More TV Memories – Des O’Connor Tonight.

Des O’Connor Tonight (BBC2, 1977-1982, ITV, 1983-2002)

Des O’Connor is someone whose career in showbusiness lasted for over five decades, he was the lad from Stepney done good. As well as being a chart-topping crooner, he was also a comedian and TV host, was there anything he couldn’t do? Morecambe and Wise were always keen to mock his music, but he didn’t mind that much really because this meant that he got to appear on their show on several occasions.

His main show Des O’Connor Tonight launched on BBC2 in the 70s, and moved to ITV in the 80s, and this is the version that I remember. This always seemed to be shown on Wednesdays at 8pm, year after year, without fail. This was essentially a chat show crossed with a variety showcase. And cue the orchestra! This show is well-remembered for featuring comedians.

They could be up-and-coming ones, veterans, or even visiting from America. Either way, this was a good chance to raise your profile. This wouldn’t be an interview as such though, as Des would play the straightman to let them do as much of their routine as they could. And well, the noisy, cackling audiences seemed to appreciate this. Lots of people have said that Des deserves more credit for championing comedy. Where would Bradley Walsh and Joe Pasquale be now without him?

And there was also the musical element. Various singers were keen to take part too, and Des might even join in if you’re lucky. Along with this, there were several specials and compilations. By the 90s, Des was also hosting game shows Take Your Pick and Pot Of Gold. Des O’Connor Tonight was a long-running show that never really ended as such, but did seem to become more occasional.

The final editions were mostly half-hour specials featuring only one guest being interviewed. Then, just like most shows on ITV1 at this time, it seemed to end with little ceremony. But Des would be back. In the mid-2000s he co-hosted the live daytime show Today With Des And Mel, and he also hosted Countdown for two years, meaning that by this point he was actually appearing on TV more than ever, and remained as popular.


4 thoughts on “More TV Memories – Des O’Connor Tonight.

  1. John King says:

    When Des moved his chat show from the BBC to Thames Television, it was a very important show for Thames Television to produce, and for a very important reason.

    Scheduling Des O’Connor Tonight in a mid week prime time slot for genius for Thames, as mid week prime time TV back then (and possibly now) tended to feel dull, boring and tedious.

    That middle of the week feeling we have, when we think the weekend is still too far away to think about, having a variety style chat show on a Tuesday or Wednesday at 8pm lifts the mood straight away.

    The mid week blues goes, if Des had a good show, and this was very important for Thames – having a weekend feeling styled chat show, airing in their mid week prime time (as Thames of course never aired at weekends).

    The result is just what Thames wanted, millions tuning in, especially when BBC One offered a dull line up.

    Studio 1 at Teddington Studios was the home for Des O’Connor Tonight from 1983 onward, and it used to attract a lot of big stars. The studio was also used for another chat show – The Eamonn Andrews Show, made by ABC Weekend Television from 1964 to 1968, with some viewers complaining the “Live from London” title was wrong, as Teddington is not counted as London.


    • Des Elmes says:

      Well, Teddington was still part of Middlesex in 1964 – Greater London, and with it the London boroughs including Richmond upon Thames, were established the following year.

      And even today, it’s not uncommon for addresses in the area to say “Teddington, Middlesex, TW11”. 😉

      Of course, Teddington Studios is sadly no more – torn down and replaced by charmless “luxury” apartments that won’t solve the housing crisis…


      • Michael says:

        Hey, i meant to tell you Des Elmes that Des O’Connor Tonight continued to be produced by Thames, (despite its franchise loss to Carlton) but made by Central until 2002.

        Thames Television (part of Pearson plc and now Fremantle) continues to make programmes to this day despite its franchise loss to Carlton.

        What are your thoughts and memories of Des O’Connor Tonight anyway?


  2. Des Elmes says:

    (in response to Michael)

    Well… these days Thames is just a label used by Fremantle for its entertainment programmes, as opposed to being a full-blown production company in its own right.

    The label is used on Family Fortunes, Supermarket Sweep and Blankety Blank, even though the original Thames TV had no involvement in any of these shows.

    “Des O’Connor Tonight continued to be produced by Thames, but made by Central.” Rather, it continued to be produced by Thames but was *presented to the ITV network* by Central – the rule then was that shows produced by independent companies for ITV had to be presented to the network by an existing ITV station, rather than by the independent companies themselves.

    As regards other Thames shows, Central also presented This Is Your Life and Minder (until the former went back to the BBC in 1994 and the latter ended the same year), while Carlton presented The Bill.


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