Sunday, 28 June 2015

170 World Cup 74

First  watched  : June  1974

This  is  the  first  World  Cup  I  remember  although  I  actually  watched  very  little  of  it, perhaps  no  more  than  a  portion  of   one  match  involving  one  of  the  Germanys. It  was  too  nice  outside. My  interest  in  football  was  still  a  few  years  away  from  fully  forming.

What  I  do  recall  is  the  publicity  around  Scotland  qualifying  and  their  chart  hit  "Easy  Easy  "  which  went  "Yabba  Dabba  Doo.  We  support  the  boys  in  blue  because  it's  easy  - easy  !" I  remember  hearing  about  their  elimination  and  not  understanding  how  they  could  be  knocked  out  when  they  hadn't  lost  any  of  their  games ( a  first  for  the  Finals ). Manager  Willie  Ormond  gets  some  stick  for  giving  a  sentimental  last  cap  to  34-year  old  Denis  Law  against  whipping  boys  Zaire ( the  last  African  side  to  look  seriously  out  of  their  depth  at  the  Finals )  but  the  whole  team  took  it  too  easy  and  didn't  press  them  hard  enough. Even  so  Brazil  still  had  to  rely  on  an  awful  error  by  the  Zaire  keeper  to  go  through  at  the  Scots'  expense.

The  other  thing  I  remember  is  all  the  talk  about  the  Dutch  superstar  Johann  Cruyff  who  was  staking  a  good  claim  to  be  the  best  player  in  the  world. Unfortunately  he  was  also  petulant  and  declined  to  play  in  1978. The  Dutch  didn't  qualify  in  1982  so  he  became  a  one  tournament  wonder.

Friday, 26 June 2015

169 The Small World of Samuel Tweet

First  watched : 24  May  1974

Well  here's  another  case  of  memory  playing  tricks : I'd  have  sworn  blind  this  was  on  ITV  and  broadcast  much  earlier,  around  the  time  of  Ace  of  Wands  and  Pardon  My  Genie.

The  Small  World  of  Samuel  Tweet  was  a  vehicle  for  comedian  Freddie  "Parrot  Face"  Davies,  the   grandson  of  a  music  hall  comedian. He   made  his  name  on  Opportunity  Knocks    in  1964  with   a  shaggy  dog  story  about  a  pet  shop  and  was  still  mining  the  scenario  for  laughs  ten  years  later  with  these  two  short  and  never-repeated   series   about   a  pet  shop  owner  with  a  thing  for  birds. Freddie's  gimmicks  were  a  black  Homburg   rammed  as  low  as  he  could  get  it  and  a  splutter  every  few  words. Even  back  then  I  thought  he  was  f**king  awful  and  I  very  much  doubt  the  series  has  aged  well  ( two episodes  at  least  have  survived ).  

Freddie  was  something  of  an  anachronism  even  at  the  time  and  after  the  series  ended  in  1975  he  started  slipping  out  of  view. He  started  moving  into  entertainments  management  while  maintaining  a  presence  on  TV  with  a  semi-regular  spot on  Punchlines.  The  failure  of  his  company  in  the  mid-eighties  forced  him  to  work  for  a  time  on  American cruise  ships.

When  he  returned to  the  UK  in  the  nineties  he  sought  to  re-position  himself  as  a  straight  actor   with  great  success. He  had  regular  roles  in  Harbour  Lights  and  Born  and  Bred . He  appeared  in  the  1995  film  Funny Bones  based  on  his  grandfather  and  in  one  of  the  Harry  Potter  films.

Freddie  published  his  autobiography  last  year and  at  77  is  still  treading  the  boards  as  a  comedian  in  regional  theatres. He  is  by  all  accounts  a  really  nice  guy  so  long  may  he  continue.     

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

168 Val Meets The VIPs

First  watched  : Uncertain

The  lack  of  any  stills  knocking  about  and  a  very  terse  summary  on  TV  Cream  would  suggest  that  my  own  reaction  to  this   Blue  Peter  spin-off   was  widely  shared. I  thought  it  was  an  unwarranted  intrusion  into  the  children's  TV   schedules  of  adult  material. Blue  Peter's   most   boring  presenter  doing  po-faced  interviews  with  mostly  boring  people  in  front  of  a  bunch  of  swotty-looking  kids  was  an  immediate  invitation  to  change  channels.  Singleton  was  probably  the  first  TV  face  I  actively  hated  and   I  wouldn't  have  included  this  here  except  I'm  pretty  sure  I  would  have  watched  the  Les  Gray ( of  Mud )  edition  broadcast  on  7th  May  1974  even  if  I  can't  remember  anything  about  it.

The  show  ran  for  three  series  of  six  programmes  each  between  1973  and  1974* . It  was  probably  the  high  water  mark  of  Singleton's  career  though  she  was  pretty  active  on  radio  and  TV  for  the  next  two  decades  and  has  always  participated  in  the  various  Blue  Peter  anniversary  programmes. She's  now  78  and  lives  in  Dorset.

* In  1980   her  successor  on  Blue  Peter ,  Lesley  Judd,  hosted  the  very  similar  In  The  Limelight  With  Lesley  but  only  five  programmes  were  made.

