Saturday, 31 October 2015

266 Fawlty Towers

First  watched  : September  1976

Fawlty  Towers  came  to  BBC1  in  September  1976  after  a  successful  run  on  BBC2  the  year  before. It  is  of  course  a  TV  legend , one  of  the  greatest  sitcoms  ever  and  the  most  successful  venture  in  which  any  of  the  ex-Pythons  have  been  involved  and  I  don't  think  I've  anything  new  to  say  about  it.

I  didn't  really  get  into  it  until  the  repeats  in  1980, a  year  after  the  second  series  was  broadcast. My  particular  favourite  is  the  episode  where  they  have  to  get  a  dead  body  out  of  the  hotel  with  Basil  the  rat  a  close  second. Coincidentally  both  feature  Geoffrey  Palmer  as  the  doctor.

The  show  famously  lasted  for  only  12  episodes  and  is  often  quoted  as  the  textbook  example  of  going  out  when  you're  on  top.  It  withstands  repeated  viewing; even  when  you  can  quote  large  parts  of  the  dialogue  there's  still  something  there  that  you  haven't  quite  picked  up  on  before, so  rich  and  condensed  are  the  scripts.

Friday, 30 October 2015

265 The Two Ronnies

First  watched  : 1975

A  little  research   has  proved  I'm  a  bit  late  in  including  this  one  as  the  scene  I  remember  most  was  actually  broadcast  in  1975.  It  was  during  the  second  of  four  serial  inserts  starring  the  comic  detective  duo  Piggy  Malone  ( Ronnie  Barker  )  and  Charley  Farley  ( Ronnie  Corbett )  , Death  Can  Be  Fatal  where  Charley  is   being  smuggled  through  an  airport  in  a  large  packing  case  to  save  on  air  fare. He's  rigged  up  a  series  of  pipes  to  the  air  holes  so  that  he  can  be  given  drinks  but  got  it  wrong  so  that  the  drink  is  coming  out  of  the  side  through  another  hole. When  Piggy  is  trying  to  feed  him  some  orange  juice , it  looks  to  an  elderly  customer  who   Piggy  has  already  alarmed  that  he's  having  a  piss  on  the  concourse. I  thought  that  was  the  funniest  thing  I'd  ever  seen  on  TV  and  was  chuckling  about  it  for  hours  afterwards.

The  duo  got  their  own  show   in  1971  after  doing  time  on  The  Frost  Report    where  according  to  Corbett  they  were  drawn  together  as  grammar  school  boys  without  the  Oxbridge  education  of  their  colleagues. The  show  played  to  their  strengths  with  many  sketches  highlighting  Barker's  genius  for  clever  wordplay  and  musical  parody. There  was  also  a  healthy  dose  of  seaside  postcard  smut; even  though  much  of  it  still  went  over  my  head, the  tuts  of  mum  or  gran  gave  it  a  delicious  frisson  of  naughtiness.

Other  favourite  bits  included   the  rude  waiter  sketch  ( "You're  nuts  my  lord "), the  phantom  raspberry  blower  and  the  apparently  innocuous  song  about  a  naturalist  which  repeated  the  wrong  bits  ( "the  bum - the  bum - the  bum - the  bum - the  bumblebee  at  bay  ).  Of  the  musical  parodies   the  Adam  and  the  Ants  one  is  notable  for  how  uncannily  Barker,  as  portly  guitarist  Marco  Pirroni , resembles  Pirroni  as  he  is  today.

Like  many  people  I  regarded  Ronnie  Corbett's  solo  spot   in  the  chair   as  an  endurance  test  or  a  chance  to  go for  a  pee  but  eventually  I  made  the  connection  with  the  way  my  dad  rambled  off  the  point  when  he  had  an  audience  and  it  became  much  funnier  when  I  imagined  Corbett  was  taking  the  piss  out  of  him.

In  1980  Not  The  Nine  O  Clock  News  did  a  savage  and  unusually  long  parody   sketch   "The  Two  Ninnies"  apparently  in  response  to  a  disparaging  remark  Barker  had  made. It  implied  that  Barker  who  wrote  75  %  of  the  show  was  using  that  to  make  himself  look  good  at  Corbett's  expense  ( there  was  a  general  perception  that  they  were  unequally  talented  )  and  went  to  town   on  their  love  of  innuendo  with  an  outrageous  but  not  too  far  off  the  mark   song  parody.  Corbett  was  less  offended  than  Barker  but  shared  his  anger  that  it  had  been  broadcast  by  the  BBC.

