Saturday, 25 April 2015

141 Tomorrow's World

First  watched  :   September  1973

I  think  it  was  on  Not  The  Nine  O  Clock  News  that  someone  made  a  reference  to  this  programme  as  "that  boring  crap  that  you  only  watch  because  it's  on  before  Top  of  the  Pops"  and  I  remember  thinking  "got  it  in  one !"  With  one  exception  to  come  in  the  eighties I  don't  recall  viewing  anything  with  more  irritation  and  longing  for  the  credits  to  run. You  could  probably  count  the  number  of  full  editions - as  opposed  to  the  last  five  minutes -  I  watched  on  one  hand.  I  loathed  the  arrival  of  Eastenders  and  the  consequent  shoehorning  of  Top  of  the  Pops  but  at  least  it  meant  I'd  never  have  to  watch  this  again  and  I  didn't.

Nevertheless  its  longevity  deserves  some  respect. Born  in  the  mid-sixties  with  crusty  old  Raymond  Baxter  at  the  helm, it  rode  the  wave  of   interest  in  Wilson's  "white  heat  of  technology"  and  managed  to  sustain  itself  long  after  that  bubble  of  optimism  in  technological  benefit  had  been  pricked  by  regularly  re-vamping  itself  with  new  presenters  and  titles.  The  demonstrations  of  dodgy  new  gadgets  provided  some  amusing  moments  amid  the  drab  explanations. As  with  Dragon's  Den  ( which   owes  something  to  Tomorrow's World )  ventures  , many  of  the  inventions  were  never  heard  of  again  or  failed  spectacularly; the  Videodisc  immediately  springs  to  mind.

It  was  finally  pulled  in  2003  although  as  ever  there  is  talk  of  reviving  it.

Friday, 24 April 2015

140 Bruce Forsyth and the Generation Game

First  watched : September  1973

Come  September  1973  and  this  ratings-winner  returned  to  the   Saturday  night  schedule  for  its  third  series. The  Generation  Game   was  the  Beeb's  first  big  game  show  having  noted  ITV's  success  with  low-budget  but  extremely  popular   fare  such  as  The  Golden  Shot.  Head  of  Light  Entertainment  Bill  Cotton  picked  43  year  old  variety  artist  Bruce  Forsyth  and  immediately  struck  gold.  For  all  his  success  in  other  shows,  the  public's  love  for  old  Brucie  ultimately  derives  from  his  stint  on  this  in  the  same  way  that  Paul  Weller's  fanbase  rests  on  his  time  with  The  Jam. All  the  catchphrases  - "Cuddly  toy !" "Didn't  he  do  well ?" "Give  us  a  twirl"  etc  are  part  of  our  national  culture.

The  Generation  concept  worked  on  three  levels. The  contestants  were   four  couples. The  individuals  in  the  pairs  were  related  to  each  other  but  a  generation  apart  and  much  of  the  fun  derived  from  the  older  person's  ineptitude  at  skills  they  needed  to  master  in  about  five  minutes. Secondly  it  was  a  genuine  family  show  that  kids  could  enjoy  for  the  uncontrived  slapstick  while  their  parents  enjoyed  Bruce's  sharp  wit. And  thirdly,  it  was  soon  noted  for  its  host's  interest  in  inter-generational  sex  as  he  copped  off  with,  and  later  married, blonde  eye  candy  Anthea  Redfern  who  was  twenty  years  his  junior. I  recall  my  mum  tutting  disapprovingly  about  all  that.

My  time  with  the  show   effectively  ended in  1978  when  Brucie  accepted  the  filthy  lucre  and  went  over  to  ITV  for  his  ill-fated  Big  Night  venture. Though  we  didn't  follow  him  over  there   (  neither  did  Redfern   and  they  soon  divorced ) we  didn't  stay  with  Generation  Game  either. My  mum  was  what  would  now  be  described  as  homophobic and  Larry  Grayson  was  anathema  to  her. Nevertheless  Grayson  and  his  relatively  cerebral  co-host  Isla  St  Clair   actually  got   the  show's  highest   ratings  although  helped  by  an  ITV  strike.

By  the  turn  of  the  decade  the  show's  grip  had  started  to  loosen  as  ITV  found  a  big  Saurday  night  ratings  winner  in  Game  For  A  Laugh. Grayson  , four  years  older  than  Forsyth  decided  it  was  time  to  retire  in  1982  and  after  Jimmy  Tarbuck  declined  to  take over  , it  was  decided  to  rest  the  show. It  returned  in  1990  with  its  original  host  for  four  years  before  Jim  Davidson  took  over. His  stint  lasted  until  2002. Since  then  it  has  only  been  revived   for  one-off  specials  with  celebrity  contestants  but  there  are  still  rumours  of  yet  another  comeback.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

139 Why Don't You Just Switch Off Your Television Set And Go And Do Something Less Boring Instead ?

First  watched  :  1973

A  programme  that  was  never  as  interesting  or  clever  as  its   smartarse  producer  Patrick  Dowling  intended  when  he  came  up  with  the  concept  in  1972. A  TV  show  that  told  you  not  to  watch  it  ! ; that'll  answer  all  those   fuddy-duddies  who  say  we're  turning  kids  into  couch  potatoes !  And  of  course  we  can  fill  a  gap  in  the  holiday  schedules  with  something  dirt  cheap  that  doesn't  require  any  professional  scriptwriters, presenters  etc.