Monday, 22 June 2015

167 Look - Mike Yarwood / Mike Yarwood In Persons

First  watched  : 1974

My  mum  loved  this  guy  and  always  sang  his  praises  but  it  was  1974  before  he  was  on  at  a  time  when  we  could  stay  up  and  watch  him.

I  half-enjoyed it  because  I  didn't  know  who  many  of   his  targets  were. I'd never  heard  of  Robin  Day  or  Alf  Garnett  and  only  became  aware  of  the  politicians   in  a  meaningful  way   after  we'd  done  some  work  on  newspapers  at  school  at  the  beginning  of  1976. Like  most  people  watching  I  was  also  exasperated  when  he  broke  the  spell  with  "And  this  is  me"  then  proceeded   to  do  some  variety  club  number  in  his bog  standard  voice, a  bad  guest  on  his  own  show ! Nevertheless  Yarwood  was  insanely  popular  ; his  Christmas  show  in  1977  had  half  the  UK  population  tuning  in  and  set  a   light  entertainment  record  that's  never  likely  to  be  beaten.

Mike  Yarwood's   subsequent  slide  into  obscurity  has  been  much  discussed . He's  still  only  74 yet  has  been  largely  off  screen  for  decades; only  Simon  Dee  stands  out  as  a  more  famous casualty. A  common  explanation  has  it  that  his  decline  started  with  the  rise  of  Margaret Thatcher. I  remember  him  early  on  trying  to  do  her  himself  then  wisely  turning  the  job  over  to  Janet  Brown.  I  don't  think  that  holds  much  water  actually.

Much  more  damaging  was  his  jump   to   ITV  in  1982  where  he  never  got  the  same  ratings   leaving  him  vulnerable  as  a  new  generation  of  satirists  started  to  take  over . They  didn't  want  to  lightly  tease  and  appear  with  the  politicians  like  Mike; they  wanted  to  be  sued by  them. When  Spitting  Image  got  going  in  1984  he  looked  hopelessly  out  of  touch  and it's  no coincidence  his  show  was  cancelled  the  same  year.

By  his  own  admission  Mike  didn't  take  the  decision  well. His  confidence  shredded,  he  took  to  the  bottle  to  control  his  stage  fright . In  1985 his  marriage  broke  up  and  in  1986  he  was  banned  from  driving  for  being  three  times  over  the  limit. In  1990  he  had  a  heart  attack  and  was  forced  to  become  teetotal. He  entertained  hopes  of  a  comeback  and  perfected  a John  Major  impersonation  but  now  he  was  up  against  Rory  Bremner  and  faced  the  same  problem  as  all  older  impressionists - young  guys  can  impersonate  their  elders  convincingly  but it  doesn't  work  the  other  way  round. He  was simply  too  old  to  do  Tony Blair.

In  the early  nineties  he  retired  from  stage  work  to  spend  more  time  with  his  family and  contented  himself  with  odd  guest appearances  on  TV  e.g  Have  I  Got  News  For  You  . Although  he  was  treated  at  The  Priory  for  depression  in  1999  he's  generally  been  able  to  discuss   his  rise  and  fall  in  a  good  humoured  way  on  nostalgia  shows  and  will  always  be  fondly  remembered  by  people my  age  and  beyond.  

Sunday, 21 June 2015

166 It's A Knockout

First  watched  : Uncertain

I  might  have  caught  this  earlier   but  it  was  Friday  evenings  from  May  1974  when  I  started  watching  it  regularly.

It's  A  Knockout  was  a  strange  show  for  the  BBC  to  be  broadcasting    and  it  was  probably  the  fact  that  it  was  an  international  competition  like  the  Eurovision  Song  Contest  that  persuaded  the  bosses  to  give  it  the  go  ahead. It  had  been  running  since  1966  and  the  basic  premise  was  that  teams  of  ordinary,  but  reasonably  fit,  people  would  compete  against  each  other  in  silly  games  that  usually  involved  either  dressing  in  ludicrously  impractical  costumes  or  falling  in  giant  inflatable  pools. It  started  off  with  regional  heats  in  Britain  with  teams  from  particular  towns  - I've  no  idea  how  the  selection  process  was  organised-  battling  it  out  and  then  the  winners  went  to  Europe  for  the  international  contest  under  the  title  "Je  Seux  Frontiers".

For  better  or  worse  the  show  is  remembered  for  the  manic  presenting  style  of  compere  Stuart  Hall   whose  laughter  at  the  slapstick   sometimes  sounded  genuinely  deranged. Now  I'm  going  to  put  my  head  over  the  parapet  here  and  say  I  still  have  a  certain  amount  of  sympathy  for  Stuart  Hall. Most  of  the  crimes  he  admitted  to  ( and  let's  not  forget  that  which  puts  him  alone  among  the  celebrity  offenders  )  were  minor   and  the  more  serious  ones  were  committed  within a  close  circle  of  family  friends  in  a  short  time  frame  when  Hall  seems  to  have  had  some  sort  of  mid-life  crisis.  None  were  more  recent  than  1986. He  doesn't  deserve  to  be  bracketed  with  Jimmy  Savile. Yes  he  was foolish  to  make  that  speech  outside  the  court  but  at  the  time  he  was  being  charged  with  a  rape  that  later  got  dropped  and  expecting  a  guy  in  his  mid-eighties  to  exercise  good  judgement  under   such  strain  is  a  big  ask.

