Monday, 21 August 2017

770 Casualty

First  viewed : Autumn  1986

This  TV  phenomenon  began  life  as  a  replacement  for  Juliet  Bravo  on  a  Saturday  evening  and  has  never  relinquished  its  spot  since. The  genius  of  the  show  is  that  the  setting  lets  the  writers  get  away  with  melodrama  every  week  and  allows  a  regular  parade  of  guest  stars  to  check  in  and  out  ( sometimes  permanently ).  As  well  as   their  coping  with  each   medical crisis  the   writers  throw  their  way,  the  programme  looks  at  the  personal  lives  of  the  staff  with  story  arcs  developing  over  the  course  of  a  season. Both  its  creators,  Jeremy  Brock  and  Paul  Unwin,  were  passionate  left  wing  champions  of  the  NHS  but  with  The  Monocled  Mutineer  drawing  away  most  of  the  Tory  fire , the  launch  of  Casualty  was   uncontroversial 

 I  don't  have  a  fascination  with  medical  matters  and  didn't  watch  the  opening  episode  but  did  catch  at  least  one  from  the  first  series  in  order  to  see  the  lunatic  over-acting  of  Christopher  Rozycki  as  the  Polish  porter  Kuba  which  seemed  to  be  the  main  talking  point. I  became  a  more  regular  viewer  in  the  second  season  when  Kate  Hardie  joined  the  cast  as  a  student  nurse  who  had  an  affair  with  Charlie  ( Derek  Thompson )  although  she  wasn't  in  it  for  long  and  I  dropped  out  again  once  she'd  gone.

I  became  a  regular  viewer  at  the  start  of  the  nineties  when  Nigel  Le  Vaillant  was  the  star  as  passionate  registrar  Julian  Chapman. His  interaction  with  the  steadier  Charlie  was  one  of  the  highpoints  of  the   series. Another  favourite  character  from  this  time  was  Kelly  Liddle  ( Adie  Allen )  a  student  nurse  that  couldn't  hack  it. Sadly  Le  Vaillant    decided  to  quit  in  Season  7  and  although  I  eventually  warmed  to  his  successor  Mike  Barrett  ( Clive  Mantle )  it  wasn't  quite  the  same  without  Julian.

The  show's  writers  responded  to  the  criticism  of  left  wing  bias  in  Season  8   by  introducing  a  character ,  Rachel  Longworth  ( Jane  Gurnett )  a  nurse  who  actually  supported  the  market-led  reforms  to  the  NHS. At  first  she  was  a  bit  of  a  joke, just  an  unlikely  mouthpiece, but  eventually  they  let  her  become  a  real  character  who  had  a fling  with  Barrett . That  series  also  saw  Tara  Moran  from  recently  deceased  soap  Families  join  as  a  nurse  but  she  turned  out  to  be  a  fly  by  night. Another  favourite  of  mine  Suzanna  Hamilton  came  in  as  a  young  doctor  with  no  bedside  manner  but  she too  departed  before  the  end  of  the  season, a  great  shame  as  her  character  could  have  been  developed  a  lot  more. Long  servng  nurse  Duffy  ( Cathy  Shipton )  left  towards   the  end  of  the  series  leaving  Charlie  as  the  only  survivor  from  the original  cast.

Season  9  introduced  one  of  the  most  irritating  characters  in  bolshie,  stud-in-the-nose  nurse  Jude  Kocarnik  ( Lisa  Coleman )  while  Baz  ( Julia  Watson )  returned  from  the  first  series  and  became  embroiled in  a  long  running  affair  with  Charlie.

I  think  I  lost  interest  some  time  in  Season  10  ( 1995-96 ). I  came  back  to  it  briefly  after I  got  married   ( December  1997 )  noting  lad's  mag  favourite  Claire  Goose  in  the  cast   but  my  interest  was  finally  killed  off  by  the  scene  at  the  end  of  Season  12  ( 1998 ) when  the  cast  broke  out  into  a  version  of  "Everlasting  Love" which  was  then  released  as  a  single. I  just  thought  that  was so  naff  and  unworthy  of  the  series.

