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.