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Bing Crosby

The Crosby family had been making a Christmas Special in the United States for many years. However, in 1976, Bing came to ATV with his wife Kathryn, sons Gary and Nathaniel and daughter Mary, famed for her appearances in the hit soap Dallas. Directed by Canadian, Norman Campbell, the guest stars were a young and vibrant Bernadette Peters and a not so young and certainly not so vibrant Jackie Gleason. Bernadette sang ‘One (Singular Sensation)' from the hit Broadway show Chorus Line.. Her rendition was terrific.Fake Christmas trees swamped the studio. Artificial snow was still being found weeks after the set was pulled down. An over-the-top park area was designed for Bing and the entire family to wander around singing a cacophony of Christmas songs. It seemed apparent that none of the children had inherited Bing's vocal talents. Gary played a nice guitar and in the obligatory Christmas medley none of the kids, or Kathy, disgraced themselves. Thankfully, because the medley was mimed, the listener avoided hearing whining snow machines swirling thousands of white chips of polystyrene around the studio. This was all very jolly, but it was the middle of August and in the hottest year on record. The studio air conditioning could not be used during takes, so the dock doors were almost continually open to let some sort of fresh air in.1976 was also the time when England played Australia in a series of gripping test matches. The vision department had rigged several floor monitors for the crew to follow the proceedings. The cast gathered round these monitors during breaks requesting explanations of the ‘strange proceedings' taking place at Lords cricket ground. The scene boys were happy to oblige. Talks of ‘leg before' and ‘bowling a maiden over' caused sniggers from Mr. Gleason, who could well have been noting it all for future stag night speeches. As Christmas shows go, our renowned ATV kids party probably outshone it.The 1977 Bing Crosby Merrie Olde Christmas was a different kettle of fish. The Gary Smith/Dwight Hemion well-oiled production machine took over. Starring David Bowie, Stanley Baxter, Ron Moody, Twiggy, the Crosby Family and the Trinity Boys Choir, the show opens with chauffer-uniformed Royce Mills delivering an invitation to Bing imploring him and the family to visit London to spend Christmas with his previously unknown British relative Sir Percy Crosby (Ron Moody). The visit to Sir Percy's baronial mansion provided Messrs Baxter & Moody to adopt several parts Twiggy joined Ron Moody in a Christmas-past Dickensian sequence where they both also perform three different characters each. The ‘Upstairs Downstairs' scenario gave Stanley Baxter the opportunity to instruct Kathy Crosby in the downstairs culinary arts. In another part of the show he did a Bob Hope impression that had Bing cracking up to such an extent he couldn't say his lines.

Halfway through the show, David Bowie popped in to sing 'Little Drummer Boy' with Bing at the piano. Several months later, a record company enquired whether the master tape could be used to release a record in time for Christmas. I went to the sound store where the master tapes were kept to discover that the sound 16 tracks and quarter inch tapes had been erased. Head of Sound, Des Gray had authorised this because although not yet transmitted, the programme had been dubbed and was ready to air. I enquired why other programmes, some many years old, were still to be found in the store - no response. As a result of this the record company decided to use my on-line mix (check it out here on YouTube) with Bing and David Bowie's voices picked up via the boom. The record had to be transcribed from a quarter inch tape recording that I had saved. It got to number one that Christmas, number two the following Christmas and still in the charts years later. Where is my Gold disc EMI?

This was a happy shoot with Bing and the boys often disrupting a voice recording session because Nathaniel (a golfer heading for pro status) would come in to the vocal booth and say; ‘Looks great out, let's go play golf' The final song in the show was, of course, ‘White Christmas'. To our surprise, Bing wanted cue cards for the lyrics. He was a gentle, quiet man; patiently sitting with Kathryn in the beautiful lounge set designed by Henry Graveney, while Dwight gave instructions to the crew, or Johnny Rook fiddled with his lights. When I asked David Bowie whether I could put tape echo on some of his lyrics in the 'Heroes' song, he was hesitant until Bing assured him that it was safe in my hands.Buzz Kohan was the superb American writer whilst the Norman Maen dancers shone in the marvelous Dickens sequence on the back lot. This twenty minutes medley of Dickens characters brilliantly choreographed and performed, was the hi-light of the show. Settled snow, a gorgeously realistic set, horses and carts, a gaggle of geese all added to a showcase for the talents of Ron Moody and Twiggy.Sadly, this was to be Bing's last ever show - he died on a golf course in England many weeks before Christmas. Kathryn Crosby prefaced the show on transmission to say that Bing had remarked that it was one of his happiest experiences and he was proud of the show. I believe it is available commercially and I would thoroughly recommend as a lovely family Christmas viewing.


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The master tape that EMI wanted to use for a pre-Christmas  been erased and as a result, the record company decided to use my on-line mix.  So where's my gold disc EMI?