Weaver's Week 2022-08-07

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This week, we profile a showbiz regular, recognisable by sight and by voice.


Gloria Hunniford

Gloria Hunniford

Mary Winifred Gloria Hunniford was born in Portadown, Armagh, in Northern Ireland, on 10 April 1940. Her father, Charles Hunniford, was a newspaper advertising executive and part-time magician. May Hunniford, Gloria's mother, was a home-maker and did not have paid employment. Gloria had an older sister, Lena; she'd later be joined by younger brother Charles.

Gloria's mother was a professional home-maker. She was always baking bread and cakes: if they'd had Bake Off at the time, we're sure that May Hunniford would have swapped stories with a young Prue Leith. This wasn't the most perfect domestic bliss – May dominated the kitchen, to the extent that Gloria barely knew how to cook when she left home. Charles had a stable job at the print works, and a sideline as a children's entertainer. The Hunnifords had a solid upbringing: they never wanted for essentials, but rarely had any spare cash around.

Known to everyone as "Gloria", she began singing at a young age. Television had yet to reach Ireland, so the Hunniford children spent time at the local cinema, and listened to the dance bands in the Light Programme. Gloria wanted to be Doris Day when she grew up, and took singing lessons with a local teacher. She'd buy the latest sheet music, and learn to sing Doris Day's popular songs like "When I fall in love".

Gloria Hunniford Gloria is at the Ulster TV piano with Phil Coulter in 1979.

Gloria's first performance, in the Orange Order's hall, was the night before her seventh birthday. Encouraged by her father, Gloria was part of a touring troupe around Northern Ireland.

After leaving Portadown College, Gloria spent a year in Kingston Ontario. Unlike her home town, it was an open society not divided on religious lines. There weren't "Protestant areas" and "Catholic areas", there was Kingston. It opened Gloria's mind to life's possibilities. So did the proliferation of radio stations, and this strange invention called "television". Before she returned to Ireland, she got a 15-minute slot on the local station, introducing Irish records and making dedications.

Back in Ireland, Gloria married Don Keating. They had two sons and a daughter. We're not entirely certain when Gloria married Don – sources vary between 1960 and 1970. What is certain is that Gloria gave up most of the 1960s to support her children, but remained on the fringes of the public eye with occasional singing performances.

Gloria Hunniford Up three big Northern Irish chart places!

In 1969, Gloria recorded "Are you ready for love", one of the songs Lulu had performed on that year's A Song For Europe. Ray Cameron, one of the songwriters, knew of Gloria, and made sure she got the song. It turned into a big seller in the Ulster region, but didn't trouble the national charts as they were compiled from sales in shops in London.

"You're not coming in to do knitting and sewing."

While in the clubs, Gloria had struck up friendships with many performers. Even though 1969 is remembered in Northern Ireland as the start of "the troubles", some stars had the gumption to complete their commitments in the counties. One such star was Cliff Richard, and Gloria was able to record an interview for the BBC. That brought her to the attention of the broadcasting bigwigs, and gave them the excuse to offer her a job. Gloria had formed a lifelong friendship with Cliff, the showbiz pair still hang out, and often tour the Chelsea Garden Festival together.

Gloria Hunniford Cliff Richard and Gloria Hunniford, with a bowl of bee's paradise roses.

Gloria worked at the BBC, covering both television and radio. She did some editions of Woman's Hour on Radio 4, back in the days when it went to "the regions" most weeks. She also hosted A Taste of Hunni, one of the most popular shows on Radio Ulster, which dealt with a wide range of subjects, all couched in traditional and modern Irish music.

Later, she'd move to the independent television channel, to host the hour-long programme Good Evening Ulster.

The channel said, "The basis for Good Evening Ulster is to inform and educate people while at the same time remain interesting and enjoyable. 'A star was needed and a new one,' said Ulster TV's managing director Brum Henderson. The controller of local programmes' choice fell on a woman – the first [on Ireland or Britain] to host a full one-hour news magazine. The audience results and the earlier reactions from the professional critics were most encouraging. Inevitably the new format evoked criticism and to our delight people were again talking heatedly about Good Evening Ulster.'

