Going underground on “The Tube”: Jools Holland’s and Paula Yates’s memorable 80s UK music show

By on January 13, 2016

If you were a music fan in the 1980s, and you lived in the UK, you likely need no introduction to the BBC1’s “The Tube” as you no doubt remember it fondly as the music television show — hosted by Jools Holland and Paula Yates, mainly, and airing on Channel 4 on Friday nights, 5:30 to 7pm, between November 5, 1982 and April 26, 1987 — that regularly featured up-and-coming and established bands, intermingled with star interviews and reports.

Here’s just one example of the caliber of performance you were likely to see in 1985: the Cocteau Twins, seen here performing a delicious dream-pop reverie, “Pink Orange Red,” a delicate fusion of fuzzed-out guitars and Elizabeth Fraser’s inimitable, otherworldly voice.

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The show — certainly by far the most exciting British music show since “Top Of The Pops” — was notable for mixing current musical genres and styles (mostly they were contemporary pop bands, many of which would be fall into the new wave sub-category, but occasionally an artist like B.B. King or Leon Russell might make an appearance), and for providing an outlet for edgier artists who weren’t likely to be seen anywhere else on TV at the time, presented through live performances (there were occasionally audio issues with a poor sound mix, often times sounding like it was being “phased”, drawing occasional complaints from the viewers at home, and we’re not positive they were all 100% live, but at a time when many shows were still relying on staged lip-synched mime performances, this is a pretty amazing factoid).

1986 interview with Brian Eno after performance clips by Roxy Music and Eno

“The Tube,” however, would being each episode with a 45-minute magazine section, consisting of interviews, fashion items and comedy appearances. There were on-location segments (including interviews with Robert Plant, who had just left Led Zeppelin, and Grace Jones in Birmingham Botanical Gardens), filmed videos, and a lot of weird and often cringe-worthy comedic bits throughout the rest of the show (stay to the end of this Cocteau Twins clip and you’ll see what we mean), often including comedian Rik Mayall, who was either likely very drunk or pretending to be so (memorably he decided to throw up at the beginning of one show after drinking a whole tin of chicken soup, vomiting all over the camera and co-host Jools Holland too, prompting angry complaints — again — from viewers watching at home).

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One of the possible (likely probable) reasons that the artists, bands and special musical guests — four to five per episode — appeared relaxed on the show was likely due to the the fact that many (er, likely most) of them had loosened up their tongues before their on-camera appearances by drinking heavily in one of Newcastle’s oldest pubs, The Egypt Cottage.

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The pub was located right across from Tyne Tees studios, in a studio complex on City Road in Newcastle Quayside, in Newcastle upon Tyne. The very same pub had sat above the banks of the Tyne since the early 1700s, and was previously known as the Egypt Tavern and the Egypt Inn, situated as it was in an area which had been called Little Egypt, named after the many grain stores there, reminding locals of the land of the pharaohs, and sailors dealing in spices.

The Youtube description says: “In this episode Jools Holland did a spoof of the 60s programme ‘The Prisoner.’

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The Egypt Cottage thus acted as a “green room” for stars who would stumble out of the pub and enter the long, semicircular tube-like covering at the entrance to the studio (hence the name for the name, “The Tube”), where previous music shows “Alright Now” and a musical-oriented show aimed at young people, called “Check it Out,” for ITV had also been taped.

“The Tube” is credited with having helped to launch the careers of so many contemporary 80s artists that it would be nearly impossible to list them all, but you can go here to see a full list of the episodes:

