Monday, 31 August 2015

227 Space 1999

First  watched : Autumn  1975

Space  1999  was  the  last  and most  ambitious  project  Gerry  and  Sylvia  Anderson  worked  on  before  their  divorce  in  1981.  It  was  developed  from  ideas  originally  generated  for  the  aborted  second  series  of   U.F.O.  although  there  are  no  linking  characters  or  organisations  between  the  two  series.

The  premise  of  the  show   was  that  a  team  of  scientists   working  at  a   moon  base  station  called  Alpha  become  marooned  in  space  when  a  huge  inexplicable  explosion  blows  the  moon  out  of  the  solar  system  and  sends  it  spinning  through  black  holes  and  what  have  you  into  new  galaxies. The  moon  itself  becomes  their  spaceship. There  was  an  obvious  debt  to  Star  Trek in  the  crew's  odyssey  as  they  came  across  alien  civilisations and  unknown  phenomena.

Lew  Grade  insisted  that  the  lead  roles  be  taken  by  Americans  to  sell  the  show  there  and  installed  husband  and  wife  team  Martin  Landau  and  Barbara  Bain  from  Mission  Impossible   against  the  Andersons'  wishes. The  lead  Brits  were  Barry  Morse  as  the  chief  boffin  in  the  first  series  and  Tony  Anholt  as  Landau's  deputy  in  the  second.

The  series  looked  great  and  expressed  some  interesting  ideas  but  lacked  warmth. Despite  their  off-screen  relationship  Landau  and  Bain  seemed  to  have  little  chemistry  and  it  was  hard  to  care  for  any  of  the  characters. Grade  could  not  sell  the  show  to  the  American  networks  because  it  was  already  completed  His  man  in  America  Abe  Mandell  had  to  sell  it  directly  to  local  stations.

Mandell  saved  the  show  for  a  second  series  when  Grade  wanted  to  abandon  it  but  there  was  a price  to  pay. A  new  American  producer  and  writer  Fred  Freiberger  came  on  board  as  Sylvia  departed  and  made  major  changes. A  glamorous  alien  played  by  Catherine  Schell  replaced  Morse, Landau  and  Bain  were  instructed  to  snog  each  other  regularly  and  a  humorous  summary  scene  akin  to  Star  Trek   was  introduced  to  the  distaste  of  Landau  in  particular  . The  show  became  less  cerebral  and  more  action  oriented.  It  finished  in  1977.

I   liked  it  but  thought  it  was  never  as  good  as  it  could  have  been.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

226 Upstairs Downstairs

First  watched : 23  November  1975

This  was  a  big  favourite  with  my  Gran  and  Mum  and  my  sister  started  watching  the  final  series  in  the  autumn  of  1975. I  wasn't  interested  but  eventually  curiosity  got  the  better  of  me  after  Lesley-Anne  Down  and  Gareth  Hunt  appeared  on  Bruce  Forsyth  and  the  Generation  Game.  I  was  late  in  the  day; I  only  saw  the  final  five  episodes  before  the  series  finished. I  remember  the  final  one  was  on  the  same  night  as  we  went  to  a  Carol  service  at  Littleborough  Parish  Church, the  only  service  I  attended  there  before  my  friend's  wedding  in  1988. It  ended  with  the  cast  dispersing  and  housemaid  Rose  ( Jean  Marsh )  wandering  around  the  empty  building  and  hearing  voices  from  the  series'  past  which  Mum  enjoyed  identifying. My  interest  in  history  was  burgeoning

Mum  also  bought  the  souvenir  magazine  marking  the  end  of  the  series  and  Gran  had   kept  one  issued  after  the  end  of  the  first  series  and  I  devoured  them   longing  for  the  series  to  be  repeated. It  eventually  was  in  the  early  days  of  Channel  4  although  missing  out  the  five  black  and  white  episodes  from  the  first  series  and  I  followed  it  up  until  starting  at  university in  1983 . I  saw  those  early  episodes  through  Lovefilm  a  few  years  ago and  have  watched  repeats  on ITV3  but  I  still  don't  think  I've  seen  it  all. I  don't  remember  seeing  any  episodes  with  Lily  ( Karen  Dotrice )  in  for  example.

For  those  who  haven't  seen  it  Upstairs  Downstairs  might  seem  like  the  sort  of  heritage  television beloved  of  the  Daily  Mail  but  it   actually  was  extremely  hard-hitting  and  pulled  few  punches  especially  in  the  early  series  with  rape, homosexuality, suicide, child  abduction , adultery  and  murder all  featuring  before  the  whole  of  Series  Four  was  given  over  to  the  First  World  War  and  its  harrowing  effects  on  the  household. The  episode  I  Dies  From  Love  which  tracks  the  humiliation   and  eventual  suicide  of  the  put-upon  kitchen  maid  Emily  ( Evin  Crowley ) is  one  of  the  most  gut-wrenching  pieces  of  TV  drama  you  will  ever  see. The  highlights  are  legion. Some  of  my  favourites  were  demented  footman  Alfred  ( George  Innes )  running  off  with  a  German  baron  ( the  meaning of  Hudson  the  butler's  comment  in  the  magazine  that  Rose  saw  something  too  disgusting  to  describe  finally  becoming  clear )  and  returning  as  a  fugitive  murderer  two  series  later , Elizabeth   Bellamy  ( Nicola  Pagett ) getting  passed  to  another man  because  her  poet  husband  couldn't  bring  himself  to  screw  her, Edward  the  footman  ( Christopher  Beeny )  getting  shell  shock  and  Georgina  ( Lesley  Anne  Down )  getting  a  rude  lesson  in  how  the  other  half  live  from  a   Christmas  visit  to  Daisy  the  maid's  family.  

The  final  series  set  in  the  twenties  was  a  little  tame  by  comparison  and  the  decision  to  end  it  was  probably  right  as  well  as  historically  justifiable. The  end  of  the  series  was  set  in  stone  by  the  death  of  Angela  Baddeley  who  played  the  cook  Mrs  Bridges   in  an  influenza  epidemic  just  a  couple  of  months  later. A  spin-off  series  featuring  husband  and  wife  team  Pauline  Collins  and  John  Alderton   reprising  their  roles  as  the  titular  Thomas  and  Sarah, two  characters  who  left  at  the  end  of  Series  Two  was  broadcast  in  1979.  I  think  Mum  and  my  sister  might  have  watched  some  of  it  but  I  never  bothered. It  only  lasted  one  series  after  an  ITV  strike  halted  work  on  a  second  and  it  never  resumed.  The  series  was  eventually  revived  in  2010  by  the  BBC   with   Jean  Marsh's  Rose   the  only  linking  character  despite   being  in  her  mid-seventies. Two  short  series  were  made  in  2010  and  2012  with  Marsh  hardly  participating  in  the  second  after  a  major  stroke  and  heart  attack. My  wife  watched  the  first  one  but  I  thought  it  was  a  bad  idea.

