Monday, 28 September 2015
First watched : Spring 1976
This seems fairly topical as Freddie's been in the news a lot lately but I actually recall very little specifically about the show. Freddie showed the range of his talents with singing, impersonations, stand-up, physical comedy and sight gags and I thought it was funny at the time but , regardless of anyone's allegations, probably wouldn't seem so now. Freddie was pretty washed-up and reliant on reality TV before the Savile scandal broke but his time has well and truly gone now.
Saturday, 26 September 2015
First watched : Uncertain
I can't remember exactly when we started watching this though I recall episodes with Grandma ( Ellen Corby) before her stroke which occurred in November 1976 so it must have been around 76 or 77 . It's the first BBC Two show I'm sure of watching since Play Away.
I do remember that we started watching this as an act of rebellion against my Gran who declared it to be "sickening" with a particular contempt for Richard Thomas's character "John- Boy" the eldest son and narrator ( although the actual voiceover was done by Earl Hamner Junior on whose autobiographical Spencer's Mountain the series was based). The show concentrated on the lives of a large poor Baptist family in Virginia in the thirties and forties.
The show is a by-word for "Mom and apple pie" values and the oft-parodied "goodnight" sequence at the end remains toecurling but, like most people I suspect, I enjoyed it more than I let on. I mean come on who wouldn't want Ralph Waite and Olivia Learned for their mum and dad ? There was a tangible sense that the cast were a real family unit exemplified by Corby's return to the show despite severe speech and mobility problems and the pain expressed on the passing of Will Geer who played Grandpa. With the exception of Thomas who didn't want to return as a regular character in the last two series , no one had to be replaced and they would re-group for six TV movie sequels up to 1997 despite being left to fend for themselves in the intervening years
My favourite of the kids was Ben ( Eric Scott ) who seemed to have a bit more spunk than the others. In one of the last episodes I saw he sprung a considerable surprise on the family by bringing a wife home with him ; I'm not sure it was ever really explained why he'd got married in secret. That wasn't broadcast here until November 1980 so maybe I am including this too early.
Anyhow I did see one or two epiodes after that when it was repeated on Channel 4 on Saturday mornings some time in the nineties. One had Jennifer Jason Leigh in it as a young foxtress conning Jim-Bob into thinking he's made her pregnant which surprised me; I hadn't realised the series lasted long enough for her to appear. The other was set in the war years and had Ben supposedly in a Japanese prisoner of war camp but it was set in a clearing in the wood with a couple of extras , like Ben dressed in jeans and lumberjack shirt, no fences and a single comedy Jap guard who lets them humiliate him without chopping their heads off. Absolutely ludicrous.
The maturity of the kids necessarily meant the fragmentation of the storylines and from 1978 onwards the show started slipping in the ratings. In 1981 the show was finally cancelled, the cast reading about it in the papers before they were officially informed. None of them would ever be quite so famous again . Thomas , the only one who had a reputation before the series remained stuck in TV movies and serials. Judy Norton Taylor ( Mary Ellen ) caused a stir in 1985 by doing a spread for Playboy but after the fuss subsided she settled into an average TV acting career. Mary Beth McDonough ( Erin ) also shed her clothes briefly in the film Mortuary ( the only reason to watch it ) but had a long period of ill health from lupus erythematousis after having breast implants. She now divides her time between TV acting and charitable fundraising for lupus sufferers. Jon Walmsley ( Jason ) has a low-key career as a session musician. Eric Scott became a courier, and one day had to deliver a package to the company that made The Waltons but eventually got to buy the company. Kami Cottler ( Elizabeth ) is a high school teacher while David Harper ( Jim- Bob ) had the odd minor film part in the eighties but since the last sequel has become a bit of a drifter though he does normally turn up for reunion shows ( not looking terribly good to be honest ) . Amazingly Ellen Corby survived to appear in five of the sequels ( including the last in 1997 ) before her death in 1999.
Thursday, 24 September 2015
First watched : 3 March 1976
In amongst the historical serials and Home Counties-set dramas such as Kizzy and Jumbo Spencer , the Beeb lobbed in this bracing four-parter about a gang of kids in Liverpool. It was adapted by Sylvia Sherry from her own novel A Pair of Jesus Boots and produced by Anna Home who, not too long after, commissioned Grange Hill . This short series can be seen as something of a forerunner to that in its realism and focus on the urban working class.
There's nothing but the badly recorded theme tune on YouTube and I wish I could remember a bit more about it. Rocky was a young lad on the cusp of following his brother into criminality but actually would prefer to play football if only he could acquire suitable footwear. That's about it really.
