Tourists and Doctor Who trails: Fact checking Jim Toomey’s We Were Tourists

The Tourists are chiefly famous as the band Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart were in before Eurythmics. That’s apparently famous enough to justify one of the other members writing a biography about their time in the band.

Drummer Jim Toomey tells his version of the band’s history in We Were Tourists (2018) (available on Amazon for under $15, pop pickers). I stress “his version” because while it’s an engaging read, it’s apparent that no-one checked all the details.

In an interview when the book was published, Toomey noted that he “had loads of diaries I could refer to”, but also wanted it to be “tight, like a three-minute pop song”. That means we’ll sometimes have to fill in the gaps.

The Elton John problem

My factual hackles immediately rose when I encountered this paragraph early on:

I knew Dave from when he was in a band called Long Dancer. They had signed to a new company called Rocket Records. Unfortunately for Dave Rocket Records had also signed a singer-songwriter called Reggie Dwight who promptly, and wisely, changed his name to Elton John. Long Dancer were left in the shadow of Elton’s massive popularity and the band had split.

Any semi-informed pop fan will spot the inaccuracy. Elton John first used that name in 1967. Rocket Records was Elton’s vanity label, founded in 1973. By then, Elton was already a global star. He made Rocket; Rocket didn’t make him.

It’s true Longdancer (no space) did sign to Rocket and failed to achieve much, but Toomey’s framing of this as Dave-vs-Reggie is simply wrong. So any other celebrity anecdote he tells will need cross-checking.

Enter the Doctor

I remembered this when Toomey described an early appearance by The Tourists on the BBC music show Old Grey Whistle Test (OGWT) in 1979. Apparently, the band arrived for filming at 9am and quickly knocked off three live performances (‘Blind Among The Flowers’, ‘Another English Day’ and ‘The Loneliest Man In The World’) in front of a somewhat indifferent crew.

Here’s that day’s take on ‘Blind Among The Flowers’:

Post-recording, The Tourists got smashed in the BBC bar, where they were “rubbing shoulders with actors from the Doctor Who set in full costume”.

To be fair, Toomey himself admits his recollection of events here is clouded by alcohol:

I seem to remember our tour manager stealing my car keys and putting me into a cab which I shared with a rather inebriated Doctor Who, but I might have imagined that.

However hazy the details, I’m obsessed with both 80s pop and Doctor Who, so I need to know if this is actually true. And if it is, which Who story was being filmed?

A little digging through iMDB and the Radio Times reveals that The Tourists appeared on OGWT twice. Their first appearance was in series 8, episode 35, which was transmitted on 29 May 1979 at the late hour of 11.35pm. They were one of two featured acts, the other being punk band The Members. That date aligns with the release of The Tourists’ first self-titled album, which features the three tracks Toomey mentions.

So far, so good. In 1979, the current Doctor was Tom Baker, who was infamous for drinking in the BBC bar (and indeed at any other location supplying booze between there and Soho). Superficially, the tale adds up. And there’s no point asking Tom if he remembers any of it, because he doesn’t remember anything much from the era.

Doctor Who definitely was filming in April and May of 1979 (allowing ourselves a range of potential recording dates for OGWT). The most likely story is the much-loathed ‘The Creature From The Pit’ which had several studio dates across April. It might also be ‘City Of Death’, which filmed in May.

The Pauline Black problem

We have some reason to doubt the account, however. Toomey also says he spent some time in the bar that day trying to “chat up” Pauline Black, lead singer of ska band The Selecter. This raises flags, partly because he incorrectly spells the band name “The Selector”. But more importantly, Black didn’t join The Selecter until July 1979 – several months after the OGWT broadcast. And as her biography Black by Design: A 2-Tone Memoir makes clear, she wasn’t hanging round London and the BBC prior to that happening.

It’s likely that Toomey is confusing the first time The Tourists were on OGWT in 1979 with their second appearance in 1980 (series 9, episode 19, transmitted on 29 January 1980). The Selecter featured on OGWT on 19 February that year.

So it’s quite possible that both sets of performances were filmed the same day, and edited into different shows. Two recordings and two bar visits, conflated into one anecdote three decades later.

So what really happened?

Assuming that’s the case, how might it change the Who element of the story? Tom Baker was still the Doctor in 1980, though that was the year he gave up the role after a record-setting seven-year stint. But the timing is unlikely. Between November 1979 and January 1980, the only Doctor Who recordings at Television Centre were for the abandoned story ‘Shada’, and those were in early November.

So the best guess is that the Tourists/Who overlap occurred following the band’s first performance on OGWT, not the second, and that ‘The Creature From The Pit’ was the story in question . The Pauline Black anecdote is a red herring, and we’ll never know if Tom Baker really was drunk in a cab with Jim Toomey.

Yes, these are small details. But I like small details to be right.

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