Nevertheless  it  didn't  sink  the  show   which  carried  on  for  another  seven  years. I  remember  their  parody  of  Kid  Creole  and  the  Coconuts  based  on  There's  Something  Wrong  in  Paradise  which  must  have  been  late  1983  at  the  earliest  but  I  didn't  stay with  the  show  to  the  finish. In  the  end  it  did  seem  to  have  outstayed  its  welcome. Ronnie  Barker  announced  his  retirement  in  1987  on  Wogan  and  that  brought  the  series  to  an  end.  For  all  the  talk  of  him  being  something  of  a  passenger  Ronnie  Corbett  always  had  other  irons  in  the  fire  and  continues  working  to  this  day.

 Barker  opened  an  antiques  shop  but  admitted it  was  to  keep  himself  busy  rather  than  make  money.  After  10  years  he  made  a  limited  return  to  the  public  eye  contributing  to  a  couple  of  tribute  nights  then  taking   a  couple  of  straight  acting  roles. In  2005  he  reunited  with  Corbett  to  do  a  series  The  Two  Ronnies  Sketchbook   where  they  did  new  links  between  some  classic  sketches  but  his  health  was  deteriorating  and  the  Christmas  edition  had  to be  filmed  in  July. He  died  that  October  aged  76.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

264 The Duchess of Duke Street

First  watched  :  1976

This  was  more  of  a  favourite  of  my  mum  and  sister  which  I  occasionally  caught  without  becoming  particularly  engaged  with  it.

Based  on  a  real-life  personality  The  Duchess  of  Duke  Street   was  the  creation  of  Upstairs  Downstairs  producer  John  Hawkesworth   and  covered  roughly  the  same  period  of  history  as  the  ITV  series. Gemma  Jones  played  the   titular  character  Louisa  Trotter,  a  woman  who  rose  from  being  a  humble  maid  to  the  proprietor  of  a  grand  hotel  through  being  a  mistress  first  to  Edward  Prince  of  Wales  then  a  handsome  aristocrat  played  by  Christopher  Cazenove. For  most  of  the  series  Jones  was  playing  a  character  older  than  herself  and  speaking  in  a  rough  Cockney  accent  which  I  found  quite  offputting.

Two  series  were  made  totalling  31  episodes. Although  it  was  a  career-making  role  for  the  largely  unknown  Jones  she  didn't  take  full  advantage  of  it, disappearing  from  public  life  for  a  decade  and  a  half  to  raise  her  son. When  she  returned  to  acting  in  the  mid-nineties  she  was  welcomed  back  with  open  arms  and  has  been  much  in  demand  as  a  character  address  since,  winning  a  BAFTA  for  her  role  in  the  series  Marvellous  last  year.  

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

263 The Bionic Woman

First  watched  :  1976

The  Bionic  Woman  was  a  successful  spin-off  from  The  Six  Million  Dollar  Man. The  character  of  Jaime  Sommers  was  first  introduced  as  the  tennis-playing  girlfriend  of  Steve  Austin  who  needs  reconstruction  after  a  parachuting  accident. She  had  the  same  abilities  as  Steve  save  for  a  bionic  ear  instead  of  a  bionic  eye. She  was  actually  killed  off  but  the  character  was  so  popular  it  was  decided  to  bring  her  back  in  her  own  series  with  the  catch  that  her  memory  was  damaged  so  she  couldn't  rekindle  the  affair  with  Steve.

Despite  this  the  pair  continued  to  work  together  and  for  a  couple  of  years  the  two  series   were   intertwined. Then  the  network  decided  to  drop  TBW and  another  one  picked  it  up  which  meant  Jaime  and  Steve  had  to  stay  apart  although  some  of  the  supporting  players  continued  to  appear  in  both  series.

Lindsay  Wagner, a  moderately  successful  film  actress  played Jaime. What  was  most  surprising  about  her  was  that , despite  being  very  pretty,  she  didn't  have  bionic  boobs  and  it  was  unusual  to  see  a  flat-chested  actress  playing  a  glamorous  role  in  the  era  of  so-called  "jiggle  TV". During  the  series  some  episodes  featured  Jaime's  modified  Alsatian  but  thankfully  plans  for  a  third  series,  The  Bionic  Dog,  fell  through.

