Television: The Old Grey Whistle Test

David Bowie filmed an appearance on the BBC music television show The Old Grey Whistle Test on 7 February 1972.

Filming took place on the fourth floor of Television Centre in White City, London. This was the first television appearance by Bowie and the Spiders From Mars together.

Two takes were filmed of each of three songs: ‘Oh! You Pretty Things’, ‘Queen Bitch’, and the new song ‘Five Years’.

On ‘Oh! You Pretty Things’ and ‘Queen Bitch’ the band mimed to the Hunky Dory backing tracks. They also mimed to ‘Five Years’, using a newly-recorded backing track. Only Bowie’s lead vocals were live during the shoot.

This was Bowie’s only appearance on Whistle Test. Ronson was interviewed on the show on 27 January 1974 about his solo album Slaughter On 10th Avenue.

At the beginning of February we recorded a session for The Old Grey Whistle Test, presented by Bob Harris, which was British TV’s major music programme at the time. We performed ‘Oh! You Pretty Things’, ‘Queen Bitch’ and ‘Five Years’. I’ve never forgotten what happened with ‘Five Years’.

We’d done a run-through so we knew where the cameras were going to be and I felt fine. But on the final run-through someone had decided that, as ‘Five Years’ ends with just drums, it would be better to finish on a close-up of me. I wasn’t aware of this until we were actually recording and at the end of the song the main camera started coming closer and closer to me… It was unexpected and I was absolutely terrified. All I could think was that millions of people were going to be watching me. I hope I managed to disguise my feelings but I’m not sure if I did. When June saw it on TV she spotted my suppressed terror.

Woody Woodmansey
Spider from Mars: My Life with Bowie

The show was broadcast on 8 February, without ‘Oh! You Pretty Things’, which was not aired until 1982. All three songs appeared on the Best Of Bowie DVD.

Last updated: 11 April 2023
Recording: Rock 'N' Roll Suicide, Starman, Suffragette City
Live: Toby Jug, Tolworth
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