"Something  Less  Boring "  usually  consisted  of  some  crafty  task  or  magic  trick  that   a   viewer  wrote  in  to  suggest  the  resident  gang  of  kids  might  like  to  do. Generally  it  would  engage    your  typical  kid  for  less  time  than  the   programme's  15  minute  running  time.

Despite  an  obvious  overlap  in  content  with  shows  such  as   Blue  Peter  and  later, Multi-Coloured  Swap  Shop , Why  Don't  You ... ( its  usual  abbreviation  )  lasted  a  staggering  42  series  before  its  termination  20  years  ago.  I  guess  the  low  budget  always  won  the  argument. It  has  some  cachet  from  once  being  produced  by  modern  day  Dr  Who  guru  Russell  Davies  and  among  its  young  presenters  was  one  Anthony  McPartlin  without  that  other  guy  glued  to  his  arse.  

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

138 The Kids From 47A

First  watched :  Summer   1973

I  don't  think  I  saw much  of  this;   I  seem to  recall  tuning  in  to  see  if  it  was  like  The  Tomorrow  People  when  it  could  hardly  have  been  further  removed  from  sci-fi  camp. The  Kids  From  47A  introduced  me  to  the  concept  of  "latch  key  kids"  who  didn't  have  any  parents  to  open  the  door  when  they  came  home  from  school. The  show  has  basically  the  same  premise  as  the  sixties  film  Our  Mother's  House  with  the  youngsters  trying  to  stay  together  after  widowed  mum  goes  to  hospital. By  the  start  of  the  second  series  she's  died. Oldest  sister  Jess  who's  just  started  work  has  to  balance  her  career  aspirations with  looking  after  her  younger  siblings. The  series  mixed  socially  realistic  situations with  broad  comedy  and  I  wouldn't  mind  betting  Shameless  creator  Paul  Abbott  caught  the  odd  episode,

Despite  the  writing  team  including  future  TV  gods, Phil  Redmond  and  Lynda  La  Plante, the  show  , which  ran  from  1973  to  1975  , seems  little  celebrated  today.

Monday, 13 April 2015

137 Magpie

First  watched :  Uncertain

I  caught  this  on  the  odd  occasion  when  next  door  but  have  no  recollection  of  ever  putting  it  on  by  choice. After  all, if  you  were  ambivalent  about  Blue  Peter  why  would  you  want  to  watch  a  cheap  imitation ?

Sunday, 12 April 2015

136 Dad's Army

First  watched  : 30  June  1973

Repeats  of  Dad's  Army  replaced  Clunk  Click  in  the  Saturday  schedule.  It's  enduring  appeal  is  proven  by  its  continued  presence  on  a  Saturday  evening  albeit  on  BBC2. No  other  comedy  has  survived  that  long  on  prime  time.

Although  some  of  the  humour  and  material   such  as   the  class  conflict  between  Mainwaring  and  Wilson  and  the  latter's  liaison  with  Pike's  mother  went  over  my  eight  year  old  head  there  was  enough  slapstick  to  entertain  me  until  I  got  old  enough  to  appreciate  the  subtler  stuff. My  mum  and  gran  were  a  bit  ambivalent  about  it  as  my  grand-dad  had  been  in  the  Home  Guard  and  they  didn't  enjoy  seeing  it  mocked  that  much.

It  wasn't  long  before  watching  this  run  taught  me  an  important  life  lesson. Just  days  after  my first  watching  it  Don  Powell  of  Slade  ( bear  with  me )  was  involved  in  a  bad  car  smash  and  his life  hung  in  the  balance  but  he  came  round  and,  though  left  with  permanent  memory  problems,  was  soon  back  on  Top  of  the  Pops. It  seemed  a  miraculous  triumph  of  medical  science. But  just  a  fortnight  after  Powell's  crash  the  actor  Jack  Hawkins  died  after  an  operation  to  insert  an  artificial  voicebox. His  name  meant  nothing  to  me  but  I  recall  Mum  and  Gran's  harsh  moralising  that  it  was  his  own  fault  through  smoking  too  much.  Four  days  before  Hawkins  died , James  Beck   who  played  Private  Walker, the  resourceful  spiv  who  usually  helped  Mainwaring  out  of  the  soup  was  taken  into  hospital  after  falling  ill  at  a  summer  fete. A  heavy  drinker  he  was  suffering  from  pancreatitis. For  three  weeks  he  lingered  on  as  the  public  watched  and  then  died. It  was  a  profound  shock  to  me  after  Powell's  recovery  and  the  repair  to  my  own  eye  a  couple  of  years  earlier. I  knew  that  people  died  when  they  were  old  or  had  accidents  but  that  the  doctors  couldn't  fix  a  celebrity  in  their  prime  who  had  just  fallen  ill  and  gone  to  hospital  really  hit  me.