The  series  ended  in  1978  although  three  TV  movies  kept  the  story  going  until  1994. Wagner  has  continued  to  act  mainly  on  TV  and  has  given  some  lectures  on  self-help  and  meditation. She  was  not  involved  in  the  2007  revival  which  was  halted  by  a  strike.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

262 The Muppet Show

First  watched  : 1976

The  Muppet  Show  was  the  TV  phenomenon  of  the  mid-seventies. Jim  Henson's  creations  took  puppetry  light  years  beyond  Hartley  Hare  and  Lambchop  and  any  show  featuring  puppet  sidekicks  today  owes  something  to  The  Muppets. Henson's  work  first  featured  in  Sesame  Street  and  was  by  far  the  best  thing  about  the  programme  but  he  began  to  feel  stifled  by  the  format  and  wanted  to  do  something  with  broader  appeal. Two  American  networks  demurred  at  his  Muppets  pilots  but  Lew  Grade  offered  him  the  opportunity  to  make  it  in  England  and  then  syndicate  the  show  worldwide.

The  Muppet  Show  was  a  show-within-a-show  set  in  an  old  vaudeville  theatre  where  the  backstage  chatter  and  the  views  of  two  aged  critics  in  their  box  were  as  important  as  the  performance  itself . I  read  somewhere  that  The  Muppets'  greatest  appeal  was  their  incompetence. You  had  Kermit, the  host  who  was  a  bag  of  nerves, Miss  Piggy, the  unattractive  sex  symbol, Fozzy  the  unfunny  comedian  and  The  Great  Gonzo  who  had  no  talent  whatsoever . I  think  there's  something  in  that. It  was  also  a  great  family  show  that  piled  slapstick , music  and  satire  on  top  of  each  other  at  great  pace  so  it  never  got  boring.

The  show  was  an  instant  success and  went  round  the  world  winning  many  awards  and   creating  a  marketing  bonanza.  A  string  of  Muppet  films  began  in  1979 . Big  names  clamoured  to  be  the  human  guest  star  on  the  show. In  1981  Richard  Pryor  had  to  drop  out  of  his  slot  at  the  last  minute  so  scriptwriter  Chris  Langham  who  had  some  performing  experience  from  his  stint on  Not  The  Nine  O  Clock  News  had  to  fill  the  gap.  

My  favourite  Muppet  was  Kermit's  little  nephew  Robin  whose  mawkish  Halfway  Down  The  Stairs   was  a  Top  10  hit  in  June  1977  while  my  sister  liked  Rowlf, the  dog  pianist.

The  British  show  ended  in  1981  because  Henson  had  better  offers  in  the  US  and  all  future  Muppet  programmes  have  been  made  there. Henson's  untimely  death  in  1990  didn't  stop  the  juggernaut  and  a  new  series  was  launched  this  year.

Monday, 26 October 2015

261 George and Mildred

First  watched  :  6  September  1976

ITV  was  generally  an  arid  desert  as  far  as  good  sitcoms  went  - forget  the  racist  angle, Love  Thy  Neighbour  was  complete  shite  anyway - but  George  and  Mildred  was  better  than  most  including  the  one  from  which  it  was  a  spin-off.

George  and  Mildred  took  the  middle-aged  couple  the  Ropers  letting  the  flat  in  Man  About  The  House   and  replanted  them  in  a  nice  neighbourhood  ( through  the  unlikely  device  of  a  CPO  on  the  old  property )  next  door  to  the  impeccably  middle  class  Fourmiles  with  annoying  little  boy  Tristram.

Mildred  ( Yootha  Joyce  )  wants  to  move  up  in  the  world  to  compensate  for  her  sexual  frustration  with  George  ( Brian  Murphy  )   who  by  contrast  doesn't  want  to  lose  contact  with  his  old  mates  down  the  boozer. Jeffrey  Fourmile  ( the  giant  Norman  Eshley )  is  appalled  tby  having  them  as  neighbours  though  his  wife  Ann  ( Sheila  Fearn ) is  more  easy  going  and  Tristram  ( Nicholas Bond-Owen )  is  adept  at , apparently  innocently, giving  voice  to  the  sentiments  the  adults  are  trying  to  disguise.  Roy  Kinnear  as  George's  dishonest  mate  Jerry  headed  a  strong  supporting  cast.

