The first episode of A Brit Talks Vintage TV is available now.
Below is a slightly modified version of the script:
The original American version of What’s My Line, which ran from 1950-1967 was a breath of fresh air when I discovered it over a year ago. The name what’s my line, to a British person, conjures up the rather staid image of old BBC. a bit stuffy, funny but in a polite sensibly English way. Also, its often a case of “I’ve heard about that but never seen it because the BBC have hardly any of the original runs in their archives”. The aforementioned US version, produced by Goodson Todman, is a whole different story with hundreds of episodes in existence. However, it can’t be any good, can it?
Well if you’re in two minds about it, think of it like this. Our version, of the little that exists, makes theirs look like a rave-up at a student union. Sure, to Americans it looks rather polite and old fashioned when comparing to modern game shows, but the energy that exists between the moderator and the panellists feels light, modern and almost progressive. The winning combination of Journalist Dorothy Kilgallen, Comedian Fred Allen, All rounder Arlene Francis and Publisher Bennett Cerf during the mid 50s took this show to another level. Add to that, the polished, almost BBC manner, of Newsreader John Charles Daly and you have a formula for success. I particularly enjoy John’s rather extended explanations that seemed like they came out of nowhere, his face was always a picture.
But Jamie, I hear you cry, its all fuzzy and in black and white, how can I possibly enjoy this show? Believe me, when you’ve seen some of the crazy jobs that feature; you forget about the limitations of the kinescope. Before What’s My Line, I never knew that eyeglasses for chickens even existed, imagine a world where I didn’t know that!
Still not convinced? Well the part of the show that everyone remembers, is the appearance of the mystery celebrity, which sees the panel blindfolded so they can try and guess their identity. Everyone from Hollywood A-listers to TV and Radio Celebrities to Sportsman…you name it, the cream of mid-century entertainment and culture appeared on that show. If you’re unfamiliar with a lot of the names, its a great starting point to finding out about a golden age. If you’re an enthusiast, its just fun to see these people in a different environment.
Now if you’re reading this and considering checking out the show, I would really recommend it. In America, it can usually be found on gameshow TV channel Buzzr, when they’re not playing the later syndicated version. Also, it can be found on demand via Amazon Prime, where around 40 episodes of the show from the mid-50s are on offer. When it was available on Prime in the UK for a short period, my wife and I could not get enough of it. Every night was What’s My Line night in our household. In the UK, I would recommend checking out episodes on YouTube and joining the various Facebook groups dedicated to the series.