Tuesday, 31 March 2015

125 Star Trek

First  watched :  1973

From  Dr  Who  it  was  a  natural  leap  to  the  other  regular  sci-fi  programme  on  BBC1, once  it  had  moved  from  Mondays  to  Fridays  and  no  longer  clashed  with  Coronation  Street.  

Star  Trek  of  course  was  already  old  by  this  time  having  been  cancelled  in  1969  and  its  Peace  Corps  optimism  with  William  Shatner's  Captain  Kirk  as  JFK  substitute  seemed  all  the  more  anachronistic  as  Nixon  drowned  in  the  Watergate  scandal. Despite  that  the  show's  re-runs  were  building  a  cult  following  that  has  endured  for  decades.

I  have  to  say  I'm  not  a  fully  paid  up  Trekkie  and  thought  the  show  always  promised   more  than  it  delivered. At  50  minutes  the  episodes  were  a  touch  too  long  and  too  many  of  the  storylines  had  an  intriguing  premise  dissipating  into  woolly  moralising. I  was  also  a  bit  too  young  to  understand  the  many  literary  and  philosophical  allusions.

I  also  thought  it  was  a  bit  formulaic  with  the  characters  set  in  stone. Kirk  would  kiss  the  girl  and  grapple  with  some  knotty  ethical  dilemna,  the  alien  Spock  would  muse  over  some  conflict  between  intellect  and  emotion  and  the  blatantly  racist  Dr McCoy  would  voice  his  suspicions  about  him  while  Scotty  fretted  over  the strains  put  on  the  ship.

My  favourite  character  was  Chekov  played  by  Walter  Koenig  who  joined  in  the  second  series  to  introduce  a  younger  element  to  the  show. Koenig  was  picked  for  his  resemblance  to  Davy  Jones  of  The  Monkees. Though  very  intelligent  Chekov  was  impetuous  and  frequently  had  to  be  rescued  from  scrapes  by  the  others; as  the  token  Russian  character  he  was  never  allowed  to  be  truly  heroic.  The  BBC  seemed  to  show  episodes  from  the  three  series  in  a  random  order  so  I  could  never  be  sure  that  Chekov  was  going  to  be  in  it.  

Monday, 30 March 2015

124 Coronation Street

First  watched  :  23  April  1973

I  have  one  clear  memory  of  my  first  episode  of  Coronation  Street ( watched  with  my  gran  because  Mum  was  out  somewhere  )  which  has  enabled  me  to  date  it  precisely. Prim  Emily  Bishop  ( Eileen  Derbyshire ) took  on  a  photographic  assignment  at  a  night  club  (  run  by  a  young  and  hirsute  Paul  Freeman )  and  found  herself  taking  pictures  of  a  stripper. The  final  shot  was  of  a  dangling  bra  from  behind  with  Emily  looking  up  from  the  old-style  camera  mortified. It  was  a  rather  risque  storyline  for  the  time  but  was  indicative  of  the  soap's  bent  towards  good-natured  comedy.

Heavens , how  do  you  write  something  short-ish   and  snappy  about  this  national  institution ? It  had  already  been  running  for  13 years by  this  point with  neither  my  mum  nor  gran  catching  its  start  though  they  were  both  avid  viewers  by  the  time  I  became  aware  of  it.  A  bit  of  research  shows  that  I  watched  it  more  or  less  continuously  until  Monday  25th  April  1988  so  almost  exactly  15  years  before  a  long  break.

My  favourite  character  for  the  first  few  years  was  Ray  Langton  ( Neville  Buswell ) ,  the  jack-the-lad  builder  who  fairly  regularly  got  into  fights , about  half  of  which  he  won. He  eventually  married  Deirdre  of  course  but  despite  the  birth  of  daughter  Tracey, started  looking  elsewhere - well  you  would  to  be  honest - and  left  the  street  for  Holland  in  1978. Buswell  went  off  to  be  a  croupier  in  Las  Vegas  but  when  producers  wanted  him  to  come  back  for  an  abduction  storyline  in  1983  he  couldn't  be  found. He  eventually  did  return  in  2005  to  make  amends  with  Tracy  before  he  died  from  cancer; apart  from  odd  unintentional  snatches  that's  the  last  time   I  tuned  into  the  programme. Ray's  return  after  28  years  drew  much  comment  at  the  time  but  they've  repeated  the  trick  so  often  since  that  it's  become  predictable  and  annoyingly  self-congratulatory.

With  regard  to  Tracey  it  always  intrigued  me  that  they  put  the  baby  Christabel  Finch  in  the  cast  list   in  1977  when  she  could  hardly  have  qualified  for  an  Equity  card  at  15  days  old. She  was  in  the  show  for  6  years  until  her  parents  decided  to  move  to  Guernsey  without  even  telling  the  producers. There  was  no  way  to  tell  if  she  had  any  dramatic  talent  or  desire  to  be  an  actress  and  it  must  be  weird  for  her  to  contemplate  that  what  in  all  probability  will  be  her  greatest  fame  was  achieved  as  an  unconscious  toddler. She  did  actually  take  up  acting  and  is  now  a  drama  teacher  in  Australia.

My  most  hated  character  was  undoubtedly  Mavis  Riley,  the  nervy  virgin  at  the  newsagents  played  on  one  note  by  Thelma  Barlow  for  26  years. Les  Dennis  launched  his  career  on  impersonating  her.  Deirdre  runs  her  a  close  second; I  could  never  quite  believe  that  she'd  have  men  fighting  over  her. Mind  you  at  this  point  she  didn't  have  much  competition  , the  rough  as  sawdust  Bet  Lynch, the  old- before- her- time  Lucille  Hewitt  played  by  hard-drinking  sixties  starlet  Jennifer  Moss  and  rather  dowdy  Norma  Ford   played  by  Diana  Davies  who  would  later  turn  up  in  Emmerdale  Farm.  Later  in  1973  Tricia  Hopkins  played  by  the  rather  nice  Kathy  Jones  started  a  fresh  line  of  young  females  to  pep  up  the  show.

There  was  no  doubt  though  who  was  the  star  in  this  period  despite  the  competing  claims  of  Ena  Sharples  or  Elsie  Tanner.  Jean  Alexander's  Hilda  Ogden  is  possibly  the  greatest  TV  character  of  all  time. The  gossipy  cleaner  with  her  hair  in  curlers  and  her  social  pretensions  continually  scuppered  by  being  tethered  to  a  useless  indolent  lump  of  a  husband  was  a  magnificent  creation  achieving  an  unequalled  balance  between  pathos  and  comedy. When  Stan  died  with  actor  Bernard  Youens  in  1984  the  character  was  softened  somewhat , allowed  to  gentrify  to  a   small  degree   and  act  as  a  mother  hen  to  her  young  lodgers. Alexander   decided  to  leave  the  show  in  1987  and  has  continually  refused  offers  to  return;   her  departure  was  undoubtedly  a  factor  in  my  disengagement.