The  cast  changed  over  the  years  with  only  five  of  the  original  cast  remaining  on  screen  by  the  end  of  the  series. They  had  varying  fortunes  afterwards. Though  she  was  never  my  favourite  character  Pauline  Collins  who  played  Sarah  is  still  a  major  TV  star  while  Lesley  Anne  Down  went  to  Hollywood , appeared  in  Dallas  and  looked  exceedingly  out  of  place  alongside  her  fellow  cast  members  in  a  reunion  picture  in  2007  , none  of  whom  had  resorted  to  Botox  in  the  meantime. Gordon  Jackson, David  Langton  and  Gareth  Hunt are  some  of  those  who've  passed  away. Most  of  the  others  still  work  in  TV  with  Jacqueline  Tong  perhaps  the  most  unrecognisable  from  her  time  as  Daisy.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

225 The Sweeney

First  watched : 24  November  1975

Tuesday  playtimes  in  the  autumn  of  1975  were  always  taken  up  with  re-enacting  the  previous  night's  episode  of  The  Sweeney  which  those  kids  with  less  conscientious  parents  ( i.e  nearly  all  of  them ) had  been  able  to  watch. That  left  me  at  a  disadvantage  so  my  mum  whose  favourite  programme  it  was , used  to  recount  the  previous  night's  action  to  me over  breakfast.  

So  it  was  that  when  the  second  series  was  coming  to  an  end  Mum  said  that my sister  and  I  could  stay  up  and  watch  the  last  episode as  a  special  treat, the  first  time  either  of  us  had  been  allowed  to  stay  up  until  ten  o  clock. The  episode  was  called  "Thou  Shalt  Not  Kill"  and  because  it  was  such  a  special  occasion,  I  think  I'd  have been  able  to  tell  you  the  plot  even  if  I  hadn't  seen  it  since.

A  group  of  armed  robbers  at  the  university  branch  of  a  bank  are  surprised  by  the  early  arrival  of  the  boys  in  blue  and  two  of  them ( played  by  Dean  Harris  and  Ron  Lacey )  decide  to  hunker  down  with  hostages  when  the  others  are  apprehended. John Thaw's  Regan  takes  charge  of  the  scene  initially   with  the  aid  of  Dennis  Waterman's  Carter  then  the  normally  desk-bound  Haskins  ( Garfield  Morgan ) arrives  at  the  scene. At  a  key  point  he  baulks  at  ordering  the  marksmen  to  fire  when  they  have  a  clear  sight  of  both  men  and  as  an  eventual  consequence  one  of  the  hostages  is killed.  Regan  isn't  slow  in  letting  Haskins  know  who  is  to  blame  for  this.

I was  absolutely  enthralled  from  start  to  finish  and  for  some  time  afterwards  wanted  to  watch  any  cop  or  detective  series  going  , an  enthusiasm  fuelled  by  the  success   shortly  afterwards  of  Billy  Howard's  novelty  hit  King  of  the  Cops.  I'm  not  sure  if I  was  allowed  to  watch  any  of   the  third  series  in  1976  but  I  clearly  remember  watching  the  final  episode  in  1978  which  ended  ambiguously  with  Regan  resigning  in  disgust  after  being  investigated  for  corruption.

The  Sweeney's  enormous  popularity  has endured,  with  frequent  repeats,  so  over  the  years   I  think  I've  probably  caught  up  on  all  the  ones  I  missed  and  seen  some  episodes  a  few  times  over. It's  still  an  option  I'll  sometimes  pick  when  trawling  through  the  TV  Guide  although  I  don't  think  it's  being  shown  at  the  time  of  writing.

The  Sweeney  was  the  brainchild  of  screenwriter  Ian  Kennedy  Martin  and  was  his  first  big  hit.  It  followed  the  adventures  of  two  members  of  the  Metropolitan  Police's  Flying  Squad  which  operated  across  the  capital  tackling  organised  violent  crime. Because  of  this   virtually  every  episode  guaranteed  some  violence  in  the  form  of  fitsicuffs, shoot-outs, car  chases  or  all  three  and  inevitably  earned  the  ire  of  Mary  Whitehouse  who  said  it  was  gratuitous  and  disrespectful  to the  police. It  was  not  only  the  violence  itself  that  upset  her   but  the  fact  that  Regan  and  Carter  obviously  relished  it. In  one  episode  Carter  actually  suggests  to  the  hard  man  played  by  Colin  Welland  that  they  have  a  ruck  before  the  formal  business  of  arresting  him. As  usual  it  only  made  the  series  more  popular.

It  was  enormously  influential  too. Dixon  of  Dock  Green  was  finally  put  to  bed  the  following  year  and  in  1977  the  Beeb  launched  a  direct  imitation which  we'll  come  to  in  due  course.

Thou  Shalt  Not  Kill  was  one  of  the  darker  episodes  but  there  was  quite  a  lot  of  humour  in  it  too  , such  as  the  episode  where  Regan's  snout  sets  up  a  false  scenario  to humiliate  Bill  Maynard's  police  chief  and  succeeds in  spades , although  the  one  which  featured  Morecambe  and  Wise  as  themselves  was  probably  taking  things  too  far. Thaw  and  Waterman  had  great  personal  chemistry  and  a  lot  of  their  improvised  banter  was  included.

Two  full  length  films  were  made   from  the  series  and  did  well  at  the  box  office. Sweeney !   has  a  complex   and  barely  credible  plot  with  Regan  ( Carter  is  just  a  secondary  character  in  the  script  ) mixed  up  in  an  international  conspiracy  to  fix  oil  prices  and  is  very  violent; Diane  Keen's  is  still  one  of  the  most  shocking  death  scenes  in  cinema. The  less  often  broadcast  Sweeney  2  is  a  more  conventional  cops  and  robbers  story  but  is  less  compelling.
There  was  a  recent  film  allegedly  based  on  the  series  with  Ray  Winstone  but  as  I  fell  asleep  when  it  was  broadcast  recently  I  couldn't  tell  you  much  about  it.

By  1978  both  Thaw  and  Waterman  felt  that  the  series  had  run  its  course  and  their  decision  to  quit  was  vindicated  by  their  subsequent  careers. As  far  as  TV  was  concerned,  John  Thaw  stayed  box  office  gold  until  his  death  in  2002  despite  a  well  publicised  mis-step  with  A Year  In  Provence .  Waterman  has  also  been  very  successful  and  it's  depressing  that  he  seems  to  have  become  a  figure  of  fun  recently  for  no  good  reason.  Garfield  Morgan  declined  to  appear  in  either  film  and  was  only  present  in  around  half  of  the  episodes in  the  final  series. He  continued  to  act , mainly  in  sitcoms,  until  his  death  in  2009  but  never  had  such  a  high  profile  role  again.  

224 The Legend Of Robin Hood

First  watched : 23  November  1975

This  is  the  earliest  programme  for  which  I  wrote  the  TV  Cream  entry.

