20 January 2004 | Chip_douglas
The demolition of No 73
Even before the term 'Jumping the Shark' became established amongst television lovers, you could always tell when the end of a long running TV series was near because of a drastic change in the format at the start of a new season. Like when 'Mork and Mindy' got married, 'The A- Team' was finally captured, 'The Greatest American Hero' found out where his suit came from, and 'No 73' was torn down (after several near misses) to be replaced by... a Wild West park??
Now some would say that the long running Saturday morning children's variety show No 73 had already 'jumped' when main character Ethel (Sandi Toksvig) had left without little explanation in 1986. But to me, clearly, the Wild West fiasco was the last nail in the coffin. Strangely enough this change happened not right at the start, but in the middle of a series (that would be 'season' in the States). Come December 1987 they were still living at No 73, by the beginning of the new year the show had changed its title to 7T3. The usual gang (Harry, Dawn, Neil and Kim) moved to the Western theme park, even taking their brand new neighbour (Hamilton Dent) and most of the other cast-members that had joined in late '87 along.
Despite of their best efforts, the now retitled 7T3' failed to capture the spirit of 73. And how could it, really? The change actually came about because No 73 had to move out of their usual TVS studios to make room. As the show was still going strong at the time, the decision was made to broaden it's scope and build an outdoor set (which had previously been done for Corronation Street). But instead of expanding the comfy old house that had served as the titular backdrop since 1982, some smartypants decided to build a Wild West park in Maidstone, Kent instead.
Granted, there were still some touches of the old 73 craziness to be found in the set up: a saloon served as the living room and a barber's shop as the bathroom. The 'doorbell' was rung by firing a giant catapult at a church bell. Even more surreal: cartoons were shown in a mailbox and music videos on a washing machine. But the outdoor set soon proved to be too expensive to maintain (not to mention all the poor presenters having to run to and fro between items).
After sitting out the rest of the season and one more cliffhanger involving the finding of an oil well, 7T3 went of the air and was only mentioned once more: when the main cast appeared on the first ITV Telethon in May 1988. Still it might be assumed the inhabitants all became oil tycoons and got rid of that money losing theme park.
Next September the replacement show 'Motormouth' featured some 'No 73' regulars, namely Neil and Dawn, who for the first time in six years was allowed to take off her roller boots and use her real name: Andrea. But Motormouth was just another studio bound Saturday show. The magic and escapism of 'No 73' had now truly been lost. And when the last episode of Motormouth was aired four years after that (co-scripted by Sandi Toksvig), how did it all end? With yet another freshly discovered oil well. By that time Neil Buchanan was the only reminder of No 73 left on the show. Andrea Arnold had gone on to make environmental programmes that would lead to her Oscar winning career as a director. So at least it didn't all end badly.