What  were  the  highlights  of  this  period  for  me ? In  no  particular  order ;

  • the  bonfire  incident  where  a  boy  ( not  a  regular cast  member ) got  injured ?
  • Len  Fairclough  becoming  a  suspect  when  a  woman  was  found  murdered  in  his  home
  • the  warehouse  fire  where  the  rather  amusing  Edna  Gee  ( why  couldn't  it  have  been  Vera ? )  was  killed 
  • the  holiday  in  Majorca  when  the  ladies  had  a  pools  win 
  • the  lorry crashing  into  the  Rovers
  • Ken  helping  a  woman to  read  and  then  knocking  out  her  husband  when  he  objected
  • Ernie  Bishop  getting  shot
  • the  start  of  the  Ken-Mike  feud
  • Jack  Duckworth  posing  in  a  lonely  hearts  video
  • the  death  of  Brian  Tilsley  played  by  the  appalling  Chris  Quinten
As  you'd  expect  my  viewing  became  intermittent  when  I  went  to  university  although  it  was  always  on  in  my  hall  of  residence  and  I  couldn't  start  my  regular  Bad  Video  club  on  a  Monday  night  until  it  had  finished. I  picked  it  up  again  when  I  returned  home  in  1986   but    Hilda  leaving  and  the  ridiculous  scene  where  Terry  Duckworth  turned  up  at  his  mate's  house  and  said  "I've  come  for  your  wife"  persuaded  me  to  quit. The  last  scene  I  recall  seeing  is  the  one  where  Audrey  tells  Gail  about  her  half -brother  in  Canada  which  idea  seemed  an  unnecessary  import  from  the  big  US  soaps.

Apart  from  the  car-crash  saga  of  Lynne  Perrie  (  I  never  appreciated  the  unsympathetic  treatment  of  Catholicism  associated  with  her  character )  and  her  Botox  I  know  little  of  what  went  on  until  the  end  of  1997  when  I  got  married  and  my  wife's  enthusiasm  and  mortgage   tyranny  brought  me  back  to  it. I  was  amazed  that  Perrie   and   Julie  Goodyear's  Bet  Lynch  seemed  to  have  been  the  only  notable  departures  in  the  intervening  years  with  characters  who  seemed  to  have  long  outlived  their  usefulness  still  featuring, the  crowning  example  being  Betty  Turpin, the  only  barmaid  with  "Land  Girl"  on  her  c.v.

Nevertheless  I  became  reasonably  enthusiastic  again   and  enjoyed  seeing   members  of  the  cast  knocking  around  Manchester  until  I  ceased  working  in  the  city  in  2004. I  also  appreciated  some  of  the  young  female  talent  particularly  Maria  ( Samia  Ghadie )  who  would  never  in  a  million  years  have  agreed  to  go  out  with  Tyrone  Dobbs. Towards  the  end  of  1999  I  got  online  and  my  viewing  became  intermittent  again  and  the  proliferation  of  silly  stunts - the  tram  crash, the  head  transplants  of  Gail's  children  ( when  she's  the  most  in  need  of  one ), the  comedian  cameos -  eventually  drove  me  and  my  wife  away  for  good. I  have  no  current  intention  to  pick  it  up  again  but  who  knows  ?  



Sunday, 29 March 2015

123 The Coal Hole Club / The Grumbleweeds

First watched :   April 1973

I  thought  these  guys  would  be  cropping up  pretty  soon. The  Grumbleweeds  were  from  Yorkshire  and  followed  a  similar  career  path  to  The  Barron  Knights, formed  as  a  conventional  beat  group  in  1962, played  in  Hamburg  with  The  Beatles  and  switched  to  comedy  although  they  wrote  their  own  material  rather  than  rely  on  parody.  They  were  Robin  Colvill, Graham  Walker, Maurice  Lee, Carl  Sutcliffe  and  Alan  Sutcliffe. An  appearance  on  Opportunity  Knocks  in  1967  boosted  their  profile. Although  never  much  loved  by  the  critics  they  were  pretty  sharp  with  Graham  in  particular  able  to  ad  lib  on  the  spot.

They  got  their  own  25  minute  variety  show  The  Coal  Hole  Club   replacing  Crackerjack   in  April   1973. The  second  and  final  series  the  following  year   was  re-branded  The  Grumbleweeds .  I  remember  it  as  being  pretty  funny  ; whether  any  of  it  survives  I  don't  know.

The  series  disappeared  but  they  didn't. They  were  regular  guest  stars  on  light  entertainment  programmes  until  well  into  the  nineties  and  had  a  long  running  radio  show  on  Radio  Two  from  1979  to  1988. From  1983  to  1987   they  had  another  TV  show  on  Granada  but  I  don't  remember  that  at  all.  Times  got  a  bit  harder after  the  radio  show  finished. The  Sutcliffes  left  the  line  up  in  1987  and  Maurice  followed  suit  in  1998  when  Graham  developed  throat  cancer.  When he  partially  recovered  he  and  Robin  soldiered  on  as  a  duo  until  his  death  a  couple  of  years  ago. Robin  decided  to  carry  on  with  a  new  partner.


Friday, 27 March 2015

122 Lizzie Dripping

First  watched  :  March  1973

I  had  to  read  up  quite  a  bit  on  this  one  to  be  convinced  I  saw  it. I  think  it  was  one  my  sister  liked  a  lot  more  than  me. The  heroine  Penny  ( Tina  Heath  )  is  a  twelve  year  old  girl  of  a  somewhat  imaginative  frame  of  mind  who  starts  seeing  a  witch  ( Sonia  Dresdel )  of  whom  no  one  else  is  aware. Some  mild  adventures  ensue. There  was  no  character  called  "Lizzie  Dripping" ; it  was  apparently  Midlands  slang  for  a  girl  who  told  tall  tales.

The  series  was  developed  from  a  Jackanory  Playhouse  drama  specially  written  by  children's  author  Helen  Cresswell  in  1972. There  were  two  series  made  of  four  episodes  each  broadcast  in  1973  and  1975. The   first  series  was  completely  "original", the  stories  in  the  second  were  adaptations  of  books  Cresswell  had  published  in  the  meantime.

Tina  Heath  later  had  a  short  stint  as  a  Blue  Peter  presenter  where  she  is  remembered  for  having  an  ultrasound  scan  on  the  programme  when  she  became  pregnant  in  1979.

Monday, 23 March 2015

121 We Want To Sing

First  watched  :  1973

This  had  been  on  before  but  I  don't  think  I  caught  it  until  it  replaced  The  Basil  Brush  Show  in  the  post-Grandstand  slot  in  February  1973. It's  little-celebrated ; away  from  Genome  there's  not  much  on  the  'net.

It  ran  for  four  series  from  1971  and  1974  and  was  based  in  Manchester.  The  premise  was  very  simple; a  rotating  cast  of  presenters  ( most  often  Ken  Dodd  or  Bernard  Cribbins  )  led  an  audience  of   children  ( around  300  )  in  a  singalong  of  popular  songs  with  the  help  of  some  worthy  middle  of  the  road  act  such  as  The  Spinners, New  Seekers  and  yes  Middle  of  The  Road  and  the  Northern  Dance  Orchestra  conducted  by  Bernard  Herrman.  I  seem  to  remember  "Lord  of  the  Dance  "  featuring  a  lot. It  was  harmless  , moderate  fun  ( one  hopes  it  stayed  that  way  when  Rolf  presented  it ) but   the  shows  were  never  repeated  and  almost  certainly  junked   very  soon  afterwards . You  can't  imagine  anyone  trying  to  revive  it  today.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

120 Outa Space

First  watched  : 1973

Ah yes. I  knew  there  was  a  programme  like  this  on  a  Saturday  lunchtime  before  Grandstand  but  wasn't  able  to  recall  the  title.

