Pop on the Tyne: Remembering Razzmatazz
By Classic Pop | April 29, 2022
Before The Tube, there was kids’ TV show Razzmatazz which brought small screen anarchy to the masses. Presenter Lyn Spencer and producer Malcolm Gerrie tell the tale of how this pioneering tea-time programme turned Newcastle into a hotbed of 80s pop. By Dan Biggane
In the summer of 1981, ITV launched a zany new children’s television programme to rival the BBC’s Top Of The Pops. Razzmatazz, presented by Lyn Spencer and Alastair Pirrie, first aired on 2 June 1981 and was recorded at Tyne Tees Television Studios in Newcastle. The show’s brightly decorated set, complete with clouds and rainbows, provided an ideal backdrop for all manner of madcap games and pop performances by some of the biggest stars of the day.
“I was working as a continuity announcer for Tyne Tees and started running competitions for children every Saturday morning,” remembers Lyn. “This developed into a full-blown show for kids called Lyn’s Look In. Then I took a break to have my first child.
“However, I returned to the screen to be one of the presenters on ITV teenage magazine programme, Check It Out. It was Andrea Wonfor, Head of Children’s Programmes at Tyne Tees, who thought that I would be a good fit for Razzmatazz. I was so excited to be part of this new idea.”
One of Razzmatazz’s principal originators was producer Malcolm Gerrie. He says: “I was encouraged to work in local children’s television by Andrea. I started on Lyn’s Look In and Check It Out and immediately developed a great working relationship with Lyn. Andrea and I had an idea for a show called Alright Now, which would break the Top Of The Pops mould. Bands had to perform live and there would always be an audience.
“We recorded a pilot for Andy Allan, a huge music fan who was controller of programmes at Tyne Tees, and I booked two local bands to perform. I thought it went great, but Andy wasn’t so impressed. He said to me, ‘How do you expect me to get the show on the fucking network when you keep booking these fucking bands that nobody has ever heard of?’… Well, those two acts were The Police and Dire Straits…
“From that moment we went out and got everybody on the show, even The Clash. Everybody wanted to play – Elvis Costello, The Pretenders, The Jam – they all loved the idea of just plugging in and blowing up the studio. However, Alright Now remained Newcastle’s little secret because it never got networked due to regional politics within ITV.
“Andy kicked up a real stink about it and the board compromised, offering us a national children’s television slot. Our team came up with this idea, a ‘pop-pourri’ of craziness, which included music, interviews, and games.”
Influential throughout was Alastair Pirrie, a former NME journalist, who presented with Lyn. Episode one kicked off with Adam Ant and Kiki Dee interviews alongside a performance by Showaddywaddy.
Despite a blatant nod to the Top Of The Pops logo, it was abundantly clear from the get-go that Razzmatazz was going to be a totally different experience. With a studio audience of 300 local schoolchildren, the new show’s relaxed atmosphere was fuelled by its amiable hosts.
“Lyn and Alastair were an incredibly strong presenting team,” remembers Gerrie. “Alastair was a force of nature, an ideas machine, who was a master of spotting an opportunity to create chaos. He had a devil-may-care attitude and was whip-smart.”
This is a sentiment echoed by Pirrie’s co-host: “Alastair could make everything look as though it might not be going according to plan,” admits Lyn, “but he always knew what he was doing! He was a very funny guy and so incredibly driven.
“He always gave 100 percent, and I couldn’t possibly think of anyone better suited to host the crazy games, especially ‘Popscotch’, a musical version of hopscotch where two battling youngsters answered questions and bounded around a big board featuring the faces of pop stars. It was very popular.”
While the wacky games certainly helped Razzmatazz attract huge viewing figures, it was the quality and range of musical guests that got many tuning in every week.
“It was a great time for music,” remembers Gerrie, “and all the guests genuinely looked forward to coming on our show. All egos were buried once they got on that train.”
“Interviewing Kate Bush certainly stood out for me as a highlight,” Lyn recalls. “She was super-talented, softly spoken, and so unassuming. The interview slot was scheduled for four minutes, but it ran to eight. Rather than cut any of it, the game segment was dropped and carried over to the following week.
“I remember the sound department were fighting among themselves with regards to who was going to mic Kate up for the interview. You can imagine their disdain when she turned up with a mic already attached… I did it to save her the embarrassment of having a bloke drooling over her!
“Marc Almond was lovely, as were Haircut One Hundred, Kiki Dee and Chas & Dave. We always had a real eclectic mix of acts appearing. I recall David Essex caused quite a stir among my female colleagues when he arrived to be interviewed.
“All the pop stars who appeared on the show joined in the fun. However, I do remember Jay Aston from Bucks Fizz having a real moan when the group was asked to perform their song twice! That didn’t go down too well with her agent who ordered her to crack on and get it done!”
Lyn presented two series of Razzmatazz before leaving in May 1982 to have her second child. “Razzmatazz continued to be hugely successful,” she says, “but you can only be a young person’s television presenter for so long.”
“Lyn had such a way that made everyone feel relaxed,” says Gerrie. “Her interviews didn’t feel like interviews and that was her skill. She was a superstar to those kids, and they loved her. She just had this incredible talent to disarm anybody, be it a major pop star or a 14-year-old from South Shields, she made them feel relaxed and comfortable.”
Malcolm Gerrie also left Razzmatazz after the second series, to pursue his career-long ambition: a fully networked pop culture show based in the North East.