This  Sunday  tea  time  drama  though  made  on  a  limited  budget  presented  a  grittier  take  on  the  legends  with  a  particularly  grim  final  episode  which  left  most  of  the  cast  dead. Robin's  men  are  framed  for  the  death  of  a  popular  churchman  and  are  turned  on  by  the  populace. They  seize  the  one-handed  Ralph  Gammon  and  adolescent  Much  and  hang  them  before  King  Richard  returns  and  restores  order.

Although   Robin  was  played  by  Martin  Potter  who's  had  a  rather  fitful  career  since  the  cast  was  pretty  strong  with  Diane  Keen  as  Maid  Marian  and  Blake's  Seven's  Paul  Darrow   as  the  Sherriff  of  Nottingham. I  didn't  connect  him  at  the  time  of  Bake's  Seven, perhaps  because  he  had  a  beard  in  this  , but  now  I  can  see  him  in  the  role. The  one  who  stuck  in  my  mind  most  was  the  young  David  Dixon  as  Prince  John , bringing  a  feline  androgyny  to  the  role. It  was  around  this  time  that  I  started  developing  a  fascination  with  cast  lists, even  for  things  I  wasn't  watching, and  I  started  looking  out  for  Dixon  after  this.

223 Emu's Broadcasting Company

First  watched : 18  November  1975

One  of  the  decade's  most  unlikely  stars, Rod  Hull  was  ostensibly  just  a  weird  looking  bloke  with  a  gonk  on  his  arm  that  didn't  even  speak, just  regularly erupted  into  violence. Nevertheless  this  simple  gimmick  led  to  a  lengthy  career  on  TV.

Hull  was  born  in  Kent  but  made  his  name  as  a comic  actor  on  Australian  TV  in  the  sixties. He  started  using  Emu  during  a  presenting  stint  on  an  Australian  breakfast  show. He  returned  to  England  in  1971  and  started  appearing  on  variety  shows. The  "duo"  became  notorious  after  the  Royal  Variety  Performance  in  1972  when  Emu  destroyed  the  Queen  Mother's  bouquet  ( I  presume  she  wasn't  holding  it at  the  time ).  The  guy  had  some  front ; he  famously  attacked  Michael  Parkinson  ( though  wisely  not  fellow  guest  Billy  Connolly )  and  repeated  the  trick  against  Johnny  Carson  in  1985  despite  strict  instructions  not  to  do  so, to  the  admiration  of  Richard  Prior.

In  1975  he  got  his  own  TV  show  Emu's  Broadcasting  Company   on  BBC1  on  a  Tuesday  teatime. The  show  mixed  satire  and  slapstick  with  the  aid  of  Barbara  New  and  Billy  Dainty  (  a  panto  dame  tiresomely  referred  to  in  the  press   as  "the  Queen  Mother's  favourite  comedian"  after  she  once  praised  his  performance  after  a  show ).  I  got  tired  of  it  pretty  quickly  but  it  ran  until  1980  when  ITV  made  him  a  better  offer.

Rod's  regular  TV career  ended  with  an  animated  series  in  1991  which  he  wrote  with  Ian  Sachs  and  voiced  his  own  character.  He  then  experienced  leaner  times  at  the  same  time  that  he  was  spending  a  fortune  renovating  an  Elizabethan  mansion. This  led  to  divorce  and  bankruptcy. He  came  to  resent  Emu,  believing  that  it  prevented  him  from  being  properly  recognised  as  a  comedian  and  writer . He  died  in  1999  in  a  strangely  appropriate  fashion, falling  off  his  roof  where  he  had  gone  to  adjust  the  aerial  hoping  for  a  better  reception  for  a  Champions  League  match. His  son  Toby  started  working  with  Emu  from  2003  onwards.   

Friday, 28 August 2015

222 Circus

First  watched : 5  November  1975
This  was  another  children's  crime  thriller  along  the  same  lines  as  Chinese  Puzzle. A  group  of  art  thieves  were  using  a  circus , and  in  particular  its  trapeze  artist,  as  cover  for  a  daring  heist  but  as  usual  a  couple  of  children  were  around  to  foil  their  plans. Oddly  enough  the  detail  I  remember  most  is  that  the  general  labourer  called  Jim  was  in  on  the  plot  and  ended  up  getting  locked  into  one  of  the  animal  cages.

There  are  no  stills  knocking  about  ,probably  because  the  entire  cast  list  is  unfamiliar  to  me  although  the  series  does  get  the  odd  mention  because  its  writers  , husband  and  wife  team  Pip  and  Jane  Baker , went  on  to  write  some  Dr  Who  episodes  in  the  eighties.

221 On The Move

First  watched  : Autumn  1975

Although  I  didn't  need  any  help  with  literacy, I  remember  the  theme  tune  ( which  I  recently   learned  was  by  The  Dooleys )  so  I  must  have  seen  some  of  it. Mind  you,  it  was  difficult  to  avoid; the  ten  minute  programmes  popped  up  all  over  the  schedules  like  a  virus. It  was  part  of  the   Labour  government's  adult  literacy  drive  and  was  credited  with  some  effect. It's  most  remembered  as  giving   a  breakthrough  role  to  the  young  and  still  relatively  hirsute  Bob  Hoskins  as   Alf   the  van  driving  Everyman  learning  to  read  and  write.  Martin  Shaw, Patricia  Hayes  and  a  number  of  other  actors  also  took  part. Some  of  it  inevitably  brought  to  mind  Sesame  Street   but  you  couldn't  really  knock  it. It  was  written  by  Barry  Took  and  lasted  for  about  a  year.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

220 Inch High Private Eye

First  watched :  Autumn  1975

Well  it  turns  out  Hong  Kong  Phooey  was  not  the  last  but  one  Hanna-Barbera  cartoon  I   saw. I'd  forgotten  all  about  this  one  which  featured  a  microscopic  guy  working  for  a   detective  agency. Only  the  usual  13  episodes  were  made  and  it  was  first  shown  in  the  US  in  1973  so  it  looks  like  the  Beeb  hesitated  before  buying  it. It's  left  little  impression  with  me.

219 The Invisible Man

First  watched : 26  September  1975

The  BBC  got  on  board  the  superhero  bandwagon  by  buying  this  short  series  very  loosely  based  on  the  HG  Wells  novel.

David  McCallum  played  Daniel  Westin  a  molecular  scientist  who  is  working  for  a  US  corporation   on  invisibility. In  the  pilot  episode,   after  testing  the  serum  on  himself , he  found  that  the  military  were  funding  the  project  and  in  the  course  of  sabotaging  his  work,  renders  the  process  irreversible  so  has  to  wear  a  David  McCallum  mask  and  gloves  to  be  visible.  The  actual  series  was  more  light  hearted  and  Westin  and  his  wife  were  quite  happy  to  work  as  government  agents.