Outa  Space  was  a  magazine-style  programme  without  a  presenter  produced  by  Paul  Ciani. It  was  basicallly  an  update  of  his  late  sixties  creation  Zokko  featuring  cartoons, music, a  serial  and  circus  turns.  T  J  Worthington  has  a  good  essay  on  the  subject  here

I  liked  it   for  the   regular  dinosaur  feature  but  I think the  series  only  ran  for  half  a  dozen  episodes.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

119 The Partridge Family

First  watched  : 1973

More  early  pop  fare   and  I  think  I've  said  pretty  much  all  I  need  to here .

Thursday, 19 March 2015

118 The Wombles

First  watched :  February  1973

With  this  well-loved  little  series in  The  Magic  Roundabout  slot  , the  BBC  proved  itself  somewhat  ahead  of   the  curve  in  promoting  environmental  concern  and  recycling.  The  Wombles  first  appeared  in  a  series  of  novels  by   Elisabeth  Beresford   about  these  furtive  creatures  who  lived  on  Wimbledon  Common  and  found  new  uses  for  things  left  behind  ( rather  than  actual  litter   as  such )  by  human  visitors. When  the  first one , The  Wombles   ( published   1968 )  featured  on  Jackanory  the  response  prompted  the  Beeb  to  commission  Ivor  Wood  to  make  a  new  stop  motion  series  based  on  the  characters. Beresford's  creatures  were  basically   child-sized  teddy  bears; Wood  shrank  them  to  knee  height  and  gave  them  a  more  individual  appearance. Otherwise  it  was  pretty  faithful  to  Beresford's  creation  requiring  children  to  grapple  with  difficult  geographical   character  names  like  Tomsk  and  Tobermory.  The  reliable  Bernard  Cribbins  was  brought  in  to  narrate  it  and  a  young  songwriter / producer  of  hitherto  moderate  success  , Mike  Batt  came  up  with  the  Beatleesque  theme  tune.

The  show  was  an  instant  success  creating  a  huge  demand  for  Wombles  merchandise  which  the  BBC  were  still  a  little  unsteady  in  meeting. Batt  had  no  such  qualms; having  craftily  obtained  musical  rights  to  the  characters  in  lieu  of  a  fee  he  launched  a  string  of  hit  singles  ( only  narrowly  failing  to  qualify  for  my  Hello  Goodbye  blog )  two  of  which  nearly  made  the  number  one  spot. Indeed  Batt  claims  that  "A  Wombling  Merry  Christmas"  was  well  ahead  of  Mud's  "Lonely  This  Christmas"  in  1974  until  negative  reviews  of  a  Wombles  stage  show  which  Beresford's  husband  had  authorised  despite  Batt's  opposition,  hit  the  press.

The  show  survived  this  embarrassment  and  its  two  series   of  30  episodes  each  were  regularly  repeated  although  the  live  action  film  Wombling  Free  in   1977  was  a  bit  too  late  in  arriving .  A  new  Canadian-produced  series  was  aired  on  ITV  in  1996  and  another  new  series   is  due  to  be  aired  this  year.  How  much  it  affected  attitudes  to  litter  is  hard  to  say; the  statistics  just  aren't  there  to  say  one  way  or  the  other. Schools  mounting  litter  campaigns  were  obviously  grateful  and  the  Keep  Britain  Tidy  campaign  got  a  shot  in  the  arm. Previously  there  had  been  some  resistance  to  its  propaganda  due  to  the  movement's   roots  in  the Women's  Institute  protesting  at   the  newly  mobile  working  class  coming  into  the  countryside. Wimbledon  Common  clearly  wasn't  in  a  National  Park  so  this  association  was  painted  over by  Orinoco  and  his  pals'  ubiquity.  While  waste  and  its  treatment  remains  a  live  issue  I  suppose  they'll  never  go  away. 


Wednesday, 18 March 2015

117 The Osmonds

First  watched  :  1973

Ah  the  early  days of  1973  when  Saturday  mornings  meant  a  trip  to  the  newsagents  for  the  latest  It's  Here  and  Now  or  another  magazine  whose  name  now  escapes  me  but  which  contained   a  stick  on  patch  for  your  coat  ( to  the  disapproval  of  Mr  Burns  the  crabby  caretaker / lollipop  man   when  I  wore  one  - David  Cassidy  I  think - to  school ).

The  Osmonds  cartoon   was  another  strand  in  their  assault  on  the  early  seventies.  Produced  by  Rankin / Bass   it  followed  the  usual  formula  of  fairly  feeble  comedy  and   mildly  zany  globe-trotting   adventure  to  be  resolved  by   the  performance  of   a  musical  number.  All  the  boys  including  little  Jimmy  contributed  their  voices  to  the  venture  though  Marie  wasn't  involved.  As  the  band's  hey-day   was  brief  particularly  in  the  U.S.  only  one  17-episode  series  was  ever  made   and  I  don't  think  it  was  ever  repeated.  

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

116 Crackerjack

First  watched  : Uncertain

I  may  have  caught  this  before  1973  but  I  don't  recall  anyone  before  Don  Maclean ; certainly   when  Little  and  Large,  regulars  on  the  show's   previous  season,   got  their  own  show  at  the  end  of  the  decade,  they  rang  no  bells. When  it  came  back  on  Friday  2nd  Februrary  1973 The  Sweet  were  on  ( along  with  Lieutenant  Pigeon ) so  I  would  certainly  have  wanted  to  watch  it.

Crackerjack  started  out  as  a  fairly  sedate  children's  quiz  show  with  the  odd  comedy  turn  thrown  in   in  1955  hosted  by  the  likes  of  Eamonn  Andrews  and  Leslie  Crowther. In  the  sixties  it  got  progressively  livelier  and  once  Michael  Aspel  took  over  in  1968, comedy  and  music  took  centre  stage  on  the   live  show  though  there  was  still  an  entertaining  quiz  "Double  or  Drop"  where  contestants  had  to  hold  up  the  prizes  they  won, including  cabbages  for  wrong  answers, to  stay  in  the  game.

When  Maclean  joined  the  show  in  1973 he  teamed  up  in  a  double  act  with  the  rotund  Peter  Glaze  who'd  somehow  managed  to  survive  on  the  show  since  1960  despite  an  extremely  limited  range, just  a  one  dimensional  Oliver  Hardy  straight  man  routine. In  1975  they  were  joined  by  the  versatile  comedienne  Jan  Hunt  and  the  host  changed  from  Aspel  to  Radio  One's  Ed  Stewart.

What  I  remember  most  from  the  show  is  the  finale  where  the  cast  would  perform  some  little  playlet  and  intersperse  it  with  less  than  reverent  renditions  of  two  or  three  current  chart  hits , the  more  inappropriate  the  better. The  show  was  produced  by  Robin  Nash  who  also  did  Top  of  the  Pops  and  I  imagine  him  selecting  his  victims  with  some  relish. Andy  Partridge  once  remarked  ( presumably  before  Crash  Test  Dummies  did  The  Ballad  of  Peter  Pumpkinhead  ) that  Peter  Glaze  was  the  only  person  who'd  covered  an  XTC  song  when  they  burst  into  Making  Plans  For  Nigel . My  mum  loved  this  bit  and  would  come  into  the  front  room  to  see  it,  usually  blathering  on  about  how  talented  Jan  was  ( my  mum's  dabble  in  Am  Dram in  the  50s  had  somehow  given  her  the impression  she  was  an  infallible  theatre  critic- Scots  thespian  Iain  Cuthbertson  always  got  it  in  the  neck  whenever  he  appeared ).

