Monday, 31 August 2015
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.