Thursday, 31 December 2015

311 Panorama

First  viewed  :  Uncertain

As  with  World  in  Action , against  which  it  was  often  scheduled,  Panorama  appears  here  now  due  to  an  episode  that  I  clearly  recall  seeing.  Before  that  it  was  always  the  one  programme  - apart  from  the  cricket  coverage - that  my  dad  wanted  to  watch  and  so  its  powerful  theme  music  was  usually  the  cue  to  go  to  bed.

The  episode  in  question, on  14.11.77,  featured  a  35  minute  film  report,  introduced  by  the  venerable  news  reporter  Charles  Wheeler ,  about  organised  football  hooliganism  at  Millwall  FC  who  bafflingly  agreed  to  co-operate  with  the   programme.  The  Millwall  firm's  tripartite  structure  meant  you  started  off  as  a  school  boy  causing  bother  around  the  half  way  line  then  chose  whether  to  join  "Treatment"  a  bunch  of  goons  wearing  surgical  helmets  who  guarded  the  home  end  against  incursions  or  the  real  nutters  the  "F  Troop"  to  whom  the  football  was  clearly  incidental  to  looking  for  a  ruck. On  one  occasion  when  Millwall  went  to  Sunderland, the  F  Troop  chose  instead  to  go  to  Charlton  v  Tottenham  to  soften  up  the  Spurs  fans  for  their  visit  later  in  the  season.

All  the  cliches  of   reporting  on   the  subject  were  introduced  here  such  as  trying  to  fit  the  phenomenon  into  a  sociological  framework  and  the  obligatory  footage  of  an  avowed  hooligan  working  with  kids  in  his  day  job. We  all  know  that's  often  the  case  now  but  it  was  a  revelation  then. The  main  spokesman  for  Treatment  was  a  surely  untypical  teenager called  David  who  wore  glasses  and  looked  like  a  puff  of  wind  would  knock  him  down.

In  fairness  to  the  club  their  efforts  to  get  to  grips  with  the  hooligan  problem  were  given   appropriate  coverage. Then-manager  Gordon  Jago   made  the  prescient  suggestion  of  making  games  home  fans  only  nearly   a  decade  before  Luton  Town  tried  it  ( largely  as  a  result  of  Millwall  fans  wrecking  their  ground  during  a  cup tie  in  1985 ).

Panorama   remains  BBC 's  flagship   current  affairs  programme , still  going  strong  after  63  years  and  all  the  Beeb's  top  rank  political  journalists  have  cut  their  teeth  on  it  - Dimbleby, Vine, Day , Kennedy  etc.  Its  coups  are  too  numerous  to  list  but  I  guess  the  1995  interview  with  Princess  Diana   must  top  the  bill. For  me  it  didn't  do  her  any  favours ; the  "Queen  of  People's  Hearts"  line  in  particular  showed  a  lack  of  self-awareness  that  left  her  open  to  ridicule.                

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

310 The Other One

First  viewed :  November  1977

Unlike  Citizen  Smith , this  new  sitcom  from  the  Esmonde- Larbey  team  never  really  took  flight  and  has  been  largely  forgotten. At  the  time  of  writing  it  doesn't  have  a  wikipedia  entry.

The  main  character  is  Ralph  ( Richard  Briers ) a  self-deluding  sales  rep  whose  bragging  is  an  attempt  to  disguise  that  he's  a  complete  social  failure. The  one  friend  he  manages  to  pick  up  is  decent , passive  divorcee  Brian  ( Michael  Gambon )  who's  attracted   to  his extrovert  behaviour. As  a  study  in  male  friendship  it  certainly  had  its  merits  but  was  conspicuously  short  of  belly  laughs. Gambon  recounts  that  one  BBC  exec  asked  him  if  there  was  going  to  be  anything  funny  in  a  forthcoming  episode.

The  series  provided  Gambon  , a  highly  regarded  Shakespearean  actor , with  his  first  regular  TV  role  since  The  Borderers , nearly  a  decade  earlier   but   household  name  status  was  still  some  way  off.  The  Other  One  survived  for  a  second  series  in  1979  but  it  remained  in  the  shadows.

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

309 Citizen Smith

First  viewed :  3  November  1977

From  quiet  beginnings  this  John  Sullivan  sitcom  became  must-see  TV  and , unlike  one  of  his  other  creations,  left  you wanting  more  when  it  finished.

Citizen  Smith   was  first  tried  out  as  a  pilot  episode  in  the  Comedy  Special  strand  in  1976  which  I  never  saw  but  I  caught  the  first  episode  proper  when  it  replaced  Happy  Ever  After  in  the  post-Top  of  the  Pops  slot.    

Wolfie  Smith  ( Robert  Lindsay ) is  an  unemployed  layabout  who  imagines  that  he  is  destined  to  lead  a  popular  uprising  through  his  Tooting  Popular  Front   which  currently  has  a  membership  of  four, himself  , religion-sampling  brother  Ken  ( Mike  Grady ) , sex-crazed  but  timid  Tucker  ( Bruce  Milan )  and  brainless  thug  Speed ( George  Sweeney ) .  Wolfie  is  supported  by  his  sensible  girlfriend   Shirley  ( Cheryl  Hall, Lindsay's  real-life  wife  at  the  time  )  whose  father  Charles  Johnson ( Peter  Vaughan )   is  appalled  by  him  while  his  scatter-brained  wife  Florence  ( Hilda  Braid ) is  secretly  rather  fond  of  him. The  TPF's  headquarters  is  the  local  pub  which  is  also  frequented  by  crocodilian  local  underworld  chief  Harry  Fenning  ( Stephen  Grief ).  Wolfie's  attempts  to  bring  the  revolution  on  always  come  to  grief  through  his  ineptitude  or  self-delusion.