I  think  I'd  tuned  out  by  1977  as  I  don't  recall  watching  them  do  any  punk  tunes. It  was  probably  the  right  time  to  quit  as  Maclean  left  in  1978  for  a  career  mainly  in  religious  broadcasting  on  radio . I  last  saw  him  doing  an  outside  broadcast  for  Radio  Two  in  St  Anne's  Square, Manchester   in  1997  with  a  rather  motley  crew  of  guests  although  Deniece  Williams  did  an  impressive  a  cappella  gospel  tune  on  the  spot.  He  was  replaced  by  one-trick  pony  Bernie  Clifton. Hunt , Stewart and  Glaze  all  left  the  following  year. She 's  had  a  surprisingly  low  profile  career  in  theatre  with  occasional  acting  parts  on  TV  and  had  a  small  role  in  the  film  Run For  Your  Wife  in  2012. Stewart  popped  up  occasionally  on  TV  thereafter,  on  things  like  Punchlines,  but  remained  a  radio  stalwart  until  being  "retired"  when  he  turned  65  in  2006  ( though  he's  presented  a  Christmas  edition  of  Junior  Choice  every  year  since ). He  was  supposed  to  have  retired  to  Spain  but  a  recent  newspaper  article  said  he  was  living  in  Surrey. Peter  Glaze  didn't  do  much  after  leaving  the  show  apart  from  helping  Roy  Hudd  stage  a  tribute  to  The  Crazy  Gang  ( for  whom  he'd  been  a  long  term  understudy )  in  1982. He  died  in  1983,  a  year  before  Crackerjack   was  finally  cancelled  after  a  dismal  last  few  years  with  crap  Bolton  comic  Stu  Francis  and  his  beyond-stupid  "crush  a  grape" catchphrase.   

Saturday, 14 March 2015

115 Watch With Mother : Teddy Edward

First  watched  : Uncertain

This   charming, ultra-modest  programme  remains  one  of  the  most  elusive  of   the  Watch  With  Mother  series.  There  isn't  actually  that  much  to  find; the  entire  series  comprises  just  65  minutes  with  only  13  five  minute  episodes  ever  made. It  was  teamed  up  with  Ring-A-Ding    ( basically  a  tune  from  Derek  Griffiths )  and  an  illustrated  fairy  tale  to  fill  the  Watch  With  Mother  slot  on  a  Friday  at  the  beginning  of  1973. It  was  later  cut  loose  of  these  moorings  and  the  repeats popped  up  unexpectedly  throughout  the  seventies.

The  programme  was  based  on  a  series  of  children's  books  by  Patrick  and  Mollie  Matthews, themselves  long  out  of  print  and  very  collectible , about  the  titular   globe-trotting  bear  and  his  companions,  Jasmine  the  rabbit, Snowytoes  the  panda  and  Bushy  the  bushbaby. The  postcards  of  the  pals  in  exotic  places  formed  the  only  visual  accompaniment  to  Richard  Baker's  narration  and  Johnny  Scott's  haunting  flute.

The  programme  had  an  unusual  fate. It  was  all  sold, the  animals , film  prints  the  lot  , to  a  Japanese  toy  museum  and  has  thus  far  been  inaccessible  to  Western  eyes i.e  there's  not  much  on  You  Tube. One  presumes  it's  all  preserved  somewhere  but  who  knows ?

I  haven't  a  clue  when  I  first  caught  it  but  it  did  become  significant  to  me  when  repeated  early  on  Saturday  mornings  prior  to  Multi-Coloured  Swap  Shop  early  in  1978  - when  I  had  recently  turned  13 - and  I  used  to  get  up  early  to  watch  it. I  also  involved  my  friend  Patrick  in  viewing  it  and  remember  once  discussing  the  "events"  of  an  episode  with  him  later  that  morning. As  was  his  wont  he  went  along  with  it  without  any  enquiry  but  God  knows  what  he  really  thought  I  was  doing.

Did  I ?  Well  sort  of. My  involvement  in  child  psychology  is  recent  and  still  superficial  but  I think  there  were  a  few  reasons. One  was  that  throughout  my  childhood  I  was  very  tall  and so  never  regarded  as  "cute"  and  petted  or   often  treated ; I  was  conscious  of  that  and  always felt  I  had  missed  out  a  bit  on  that  score. Another  more  immediate  cause  I  think  was  recently watching  gritty  adult  stuff  on a  Friday  night,  first  Target  and  then  Gangsters,  both  of  which  we'll  discuss  in  due  course. I  hadn't  been  having  a  fiddle  while  watching  them  in  case  that's  what  you  were  thinking  but  I  did  have  some  sense  that  these  were  not  what  a Catholic  boy  should  be  viewing  and  a  vague  precognition  that  becoming  an  adult  would  produce  some  uncomfortable  new  challenges.

So  watching  Teddy  Edward  in  its  utter  innocence  was  part  comedown  ( it  actually  overlapped  with  Gangsters  for  a  couple  of  weeks )  and  part  crutch  as  I  fearfully  tried  to  delay  the  onset  of  adolescence  for  the  next  couple  of  years. This  also  manifested  itself  in  buying teddies  much  to  my  mum's  alarm,   continuing  to  play  make  believe  stories  with  my  sister  and  her  dolls  ,  and  becoming  more  religious e.g  attending  school  masses at  lunchtime.  I  did  have  another  ally  in  this; my  Dad  was  going  through  a  rough  time  as  he  was  finally  forced  out  of  teaching  and  I  think  in  some  way  indulging  my selective  infantilism   helped  him  through  that  period. It  all  ended  early  in  1980  with  the  final  onset  of  puberty  and  my  Dad's  semi-public  indiscretion  ( I  won't  go  further  into  that ) ; co-incidentally  that  was  the  last  year  Teddy  Edward  was  broadcast.



Friday, 13 March 2015

114 Captain Pugwash

First  watched  : 1973

This  was  actually  the  first  of  John  Ryan's  rolling-eyed  animation  series; the  first  series's  86  episodes  were  broadcast  between  1957  and  1966. Pugwash  was  a  basically  harmless, rather  cowardly  excuse  for  a  pirate  with  an  equally  motley  crew   who  were  usually  extricated  from  trouble  by  the  intelligence  of  clean  cut  Tom  the  Cabin  Boy. It  returned  after  some  years  off  screen  on  New  Year's  Day  1973  and  quickly  became  a  holiday  morning  staple. I  never  thought  too  much  of  it  but  it  seems  to  have  been  well-loved  and  Ryan  was  soon  re-commissioned  to  make  a  new  series  in  1974  which  ran  to  30  episodes. In  1997  the  rights  were  sold  to  the  Britt  Allcroft  Company  who  made  a  cartoon  series  The  Adventures  of  Captain  Pugwash   between  1997  and  2001.

You  still  get  pub  bores  telling  you  that  the  series  featured  rude  character  names  like  Master  Bates  and  Seaman  Staines  despite  Ryan, a  devout  Catholic, proving  in  court  that  this  urban  legend  originated  in  student  rag  mags  of  the  seventies  when  The  Guardian  and  Sunday  Correspondent  were  foolish  enough  to  print  it  as  fact  in  1991.  