The  show  was  largely  based  on  camera  trickery, cars  driving  themselves  , receivers  lifting  themselves  off  phones,  levitating  objects  and  so  on. Though  popular  here  it  bombed  in  the  States  and  excluding  the  pilot  only  a  dozen  episodes  were  made. I  thought  it  was  OK.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

218 General Hospital

First  watched  : Uncertain

I've  no  idea  when  I  first  caught  this  but  it  would  have  been  1975  or  later  as  that  was  when  it  moved  to  a  Friday  evening  slot  as  an  hourly  drama  rather  than  two  half-hour  dramas  shown  in  the  early  afternoon. It  wasn't  the  first  medical  soap; there  had  been  a  successful  twice-weekly  series  Emergency  Ward  Ten  in  the  late  fifties  and  sixties  and  my  mum  and  gran  annoyingly  kept  referring   to  this  by  that  name  even  though  there  was  no  direct  continuity  between  the  two  series.

I  recall  the  characters  better  than  the  storylines  , particularly  the  irascible  and  outspoken  consultant  Parker-Brown  played  by  the  fearsome  looking  Lewis  Jones  ( above )  who  regularly  caused  headaches  for  the  more  diplomatic  head  honcho  Mr  Armstrong  ( David  Garth ).   There  was  one  episode  where  Parker  Brown  became  a  patient  and  was  predictably  a  troublesome  one. The  target  of  Parker  Brown's  ire  was   usually   the  head  administrator  Kirby  ( Eric  Lander ),  set  up  to  be  the  villain   of  the  series  but  really  just  a  guy  doing  his  job. I  think  I  probably  first  heard  the  word  "bureaucrat"  from  Parker  Brown's  lips  in  relation  to  Kirby.  Tony  Adams  ( from  Crossroads )  and  confusingly  Tom  Adams  played  the  younger  doctors  for  use  in  the  romantic  sub-plots.

The  series  was  cancelled  in  1979  with  bosses  thinking  it  unrealistic  and  it's  received  little  attention  since,  with  many  episodes  believed  lost.  Lewis  Jones  had  little  interest  in  TV  work  after  the  series  ended ;  apart  from  a  brief  appearance  in  Bergerac  a  couple  of  years  later , he  stuck  to  the  theatre. At  the  time  of  writing  he's  still  alive  aged  91.

217 Survival

First  watched : Uncertain

Survival  was  ITV's  rival  to  the  BBC's  The  World  About  Us.  It  was  the  brand  name  for  individual  wildlife  films  usually  edited  to  fill  a  half  hour  slot  but  sometimes  allowed  an  hour  as  Survival  Special.  It  ran  for  40  years  from  1961  and  was  a  hugely  successful  export. The  narrative  thread  was  usually  provided  by  a  well-known   but  unseen  ( which  made  the  films  easier  to  export ) actor  such  as  Ian  Holm  or  Richard  Briers  although  scientific  personalities  like  David  Bellamy  also  got  a  look-in.

Survival  ,erm , survived  until  2001  when  Granada  got  hold  of  the  unit  and  broke  it  up  though  the  title  was  revived  for  a  series  with  Ray  Mears  in  2010  and  then  Survival-Tales  from  the  Wild  a  year  later.

My  interest  in  the  show  varied  with  the  subject  matter. I'm  mainly   interested  in cold  rather  than  warm-blooded  animals. The  one  that  particularly  rabbed  me  was  the  1978  special  Mysterious  Castles  of  Clay  which  concentrated  on  the  life  of  a  termite  colony and    culminated  in  Biblical  tragedy  when  it  was  overrun  and  destroyed  by  invading  ants. I'm  not  surprised  to  read  that  it  got  an  Oscar  nomination  for  Best  Television  Film  Documentary  that  year.

Monday, 24 August 2015

216 Celebrity Squares

First  watched  : 1975

This  was  Bob  Monkhouse's  valedictory  show  ; hosting  the  British  version  of  the  US  game  show  Hollywood  Squares  was   part  of  the  pound  of  flesh  he  extracted  for  his  return  to  The  Golden  Shot. 

It  was  a  quiz  show  where  the  contestants  didn't  have  to  answer  the  questions  which  were instead  thrown  at  one  of  the  nine  celebrities  seated  in  a  noughts  and  crosses  grid. The  contestant  had  merely  to  say  whether  the  celebrity's  answer  was  correct  or  not  to  get  their  cross  or  nought. A  nominated  "secret  square"  gave  the  contestants  an  opportunity  to  win  extra  prizes.  At  the  end  of  the  show  a  man  in  shadow  brought  in  a  briefcase  with  £1,000  in  cash,  to  win  which  the  wining  contestant   had  to  give  nine  correct  answers  to  a  question  in  30  seconds. At  the  time  it  seemed  an  enormous  sum.

Inevitably  I  didn't  recognise  some  of  the  celebrities , some  of  whom  were  on  nearly  every  week.  I  can't  recall   seeing  the  silly-voiced  Patty  Coombs  in  anything  else  and  it's  still  hard  to  believe  that  bumptious  cricket  bore  William  Rushton , who  seemed  permanently  ensconced  in  the  middle  square,  was  once  regarded  as  a  cutting-edge  satirist.

The  show  was  rested  in  1979  while  Bob  did  Family  Fortunes  , then  he went  to  the  Beeb  and  didn't  return  to  Celebrity  Squares  until  1993  when  he did  another  four  year  stint  now  with  a  car  as  the  star  prize.

It  returned  to  ITV  last  year  with  Warwick  Davis  as  host.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

215 Shang-A-Lang

First  watched :  April  1975

Shang-A-Lang,   featuring  the  Bay  City  Rollers  at  the  height  of  their  UK  fame,  was  the  latest  pop  show  produced  by  Granada's  Muriel  Young , replacing  45  which  I  don't  think  I  ever  saw  because  I  didn't  recognise  Kid  Jensen  when  he  turned  up  on  Top  of  the  Pops  in  the  late  seventies. Despite  my  interest  in  pop  I didn't  see  that  many  of  the  ITV  pop  shows  and  I  think  it   may  have  been  that  they  weren't  chart-based  like  Top  of  the  Pops  so  I  didn't  trust  them  to  maintain  quality  control. Or  perhaps  it  was  an  autistic  love  of  lists  that  kept  me  glued  to  Top  of  the  Pops  as  much  as  the  music.

I  didn't  really  have  much  choice  with  Shang-A-Lang  as  my  sister's  school  friends  had  bought  into  Rollermania  which  meant  she  couldn't  miss  it. Although  she  picked  Woody  as  her  favourite,  I  don't  think  she  was  ever  that  enamoured  with  them  and  certainly  never  bought  any  merchandise  ; it  was  just  a  social  necessity. I  enjoyed  their  hits  in  1974  but  when  the  hype  really  took  off  around  the  beginning  of  1975  it  alienated  me  and  I  certainly didn't  enjoy  watching  this  show.  None  of  the  Rollers  were  particularly  good  off  the  stage  - the  older  Alan  Longmuir  looked  particularly  uncomfortable  - and  their  accents  didn't  help ; they  wouldn't  get  further TV  work  until  invited  to  bleat  about  their  financial  misfortunes  in  the  nineties.

