Thursday, 21 September 2017
First viewed : 21 January 1987
This was a one-off documentary about the thorny issue of whether or not there were still prisoners of war being held in South East Asia. The programme focused mainly on Laos where a number of pilots flying aid to anti-communist forces in the so-called "Secret War" were shot down and captured by the Viet Cong's allies, the Pathet Lao. Most of the M.I.A.s unaccounted for seemed to be in this category. The accumulation of evidence seemed to be quite strong and even Henry Kissinger , interviewed for the programme, was careful not to entirely dismiss the possibility of surviving prisoners. The programme included an interview with a real-life Rambo figure planning incursions into remote areas of Laos from Thailand with the aid of motley remnants of the anti -communist force.
Monday, 18 September 2017
First viewed : 11 January 1987
This was all a bit strange. Between Seasons 3 and 4 of Alas Smith and Jones, Mel and Griff popped over to ITV to make a comedy series for the Sunday night slot usually occupied by Spitting Image. It took the form of the duo sitting behind a desk a la The Two Ronnies and presenting a mock-history of the world through the use of old film clips. It's probably best remembered for Griff finding some anonymous fat guy among the footage and claiming it to be one of Mel's ancestors - not exactly high brow comedy. The critics reviled it; I thought it was quite well put together and harmless wind-down entertainment.
For some reason ITV stopped the 12-part series after episode 6 ( almost certainly the last thing I watched on the night before I started work ) and presented the rest as a new series the following year. In between, the new season of Alas Smith and Jones was broadcast on BBC 2 and the first episode saw Mel and Griff ripping into the series themselves. Perhaps it was a necessary penance as the Beeb had seriously contemplated cutting them adrift for their temporary desertion but it was odd to say the least.
Sunday, 17 September 2017
First viewed : 9 January 1987
More than any other programme, this reminds me of those first few weeks of 1987 before I entered the world of work. More specifically, it reminds me of Fridays and a brief adventure which didn't seem all that significant at the time but had two big pointers for the future. In September 1986, I went to an Enrolment Day at Rochdale College looking for something that might improve my employability and signed up for a course in Public Administration there. On the first morning the tutor asked us to list our qualifications and shortly afterwards, he pulled me out, said it wasn't the right course for me and he'd arranged for me to attend a more advanced course at Bolton Institute of Higher Education. This turned out to be the second year of the qualification course for the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators, of which I wasn't a student member nor did I have a sponsoring authority so I don't know what he had arranged with regard to the fees. Anyway, I started attending the course and no one challenged my place or chased me for money. Not only did it get me more acquainted with my future place of abode, the course also had a financial accounting module which gave me a bit of a head start when studying the subject for real 12 months later. Rockliffe's Babies was the viewing highlight of the evenings after my last few attendances there.
It concerned seven young plain clothes constables working for a London crime squad under hard task master Sergeant Rockliffe ( Ian Hogg ) on a tough manor known as "The Dragon" hence the theme tune of stroppy kids chanting about social deprivation. They comprised two sensible girls Jan and Karen ( Alphonsia Emmanuel and Susannah Shelling ) , poncey graduate David ( Bill Champion ), headstrong, accident-prone Scouser Gerry ( Joe McGann ), lazy Welshman Paul ( Martyn Ellis ). slow-witted yokel Keith ( John Blakey ) and street smart Steve ( Brett Fancy ). The latter character dates the show more than anything else . Though an effective copper and good team player, Steve was also an overt racist with links to far right groups and it's inconceivable now that any such character would be allowed to go through two seasons without being made to account for such transgressions.
Though the setting was grim and bleak, there was a lot of humour in the show in the banter between the seven fledglings and with their mentor. I think it's probably the cop show that's come closest to recapturing the essence of The Sweeney. On the downside, Hogg's mannered style of acting was an acquired taste that I never really savoured and the whole series was shot on VT which didn't do it any favours.
The programme ran for two seasons before mutating into something else which I'll cover as a separate show. Apart from Shelling whose career seems to have ground to halt a decade ago they're all still acting but none have become stars, McGann having probably the highest profile now. For Champion, Ellis and Blakey as well as Shelling this was definitely the highpoint of their careers.