“The launch of Channel Four was a golden opportunity for us,” he says. “Andrea and Andy said, ‘Malcolm, we’ve got to show them what we can do here in the North East.’ We dusted off Alright Now, renamed it, and submitted that. I was in Stockholm, preparing to do this interview with ABBA alongside Alastair and Razzmatazz director Gavin Taylor, when Andrea called to say Channel Four wanted us to do 20, one-hour 45-minute live shows called The Tube. However, my stomach dropped when I realised my Razz days were over.
“What we had created with Razzmatazz was huge. We had won the International Emmy Award for Best Daytime Children’s Show and at its peak it was attracting six million viewers. Everybody who worked on the show loved it and I tried to reassure the crew that everything would be OK.
“When everyone should have been popping Champagne corks, I couldn’t help feeling like I had betrayed Razz.”
Gerrie need not have worried. His suspicion that two music programmes based in the North East could coexist proved more fruitful than anyone could’ve possibly imagined.
“Every major artist on the planet came to Tyne Tees, either for The Tube, or Razz, or both. The canteen became a who’s who of 80s pop with the likes of Kate Bush, Dexys, Eurythmics, The Pretenders, Shakin’ Stevens, Madness, just hanging around eating canteen food.
“Both shows had a similar spirit about them and weren’t afraid to take risks. Everyone, from the very top down, was prepared to break the rules to deliver first class entertainment. Had Razzmatazz or The Tube been developed in London or Manchester, they would have been very different. Editorially, the sensibility would have been different, as would the atmosphere. I don’t think they would’ve lasted as long as they did.”
Suzanne Dando, Lisa Stansfield and Zoe Brown would all join Pirrie to present Razzmatazz before David Jensen and Annabel Giles took over for the ninth and final series.
“All credit goes to Andrea and Andy,” acknowledges Gerrie. “They just wanted to push the envelope. A progressive mentality coupled with real talent was the recipe for success.”
“It was a fab experience,” Lyn concurs, “one which I will always treasure. It was an absolute delight to work with such a driven, talented, conscientious team – from Malcolm and the director to the whole crew and, of course, Alastair.”
“Yes, it was such a huge loss to broadcasting when Alastair passed away,” agrees Gerrie [Pirrie died in 2017 aged 62]. “We were like a huge family up there on City Road, a family who could perform miracles every week.
“That will be my lasting memory of Razzmatazz… that, and the noise! It was like the loudest kid’s birthday party you’ve ever heard in your life in that studio – the most joyous sound.”
Interview segments on Razzmatazz were always unpredictable affairs. “We always encouraged kids in the studio to ask questions,” Lyn Spencer explains. However, Malcolm Gerrie admits: “It wasn’t the kids I worried about, I was always more concerned what might come out of Alastair’s mouth!” Classic Pop picks six memorable moments…
KATE BUSH, JULY 1981
By the summer of 1981, Kate Bush had become the first British female solo artist to top the UK albums chart with Never For Ever. She appeared on Razzmatazz to promote the single Sat In Your Lap. In the interview, a beguiling Bush talks to the children in a way which is thoughtful and unpatronising. She even hands out costume props from her video to lucky audience members to wear.
GARY NUMAN, MARCH 1982
Appearing on the show to promote Music For Chameleons, the debut single from his fourth solo album
I, Assassin, a coy Numan looks elegant in his fedora and discusses his love of aviation. One young lad asks about his recent trips flying around the world, to which the star dryly responds: “It had its ups and downs… literally!” before recounting India, where he was arrested on suspicion of smuggling and spying, along with further adventures in Canada, Australia and Iceland.
CLARE GROGAN, MARCH 1982
In an episode devoted entirely to Altered Images, Clare Grogan can be seen sat on the Tyne Tees Studios steps munching chips with Alastair. The singer recalls the time she was spotted by Gregory’s Girl director Bill Forsyth while working as a waitress: “It was Halloween and I was dressed up as a Latin-American dancer, but Bill thought I was trying to be a fairy. At the end of the night, he asked if I would like to be in his film. I thought, ‘Goodness me’ and completely ignored it… you meet some strange people in restaurants!”
CAPTAIN SENSIBLE, JANUARY 1984
Plugging his latest offering, The Power Of Love, a typically hyperactive Captain tells Alastair: “From being one of the most dubious, most disgusting human beings in the world, I am now suave, sophisticated, and immaculately dressed as you see on the cover of my wonderful new album.” The show’s finale sees Sensible join one young lad on stage for ‘Peggy Babcock’, a popular game where contestants try to complete a tongue-twister in the fastest time. Sadly, the poor kid fluffed his lines… we wonder if he ever lived that one down?
WHAM!, NOVEMBER 1984
Having racked up three consecutive UK No.1 hit singles, George and Andrew had already made it big when Alastair quizzed the duo about fame. “It’s been hard work,” says a softly spoken Michael. “We set ourselves certain goals and to actually reach them you have to be prepared to work hard. We had a small circle of friends before we ‘made it’ in the business, and we still have that circle. But everywhere we go now there is a fair hubbub.”
SIMON LE BON, DECEMBER 1984
“In the US there was scenes we’ve never witnessed before,” revealed Le Bon to Alastair at the end of 1984. “The Americans go more insane than people do anywhere else in the world… It’s becoming more and more trendy to be British as time goes by with bands like us, Culture Club and U2 proving to them that they’ve gotta get their arses into gear because their music is in a real bad state at the moment.”