Variety Is The Spice Of Life!

Watching Britain's Got Talent this week has had me come over all nostalgic. You see, when I was a little girl in the 1970s I used to love Saturday night telly.Throughout the summer months the BBC had Seaside Special and its successor Summertime Special. Broadcast from a coastal resort, a holiday camp or even a circus big top, it was probably a bit naff. It certainly wasn't cool. But when you're eight and cuddled in front of the telly with your parents and a plate of fish and chips, you're not really thinking about your street cred. Come to think of it, in 1977 I don't think they'd even invented it!

And,like all little children, I loved to be at the seaside and, even though I couldn't spend all summer there in person, I used to think that Seaside Special let me at least feel like I was there … on a Saturday evening at least. It was really just another take on the variety show.With the acrobats and the comedians, impressionists, crooners, pop groups and ventriloquists there was always something for everyone. And at least once a week, usually on a Saturday night, come summer or winter, there would be some kind of variety show on our screens. 

Often it took the guise of a magic show, with magicians like David Nixon or Paul Daniels. Or perhaps an impressionist like Mike Yarwood, or comedians like the Two Ronnies would be the main feature. It was good all-round family-friendly entertainment and it's really what modern telly is missing. 

We have fabulous dramas aplenty. Dozens of 'reality' shows. And now even a couple of pretend reality shows where allegedly 'ordinary' people act out supposedly real and most definitely ridiculous scenarios. We have gritty documentaries, and countless cooking, gardening or property show.

So this week, as the nation tunes in avidly to watch Britain's Got Talent, I'm wondering why the telly powers that be can't see that viewers are crying out for a proper variety show once more. Over five years viewers have responded very positively to the biggest talent show in years. Perhaps it's the financially insecure times we're experiencing. Perhaps it's because the news always seems so depressing of late. Or perhaps it's just that today's parents are the children of the '70s who were brought up on proper Saturday night telly. And they're just the right age to get grabbed by nostalgia. Whatever the reason, we, the viewers,want something our telly execs seem so unwilling to bring on a regular basis.

In truth it probably wouldn't be a good idea to recreate Seaside Special as it was.The format wouldn't appeal to modern tastes. I can't imagine the sight of Brotherhood of Man singing their latest hit while bobbing along in a lifeboat being the highlight of our weeks. But the fact that people of all ages are happy to tune in to watch six consecutive nights of as-yet undiscovered variety hopefuls shows that there's a market. And it proves that the talent is available, if only some channel controller or other could realise the all-round appeal of singers and dancers, magicians and dog acts, oddball novelties and adorable children too. It seems obvious that there's room for a variety show and the viewing figures that Britain's Got Talent pulls must prove it. What's mystifying is why the folk at the BBC and ITV haven't yet realised it.

Perhaps the telly execs are fearful of seeming too retro. Then again, the Satellite and Freeview channels are pulling in viewers with re-runs of once long-forgotten sitcoms and dramas and the mainstream channels aren't shy of showing repeats of Dad's Army week after week. Classic shows are always popular and the same goes for classic formats. After all, they've successfully revived, and modernises, countless shows like Doctor Who and Upstairs Downstairs. If they could find a really good compere it would really work. Someone in the old-school style of a Bruce Forsyth but with a modern edge. In the hands of someone like, say, John Barrowman who can sing and dance, be charming and funny and fun and not take the whole thing, or himself, too seriously, a variety show could become essential Saturday  night viewing. 

Perhaps it's the cost of putting on such a show that's discouraging them. We all know that the proliferation of reality shows, where production costs are low and they have a ready-made cast of cheap to hire celebrity wannabees, is financially sound.  Especially when you can charge the public for their contributions. But ultimately, this kind of television is unsatisfying for viewers. A bit of gossip is fine for a while, but it's not something most of us want to sit down to as a treat. And it's certainly not something you want to settle down with the kids to watch. It's not like we haven't got the talent available, as this week is proving. 

The signs have been there for years, people love variety and so it seems unlikely that anyone will seize the opportunity. But at least, for those of us with that light entertainment yearning, we've a week of shows to sate our thirst for cheerful, unchallenging, cosy, family-friendly entertainment. Let's make the most of it!

And, you know,  if the execs really wanted to cut costs AND please the great viewing public, they could kill two birds with one stone by digging out those old Morecambe and Wise tapes. Now wouldn't that be grand? Morecambe and Wise back on Saturday night telly? Bring it on!