Anyhow  I  enjoyed  the  programme  at  the  time  but  gradually  my  interest  fell  away  and  I  wasn't  still  watching  when  it  was  axed  as  a  regular  series  in  1982. Thereafter  it  has  been  periodically  revived  in  one-off  specials  most  notoriously  in  1989  when  the  BBC  ill-advisedly  allowed  failed  paratrooper  Edward  Windsor  to  launch  his  so-called  broadcasting  career  with  a  special  Royal  edition. Even  without  Hall's  damaged  rep,  his  interview,  dressed  as  Henry  VIII  ,with  a  clearly  highly  reluctant  Princess  Anne  would  stand  out  as  a  buttock-clenching  embarrassment. And  of  course  Edward's  flouncing  out  when  reporters  failed  to  hail  him  as  the  new  Lew  Grade  for  reviving  a  camp  old  favourite  with  his  famous  relatives   has  been  identified  as  a  key  moment  in  the  British  media's  loss  of  deference  towards  the  Royal  Family.

Nevertheless  the  revivals  have  continued  including  a  two  year  run  on  Channel  5  around  Millennium  time  and  a  recent  revival  on the  BBC  in  a  flimsy  disguise  as  Total  Wipeout.      

Saturday, 20 June 2015

165 Alias Smith and Jones

First  watched : Uncertain

This  one  first  moved  over  from  BBC2  to  BBC1   at  the  end  of  April  1974  but  I  might  have  caught  it  earlier.  I  do  remember  that  long  before  I  actually  saw  an  episode  of  this  I  was  familiar  with  Ben  Murphy    who  was  never  out  of  the  teen  magazines  my  sister  and  I  were  buying  from  1973  onwards.

There  was  a  not  exactly  good  reason  why  co-star  Pete  Duel  wasn't  featuring. He  had  committed  suicide   ( probably  my  first  introduction  to  the  concept  ) on  New  Year's  Eve  1971. Inevitably  there's  been  silly  speculation  around  it  but  the  facts  seem  pretty  clear. He was  a  pretty  moody  guy  with  a  long  standing  alcohol  problem, couldn't  enjoy  himself  on  set  ( he  and  Murphy  didn't  speak  off  camera )  and  was  getting  depressed  over  the  show's  falling  ratings. After  a  couple  of  drinks  that  evening  he  went  into  his  living  room  and  shot  himself.

The  show  was  based  on  Butch  Cassidy  and  the  Sundance  Kid   ( Murphy  was  cast  for  his  resemblane  to  Paul  Newman  ) with   Smith  and  Jones  the  aliases  of  Hannibal  Heyes  ( Duel ) and  Kid  Curry   ( Murphy )  who  were  outlaws  on  the  run  but  really  just  trying  to  stay  out  of  trouble  until  it  became  politically  possible  for  them  to  be  pardoned. The  drama  came  from  their  interaction  with  the  guest  stars  in  which  ever  town  they  visited - a  formula  also  used  in  The  Incredible  Hulk  and  The  A-Team  to  name  but  two.

Duel's  death  has  cast  a  long  shadow  over  the  series  and  you  rarely  hear  anyone  mention  it  these  days  ( although  it  was  re-run  as  recently  as  1997 ) . Astoundingly,  Universal  contacted  the series ' narrator  Roger  Davis  the  same  day  instructing  him  to  take  over  the  role  and  they  were  re-shooting  scenes  with  the  rest  of  the  cast  before  h'd  even  been  buried.  It  was  more  bad  publicity  for  an  already  struggling  series  and  poor  Davis  had  no  chance. The  show  was  cancelled  at  the  beginning  of  1973.

Murphy  re-surfaced  in  the  short-lived  Gemini  Man    in  1976  and  has  continued  working   down  to  the  present  day  in  TV  but  has  never  recaptured  the  high  profile  he  had  with  this.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

164 Lassie's Rescue Rangers

First  watched : 19  April  1974

Well  here's  another  one  dragged  from  the  outer  edge  of  the  memory  banks. I   don't  think  I've  given  this  one  a  second  thought  since  it  was  last  broadcast  nearly  forty  years  ago.

The  series  transplanted  everybody's  favourite  collie to  a  fictitious  national  park  Thunder  Mountain   run  almost  singlehanded  by  the  Persil-white  Turner  family, the  youngest  kid  being  blind  for  an  extra  yuk  factor. Lassie  and  her  motley  band  of   animal  buddies  such  as  Toothless  the  mountain  lion  were  the  Rescue  Rangers  helping  the  Turners   plus  docile  Indian  Gene  Fox  protect  life  and  limb  from  natural  disasters   and  the  usual  tame  criminals.

It  was   the  first  time  I'd  heard  of  Lassie   but  in  America  it  followed  directly  on  from  the  cancellation  of  the  long  -running  live  action  series  and  was  coolly  received  to  say  the  least. Only  15  episodes  were  made . Even  without  that  cross  to  bear  it  was  poor  stuff.  Made  by  Filmation  rather  than  Hanna-Barbera  the  animation  was  cheap  and  repetitive  and  the  scripts  were  tame  and  boring  making  it  very  easy  to  forget.    

