It was a concept I never really understood – guess what the song is by hearing one note of it. That’s one note. ONE. Any song in the world from just one note. One note that could be from any song ever, played on its own. And they got a whole game show out of this?
If I’m going to give a fair account of Name That Tune (an order that I would have answered with ‘No, play me the whole tune and then I’ll be able to name it…’) I should point out that the contestants got a clue before they were played any notes, and the note didn’t come from ‘any song in the world’; there was actually a pretty limited pool of hits that it would be picked from. They were the sort of classic sing-along numbers that generations of your family would join in with if they were huddled round the television when this was on. Basically if you were a fan of middle of the road 1970’s music then you would have cleaned up on this show.
Whilst Name That Tune started life in the US as an NBC radio show in 1952, it first appeared in the UK as Spot The Tune (‘I’ve seen it, it’s over there!’ Ha ha ha ha) in 1956, but the version we all know and love started much later on. In 1976 a pilot was recorded as Name That Tune, but only as a 15 minute appearance slotted into entertainment show Wednesday At Eight. (Wonder when that was on?) It proved to be so popular with the viewers that Thames Television thought it would work as a programme in its own right and in 1983 a weekly half hour of song recognising fun began broadcasting on ITV.
The first host to try and inject some tension into what was (when you considered what else you could be doing during this time) some fairly tensionless proceedings was Tom O’Connor. Good practice for him really, as he would later go on to host Crosswits… In 1984 Lionel Blair took over and kept the whole ‘yep, it’s another note – see if you can get ‘When I’m 64’ from that’ process running until the programme was pushed off the edge of the ITV schedules cliff in 1987.
So, let’s have a closer look at how this whole shenanigans worked shall we?
Two contestants would be plucked out of the studio audience to play, and the first round was called Melody Roulette. A large wheel containing differing amounts of money from £25 to £100 (yes, it was in the days before Who Wants To Be A Millionaire threw our perspective of what amount of money is actually worth winning out of the window) was spun, and whatever it landed on would be what the player won if they guessed the tune. The orchestra struck up a bar or two of The Green, Green Grass Of Home (or some other dirge) and whoever buzzed in first to guess it correctly would take the money. Guessing three out of five correctly would secure them the round.
The second round was Sing A Note, and required the services of a professional singer. This honour fell to Maggie Moone (somebody who wasn’t good enough to be picked as the UK’s entry to the Eurovision Song Contest in 1980) and pop trio Sheeba (a girl group who weren’t good enough to beat Bucks Fizz or 10 other entries in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1981), who when singing, replaced any words that featured in the title with ‘la’ or ‘la-la’ – thus making it harder for the contestants to guess whilst at the same time making themselves look slightly insane.
Bid A Note was the part of the show that is most remembered (see the opening paragraph of this article) and quoted, i.e. ‘I’ll name that tune in….’
Tom ‘I’m about to host a television show based around crosswords’ O’Connor or Lionel ‘Tippy Tappy’ Blair would read out clues that pointed towards a song title, and the player who was in the lead at that point would choose the number of notes they reckoned they could guess the song in. If the other contestant thought they could get it in less, they could bid for a lower number, and this continued alternately until one player dropped out, or there was only one note left. If the successful bidder had worked out the song already from the clues then only having one note was neither here nor there; if they hadn’t then hearing ‘bong’ and trying to pick out which song it might be from the hundreds of thousands that exist in the world was damn near impossible.
The fun didn’t stop there however…the Golden Medley Showdown let the orchestra hog the limelight for a while as they played a medley (obviously) of songs which the contestants had to buzz in and guess. They had five seconds for each song, and 30 seconds for the entire round, and the first to seven correct answers won. If neither player reached seven then whoever had the most at the end of the time was declared the winner.
Having accumulated money throughout the previous rounds, whoever now had the most would go on to the final round, Prize Tune. The player would get into that game show favourite, the soundproof booth, and from then on would only be able to hear the host and the piano. The pianist for the show’s entire run was Ronnie Price, although only his hands were ever seen; do you think he used to poke just them outside the stage door afterwards to sign autographs? The host would open a golden envelope, and hand the piece of sheet music inside to Ronnie’s hands whilst holding onto a smaller envelope himself. A 30 second timer would start, the pianist would play for ten seconds, and the contestant then had 20 seconds to guess the title of the song. If what he or she said exactly matched what was written on the card inside the second envelope then the contestant would win a bonus prize.
Why all that had to be done in a soundproof booth still eludes me. Unless the studio audience was a crowd of beer-ed up louts who insisted on screeching profanities to break the contestant’s concentration I don’t really see why they couldn’t have just stood next to the host to listen to the music. Still, it gave soundproof booth manufacturers work I suppose.
Name That Tune was revived twice after the original run finished: once for Channel 5 in 1998 with Jools Holland (Name That Boogie Woogie Tune?) and once for that show whose name strikes fear right into my heart, Vernon Kay’s Gameshow Marathon in 2007.
If any television execs are reading this and thinking ‘Ooh, it’s about time we revived it again,’ I’ll name that tune in one….word. No.