Nevertheless  I  do  look  out  for  clips  from  this  show  for  a  particular  reason. In  the  mid  to  late  nineties  I  worked  for  a  guy  who'd  been  the  accountant  for  Granada  in  the  seventies. As  part  of  the  management  team  he  had  to  do  his  share  of  evening  shifts  as  one  of  them  had  to  be  on  site  whenever  something  was  happening  in  the  building. So  it  happened that  he  was  often  on  duty  when  Shang-A-Lang  was  being  filmed  and  had  to  muck  in  as  a  "bouncer "  stopping  the  hysterical  girls   reaching  the  stage. The  cameras  often  focused  on  these  efforts     and  he  became  a  reluctant  member  of  the  show's  cast  to  the  amusement  of  his  friends  and  family  at  the  time. I  haven't  spotted  him  yet  but  keep  looking.  

Friday, 21 August 2015

214 Seaside Special

First  watched : Summer  1975

This  summertime  variety  show  started  in  July  1975  and  lasted  for  the  rest  of  the  decade.  Hosted  by  Radio One  DJs  the  show  alternated  between  British  seaside  resorts  and  presented  pop  and  comedy  acts  under  a  big  top  or  occasionally,  if  weather  permitted, on  an  open  air  stage. Dance  troupe  New  Edition  filled  in  the  gaps. The  theme  tune  was  Mike  Batt's  Summertime  City - his  only  hit  as  a  performer  under  his  own  name.

The  musical  guests  tended  towards  the  middle  of  the  road  with  a  bias  towards  pop  disco  acts  like  Boney  M  and  the  Gibson  Brothers  though  there  were  occasional  surprises  like  Ian  Dury  and  the  Blockheads  at  Torbay. Abba  also  appeared  early  on  in  Torbay  with  the  girls  in  short  print  dresses  performing  Waterloo  and  forthcoming  single  S.O.S. Future  Top  of  the  Pops  producer Michael  Hurll  cut  his  teeth  on  the  programme.

The  show  is  a  good  source  of  clips  for  those  "look  at  these  things  our  parents  enjoyed- aren't  they  racist, sexist, tasteless  etc"  type  of  shows. The  outside  performances  often  looked  like a  flimsy  excuse  to  film  oft-goose-pimpled  girls  in  swimwear  and  on  the  very  first  edition  Ken  Dodd  was  assisted  on-stage  by  a  bikini-clad  girl  called  ahem  "Knockers" . The  1977  series  had  a  running  beauty  contest .

The  later  series  went  more  European  with  some  broadcasts  from  Honfleur  and  St  Malo , a  recognition  of  changing  holiday  choices  that  eventually  did  for  the  programme  before  it  became  The  Good  Old  Days.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

213 Jim'll Fix It

First  watched  :  1975

After  two  series  of  Clunk  Click   it  was  clear  even  to  himself  that  Jimmy  Savile  was  not  a  very  skilled  chat  show  host  so   he  came  up  with  a  new  format, a  show  where  kids  could  write  in  with  requests  and  he  would  make  their  dreams  come  true. It  was  a  runaway  success  and  ran  for  20  years  making  its  host  an  A-list  celebrity.

Apart  from  the  cub  scouts  eating  on  the  roller  coaster  the  moments  I  remember  are

- Status  Quo  giving  a  guitar  to  a  young  lad  who'd  jammed  with  them
- a  young  lad  teaming  up  with  Big  Daddy  in  a  tag  team  bout
-  a  girl  ordering  "follow  that  cab"  and  ending  up  in  Paris

I  don't  recall  watching  it  after  the  early  eighties.

Of  course  the  programme  is  now  under  the  same  cloud  as  anything  else  connected  with  Savile  which  is  sad   although  few  of  the  accusations  against  him  are  connected  with  this  particular  programme  and  one  of  those  that  has  is  dubious  - see  here.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

212 Whatever Happend To The Likely Lads

First  watched  : 1975

In  May  1975  the  repeats  of  this  moved  to  an  early  Monday  evening  slot  where  I  saw  it  for  the  first  time. I  wasn't  taken  with  it  finding  it  drab  and  rarely  funny. Of  course  I  was  watching  it  out  of  context  having  no  knowledge  of  the  original  Likely  Lads  series  about  two  young  Geordie  guys  out  for  fun in  the  sixties.

This  picked  up  the  story  after  five  years  with  Terry  ( James  Bolam ) returning  to  Newcastle  after  a  stint  in  the  army  and  finding  best  mate  Bob  ( Rodney  Bewes )  now  aspiring  to  a  middle  class  lifestyle  encouraged  by  his  fearsome  fiance   Thelma  ( Brigit  Forsyth ) who  welcomes  Terry's  return  like  a  dose  of  smallpox. The  comedy  derived  from  Terry  and  Thelma's  struggle  for  Bob's  soul  accompanied  by  much  maudlin  beer-fuelled  nostalgia  when  the  two  guys  got  together.

Having  no  class  consciousness  at  this  point  I  had  no  understanding  of  the  show's  premise  and  consequently  it  was  a  consistent  disappointment.

A  spin-off  film  The  Likely  Lads  was  made  in  1976  but  a  further  TV  series  was  put  on  ice  because  the  writers  Dick  Clement  and  Ian  La  Frenais  were  too  busy  with  Porridge. Any  hope  of  a  resumption  was  kiboshed  by  Bolam  and  Bewes  falling  out  over  the  latter's  announcing  Bolam's  wife's  pregnancy  to  the  press , a  rift  that  has  gone  unhealed  to  this  day.

Bolam  resists  any  attempt  to  revisit  or  even  discuss   the  show.  Unlike  his  partner,  Bewes  has  never  really  escaped  from  its  shadow  so  is  usually  more  amenable. Forsyth  has  worked  steadily  ever  since,  perhaps  most  notably  in  the  women's  football  drama  Playing  the  Field.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

211 Sykes

First  watched : 1975

For  a  guy  who  worked  in  TV  for  the  best  part  of  50  years,  with  his  own  show  for  a  dozen  of  them,  Eric  Sykes  is  curiously  uncelebrated  these  days. You  don't  see  tribute  shows with  comedy's  young  guns  - and  the  ubiquitous  Barry  Cryer - lining  up  to pay  homage . He  wrote  for  and  performed  with  all  the  greats - Tommy  Cooper, Spike  Milligan, Tony  Hancock - but  he's  become  the  forgotten  man  of  British  comedy. Perhaps  that's  because  there  was  no  apparent  edge  to  him ; apart  from  his  struggle  with  deafness , he  lived  a  long  and  happy, scandal-free  life , never  swore   and  his  work  stayed  firmly  in  the  mainstream.