George  and  Mildred   was  never  very  subtle  in  its  exploration  of  class  conflict  but  it  was  pretty  funny  and  very  popular .  Although  Ann  was  a  sympathetic  character  who  often   defused  situations  with  common  sense  you  never  quite  decided  who  you  wanted  to  side  with  among  the  other  three  with  their  conflicting  agendas. As  for  Tristram  it  was  a  fertile  subject  of  playground  discussion  as  to  what  grisly  fate  would  suit  him  best

 It  was  only  brought  to  an  end  by  the  unexpected  death  of  Yootha  Joyce  in  1980  from  chronic  alcoholism, unexpected  because  none  of  her  colleagues  were  aware  of  the  problem. I  suspect  I  wasn't  watching  by  then  as  I  have  no  recollection  of  seeing  Tristram  getting  older.

Apart  from  Kinnear, George  and  Mildred  was  a  high  point  for  all  the  cast. Murphy, now  in  his  eighties  , has  worked  steadily  since  including  inevitably  a  stint  in  Last  of  the  Summer  Wine . Eshley  was  an  extremely   busy  actor  in  the  seventies  usually  in  serious  roles  but  then  it  all  seemed  to  go  a  bit  quiet  for  him  in  the  eighties. In  1993  he  was   involved  in  a  serious  road  crash  sustaining  head  injuries  which  left  him  unable  to  work  in  theatre  though  he  still  pops  up  on  telly  in  small  roles. Fearn  quit  acting  after  the  childrens  sitcom  News  at  Twelve  in  1988  and  disappeared  into  private  life. And  finally  what  of  little  Tristram. Nicholas  Bond-Owen  whose  acting  was  just  about  passable   continued   in  acting  to  the  end  of  his  teens  then  worked  for  Penguin  Books  as  a  distributor. He  now  works  in  the  same  capacity  for  City  A.M.


Sunday, 25 October 2015

260 Pipkins

First  watched  : Uncertain

Another  in  the  "only  watched  when  off  sick"  category , Pipkins  emerged  round  about  the  same  time  as  Hickory  House   in  the  same  time  slot  and  I've  always  had  difficulty  disentangling  the  two  in  my  recollection. Pipkins  had  no  connection  to  Tony  Burrows  and  Roger  Greenaway's  novelty  musical  act  of  the  same  name.

Pipkins  started  out  in  1973  as  Inigo  Pipkin  with  actor  George  Woodbridge  playing  an  elderly  puppet  maker   assisted  by  some  of  his  creations  Hartley  Hare, Topov  the  monkey  , the  imaginatively  named  Pig  and  Octavia  the  ostrich. Woodbridge  died  halfway  through  filming  the  second  series  so  the  title  had  to  be  changed  and  Jackie  Lee's  distinctive  theme  tune  dropped. In  a  first  for  children's  TV  it  was  explained  in  the  programme  itself  that  Mr Pipkins  had  died  with  assistant  Johnny  ( Ben  Laryea  )  taking  over  the  shop.

The  show  was  pretty  low  budget  with  all  the  puppets  looking  pretty  ragged. Hartley,  the  main  character  with  the  annoyingly  camp  voice  , looked  particularly  rough  and  actually  rather  scary. Perhaps  he  was  the  inspiration  for  the  rabbit  in  Donnie  Darko.

The  programme  ran  until  1981  when  ATV  had  to  restructure  itself  into  Central.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

259 Yus My Dear

First  watched : 1976

I  hardly  want  to  admit  to  ever  watching  this  dreck  but  I  do  recall  checking  it  out  to  see  a  Celebrity  Squares  regular, the  oafish  Arthur  Mullard, in  action.

Yus  My  Dear  was  a  spin-off   from  another  sitcom  Romany  Jones  of  which  I've  no  recollection  at  all. Both  series  were  written  by  the  On  The  Buses  team  of  Ronald  Chesney  and  Ronald  Wolfe. Both  of  those  guys  were  disguising  patrician  real  names  ( Rene  Cadier and  Harvey  Wolf-Lubroff  respectively )  and  to  judge  from  Yus  My  Dear  both  nursed  a  pathological  hatred  of  the  white  working  class.