Saturday, 13 June 2015

163 Paperplay

First  watched : 1974

This  is  a  fairly  fuzzy  memory  now - bra-less  Susan  Stranks  fresh  from  her  stint  in  Magpie  with  a  lunchtime  programme  for  pre-school  tots  making  objects  from  household  waste  assisted  by  the  coloured  spiders  Itsy  and  Bitsy. I  know  a  lot  of  older  guys  have  wistful  memories  of  Stranks  ( now  unbelievably  76 )  but  I  was  still  a  bit  young  to  note  her.

162 The Liver Birds

First  watched  : 1974

Despite  the  still  above, I  just  caught  the  tail  end  of  the  Polly  James  era  when  BBC  moved  it  to  the  18.50  pm  time  slot  towards  the  end  of  her  lat  series.

The  series  marked  the  TV  debut  for  housewife-turned-writer  Carla  Lane  initially  in  tandem  with  Myra  Taylor. It  was  developed  from  a  1969  pilot  under  the  Comedy  Playhouse  banner.  The  premise  of  the  series  was  that  two  young  working  girls  shared  a  flat  in  Liverpool  and  dealt  with  boyfriends , work  and  family  as  well  as  the  strains  of  living  with  each  other. Initially  it  starred  Pauline  Collins  and  Polly  James  but  only  ran  for  four  episodes  due  to  Polly's  theatre  commitments. By  the  time  she  was  free  to  resume  Collins  was  the  star  of  Upstairs  Downstairs   and  had  to  be  replaced  by  a  new  character  Sandra  played  by  Welsh  actress  Nerys  Hughes.  Along  with  Sandra  came  her  overbearing  mother  Mrs  Hutchinson  played by  Mollie  Sugden.

Polly  James  left  at  the  end  of  the  fourth  series  when  her  character  Beryl  got  married. It  was  her  own  choice,   believing  that  Beryl  was  becoming  a  bit  of  a  caricature.  She  would  continue  in acting  both  on  stage  and  on  screen  until  the early  noughties  but  would never have  as  high  a  profile  again.

She  was  replaced  by  Elizabeth  Estensen  , as  the  younger  but  equally  loud   Carol. The  show  took  a  new  direction  by  giving  Carol  an  extended  family  who  were  regularly  involved  in  the  storylines  most  memorably  Michael  Angelis  in  his  breakthrough  role  as  her  hippy  brother  Lucien  who  was  obsessed  with  rabbits. They  became  the main  reason  for  watching the  show  with  the  downside  that  Sandra  came  to  be  seen  as  a  rather  wet  and  straight  character  by  comparison.

I'm  not  sure  if  I  watched the  series  down  to  its  end  in  early  1979  or  not.  After  a  quiet  period  Nerys  Hughes  went  on  to  equal  success   in  The  District  Nurse  in  the eighties  Estensen  also  had   long  spells  out  of  the  spotlight  until  resurfacing  in  Coronation  Street  in 1996  and then  Emmerdale    ( it  took  weeks  before  I  recognised  her )  where  she  remains.  Angelis's  impact  can  be  gauged  by  the  fact  that  Lucien  was  brought  back  for  the ill-received  reprise  in  1996  but  as  Beryl's  brother. That series  passed  by  me  entirely.

161 For Schools and Colleges : Picture Box

First  watched : 1973-74

I'm  not  sure  whether  we  watched  this  at  school  throughout  the  academic  year  or  even  if  it  was  on  for  more  than  one  term  but  I  have  a  particular  memory  that  places  it  in  that  time  frame. Picture  Box  was  presented  by  former  Coronation  Street  actor  Alan  Rothwell  ( the  luckless  David  Barlow )  who  was  there  to  provide  an  introduction  to  a  short  film  sourced  elsewhere  in  the  world. You  never  knew  quite  what  to  expect  and  of  course  interest  in  the  contents  varied  greatly  from  one  week  to  another.

The  one  I  remember  oddly  enough  is  the  one  I  didn't  really  watch. I  had  got  in  the  habit   with  my  friend  Patrick   where  I  would  write  the  name  of  four  cars  from  my  Matchbox  collection  in  a  little  notebook   during  lessons   and  then  pass  it under  the  desk  for  him  to  write  the  result  of  a  "race"  between  them   and  pass  it  back. The  class  teacher  - universally  regarded  as   a   useless  eccentric  so  it  seems  unfair  to  name  him - wouldn't  have  noticed  if  we'd  detonated  a  bomb. One  Thursday   morning  I  took  it  into  the  hall   and   we  did  it  all  the  way  through  Picture  Box  which  that  day  was  an  animated  story  and  were  roundly  chastised  by  those  of  our  classmates  who  were  close  enough  to  notice,  for  not  watching  something  that  had  been  really  good.  Why  they  did  this  , in  preference  to  alerting  the  teacher  to  what  was  going  on  , is  something  of  a  puzzle .

It  did  have  the  desired  effect  of  making  me  feel  guilty  and  regretful  that  I  had  missed  something  worthwhile   - I  don't  know  what  it  was  called  so  I  can't  make  it  good  with  YouTube  where  there  are  some  Picture  Box  episodes  available.  Unfortunately  it's  not  a  habit  I've  been  able  to  kick   ( stealing  time  for  something  more  interesting  than  what  I'm  supposed  to  be  doing )  although  my  current  job  doesn't  leave  much  scope  for  it  thankfully. My  powers  of  concentration  have  suffered  as  a  result.  