Thursday, 12 March 2015

113 Dr Who

First  watched  : 30  December  1972

This  is  absolutely  rock  certain. I  first  watched  Dr  Who  at  17.50  pm  on  Saturday  30  December  1972  at  my  friend  Patrick  Brennan's  house. It  was  the  first  episode  of  the  first    story  in  the  fourth  Jon  Pertwee  series  The  Three  Doctors. As  the  show  was in  its  tenth  series  it  was  billed  as  a  tenth  anniversary  special  with  the  three  men  on  the  cover  of  Radio  Times  although  the  whole  series  had  long  finished  by  the  time  the  actual  anniversary  date.

I  was  aware  of  the  programme  before  then; I  remember  a  lot  of  talk  at  school  about  The  Sea  Devils  when  it  was  first  broadcast  earlier  in  the  year  but  didn't  push  against  my  mum's  concern  that  I  might  find  it  too  frightening. So  I  was  probably  a  little  apprehensive  at  Patrick's  suggestion  that  we  watch  it  before  I  was  driven  home.  

I   didn't  find  it  frightening  but  thrilling  and  intriguing  and  it  was  a  toss-up  whether  this  or  Top  of  the  Pops  was  now  at  the  top  of  my  must-see  list.  I'm  not  a  superfan  of  the  series  and  haven't  explored  many  of  the  numerous  blogs  on  the  series  but  the  general  consensus seems  to  be  that  The  Three  Doctors  is  a  little  disappointing.  It  concerns  a  rogue  Time  Lord  Omega  seeking  to  overturn  the  order  of  the  cosmos  who  can  only  be  stopped  by  bringing  the  Doctor  into  contact  with  his  previous  selves. It  was  also  proposed  to  bring  back  a  former  companion  from  the  Troughton  era, the  Scots Highlander  Jamie  but  the  actor  Frazer  Hines  was  too  busy  with  the  recently-launched   Emmerdale  Farm  so  John  Levene's  Sergeant  Benton  had  a  meatier-than-usual  role  when  the  script  was  revised.

The  production  team  had  a   more  serious  problem  to  surmount. William  Hartnell  had  left  the  series  in  1966  partly  because  arteriosclerosis  was  making  it  difficult  to  remember  his  lines. His  health  hadn't  improved  in  the  meantime  and  he  hadn't  worked  at  all  after  1970. With  his family  concerned  about  the  original  role's  demands  his  participation  was  restricted  to  pre-recording  a  few  scenes  sitting  in  a  dark  room  ( at  Ealing  Studios  not  his  garage  as  a  persistent  myth  argues )  rather  too  obviously  peering  at  cue  cards. The  rest  of  the  cast  saw  him  "stuck  in  a  time  eddy"  on  a  convenient  TV  monitor  and  interacted  with  the  recording  as  best  they  could. Even  though  I'd   only  just  turned  eight  I  realised  something  was  amiss.

As  noted  above  there's  a  lot  out  there  about  the  series  from  people  who've  pored  through  every  episode  with  a  fine  tooth  comb  so  I'm  only  going  to  chronicle  my  own  relationship  with  the  programme  over  the  years.

The  Three  Doctors  was  also  a  significant   milestone  as  it  marked  the  point  where  Pertwee's  Doctor  and  the  series  were  liberated  from  Earth-bound  adventures  with  U.N.I.T.   and  the  TARDIS   could  roam  free  again  although  UNIT  still  featured  in  most  adventures  for  the  rest  of  Pertwee's  stint. The  following  story  Carnival  of  Monsters  took  full  advantage  of  that  as  did  Frontier  in  Space  which  lost  me  a  bit  though  I  did  recall  The  Master  when  the  character  was  resurrected  a  few  years  late, and  the  first  Dalek  story  for  some  years  Planet  of  the  Daleks  featuring   the  cheapest  monsters  ever  the  invisible  Spiridons. My  first  series  climaxed  with  the  wonderful,  genuinely  terrifying  The  Green  Death , an  anti-pollution  epic  set  in  Wales  with  giant  maggots  as  the  monsters. It  was  also  Katie  Manning's  last  appearance  as  Jo  Grant.

The  last  Pertwee  series  was  a  mixed  bag. The  Time  Warrior  introducing  stalwarts  Sarah  Jane  Smith  and  the  Sontarans  was  a  good  start  but  Invasion  of  the  Dinosaurs  was  a  big  disappointment  with  its  ludicrous   plasticene  creatures. The  following  Death  To  The  Daleks   where  they  are  forced  to  work  with  the  Doctor  in  a  terrifyingly  hostile  environment  is  one  of  my  favourites  although  it  has  a  mixed  reputation.  I  also  enjoyed  The  Curse  of  Peladon   despite  it  being  a  sequel  to  a  preious  story  I  hadn't  seen  but  the  Pertwee  era  ended  with  a  terrible  letdown,  the  interminable  Planet  of  the  Spiders  which  is  mired  in  Buddhist  claptrap  and  has  the  series'  most  boring  villain  ever  in  Lupton, a  middle-aged  businessman  who  looks  like  he's  wandered  in  from  The  Brothers  by  mistake. Half  of  episode  two  is  taken  up  with  a  self-indulgent  sop  to  Pertwee's  love  of  speed, an  extended  multi-vehicle  chase  sequence  whose  resolution  could  have  occurred  at  any  point  in  its  duration.

I  wasn't  sure  I'd  take  to  a  new  incarnation  but  Tom  Baker  immediately  won  me  over  and  his  first  series  included  the  classic  Genesis  of  the  Daleks.   Three  weeks  after  the  series  finished   I  badgered  my  uninterested  Dad  to  take  me  to  Blackpool  for  the  Dr  Who  Exhibition  on  26  May  1975. My  diary  entry  reads  :

Went  to  Blackpool  Dr  Who  Expedition. Had  Wirn (sic ) ,  Robot, Dinosaurs, Daleks, Cyberman, Draconian, Aggedor, Spiders, Alpha  Centauri, Yeti, Axon  Monster, Ogron, Mutoes  and  Exxilons.

It  was  a  great  thrill  to  see  things  like  the  Robot  so  soon  after  the  story  had  been  broadcast  but  in  a  way  that  was  probably  the  high  water  mark  of  my  engagement  with  the  series. The  second  Tom  Baker  series  was  transitional  with  UNIT  being  phased  out  although  it  ended very  strongly  with  two  of  the  scariest  stories  The  Brain  of  Morbius  and  The  Seeds  of  Doom.
 . The  following  series  saw  my  first  break  in  watching  it. The  departure  of  Sarah  Jane  broke  the  last  link  with  the  Pertwee  era. I  hated  the  next  story  The  Deadly  Assassin  which  made  the  Time  Lords  seem  a  bit  mean  and  ridiculous  and  then  rejected  Leela  who  came  in  at  the  next  story.  I  was  a  little  too  young  to  appreciate  exactly  what  Louise  Jameson  brought  to  the  series  and  just  saw  her  barbarism  as  something  that  would  involve  the  Doctor  in  a  lot  of  tiresome  exposition.