Over  the  four  series  there  were  some  cast  changes. Peter  Vaughan  left  at  the  end  of  the  series  2  to  be  replaced  by  Tony  Steedman  who  was  inferior  but  then  anyone  would  be. Hall  also  left  at  that  point  with  the  character  moving  to  Spain  which  was  a  major  plus. She  was  an  attractive  presence  but  Shirley  acted  as  a  brake  on  Wolfie's  schemes  and  the  storylines  got  much  more  entertaining  once  she'd  gone.  Grief  left  at  the  end  of  series  3  to  be  replaced   by  the  charmless  Ronnie  Lynch  ( David  Garfield ). I  missed  Harry  but  Ronnie's  wife  Mandy's  attraction  to  Wolfie  did  lead  to  some  interesting  developments.

I  watched  Citizen  Smith  with  as  much  relief  as   amusement  initially. Thanks  to  my  mum's  indoctrination  my  biggest  fear  for  the  future  was  the  possible  coming  to  power  of  one  Anthony  Wedgewood  Benn. Benn was  the  hypocritcal  aristocrat*  who  would  establish  a  Marxist  dictatorship  under  himself  at  the  first  opportunity  and  deny  me  the  comforting  prospect  of  rising  above  the  bullies  at  school  in  later  life. While  others  at  the  time  fretted  about  nuclear  war  I  feared  the  challenge  to  the  meritocratic  order. So  Citizen  Smith   was  something  of  a  comfort  blanket  to  me, dissecting  the  hypocrisy  and  absurdity  of  the  British  left  and  perhaps , by  exposing  it  to  ridicule,  reduce its  chances  of  coming  to  power.

There  were  many  highlights  of  the  series. The  best  episode  came  at  the  end  of  series  3  when   the  TPF's  acquired  a  tank  and  stormed  an  empty  Commons,  this  coming  after  the  destruction  of  the  Johnsons'  garden  gnomes  by  machine  gun  fire. The  best  individual  moment  came  when  Ken  converted  to  Hare  Krishna  and  started   chanting  it  out  loud  in  the  pub  and  then  Tucker  started  harmonising  with  "Harry  Fenning !  Harry  Fenning!  "  as  the  gangster  approached.

As  I  said  above,   the  series  went  out  on  a  high  in  Easter  1980  when  Wolfie  had  to  leave  town  because  Ronnie  caught  him  in  bed  with  Mandy. Lindsay  wanted  to  take  on  more  serious  roles . I  missed  the  one-off  Christmas  special  that  year (  the  storyline  was  set  before  Wolfie's  departure )  because  I  was  staying  at  Mankinholes  Youth  Hostel  that  night .I  long  mourned  it  and  watched  the  series  again  when  repeated  in  1992  though  I  was  inevitably  disappointed  that  the  most  memorable  scenes  were  still  the  best  ones  and  what  came  in  between  was  humdrum.

In  September   this  year   Lindsay  expressed  his  support  for  reviving  the  series  in  the  light  of  Jeremy  Corbyn's  victory  but  quickly  backtracked  when  he  realised  how  opposed  the  now-deceased  Sullivan's  family  were  to  the  idea.

* Benn's   aristocratic  background  was   wildly  exaggerated by  the  press . His  grandfather  was  middle  class  and  his  father  was  ennobled  for  political  services  during  the  war. However  it  was  true  that  he  was  a  wealthy  man  who  sent  his  children  to  public  school.

Sunday, 27 December 2015

308 Man From Atlantis

First  viewed  :  Autumn  1977

The  latest  addition  to  the  super-hero  action  series  proliferating  in  the  late  seventies,  Man  From  Atlantis  was  scheduled  against  Dr  Who  on  the  Beeb.   Not  so  much  jiggle-TV  as  bulge-TV, it  starred  young  Patrick  Duffy   usually   in  nothing  more  than  a  pair  of  wet  shorts.   He  was  Marc  Harris, last  survivor  of  the  lost  city  of  Atlantis  with  webbed  feet, gills  , superhuman  strength  and  the  ability  to  dive  to  great  depths. After  being  washed  up  on  a  beach  he  hooked  up  with  a  government  agency  to  work  in  the  oceans  against  aliens  and  mad  scientist  Dr  Schubert ( Victor  Buono ).

We  didn't  watch  it  regularly  and  I  only  remember  one  episode  with  any  clarity, the  one  where  Marc  is  somehow  transported   to  medieval  Verona  and  finds  himself  in  the  middle  of  Romeo  and  Juliet  , adopted  by  the  Montague  family.  I  must  shamefully  admit  that  my  first  acquaintance  with  the   main  plot  of  the  play  came  from  that.

Like  The  Invisible  Man    it  only  lasted  for  one  series  which  incorporated  four  TV  movies   as  well  as  the  customary   thirteen  45- minute  episodes. Duffy  of  course  would  move  on  to  a  much  more  famous  role  which  would  again  involve  him  getting  wet   in  one  of  TV's  most  notorious  scenes.

Saturday, 26 December 2015

307 Target

First  viewed  :  9  September  1977

My  memory  didn't  let  me  down  on  this  one. It  did  arrive  in  the  same  week  as  Secret  Army  and,  as  an  interesting  bit  of  trivia,  the  lead  female  character  in  both  series  was  called  L  Colbert  ( Louise  in  this  case ).  This  was  another  rite  of  passage  series  for  me. It  was  the  first  post-watershed  series  I  watched  alone , my  mum  no  longer  being  bothered  how  late  I  stayed  up  on  a  Friday,  and , in  the  second  episode,  presented  me  with  the  first  pair  of  naked  female  breasts  I'd  seen  since  babyhood.