All  the  supposed  humour  in  the  series  is  derived  from  mocking  the  perceived  values  and  behaviour  of  the  proles. Mullard's  character  Wally  Briggs  is  a  gross  caricature, a  fat, badly-dressed  ignoramus  whose  job  is  sitting  reading  The  Sun  on  a  building  site   and  whose  only  exercise  is  taking  his  whippets  ( please ! )  for  a  walk. His  wife  Lil  played  by  Queenie  Watts  is  a  vulgarian  with  dyed  hair,  rushing  out  to  buy  the  latest  consumer  crap  while  brother  Benny  ( Mike  Reid  in  a  bad  wig )  is  a  spiv  and  freeloader.

The  only  good  thing  to  say  about  this  unfunny  offensive  shite  is  that  it  only  lasted  a  year.  Mullard 's  career  was  by  then  almost  over. Nearing  70  at  the  time  he  largely  dropped  out  of  public  view  after  a  shortlived  series  Whizzkid's  Guide  in  the  early  eighties  and  died  in  1995  whereupon  his  daughter  thoroughly  trashed  his  reputation  with  allegations  of  domestic  and  sexual  abuse, possibly  influenced  by  the  fact  he  left  most  of  his  money  to  the  National  Children's  Home  rather  than  his  own  kids. Watts, a  well-known  pub  landlady  as  well  as  actress , had  died  much  earlier  in  1980.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

258 Jonathan Routh and Candid Camera

First  watched  :  September  1976

I'd  often  heard  about  the  show  but  this  new  series  in  1976  was  my  first  opportunity  to  watch  the  original  TV  prank  show. Well, actually  this  wasn't  the  original  as  the  first  American  series  was  broadcast  in  1948  and  even  that  was  derived  from  a  radio  show  The  Candid  Microphone.  The  first  British  version  didn't  air  until  1960  and  ran  for  seven  years  presented  by  David  Nixon  with  radio  actor  Jonathan  Routh  and  Arthur  Arkins  pulling  the  pranks. It  was  eventually  yanked   after  a  long  running  rights  dispute  with  the  original  American  series   host  Allen  Funt. There  was  a  brief  revival  in  1974  in  which  Routh  was  not  involved  but  he  was  tempted  back  in  1976  by  having  his  name  out front.

The  aim  of  course  was  to  produce  comedy  by  embarrassing  members  of  the  general  public  with  practical  jokes  and  getting  them  involved  in  fake  scenarios. The  set-ups  were  generally  fairly  benign  compared  to  successors  like  Game  For  A  Laugh  and  Balls  of  Steel  but  it  was  still  pretty  funny for  its  time. I  remember  taking  part  in  a  few  crocodiles  behind  unsuspecting  shoppers  in  Littleborough  while  the  show  was  on  air.

What  was  most  surprising  about  the  show  was  how  ill-fitted  Routh  was  for  subterfuge.  A  tall, heavy-set  man  with  eyebrows  that  looked  like  exotic  caterpillars  he  was  pretty  distinctive  and  for  every  successful  prank  filmed  there  must  have  been  hundreds  that  failed  because  he  was  recognised  straight  away.

That's  perhaps  why  it  only  ran  for  one  series. Routh  turned  to  writing  eccentric  guide  books  and  painting  at  his  beach home  in  Jamaica   which  had  no  electricity. He  died  in  2008  aged  80.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

257 Olympics 1976

First  watched  : July  1976

I  only  remember  this  for  the  14-year  old  Romanian  gymnast  Nadia  Comaneci  and  her  unprecedented  , scoreboard-foxing,  perfect  10  score. I  wasn't  very  interested  in  the  sport  but  my  sister  was  a  passionate  devotee  despite  being  physically  almost  as  uncoordinated  as  me  and  Nadia's  skill  and  grace  only  increased  her  fascination. We'll  talk  more  about  Nadia  when  we  get  to  1980.

Friday, 16 October 2015

256 The Fishing Race

First  watched : 12 July  1976

I  can't  find  any  stills  for  this  although  it  seems  to  be  fondly  remembered  on  anglers'  chat  rooms  as  one  of  the  first  attempts  to  bring  their  "sport"  to  the  telly.