Having  said  all  that  I  was  never  a  great  fan  of  this.  I  remember  Tuesdays  being  a  particularly  dull  telly  night  and  Sykes  was  a  part  of  that. He  lived  with  his  unmarried  sister  Harriet ( Hatti  Jacques )  in  an  unremarkable  terraced  house   regularly   visited  by  snooty neighbour  Richard  Wattis  and  under-worked  policeman  Corky  ( Derrick  Guyler ) . It  seemed  small, cramped  and  airless, each  episode  much  like  another. Part  of  the  reason  was that  up  to  Wattis's  death  in  1975  most  of   the  shows  were  colour  remakes  of  Sykes's  early  sixties  series  Sykes  And  A ...  which  had  exactly  the  same  premise.

It  came  to  an  end  with  Jaques's  death  in  1980. Apart  from  a  reviled  ITV  sitcom  The  Nineteenth  Hole  which  lasted  for  one  series  in  1989 , Sykes  never  had  a  regular  series  again  alhough  he  worked  steadily  as  an  actor  into  his  eighties.He  died  in  2012  aged  89.

Monday, 17 August 2015

210 Sam and the River

First  watched  :  1975

In  truth  I  can  barely  remember  this  at  all, another  children's  crime  drama  set  in  London's Docklands  about  a  young  lad  Sam  ( Simon  West  from  Swallows  and  Amazons )  who  stumbles  on  some  diamond  smuggling. All  I  can  really  recall  is  that  a  hovercraft  was  involved  at  one  point

Sunday, 16 August 2015

209 Hong Kong Phooey

First  watched  : 17  March  1975

With  typical  succession  planning  (  or lack  thereof  ) this  daft  cartoon  series  replaced  The  Changes  on  a  Monday  teatime. With  one  exception  ( which  is  something  of  a  special  case )  I'm  thinking  this  is  the  last  Hanna-Barbera  cartoon  I  followed  so  I'll  be  interested  to  find  out  as  we  progress  if  that  was  really  the  case.

Hong  Kong  Phooey  was  better  than  recent  offerings  as  it  was  satirical  in  intent, making  fun  of  the  martial  arts  craze. Phooey  was  a  dopey  police  janitor  who  turned  into  a  crime  fighting   super  hero  when  the  need  arose. The  twist  was  that  he  wasn't  one.  Despite  possessing  a  Pat  Pending  like  convertible  vehicle,  Phooey  was  completely  incompetent  and  had  to  be  rescued  by  his  cynical  but  smart  companion  Spot  the  cat  on  every  occasion  while  Phooey only succeeded  in   making  himself  look  like  an  idiot. He  was  no  more  convincing  a  martial  arts  master  than  tubby  recent  chart  topper  Carl  Douglas.

Sixteen  episodes  were  made  in  total  with  all  but  the  last  containing  two  separate  adventures. Like  Valley  of  the  Dinosaurs  it  was  repeated  within  Multi-Coloured  Swap  Shop  the  following year.

208 Are You Being Served ?

First  watched :  1975

This  sitcom , now  in  its  third  series , replaced  It  Ain't  Hot  Mum  on  a  Thursday  night  after  Top  of  the  Pops.  It  was  another  David  Croft  creation  but  this  time  with  Jeremy  Lloyd  rather  than  Jimmy  Perry. The pilot  was  part  of  the  Comedy  Playhouse  series  but  the  bosses  didn't  like  it  and  it  only  aired  when  the  Munich  massacre interrupted the  Olympic  coverage  in  1972. Audience  response  gave  the  series  the  green  light.

It  was  set  in  a  department  store, Grace  Brothers  owned  by  the  decrepit  but  still  lecherous  "Young" Mr  Grace  ( Harold  Bennett  who  played  the  minor  character  Mr  Bluitt  in  Dads  Army ).  The  only  department  we  really  saw  was  clothing  with   the  Men's  team  consisting  of  cantankerous  Mr  Grainger, effeminate  Mr  Humphries  and  fretful  youngster  Mr  Lucas  facing  off  against  the  Women's  team  of   affected  but  really  dirt  common  Mrs  Slocombe  and   the  secretly  intelligent  sexpot  Miss  Brahms. They  were  overseen  by  pompous  floorwalker  Captain  Peacock  and  hassled  manager  Mr  Rumbold  and  visited  by  a   maintenance  man  and  shop  steward   initially  Mr  Mash  and  then  Mr  Harman.

The  humour  came  from  the  interaction  between  the  staff  and  one  or  two  colourful  customers  each  episode.  It  was  also  noted  for  its  smuttiness  and  liberal  use  of  double  entendres   exemplified  by  Mrs  Slocombe's  frequent  references  to  her  pussy. Then  of  course  you  had  John  Inman  as  Mr  Humphries   and  the  ongoing  and  frankly  not  very  interesting  debate   on  whether  or  not  he  was  a  good  gay  role  model  as  the  first  apparently  gay  regular  on  a  sitcom.

I  enjoyed  it  for  a  few  years  but  its  appeal  waned  as  a  number  of  changes  had  to  be  made  to  the  cast. Larry  Martyn  as  Mash  had  already  quit  in  1975  and  been  suitably  replaced  by  Arthur  English  then  Arthur  Brough  ( Mr  Grainger )  died in  1978  and  the  role  of  senior  male  salesman  was  never  adequately  filled  with  a  succession  of  actors  lasting only  one  season. Trevor  Bannister as  Lucas  quit  due  to  theatrical  commitments  in  1980  and  was  replaced  by  early  sixties  pop  star  Mike  Berry  then  Bennett  died  in  1981  and  had  to  be  replaced  by  the  hitherto  unseen  "Old"  Mr  Grace.

 All  these  changes  weakened  the show  and  it  was  cancelled  in  1985. The  surviving  quintet  from  the  original  cast  regrouped  for  a  spin-off  show  Grace  and  Favour  which  lasted  a  couple  of  series  in  the  early  nineties  with  Wendy  Richard  taking  a  sabbatical  from  Eastenders  to  do  it  but  I  never  saw  that.

The  show  is  noted  for  its  persistent  popularity  in  America. When  I  was  in  the  US,  mid-1995,  it  was  usually  an  option  to  watch  and  often,  sadly,  the  best  one.  I've  often  wondered  whether  Young  Mr  Grace  surrounded  by  his  nubile  young  nurses  inspired  J  Howard  Marshall's  proposal  to  Anna  Nicole  Smith.

People  have  been  mordantly  counting  down  the  Grim  Reaper's  sweep  through  the  Dads  Army  cast  for  years  but  actually  Are  You  Being  Served  has  been  worse  hit  with only  Nicholas  Smith  ( Mr  Rumbold )  surviving  from  the  original  cast.

Friday, 14 August 2015

207 Lulu

First  watched  : 1975

I  didn't  have  much  interest  in  these  light  entertainment  shows  which  all  seemed  much  of  a  muchness  but  I  remember  The  Shadows  doing  Eurovision  so  I  must  have  seen  some  of  this  one.  For  obvious  reasons  The  Shadows were  a  strange  choice  to  do  it; perhaps  Cliff  pulled  a  few  strings ?  The  chosen  ditty  "Let  Me Be  The  One"  was  instantly  forgettable  which  doesn't  say  much  for  the  other  songs  in  contention. It  was  easily  beaten  by  Teach-In's  "Ding  A  Dong"  in  the  Final.