For those of you who might be averse to clicking on links, here’s a partial list of just some of artists who played on, or appeared on, “The Tube,” reading like a veritable Who’s Who of 80s music: Alison Moyet (Alf), The Art of Noise, The Assembly, The Associates, Aztec Camera, BB King, Big Country, Bon Jovi, The Boomtown Rats, Brian Eno, Cardiacs, Cliff Richard, Cocteau Twins, The Cramps, Culture Club, Curiosity Killed the Cat, Cyndi Lauper, The Damned, Dennis Brown with Sly & Robbie, Depeche Mode, Dexys Midnightfe Runners, Die Ärzte, Dire Straits, Divine, Stephen Duffy, Duran Duran, Echo & the Bunnymen, Vow Wow, Elvis Costello, The Fall, Fatal Charm, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Charged G.B.H., Gregory Isaacs & The Roots Radics, Gun Club, Hanoi Rocks, Heaven 17, Howard Jones, The Human League, Icicle Works, Iggy Pop, INXS, Judas Priest, Killing Joke, Level 42, Lloyd Cole & the Commotions, Madness, Madonna, Magnum, Meat Loaf, Motörhead, New Model Army, Ofra Haza, Paul Young, Pet Shop Boys, The Pretenders, The Proclaimers, Propaganda, The Psychedelic Furs, The Rainmakers, Robert Palmer, R.E.M., Roxy Music, Scraping Foetus off the Wheel, Silent Running, Simple Minds, Simply Red, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Soft Cell, Spear of Destiny, SPK, Squeeze, The Style Council, Tears for Fears, Terence Trent D’Arby, Terry & Gerry, The Smiths, The Cult, The Cure, The Dream Academy, The Jam, The Mission, The Pogues, The Pretenders, The Stranglers, The Toy Dolls, Then Jericho, Thin Lizzy, Thomas Dolby, Tina Turner, Twisted Sister, U2, Ultravox, Voice of the Beehive, Tom Waits, Wall of Voodoo, Wham!, Whitney Houston, XTC, Yazoo, ZZ Top.

Jools Holland visits Liverpool to see Echo and the Bunnymen perform at St. George’s Hall in Lime Street

The shows producers perhaps also take credit for helping to further popularize those who made it a stopover for them while they were busy promoting their newest releases. On January 27, 1984, a then relatively-unknown Madonna made her first appearance in the UK when she appeared on “The Tube,” performing her new single “Holiday.” The show was broadcast live from the Hacienda Club in Manchester.

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The Bangles — then known as The Bangs — were interviewed in Los Angeles for “The Tube” by Jools Holland, in 1982:

There were also occasional times when “The Tube” was able to present unique material that “scooped” traditional music news outlets; an example of this was U2 performing live under a blood-red sky at Red Rocks Ampitheatre in Colorado, and Ringo Starr chatting about working with Marc Bolan while sitting in John Lennon’s former house, Tittenhurst Park.

Highlights from “The Tube,” including David Bowie’s “Absolute Beginners” special in 1986

You’ll also note that there were many bands and artists appearing at various other odd points in their careers, some even close to the end; the very first episode, in fact, in 1982, featured The Jam doing their song “Beat Surrender” shortly before they were to break up, making “The Tube” their last TV appearance. Frankie Goes to Hollywood were featured in 1983 when they were an unsigned band, doing their song “Relax” live from Liverpool State Ballroom, which led to producer Trevor Horn, watching at home, to signing the band shortly thereafter and turning the song into a smash-hit number one.

In addition to Holland and Yates, there were other TV personalities — Muriel Gray, Gary James, Michel Cremona, Nick Laird-Clowes and Mike Everitt — were were chosen following a nationally-advertised competition. Leslie Ash would replace Paula Yates for one season, memorably traveling to the U.S. with Holland to host the show and visiting New York’s most happening night spots, including Paradise Garage, Danceteria, The Roxy and even a brief, passing glimpse of CBGBs.

The show’s two main hosts, however, were the main focus and soon became well-known celebrities in the UK for adding a kind of jocular, amiably amateurish and occasionally provocative and sexy vibe to the proceedings, acting as if they were well-aware that many of the artists they were presenting were probably drunk, and quite possibly many of those watching at home or in pubs were in the same inebriated state or attempting to getting there.

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Kim Wilde and Paula Yates

Jools Holland was already well-known as a bandleader and boogie-woogie style piano player, a singer and composer, and an original member of the UK band Squeeze (they’d formed in 1974), appearing on “Top of the Pops” in 1978 with a piano keyboard painted on his face and smoking a big cigar. Yates had attended the show with  her husband Bob Geldof, then a member of the Boomtown Rats, and she says that she and Holland made eye-contact during the show, both remembering it later.

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He was also well-known in music circles for his session work Sting, Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler, George Harrison, David Gilmour of Pink Floyd, Magazine, and U2’s Bono. He’d done most of this before taking on the job as co-host of “The Tube” at age 24, and got the job after an audition for producers in which he pretended to introduce artists and musicians who were dead — and then hilariously mimed dragging them across the floor of the studio.

Jools Holland interviews David Bowie, circa March/April 1987

The show’s other main co-host, the peroxide-blonde haired Paula Yates — the daughter of “Opportunity Knocks” TV presenter Hugh Green — was a former music journalist. She’d also penned a number of music-related books, had a popular column called “Natural Blonde” in the Record Mirror, and she’d also posed for Penthouse Magazine in 1978.