The  Fishing  Race  was  the  brainchild  of  Daily  Mail   sports  columnist  Ian  Wooldridge,  a  competition  between  three  pairs  of  "big  name "  ( in  their  own  field  at  least )  anglers  to  see  who  could  land  the  most  different  types  of  British  freshwater  fish  in  a  given  time  period. The  prize  was  a  special  trophy  The  Golden  Maggot.  To  spice  the  programme  up - angling  not  exactly  being  a  spectator  sport -   the  contestants  were  encouraged  to  bend  the  rules  so  one  guy  produced  a  piranha  borrowed  from  the  local  zoo.

I  was  watching  it  because,  as  explained  in  previous  posts,  I  had  been  driven  into  the  company  of  a  friend  and  neighbour  who  was  a  keen  angler  and  as  we  lived  a  stone's  throw  from  the  Rochdale  Canal  was  often  to  be  found  dipping  his  rod  there. I  had  to  follow  suit, drew  some  money  out  of  my  Yorkshire  Bank  Savings  Account   and  got  a  cheap-ish  rod  from  my  mum's  catalogue. Though  I was  interested  in  fish  from  a  nature  lover's  perspective , I  didn't  have  any  skill  or  patience  and  was  a  bit  squeamish  about  handling  the  maggots  , wearing  my  mum's  gardening  gloves  to  general  derision. I  caught , at  the  most,  three  baby  perch  on  separate  occasions ,  and  as  a  hobby  it  didn't  survive  that  glorious  summer. I  can't  remember  who  I  ended  up  selling  the  rod  to  either.

Since  I've  been  walking  as  a  hobby  I've  come  to  despise  anglers  as  surly  misanthropes  who  expect  you  to  hurdle  those  ridiculous  long  poles  that  they  stretch  across  the  towpath  of  the  canals  where  they  fish.   Given  that  most  of  the  fish  in  our  waters  are  pretty  much  inedible  (  I  realise  that  game  fishers  might  be  a  different  breed ) ,  it  seems  the  main  point  of  the  pastime  is  getting  away  from  the  missus  on  a  Sunday , staring  at  a  stretch  of  water  for  hours  on  end  being  preferable  to  putting  up  a  shelf  or  driving  to  the  mother-in-law's.  The  one  clear  memory  I  have  of  The  Fishing  Race  is  one  stubborn  git , against  all  advice,  staying  in  one  spot  trying  to  land  a  salmon  and  thereby  scuppering  his  team's  chances  in  the  competition,  which  would  tend  to  support  my  negative  outlook.  

Thursday, 15 October 2015

255 The Great Saturday Morning Picture Show

First  watched : Summer  1976

One  from  the  countdown  period  to  the  end  of  my  primary  school  days, The  Great  Saturday  Morning  Picture  Show  was  a  wraparound  title  for  presenting  two  US  classics  from  the  1930s,  Flash  Gordon  and  Hopalong  Cassidy . Two  instalments  of  Flash, the  first  ever  science  fiction  serial, bookended  one  of  the  66,  roughly  hour-long,  films  starring  William  Boyd  as  Cassidy  and  neatly  filled  out  the  mid-morning  slot  on  a  Saturday  before  Grandstand.  Of  Hopalong  Cassidy  I  have  no  memory  at  all ;  I  suspect  I   might  have  popped  down  to  the  shops  to  spend  my  pocket  money  while  that  was  on.

I  did  enjoy  Flash  Gordon  though.  I  was  vaguely  aware  that  it  was  both  campy  and  creaky  in  terms  of  its  production  values  but  I  enjoyed  the  big  cast  of  larger-than-life  characters ,  my  favourite  being  the  giant  King  Vultan  ( Jack  Lipson ) , the  love  triangle  between  Flash, Dale  and  Aura   and  the  frequency  with  which  the   hero  was  placed  in  mortal  peril. I  passed  on  the  1980  film  version  though  and  still  haven't  seen  it ; some  memories  are  best  left  alone.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

254 Monty Python

First  watched  : 1976

My  first  encounter  with  the  comedy  legends  came  via  Thursday  evening  repeats  on  BBC 1  of  the   truncated , little-loved , Cleese-less  final  series  from  1974,  for  which  the  "Flying  Circus"  part  of  the  title  had  been  dropped. There's  an  exhaustive  literature  on  the  show  so  it   seems  superfluous to  repeat  the  historical  detail  about  the  six  guys  who  made  up  the  team.

