CHANNEL LOOKING NORTH ONCE AGAIN FOR THE VOICE OF YOUTH
IT WAS not Bruce Forsyth, Jimmy Tarbuck or any other of the entertainment giants of the time who helped launch the infant Channel 4 into the world – but a comedian unknown to almost everyone outside Sheffield.
Tony Capstick’s short-lived series stands as a monument to a time when, very briefly, the people at television’s cutting edge looked to Yorkshire for their star talent.
The announcement of a Leeds executive to take charge of the channel’s “teen strand” as it enters the 2020s, brought the wheel full circle.
The station, which will open its new national headquarters in the city in the coming months, has poached Canadian Navi Lamba from the BBC, to oversee its digital youth programming.
Ms Lamba, who has worked on Fleabag and Killing Eve at the corporation, said she “could not wait to get started” in Leeds.
Her new boss, Karl Warner, added that her “unique voice” would take “the digital expression of our content to as many 16 to 34-year-olds as possible”.
The jargon was different when Cecil Korer, the channel’s first head of entertainment, tried something similar nearly 40 years ago. Brought up in Leeds and linked professionally to the
Comedian and folk singer Tony Capstick, once a star turn at the launch of Channel 4. city with his work on the BBC’s It’s A Knockout, which had a production office on Woodhouse Lane, he returned to his home turf to find his first stars.
The one he came up with was Capstick, a comic and folk singer from Rotherham who had scored an unlikely chart hit which satirised the nostalgic Hovis bread commercials of the time.
“We’d lots of things they haven’t got today – rickets, diphtheria...” he intoned to an accompaniment by the Frickley Carlton Main brass band, of Dvorak’s New World symphony.
At a time when alternative comedy was breaking through into the cultural mainstream, a traditional South Yorkshire act was an unlikely choice for a channel whose remit was to be radical.
But Mr Korer booked him for eight half-hours of sketches called Capstick Capers , in which he appeared in character as “Our kid”, a role he had honed on the Yorkshire working men’s club circuit.
The show went out at peak time on Friday nights, and a second series was commissioned, though not shown.
Mr Korer also handed a slot to a local quiz show on Yorkshire TV. Countdown was his biggest hit, and named its digital display, Countdown’s Electronic Computer in Leeds – or CECIL – after him. His other Channel 4 stars included the Barron Knights, a group of pop song parodists from the 1960s, and the
Australian comedian Paul Hogan, whom he introduced to Britain.
His tastes were not always in tune with the new channel’s ambitions. “When does a programme stop being an artistic success in Chelsea and become elitist c*** in Barnsley?” he wondered at a board meeting. Channel 4 was not yet two years old when he was replaced.
The renewal of its on-off affair with Leeds will see its comedy and entertainment commissioners – as well as those for current affairs and live events – based in the city for the first time since Mr Korer’s day.
We’d lots of things they haven’t got today – rickets, diphtheria...