Beck's  death  was  also  a  shock  because  at  44  he  was  so  young  compared  to  the  rest  of  the  cast  ( excluding  Pike  of  course ). It  was  always  likely  that  one  of  the  cast  would  expire  during  the  series's  run  - Beck  had  been  known  to  tease  Arnold  Ridley  about  it - but  nobody  expected  it to  be  him. He  was  in  fact  the  only  member  of  the  cast  to  die  during  the  series's  run  although  Edward  Sinclair  the  bumptious  verger  died  shortly  after  the  last  episode  was  recorded  which  reinforced  the  decision  to  bring  it  to  a  close.

That  was  in  1977. Beck  was  initially  replaced  by  a  Welsh  character , Private  Cheeseman  played  by  Talfryn  Thomas  but  after  one  series  he  was  bumped  apparently  for  garnering  too  many  laughs  for  the  liking  of  certain  stalwarts. Ian  Lavender  - along  with  Frank  Williams  ( the  Vicar ) the  only  survivor - says  something  was  lost  when  Beck  died  but  I  recall  it  keeping  up  the  quality  well  enough.  The  episode  where  they  think  Fraser  is  hiding  a  fortune  on  his  premises  is  particularly  good . The  cast  just  got  too  old  to  cope; John  Le  Mesurier  in  particular  was  struggling  though  he  recovered  to  appear  in  Brideshead  Revisited  and  other  things  before  his  death  in  1983.  

Saturday, 11 April 2015

135 The Tomorrow People

First  watched  :  Summer  1973

More  sci-fi  now . I'd  never  even  heard  of  The  Tomorrow People,   even though  it  was  coming  towards  the  end  of  its  first  run,  when  I  first  saw  it  next  door  but  I  liked  what  I  saw. Four  young  people  aged  between  12  and  20  hiding  their  special  powers   ( telekinesis, mind  reading, teleportation  or  "jaunting"  )  from  the  world  until  the  time  was  right  for  them  to  peacefully  take  over  the  world  from  the  hoi  polloi . They  had  a  secret  den  with  a  talking  computer  called  TIM  and  were  helped  out  by  some  rather  rum  normal-people-in-the-know.  These  were  known  as  "saps" -   homo  sapiens   as  opposed  to  our  heroes  being  "homo  superiors"  , a  term  producer  Roger  Damon  Price  admitted  to  lifting  from  Bowie's  Oh  You  Pretty  Things . 

In  the  first  series  there  were  four  of  them, a  rather  prissy  prefect  type  called  John  ( Nicholas  Young ) , a  slightly  dizzy  blonde  Carol  ( Sammy  Winmill )  , impetuous  black  adolescent  Kenny  ( Stephen  Salmon )  and  newcomer  Stephen  ( Peter  Vaughan  Clarke )  whose  "breaking  out"  set  the  first  episode  in  motion. Like  Dr  Who  each  series  comprised  a  number  of  multi-part  stories, some  of  which  were  set  on  earth  and  others  on  alien  planets.

I  watched  the  schedules  carefully  hoping  the  series  would  return. When  it  did  I  had  the  battle  royal  with  my  sister  recounted  in  the  Blue  Peter  post  but  won  out. She  quickly  got  over  it  and  developed  a  crush  on  Stephen.

 Carol  and  Kenny  were  gone. Sammy  Winmill  didn't  want  to  continue  and  Salmon  was  unceremoniously  dumped ; in  a  series  not  known  for  its  great  acting  he  stood  out  as  particularly  terrible  and  was  never  heard  from  again.  Perhaps  to  cut  costs  they  were  replaced  by  a  single  black  female  Elizabeth  ( Elizabeth  Adare )  a  student  teacher  who  breaks  out  in  the  first  episode ,  a  device  used  repeatedly  by  the  producers  as  a  handy  way  of  reiterating  the  show's  premise  to  new  viewers.    The  sap  ally,  biker  Ginge  also  disappeared  because  the  actor  Michael  Standing  came  off  his  bike  for  real  and  so  Ginge's  hitherto  unmentioned  brother  Chris,  played  by  Emmerdale's  Chris  Chitell,  was  quickly  drafted  in  to  take  over  his  lines.

Series  3  introduced  a  new  character  , gypsy  boy  Tyso  ( Dean  Lawrence)  though  he - and  Stephen -  spent  most  of  the  first  story  lying  comatose  in  their  underpants . Nice  work  if  you  can  get  it. The  cavalier  treatment  of  the  young  cast  was  illustrated  by  Lawrence's  treatment  at  the  end  of  the  run. Nobody  told  him  he  wasn't  required  for  series  4  so  he  turned  up  on  the  first  day  to  find  he  had  no  lines. He  was  - barely -written  into  a  few  scenes  but   sent  most  of  the  series  just  hanging  around  in  the  background. That  series  introduced  Mike  Holoway  , drummer  of  Flintlock  as  Mike  , a  working  class  lad  from  a  council  estate  and  that  finished  it  off  for  me. Holoway  was  in  my  sister's  teen  mags  and  it  just  seemed  too  naff  to  tie  the  programme  in  with  the  promotion  of  a  new  pop  band  who  were  in  fact, shit.
That  was  , if  you  like - my  first  peep  behind  the  curtain  as  regards  television. I  recognised  a  marketing  ploy  and  knew  it  to  be  crap. A  coming  of  age  if  you  will. I  don't  recall  my  sister  continuing  with  it  either, possibly  because  Stephen  was  dumped  along  with  the  hapless  Tyso  at  the  end  of  that  series.