Inevitably,  it's  been  on  in  the  living  room  since  then  and  I've  caught  odd  snatches  but  never  been  tempted  to  re-engage  with  the  series.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

769 Call Me Mister

First  viewed  : Autumn  1986

After  four  seasons  of  Bergerac , John  Nettles  wanted  a  break  so  there  was  only  a  Christmas  special  in  1986. Creator  Robert  Banks  Stewart  and  the  crew  came  up  with  this  one  to  fill  the  gap  in  the  autumn  schedule. With  Crocodile  Dundee  riding  high  in  the  cinemas, this  series  looked  to  tap  into  the  vogue  for  bluff  Aussie  guys  by  casting  Steve  Bisley  as  Sir  Jack  Bartholomew , a   former  Australian  police  officer  who  inherits  a  title  and  estate  in  England  to  the  dismay  of  his  posh  relatives  played  by  Haydn  Gwynne  and  Rupert  Frazer. He  prefers  to  set  up  as  a   private  detective  instead  with  the  help  of  much-younger  girlfriend  and  part-time  singer Julie  ( Dulice  Leicier  from  Grange  Hill ).

Unsurprisingly,  it  was  fairly  similar  to  Bergerac  but  a  bit  lighter  in  tone.  As  with  Brush  Strokes , I  gave  it  a  try  for  one  episode . I  thought  it  was  passable  but  not  good  enough  to  become  appointment  TV.  

When  Bergerac  returned  the  following  year, Call  Me  Mister  slipped  quietly  out  of  memory.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

768 Brush Strokes

First  viewed  : 1  September  1986

This  was  the  latest  comedy  from  the  Esmonde  and  Larbey  writing  team  ( Please  Sir,  The  Good  Life,  Ever  Decreasing  Circles )  and  starred  Karl  Howman  , a  familiar  face  playing  Cockney  villains  in  The  Sweeney, Minder  and  The  Professionals,  as  Jacko, a   womanising  painter. The  producers  seemed  to  know  they  might  have  a  problem  with  the  material  from  the  start; I  remember  Howman  in  The  Radio  Times   giving  a  defensive  interview  insisting  that  the  series  celebrated  women  rather  than  demeaned  them  and  that  was  before  the  first  episode  was  even  broadcast !

I  only  watched  that  first  episode  which  introduced  Jacko  and  his  boss  ( Gary  Waldhorn )  and  saw  Jacko  trying  to  date  two  girls  at  once  in  different  parts  of  the  same  pub. I  thought  it  was  crap  and  saw  no  more  of  the  Dulux-coated  lothario's  adventures.  However  it  was  popular  and  ran  for  5  series  until  1991.

As  with  Carla  Lane  and  Bread , Brush  Strokes  was  the  last  major success  for  the  Esmonde-Larbey  team, their  nineties  efforts  such  as  Mulberry  which  also  starred  Howman, leaving  little  impression.  

Friday, 18 August 2017

767 The Monocled Mutineer

First  viewed : 31 August  1986

This  series  seems  half-forgotten  now  but  in  1986  it  was  deeply  controversial. It  was  based  on  a  book  of  the  same  name  by  William  Allison  and  John  Fairley  published  in  1978  adapted  for  the  screen  by  Alan  Bleasdale. It  traced  the  career  of  a  criminal  called  Percy  Toplis  who  had  spells  in  the  army  and  was  shot  dead  by  police  near  Penrith  in  1920  while  on  the  run  for  the  murder  of  a  taxi  driver . While  in  the  army,  he  sometimes  posed  as  an  officer,  with  a  monocle  as  part  of  his  disguise,  to  pull  girls  or  impress  friends . That  much  is  undisputed. However  the  book  alleged  that  Toplis  was  the  ringleader  of  the  Etaples  mutiny  of  1917  and  that  he  was  pursued  after  the  war  by  the  Secret  Service  who  arranged  the  ambush  leading  to  his  death. Historians  with  no  axe  to  grind   pointed  out  that  the  records  showed  that  Toplis's  regiment   was  on  its  way  to  India  at  the  time  of  the  mutiny, an  event  that  the authors  had  greatly  exaggerated. This  led  Tory  politicians  and  the  Daily  Mail  to  excoriate  the  BBC  for  supposed  left  wing  bias  for  advertising  the  drama  as  "a  true-life  story".