You might expect that the young cast would be full of the usual Scouse suspects - Michael Angelis, Andrew Schofield, perhaps the odd McGann - but no , none of the names are familiar. Rocky was played by Michael Mills who did very little else and James Hoey, Peter Chan, Eamon Deery and Alan Pope are equally obscure.
Monday, 21 September 2015
First watched : 29 February 1976
This series began on a Sunday I recall quite clearly. After going to church in the morning, I went into the garden where I, along with next door's kids, worked further on a big hole we were digging just to see how far we could get and what we could turn up. We didn't find anything interesting but we worked on it for about 3 weeks and the hole got to about 3 feet deep before a tradesman altering our porch found it a very handy place to dump the rubble.
After dinner I listened to the radio because Jimmy Savile's Old Record Club was now featuring 1973 which meant an hour of hearing all the classics - Blockbuster, Part of the Union , You're So Vain - from my first discovery of pop. When that had finished I went with the family next door on a walk up to Hollingworth Lake and walked all the way round it for the first time ever. We went on the playground at the far side and I somehow managed to slide off the roundabout while our neighbour was increasing the speed. Fortunately he managed to stop it before I scraped too much of my back off but I was pretty shaken up by the experience. It didn't spoil the day though and when we were told to write an essay about spring next day at school I submitted an account of the day with the odd reference to frog spawn and buds on trees inserted to make it fit the theme.
And thanks to Genome I can now recall a detail of the evening. The Flight of the Heron was a rather bleak drama based on a novel by D K Broster about the unlikely and ultimately doomed friendship between a Jacobite chieftain and an English captain during the 1745 rebellion. Bonnie Prince Charlie himself featured as a character. David Rintoul and Tom Chadbon played the two main protagonists. I enjoyed the series but never saw the last episode because I was hit, for the third time in around four months, by a virulent sickness bug and was too ill to go downstairs and watch it. My mum had to tell me what happened; the Scot escaped to France, the Englishman was killed by his demented servant.
The series has never been repeated.
Sunday, 20 September 2015
First watched : Early 1976
This took a long time to be broadcast in the UK. Made in 1957 it didn't appear over here until nearly two decades later when it was shown on Saturday mornings. Zorro played by Guy Williams was a masked Robin Hood type figure righting wrongs with his sword in nineteenth century California. I wasn't very interested in such obviously old material and probably didn't see more than a handful of episodes.
Saturday, 19 September 2015
First watched : 9 February 1976
I've been waiting for this one since I started the blog. Even more than Here Come The Double Deckers, this nearly-forgotten five episode series - my wife doesn't remember it at all - had a huge influence on the course of my life , and its ripples have stretched almost to the present day.
The series was based on a book by prolific children's author and scriptwriter Helen Cresswell who was also responsible for Lizzie Dripping. The eponymous hero Jumbo is the "ideas man " in his group of friends and one summer holiday comes up with the idea of The Jumbo Spencer Reform Club who would do things for the good of the village, usually without clearing it with the relevant adults first. In one episode they made a zebra crossing ( illustrated above ) with an orange balloon tied to a pole for a Belisha beacon. The episodes usually ended with the Club getting a dressing-down but they scored a little triumph in the final one by successfully kickstarting a village fete to celebrate some civic anniversary.
I think you were supposed to laugh at Jumbo's precocity , his over-vaulting ambition and attempts to mobilise adults into helping on his pet projects but I didn't see it that way. I immediately identified with Jumbo's need for recognition and suddenly just "playing out" wasn't enough for me. We needed to "do things". For most people who were around at the time , the summer of 1976 is remembered for its glorious length but for me it will always be the summer of "the efforts" when I was continually suggesting, cajoling, demanding that we ( whoever was around on Hollingworth Road, Littleborough at the time ) do something that would make a bit of money or simply direct some attention my way.
My mum had inconveniently forgotten to put a diary in my Christmas stocking in 1975 but I still have the precious piece of A4 paper on which , towards the end of the year, I retrospectively listed the "efforts" and who else was involved in them. I've not included myself perhaps to disguise the fact that I've listed one or two that I had no involvement in , those being the brainchild of bossy Carol Warburton down the road who may not even have seen Jumbo Spencer. The first half dozen on the list actually pre-date the programme , at least two of which were Bob-A-Job ventures for the cub scouts.