At  the  time  I  put  Lulu  in  the  same  category  as  Cilla, Cliff, Val, Des  and  the  rest  as  an  interchangeable  light  entertainment  fixture  with  no  conception  that  she  was  barely  older than  say  Suzi  Quatro.

As  public  taste  shifted  the  Saturday  night  variety  show  was  dropped  and   Lulu's  career  as  a  TV  hostess   came  to  an  end  but  she  maintained  her  public  profile  with  regular  appearances  on  panel  games, occasional  returns  to  the  chart  and  working  as  a  catalogue  model  for  Freeman's.      

Thursday, 13 August 2015

206 Dixon of Dock Green

First  watched  :  1975

I  only  caught  the  tail  end  of  this  Saturday  night  stalwart  which  had  been  running  since  1955. Few  TV  programmes  have  entered  the  public  psyche  as  deeply  as  this  one. Nearly  40  years  after  the  show  ended   people  still  know  exactly  what  you  mean  by  the  phrase  "Dixon  of  Dock  Green  policing"  after  the  impossibly  decent , approachable  copper  first  played  by  Jack  Warner  in  a  1950  Dirk  Bogarde  film  The  Blue  Lamp.

Dixon  was  actually  shot  dead  by  Bogarde's  character  in  the  film  so  if  you  like , Dixon  of  Dock  Green   started  out  as  a  fantasy  of  his  imagined  survival.  Hard  nosed  critics  would  say  it  never  stopped  being  one.

By  the  time  I  came  to  see  the  programme  it  had  become  ridiculous  despite  a  move  to  harder-edged  storylines. There  was  no  getting  around  the  fact  that  Warner  was  now  eighty  years  old.  Dixon  had  been  promoted  to  desk  sergeant  in  recognition  of  the  actor's  decreased  mobility  but  he  still  had  problems  moving  around  the  set  and , confined  to  the  station, he  was  often  peripheral  to  the  storyline. In  the  final  series  of  eight  episodes  in  1976,  he  had  retired  and  been  re-employed as  a  civilian  collator  of  intelligence  but  everyone, including  the  TV audience,  knew  the  game  was  up.

Warner  died  in  1981.

205 Valley of the Dinosaurs

First  watched  : 4  February  1975

Despite  the  magic  word  in  the  title  of  this  Hanna-Barbera  series   I  have  no  clear  memories  of   it  which  I  think  reflects  a  declining  interest  in  formulaic  cartoons  rather  than  dinosaurs. I  certainly  recall  being  upset  that  illness  prevented  me  from  going  to  see  The  Land  That  Time  Forgot  which  was  on  at  the  cinema  around  this  time.

The  series  was  loosely  based  on  The  Lost  World .  While  white-rafting  on  the  Amazon,  a  family  are  sucked  through  a  whirlpool  into  a  cavern,  on  the  other  side  of  which   is  a  valley  populated  by  prehistoric  animals. They  are  rescued  by  a  friendly  Stone  Age  family  with  a  pet  baby  Stegosaurus.  The  Butlers  try  to  find  a  way  out  of  their  predicament  while  being  routinely  chased  by  everything  they  encounter.

Sixteen  episodes  were  made. It  was  originally  shown  at  teatime  on  a  Tuesday  in  1975  then  repeated   as  an  item  within  Multi-Coloured  Swap  Shop   during  its  early  days  ( 1976-77 ) .

One  item  of  interest - the  voice  actor  for  young  Greg  Butler  was  Jackie  Earle  Haley  who  starred  as  the  village  paedo  in  the  2006  film  Little  Children.

204 Barbapappa

First  watched  : 1975

The  memory  seems  to  be  playing  tricks  again. I  remember  Barbapappa  warmly  but  with  a  feeling  that  it  was  gone  too  soon  so  it's  a  big  surprise  that  it  ran  on  and  off   until  1978 .

Barbapapa  was  imported  from  France  and  concerned  a  genial  pink  blob  who  could  change  shape. What  appealed  to  me  most  about  the  series  was  that  he  and  his  wife  had  seven  kids  who  all  had  different  talents  ( and  colours  although  I  was  watching  it  in  black  and  white )  so  there  was  an  element  of  the  superhero  ensemble  to  it. The  family  interacted  with  the  human  world  and  the  stories  often  had  an  environmentalist   bent; the  scene  I  remember  best  is  where  one  of  the  kids  gets  angry  and  changes  shape  to  do  battle  with  a  bulldozer.

Though  largely  forgotten  over  here I  believe  its  still  popular  across  the  Channel.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

203 The Benny Hill Show

First  watched : Uncertain

Like  The  Tommy  Cooper  Hour  I  first  saw  this  by  virtue  of  it  following  Coronation  Street  on  a  Wednesday  but  when  the  first  time  was  is  anyone's  guess. I  rarely  saw  it  in  full  , probably  only  until  the  first  ad  break  gave  Mum  or  Gran  an  excuse  to  drag  me  off  to  bed.

Obviously  there's  been  a  long  controversy  about  this  show   and  I'm  not  intending  to  write  a  potted  history  of  that.  No  one  denies  that  Benny  was  a  hugely  talented  and  versatile  performer  who  packed  slapstick, parody , musical  pastiche  and  innuendo  into  every  show  with  the  help  of  regulars  like  suave  Henry  McGee  and  the  grotesque  Bob  Todd  and  Jackie  Wright. But  of  course  he  also  included  lots  of  scantily-clad  women  to  be  chased  and  drew  increasing  criticism  for  that   though  his  comeback  that  the  punchline  to  the  sketches  was  invariably  the  humiliation  of  their  lecherous  assailant  was  surely  correct. Because  a  large  proportion  of  the  show  was  made  up  of  sight  gags,  it  was  very  easy  to  export  around  the  world  making  Thames  TV   a  lot  of  money  and  Benny  a  world  star   although  he  rarely  worked  outside  the  UK.

Infamously  Ben  Elton  made  the  ridiculous  claim  in  1987  that  the  show  incited  rape  and  violence  towards  women, a  statement  he's  always  tried  to  backtrack  on  since  the  backlash. The  following  year  John  Howard  Davies  newly  appointed  Head  of  Light  Entertainment  at  Thames  put  the  show  to  bed  on  the  grounds  that  ratings  were  falling, the  show  was  expensive  and  Benny  was  looking  tired. The  first  two  were  related, A  still-athletic  Benny  chasing  women  around  was  one  thing; it  might  get  Elton  hot  under  the  collar  but  the  ITV  audience  wasn't  too  bothered. When  he  was  grey-haired   and  overweight  it  didn't  work; his  audience  could  tolerate  supposed  sexism; they  weren't  too  keen  on  being  reminded  of  their  own  mortality.