Gloria Hunniford Gloria (left) with some of the Ulster TV tea-boys. Whatever happened to that lad in the middle?

UTV bosses were sure that Gloria had steel beneath her charming façade. Her interviews were always polite, always capable of asking the difficult question that the politician didn't really want to answer. And, such was Gloria's charm, she'd often let them be relaxed enough to slip out some truth.

What's the key to a good interviewer? Listening. You might go in with an idea of how the interview's going to go, what points you want to hit, but you need to be spontaneous and hear what the other person's saying. Go off on tangents, be wild.

The other key: ask open-ended questions. "You're working on Saturday morning television, how's that going?... Oh! What happened then?!... Having studied the history so carefully, what are your feelings about them?.. You dedicated your book to your dad; any particular reason?.." Your guest is encouraged to open up, to give long answers, to talk a little bit about themself and their book / television show / new record.

Gloria Hunniford Gloria asks the questions, with a velvet touch.

Gloria Hunniford has talked with all the stars – Charlton Heston, Bonnie Langford, Alan Titchmarsh, her idol Doris Day. Her first television interview was with Bono from U2 – it's one Gloria still wants to follow up on, because Bono's gone on to do so many other things since, both in music and his life.

Such was Gloria's way with words that she was eventually a suitable guest host for Michael Aspel's light chat show on LWT, and Terry Wogan's evening experience on BBC1. While sitting in on Wogan, she got the first television interview with Salman Rushdie after he'd been in hiding from religious extremists for three years.

Gloria Hunniford Radio 1 had a roadshow, Radio 2 had a railshow.
Radio 3 went on the canals, and Radio 4 powered a hot-air balloon.

Gloria was poached more often than an egg. She moved to Good Morning Ulster, a current affairs programme on BBC Radio Ulster, modelled after Radio 4's Today Show. She hosted Album Time, an easy-listening programme in the BBC World Service.

Within a few years, she was on Radio 2. After a trial week in July 1981, she took over the lunchtime slot in 1982, shifting to 2pm in 1984. At the time, she was the only woman to host a show on daytime network music radio. When Gloria stepped back from daily radio in 1995, the slot was taken by Debbie Thrower, one of just four women on daytime network music radio (the others: Sarah Kennedy at Radio 2, Lisa I'Anson on Radio 1, and Susannah Simons on Classic FM).

The move to Radio 2 also allowed Gloria to move her family. She and Don had been living in the leafy village of Hillsborough near Belfast. They moved to Sevenoaks in Kent. Gloria and Don Keating divorced in 1992; she married Stephen Way in 1998.

Gloria Hunniford Gloria took the show to Calais in 1984.

This is a game show column, are you ever going to talk about game shows?

We would, but we have a problem. To our great surprise, Gloria Hunniford hasn't hosted many game shows. Sure, she's been a guest on about ten million shows: Television Scrabble, Babble, Punchlines, and that's just one month in 1984. Gloria's biggest guest appearances: a team captain on That's Showbusiness, a very safe pair of hands for the dictionary corner on Countdown.

Gloria has two host's credits. The Newlywed Game on ITV in 1987. It's a show suspiciously like Mr and Mrs with just enough changed to keep the lawyers quiet. Didn't quieten the man from The Times, who called it "grotesque and desperate". The gentlemen are asked which sea creature they most resembled while courting: a jellyfish, a shark, an octopus, or a tiddler. The wives come on, give their answers, and get cheers if the two match. This column has not been able to find a copy of this programme for a full review, a narrow escape.

We Love TV The title, set, and host of We ♥ TV.

We have found a copy of We ♥ TV, which Gloria did for ITV in 1985. "Do you remember the surname of the Flintstones' next-door neighbours?" asks the opening narration. Guests are decent bookings – Thora Hird and Leslie Crowther, the 1985 equivalents of Dan Walker and Sandi Toksvig.

Our sample show begins with a montage of clips from shows about World War II. There are questions, which may or may not have any bearing on the clips we've just seen. Questions are on the buzzer, with a bright red light flashing for the person who has buzzed in, as though it's an absolute emergency.