Regardless  of  my  desertion  the  series  ran  until 1978. I  rather  regret  missing  Series  7  where  Elizabeth  had  to  be  temporarily  written  out  due  to  Adare's  pregnancy  and  she  was  replaced  by  a  Japanese  "actress"  who  the  rest  of  the  cast  couldn't  understand . It  also  had  a  storyline  featuring  Adolf  Hitler. Price  had  been  trying  to  end  the  show  for  the  past  couple  of  years  to  concentrate  on  his  light  entertainment  vehicles  but  was  thwarted  by  its  continuing  popularity. A  tussle  over  studio  time  , Price's  emigration  to  Canada  and  the  ITV  strike  of  1979  finally  ended  the  show. While  being  vaguely  aware  of  the  90s  revival   which  ran  from  1992  to  1995  I  never  checked  it  out  nor  the  2013  US  version  shown  on  E4.

The  appeal  of  The  Tomorrow  People  to  marginalised  kids  who  felt  their  social  exclusion  might  mean  they  were  special  was  obvious. It  has  been  suggested  however  that  the  whole  series  is  a  metaphor  for  homosexuality i.e  breaking  out  = coming  out. I've  not  found any  confirmation  that  producer  and  writer  Roger  Price  is  gay  and  I'm  normally  very  suspicious   of  such  claims  but  I  think  there's  some  evidence  that  supports  that  view. There  is  a  lot  of  young  male  flesh  on  view  throughout; many  stories  involve  barely-clad  boys  often  shot  from  the  crotch  upwards  while   Elizabeth  Adare's  striking  figure  isn't  exploited  at  all.  Many  of  the  young  actors  were  cast  despite  very  little  acting  experience  and  then  you  have  Flintlock.  It's  very  hard  to  account  for  Price's  championing  of  these  useless  Roller clones - they  appeared  in  two  other  Price  productions  Pauline's  Quirkes  and  You  Must  Be  Joking  at  the  time  -  unless  it  was  basically  sexual  with  Mike  Holoway  the  Heinz  to  Price's  Joe  Meek.  I don't  however  think  that  John's  irritatingly  mincing  voice  was part  of  the  concept; I  think  that  was  Nicholas  Young's  genuine  affliction.

Young  and  Holoway  are  the  only  one's  who've  maintained  a  career  in  performing  , the  latter  largely  in  musical  theatre. The  others  quit  acting  early  for  a  variety  of  new  careers, for  instance  Peter  Vaughan-Clarke  is  now  a  lighting  technician  while  Elizabeth  Adare  is  a  child  psychologist  in  local  government.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

134 The Galloping Gourmet

First  watched  :  Summer  1973

This  was  a  thrice  weekly  fixture  at  11.35  a.m.  Along  with  Fanny  Craddock, host  Graham  Kerr  was  part  of  the  first  wave  of  TV  chefs. Although  Kerr  was  born  in  London  and  served  in  the  British  Army  for  five  years  his  TV  career  began  in  New  Zealand  where  he  was  working  for  the  Air  Force. He  then  moved  to  Canada  where  this  show  was  made  between  1969  and  1971. The  name  came  from  a  book  Kerr  published  about  an  international  trek  he  made  to  the world's  great  restaurants  with  wine  expert  Len  Evans. The  show  was  recorded  with  a  live  audience  with  Kerr  enjoying  mild  banter  with  and  heckling  from  the  audience  and  the  odd  glass  of  wine  while  he  was  cooking.

The  show  ended  when  he  had  a  serious  car  accident  and  then  his  wife  was  wrongly  diagnosed  with  lung  cancer.  Both  recovered  and  Kerr  resumed  his  career  with  other  shows   in  the  US  but  he's  never  had  as  high  a  profile  here  since.

For  a  while  Kerr's   stage  name  became  synonymous  with  anyone  who  tried  to  put  the  boat  out  in  their  cooking  but  eventually  dropped  out  of  use  as  we  all  began  taking  our  food  deadly  seriously.  Bad  food  is  one  of  the  main  charges  we  like  to  bring   against  the  seventies  and  Kerr's  fat-heavy  recipes  have  joined  Wimpy  and  Berni  Inns  in  the  sin-bin. Still  he  should  be  recognised  as  a  trailblazer   for  Harriott, Ramsey  and  the  rest  which  is  actually  a  more  serious  charge.    

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

133 Scotland Yard Casebook

First  watched :  Summer  1973

Another  one  glimpsed  at  the  house  next  door  one  Monday  morning  that  summer.

This  series  was  actually  made  for  cinema  in  the  1950s  and  comprised  30  minute  dramatisations  of  notable  cases  - usually  from  the  thirties -  from  the  files  of  Scotland  Yard  with  an  introduction  and  narration  from  celebrated  crime  writer  Edgar  Lustgarten. Because  of  its  cinematic  origins  it  had  a  noir-ish  feel  that  has  held  up  well,  making  repeat  showings  on  Channel  4  and  Bravo  and  a  DVD  release  feasible.