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

160 Watch With Mother : Bagpuss

First  watched : 1974

A-ha! Not  much  chance  of  anyone  forgetting  this  one  which  is  at  or  near  the  top  of  any  poll  of  favourite  kids'  TV  shows  that  have  been  conducted  in  the  past  20  years.

Bagpuss  I  think  was  the  end  of  the  line  for  me  as  far  as  Watch  With  Mother  went; in  fact  the  branding  was  dropped  that  same  year. It  was  also  the  last  entirely  new  Smallfilms   production  that  I  watched. Of  course  at  nine ( at  least )  I  was  long  in  the  tooth  for  it  anyway  and  was  only  watching   when  sick  or  on  holiday  but  it  was  engaging  enough  not  to  be  an  irritant  like  Rainbow  for  example.

Like  Pogles'  Wood   before  it  , Bagpuss  is  seeped  in  nostalgia,  set  in  a  ( presumably  zero-rated )  shop  populated  by  antiquated  objects  that  exists   only  to  enable   their  original  owners  to  reclaim  them. The  "shop"  was  run  by  a  girl  called  Emily  ( only  seen in  sepia-stills  featuring  Peter  Firmin's  real-life  daughter  Emily )   who  provided  the  motor  for  the  story  by  depositing  a  broken  object  in  the  shop.  Once  she'd  departed , the  old  cloth  cat  Bagpuss  would  come  to  life  and  direct  other  characters  such  as  Gabriel  the  musical  toad, Madeline  the  rag  doll  and  Professor  Yaffle , a  woodpecker  bookend,  in  mending  the  object  and  telling  its  backstory  often  in  song.

The  series  did  recycle  ideas  used  in  Pogles'  Wood  and   The  Wombles   but  it  was  done  with  great  charm  and  you'd  need  a  heart  of  stone  not  to  feel  a  pang  as  Postgate  closed  the  show  with  the  lines "Even  Bagpuss  himself, once  he  was  asleep, was  just  an  old  saggy  cloth  cat  , baggy  and  a  bit  loose  at  the  seams. But  Emily  loved  him ". You  can't  sum  up  the  enduring  affection  for  an  old  toy  better  than  that.

As  usual  only  13  episodes  were  made  and  it  stopped  being  run  regularly   in  1987  but  the  memory  endures.

Monday, 8 June 2015

159 Bonny !

First  watched : Monday  4th  March  1974

It  was  somehow  typical  of  the  BBC  to  replace  the  serious-minded  Carrie's  War  with  this  Scotch  silliness  produced  and  sometimes  co-written by Paul  Ciani.

Bonny   was  prim  postmistress  Flora  Havers  ( played  by  Una  McLean )  who  has  a  crimefighting  alter  ego  Captain  Bonny  whose  fame  she  then  exploits. All  I  really  remember  about  it  is  that  she  had  a  voice  like  chalk  screeching  down  a  blackboard  and  it  was  all  rather  manic.

Apart  from  the  synopses  on  Genome  there's  absolutely  nothing  to  be  found  on  the  series. It  doesn't  have  an  entry  on IMDB  or  a  wikipedia  page. The  most  intriguing  thing  I  can  glean  is  that  the  second  episode  featured  a  guest  appearance  from  Kevin  Keegan  who  was  rapidly  eclipsing  Best  as  football's  pin-up  boy  but  shouldn't  it  have  been  someone  from  Scotland ? A  certain  Mr  Dalglish  perhaps  ?

The  initial  run  was  four  episodes  long  in  March  in  1974 .It  returned  for  six  more  that  August  then  was  never  seen  again. Una  McLean  is  still  working in  radio  at  85  with  a  long  history  of  pantomime  and  character  parts  behind  her. She  was  married  to  Callan's   Russell  Hunter from  1991  until  his  death  in  2004  and  received  an  MBE  in  2006. 

Sunday, 7 June 2015

158 Election 74

Watched  :  1  March  1974

For  reasons  which  are  now  lost  to  me  we  didn't  have  any  proper  lessons  the  day  after  the  general  election  of  February  1974. We  were  just  herded into  the  hall  and  there  we  watched  the  results  unfolding  for  most  of  the  day. God  knows  what  OFSTED  would  have  had  to  say  about  that.

Before  the  election  I  had  a  vague  idea  who  Ted  Heath  and  Harold  Wilson  were  as  regular  faces  on  the  evening  news  who  were  in  some  way  involved  in  running  the  country. I  don't  think  I'd  heard  of  Jeremy  Thorpe  before. My  understanding  of  the  election  was  similarly  limited . My  parents  wanted  the  Conservatives  to  win, most  of  the  boys  at  school  seemed  to  support   Labour  and  the  Liberals  had  very  few  seats  although  one  of  them  was  just  down  the  road  in  Rochdale. Although  Littleborough  is  now  included  in  the  Rochdale  constituency, at  the  time  it  was  in  one  called  Heywood  and  Royton , a  fairly  safe  Labour  seat  occupied  by  Joel  Barnett  ( of   Scotland  funding  formula  fame ).