There are clips of the celebrity guests designed to embarrass – Thora Hird in a clip from 1942, Leslie Crowther in drag – and that links into a round where each team read from a prepared script while the other team try to guess who they're trying to be. Catchphrases from Dame Edna Everage and Kenny Everett, it's a bit confusing.

Gloria Hunniford Leslie Crowther and Thora Hird, with a contestant and the prize for appearing.

Going into the break, there's a picture round – four celebrities, and the viewers have a few minutes to work out what links them. Turns out they've all appeared in Coronation Street, and we see brief clips of them acting. Each team gets a "bonus" question, posed by a famous person from the set of their show – in this case, someone from Dynasty, which was a popular imported drama in 1985.

The two civilians take part in a "soap Mastermind", using the same seating arrangement and look as the BBC programme. Questions are a bit different, Mastermind of 1985 would not accept any television programme as a specialist subject. Both civilian players get a grand day out, a portable television, and a video tape of their appearance on the telly.

And that's the show: light entertainment, vaguely nostalgic, completely undemanding. And it could be hosted by absolutely anybody. Gloria Hunniford brought a certain warmth and sparkle, but didn't get to impose herself on the programme. Six months later, Noel Edmonds brought us Telly Addicts, which did re-invent the television nostalgia quiz in a way I ♥ TV never attempted.

Gloria Hunniford Gloria with Pudsey Bear and John Nettles, raising funds for Children in Need 1989.

Gloria's other television work has been varied. As a Christian, she hosted some Songs of Praise episodes from Ireland in the 1970s. Much later, she hosted Heaven and Earth with Gloria Hunniford, a spiritual-ethical-moral show for Sunday mornings circa 2006.

Between these years, LWT signed Gloria for much of the 1980s. Her mainstay was the soft chat show Sunday Sunday which lobbed easy questions at guest celebrities. During the 1990s, Gloria hosted Family Affairs with her daughter Caron Keating on BBC1. This format was later revived by Channel 5 as Open House with Gloria Hunniford.

Gloria's Time Off With... allowed her to travel the land and see showbiz friends in their home envionment – Cliff Richard, Cilla Black, Barbara Windsor, Su Pollard, Jim Davidson. That series was revived by the Biography Channel in 2006 as Gloria's Greats. The Ladies of the House talked with politicians in 1996.

Gloria Hunniford Gloria Hunniford (right) with husband Don and their baby, Caron, circa 1964.

We must give due respect to Caron Keating, named for the actor and dancer Leslie Caron. The daughter of Gloria Hunniford carved her own path in the world, most notably as the host of Blue Peter from 1986 to 1990. Very few people could replace Peter Duncan, Caron was one of those few. Swam with sharks, abseiled down skyscrapers, part of the team who went back to Kampuchea and finished the work a previous generation had started in Cambodia.

She took time out from television to care for her own children, working occasionally on Radio 5 with the likes of Mark Kermode and Terry Wogan. Caron was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1997, it was treated and came back, treated and came back, and eventually took Caron's life in 2004. Set up in her memory, The Caron Keating Foundation works to fund good causes and charities across the islands.

Life went on for Gloria Hunniford. She took part in Strictly Come Dancing in 2005, and is still making television to this day. Rip Off Britain on BBC1, and the talk-fest Loose Women on ITV, are both graced by Gloria Hunniford's gently probing style. She also sang for our delight on The Masked Singer this year.

Gloria Hunniford From Channel 5's Open House with Gloria Hunniford, 2000.

Gloria's been recognised by her peers, honoured as the Radio Personality of the Year in 1983 by both TRIC and the Variety Club. She was given a TRIC Special Recognition award in 2002, and a Royal Television Society Lifetime Achievement award earlier this year. While her occasional forays as a game show host weren't the best lines on her CV, Gloria Hunniford has been a valuable guest on any panel, and a great communicator wherever she is. And, who knows, maybe there's another show in her locker yet...

In other news

Eurovision Song Contest

"The 2023 Eurovision Song Contest will not be in Ukraine but in support of Ukraine," UA:PBC chief Mykola Chernotytskyi said in a joint statement with the EBU and BBC. "We are grateful to our BBC partners for showing solidarity with us." To nobody's surprise, the BBC has accepted the honour of organising next year's Senior Eurovision Song Contest. They'll work with UA:PBC, the public broadcaster in Ukraine, to host the event in a location yet to be confirmed as the field at Upper Bublington Manor. Well, that's what Josie at the Golden Duck Inn said last weekend...