I  only  recall  seeing  one  episode,  where  they  had  to  identify  an  unknown  female  corpse  found  on  the  London  Underground,  but  I  remember  we  found  it  quite  engrossing.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

132 The Golden Shot

First  watched :  1973

I  don't  think  this  was  ever  on  in  our  house  but  I  caught  it  once  or  twice  next  door.

This  unfathomably  popular  game  show  was  based  on  a  German  series. Basically  contestants  had  to  hit  a  target  with  a  crossbow  bolt  by  verbally  guiding  a  blindfolded  cameraman. That  was  it  basically  but  the  rounds  were  interspersed  by  banter  from  the  host  and  special  guests  from  the  fields  of  music  and  comedy. First  host  Alex  Rae  in  1967  was  quickly  bumped  by  the  shark-eyed , perma-tanned   Bob  Monkhouse  who  made  sure  he  upstaged  Rae  in  his  guest  appearance.

Monkhouse  was  absolutely  vital  to  the  show. Because  half  the  contestants  were  playing  by  telephone  it  was  a  live  show  and  utterly  shambolic. Monkhouse's  sharp  wit  and  fleet-footedness  held  it  together  amid  the  missed  cues, prematurely-fired  bolts , arithmetically  challenged  dolly  birds  and  tongue-tied  contestants.

Monkhouse  was  controversially  dismissed  in  1972  for  accepting  a  gift  from  Wilkinson  Sword  who  then  provided  a  prize  for  the  show. It  was  very  small  beer. The  producers  then  suicidally  allowed  him  to  present  a  last  show  with  his  replacement  Norman  Vaughan  watching  from  the  wings   and  having  to  endure  a  series  of  jibes  from  Bob  egged  on  by  the  audience.

Though  a  successful  comedian  Vaughan  never  stood  a  chance  and  things  got  even  worse  when  the  utterly  crap  Yorkshire  comedian  Charlie  Williams  replaced  him. He  was  completely  at  sea; contestants  were  lucky  if  he  got  half  their  name  right. In  1974  the  execs  swallowed  hard  and  invited  Bob  back. He  agreed  but , suspecting  that  the  show  may  have  had  its  day,  he  made  it  a  condition  that  he  be  allowed  to  host  a  new  show  which  became  Celebrity  Squares. A  much  sharper  operator  than  he's  generally  given  credit  for,  Bob's  instincts  were  absolutely  right  and  the  show  was  axed  the  following  year.

Monday, 6 April 2015

131 The Saint

First  watched  :  Uncertain

I  probably  first  saw  this  on  a  Sunday  afternoon  in  1973  but  can't  be  certain.

This  of  course  was  the  series  that  made  Roger  Moore  a  superstar  and  where  he  perfected  the  quizzical  raised  eyebrow  expression  beloved  of  satirists  everywhere. The  modestly  talented  actor  explained  it  by  saying  that  his  character  Simon  Templar  had  no  depth  whatsoever  and  consequently  he  never  knew  how  he  was  to  play  the  scene.

Besides  Roger  the  series's  main  ace, once  in  colour,  was  the  exotic location  work, expensive  but  it  paid  off  in  international  sales.  My  first  impressions  of  Europe, as  a  world  of  sun, yachts  and  casinos , came  from  this  and  jig-saw  pictures.

The  common  misconception  is  that  the  series  came  to  an  end  when  Moore  accepted  the  part  of  Bond  but  in  fact  he'd  turned  it  down  twice  in  the  sixties  in  favour  of  continuing  as  Templar.  The  series  actually  ran  its  course  until  1969  when  Moore   and  ITC   decided  to  develop  an  idea  from  one  of  the  final  episodes  as  a  new  show  The  Persauaders.

We'll  discuss  its  successor  series  in   a  separate  post.   

Sunday, 5 April 2015

130 The Addams Family

First  watched  :  1973

It  was  round  about  this  time  that  our   neighbour  Mrs  M  became  a  bit  less  bothered  about  us  playing  indoors  so  this  is  the  first  of  a  string  of  programmes - almost  invariably  on  ITV - that  were  first, if  not  exclusively, glimpsed  next  door.

The  Addams  Family  was  made  between  1964  and  1966  , inspired  by  the  satirical  cartoons  of  Charles  Addams  in  the  New  Yorker  magazine  ( whose  proprietors  were  less  than  enthusiastic  about  having  a  popular  TV  show  tied  to  their  upmarket  publication )  about  a  family  with  a  pronounced  taste  for  the  Gothic  and  macabre.  All   subsequent  adaptations  are  based  almost   entirely  on  this  series  rather  than  the  original  cartoons  where  the  family  members  weren't  even  named.

The  appeal  of  the  series  was  always  the  contrast  between  the  horror  trappings  and  the   good-natured  family  comedy  underneath. They  were  all   likeable  characters  with  great  affection  for  each  other. The  enduring  appeal  of  the  series  can  be  judged  its  continuing  use   as  a  source  for  not-always-kind  nicknames. Any  girl  with  long  straight  dark  hair  is  likely  to  get  called  Morticia  particularly  if  her  clothes  are  less  than  colourful  while  any  over-sized  but  apparently  slow-witted  guy  has  a  good  chance  of  being  likened  to  the  lugubrious  butler, Lurch.