All  I  can  really  remember  about  it  is  the  lads  cheering  whenever  "Labour  win"  flashed  up   and  eventually  joining  in  because  it  was  the  best  fun  to  be  had  as  the  day  dragged  by.  

As  any  politics  student  will  tell  you  the  result  was  inconclusive  and  after  Heath  and  Thorpe  failed  to  reach  an  agreement  Wilson  took  over  and  went  to  the  country  again  in  October  scraping  a  bare  majority. By  that  time  we  had  changed  schools  and  as  a  new  building  our  new  one  wasn't  on  the  list  of  polling  stations  so  there  was  no  extra  holiday. I  was  aware  that  it  was  something  unusual to  have  two  elections  in  one  year  but  otherwise  the  second  one  largely  passed  me  by.  

157 For Schools and Colleges : Scene

Watched  : 28  February  1974

Scene  was  aimed  at  teenagers  and  flitted  between  drama  and  documentary usually  with   quite  a  hard  edge. It  wasn't  something we  watched  at  primary  school  so  in  the  normal  run  of  things  I  would  have  missed  this  documentary   episode,  subtitled  All  That  Glitters   and  focussing  on  my  favourite  band  The  Sweet  ( in  the  charts  with  Teenage  Rampage  at  the  time )  . However   this  was  broadcast  on  General  Election  Day  and  as  our  school  was  needed  for  a  polling  station  we  had  the  day  off.  Thanks  Ted  !

The  20  minute  film  captures  the  band  at  their  peak, little  more  than  6  months  before  the  fateful  nightclub  brawl  which  set  Brian  Connolly  off  on  a  downward  spiral. They're  seemingly  united  and  talking  about  moving  into  the  albums  market, a  goal  they  were  not  destined  to  achieve  though  there  were  still  hit  singles  to  come.

The  narrator , one  Sarah  Ward  , adopts  a  Valerie  Singleton  school  marm  tone , occasionally  stating  the  very  obvious - "and - they  want  you  to  keep  buying  their  records  in  the  future ! " ( No  shit , Sherlock ? )

It's  enthralling  throughout  and  poignant  to  see  Brian  in  his  prime, healthy  and  able  to  speak  coherently. Other  highlights  are  an  incendiary  live  version  of  Hellraiser  which  certainly  answers  the  enduring  question as  to  whether  they  were  a  serious  rock  band  and  Steve  Priest  asking  a  Top  of  the  Pops  make-up  girl  if  she  can  find  a  little  black  moustache  ( to  round  off  his  gay  Nazi  ensemble ).

Now  did  I  ever  watch  Scene  again ?  Well  has  a  full  list  of  episodes   and  nothing  else  jumps  out  at  me. The  documentaries  stopped  altogether  in  1992 . The  last  drama  under  the  Scene  banner  was  made  in  2007. I'm  not  sure  there  was  ever  a  formal  announcement   that  it  was  being  discontinued  but  I  guess  that's  the  case.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

156 Carrie's War

First  watched :  Monday  28  January  1974

I'm   now  reaching  a  stage  where  these  serials  are  starting  to  emerge   in  sharper  clarity   through  the  murk , able  to  recall  plot  details  and  scenes   ( though  not  always  accurately  as  we'll  see )  unaided.  Carrie's  War  stands  out  as  the  archetypal   ( not  quite  the  most  memorable ) serial  from  that  period  where  we  had  tea on  a  tray  in  the  living  room.

Carrie's  War  is  perhaps  the  best  known  novel  by  the  prolific  children's  author  Nina  Bawden  who  died  nearly  three  years  ago. It  was  based  to  some  extent  on  her  own  experiences  as  an evacuee  in  rural  Wales  during  the  Second  World  War. Carrie  is  12  and  sent  with  her brother  Nick  to  a  remote  village  where  they  end  up  living  in  a  shop  run  by  a  cold, ultra-strict  miser  Mr  Evans  and  his  submissive  sister  Auntie  Lou. Another  sister  Mrs  Gotobed  lives  on  a  farm  with  a  disabled  relative  Mr  Johnny, a  benign  witch  Hepzibah  and  now  a  fellow  evacuee  Albert  Sandwich ( who  is  what  we  would  now  call  a  geek )  and  that  quickly  becomes  a  refuge  from  Evans's  austere  regime.  My  mum  used  to  come  in  and  watch  it  with  us  because  she'd  been  evacuated  from  Manchester  to  Blackburn.

It  was  compelling  because  it  put  the  children  in  a  strange  situation, uncertain  of  what  the  future  held  and  subject  to  the  whims  of  a  scary  figure  though  there  are  thankfully  no  hints  of  sexual  abuse  in  the  story.  The  story  reaches  its  climax  with  a  death  and  a  genuinely  spooky  scene  with  apparent  grave  consequences.

Until  a  year  ago  I  had  carried  a  memory  of  one  of  the  last  scenes  when  the  children  leave  by  train ,  Mr  Evans  waves  them  off  then  folds   up  with  grief   that  they've  gone  out  of  his  life. Then  I  watched  it  again  on  YouTube  and  it's  not  there. Aubrey  Richards  nicely  underplays  the  scene  , walking  away,  hunched  and  diminished,  while  the  train's  still  at  the  platform. I've  remembered  the  scene's  emotional  impact  accurately  but  perhaps  got  the  details  mixed  up  with  something  else.