So  who  was  the  luscious  lovely  who  helped  move  on  my  sexual  education ? Err  , middle-aged  Hilary  Crane,  best  known  for  playing  Tucker  Jenkins'  mum  in  Grange  Hill. who    flashed  them  in  a  vain  attempt  to  distract  cuckolded  husband  Ron  Pember  ( Alain  in  Secret  Army )  from  emptying  a  pan  of  boiling  water  on  her. It's  a  shame  that  they  didn't  swap  it  round  with  the  next  episode  in  which  case  my  first  glimpsed  pair  would  have  been  those  belonging  to  the  much  more  interesting   Katy  Manning, Dr  Who's  Jo  Grant   in  a  powerful  performance  as  a  desperate  junkie. Sadly,  Pamela  Stephenson  in  episode  9  stayed  under  wraps.

Apart  from  the  above  and  a  nifty  theme  tune   there's  no  reason  to  recall  Target  with  much  affection. It  was  an  over-violent  rip-off  of  The  Sweeney  which  had  Mary  Whitehouse  foaming  at  the  mouth. In  a  rare  triumph  she  managed  to  get  the  first  series  curtailed  to   nine  episodes  and  the  second  series  was  noticeably  toned  down.

It  was  set  in  Southampton, the  base  for  a  regional  crime  squad, and  some  of  the  storylines  started  with  a  ship  docking. The  main  problem  lay  with  the  regular  cast. The  lead  character  Detective  Superintendent  Steve  Hackett  ( which  no  doubt  caused  the  soon-to-be-ex-Genesis  guitarist  some  amusement )  was  played  by  Patrick  Mower  , a  charmless  actor  at  the  best  of  times  but  completely  repellent  here  as  a  sneering , violent, bullying  poseur  in  a  string  of  vile  jackets. You  shouldn't  be  watching  cop  shows  and  wanting  the  "hero"  to  get  a  right  pasting  but  that  was  always  the  case  with  Hackett. His  colleagues  weren't   much  better  ; his   leather-jacketed  subordinate  Bonny ( Brendan  Prince )   was  a  trainee  version  of  the  same  type   while  Philip  Madoc's  performance  as  his  boss  was   just  dreadful. He  looked  embarrassed  to  be  there  and  delivered  many  of  his  lines  turning  away  from  the  camera  and  mumbling  into  his  chest. Where  Target  might  have  scored   over  The  Sweeney  was  in  having  a  regular  female  member  of  the  team  but  alas  Vivien  Heilbron's  Det-Sgt  Colbert  was  an  impassive  cipher  accepting  Hackett's  sexism  and  bullying  without  protest  and  never  became  an  interesting  character.

The  series  had  a  bleak  cynical  outlook  , usually  filmed  in  the  dingiest  settings  available , which  at  least  reflected   the  times   but  you  missed  the  humour  in  The  Sweeney  which  had  some  semi-comic  episodes  to  lighten  the  tone. There  was   the  odd  attempt  at  banter  between  Bonny  and  Colbert  which  always  fell  flat  on  its  face  because  the  pairing  had  zero  screen  chemistry.

 There  was  as  stated  a  second  series  of  eight  episodes  and  plans  for  a  third  which  were  scrapped  and  resources  diverted  into  Shoestring  instead.  The  first  series  was  repeated  on  a  satellite  channel  in  1990  but  the  second  has  never  been  aired  since  and  the  BBC  have  so  far  resisted  calls  to  release  a  DVD.

Mower's  career  never  recovered  from  the  series'  poor  reception. There  were  no  more  star  vehicles  just  guest  star  roles  in  the  likes  of  Bergerac   then  a  big  gap   in  his  c.v. from  a  few  appearances  on  Countdown  in  1987  to  a  humiliating  appearance  on  Fantasy  Football  League  in  1994  because,  if  memory  serves,  David  Baddiel  had  discovered  him  trying  to  flog  watches  at  his  mum's  golf  club.  After  Baddiel  and  Skinner  had  royally  ripped  into  him  as  a  washed-up  has-been , he  appeared  at  the  end  of  the  programme  with  a  case  full  of  watches  to  sell  to  the  audience. Game  for  a  laugh  or  plain  desperate  to  get  his  face  back  on  the  box ?  You  decide. Since  2001  of  course  he's  been  part  of  the  regular  cast  in  Emmerdale    whose  casting  people  seem  to  have  a  penchant  for  picking  up  the  flotsam  from  previous  decades.

Madoc  did  manage  to  turn  things  around  after  playing  the  title  role  in  The  Life  and  Times  of  David  Lloyd  George  in  1981  and  eventually  got  his  own  detective  series  with  the  Welsh-set  A  Mind  To  Kill  in  1994.  He  was  still  working  shortly  before  his  death  in  2012.  Prince    remains  an   anonymous  jobbing  actor  while  Heilbron  now  combines  acting  with  some  lecturing  at  Cambridge  University.

Friday, 25 December 2015

306 Secret Army

First  viewed  :  7  September  1977

This  is  another  series  that  I  started  watching  alone  although  Mum  and  Helen  eventually  bought  into  it.  I enjoyed  catching  up  with  it  on  Yesterday  channel  a  few  years  back.

It  was  a  joint  Anglo-Belgian  production  - though  the  cast  was  Belgian-free - about  a  fictional  resistance  movement  Lifeline   during  World  War  Two  dedicated  to  returning  shot-down  British  airmen  to  Britain. It  ran  for  three  series, the  last  of  which  covered  the  end  of  the  war  and  its  aftermath. It  was  created   by  Gerard  Glaister  who  himself  served  in  the  RAF  during  the  war   and  had  previously  produced  P.O.W.  drama  Colditz.