The  most  notable  member  of  the  cast  was  Jackie  Coogan  as  the  creepy  Uncle  Fester  who  achieved  early  fame  as  "The  Kid"  in  Charlie  Chaplin's  film  of  the  same  name  and  later  became  the  catalyst  for  legislation  protecting  the  earnings  of  child  stars  when  he  sued  his  parents  for  squandering  his  earnings.  John  Astin   ( Gomez )  was  the  last  member  of  the  original  cast  to  be  involved  with  the  franchise  voicing  his  character  in  the  animated  series  of  1992. Apart  from  Lisa  Loring  who  played  Wednesday  he  is  the  only  surviving  member  of  the  cast  at  the  time  of  writing.  

My  only  gripe  with  the  series  was  that  the  child  characters   Wednesday  and  Pugsley  (  who  was  originally  to  be  called  Pubert ! )   were  not  always  involved  in  the  storylines.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

129 Wimbledon

First  watched : 1973

My  mum  and  gran  were  always  huge  Wimbledon  fans  so  it's  almost  certain  that  I  saw  something  of  earlier  tournaments  but  I'm  putting  Wimbledon  coverage  here  because  the  first  thing  I  definitely  recall  is  the  teen  hysteria  surrounding  a  17-year  old  Swede  with  his  flowing  blonde  locks  who  made  it  to  the  quarter-finals. Bjorn  Borg  even  got  a  feature  in  It's  Here  And  Now  which  was a bit  strange  considering  he  hadn't  released  a  record. Perhaps  he  practised  in  his  bedroom  with  a  guitar. He was  put  out  by  Roger  Taylor, the  last  British  male  to  make  the  semis  for  nearly  30  years  ( though  in  truth  he  probably  only  got  there  because  a  lot  of  the  big  guns  were  boycotting  Wimbledon  that  year ).

Borg  became  my  first  favourite  and  I  was  pleased  he   went  on  to  win  it  five  times  in  a  row  after  growing  a  scruffy  beard  to  scare  away  the  teenyboppers. After  he  lost  to  McEnroe  in  the  1981 Final  - a tournament  I  followed  almost  entirely  through  the papers  as  I  was  on  a  long  walking  holiday  in  the  Lakes  for  most  of  that  fortnight -  he  never  played  there  again, a  boycott  of  the  1982  tournament  for  some  reason  or other  became  a  complete  retirement  the  following  year. He  had  his  ups  and  downs   out  of   the  game  with  divorce, a  suicide  attempt, mixed  fortunes  as  a  businessman  and  a  bonkers  attempt  at  a  comeback  in  the  nineties  when  he  tried to  turn  back  the  clock  by  using  his  old  wooden  rackets. He  later  joined  the  Champions  tour  and  seemed  more  content  although  in  2006  he  put  his  trophies  up  for  auction  until  John  McEnroe  and  other  champs  talked  him  out  of  it.

Mum  and  Gran  didn't  mind  Borg  but  they  had  their  pet  hates. Mum's  was  Billie  Jean  King  whose  career  choice  to  have  an  abortion  made  her  absolutely  beyond  the  pale  and  Chris  Evert  became  a  huge  favourite, despite  her  crushingly  boring  playing  style, just  because  she  could  beat  King. Gran's  target  was  Jimmy  Connors  whose  brash , pugilistic  manner  and  graceless  demeanour  on  court  lowered  the  tone  at  SW19. Arthur  Ashe's  famous  triumph  against  him  in  1975  was  hugely  applauded.

The  first  tournament  where  I  recall  several  events  was  unsurprisingly  1977  with  Virginia  Wade's  triumph  in  Jubilee  year. Sue  Barker  reached  her  career  high  as  a  losing  semi-finalist  and  the  obscure  British  player  John  Lloyd  secured  a  victory  he  still  dines  out  on  against  the  cannonball-serving  Roscoe  Tanner  in  an  earlier  round. That  brings  me  to  a  perennial  bugbear  about  the  coverage; the  assumption  that  we're  more  interested  in  how  mediocre  British  journeymen  are  doing  than  anything  else  and  automatically  want  them  to  beat  the  great  players  when  they  come  up  against  them. This  was  at  its  worst   in  1993  when  some  guy  called  Andrew  Foster  had  a  competitive  third  set  against  Pete  Sampras  and  the  commentators  went  along  with  the  crowd's  ugly  delusion  that  he  could  turn  the  match  around. Fortunately  the  mikes  didn't  pick  up  Sampras's    "Hasta  la  vista  motherfuckers"  to  the  crowd  when  he  came  through  the  tiebreak. on  his  way  to  the  first  of  seven  titles.

For  the  women  it  was  even  worse,  a  situation  accurately  summed  up  by  a  Spitting  Image  sketch  which  ran  "Passer-by  bt  Jo Durie,  Parking  cone  beat  Anne  Hobbs"  and  so  on. Pity  poor  Laura  Robson  trying  to  overturn  nearly  40  years  of  non-achievement  in  the  women's  game.