I  enjoyed  the  show  and  the  fact  that  my  mother  found  it  silly  and  incomprehensible  ( and  parts  of  it  were  to  me  too )   increased  my  loyalty  to  the  show. The  only  sketch  I  clearly  remember  is  the Queen Victoria Handicap  ( pictured  above ).  Once  that  run  was  over   of  course  we  had  to  make  do  with  the  films ( I  first  saw  Holy  Grail  in  1979, Now  For  Something  Completely  Different  in  1983  and  The  Meaning  of  Life  in  1984; my  Catholicism   has  prevented  me  from  watching  Life  of  Brian  in  full ).

The  principals  all  went  on  to  other  things  and  we'll  be  meeting  most  of  them  again.  Of  the  survivors , following  Graham  Chapman's  death  from  cancer  in  1989,  it's  always  seemed  to  me  that  despite  The  Rutles   and  a  no  doubt  lucrative  career  in  ( usually  dire  ) Hollywood  comedies,  Eric  Idle  is  the  one  who's  never  really  escaped  the  show. Of  course  John  Cleese  is  also  still  primarily  a  comic  actor  but  it's  not  Python  that  comes  first  to  mind   when  his  name  comes  up. Idle  has  no  Basil  Fawlty  on  his  c.v.  nor  is  he  a  historian, travel  presenter  or  film  director  and  it  was  noticeable  that  when  Always  Look  On  The  Bright  Side  of  Life  was  a  fluke  hit  in  1990 , Idle  was  the  only  Python  who  came  into  the  Top  of  the  Pops  studio  to  perform  it.

The   surviving   Pythons  reunited  on  stage  last  year  for  10  shows  largely  down  to  losing  a  legal  case  brought  by  the  producer  of   the  Holy  Grail  film.  Cleese  also  had  a  hefty  divorce  settlement  to  pay. The  reviews  were  mixed  but  it  did  pull  in  the  punters. I  suspect  it  will  be  the  final  Python  project  but  you  never  know.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

253 Porridge

First  watched : 1976

This  had  been  going  a  while  but  I  think  I first  caught  it  when  it  started  following  Top  of  the  Pops  on  a  Thursday  in  May  1976. Porridge  was   Dick  Clement  and  Ian  La  Frenais's  next  project  after  Whatever  Happened  to  the  Likely  Lads  and , of  necessity, another  very  male-centric  sitcom.

Ronnie  Barker   ( often  wrongly  assumed  to  have  had  a  hand  in  writing  it  )  played  Norman  Stanley  Fletcher, an  habitual  criminal  banged  up  with  naive  first  timer  Godber  ( Richard  Beckinsale )  and  supervised  by  pompous  martinet  Mr McKay ( Fulton  McKay )  and  his  neurotic, easily-swayed  deputy  Mr  Barraclough ( Brian  Wilde ) . They  were  supported  by  a   rich  cast  of  inmates, none  of  whom  appeared  in  every  episode, most  notably  gay  knitter  Lukewarm  ( Christopher  Biggins )   and  fearsome  tobacco  baron  ( Peter  Vaughan, one  of  my  favourite  actors ) .

The  series  is  very  fondly  remembered  and  I  know  I  enjoyed   it  at  the  time  but  I  now  find  details  of  individual  storylines  hard  to  recall. Three  series  were  made  in  total  with  the  last  episode  broadcast  in  1977. The  series  ended  because  Barker  didn't  want  to  become  too  identified  with  the  one  character  though  he  then  agreed  to  reprise  the character  in  a  spin-off  series  Going  Straight  the  following  year.

Monday, 5 October 2015

252 Max Bygraves Says I Wanna Tell You A Story

First  watched :  14  May  1976

I  only  caught  the  last  bit  of  this, probably  coming  in  from  playing  out. It  was  an  80  minute  special  where  the  already-veteran  Max  mooched  and  joked  his  way  through  the  past  75  years  of  popular  entertainment  in  his  usual  style. It  grabbed  me  because  he  was  impersonating  Gary  Glitter   when  I  came  in  although  I  was  assured  the  rest  of  the  programme  wouldn't  have  been  of  much  interest  to  me. It  must  have  been  popular  because  it  was  subsequently  expanded to  a  six-part  series  later  in  the  year.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

251 The F.A. Cup Final

First  watched : 1  May  1976

Here  is  a  genuine  milestone, the  first  televised  football  match  I  watched  from  beginning  to  end.