Lifeline  was  initially  run  by  a  young  woman  Lisa  Colbert  ( Jan  Francis  though  I  didn't  recognise  it  was  the  same  girl  from  The  Long  Chase  )  who  worked  as  a  nurse. The  principal  safe  house  was  a  humdrum  cafe  in  Brussels,  The  Candide  run  by  Albert  Foiret  ( Bernard  Hepton   who  played  the  camp  commandant  in  Colditz )  aided  by  his  mistress  Monique  ( Angela  Richards ). Other  helpers  were  stunning  nurse  Natalie  ( Juliet  Hammond-Hill )  and  radio  operating  farmer  Alain  ( Ron  Pember ).  Their  adversaries  were   decent  Luftwaffe  man  Brandt ( Michael  Culver )  and  icy  Gestapo   chief  Kessler  ( Clifford  Rose  who  played  a  similar  nasty  in  Callan  ) .

Secret  Army  very  effectively  highlighted  the  bravery  and  stomach-knotting  tension  involved  in  such  work  and  was  quite  intense  for  a  pre-watershed  show. In  common  with  much  drama  around  this  period  it  didn't  trouble  to  make  its  characters  particularly  likable. Albert  was  carrying  on  with  Monique  with  an  invalid  wife  upstairs   and  both  the  British  spies  who  came  over  to  assist,  Curtis  ( Christopher  Neame ) and   Bradley  ( Paul  Shelley ) were  insufferably  arrogant. Sometimes  Lifeline  had  to  be  as  ruthless  as  the  Germans , killing  a  young  mother  and  even  one  of  the  air  pilots  themselves  when  their  security  was  compromised.

Secret  Army   reflected  the  dangers  of  the  situation  with  a  high  mortality  rate   among  the  cast.  Lisa  died , ironically  as  a  result  of  an  Allied  bombing  raid,  at the  start  of  the  second  series  when  Jan  Francis  decided  to  quit  and  Brandt  committed  suicide  at  the  other  end  of  Series  2  when  implicated  in  a  plot  against  Hitler.  After  Lisa's  death  Albert , now  running  a  restaurant  patronised  by  the  Germans  took  over  the  operation  but  it  now  faced  a  new  threat  from  the  Belgian  communists  who  placed  their  own  man  Max  ( the  ubiquitous  Stephen  Yardley ) in  the  organisation  but  working  to  a  different  agenda. I  didn't  like  that  development  or  the  losses  of  Lisa  and  Curtis  who  had  to  flee  Belgium  at  the  end  of  the  first  series  and  largely  dropped  out  of  the  second   which  ended  with   Albert  rumbling  Max  and  arranging  his  death.

I  returned  for  the  third  series  where  Monique  took  over  the  organisation  from  Albert  who  was  in  prison  for  the  suspected  murder  of  his  wife, a  false  accusation  levelled  by  the  vengeful  communists. Brandt  was  replaced  by  Rheinhardt   ( Terence  Hardiman )  a  cynical  but  equally  decent  officer  who  finally  succeeded  in  uncovering  Lifeline  just  as  the  Allies  moved  into  the  city. Kessler  in  the  meantime  developed  a  relationship  with  a  Belgian  woman  Madeline  which  softened  his  character  a  little  but  not  enough  to  forgive  the  writers  for  letting  him  escape  justice  in  the  final  episode. The  last  few  episodes  concerned  the  liberation  of  the  city   and  its  aftermath  which  proved  the  danger  wasn't  over  yet  for  any  of  the  characters.

Mention  should  also  be  made  of  the  great  title  sequence  with  its  ominous  tracking  shots  of  the  Belgian  countryside  at  night   and  a  theme  tune  from  Canadian  composer  Robert  Farnon  that  was  appropriately  full  of  dread.

The  series  finished  at  the  end  of  1979  although  there  was  a  sequel  which  we'll  come  to  in  due  course.  Great  though  it  was  it's  hard  now  to  disassociate  it  from   Allo  Allo.  I  have  to  admit  I  enjoyed  that   too,  at  least  for  a  while  but  I  think  it's  a  shame  the  Beeb  allowed  one  of  its  own  great  creations  to  be  parodied  so  closely.


Thursday, 24 December 2015

305 The Dick Emery Show

First  viewed  :  September   1977

I  knew  who  Dick  Emery  was  from  Mike  Yarwood  impressions  and  trailers  but  I  don't  think  I  saw  his  show  until  1977.

Dick's  show  was  sketch-based  with  him  playing  a  number  of  grotesque  characters  both  male  and  female.  I  liked  the  buck-toothed  vicar  and  remember  one  particularly  funny  sketch  where  he  was  having  a  pre-marital  interview  with  a  young  couple  and  the  guy  kept  using  rude  words  in  an  innocent  context   - "Oh  dear  I  keep  making  these  dreadful  boobs ! "  causing  much  tea-spluttering  outrage.

Much  of  the  humour  revolved  around  sexual  innuendo   though  there  was  also  the  great   double  act  with  Roy  Kinnear   which  was  more  slapstick-based. They  were  a  father -son  pairing  whose  attempts  at  petty  villainy  were  always  scuppered  by  the  imbecility  of  young  Gaylord  , played   convincingly  by  Emery  although  he  was  nearly  twenty  years  older  than  Kinnear.

For  all  the  cross-dressing  Emery  was  actually  as  straight  as  they  come  and  had  four  children  from  five  marriages. He  got  tired  of  the  show  in  1981   and  started  a  couple  of  new  ventures  the  following  year  which  were  scuppered  by  his  death  at  67  at  the  beginning  of  1983.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

304 The World of Pam Ayres

First  viewed : Autumn  1977

Two  years  after  appearing  on  Opportunity  Knocks  one  of  the  decade's  most  unlikely  stars  got  her  own  TV  show.

