Studying TV in America for the launch of ITV
Overnight I was a big [theatre] star, but in typical showbusiness fashion, nothing happened after Brigadoon. When the show finished I was out of work again. However, thanks to [London Palladium and Moss Empire Theatres boss] Val Parnell, I got a job as a principal boy in a Palladium pantomime – the one and only time he used his influence to get me to work. By now I was getting fed up with the British theatre scene.
“They don’t write suitable parts for my type of performer in British musicals,” I told Val.
“And the Americans always bring over their own players. I’m going to try my luck in America.”
Val advised that I should first go and see what life was like in the States. So, on their next talent-spotting trip he and Lew Grade [Noele’s agent] went on one plane and I went on another. I was there for about a month and liked the American way of life. So I came home and set about making arrangements to return.
About this time Val and Lew, in association with others, were applying for a franchise in the new commercial TV set-up [ITV]. They suggested sending me to study American TV with a view to my having an executive post in the new company. It was arranged that I should go to the University of New York for a year to study TV production methods. I could take only £1,000 with me, but Lew’s New York office put me on their payroll and I received £30 a week for sending back reports.
These covered programmes which might be of interest to British viewers; informing them of any acts which could play the Palladium and Moss Empires circuit; and making any inquiries needed for their new venture. At this time British currency regulations were in force and the normal business allowance didn’t go very far in the USA. So whenever Val and Lew came to New York I was happy to make my contribution to the British economy by doing the future Lord Grade’s laundry – ironing his shirts and washing his smalls in my hotel bathroom. I did the same for Val too, of course.
Lew always accompanied Val on his visits to Manhattan. They shared a two-bedroomed suite at the Warwick Hotel while I would have a single room on the same floor, always as Mrs Castle. When Val wasn’t in town I lived at the Hotel Schuyler on West 57th Street and the highlight of each day was to collect Val’s airmailed letter from the pigeon-hole of Room 816.
By now, Val, Lew and their associates had won their commercial TV franchise and Val was busying himself buying up American TV shows for the British screen.
Notes: Noele returned to the UK as a producer and executive for the ITV services in London and the Midlands; Associated Television. She worked as ‘Head of Lifestyle’ for the company and produced and presented several programmes between 1955 and 1964. Ideas brought over from America included ‘The Betty White Show’ which was transformed into ‘Lunchbox’ and daytime soap ‘A Time To Live’ that would persuade Lew Grade to launch a daily UK daytime soap – Crossroads.
From the NofTW, July 1981.