Yates had originally met Holland when she interviewed him for Rockstars In Their Underpants, taking three Polaroids of Holland while his mother gave her a biscuit, which Holland remembered led to Yates vomiting (“I can’t remember if I took my clothes off and then she threw up, which I can imagine,” he once said about the experience, “or whether she vomited with the excitement of knowing she was about to photograph me”).

During her own audition to become the show’s co-host — she and Holland auditioned for “The Tube” together in 1982 — she ended up slapping a student, who she was pretending to interview. Producers also noted that she was vivaciously sexy and seemed a bit unhinged, and indeed, Yates became known for her often flirtatious interview segments.

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In one one those she even managed to talk Sting into taking off his trousers during one of the shows. This might have been the same episode in which she quizzed the Police frontman about the fact that he’d said he liked fucking on his kitchen table at home, which she’d seen herself, remarking to him that it “it didn’t look that much bigger than you could have got a couple bowls of rice on it,” to which Sting laughed about the “spunky atmosphere” he found when visiting Newcastle.

Yates was also then well-known in the early 80s as Geldof’s girlfriend and then wife, and they together had three children (Trixibelle, Peaches, and Pixie), although it was widely understood that during the 1980s her marriage with the Live Aid organiser was problematic and in a state of constant crisis.

The aforementioned Egypt Cottage pub was famously the location where Yates is said to have met INXS singer Michael Hutchence, and was asked by the band’s road manager to leave him alone, but she is said to have walked up to Hutchence in the pub and said to those around who could hear her, “I’m going to have that boy.”

For “The Tube,” it all came to a head in January 1987, when Jools Hollard caused a national scandal during a live broadcast by encouraging Channel 4 viewers to tune in and “be there or be ungroovy fuckers.”

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The BBC’s Channel 4 went ballistic over what Holland later referred to as his “regrettable, inadvertent slip of the tongue,” during a trailer for the show, apparently while impressionable children were said to be at home were watching the popular program for fear that, had they not been watching, they were perhaps in danger of becoming ungroovy fuckers.

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Holland says that only one person had complained and as a result, “The Tube” was taken off air for three weeks as a result of Holland’s on-camera swearing. This wasn’t the first time that Holland had to be reprimanded for saying something he shouldn’t have during a live broadcast, but it was much more serious this time, however, leading to the show’s producer and Tyen Tees’ director of programming handing in their resignations, citing problems with the show’s production and relationship with Tyne Tees and the BBC, bowing to both political pressure and what was deemed a “stifling bureaucracy and heavy handed moralism.”

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After the show was cancelled, Holland continued to host shows, and since 1992 has hosted “Later… with Jools Holland,” another music-based show airing on BBC2, on which his annual show “Hootenanny” also derives. He’s become a published author and regular TV and radio show guest, and continues to remain one of the UK’s more popular music television personalities. He also continues to record and perform music, having signed with Warner Bros. Records in 1996 (his albums are marketed in the U.S. via Rhino Entertainment, Warner Music’s reissue label).

Meanwhile, Yates wrote six best-sellers and became an interviewer on Channel 4’s “Big Breakfast,” continuing to live in Kent and London with Geldof, and their three daughters. She continued to stalk “her boy” Michael Hutchence after “The Tube”‘s demise, apparently going to all of the INXS shows she could manage to attend, and they maintained contact over a period of years, well after the end of “The Tube,” and their public pairing and private coupling eventually led to the birth of their daughter, lovingly named Heavenly Hiraani Tiger Lily.

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She eventually Yates left Geldoff (in 1995) for Hutchence, leading to an acrimonious divorce and custody battle that was bolded headline tabloid fodder and red meat for music journos well into the 90s. A little after their daughter’s second birthday, Hutchence found hanged by a belt in his Sydney hotel room in November 1997, and quite infamously Yates had claimed that Hutchence’s death may have resulted from autoerotic asphyxiation.

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Yates died at her London home in 2000, age 41, of a reported accidental heroin overdose, due to what the coroner called “foolish and incautious” behavior.

Earlier that same year “The Tube” was brought back briefly for a one-off live special on Sky1 to usher in the new millennium, entitled “The Apocalypse Tube.” Hosted by BBC Radio 1’s Chris Moyles and Donna Air, the show came live once again from Studio 5 at Tyne Tees (the studios have since moved to a new location) and the bar of the Egypt Cottage next door. The legendary pub has since been torn down.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.
  • Paul McCarthy

    Point of order; Channel 4/Tyne Tees TV has nothing to do with the BBC. They are independent companies.

  • Munkiman

    Thanks for the clarification.