Pam  Ayres   started  her  career  in  the WRAF   but  started  writing  poetry  and  reading  it  out  on  local  radio  in  the  early  seventies. After  appearing  on  Opportunity  Knocks  she   was  regularly  on  TV  reading  her innuendo-laden  verse  delivered  in  a  possibly  exaggerated  rustic  accent  through  the  side  of  her  mouth  Jonathan King  style. The  effect  was  heightened by  her  mumsy  church  mouse  appearance. I  remember  enjoying  the  show  which  featured  other  comedians  as  guests  but  it  only  lasted  for  one  thirteen  week  series.

After  that   I  completely  lost  sight  of  her  and  prior  to  ten  minutes  ago  thought  she  might  have  been  dead. I  don't  read  poetry  so  it's  no  great  surprise  that  she's  continued  writing  but  all  her  radio  shows  and  appearances  on  Countdown  and  QI  have  somehow  escaped  me.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

303 Rising Damp

First  viewed  : 1977

This  was  well  into  its  run  by   the  time  I  caught  it  but  it  was  one  of   ITV's  most  popular  comedies .

Leonard  Rossiter  was  the  appalling  Rigsby  , an  ignorant  scruffy  miser  clinging  to  the  sliver  of  respectability  attached  to  being  the  landlord  of  some  dingy  bedsits  in  Leeds. His  tenants,   , barring  fly-by-night  guest  stars , were  naive   medical  student  Alan  ( Richard  Beckinsale  playing  a  character  pretty  indistinguishable  from  Godber ) , educated  black  man  Philip  ( Don  Warrington )  and  self-deceiving  spinster  Miss  Jones  ( Frances  de  la  Tour ), a  minor  college  bureaucrat.

I  don't  remember  all  that  much  about  it  apart  from  being  rather  mystified, now  that  I  was  becoming  interested  in  such  things ,  by  why  Rigsby  should  be   so  avidly   pursuing  Miss  Jones . The  skinny,  horse-faced  de  la  Tour  must  be  the  least  attractive  woman  ever  cast  in  a  sex  object  role, comedy  or  not.

The  series  ended  in  1978  but  a  feature  film  was  made  in  1980. In  the   time  between  them    of  course  Beckinsale  had  died  of  a  heart  attack  at  the  shockingly  early  age  of  31   and  his  part  went  to  Christopher  Strauli  playing  a  slightly  different  character.  Rossiter   died  in  1984, itself  a  shock  as  the  57  year  old  maintained  a  rigorous  fitness  regime. De  la  Tour  is  still  a  busy  actress  with  awards  for  work  both  on  screen  and  on  stage. Warrington,  the  youngest  cast  member,  had  variable  fortunes  in  the  next  couple  of  decades , landing  regular  roles  in  Triangle, C.A.T.S. Eyes  and  Grange  Hill   but  largely dropping  out  of  view  in  the  years   between  them. In  this  millennium,  he's  been  much  more  visible  with  appearances  on  Grumpy  Old  Men  and  Strictly  Come  Dancing   alongside  a  steady  stream  of  acting  work.

Monday, 21 December 2015

302 The Krypton Factor

First  viewed  :  Autumn  1977

This  game  show  first  arrived  in  September  1977  in  the  pre-Coronation  Street  timeslot  on  a  Wednesday  evening. It  was  a  Granada  TV  production.

The  Krypton  Factor   marketed  itself  as  Britain's  "toughest  quiz" . It  aimed  to  find  Supermen  and  Superwomen  by  testing  various  facets  of  human  ability . The   format   was  tweaked   from  time  to  time  over  its  original  run  but  the  most  enduring  features  were  as  follows :

  • A  physical  ability  test  set  on  an  army  assault  course  for  which  female  and  older  contestants  were  given  a  head  start. Although  unknown  to  me  at  the  time,  the  course  was  situated  not  too  far  away  from  me  at  Holcombe  Moor  and  I  live  even  closer  to  it  now.
  • An  observation  test  based  on  a  film  clip ,which  climaxed  with  an  identity  parade  where  contestants  had  to  decide  who  was  the  third  pedestrian  to  walk  by  in  the  background  from  a  selection  of  identical-looking  candidates.
  • A  mental  agility  test  usually  based  on  memorising  a  sequence.
  • An  intelligence  test   devised  by  a  Maths  professor  from  Manchester  University  where  contestants  had  to  re-assemble  a  shape   from  its  constituent  blocks
  • A  quickfire  general  knowledge  test   which  concluded  the  programme.
The  points  gained  by  the  four  contestants  on  each  round  went  towards  their  score  or  "krypton  factor"  and  the  winner  went  through  to  a  semi-final.

The  host  throughout  the  original  18  year  run  was   news  reporter  and  anchor  man   Gordon  Burns  who  was  genial  when  facing   the  audience  but  tough and  inflexible  in  his  dealings  with  the  contestants.

I  never  really  liked  it  because  it  made  me  feel  inadequate  but  some  of  that   response   was  artificially  created. For  example , the  intelligence  test   often  took  the  contestants  nearly  twenty  minutes  to  complete  rather  than  the  edited  two  on  screen.   

In  1995  the  show  was  pulled  after  a  major  re-vamp  was  though  not  to  have  worked  but   inevitably  there  was  a  revival  with  Ben  Shepherd  which  lasted  two  years  from  2009  to  2010  which  passed  me  by.

On  the  theme  of  me  not  noticing  things , I  was  going  to  conclude  by  saying  that  we  in  the  north  west  still  get  to  see  Burns  as  co-host  of  the  BBC's  regional  news  programme  but  it  turns  out  he  retired  four  years  ago  !  

Sunday, 20 December 2015

301 Robbie

First  watched : Uncertain

I  didn't  watch  too   much  of  this  because  I  hated  it.

