Sunday, 22 October 2017
First viewed : Uncertain
For a long time after its launch . I deliberately boycotted this series because it was an extension of his intrusive American chart spot on Top of the Pops which I resented as it denied British acts just outside the Top 40 a priceless slot on the programme and often promoted US hits that had hitherto been struggling to make an impression here. That's what presenter Jonathan King was all about; a resentful anti-patriot belittling everything Britain had to offer and proclaiming the superiority of our former colony's culture.
I think it was probably around 1987 that, softened up by Dallas and Dynasty , we started to watch it semi-regularly. It was a well put-together magazine show with King an under-rated interviewer whose irreverent style paved the way for the likes of Louis Theroux. It was also good for previewing stuff that was inevitably going to come our way; I remember first hearing about Twin Peaks on the show. I recall one uninspiring evening when my Mum and I agreed that Entertainment USA was actually the best thing on that night.
Famously, the show came to grief in 1989 when Janet Street-Porter became head of Youth Programming on BBC Two and promptly axed both this and No Limits , describing them as "dreadful". There were stories of King chasing her down the corridor to protest but it was to no avail.
Saturday, 21 October 2017
First viewed : May / June 1987
I would probably have seen this sooner except that it was usually scheduled directly against Coronation Street. Probably the first one I saw was the repeat episode on 1968 which was broadcast early on Spring Bank Holiday Monday in 1987. Fortunately for me, the third season covering the years in which I was most interested, 1972-80, was broadcast at 8pm.
The series was a development of a Radio One series, 25 Years of Rock , which simply intercut contemporary news bulletins with the records of the day. The Rock 'n' Roll Years had more leeway to match visuals with an appropriate record such as matching footage of dodgy Pakistan premier Bhuttto to Thin Lizzy's Don't Believe A Word. The most striking juxtaposition I can recall is from the 1969 episode, with a performance by Marsha Hunt of Walk on Gilded Splinters cut with footage of the aftermath of the Sharon Tate massacre.
When it came to the years I knew best, inevitably I sometimes disagreed with the selections. I'm still flabbergasted that the 1973 episode somehow omitted to use Part of the Union when covering the industrial unrest that year.
Some of the captioning was a bit slapdash. The 1983 episode covering that year's election had a caption that read "The Liberal and Social Democratic Parties form an alliance" which had actually happened in 1981. And I've just noticed that the caption above is incorrect; there were only five victims* and only three of them were Sharon Tate's friends, the fifth being a friend of the caretaker who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The series stopped at 1989 in a fourth series broadcast in 1994.
* unless you include Sharon Tate's unborn child
Thursday, 19 October 2017
First viewed : 3 May 1987
I didn't think I'd caught the first episode of this but I do recall seeing its most controversial item, the presenter Sankha Guha making a fake cash card Blue Peter -style and then successfully extracting money from a cashpoint machine with it. I never watched it regularly as I often had better things to do on a Sunday but I remember a sympathetic feature on All About Eve in early 1988 which helped turn me on to them.
Network 7 was created by Jane Hewland and Janet Street-Porter and broadcast at noon on a Sunday lunchtime on Channel Four. It was aimed at a youth audience with fresh young presenters, a fast editing style and a focus on entertainment news rather than social problems.
It only lasted 18 months but it was influential and helped land Street-Porter a plum job with the Beeb the following year.
Wednesday, 18 October 2017
First viewed : 13 May 1987
This was a dark and demanding drama from Channel 4 based on a novel by Scottish crime writer Frederic Lindsay. Anyone unfamiliar with the book who claimed that they knew what was going on after the first episode was a liar.
Brond marked the screen debut of John Hannah as Robert, a callow Glasgow University student who witnesses the callous murder of a young boy in broad daylight by a man who conspiratorially winks at him as he goes by . The man we later learn is called Brond ( Stratford Johns ) and he keeps popping up in odd places as Robert's life descends into nightmare. At first, Brond does not interact with any other character and the story takes on an hallucinatory quality but once one of Robert's fellow lodgers turns up dead, the story becomes much more political in tone. There's a side dish of Kafka as Robert realises he's at the mercy of forces beyond his control.
