Famous for its bright red front door with the huge yellow 7 and 3 daubed on, Number 73 was an ITV Saturday morning show of the kind that lasts most of the morning, and pulls together interviews, music, cartoons and a bit of comedy banter from the regular hosts. It first aired in 1982, only in the TVS region, which caused much consternation to those kids who would rather be watching Tiswas, which was still airing in most of the rest of the country – back in the 1980’s the ITV schedule varied from region to region much more than it does today you see.
Number 73 replaced Tiswas initially for just a six week run, but despite initial complaints it came back every year to cover the beginning of spring, when Tiswas no longer aired. The show was set in the titular Number 73, a suburban family home (well, a studio mock up of one anyway), which was inhabited by the slightly nutty Ethel Spoon (Sandi Toksvig), her nephew Harry Stern (Nick Staverson), her boyfriend Percy Simmonds (Patrick Doyle) and the forever rollerskate clad Dawn Lodge (Andrea Arnold). I think Dawn may have been a lodger (hence her surname) but I’m not 100% sure about that. For the first few series the cast were not credited, which led many kids to come to the conclusion that these were real people rather than actors.
In later years the cast was joined most memorably by artist Neil Buchanan, now host of Art Attack, pop singer wannabe Kim Goody and various others, including the papier mache head wearing Frank Sidebottom.
Each edition would normally have a musical act of some kind (set up to play in the living room of the house) and a couple of other special guests, not necessarily famous people but quite often interesting people none the less. A cartoon or two would be thrown in for good measure, played on the kitchen microwave come TV-set, an invention of Percy’s. The only cartoon I actually remember being shown was Roger Ramjet, though I’m sure there were others. I think the cartoon normally got split over an ad break too. Also, towards the end of the show Ethel presided over the Sandwich Quiz, a general knowledge quiz played by two of that weeks guests, where answering questions allowed them to make a round of sandwiches.
Unfortunately, Sandi Toksvig left the show in 1986, which was the beginning of the end for its popularity. For many kids Ethel was Number 73, and whilst it soldiered on for another couple of years, it wasn’t quite the same. Whilst Harry, Dawn and Neil tried their best, the final nail in the coffin was when they moved out of the house and into a Wild West cowboy saloon, which also heralded a name change to 7T3 (i.e. it sounds more like a rootin’ tootin’ cowboy saying it – seven-teeeee three).
If you want more information on this cult show, then you’d better get on your feet, get into gear and hit the Hey You! Get Down To 73 website.