"Robbie"  was  Fyfe  Robertson, a  weird,  gaunt-looking  bloke  with  an  aggravatingly  over-enunciated  Scottish  accent. He  dressed  like  an  Edwardian  laird , surely  the  inspiration  for  beyond-irritating  racing  pundit  John  McCririck,  but  at  least  had  the  excuse  of   being   born  into  that  era  , already  in  his  seventies  when  the  first  of  his  four  short  series  was  aired  in  1973.

I  had  no  idea  who  this  professional  eccentric , roaming  around  Britain  like  a  geriatric  Alan  Whicker, was,  but  he  had  a  long  background  in  serious  journalism  prior  to  appearing  before  the  cameras  in  Tonight   ( the  precursor  of  Nationwide   in  the  late  fifties  /early  sixties ; Whicker  also  cut  his  teeth  on  the  programme ).

There  was  a  whiff  of  self-indulgence  about  the  programme  - one  episode  allowed  him  to  foam  at  the  mouth  about  modern  art  -  but  I  guess  he'd  earned  it. The  final  series  in  1980  consisted  of  Fyfe  dropping  in  on  other  examples  of  the  active  elderly  such  as  ghastly  "novelist"  Barbara  Cartland  and  catering  tycoon  Charles  Forte.

Robertson  died  in  1987  aged  84.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

300 The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau

Image result for the undersea world of jacques cousteau
Image result for the undersea world of jacques cousteau

First watched : Uncertain

I'd  have  placed  this  a  bit  earlier  but  it  turns  out  it  didn't  occupy  the  Sunday  teatime  slot  I  recall  until  1977.

The  Undersea  World  of  Jacques  Cousteau  was  a  documentary  series  highlighting   marine  biodiversity  through  the  explorations  of  French  diver  and  film-maker  Jacques   Cousteau  from  his  boat  the  Calypso. Though  the  grizzled  ex-naval  officer  spoke excellent  English  he  was  not  particularly  gregarious  and  the  series  employed   a  voiceover  narration  by  actor  Richard  Johnson.

Though  I  was  interested  in  the  subject  matter  I  never  found  the  programme  particularly  illuminating  but  it  was  clearly  popular  as  it  ran  for  seven  years  between  1968  and  1975  and  made  Cousteau's  name  synonymous  with  scuba  diving. You  do  suspect  that  the  series'  appeal  had  as  much  to  do  with  the  exotic  locations  as  the  issues  covered.

Cousteau's  work  continued  unabated  after  the  series  finished. In  1996  he  sued  his  own  son  for  using  the  Cousteau  name  for  a  holiday  resort  in  Fiji. He  died  the  following  year  aged  87.    

Thursday, 17 December 2015

299 World in Action

First  watched : Uncertain

I  don't  know  when  I  first  caught  ITV's  flagship  current  affairs  programme; perusing  a  list  of  the  episodes  on  imdb  the  first  one  that  I  know  for  certain  I  saw  was  broadcast  on  4th  July  1977.

That  was  entitled  "The  Very  Public  Death  of  Enrico  Sidoli"  and  highlighted  the  difficulties  the  police  were  having  investigating  the  death  of  a  15  year  old  autistic  boy  from  injuries  sustained  during  a  bullying  attack  in  the  crowded  Parliament  Hill  Lido  in  London  the  year  before. The  police  described  meeting  a  "wall  of  silence"  from  the  local  community  during  their  investigation.  It  was  quite  frightening. The  case  was  featured  again  in  a  BBC  Schools  programme  in  1982  and  as  far  as  I'm  aware  the  crime  remains  unsolved. I  wonder  what  Enrico's  family  think  when  they  hear  the  latest  development  in  the  never-ending  Steven  Lawrence  saga.

World  in  Action  had  been  going  since  1963  and  been  the  subject  of  frequent  controversy  as you  would  expect  of  a  series  based  on  investigative  journalism  but  it  usually  ended  up  being  vindicated  as  with  The  Poulson  Affair.  It  had  its  own  brash  style  , pitching  you  straight  into the  story  without  an  onscreen  presenter  and  using  various  attention-grabbing  visual  techniques  to  hold  the  viewer's   attention.

It  also  had  the  most  terrifying  title  sequence  of  any  TV  programme  with  that  descending  organ  tune - still  the  subject  of  a  copyright    dispute -  and   the  use  of  da  Vinci's  Vitruvian  Man  which  looks  disturbingly  occult  ( though  it  actually  isn't ).

I  watched  it  on  and  off  over  the  years. Though  no  doubt  compulsory  viewing  for  politicians  and  journalists ,  I  think  the  sheer  breadth  of  the  subjects  covered  prevented  it  becoming  appointment  TV - for  me  at  least. We  would  often  watch  the  first  minute  to  see  what  it  was  about  and  then  change  channels.

World  in  Action  was  the  flagship  programme  from  the  golden  age  of   Granada  Television. When  ITV  had  its  big  franchise   shake-up  in  1992  (  you  will  note  a  steep  decline  in  the  number  of  ITV  programmes  featuring  here  from  that  time  on )   there  were  many  publicly-expressed  fears  that  the  series  was  under  threat ,  particularly  after  its  chief  defender,  David  Plowright   chairman  of  Granada  Television , was  ousted  by  Granada's  catering  arm  in  a  classic  case  of  tail  wagging  the  dog. In  the  event  the  series, protected  by  its  totemic  status ,   survived  for  another  six  years  before  it  was  finally  axed  and  replaced  by  the  anaemic  Tonight  which  has  never  been  fit  to  lace  its  boots.  

