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Rejuvenating variety with Sound TV

Disillusioned with the current situation in television, two light entertainers have set up a station dedicated to reviving variety and traditional entertainment. Mark Ritchie investigates

It seems that the old maxim, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”, certainly applies to a consortium of entertainers whose TV opportunities over the last few years have been limited, to say the least.

Richard Digance and Mike Osman are just two of the players involved in Sound TV, which broadcasts on Sky Channel 588, and TV presenter Chris Tarrant is reported to be just one of the well-known names with a financial stake in the venture. The intention of the fledgling station is to breathe new life back into variety and more traditional forms of live entertainment via television.

Digance himself is managing director of the station, with entertainers Jethro and Joe Pasquale also showing a keen interest in its success.

Many influential light entertainment voices claim that television no longer provides a platform for new talent. Traditionalists believe that every talent show in the market invariably displays either financial motives, with dial-up phone number voting allowing channels to cash in on viewers, or the Big Brother style, employing voyeuristic tactics to scrape away whatever showbiz magic was there to exploit in the first place.

These dissenting voices claim that television is simply not creating genuine stars any more and that the real motive of any show with a performing arts remit is to “reveal all” and feed the public’s reported interest in the celebrity genre.

Instead, those with holiday centre or social club backgrounds are being overlooked in favour of those who have managed to get noticed via the Edinburgh Festival or comedy club circuit.

Recently I looked in on Sound TV over a period of weeks to get a feel of the programming and try to ascertain whether this was indeed the New Jerusalem for variety.

Newspaper columnist Garry Bushell is a consistent champion of variety on television and is known as a successful talent spotter. Bushell is also involved in Sound TV and has even presented some of its programmes. I watched as he tried to compere a show from what appeared to be very cramped surroundings at a venue in Blackpool. The filming followed a charity event, in which comedy stars like Johnnie Casson and Pauline Daniels appeared.

Other programmes on Sound TV include Richard Digance chatting to some of the unsung heroes of live comedy in a cosy chat-show format. On the night I watched, Duncan Norvelle was the interviewee.

Norvelle, still a powerful force in a live situation, revealed how he designs gardens in between his cabaret work. He revealed the truth behind his “Chase Me” catchphrase and gave a jarring insight into how showbusiness lives can be adversely affected by personal family circumstances.

When Norvelle was asked if he would ever join the young and trendy crowd at the Edinburgh Festival, or try his luck in the comedy clubs, he replied, “No, I won’t bother. I am what I am. I’m not going to change to try to get a younger generation to follow me”.

The New Variety Show is filmed at a venue owned by Jethro, the comedian, in the West Country. It not only showcases those new to television, such as Tank Sherman and Steve Hewlett, but it also reminds us of many of those on the missing list of the major channels, like Mick Miller, Jimmy Tamley and Stan Boardman.

I also discovered that Sound TV took root after a production company known as Creative Results, set up by Digance and his associates, had every single idea they pitched at the major channels roundly rejected.

Whether simply setting up their own channel is going to be a winner remains to be seen. The fact is that Digance is not, in my view, a natural interviewer and Bushell is certainly not going to be anyone’s idea of a compere or presenter.

However, it has occurred to me that there has to be a market for this kind of product, otherwise why are mainstream entertainers such as those mentioned still so much in demand? The answer is ridiculously simple. Many of them are damned good at what they do and, if presented in a format that actually works, most of the stars of yesterday and aspiring stars of tomorrow have to be able to do a better job than some of the trendies the public are enduring today.