Offscreen  Benny  was  a  complicated  character, over -fixated  on  his  mother,  largely  indifferent  to  the  money  he  was  generating  and  reportedly  wanting  no  more  sexually  than  an  occasional  blow  job. He  was  devastated  by  the  cancellation  and  started  deliberately  neglecting  his  health  despite  the  fact  that  new  offers  of  work  were  starting  to  come  in . He  had  a  minor  heart  attack  in  February  1992   then  died  alone  watching  TV  in  his  rented  flat  two  months  later. He  had  no  up  to  date  will,  supposed  verbal  promises  to  colleagues  and  lady  friends  could  not  be  substantiated   so  his  fortune  went  to   great-  nephews   and  neices  he  hardly  knew.    Some  sources   have  named  Aussie  sexpot  Holly  Valance  though  she  isn't  as  closely  related  to  him  as  that.      

202 Sale of the Century

First  watched : Uncertain

Now  we  come  to  Anglia's  most  memorable  contribution  to  the  ITV  network  introduced  with  the  phrase  "And  now, from  Norwich, it's  the  quiz  of  the  week"   which  unfortunately  was  much  used  for  mockery  by  metrapolitan  snobs.  Granada  was  quite  slow  to  pick  this  up, only  broadcasting  it  from  September  1974  when  it  was  already  three  years  old.

The  show  was  hosted  by  Nicholas  Parsons, supposedly  a  man  we  loved  to  hate  for  his  smarminess  and  a  regular  target  for  The  Goodies  ( he  was  actually  a  good  friend  of  Graeme  Garden  and  Tim  Brooke-Taylor  who  regularly  appeared  on  his  radio  show  Just  A  Minute )  but  actually  a  really  nice  bloke  and  a  very  skilful  presenter.  He  was  assisted  Golden  Shot-style  by  various  "lovelies"  and  the  off  screen  announcer  John  Benson  whose  fame  was  amplified  by  confusion  with  a  footballer  of  the  same  name  who  played  for  Norwich  City  during  the  show's  run.

We  actually  started  watching  this  on  the  recommendation  of  my  gran  who'd  seen  it  first. I  liked  it  because  the  questions  were  much  easier  than  those  on  Mastermind  and  I  could  "beat"  some  of  the  adult  contestants. The  three  contestants  had  to  buzz  in  to  answer  the  questions  and  won  or  lost  £5  depending  on  their  answer. The  money  could  be  spent  at  Instant  Sales  where  they  competed  with  each  other  or  an  Open  Sale  of  smaller  items  where  they  raced  the  clock ( this  was  later  dropped ). Whoever  had  the  highest  total  when  the  buzzer  went  after  25  minutes   got  the  chance  to  win  a  car.

It  ran  till  1983  but  has  twice  been  revived on  satellite  channels  since. Sky  likes  to  claim  that  its  1989  version  had  the  first  TV   appearance  by  Simon  Cowell - he  didn't  do  very  well - but  that's  rubbish. He'd  appeared  on  the  BBC  to  promote  the  Wonderdog  single  back   in  1982  and  also  Channel  4's  Right  To  Reply  since  then.

Nicholas  Parsons  appears  to  be  indestructible. At  the  age  of  91  he's  still  doing  Just  A  Minute  on  Radio  4  after  48  years  and  a  comedy  chat  show  slot  at  the  Edinburgh  Fringe  Festival.


Tuesday, 11 August 2015

201 The Changes

First  watched :  6  January  1975

After  The  Long  Chase , I'd  say  this  was  my  favourite   children's  serial  of  the  seventies.

It  was  based  on  a  trilogy  of  books  by  Peter  Dickinson  about  a  mysterious  catastrophe  hitting  Britain  whereby  the  populace  suddenly  turn  against  all  the  trappings  of  modern  technology  and  destroy  them  where  they  can  reverting  to  a  superstitious  pre-industrial  society.

This  scary  new  world  is  viewed  through  the  eyes  of  a  very  plain  Jane  teenager  Nicky  ( Vicky  Williams ) , a  picture  of  lank-haired  pre-punk  dreariness, who  becomes  separated  from  her  parents  early  on  and  has  to  navigate  the  dangerous  new  landscape  with  the  aid  of  a  family  of  Sikhs , a  boyfriend  Jonathan ( Keith  Ashton )  and  a  self-sufficient  couple.

The  serial  was  screened  in  ten  parts  and  marketed  as  being  for  older  children  as  it  had  to  be given  the  amount  of  violence  and  threat  in  it . At  one  point  Nicky  is  sentenced  to  death . The  chief  villain  Davy  Gordon  ( played  by  reliable  character  actor  David  Garfield )  is  particularly  terrifying  as  a  fanatical  witchfinder. It  was  expensive  to  make  as  it  was  all  filmed  on  location  and  makes  liberal  use  of  Paddy  Kingsland 's  synthesiser. I  think  Squeeze's  Slap  And  Tickle  owes  something  to  the  memorable  theme  tune.

The  story  confronts  many  troubling  issues  of  the  time. The  Sikhs  are  clearly  in  there  to  make  a  point  about  racial  integration  and  the  whole  series  is  suffused  with  environmentalist  worries  and  then  concern  about  taking  eco-fascism  too  far. There's  also  a  side  helping  of  early  seventies  Arthurian  mysticism  before  its  entombment , by  the  twin-pronged  attack  of  Johnny  R  and  Maggie  T,  for  more  than  a  decade. Some  of  its  themes  were  resurrected  ten  years  later  in  the adult  thriller  Edge  of  Darkness ;  gnarly  actor  Jack  Watson  appeared  in  both  series.

Blogger  Robin  Carmody  has  written  a  good  eulogy  for  the  series  here . I  don't  think  The  Changes  quite  made  it  as  a  masterpiece.  The  shoehorning  of  the  three  books  into  one   series  with  Nicky  as  the  linking  character ( she  only  appears  in  one  book )  doesn't   disguise  that  there  are  three  distinct  climaxes,   after  the  first  two  of   which  the  story  has  to  reboot  almost  from  scratch,  and  unfortunately  the  last  one  is  the  dullest. There's  a  definite  sag  after  Nicky  and  Jonathan  escape  from  Gordon  in  episode  7  with  Tom  Chadbon's  benign  hippy  less  a  character  than  a  mouthpiece  for  Dickinson's  liberal  middle  way.  At  the  end  there's  an  empty  feeling  of  irresolution; Nicky 's  inarticulate,  Abraham-like  intercession  for  the  world  as  it  was  before  succeeds  in  securing  its  restoration  but  where  do  you  go  from  there ?  Well  we  know  the  answer  now ;  halfway  through  the  series'  run  a   certain  woman  won  the  leadership  of  her  party  and  would  provide  ample  footage  of  industrial  dereliction  and  urban  blight  if  they  ever  fancied  remaking  the  series.  

Still  Robin's  right  about  one  thing. We  won't  see  its  like  again. The  series  was  repeated  in  1976  and  shown  once  on  UK  Gold. It  was  finally  released  on  DVD  last  year  hence  its  disappearance  from  YouTube.

Vicky  Williams  is  still  a  jobbing  actress  but  hasn't  had  a  starring  part  since.