Apart from the jumble sales, most of them never got much past the drawing board , lasting only until the lads decided they'd prefer to play football instead. Some were no more than a single evening's diversion; I think effort number 14 the Bogie Service was just offering rides on an improvised go-kart - the kids next door had a granddad who was a wizard with wood and nails. There were a couple of plays, fired by my involvement in school drama , which never got beyond a few rehearsals and the Littleborough Historic Society which involved knocking on the door of an old couple, the Holroyds , and asking them to tell us something interesting. It's nice to record that they actually did; in those more innocent times they invited half a dozen neighbourhood kids into their front room and explained the traces of the old mines behind our homes. One or two efforts listed are now irretrievable ; I've no idea what "The Tough Family " or "Social Reformers" were all about but it can't have been anything very substantial.
My mum inadvertently helped by deciding that the back garden was a mess ( it certainly was ) and banning us from playing on the lawn while she restored it ; gardening became her main leisure interest for the rest of her life. Once she'd got things in order it featured in the craziest of my schemes , the Zoo and Botanical Gardens. For a number of weekends I'd plonk my kiddies blackboard on the wide section of pavement near The Railway pub and, with the aid of that and a few handwritten flyers, try to persuade people walking up the road to Hollingworth Lake that they should divert, first to look at the Hursts' rabbits and then come up to our house to look at a couple of goldfish, some pond life collected from the canal and my mum's efforts in the garden. I think I reasoned that we could expand the collection if we charged 10p to visitors. Of course my mum and gran tried in vain to persuade me the whole idea was bonkers but I wouldn't be told. I don't think we had a single visitor.
The scheme eventually mutated into the slightly more sensible idea of a museum, diverting my energies into collecting exhibits , one of which was a small piece of masonry from St Mary's Abbey in York, a regular day-trip destination for me and my dad. Before English Heritage subpoena me I should say that I picked it up off the ground, I didn't take a chisel to the ancient monument and I did eventually return it in 1997 ( on our honeymoon actually ) after two decades of it sitting on top of my bookcase.
At the end of that summer I started at secondary school and the impetus was lost but wanted a marker for posterity so I wrote to the local paper, The Rochdale Observer about what we'd been doing . This involved a considerable amount of what two decades on would be called "spin" . I included Carol's bookstall , a genuine success which they'd already covered earlier in the year , and a rock musical based on Status Quo songs for which not a word of script had been committed to paper though I contrived to give the impression a performance had taken place. Worst of all I wanted to include The Adventurous Club ( see the post on Here Come The Double Deckers ) which had had no altruistic angle at all so I invented a complete fiction that we'd stopped some boys from vandalising an old house. The paper accepted what I wrote without question and sent a photographer round ; I managed to round up about 8 of the other kids for the shoot. I'm sure I've kept a copy of the article somewhere; if I find it I'll scan it in. When the article appeared some of the other kids protested at the deceptions but didn't contact the paper. As a history graduate who values truth it's been on my conscience ever since and I'm glad of this opportunity to set the record straight.
That's not the end of the story though. At the start of 1977 a poster appeared in a local shop from Littleborough Community Association asking for help and ideas in co-ordinating the celebration of the Queen's Silver Jubilee in Littleborough. Without hesitation I wrote to one of the co-ordinators listed offering our services as experienced organisers and she and her husband came to see me one evening though my mum wisely sat in on the chat. Around the same time I joined Littleborough Civic Trust because it ran fortnightly walks on a Sunday afternoon which would help me prepare for a school youth hostelling holiday . On an epochal train trip to Hebden Bridge organised by them in March 1977 I realised firstly that the Civic Trust and the Community Association were largely the same people and secondly that the door was open to get involved in civic affairs for real through these organisations.
Then I got in the paper again. Just a fortnight later I noticed on my way home from school that the river Roch was flowing bright green from somebody dumping God knows what in it further up the valley. As luck would have it I saw Keith Parry from the Civic Trust who I recognised from the train trip and drew his attention to it. Keith was an interesting character . He was a former boyfriend of my mum's though now widely believed to be gay. He had worked in London as a journalist and broadcasted semi-regularly on Radio Manchester which made him a minor celebrity locally . He also had some modest local business interests which never fully developed because he was too much of a gadfly. He was an erudite and reasonably talented man but self-regarding and given to intemperate outbursts especially in writing. Anyhow he had the ear of the local press and so I was in the Rochdale Observer again as the boy who reported the river running green. I started attending the Civic Trust's monthly meetings where I was feted and also its spin-off group the Littleborough Local Historical Society.