1977  also  saw  the  emergence  of  the  young  John  McEnroe  the  teenage  qualifier  who  fought  his  way  to  the  semi-final  against  Connors. I  feared  that  might  be  his  one  shot  at  glory  but  of  course  he  went  on  to  three  titles , gaining  his  revenge  on  Connors  with  an  utter  annihilation  in  the  1984  final,   and  oodles  of  controversy  for  his  on-court  tantrums. He  introduced  a  new  insult  to  the  UK  when  he called  an  umpire  "the  pits  of  the  world" in  1981. Like  his  friend  Borg, McEnroe  faded  rather  early  , distracted  by  family  life  but  is  now  the  star  of  the  BBC  commentary  team.

That  is  actually  much  improved  from  my  early  days   with   toffs  like  the  crusty  Dan  Maskell  "Oh  that  angle  didn't  exist"   and  the  tedious  Anne  Jones  a  former  champion  who  looked  like  the  back  end  of  a  bus,  Unfortunately  we  still  have  to  put  up  with  "Our  Ginny"  whose talent  for  stating  the  obvious  is  only  leavened  by  her  curious  habit  of  putting  the  emphasis  on  THE  wrong  word.   The  best  in  those  days  was  probably  Gerald  Williams. I  remember  being  shocked  in  the  early  eighties  when  he  came  out  from  behind  the  mike  to  co-present  the  highlights  programme  with  Des  Lynam :  never  has  the  phrase  "a  face  for  radio"  seemed  more  apt. He  broke  up  the  partnership  when  he  moved  over  to  Sky  and  since  then  we've  had  to  put  up  with  the  slouching  slug  John  Inverdale  whose  high  reputation  baffles  me. I've  hated  him  since  his  boring  Drivetime  show  replaced  the  excellent  Five-A-Side   in  1993 ; it  seems  like  I'm  the  only  person  who  still  holds  a  candle  for  the  original  Radio  5. I  was  rather  hoping  his  comments  about  Marion  Bartoli's  looks  would  sink  him  but  no  such  luck.

Besides  being  no  oil  painting  himself  Inverdale's  comments  were  misplaced  because  on  the   looks  spectrum  of  female  tennis  players  Bartoli   is  actually  somewhere  in  the  middle. What  on  earth  would  he  find  to  say  about  the  overweight  Lindsay  Davenport, hairy  Arantcha  Sanchez-Vicario, jut-jawed  Justine  Henin  or  the  sasquatch , Pam  Shriver ?  Yes  of  course  it's  a  bit  sexist  to  be  discussing  female  tennis  players'  looks  but  how  else  could  you  stay  interested  in  the  women's  game  when  for  such  long  periods  it's  been  so  uncompetitive ?
Martina  Navratilova  actually  seemed  like  a  bit  of  a  flake  as  a  young  Czech  in  the  seventies  when  she  rarely  justified  her  seeding  but  once  she'd  defected, gone  blond  and  muscled  up  she  dominated  the  eighties  and  it  was  a  welcome  relief  when  Steffi  Graff  arrived  to  put  a  stop  to  that. Since  her  hey-day  we've  had  to  put  up  with  the  repellent  Williams  sisters  and  their  supremely  annoying  father  and  I  look  forward  to  their  retirement. I've  tended  to  back  under-achieving  lookers - anyone  remember  Andrea  Temesvari  or  Bettina  Bunge ? - and  I'm  hoping  current  fave  Sabine  Lisicki  can  break  the  duck.

Talking  of  seedings  why  do  Wimbledon  slavishly  follow  the  world  rankings  when  they  know that  the  grass  courts  render  many  players'  past  records  redundant ? Hence  you  had  the  annual embarrassment  of  Guillermo  Vilas  , continually  seeded  three  or  four  but  always  going  out  in  the  first   round   because  he  couldn't  play  on  the  surface. Mats  Wilander  was  another  top  player  who  was  absolutely  wretched  at  Wimbledon.

There's  no  doubt  which  was  my  least  favourite  tournament - 1985. I  absolutely  loathed  Boris  Becker  the  boorish  brute  from  Germany. There  was  an  air  of  inevitability  about  his  progress  to  the  title  despite  injuries  and  match  points  against  him . In  the  fourth  round  he  twisted  an  ankle  against  Tim  Mayotte, a  man  who  seemed  to  put  being  the  anithesis  to  McEnroe  on  court  above  actually  winning  anything. Becker  was  trailing  and  ready  to  quit  but  Mayotte  was  reluctant  to  accept  his  concession  and  lost  the  match  when  Becker  resumed  after  lengthy  treatment. He  then  beat  Kevin  Curren  who'd  removed  the  heavyweights,  Connors  and  McEnroe, for  him,  in  the  Final.  As  sadly  predicted  Curren  never  made   the  final  again. I'm  grateful  to  Edberg  and  Stich  for  restricting  Becker  to  three  titles.

For  all  my  gripes  I'll  still  be  watching  avidly  this  June.