And  so  I  dropped  out  for  the  best  part  of  a  year  until  a  Christmas  1977  repeat  of  the  story  The  Robots  of  Death   and  the  hype  around  the  imminent  arrival  of  Star  Wars  drew  me  back  to  the  series  and  science  fiction  in  general. Leela  departed  not  long  after and  I  stayed  with  the  series  right  up  to  Tom  Baker's  departure  in  March  1981. As  with  Pertwee  his  final  story  Logopolis  was  awful - Baker's  disillusion  with  the  series  was  visible  on  screen  and  his  co-stars  seemed  genuinely  apprehensive  around  him  -  and  made  another  break  with  the  series  much  easier.

I  had  no  great  animus  against  Peter  Davison. He  was  the  best  thing  about  All  Creatures  Great  and  Small  but  I  thought  him  completely  unsuitable  for  Doctor  Who; having  a  likeable  comic  actor  in  the  role  would  change  the  whole  tone  of  the  series.  I  watched  a  bit  of  The  Five  Doctors   in  1983   a   one-off  25th  anniversary  special  with  Richard  Hurndall  replacing  Hartnell  who'd  died  in  1975  and  some  footage  from  an  incomplete  serial  awkwardly  crowbarred  in  because  a  still  pissed-off  Baker  refused  to  participate. The  publicity  shots  featured  a  waxwork  of  Baker  borrowed  from  Madame  Tussauds.

The  first  regular   Davison  story  I  saw  was  Resurrection  of  the  Daleks  in  1984  at  university  where  the  cynical  common  room  audience  was  howling  with  derision  at  Rodney  Bewes's  every  line.  The  following  story  Planet  of  Fire  saw  the most  memorable debut  of  any  companion  as  Nicola  Bryant's  Peri  arrived  bulging  out  of  a  wet  bikini. I  certainly  was  old  enough  to  appreciate  her  and  had  a  whole  new  reason  for  watching  it  again. Davison  exited  in  the  next  story.

I  did  like  Colin  Baker  from  his  work  in  The  Brothers  although  he  was  such  a  good  villain  I  wondered  how  he'd  translate  to  a  heroic  role. Despite  this, it  took  the  reappearance  of  the  Daleks in  Resurrection  of  the  Daleks   ( broadcast  March  1985 )  to  get  me  watching  again   partly  because  going  to  more  away  matches  made  it  difficult  to  see  every  episode  of  a  story.

I'm  not  sure  I  watched  C  Baker's  last  series  right  through  to  the  end; I  think  one story  featuring  Bonnie  Langford  was  enough  to  scare  me  off  and  this  time  it  was  more  or less for  good. By  this  point  it  was  common  knowledge  that  Michael  Grade  had the  programme  in  his  sights  and  there  was  a  suspicion  that  Langford  had  been  brought  in  as  a  deliberate  act  of  sabotage. This  was  compounded  by  the  choice  of  Baker's  replacement,  Sylvester  McCoy  who  I  remembered   as  the  silly  gurning  man  from  Vision  On.

I  boycotted  the  show  throughout  his  tenure  and  then  it  was  gone. I  did  watch  the  abortive  1995  resurrection  where  McCoy  gave  way  to  Paul  McGann  and  Eric  Roberts  played  the Master  in  a  doomed  attempt to  interest  the  Americans  but  thought  it was  disappointingly  vacuous.

Then  ten  years  later  it  was  back. I  watched  the  first  episode  out  of  curiosity  but  it  failed  to  grip  me  ; I  don't  think  much  of  Ms  Piper  as  either  pop  star  or  actress. Since  then  I've  caught  odd  bits  of  it  but  never  really  wanted  to  be  drawn  back  in  whilst  others  have  re-embraced  it.  I'm  glad  it's  back  if  only  to  rub  Grade's  nose  in  its  popularity  but  I  prefer to stick  with  the  memories.



Wednesday, 11 March 2015

112 News

First  watched : no  later  than  30  December  1972

I  almost  certainly  caught  bits  of  news  programmes  before  the  date  above  but  I  am  rock  solid  certain  I  saw  the  following  programme   that  Saturday  and  it's  overwhelmingly  likely  that  I  saw  The  Basil  Brush  Show  before  it  so  the  15  minute  bulletin  in  between  would  have  been  on  even  if  I  wasn't  paying  much  attention.

A  little  research  reveals  that  the  headline  that  day  would  have  been  Tricky  Dicky  Nixon's  calling  a  halt  to  his  Christmas  bombing  offensive  in  North  Vietnam  as  a  result of  the  North  Vietnamese  agreeing  to  return  to  peace  talks  which  would  lead  to  the  US's  withdrawal. The  big  football  results  that  day  were  reigning  champions  Derby  County's  1-1  draw  away  at  Chelsea, eventual  champions  Liverpool's  1-0  home  win  over  Crystal  Palace  and  Newcastle's  4-1  thumping  of  Sheffield  United.

Do  I  actually  recall  any  of  that  ? No. I  think  the  first  "news"  that  actually  sank  in  was  the   volcanic  eruption  in  Iceland  a  few  weeks  later  though  I  associate  it  more  with  John   Cravens's  Newsround   than  the  adult  bulletins  of  the  time.  I  think  I  started  watching  the  news  more  regularly  in  the  late  seventies  particularly  after  becoming  interested  in  politics  around  the  beginning  of  1976.

I  remember  the  first  line  up   of  Nine  O  Clock  News   presenters  Richard  Baker, Kenneth  Kendall, Robert  Dougall ,  baggy-eyed  Peter  Woods  and  Richard  Whitmore  joined  in  1975  by  Angela  Rippon  who  proved  to  be  their  nemesis  by  leading  the  way  on  to  The  Morecambe  and  Wise  Show. The  suits  decided  they  didn't  like  the  idea  of  celebrity  newsreaders  and  swept  them  all  ( save  for  Dougall  who'd  already  retired  )  away  in  a  Stalinist  purge  in  June  1981  replacing  them  with  the  dour , dry  as  a  bone  duo  ( though  both  are  good  eggs ) John  Simpson  and  John  Humphrys. After  a  year  or  so  they  retreated  from  this  and  we  got  the  likes  of  Moira  Stuart  and  Julia  Somerville  humanising  the  presentation  again.

Despite  the  regular  carping  of  politicians  it's  still  the  best  news  service  in  the  world.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

111 Pebble Mill At One

First  watched : Uncertain

Pebble  Mill  At  One  started  in  October  1972   so  my  best  guess  at  when  I  first  watched  it  is  the  Christmas  fortnight  1972-73  but  it  could  have  been  later.  It  was  a  live  show  broadcast  from  the  foyer  of   the  Beeb's  Pebble  Mill  studio  building  because  hilariously  the  two  studios  were  too  busy  to  accommodate  it  so  decorators. postmen  etc  had  a  good  chance  of   appearing   on  the  telly  over  Bob  Langley's  shoulder  if  they  timed  their  arrival  right.

It  was  basically  a  chat  show  with  a  lip-synching  musical  interlude  ( famously  going  wrong  on  Owen  Paul  on  almost  the  last  broadcast ).  It  was  used  as  something  of  a  testing  ground  for  new  presenting  talent   some  of  whom  established  careers  ( Fern  Britton )  while  others  ( David  Seymour, Josephine  Buchan )  are  long-forgotten. They  had  to  make  do  with  whoever  was  available  at  that  time  and  willing  to  come  in  so  the  results  were  varied.