I can't give a full account of all my activities in these organisations; it would take too long and not be very interesting to people unfamiliar with the town. The important thing is that it started to influence my thoughts on politics and my future career. I'd go to the meetings and regularly hear diatribes from Keith and the others against the local council, particularly the planners when decisions went the wrong way from the Civic Trust's preservationist view and the Highways Dept who didn't seem anxious to take action when farmers obstructed local footpaths. The fact that Littleborough was , since 1974 , only a constituent part of the borough of Rochdale which usually voted a different way to the rest, seemed an important part of the problem. I decided that I should get a job with the council and change them from within. That's laudable enough but what I wasn't really appreciating was that the Civic Trust was only dealing with a small part of an organisation that had many facets nor when it came to choosing my optional subjects at school ( and then university ) did I pick ones that were particularly suitable for a career in planning or highways.
Nevertheless working for a local authority remained my aim after graduating in 1986 and I fired applications off for any post anywhere that advertised for graduates of any discipline. The ones that attracted me most were trainee committee clerks since they seemed to be at the heart of decision-making. However that made them the most highly-prized. I got an interview at Hereford and Worcester Council where they had 200 applicants. By contrast the trainee accountant posts were much less fiercely contested and in January 1987, by virtue of being the only candidate who'd heard of the forthcoming poll tax, I ended up in that role at Tameside Council.
Though above average in the subject, I never enjoyed maths at school and never saw myself as an accountant but this was the first opportunity of a salary and I reasoned that once through the doors they would soon recognise that my talents were better employed elsewhere in the authority. That never happened and I stayed in public sector finance for the next quarter of a century until 2012. Long before then, 1997 in fact, I had got married and left Littleborough and in truth I had become pretty disillusioned with the Civic Trust a few years before that. I turned down an offer of the chairmanship in 1994 and was only going to the committee meetings for the drink with my friends Lincoln and Joe ( both now deceased sadly ) afterwards. I kept my subscription up until they stopped putting out a newsletter last year. I rang up and cancelled and not long afterwards Joe, the last committee member from my time, passed away. As I've never had the slightest intention of getting involved in the civic affairs of the town in which I now reside, that was the last trace of Jumbo Spencer's influence being wiped away.
Unfortunately Helen Creswell is no longer around to read this and know how much she influenced my life, having passed away in 2005. Mark Weavers who played Jumbo has long since slipped into obscurity with the series being the last thing to his name. In fact the only names in the cast I recognise are the Anglo-Australian actor James Smilie ( who was in Prisoner Cell Block H and Return To Eden ) who played Jumbo's dad and, more surprisingly, John O Farrell as one of the village kids who were hostile to the Club's endeavours ( like Hodges to Jumbo's Mainwaring ) . It turns out it is the Labour-supporting comic writer and novelist. I've read quite a lot of his stuff and don't recall him ever mentioning that he was in this.
First watched : February 1976
There's only one reason I recall this and that's the guy above , John Curry, who won the gold medal for Great Britain ( though he was largely trained in the U.S. ) in the Men's Figure Skating event at Innsbruck . Skating was a consolation prize for Curry after his parents refused to countenance his ambition to become a dancer but at Innsbruck he combined the two, blurring the lines between art and sport in a way that took the world by storm. European and World titles quickly followed.
Before the latter event a German tabloid outed him as a homosexual but generally the British media kept a discreet silence over the matter. There was a kerfuffle at a sportsman's dinner later that year when one of the other guests, ventriloquist Roger de Courcey made a joke which described Curry as a fairy. Curry was not amused.
Curry turned professional in 1977 and set up his own ice dance company which put on some big shows. He also dabbled in acting. He was a fairly prickly individual and in the mid-eighties the company's operations were brought to a halt when he fell out with his business managers. In 1987 he was diagnosed with HIV and dropped out of the public eye. A 2007 biography of actor Alan Bates alleged that the two men were having an affair at the time of Curry's death in 1994.
Friday, 18 September 2015
First watched : Uncertain
Another post-Corrie sitcom which I only include because I know I saw Wendy Craig in something before Butterflies and it must have been this . It started out as And Mother Makes Three in 1971 about a widowed mum bringing up two boys then became And Mother Makes Five in 1974 after she married a widower with a young daughter. It finished in 1976
Interestingly both series were written by a quartet but only Richard Waring was a member of both. Craig herself wrote some of the latter series under the pseudonym Jonathan Marr before going on to play in The Smiths ( maybe I've got that last bit wrong ). One of the original quartet was Carla Lane and the similarity of the premise to Butterflies is probably what's obliterated my recollections of this earlier venture.