Friday, 3 April 2015

128 Daktari

First  watched  : Summer  1973

Daktari  was  a  US  made  drama  series  derived  from  the  1965  film  Clarence  the  Cross-Eyed  Lion  about  a  vet  and  his  daughter  working  in  East  Africa. Both  the  ( human )  stars  of  the  film  Marshall  Thompson  and  the  leggy  Cheryl  Miller  were  on  board  for  the  duration  of  the  series. It  was  made  between  1966  and  1969  , largely  on  a  safari  ranch  in  California  although  stock  footage  was  inserted  to  make  it  look  more  authentically  African  with  occasional  mistakes  like  tigers  and  Indian  elephants  creeping  in.

BBC1  brought  it  back  to  fill  out  the  Friday  teatime  schedule  in  1973  after  more  than  three  year's  absence. I  must  apologise  to  fans  of  the  series  that  I  have  little  recollection   other  than  disinterest  and  boredom  with  it  although  my  wife  remembers  it  more  fondly.

Short  runs  of  episodes  were  used  on  holiday  mornings  for  the  next  four  years  but  it  hasn't  been  seen  since  1977. Both  Thompson  and  Miller  continued  to  act  on  TV  in  the  seventies  without  achieving  similar  fame. Thompson  died  in  1992. Miller  is  still  alive  and  her  son  is  the  magician  Eric  Seidenglanz.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

127 We Are The Champions

First  watched :  June  1973

This  low  budget  cross  between  a  school  sports  day  and  It's  A  Knockout   proved  to  be  a  winner  with  a  revival   on  Sport  Relief  as  recently  as  2010.

Hosted  by  po-faced  athletics  commentator  Ron  Pickering  and  a  sporting  celebrity  guest,  the  programme  featured three  or   four  teams  of  sporty  youngsters - aged  around  11  or  12 -  representing  their  schools  in  a  series  of  challlenges   ( usually  similar  to  those  on  It's  A  Knockout  in  milder  and  scaled  down  form )  split  between  field  and  pool.  Each  school  bussed  in  a  load  of  other  pupils  to  wave  teddies  and  enviously  cheer  their  school  mates  on .It  famously  concluded  with  Pickering  shouting  " Away  you  go ! "  and  the  competitors  jumping  back  in  the  pool  as  the  credits  ran.

Although   school  sports  and  PE  were  usually  something  of  a  nightmare  for  me  I  didn't  mind  watching  this. My  sister  was  a  bit  more  interested  in  sport , if  little  more  co-ordinated, so  was  the  keener  viewer.

The  show  barely  survived  the  mid-eighties  re-vamp  of  childrens  TV  on  BBC1. After  1987  it  was  restricted  to  an  annual  one-off  special  and  these  continued  after  Pickering's  death  in  1991.  Though  he  was  already  a  smooth  football  pundit, the  remaining  shows  through  to  1995  gave  Gary  Lineker  his  first  presenting  gig.

Most  of  the  recordings, even  from  the  eighties ,  were  dumped  fairly  soon  afterwards  so  as  far  as  I  can  tell  no  future  sporting  star  has  been  identified  as having  been  a  competitor  on  the  programme.      

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

126 Clunk Click

First  watched : 1973

Hmm ... yes....well... what  do  we  say  about  this  one ?

Well  it  was  one  an  odd  proposition  from  the  off,  a  variety-cum-chat  show  hosted  by  a professional  eccentric ,  normally  a  disc  jockey, and  named  after  the  slogan  for  a  public  safety  campaign  on  seat  belts  that  he  was  fronting. The  show  pandered  to  Savile's  ego  by  giving  him  a  chair-cum-throne   to  sit  on  with  tacky  gimmicks  in  the  arms.

For  obvious  reasons  there  isn't  too  much  footage  around  but  you  can  find  bits  here  and  there  such  as  Pan's  People's  appearance  ( above ) which  drew  complaints  from  Mary  Whitehouse  about  their  revealing  dresses. The  selection  of  the  Song  for  Europe  in  1974  to  be  sung  by  Olivia  Newton-John  took  place  on  the  programme  and  it's  notable  how  cowed  and  uncomfortable  - though  he  was  always  clumsy  when  he  had  to  engage  in  normal  conversation -  he  seemed  when  interviewing  a  beautiful  adult  woman.

The  other  thing  that  strikes  you  about  the  interview  extracts  is  how  religious  he  was,  with  frequent  references  to  "the  Good  Lord",  particularly  evident  in  a  toe-curling  encounter  with  a  young  Yuri  Geller.  You  can't  imagine  any  modern  day  host  being  allowed  to  proselytise  so  much. Cynics  who  say  this  was  just  a  part  of  the  "front"  for  his  nefarious  activities  off  screen   know  nothing  about  Catholicism. Jimmy  Savile  didn't  run  punishing  marathons  in  late  middle  age  just  to  throw  people  off  the  scent  - there  were  far  easier  ways  to  do  that ;  they  were  an  attempt  to  balance  the  scales  with  God, do  enough  good  works  to make  up  for  his  sexual  weaknesses. We  can't  know  whether  it  was  successful.

The  show  lasted  for  two  series  before  it  morphed  into  Jim'll  Fix  It.