World  In  Action has  remained  hugely  influential  for  good   (e.g.  the  monumental   Seven  Up  documentary series  which  started  out  as  a  WIA  episode  )  or  bad  ( it  launched  the  career  of  the  ghastly  John  Birt )   and  will  always  feature  heavily  in  any  history  of  British  broadcasting.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

298 Winner Takes All

First  watched  : Uncertain

I  really  have  no  idea   when  I  first  saw  this  so  I  may  as  well  include  it  now,  having  noted  the  third  series  began  in  July  1977. I  mainly  associate  it  with  Friday  nights  at  my  Gran's   in  the  early  eighties  because  she  liked  it. I  preferred  game  shows  which  got  through  more  questions  rather  than   watch  people  dithering  over  how  much  to  gamble  but  this  was  still  better  than,  say , Play  Your  Cards  Right  or  Deal  Or  No  Deal.

Hosted  by  obnoxious  professional  Scouser  Jimmy  Tarbuck , the  series  combined  general  knowledge  with  gambling. The  four  contestants  were  given  50  points  to   start  with  then  multiple  choice  questions  with  odds  applied  to  each  of  the  six  possible  answers. They  gambled  with  their  points  and  received  more  according  to  the  odds  if  they  got  it  right. Otherwise  they  lost  their  stake. The  winners  of  two  earlier  rounds  faced  each  other in  a  final  played  for  cash . The  one  with  the  most  cash  kept  it , up  to  a  maximum  of  £1,000.  

Jimbo  was  assisted  off  screen  by  the  programme's  creator  , former  Top  of  the  Form  presenter  Geoffrey  Wheeler  who  presented  the  last  series  himself  after  Tarbuck  left  the  show  in  1987. There  was  a  brief  revival  on  a  satellite  channel  in  1997  presented  by  Bobby  Davro.


Tuesday, 15 December 2015

297 Cannon

First watched : June  1977

This  U.S.  detective  series  had  already  ceased  being  made  by  the  time  I  first  caught  it  on  Saturday  evenings  but  I  thought  it  was  one  of  the  better  ones.

Frank  Cannon  was  an  ex-police  detective  in  L.A. who  becomes  a  P.I.  after  the  death  of   his  wife  and  child. He  was  played  by  William  Conrad  a  rather  portly  individual  with  a  deep  voice. like  a  cut-price  Orson  Welles. In  sharp  contrast  to  Jim  Rockford, Cannon  liked  big  cars  and   fancy  restaurants  so  tended  to  take  high  value  cases  particularly  if  the  client  was  female.

I  remember  one  episode  where  he  was  acting  for  some  girl  who'd  aggravated  a  local  cult  and  saved  her  from  a  gang  of  murderous  hippies  who  cut  her  phone  wire  and  threw  a  noose  around  her  beams. I  found  the  scene  absolutely  terrifying  and  had  no  idea  at  the  time  it  was  based  on  the  real-life  Sharon  Tate  murders.

The  series  ran  for  124  episodes  between  1971  and  1976. Conrad  went  on  to star  in  two  more  TV  series  Nero  Wolfe  and  Jake  and  the  Fatman  ( neither  of  which  mean  anything  to  me )  and  a  lot  of  voiceover  work  before  his  death  in  1994  aged  73.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

296 The European Cup Final

First  watched : 25  May  1977

The  1977  European  Cup  Final  was  another  milestone  in  my  engagement  with  football, the  second  full  match  I  ever  watched.

It  was  Liverpool's  first  appearance  in  the  Final  and  they  were  playing  just  four  days  after  being  defeated  by  Manchester  United  in  the  FA  Cup  Final. They  were  the  third  English  club  to  reach  the  Final  after  United's  victory  in  1968  and  Leeds'  controversial  defeat  in  1975. They  were  playing  the  German  side  Borussia  Monchengladbach  in  Rome. The  match  was  also  going  to  be  significant  as  Kevin  Keegan's  last  appearance  for  Liverpool  as  negotiations  for  his  move  to  the  German  club  SV  Hamburg  were  now  public  knowledge.

Although  Keegan  didn't  score  in  the  game  he  was  probably  man  of  the  match  leading  perennial  fall  guy  Berti  Vogts  who  was  marking  him,  a  merry  dance. The  moment  I  remember  best  is  veteran  hatchet  man  Tommy  Smith  putting  Liverpool  back  in  front  from  a  corner  and  commentator  Barry  Davies's   delighted  surprise  at  this  unlikely  scorer.  The  match  ended  3-1  to  Liverpool  and  began  a  long  run  of  unbroken  English  success  in  the  competition  involving  three  different  clubs.

Keegan  was  not  the  only  player  whose  Liverpool  career  was  coming  to  an  end.  His  usual  strike  partner  John  Toshack  was  felt  not  to  have  recovered  sufficiently  from  injury  for  the  game  and  only  made  five  appearances  the  following  season  before  being  allowed  to  join  Swnsea  City  as  player-manager. His  replacement  on  the  bench  Alan  Waddle  left  for  Leicester  in  the  summer  and  another  unused  sub  Alec  Lindsay  went  to   Stoke. Reserve  goalkeeper  Peter  McDonnell  left  for  Oldham  a  few  months  later  having  never  made  a  League  appearance  for  the  Reds.  Smith  had  planned  to  make  the  match  his  last  but  was  persuaded  to  continue  and  made  another  34  appearances  before  joining  Toshack  at  Swansea .

The  game  was  probably  the  pinnacle  of  Borussia  Monchengladbach's  1970s  heyday   although  they  won  the  UEFA  Cup  two  years  later. In  the  eighties  they  slipped  back, unable  to  compete  financially  with  the  likes  of  Bayern  Munich  and  haven't  regained  their  former  standing  since.