Thursday, 17 September 2015
First watched : Uncertain
This is another case of staying on the channel after Coronation Street so I've no real idea when I first saw it but probably it was towards the end of its run which was in April 1976.
Man About The House was considered rather risque in its day with its premise of a young ( ish ) guy sharing a flat with two attractive young females and I was aware of the frisson around it without understanding why it was there. Richard O Sullivan played Robin Tripp the shaggy-haired student shacked up with Chrissy ( Paula Willcox ) and Jo ( Sally Thomsett ) and not getting off with either of them. He also has to deal with the mean landlord George Roper ( Brian Murphy ) who is under the thumb of his sexually frustrated wife Mildred ( Yootha Joyce ).
In actual fact the comedy was fairly standard sitcom fare with George by far the most amusing character and there wasn't that much for Mary Whitehouse to get in a tizz about. The series lasted for three years and gave rise to two spin-offs and a poorly-received film.
We'll come back to George and Mildred. O Sullivan remained a big TV star for the rest of the decade but succumbed to drink in the eighties and became prematurely aged. He lives a reclusive life in a home for retired performers. Wilcox is still a working actress , mainly in comedy with a recent guest part in Still Open All Hours . Thomsett on the other hand found hardly any acting work after the series finished though she appeared on panel shows in the eighties before emigrating to the USA for a time. She remarried in the mid-90s and had a daughter at 46 which kept her out of the limelight. She recently re-emerged in pantomime and contributes to nostalgia shows.
Wednesday, 16 September 2015
First watched : Uncertain
Nowadays you can't turn on the TV without at least one option of some superhero action but back in the days when I was actually buying Marvel comics this cartoon series was the only opportunity to see it on screen. It was broadcast on holiday mornings on ITV and I rarely got to see it whether through Dad watching cricket or being pulled out for shopping, dentist etc. I remember one visit to the old Littleborough clinic at the top of Barehill Street where I sat fretfully watching the clock , hoping to get back home in time to watch it but to no avail.
Spider-Man was made over three series between 1967 and 1970. The first series was quite faithful to the comics featuring familiar villains but thereafter the budget was slashed and Spider-Man had to fight generic, cheaply drawn aliens and the episodes were padded out with footage from an earlier series called Rocket Robin Hood. I loved it just the same.
Monday, 14 September 2015
First watched : January 1976
I knew this one must be coming up soon. Ivor the Engine was the first programme produced by Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin's Smallfilms in the late fifties and hadn't been broadcast for years. The BBC asked them to remake it in colour with modified storylines to fit the five minute Magic Roundabout time slot.
Like Thomas , Ivor had a mind of his own and actually more independence of movement. I can't really remember any of the stories but it was my introduction to the ( exaggerated ) concept of Welsh people only having half a dozen surnames to go round so everyone had to be identified by their occupation - Jones the Steam, Evans the Song , Dai the Station and so on.
Sunday, 13 September 2015
First watched : 21 January 1976
I still remembered individual scenes from this punchy little six-part childrens' serial on a Wednesday, adapted from the Whitbread Prize-winning novel The Diddakoi by Rumer Godden. Kizzy ( Vanessa Furst ) is a an orphaned gypsy girl who has to adapt to life in a small village when her grandmother becomes too old to move on and then dies. Predictably enough the village girls led by the ghastly Prue ( Melissa Docker ) don't make life easy for her at school and neither the authorities nor the other gypsy families are particularly sympathetic in their handling of her.
Watching Kizzy again on YouTube, it is a bit ponderous at times and the childrens' acting leaves a lot to be desired but it has a gentle charm and it's particularly nice to watch the episode where Kizzy is nursed back from pneumonia by the all-male household of Admiral Twiss ( John Welsh ) without any sinister subtext. As an introduction to themes of intolerance, bereavement and resilience it could still be recommended.
Vanessa Furst was the daughter of Batman set designer Anton Furst and did not pursue a career in acting. She was last heard of studying to be a doctor in microbiology and genetics.
Friday, 11 September 2015
First watched : 11 January 1976
My wife is currently watching the re-boot of this series but I prefer to stick with my memories of the original. I mentioned a few posts ago that I had become fascinated by cast lists and Poldark running on a Sunday night for 16 episodes from the autumn of 1975 had the biggest of them all. Unfortunately for most of the time it was running against the final series of Upstairs Downstairs on ITV and so I only got to see the last two episodes. Strangely enough I watched them on my own; I don't know what my mum and sister were doing instead but I got them interested when it was repeated the following year before a second series in the autumn.