Saturday, 16 September 2017
First viewed : 7 January 1987
This was nothing to do with Australian soap operas but a one-off documentary about two female footballers, Kerry Davis and Rose Reilly. At the time, the women's game seemed to be defined by the Not The Nine O Clock News sketch with Smith and Jones as two pervs sitting through a really inept display for the shirt-swapping at the end. That may have been an exaggeration but there was certainly no money in it so Kerry from Crewe and Rose from Kilmarnock had to up sticks and sign semi-professionally for Italian clubs, Lazio and AC Milan respectively. Rose had actually been playing in Italy for over a decade but Kerry hadn't taken any Italian lessons beforehand and was struggling to settle. I remember doing a radio interview and tetchily asking them "Do you not think I would speak Italian if I could ?" The programme climaxed with a game between the two sides ; I can't recall who came out on top.
Despite her issues Kerry did play for four seasons in Italy for Lazio and Napoli before returning to the UK and is remembered as a top England international as the women's game rose in status. Rose played on until she was forty and appeared for both Scotland and Italy , winning the women's world cup with the latter in 1984.
Friday, 15 September 2017
First viewed : 7 January 1987
This was ITV's belated attempt to match BBC One's long-running A Question of Sport. The teams of sporting celebrities had to navigate their way around a Trivial Pursuits-style board answering questions relating to their own sport or others, depending where they landed. Like its rival Sporting Triangles started with two teams of three under resident captains Jimmy Greaves and Tessa Sanderson. It switched to three teams of two when Emlyn Hughes was poached from AQOS . Andy Gray began his TV career here as an alternative captain, the shows featuring three out of the four in random combinations. Nick Owen was quizmaster for the first two seasons then was replaced by Andy Craig until the show was axed in 1990.
I checked out the first episode with its strong line up of guests ( Bryan Robson, Dennis Taylor, Seb Coe and Lloyd Honeyghan ) but didn't watch much of it after that. That's not because I thought it was atrocious but I'm not a general sports fan and didn't have the appetite for two sports quiz programmes a week.
Thursday, 14 September 2017
First viewed : 6 January 1987
Alfred Hitchcock Presents was a re-boot of an American TV classic from the fifties and early sixties whereby the great film director would play on his reputation as the master of suspense with a campy monologue and epilogue bookending a short drama. Hitchcock himself only directed a handful of them but it was an extremely popular series.
Twenty years after it finished , NBC decided to revive it with re-filmed versions of previous episodes and some entirely new stories. Of course Hitchcock had been dead for five years by then but they colorised his contributions and re-used them, fitting the most apposite they could find to the new stories and hoping for the best. It ran for four years.
ITV ( or at least Granada ) broadcast it very late at night and the only one I recall watching is The Creeper ( one of the re-filmed stories ) because it starred Karen Allen. She played Jackie Foster, a paranoid yuppie woman who is plagued by a stalker and ends up garotted by someone she actually does trust.
Wednesday, 13 September 2017
First viewed : January 1987
I wasn't a great fan of this when it started and I think I saw most of it through repeats in the nineties. I thought if John Thaw wanted to do another police detective series then it should be as Jack Regan, older and possibly wiser but still in and around "the manor " ,not poncing around Oxford listening to classical music in a fancy old Jaguar. I found his attempt at an upper class accent particularly aggravating.
The series was liberally based on the novels by Colin Dexter; the Lewis character as played by Kevin Whately was completely different from the man described in the books. There were originally seven seasons of 3-5 episodes between 1987 and 1993 then Thaw went off to do Cavanagh Q.C. probably to the relief of Dexter who was struggling to keep pace with the series. Thereafter, there was one episode per year until the character was killed off in 2000. There have been two spin-off series Lewis ( which may have just finished ) and Endeavour ( ongoing ),
Although I did get to like it, I don't completely endorse it. For all its high production values, I don't think it always justified its two hour length. There are only two episodes ( both from the 1992 season ) where I can recall the plot in detail, the infamous rave story directed by Danny Boyle where Morse investigates the suicide of his neice and has to brush up on what these young people are getting off on and the one where an old flame of Morse helps arrange her dying partner's suicide to frame his son-in-law whose infidelity caused his daughter's death.