Liverpool  retained  the  trophy  the  following  year,  having  the  advantage  of  playing  at  Wembley  against  Belgian  champions  FC  Bruges.  Ray  Clemence   was  a  virtual  spectator  in  that  game  as  the  Belgians  camped  in  their  own  half   although  he  needed  to  rescue  the  situation  after  a  bad  back  pass  from  young  centre  half  Alan  Hansen  after  eighty  minutes. Kenny  Dalglish  scored the  only  goal  with  a  chip  over  the  keeper  from  a  tight  angle.  Record  appearance  holder  Ian  Callaghan  was  an  unused  sub  for  the  game   before  he  too  went  to  Swansea.  

Liverpool  only  qualified  for  the  following  year  as  holders, having  lost  the  domestic  title  to  Brian  Clough's  Nottingham  Forest. As  Forest  had  no  European  pedigree  they  weren't  seeded  and  so  conceivably  could  be  drawn  against  Liverpool. That's  exactly  what  happened  and  Clough  outwitted  Paisley  to  see  Forest  through  2-0  on  aggregate.  That  hurdle  negotiated  Forest  went  through  to  the  Final  after  surviving  a  real  wobble  in  the  semis  against  FC  Cologne. Their  unlikely  opponents  were  Sweden's  Malmo  FC  managed  by  Englishman  Roy  Hoghton  who  had  somehow  scraped  their  way  through.

Malmo  played  as  defensively  as  Bruges  the  year  before  but  Forest  had  an  ace  up  their  sleeve  in  £1,000,000  man   (  how  quaint  that  seems  now  ) Trevor  Francis  making  his  European  debut. I  remember  my  Mum   thrilling  to  one  of  his  runs  and  my  retorting  "Well  you  don't  pay  a  million  pounds  for  nothing !"  Francis  duly  stamped  his  mark  on  the  competition  by  settling  the  game  with  a  headed  goal  from  a  John  Robertson  cross.

The  following  season  Forest  got  to  the  Final  again  with  Dinamo  Tibilisi  removing  Liverpool  ( who  had  regained  the  title  in  emphatic  fashion ) . Now  featuring  former  Leeds  man  Frank  Gray  at  left  back, desperate  to  make  up  for  the  disappointment  of  five  years  earlier,  Forest  faced  SV  Hamburg  including  Kevin  Keegan. To  be  honest  I  don't  recall  much  of  the  match  which  was  settled  by  a  John  Robertson  goal  in  the  first  half. Forest's   veteran  striker   John  O' Hare  made  his  last  appearance  as  a  substitute  in  the  Final.

I  can't  remember  who  ended  Forest's  run  in  the  competition  in  1980-81   but  it  wasn't  either  of  the  Finalists,  Liverpool  and  Real  Madrid.  Liverpool  won  with  a goal  from  Alan  Kennedy  but  deep  into  revision  for  my  O  Levels  I  didn't  watch   the  game.

Liverpool  didn't  make  it  to  the  next  Final  but  we  were  represented  by  1980-81's  surprise  domestic  champions  Aston  Villa. I  watched  this  one with  great  trepidation  feeling  sure  England's  run  would  be  over  now. Villa  had  little  European  experience, had  made  a  poor  defence  of  their  title  finishing  ninth  in  the  League  and  had  lost  their  manager  Ron  Saunders  just  a couple  of  months  earlier. My  fears  increased  when  goalkeeper  Jimmy  Rimmer  had  to  come  off  after  10 minutes  and  be  replaced  by  Nigel  Spink  making  only  his  second  appearance  for  the  club. He  held  his  nerve  though , and his  place  in  the  side  for  the  next  decade, and  Villa  won  1-0  with  a  headed  goal  from  Peter  Withe.    

But  all  good  things  come  to  an  end  and  neither  Liverpool  nor  Villa  made  it  to  the  Final  in  1983  so  I  had  no  interest  in  watching  that  one. Liverpool   made  the  next  one  which  they  won  via  a  penalty  shoot-out  when  Bruce  Grobbelaar  did  his  famous  wobbly  legs  routine. I was  at  University  by  then  and  I  have  a  feeling  I  only  caught  the  tail  end  of  that  one.  I  have  a  feeling  that  the  following  year  I  walked  out  of  the  room  before  the  game  itself  had  begun  having  seen  enough  with  the  violence  at  the  Heysel  Stadium. Liverpool  lost  the  game  and  English  clubs  had  to  sit  out  European  competition  for  the  next  five  years.    

The  next  one  I  watched  was  the  1991  final  between  Red  Star  Belgrade  and  Marseilles. I  had  become  captivated  by  Yugoslavia  after  their  performance  in  the  1990  World  Cup  and  they  seemed  to  be  the  coming  nation  with  players  like  Prosinecki, Pancev  and  Savicevic  all  of  whom  were  in  the  Red  Star  line  up.  Red  Star  had  further  endeared   themselves  to  me  with  their  utter  demolition  of  Rangers  in  the  Second  Round. Marseilles  ironically  had  the  greatest  Yugoslav  player  of  all  in  Dragan  Stojkovic  though  he  was  so  doubtful  through  injury  that  he  only  appeared  as   an  extra-time  substitute. Unfortunately  Red  Star  decided  their  best  tactic  was  playing  for  penalties  from  the  first  minute  and  the  game  was  a  crushing  bore   decided  by  Pancev's  nerveless  penalty  in  the  shoot-out. Then  the  reason  why  Yugoslavia  under-achieved  internationally  became  all  too  obvious  as  ethnic  tensions  tore  the  country  apart and  that  great  team  was  rent  asunder. The  successor  nations  have  had  their  moments  but  none  have  ever  looked  strong  enough   to  really  challenge  for  the  big  prizes. Stojkovic  sadly  wasted  the  latter  part  of  his  career  playing  second  rate  football  in  Japan   and  remains  there  as  a  successful  manager.

After  the  1992  Final  of  course  things   changed  completely. I  don't  consider  the  Champions  League  to  be  a  continuation  of  the  European  Cup   so  that  will  have  to  come  later.