Poldark was adapted from a series of novels by Winston Graham set in the turbulent Cornwall of the late eighteenth century . The Poldarks headed up by impulsive young squire Ross ( Robin Ellis ) are trying to uphold their long-established social position by squeezing the last deposits from a waning set of copper mines while pursuing a feud with the arriviste family , the Warleggans. Extra spice is added by saturnine villain George Warleggan ( Ralph Bates ) marrying Ross's original sweetheart Elizabeth ( Jill Townsend ) after Ross is forced to make a shotgun marriage with his kitchen maid Demelza ( Angharad Rees ).
The series was good knockabout bodice-ripping stuff with a good selection of colourful characters including Christopher Biggins of all people as a randy vicar. His roving eye alighted at one point on the naked rump of Julie Dawn Cole , my first sighting of such a thing on TV. It was pretty raunchy all the way through as I remember. Perversely, I sided with George and always wanted him to come out on top in the confrontations.
It came to an end because Graham couldn't keep the pace. The two series were based on his seven existing novels and the next one wasn't published until 1981 by which time things had moved on. In the meantime there'd been a flood of imitations, with Penmarric the most obvious example, as testament to the series' appeal.
Poldark was the high point for most of the cast although Kevin McNally who played Demelza's fiery young brother is still a very busy actor. Ellis is now semi-retied and living in France; inevitably he was given a cameo role in the new series. Angharad Rees chose to concentrate on motherhood rather than build on her success. She died in 2012 of pancreatic cancer , the same thing that killed Ralph Bates at the tragically early age of 51 after his success in playing a remarkably different character in the comedy Dear John.
First watched : Early 1976
This series first ran in 1974 but I don't think I saw it until it followed Top of the Pops on a Thursday.
The series stemmed from a Comedy Playhouse pilot and starred Terry Scott and June Whitfield as a middle-aged , middle class couple whose two daughters have left home which, in those days of student grants, left Terry free to pursue some harebrained schemes while June looked on in mildly sceptical disapproval, ( a comic persona that sustained Whitfield for decades ). Her sister Lucy played by Beryl Cook moved in with her mynah bird to add to the mayhem.
I remember it as actually being pretty funny and I recall getting caught out for re-cycling one of the storylines ( I can't remember what it was ) in a school essay the next day. Unfortunately I hadn't really factored in that teachers watched the telly too !
The series ran aground in 1979 when writer Eric Merriman fell out with the BBC but refused to be bought out with regards to the format. The BBC then decided to uproot Scott and Whitfield to a new location , ditch the rest of the family and re-brand as Terry and June since Merriman could hardly lay claim to the actors' real names.
Terry and June went on for another eight years and became a bit of a byword for safe, unchallenging and stale viewing in the age of alternative comedy. It's a shame that that's prevented much appreciation of the original series.
The partnership was finally broken up in 1987 when Scott was diagnosed with cancer although he lived on for another seven years and continued voicing the character Penrose in Danger Mouse until 1992. The seemingly indestructible Whitfield turns 90 later this year.
Thursday, 10 September 2015
First watched : January 1976
Here's an interesting entry. Ellery Queen was the creation of two American crime writers Frederick Dannay and Manfred Lee, a writer and amateur detective who helps solve the crimes which are confounding his father, a New York City police inspector. In the States it became a massively successful franchise ; this was the fourth separate TV series to feature him over there.
However it meant curiously little over here where this was the only one of the adaptations to be broadcast. It was made by the team behind Columbo and followed a similar format of an unconventional detective solving a complicated crime then announcing his deduction to the assembled suspects. The unique feature of the series was the eponymous hero played by Jim Hutton turning to the camera with ten minutes to go and breaking the fourth wall by asking the viewer "Do you know who it was ?" ( which I invariably didn't ).
I thought it was OK but it failed to live up to expectations in its Tuesday early evening slot and was pulled after only 12 episodes had been broadcast. Three more were used to fill a gap in the Monday schedule in August then it disappeared for good with no repeats and seven of the episodes never broadcast here.
Jim Hutton died of liver cancer in 1979 and didn't live to see his son Timothy's Oscar triumph the following year. Both Dannay and Lee are long since dead although the publication they founded in 1941, Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine is still published monthly and is only on to its third editor.