Perhaps  inevitably  the  young  actors  didn't  become  stars. Juliet  Waley  ( Carrie )  did  move  into  adult  roles  as  an  actress,  notably  in  nursing  soap  Angels  where  she  had  a  three  year  run,   but  after  appearing  in  the  BBC's  adaptation  of  The  Lion  The  Witch  And  The  Wardrobe   in  1988  she  just  vanished. Andrew  Tinney  who  played  Nick  had  a  minor  part  in  The  Pallisers  that  same  year  but  ended  up  an  accountant  instead. Tim  Coward  who  played  Albert  is  known  for  this  alone.

Another  adaptation  was  made  in  2004   with  Alun  Armstrong  as  Evans  and  there  was  a  successful  stage  production  in  2009.

Friday, 5 June 2015

155 Nationwide

First  watched : Uncertain

I  haven't  the  faintest  idea  when  I  first  watched  this  dreadful  programme  which  breached  the  gap  between  the  tea  time  news  and  the  evening  schedule.  It  started  in  1969  and  ran  through  to  the  middle  of  1983. It  incorporated  a  twenty  minute  to  half  an  hour  local  news  section  where  the  broadcast  would  be  handed  over  to  the  regional  studios, rather  testily  by  growly  anchor  man  Michael  Barratt  with  the  words  "Now,  news  and  views  from  your  own  area  as  we  go  Nationwide !"

 Despite Barratt's  surliness  that  section  would  often  be  more  interesting  than  the  anodyne  magazine  programming  that  followed. It  was  like  a  televised  version  of  the  Reader's  Digest   and  came  to  be  defined  by  the  awkward  links  between  serious  and  trivial   subject  matter. The  only  time  I  ever  deliberately  tuned  in  was  when  they  did  preliminary  features  on  possible  candidates  for  the  British  Rock  and  Pop  Awards. The  most  famous  feature  of  all  was  when  they  allowed  in  a  stupid  old  man  to  demonstrate  his  claim  that  he  could  jump  on  an  egg  without  breaking  the  shell. The  sixtysomething  guy , in  short  shorts  and  muttering  to  himself ,  had  four  or  five  trial  "attempts "  before  claiming  he'd  clipped  the  egg  with  his  heel  on  the  fifth  go. It's  still  hilarious  to  watch  for  the  hostess's  aghast  response : "That's  it  is  it ? That's  the  jumping  on  the  egg ?". She  knew  immediately  it  was  going  to  haunt  them.

Critics  uniformly  derided  the  programme  and  it  was  savaged  by  both  Monty  Python  and  Not  The  Nine  O  Clock  News ,  being  the  subject  of  one  of  Rowan  Atkinson's  rants  from  the  audience  in  the  latter.  For  all  that,  nearly  all  the  presenters  lived  to  see  another  day  on  TV, some  of  them  still  prime  time  faces  today . It  was  finally  axed  in  favour  of  the  more  sober  Sixty  Minutes   in  1983  not  long  after  its  signature  presenter  Frank  Bough  had  decamped  to  Breakfast  TV.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

154 On Tour With The Osmonds

Watched  :  16  January  1974

This  was  a  one  off  fly  on  the  wall   documentary  about  The  Osmonds'  1973  UK  tour. Besides  on-stage  footage  you  saw  them  relaxing  offstage  , being  interviewed  by  Michael  Aspel  and  Ed  Stewart  and  running  away  from  the  hysteria  as  fast  as  their  legs  could  carry  them. You  also  saw  some  of  the  logistics  through  discussions  among  the  band's  staff, the venues'  people  and  the  police  and  of  course  there  was  plenty  of  footage  of  hysterical  teen  girls.

One  scene  that  disturbed  me  at  the  time  was  of  a  wall  collapsing  at  Heathrow  Airport  and  a  girl  being  pulled  away  with  blood  streaking  down  her  face. Seeing  it  again  on  YouTube  with  the  benefit  of  colour,  it's  actually  her  long  hair  that's  fallen  around  her  face  and  her  distress  is  post-orgasmic  rather  than  injury-related. In  fact  no  one  was  seriously  injured  in  the  incident  as  is  explained  to  a  concerned  Alan  Osmond  ( who  comes  across  as  a  thoroughly  nice  guy ) as  they  leave  the  airport.  Oh  well  that's  one  childhood  memory  exploded .

The  film  also  includes  some  wonderful  little  glimpses  of  the  old  Belle  Vue  Amusement  Park  in  Manchester , the  venue  for  many  a  day  out  in  the  mid-seventies  but  now  all  but  obliterated. Even  without  that , Osmondmania  seems  an  awful  long  time  ago  now; all  those  screaming  girls  will  be  in  their  mid-fifties  ,  doubtless  telling  their  granddaughters  that  Beiber  isn't  a  patch  on  Donny. And  of  course,  they're  right.

153 This Is Your Life

First  watched  : Uncertain

I  first  saw  this  long-running  show  after  I  started  watching  Coronation  Street  because  it  was  on  just  before  it  on  a  Wednesday. It  was  quite  a  frustrating  thing  to  watch  as  a  kid  because  I  usually  didn't  know  much  about  the  week's  subject  so  after  the  tension-filled  opening  when  Eamonn  Andrews  jumped  out  on  him  / her ,  my  interest  in  the  programme  usually  deflated  rather  rapidly.

