Compiled by Terry Kilburn

The Old Grey Whistle Test

August 2, 2011

This year sees the 40th anniversary of The Old Grey Whistle Test. The OGWT was launched in the UK in 1971 and until 1998 it was the BBC’s flagship music programme providing the first British exposure to the likes of Bob Marley, Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, Bonnie Raitt, Steely Dan and Billy Joel. Many of you will have seen the 1978 footage of Dire Straits perfoming Sultans of Swing on the OGWT.

The story goes that the show got its unusual name from the USA where songs written by people such as Carole King and Gerry Goffin where perfomed before RKO cleaning staff many of whom were in their mature years and had greying hair. If they could whistle the tune after hearing it, it was said to have passed the ‘old grey whistle test’. Bob Harris, who presented the OGWT for many years, tells a slightly different version. “It was a ‘tin pan alley’ phrase from years ago.” says Bob, “When they got the first pressing of a record they would play it to people they called the old greys [doormen in grey suits]. The ones they could remember and could whistle having heard it just once or twice had passed the old grey whistle test.”

To celebrate its 40th anniversary, various artistes who performed on the OGWT will be featured in a series of programmes on BBC Radio 2. Bob Harris’ interview with Mark is scheduled to be aired at 10 pm on the 5th of October.

The OGWT at 40 radio series will go up on the BBC iPlayer in its own dedicated area for the duration of the whole series. It will not be downloadable but will give you the opportunity to stay in touch with the broadcasts if you come to them late. Each show will be added up to the iPlayer the week it airs and will remain there until the series finiahes on January 5th 2012.