance of a number of artistes who stay with the show for a week or two at a time and star performers who are currently appearing in the Midlands area. Among the many wellknown personalities who have appeared in Lunch Box are:
“Antonio, Anthea Askey, Bernard Bresslaw, Eddie Calvert, Roy Castle, Peter Cavanagh, the Cisco Kid, Russ Conway, Jill Day, Craig Douglas, Douglas Fairbanks Jr, Bruce Forsyth, Dickie Henderson, Joe Henderson, Ronnie Hilton, David Hughes, Jewell and Warriss, the Kaye Sisters, Dave King, Denis Lotis, Ruby Miller, Anthony Newley, Bill Owen, Joan Regan, Cliff Richard, Cyril Stapleton, Mel Tormé, Dickie Valentine, Vaughan and Earle, Jimmy Wheeler, David Whitfield and Godfrey Winn.”
How many of those showbiz personalities of days gone by do you recall?
The director and producer of the series was Australian Reg Watson, who went on to create the soap opera Crossroads as a replacement for Lunch Box when it finished its run. The star of the soap was, of course, Noele Gordon, playing motel proprietor Meg Richardson. Watson returned to his homeland in the 1970s and created several TV series that were broadcast in the UK, among them The Young Doctors, Prisoner: Cell Block H, Sons and Daughters and Neighbours.
Noele Gordon had a remarkable career in television and was a pioneer for women in the medium.
She was born Joan Noel Gordon (later adding an E to her stage name) in East Ham on Christmas Day 1919. She made her first stage appearance at the age of 2½ and she became the first woman in the world to appear on colour television when she took part in John Logie Baird’s first colour transmission in 1928.
After education at a convent school she studied at RADA and her professional stage debut was in repertory theatre in Edinburgh and in 1949 she took the lead in the first West End production of Brigadoon, later touring the country with the show.
She joined ATV London in 1955, hosting their first ever programme, before transferring to ATV Midlands in 1956 as Head of Lifestyle and Women’s Output. Although she was now an executive, she maintained her on-screen presence and it was Lunch Box that established her as the biggest star of TV in the Midlands.
She hosted a wide-range of programmes and became Britain’s first female sports presenter with Midland Sport. Other programmes she presented included Midland Profile and Midland Scene and for ATV News she interviewed Harold Macmillan – becoming the first woman to interview a British Prime Minister.
For its last series Lunch Box was rescheduled for an early evening slot and rebranded High T. The series ended in August 1964, replaced by Crossroads, Britain’s first daily serial. The show made Noele incredibly popular nationwide and in 1974 she became the first woman to host the Royal Variety Performance.
Noele was controversially axed from Crossroads in 1981 and a planned returned to the show a few years later had to be put off when she was diagnosed with cancer. Noele Gordon died in 1985.
The Black Country Bugle, written by Dan Shaw, 2020.