There aren't too many sympathetic characters although you feel for Robert in his hopeless pursuit of Margaret ( Louise Beattie ) who clearly doesn't give a shit about him. This is paralleled by the story of Primo ( James Cosmo ) a deluded Scottish nationalist and hard man with a blind faith in Brond that is almost childlike.
The resolution left many questions unanswered as you always suspected it might. My twopennyworth is that it was a political fable with Brond the embodiment of the perfidious Englishman exploiting Scotland when it suited him. In this interpretation, Primo was your typical Scots S.A.S. man killing to order to sustain a system that didn't benefit him at all.
I enjoyed it but could have lived without seeing Stratford Johns in his underpants ( as seen above ).
Monday, 16 October 2017
First viewed : May 1987
This was the first general election of my working life and a senior officer of the council I worked for was standing for Labour in my constituency. As the history books tell us, Margaret Thatcher won a third and final term as Prime Minister with a scarcely dented majority. Labour under Neil Kinnock improved on Michael Foot's showing in 1983 but not significantly so despite a much more impressive campaign.
The result was far more significant for the Liberal-SDP Alliance. Their share of both votes and seats fell , though not disastrously so, after the campaign exposed significant differences between the SDP's leader David Owen and Liberal leader David Steel. The former SDP leader Roy Jenkins lost his Glasgow seat to a young George Galloway and Shirley Williams and Bill Rodgers were defeated in their final attempts to return to the Commons. All three of them backed the calls for a merger after the election. Owen decided to resist them and brought the curtain down on his political career. I had let my membership of the SDP lapse after graduating but I decided to rejoin after the result and voted for the merger a few months later.
Saturday, 14 October 2017
First viewed : 5 May 1987
This mini-series was the sequel to A Woman of Substance . Both were based on novels by Barbara Taylor Bradford about a woman Emma Harte, who rises from humble beginnings to head a vast business empire and take revenge on the gentry family that abused her. Deborah Kerr resumed her role as the elderly Emma with Jenny Seagrove switching to play her granddaughter instead of her younger self. However, Liam Neeson retained his role as her confidante Blackie , made up as an old man and talking through a voice box like a Dalek. I think it's safe to assume he doesn't view it as his finest hour. For some lost reason, I tuned into the first episode, decided it was absolute rubbish and checked out again.
First viewed : April 1986
This is a bit out of sequence but when doing a bit of research on the series I realised I must have seen it a year earlier than I thought. C.A.T.S. Eyes was a spin-off from The Gentle Touch taking Jill Gascoigne's Maggie Forbes character out of the police station and into a private detective agency which was really a front for a Home Office covert unit. Don Warrington from Rising Damp was the man from the Ministry. In the first series Maggie was number two on the team headed by Pru ( Rosalyn Landor ) and they were assisted by sexpot Fred ( Lesley Ash ). For the second series, Maggie was promoted to replace Pru and the glamour quotient was doubled by Tessa ( Tracy Louise Ward ).
Ward was the sister of dubiously-talented Hollywood actress Rachel Ward and it was the publicity around her entrance that prompted me to tune in as she looked pretty hot. The series was a cross between Charlie's Angels and The Professionals. There was little cross over from The Gentle Touch as the more outlandish and feminocentric storylines meant it was very different in tone.
The series was popular but expensive to make so the plug was pulled after three seasons. After the series ended Gascoigne rarely appeared on UK TV. She moved to Los Angeles with husband Alfred Molina and worked mainly in theatre. In 2009 she pulled out of a planned run in Eastenders and is now in a care home suffering from Alzheimer's Disease. Shortly after the series ended Ward married the Marquess of Worcester and soon gave up acting in favour of environmental politics. She is now the Duchess of Beufort.