Wednesday, 9 September 2015
First watched : 6 January 1976
This is another surprise ; I'd have put this one at least a year later.
This slightly macabre childrens' comedy show was the brainchild of writer Robert Block , previously known for Pardon My Genie and this was fairly similar in tone. A recently deceased loser Fred Mumford ( Anthony Jackson ) sets up an agency for renting out ghosts for various purposes with his still-living landlord Mr Meaker ( Edward Brayshaw ) . His two supply phantoms are a Victorian gentleman , Davenport ( Michael Darbyshire ) and a camp medieval jester Claypole ( Michael Staniforth ) . Later in the series some more colourful spooks were added to the cast but I think I only stayed with it while the original trio were in place. Darbyshire died in 1979 and Jackson declined to continue without him so Claypole became the central character in future series.
It hasn't left a great impression on me to be honest but it ran for eight years so it must have been doing something right. Jackson continued in acting, latterly in a company specialising in the works of Samuel Beckett, until his death in 2006. After the series ended in 1984 Staniforth went into Starlight Express for a time but died of AIDS three years later.
Tuesday, 8 September 2015
First watched : Early 1976
Pddington was quite slow in coming to TV given that Michael Bond had written the first book about him in 1958 , way before he first came up with The Herbs. Nevertheless it was enormously popular and another triumph for animator Ivor Wood who came up with the distinctive 3D/ 2D blend of characters for the show. Paddington took over the Magic Roundabout slot and the stories were amusing and clever but somehow I remember feeling it was too late in the day for me at eleven years old , that this was something for the younger children and I had no real business watching it.
The original series ran from 1976 to 1978. Another series was made by Hanna-Barbera in conjunction with CITV in 1989 and then another shown on CITV in 1997. A film was released last year and another is said to be in the works.
Monday, 7 September 2015
First watched : 4 January 1976
This followed The Legend of Robin Hood as the Sunday teatime serial. After supporting roles in Heidi and Anne Of Avonlea this provided Nicholas Lyndhurst with his first starring role in the parts of Prince Edward ( later Edward VI ) and Tom Canty, the lookalike pauper's son he encounters and changes places with for longer than he bargained.
The series was an adaptation of the novel by Mark Twain, a popular work of historical fiction. And fiction it certainly is ; far from the kind , resourceful and socially concerned young prince depicted, the real Edward was a ghastly bigoted prig who acquiesced in his uncle's execution and would probably have been as monstrous as his father had he lived to adulthood. Nevertheless it's a good yarn as proved by the number of adaptations since its publication in 1881.
A British film version came out the following year and I've often wondered if news of one influenced the production of the other. Ironically while Lyndhurst's career advanced significantly after this, his film counterpart Mark Lester ( who was too old for the role anyway ) gave up acting after scathing reviews and became an osteopath.
Sunday, 6 September 2015
First watched : Early 1976
Charlie Brown was a series of television specials based on the long-running American comic strip Peanuts.
I was familiar with some aspects of American culture from buying Marvel comics but this was my first insight into what children may be like across the pond. That's not to say a knowledge of baseball and Thanksgiving Day was necessary to understanding what was going on here. The themes of insecurity, cruelty and the grim truth that much of our life consists of melancholy failure are pretty universal.
Charlie was a pretty ordinary good natured kid but his vulnerability made him prone to bullying particularly from the ghastly Lucy despite her possessing no talent, intelligence or physical attractiveness herself. The other kids didn't treat him so badly, and Peppermint Patty ( above ) actually had a crush on him, but could have done more to stand up for him. As I was becoming conscious of the fact that I was not attractive to girls this cartoon struck a painful chord. The only gripe I had with the series was the amount of screen time given to Snoopy's adventures which always seemed to me a silly childish distraction from the real drama.
Illness forced Charlie's creator Charles Schultz to discontinue the strip in 1999 and he died the day before the last one was published in February 2000. He didn't wish anyone else to continue it and so far that wish has been respected. Some more television specials have been made but they've been based on Schultz's strips. A movie is due out later this year.
Friday, 4 September 2015
First watched : Autumn 1975
This was the only ITV pop programme I made a point of watching. It wasn't one of Muriel Gray's productions at Granada but an LWT effort presented from his console desk by producer Mike Mansfield , noted for his snowy-white hair and camp voice. He would cue the acts from the gantry rather than presenting to camera in keeping with the show's "peep behind the curtain" approach of showing backstage operations. It had a certain ramshackle charm.