I  missed  nearly  all  of  it  first  time  round  because  I  had  become  reconciled  with  my  old  friends  Michael  and  Sean  and  went  to  the  pub  with  them  on  a  Sunday  night  instead. I  did  see  a  small  part  of  the  first  episode  in  The  Red  Lion, Littleborough  with  them,  showing  the  horrendously  botched  execution  of  a  young  deserter. When  the  series  was  repeated  in  1988,  I  watched  it  right  through  and  it  was  an  impressive  piece  of  drama  with  Paul  McGann  furthering  his  reputation  in  the  main  role.

At  the  time  of  the  broadcast , a  witness  to  Toplis's  death  was  still  alive, a  man  called  De  Courcey  Parry  who  did  not  enter  the  controversy. When  I  used  to  attend  slide  shows  at  Kewsick's  Moot  Hall  in  the  early  nineties  ,the  host  Ray  McHaffie   would  always  point  him  out  as  an  old  man  attending  a  summer  fete  on  one  of  his  slides.


Thursday, 17 August 2017

766 Three Sovereigns for Sarah

First  viewed :   28  August  1986

This  US  mini-series  took  on  the  task  of  presenting  a  more  factual  account  of  the  Salem  Witch  Trials  of  1692  than  Arthur  Miller's  The  Crucible . It  told  the  story  from  the  point  of  view  of  Sarah  Cloyce  ( Vanessa  Redgrave ) ,  the  survivor  of  three  sisters  accused  of  witchcraft who  spent  the  next  decade  fighting  to  clear  her  executed  sisters'  names. Sarah  does  not  appear  in  The  Crucible  ,  a  victim  of  Miller's  compositing  but  one  of  her  sisters, Rebecca  Nurse,  does.

After  ten  years,  Sarah  gets  a  hearing  from  an  examining  magistrate  ( Patrick  McGoohan )   and  points  out  the  social  tensions  in  the  village  that  led  to  the  accusations. He  eventually  decides  that  he  cannot  establish  the  full  facts  a decade  later  but  grants  Sarah  three  sovereigns  as  symbolic compensation  for  the  three  damaged  lives  hence  the  title.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

765 Baby, Baby

First  viewed : Summer  1986

This  was  a  late  night  Channel  4  show  taking  a  light-hearted  look  at  the  joys  of  early  parenthood. As  both  of   the  main  The  Tube  presenters  had  recently  become  parents,  they  were  the  obvious  choices  to  host  it  As  it  would  be  another  21  years  before  I  became  really  interested  in  the  subject,  I  think  I  only  caught  one  episode.   I  remember  a  feature   calculating  the  opportunity  cost  of  having  a  sprog  with  yobbish  chants  of  "We  still  want  the  baby!"  after  every  item. There  was  also  a  female  celeb  - I  can't  recall  who - telling  how  desperate  she  was  for  a  drink  of  Perrier  Water  while  she  was  giving  birth. In  addition,  think  this  was   where  I  came  across  Rowland  Rivron  for  the  first time

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

764 Blockbusters

First  viewed :  Uncertain

I've  no idea  when  I  first  caught  this  but  the  "dole  period"  would  be  the  best  guess.

 Blockbusters   had  been  running  since  1983, an  early  evening  general  knowledge  quiz  with  A  Level  students  as   contestants  and  the  nicest  guy  on  TV  as  quizmaster. Bob  Holness  had  spent  much  of  his  previous  career  on  radio  but  became  a  much-loved TV  personality  through  the  show.

The  programme  had  a  rather  strange  format  with  the  built-in  unfairness  of  having  two  contestants  against  one  although  the  solo  performer  had   to  answer  one  less  question  to  make  a  line.

I  liked  it  but , once  I  started  work,  it  was  on  a  bit  too  early  to  catch. However  it  did  become  a  part  of  my  holiday  routine  in  Keswick  in  the  early  nineties. I'd  come  back  from  my  walk  around  4-5 pm   and  then  have  a  couple  of  hours  or  so  to  recuperate   before  going  out  for  something  to  eat  and  watching  Blockbusters  was  one  of  the  things  that  filled  the  gap. It   was  then  that  I  first  caught  the  famous  hand  jive  sequence  where  all  that  week's  contestants  ran  on  to  the  stage  and  did  a  dance  with  glimpses  of  Bob  himself  having  a  bop  in  the  background.

The  show  was  initially  cancelled  in  1993  but  has  had  no  less  than  four  separate  revivals, mostly  on  satellite  channels. Bob  hosted  the  first  one  on  Sky  in  1994 . Sadly he  died  in  2012  after  a  decade  of  ill  health.