Despite  that  I  can't  remember  a  single  feature  except  through  resurrection  on  list  shows. I never  saw  the  Morrissey - Paul  Coia  summit  meeting  illustrated  above. The  name  just  conjures up  vague, grey   memories  of  sickness  or   the  boredom  of  being  penned  in  by  heavy  rain  during  the  school  holidays , the only  circumstances  under  which  I'd  ever  watch  it.

Pebble  Mill  At  One  was  scrapped  in  May  1986  when  the  Beeb  adopted  a  full  daytime  schedule  and  Michael  Grade  wanted  a  news  programme  at  one  instead.   It  was  back  in  all  but  name  the  following  year  as  Daytime  Live    and  then  Pebble  Mill  in  the  nineties  though  not  at  one  o  clock.  The  building  was  demolished  in  2005.


Monday, 9 March 2015

110 Thursday's Child

First  watched  : 27  December  1972

The  childrens' author  Noel  Streatfield  seems  to  have  gone  out  of  fashion  which  seems  strange  in  these  celebrity-obsessed  times  given  that  much  of  her  work  was  about  youngsters  striving  for  stardom. In  the  seventies  she  was  still  writing  and  popular  and  this  six-part  serial,  contrarily  scheduled  on  a  Wednesday,  was  an  adaptation  of  her  1970  novel  about  three  children  who  run  away  from  an  orphanage.

The  main  character  Margaret  Thursday  was  played   by  young  Clare  Walker  who  continued  in  acting  until  the  beginning  of  the  eighties  but  has  since  become  a  top  casting  director  with  a  long  list  of  film  and  TV  credits, The  other  main  girl's  part  went  to  Double  Decker  Gillian  Bailey.

Their  male  co-stars  weren't  so  lucky. David  Tully  was  never  seen  on  screen  again  while  Simon  Gipps-Kent,  who  seemed  to  be  vying  with  Nicholas  Lyndhurst   as  to  who  could  appear  in  the  most  of  these  things  during  the  seventies,  was  dead  of  a  drug  overdose  at  28.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

109 Top of the Pops

First  watched  : 25  or  28  December  1972

We  reach  a  bit  of  a  turning  point  here  as  more  solid  memories  start  emerging  from  the  murk  of  early  childhood.  As  I've  written  elsewhere  I  was  first  turned  on  to  pop  music  by  hearing  the  Osmonds'  Crazy  Horses  at  a  school  Christmas  party  and  was  desperate  to  hear  more.  The  earliest  incident  I  can  clearly  recall  is  the  unveiling  of  Cherry  Gillespie  as  the  new  Pan's  Person  ( above ) on  the  second  of  the  Christmas  editions  in  1972  but  I  can't  think  of  any  good  reason  why  I  wouldn't  have  seen  the  first  one  on  Christmas  Day ; I  certainly  wouldn't  have  been  anywhere  else  than  home  at  that  time.

Obviously  a  great  deal  has  already  been  written  about  Top  of  the  Pops  , most  of  it  bad  in  recent  years  thanks  to  the  activities  of  Mr  Savile  so  I'll  be  concentrating  more  on  my  personal  journey  here.

The  end  of  1972  was  a  great  time  to  start  watching  the  programme  as  it  was   bang  in  the  middle  of  the  glam  rock  period  and  each  edition  brought  new  thrills   as  Slade, Sweet , Wizzard , Gary  Glitter etc  vied  with  each  other  to  be  more  outrageous  and  provide  a  visual  spectacle  to  brighten  up  a  rather  difficult  period  in  our  postwar  history. The  Osmonds  were  soon  replaced  by  The  Sweet  as  my  favourites   with  the  fabulous  Blockbuster  which  spent  five  weeks  at  number  one. Although  Cum  On  Feel  The  Noize  is  a  pretty  good  record  itself  I  never  quite  forgave  Slade  for  displacing  it.

I  soon  worked  out  the  rules  laid  down  by  the  producers : that  only  records  going  up  or  holding  their  position  in   the  chart  would  be  featured, that  no  record  would  be  featured  in  consecutive  weeks  except  the  number  one  if  applicable  and  if  a  new  release  was  featured  it  wouldn't  feature  again  unless  the  record  got  in  the  charts. On  that  latter  point  I  also  quickly  twigged  that  Top  of  the  Pops  was  a  good  guide  to  what  would  appear,  or  take  a  big  jump  in,  the  following  week's  charts.  I  was  confused  when  Chaos's  Down  At  The  Club  a  Slade/Wizzard  glam  stomper  written  by  a young  Martin  Rushent  was  featured  in  August  1973  but  didn't  subsequently  chart  and  I  never  heard  it  again  until  four  minutes  ago.

An  early  crisis  occurred  at  the  end  of   April  1973  when  the  show  was  moved  to  a  Friday  evening. I  had  just  enrolled  - no  more  than  3  weeks  before  - at  the  local  branch  of  the  Cub  Scouts  which  met  on  a  Friday . I  wasn't  enjoying  it  and  didn't  need  much  excuse  to  drop  it  but  my  mum  and  gran  were  furiously  opposed  to  my  giving  them  up  to  watch  a  television  programme. Eventually  they  conceded  it  was  no  use  forcing  me  there   and  I  prevailed. The  programme  moved  back  to  Thursdays  by  the  summer  and  I  gave  the  Cubs  another  go  the  following  April  ( on  a  Monday )  this  time  lasting  for  over  a  year.

The  seventies  were  the  peak  year  for  the  programme  under  producer  Robin  Nash  who  put  out  a  good  show  despite  being  hampered  by  the  restrictive  practices  of  the  Musicians' Union.
Towards  the  end  of  the  decade  I  became  more  aware  of  the  criticism  of  the  programme   as  I  started  reading  the  music  press, spearheaded  of  course  by  the  stupid,  self-defeating  stance  of  The  Clash  in  refusing  to  appear  on  it . A  lot  of  the  criticism  honed  in  on  the  issue  of  "miming",  or  lip-synching  as  it's  now  termed,  instead  of  playing  live  which  for  practical  purposes  would  have  been  impossible  given  the  programme  was  reacting  to  a  chart  announced  just  two  days  before  broadcast. The  complaint  was  that  lip-synching  allowed  bands  to  give  un-natural  camera-hogging  performances , sharpened  by  the  fact  that  it  was    supposedly  punk  acts  Sham  69  and  The  Boomtown  Rats   who  were  most  obviously  taking  advantage  of  this. The  obvious  counter-argument  is  that  these  bands  were  using  the  medium  to  connect  with  a  much  wider  audience  including  those  too  young  to  actually  attend  gigs.  In  1978  the  chart  expanded  to  a  top  75  and  from  that  point  songs  outside  the  Top  30 were  invited   to  fill  spare  slots   in  the  order  they  appeared  in  the  charts  so  once  I  started  buying  Record  Mirror  which  had  a  full  chart  I  was  anxiously  checking  the  lower  positions  to  check  if  any  of  the  songs  I  championed  were likely  to  make  it. Apparently  one  of  my  all  time  favourites  B-Movie's  Remembrance  Day  nearly  got  on  and  I  often  wonder  how  big  a  hit  it  would  have  been  if  featured. I  remember  another  story  from  the  beginning  of  1982  when  The  Techno  Twins  a  forgotten  electronic  duo,  were  about  to  go  on  but  were  thwarted  by  the   last  minute   arrival  of  a  helicopter  dropping  off  Elkie  Brooks  who  was  just  a  few  places  above  them.

