Making The Old Grey Whistle Test

Whether you’re old enough or not to have ever watched an original edition of The Old Grey Whistle Test when it was first broadcast, it’s highly likely you’ve seen archive clips on BBC4, which frequently plunders its back catalogue when airing one of its many music retrospectives.

Every member of NDX can remember the first presenter Whispering Bob Harris, who acquired the moniker on account of his low key presenting style, which was simply as result of him never having presented anything on TV before and lacking any kind of confidence.

It ran from 1971 to 1988 with Annie Nightingale taking over from Bob to herald the punk and new wave era. With only really Top Of The Pops providing access to new popular music on TV, TOGWT was a must watch for anyone wanting something that wasn’t mainstream or in the charts. Pretty much anyone who released a record in the UK in the 70s and 80s was on the show, whether that was Captain Beefheart, Roxy Music, King Crimson, The Damned, Dire Straits, U2 or many more…

The name always fascinated me. I still think it’s one of the best and most appropriate TV programme names ever. The name was derived from a Tin Pan Alley phrase. Whenever a new record was pressed up, it would be played to doormen. They were know as Old Greys, because they wore grey suits. If they could remember a song after one or two plays and whistle the tune, then the record was said to have passed The Old Grey Whistle Test. What a great way to test out a catchy tune!

Click here to read The Guardian’s interview with Bob and Annie about the making of the show. It really did bring ‘album’ bands to the masses!

Plus here’s a classic clip from the early days…

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