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Sunday 30 August 2009

The First Chat Show

Who hosted the first programme on UK television in the genre that we now call the “chat show”? Way back, before Ross, before Wogan, before even Parky, we would watch in our millions – 18 million at its peak – as an announcer called out “It’s Siiimon Dee!”

Dee, whose death has been announced today, was one of those Swinging Sixties personalities that would have been difficult to picture in any other era (Liz Hurley has said he was the inspiration for Austin Powers). His career was short, partly because he got ahead of himself as to how much he was worth, and how good he was at it. But he left us with that template of what, in the late 60s, was thought cool and aspirational, especially at the end of each show when he was seen driving away in an E-type Jaguar.

The occasionally fickle nature of TV fame, though, intervened after Dee had fallen out with the Beeb and ITV. At the time, there wasn’t anywhere else to go: he found himself at one stage reduced to driving a bus to make ends meet. My own favourite memory of Simon Dee? A bit part in The Italian Job, as a mincing tailor’s assistant. Charlie Croker (Michael Caine) explains to Dee, who is looking down his nose at Croker’s collection of shirts, “When I went inside, they were all the rage”.

Dee pouts and replies “What did you do, life? I mean, you could take all of these, and put them ... in a museum”.

A small part of all our lives, perhaps, but a fun one.

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