In  1980  the  long-running  niggles  with  the  MU  climaxed  in  a  strike  and   the  programme  going  off  air  for  two  months  in  the  summer. As  a  result  the  charts  filled  up  with  dance  singles  which  were  less  reliant  on  TV  exposure ; the  main  victims  were  The  Korgis'  Everybody's  Got  To  Learn  Sometimes  and  Kate  Bush's  Babooshka   which  would  have  stood  a  good  chance  of  getting  to  number  one  ahead  of  Odyssey  and  ELO/Olivia  if  the  programme  had  gone  out.

When  it  returned  it  had  a  new  producer  Michael  Hurll  who  unlike  Nash  started  to  bend  the  rules  and  I  too  started  to  become  critical  of  the  programme  although  not  every  change   for  the  worse  could  be  laid  at  his  door. First  was  stopping  the  initial  countdown  at  11  and  then  having  little  snatches  of  the  Top  10  including  records  which  were  going  down  and  ones  which  had  already  featured  on  the  programme. This  of  course  took  up  time  which  could  have  been  given  to  another  performance. Then  in  December  1981 Ken  Dodd  appeared  to  do  his  single  Hold  My  Hand  which  was  nowhere  near  the  chart  at  the  time  though  Hurll  may have  been  compromised  there  by  his  involvement  in  other  light  entertainment  shows.

It's  less  easy  to  forgive  him  for  the  US  charts  feature which  started  in  1982   and  gave  the  anti-patriotic  Jonathan  King  the  opportunity  to  prise  open  the  door  for  crap  acts  like  Joan  Jett   and  the  Blackhearts ( probably  the  only  time  Dave  Lee  Travis  was  ever  on  the  right  side  of  a  musical  fence ).  It  shut  out  an  extra  performance  by  a  British  act  and  gave  an  unfair  advantage  to  US  acts  ; King  used  one  slot  to  try  and  re-activate  dismal  singles  by  Lionel  Ritchie  and  Christopher  Cross  which  had  already  peaked  outside  the  Top  40.  What  I  could  never  understand  is  why  a 30 -second  snatch  of  a  song  on  King's  feature  often  seemed  to  outperform acts  who  were  featured  in  the  studio  that  week - the  advance  of  US  cultural  imperialism  I  guess.

Hurll's  other  big  idea  was  to  try  and  create  a  party  atmosphere  in  the  studio. Legs  and  Co  were  retired  at  the  end  of  1981 in  favour  of  an  anonymous  larger  ensemble  Zoo  that  eventually  became  indistinguishable  from  the  audience. The  stages  were  altered  to  deliberately blur  the  lines  between  performer  and  audience  ; sometimes  ( eg. Matthew  Wilder ) the  former  was  almost  lost  in  the  crowd. Most  reprehensibly  the  sound  of  records  which  didn't  quite  fit  , usually  guitar  rock  like  The  Rainmakers'  Let  My  People  Go  Go , was obscured  by  whoops  and  over-dubbed  handclaps.

Hurll  departed  not  long  after  that,  perhaps  anticipating  the  difficulties  ahead  with  the  rise  of  computer  games  and  satellite  TV. Top  of  the  Pops  had  also  been  cramped  into  a  half  hour  slot  by  Michael  Grade  who  wanted  to  ape  US  TV  conventions. The  next  producer  Paul  Ciani  had  to  cope  with  all  sorts  of  difficulties  caused  by  the  changing  nature  of  the  chart  post- Live  Aid. Exciting  or  eccentric  performers  were  replaced  by  the  solid  and  sober  likes  of  Wet  Wet  Wet  and  Deacon  Blue,  boy/girl  next  door  acts  like  Rick  Astley  and  Kylie   and  most  tellingly,  the  anonymous  dance  acts  usually  involving,  as  The  Guardian  memorably  put  it , "Men  in  baseball  caps  jigging  about".

As  ratings  steadily  declined  the  next  guy  Stanley  Appel, perhaps  influenced  by  the  Milli  Vanilli  scandal ,  tried  to  turn  the  clock  back  by  insisting  on  live  singing  presumably  in  the hope  that  exposing  the  models  who  fronted  the  likes  of  Black  Box  and  Technotronic  as  "inauthentic"  would  prompt  people  to  buy  something  else  instead. Neil  Tennant  threatened  to  boycott  the  programme  and  the  policy  only  succeeded  in  exposing  how  little  influence  in  shaping  tastes  the  show  now  had. Nirvana's  rendition   of  Smells  Like  Teen  Spirit  was  excruciating  but  who  cared ?

My  own  interest  in  the  programme  was  starting  to  slide  after  1991  when  Record  Mirror  ceased  publication  and  later  in  the  year  I  was  disgusted  by  them  giving  over  half  the  programme  to  Michael  Jackson's  self-indulgent  masturbatory  15  minute  video  for  Black  And  White.  If  you  didn't  like  MJ  what  was  the  point  of  watching  on ?

The  next  guy  Ric  Blaxill  had  the  advantage  of being  in  charge  during   the  Britpop  era  which  probably  extended  the  programme's  life  by  a  decade. The  celebrity  presenters  were  a  good  idea  for  a  while. Jarvis  Cocker  certainly  made  an  impact  with  his  barbed  comments  which  raised  his  profile  and  Chris  Eubanks  struggle  with  "At  number  six  it's  Cecilia  by  Suggs"  with  audience  laughter  clearly  audible  was  priceless.

When  it  moved  to  Fridays  in   1996  in  direct  competition  with  Coronation  Street  its  days  were  clearly  numbered  and  now, rather  than  knock  it, music  writers  seemed  more  concerned  to  shore  it  up, hence  the  blaze  of  publicity  surrounding  the  appearance  of  the  unsigned  Bis  in  1995. The  programme  was  now  in  direct  competition  with  my  improved  social  life  and  I  rarely  bothered  to  tape  it.

The  last  decade  of  the  show  saw  ever  more  frequent  re-vamps  in  the  face  of  the  spread  of  the  internet  making  it  look  completely  redundant, as  fossilised  as  Last  of  the  Summer  Wine .
It  moved  to  BBC  Two  on  Sundays  in   summer  2005 ; I  caught  the  edition  which  had  Jeremy  Clarkson  denigrating  the  hip  hop  acts  because  I  was  staying  in  a  holiday  lodge  at  the  time.

It  was  finally  put  out  of  its  misery  a  year  later. I  did  make  a  point  of  watching  the  final  edition  like  a  deathbed  visit  to  an  old  friend. It  was  a  very  dispiriting  affair  of  over-familiar  clips  and  brief  comments  from  the  ageing  stalwarts  of  yesteryear , culminating  in  the  video  for  the  current  number  one  Shakira's  Hips  Don't  Lie   followed , unfortunately,  by   a  sequence  of  the  spectral  and  embarrassing  Savile  turning  off  the  lights. I  didn't  shed  a  tear  but  you  always  feel  that  bit  older  when   something  that  lit  up  your  youth  is  finally  extinguished.

It  does  still  get  an  annual  resurrection  on  Christmas  Day  which  I  watch  but  rarely  recognise  anything.