Bernard Cribbins The best Santa of Christmas 1980.

Bernard Cribbins, the comedian and actor, has died. His acting credits are as long as your arm – Carry On films, Coronation Street, The Wombles, Doctor Who, Jackanory, Moschops, Get the Drift, and the eponymous series Cribbins. In our sphere, Bernard hosted late-70s improvisation Star Turn. He was a welcome guest on Pointless and The Chase, had an occasional spot on Noel's House Party as Victor the Vicar, a team captain on The Comedy Quiz, and livened up any edition of Blankety Blank.

Bernard Cribbins was a kind man, energetic in everything he did, and always with a supportive word to say about his colleagues. Tributes have been full of love: Bernard was not just a great actor, but a great human being. He lived a full 93 years.

Gladiators Contender, ready!
Giant ear cleaner, ready!

Awooga! Broadcast magazine reports that Gladiators is coming back... and on BBC1. The show is expected to be shot in Sheffield Arena, and it'll be made by Hungry Bear Media. New series is due to air next year. One point to remember: the first ITV series was nowhere near as good as the later ones. Gladiators didn't hit its imperious stride until about halfway through the second series.

Unbeatable is back Jason Manford will front a second series of the 45-minute BBC1 daytime quizzer. But this time, there's a twist: some of the episodes are only 30 minutes long, and they'll go out on BBC2. We haven't heard about Strictly Come Dancing, and whether it'll finish in mid-November so as to avoid a clash with the football. Could Unbeatable be a late-season replacement for It Takes Two?

Or could Unbeatable arrive on 29 August? We know Only Connect (2) will start on the English bank holiday, and University Challenge will start no sooner. It's also a good date for House of Games (3) to begin its new series.

Bridge of Lies Green to green in 300 seconds or less.

Building a bridge to your heart Bridge of Lies is also coming back, and it's got the celebrity editions we wanted in the spring. Eight celeb episodes in the early new year, with five weeks' of daytime shows to follow.

In any other year, Bridge of Lies would be in pole position for this site's Poll of the Year, but 2022 means it has to go up against The 1% Club and Limitless Win.

Eye Wonder Big Brother is the franchise that simply will not die. Channel 4 washed its hands of the programme a decade ago, and even Channel 5 found it too old and expensive. But ITV2 think they can have a hit with a show literally nobody watched, so have commissioned a six-week run next year. Good luck to them.

Mock the Week

Mock Off BBC2 have finally had enough of Mock the Week, the Blair-era comedy show loosely based on topical events. This column won't miss it: Frankie Boyle had the strange ability to shut down banter with one line, and the show still books too many hacks who aren't as funny as their publicity claims. This autumn's series will be the last, and it'll finish with a Scene We've Wanted To See For A Decade.

Honk! The Strictly Come Dancing klaxon has sounded. First names in:

  • Will Mellor from Hollyoaks,
  • Kym Marsh from ITV house band Hear'Say
  • Richie Anderson, the man who has 3.2 million listeners a week – he reads the travel just before Popmaster
  • Quiz 'em quickstep, it's Kaye Adams from The People Versus
  • Jayde Adams, comedian and Snackmaster.

More names as they're named.

A new series of Celebrity Masterchef (BBC1, from Wed) with Paul Chuckle bringing the food to me... to you. A new series of The Rap Game UK (BBC3, Thu) seeks a great rapper. A new series Are You the One? UK (MTV, Mon) tries to pair off a group of singles. Wales' Home of the Year (BBC1 Wales, Fri) seeks... oh, you're ahead of us.

We have Sport Relief All Star Games (BBC1, Mon), celebs doing sport for a good cause. There's a new run of Lego Masters Down Under (E4, Sun). And The Big Breakfast is back (C4, Sat).

Pictures: LWT, Ulster TV, BBC, LWT, Thames, EBU/RAI/Andres Putting, STV, Angst.

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