The QT

Friday 14 June 2024

When The Tube helped Tina turn things around

A childhood spent in TV studios, cutting rooms and the odd Soho snooker hall offers Sam Wonfor a pretty special back catalogue of memories. This week, she’s looking back at The Tube’s double date with Tina Turner
Looking back over the excellent fun my Mum and Dad had – and the brilliant telly they helped make

One of my favourite paragraphs in last week’s QT was in the interview I did with Alison Gwynn. North East Screen’s chief exec was remembering her teenage years at The Tube.

A 15-year-old Alison was a regular down at Studio Five on Friday teatimes in the early 80s when Tyne Tees Television on Newcastle’s City Road became a magnet for the music industry – whether it was legends, the latest hot young thing or unsigned acts looking for a riff-laden leg up.

“I was absolutely obsessed with Heaven 17… and then out comes what I thought was this old woman dressed in a shammy leather…. obviously, later I found out it was Tina Turner unveiling the next big stage of her career.”

I just laughed out loud again while pasting it into this week’s dive into The Tube archives to flesh out a Top 40 moments list I started with my Dad, (Geoff Wonfor) a week before the 40th anniversary of the show, and – as it turned out – four weeks before his final credits rolled.

Last week, the chosen moment was Tube presenter, Jools Holland sitting down at the piano with New Orleans legend, Fats Domino.

This week, nudged by Alison’s excellent recollection of the day she wanted Tina Turner to get a shift on, so Heaven 17 could take centre stage, I’m taking a look at the two occasions when the Queen of Rock and Roll and The Tube crossed paths.

Jools looking back on Tina’s iconic Tube performance for a Best of the Tube series on UKTV

First up, it was the end of 1983. With original presenter Paula Yates off on maternity leave, the show was being presented by Jools and Leslie Ash, with support from Muriel Gray.

Following an abusive marriage and traumatic divorce from Ike Turner in 1978, Tina’s career had stalled. Absolutely ridiculous to think the world ever allowed that to happen, but that’s where things were.

I’ll let the show’s producer and co-creator, Malcolm Gerrie take up the story.

“Tina was at a strange moment in her career. She’d had a really rough patch. Her music had kind of gone out of fashion towards the end of the 70s and – like some other iconic artists – was doing cabaret gigs.

“Her manager, the brilliant Roger Davies had been talking to Heaven 17 about her recording a cover of Al Green’s Let’s Stay Together with them.”

The Tube sign – now in the safe hands of Tyne and Wear Museums and Archives

Meanwhile in The Tube production office, the late Chris Phipps (who went on to produce the show and become a respected music historian) was banging the drum to get Tina and The Tube together.

“Chris should be given most credit for her coming on,” says Malcolm. “He had a very eclectic collection of obsessions, including heavy metal, reggae and ska… but Tina was one of them.

“We’d already booked Heaven 17 and then started talking about whether we could get Tina to come with them… and I guess it became one of the great moments of Tube history.”

As Alison will tell you, Tina’s performance pulled together hits from her back catalogue, including River Deep Mountain High and Nutbush City Limits, with her newer material.

And so pleased she must have been with the Heaven 17 collaboration (Martyn Ware and Greg Walsh produced Let’s Stay Together) – she performed it twice. In two different – but equally iconic – outfits.

“Obviously her performance was incredible, but also, it was one of those unexpected things that have that extra magic,” says Malcolm. “Here’s this legend of R&B emerging like a dystopian cave woman with these two lads in suits.

“There’s this note she hits at the beginning of that song. Oh my god… just mindblowing… and then she just let rip.

Let’s Stay Together, outfit #1

“I watched it again before we chatted and it got the hairs on the back of my neck up just like it did when we were in the gallery. Everyone was on their feet – even Gavin (Taylor) was directing standing up. She had everyone in the palm of her hand.”

Another memorable sight from the set is a young Annie Lennox, sporting a glorious bright orange crew cut and wearing a splendid black and white tartan suit, soaking up the performance.

“There’s this beautiful shot of Annie, looking amazing and just dancing her ass off in the crowd,” says Malcolm. “What a wonderful eighties snapshot.”

While The Tube went off air at 7pm sharp – Channel Four news waits for no-one – Tina kept Studio Five rocking.

“I don’t know how long she played for after the credits rolled, but it seemed like about 30 or 40 minutes,” says Malcolm. “It was like she treated everyone to a secret gig.

“Back then the power of the unions could have meant it was a down tools situation… but no-one wanted to stop recording. It was such a special moment. Thank god we recorded the whole thing.”

Once the performance was finished, Malcolm remembers a lovely post-show gathering.

“We were all kind of thinking, ‘did that just happen?’” he says, “but there she was, being so warm and friendly with a real generosity of spirit – just chatting to Annie and Dave and praising how amazing the whole crew were.”

Tube creators, Malcolm Gerrie, and Mum (Andrea Wonfor) with the show’s directors Gavin Taylor and Dad (Geoff Wonfor)… celebrating a haul of awards from the New York Film Festival

While Tina never returned to the studios, she did have another Tube encounter.

And – unlike the live performance which I missed, because I was eight and more interested in photocopying anything which wasn’t stuck down and raiding the biscuit barrel – it’s one which I remember every moment of. 

Or at least every second of the film which came out of it.

It was either at the end of 1985 or the beginning of 1986 when Tina was the subject of one of the Tube films my Dad made (he was the location director on the show).

In the two years that had passed since she took the roof off Studio Five, Tina had clocked up multi-platinum sales across the world with her album, Private Dancer and had just starred as ruthless ruler, Auntie Entity opposite Mel Gibson in Mad Max Beyond The Thunderdome.

Superstar status had been restored and The Tube – more specifically Paula, who you’ll remember had missed the first Tina experience thanks to the arrival of first daughter, Fifi – was keen to catch up with her for a chat.

Now, while I was able to share YouTube links to the live performances on The Tube… I can find not one second of this film anywhere on the internet.

If I didn’t have a gold award from the New York film Festival in the Wonfor vanity collection sporting its name, I might think I’d imagined it.

We Don’t Need Another Hero from Mad Max Beyond the Thunderdome

While I won’t take you through it minute by minute, I thought it might be nice to share the recounting of the encounter a very excited Geoff Wonfor gave on his return from the shoot.

It’s probably worth pointing out at this point that my Dad was a little bit in love with Tina Turner. He thought she was phenomenal.

Hence, if you know what you’re listening for (and if we ever find a copy of the bloody film), you’ll hear him whimper a little bit when she tells Paula it can be embarrassing when people expect her to be sexy, because in real life, she’s not.

Having only seen her perform, I remember being really surprised at how quietly spoken she was as she chatted to Paula about her career and working with ‘sweet boy’ Mel Gibson (a description Paula observed would devastate Mel!) on the film before inviting the crew to film her in the recording booth performing the movie’s signature song, We Don’t Need Another Hero.

It was at this point that it all got a bit much for the director.

You see, Tina wasn’t one for miming, so the crew got the privilege of being in the intimate setting of a recording booth with Tina Turner while she belted out We Don’t Need Another Hero…

And while she – wearing headphones – could hear the track she was singing along to, they couldn’t. So they got around six minutes of raw, stripped back, point-blank range Tina. 

Did I mention my Dad got paid for doing stuff like that?

  • Tina’s Tube performance featured in a recent BBC documentary When Tina Turner Came to Britain, which is available on BBC iPlayer:

Remember, if you want to share your Tube memories and experiences, I’m all eyes (or ears if you want to attach an audio file) at [email protected].


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