This  was  particularly  the  case  when  the  subject  wasn't  a  sportsperson  or  entertainer  but  some  do-gooder e.g  cancer  survivor  and  subsequent  campaigner  Pat  Seed  and  you'd  get  a  parade  of  people  you'd  never  heard  of  giving  stilted  tributes  for  half  an  hour. You  can't  imagine  anything  like  that  getting  a  prime  time  slot  today.

Of  course  the  programme  was  glib  and  superficial  and  skated  over  any  awkward  episodes  in  the  subject's  life.

It  started on  BBC1  in  1955  and  ran  until  1964  when  Eamonn  Andrews  defected  to  ITV.  Thames  resurrected  it  with  Andrews  resuming  as  host . When  Andrews  died  in  1987  Michael  Aspel  took  over. That's  round  about  when  I  stopped  watching  Corrie  so  I  guess  this  fell  out  of  my  viewing  schedule  too.

It  moved  back  to  the  BBC  in  1994  though  still  produced  by  Thames  and  I  did  catch  the  odd  episode. I  remember  Mike  Rutherford  and  Christopher  Cazenove  being  featured  but  it  seemed  even  more  superficial  than  I  remembered  it  with    a  bias  towards  bringing  in  tenuously  linked  celebrities  rather  than  friends  and  relatives . The  last  episode  I  can  recall  watching  featured  ahem  Stuart  Hall  ( minus  under  age  lady  friends  of  course ) and  I  remember  him  having  to  fake  enthusiasm  for  Alistair  McGowan  coming  on  to  do  an  impression  when  it  looked  suspiciously  like  they'd  never  met  before.

It  was  axed  as  a  regular  series  in  2003  but  there  has  been  a  one  off  special  with  Trevor  McDonald  to  stroke  Simon  Cowell's  ego  in  2007. I'm  certainly  glad  I  missed  that  one.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

152 U.F.O.

First  watched : Uncertain

U.F.O.  was  Gerry  and  Sylvia  Anderson's  first  fully  live  action  drama  series. It  concerned  an organisation  called  SHADO  operating  from  a  base  disguised  as a  film  studio ( Pinewood  of  course )  and  a  watching  outpost  on  the  moon in  the  1980s. Its  purpose  was  to  protect  earth  from  alien  attack. The  aliens  themselves  had  no  physical  form  and  advanced  their  aims  from  abducting  and /or  controlling  human  hosts. All  this  sounds  very  Captain  Scarlet  and  similar  cost  considerations  affected  the  series.

However  having  human  actors  rather  than  marionettes  did  allow  for  more  interesting human  drama  to  compensate  for  the  limited  special  effects. Ed Bishop  played  the  scowling  commander  Straker  while  Gabrielle  Drake  provided  some  eye  candy  in  a  purple  wig and  skin  tight  costumes. The  series  had  a  dark  adult  tone ; the  day  would  often  be  saved  with  grave  consequences  for  some  of  those  involved . Because  of  this  there  was  some  confusion over when  to  schedule  it; different  ITV  companies  either put it in  the 17.20 pm  older  children's slot  or   the  weekend  morning  slot  often  allocated  to  other  Anderson  series.

26  episodes  were  made  between  1970  and  1971. A  second  series  was  planned  and  pre-production  work  well  advanced  when  disappointing  viewing  figures  in  America  caused  its  cancellation.  Many  of  the  ideas  for  the  new  series  were  recycled  and  used  in  the  subsequent  Space  1999.  

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

151 Tarzan

First  watched : Uncertain

My  first  exposure  to  Tarzan  was  through  this  TV  series  which  was  made  between  1966  and  1968  and  shown  on  ITV  here  in  the  early  seventies. The  character  was  played  by  Ron  Ely  , a  physically  impressive  stud  if  not  much  of  an  actor. For  the  series  Jane  was  dumped  as  his  companion  in  favour  of  a  young  boy called  Jai. It's  best  remembered  for Ely's  insistence  that  he  perform  all  his  own  stunts  despite  a  lack  of  any  training  and  the  catalogue  of  injuries  he   suffered  as  a  result.

Ely  went  on  to  star  in  the  famously  awful  film  Doc  Savage - Man  of  Bronze  ( which  didn't  stop  me  going  to  see  it )   and  later  became  a  reasonably  successful  writer  of  detective  fiction.

150 Wait Till Your Father Gets Home

First  Watched  : Uncertain

This  bridging  cartoon  series  between  The  Flintstones  and  The  Simpsons  was  written  for  adults  but  ITV  scheduled  it  in  the  17.20  pm  time  slot.  Tom  Bosley  provided  the  voice  of   Everyman  Harry  Boyle   having  to  contend  with  his  three  kids, fat  feminist  Alice, long-haired  slacker  Chet  and  young  capitalist  Jamie   not  to  mention  mad  neighbour  Ralph, a  rabid  anti-Communist  waiting  like  Reginald  Perrin's  Jimmy   for  the  balloon  to  go  up.  Although  a  lot  of  it  went  straight  over  my  head   I  did  find  it enjoyable.  It  ran  between  1972  and  1974.