Tuesday, 31 March 2015
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Thursday, 19 March 2015
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.