The acts were lip-synching and often placed in highly incongruous settings for their music . Ronnie Lane did his ruralist fantasy song The Poacher with a machine blowing detergent bubbles at him. Most performed their current chart hits as you'd expect but some of the older acts performed hits from the past such as Jethro Tull and Arthur Brown.
The show lasted a couple of years.
Thursday, 3 September 2015
First watched : Uncertain
This ITV popular science show was basically BBC's Stump The Scientist with more genial hosts and regular tele-friendly experts. David Bellamy , Rob Buckman ( like Jonathan Miller a doctor-cum-comic ) and Miriam Stoppard were three of them , the latter causing a stir with her practical demonstration of the principle that babies could instantly swim . All of them were overshadowed though by Dr Magnus Pyke who became an instant star and impressionists' dream with his wild-eyed enthusiasm and manic gesticulations. He became everybody's epitome of the mad scientist and in the early eighties became an unlikely MTV star with his appearance on record and in the video for Thomas Dolby's She Blinded Me With Science.
The show ran from 1974 to 1978 with the host changing regularly. I think it was the last TV gig for Austin Mitchell before becoming the long-serving Labour MP for Grimsby. It was re-branded as Don't Just Sit There in 1979 and lasted another year but I don't remember that.
Bellamy and Stoppard are both still around campaigning and writing, on environmental issues and women's health respectively. Buckman , who ironically was seriously ill himself , emigrated to Canada in 1985 and dropped his comedy career in favour of militant atheism before dying mid-flight between London and Toronto in 2011. Pyke , one of science's great populists, was actually sceptical of the benefits of using science and technology to advance material comforts. He died in 1992 aged 83 , four years after coming off worst in a tussle with a burglar.
Wednesday, 2 September 2015
First watched : Autumn 1975
This ITV children's quiz show, based on an American model which hadn't actually worked very well , was much more fun than the likes of Brainchild on the Beeb. The contestants had to run across the studio floor to answer a multiple choice general knowledge quiz by standing in one of three circles. If they got it right they went back to their starting places with a yellow ball ( worth 1 point ) unless they were the only one getting it correct in which case they had a red winner's ball worth 2 points. If they got it wrong they went into a dungeon until the red ball was collected. To thwart tailgaters, kids were allowed a couple of seconds to jump into an adjacent circle at the last moment. The kid with the most points got to pick a prize.
The show was gruffly compered by comedian Mike Reid after his profile had been raised earlier in the year by an unlikely hit single with The Ugly Duckling ( I remember him getting his verses the wrong way round on Top of the Pops ) . Because the show was recorded pretty much live, he needed to keep a tight rein on proceedings and treated kids who shouted out the answers as he would hecklers in the clubs where he performed. He briefly left the show in 1977, allowing short stints to Leslie Crowther and Stan Boardman , but was back in place a year later. The show ended in 1981 when its creators Southern Television lost their franchise. Reid kept himself busy with roles in things like Minder and appearing on panel shows before Eastenders came calling.
There was apparently a spin-off show called Poparound in the mid-eighties with Gary Crowley posing questions about pop music but I don't recall it so I'm wondering if Granada ever screened it.
Tuesday, 1 September 2015
First watched : Autumn 1975
I don't think I saw very much of this ITV sitcom but I do recall one episode which ended up with someone being de-bagged, me being of an age to find any sort of nudity highly amusing.
Get Some In was very obviously ITV's attempt to get itself some military comedy action along the same lines as It Ain't Half Hot Mum and Dad's Army. Talfryn Thomas from the latter appeared in the first episode. It worked too with the series getting a Christmas Day Special in its first year.
The series was set in the mid-fifties and followed a group of young men doing National Service in the RAF who find themselves under the bullying Corporal Marsh ( Tony Selby ) who also has a nice line in homophobia and racism. He is in turn bullied by his wife Alice ( Lori Wells ) . The recruits include Smith ( Robert Lindsay then Karl Howman when Lindsay got Citizen Smith ) a rebellious teddy boy, Lilley ( Gerard Ryder ) a namby-pamby vicar's son and Richardson ( David Janson ) a smart grammar school boy whose relationship with Marsh closely resembles that between Sgt Williams and Gunner Graham in It Ain't Half Hot Mum.
A number of notable TV stars made one episode appearances in the series including Paul Eddington, George Baker, Roy Kinnear and Simon Callow.
It was written by John Esmonde and Bob Larbey, the duo behind Please Sir ! and the contemporary The Good Life and lasted for 5 series. It's never been repeated in full but it all survives and has been released on DVD.