The Old Grey Whistle Test

21 September 1971

Image: Meatloaf performs on Old Grey Whistle Test in May 1978. Clip: the opening titles of the programme.

The Old Grey Whistle Test began on 21 September 1971. As the only regular outlet for non-chart music on television, it provided many seminal musical moments for its dedicated viewers, with performances from artists as diverse as Bob Marley, Free, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Roxy Music and Randy Newman. It also made "Whispering" Bob Harris the archetypal laidback presenter.

The first presenter of The Old Grey Whistle Test was rock journalist Richard Williams. Williams explained the title in the Radio Times: "before a new record is released a rough mix is played to the grey-haired doormen. If they can whistle the tune after hearing it once, it passes the 'old grey whistle test' and is released". Harris took over from Williams and presented the show through the seventies. With the changing musical landscape came new presenters, including Annie Nightingale, Mark Ellen and Andy Kershaw.

The Old Grey Whistle Test - shortened to Whistle Test in 1983 - ended in 1988. Its focus on the straightforward studio performance by a band, coupled with creative use of black and white archive to illustrate album tracks when the bands were unavailable, influenced later music shows. Bob Harris has survived many affectionate parodies and can now be heard on BBC Radio 2.