My  interest  in  professional  football  was  slow  to  develop. I  first  became  aware  of  the  sport  when  my  mum   (  an  avid  Man  Utd   fan  although  I'm  not  sure  she  ever  went  to  a  game ) bought  me  a  sticker  album  for  what  must  have  been  the  1971-72  season. I  formed  some  likes  and  dislikes,  largely  based  on  the  strips  I  think, which  have  never  really  left  me .  I  also  liked  certain  players  whose  stickers  I  got  including  Norman  Hunter, Asa  Hartford  and  Len  Cantello. I  do  still  tend  to  think  of   those  22  clubs  as  being  the  ones  that  really  belong  in  the  top  flight,  even  including  Huddersfield  Town  who  were  relegated  at  the  end  of  that  season  and  have  never  got  back to  the  highest  level.

At  school  nearly  everyone  was  a  Leeds  United  fan  and  the  first  Cup  Final  I  remember  being  talked  about  was  the  1973  one  when  Sunderland  beat  Leeds. I  didn't  watch  the  game  but  I  remember  the  shock  on  everyone's  faces  at  the  result. I  also  remember  hearing  about  the  1974  Final  when  Liverpool  crushed  Newcastle  ( including  the  bragging  fool  Malcolm  McDonald )   as  a  number of  kids  seemed  to  be  switching  their  allegiance  to  the  Scousers  despite  Leeds  winning  the  title  in  some  style  that  season. I  think  I  might  actually  have  watched  some  of  the  build  up  to  the  1975  Final  ( West  Ham  v  Fulham )  and  got  bored  before  the  match  began. It's  a  shame  I  missed  that  game  as  it  was  an  ex-Rochdale  player,   Alan  Taylor,  who  stole  the  show  with  both  goals.

This  being  my  first  full  match  on  TV  (  I  saw  snatches  of  the  1974  World  Cup )  was  a  direct  result  of  the  demise  of  my  Adventurous  Club ( see  the  post  on  Here  Come  The  Double  Deckers  for  more  details ) in  April  1976 . As I  mentioned  there  the other  kids  started  a  new  club  from  which  I  was  specifically  excluded.  There  was  no  alternative  but  to  walk  a  short  way  down  the  road  and  play  with  a  lad  called  Mark  instead.  Mum  was  never  happy  at  me  associating  with  him  because  he'd  unintentionally  caused  me  a  serious  injury  a  few  years  before  but  I'd  never  held  it  against  him.

The  important  thing  now  was  that  he  and  John  , my  chief  nemesis  ( and  next  door  neighbour )  absolutely  detested  each  other. Though it  rarely  erupted  into  open  hostilities  their's  was  a  classic  alpha  male  rivalry  and  they  tended  to  avoid  each  other  most  of  the  time. Mark  was  not  involved  in  the  Adventurous  Club; indeed  its  main  adventure  was  an  ( unsuccessful ) mission  to  retrieve  a  football  he  had  allegedly  stolen  from  John's  school. I  correctly  judged  that  John  would  see   having  Mark  in  his  new  club  as   too  high  a  price  to  pay  to  complete  my  ostracism.

Though  a  looser  cannon,  Mark  was  usually  a  more  easy-going  and  friendly  lad   than  John  if  you  showed  him  due  deference  and  those  few  weeks  spent  mainly  in  his  company  were  a  pleasant  change. His  main  interests  were  fishing  and  football. Though  his  dad  was  ( hopefully  still  is  but  I  haven't  seen  him  recently )  a  Dale  stalwart  Mark  was  a  big  Man  U  fan. In  the  week  before  their  encounter  with  Southampton  he  pored  endlessly  over  his  pre-match  programme  telling  me  who  the  danger  men  were  and  who  was  most  likely  to  score  the  winner.

 Because  of  this  I  can  still  tell  you  the  United  team  without  recourse  to  wikipedia : Alex  Stepney, Alex  Forsyth, Stewart  Houston, Martin  Buchan, Brian  Greenhoff, Gerry  Daly, Sammy  McIlroy, Steve  Coppell, Stuart  Pearson, Lou  Macari, Gordon  Hill. Sub : David  McCreery. This  was  pretty  much  the  team  that  had  won  the  Second  Division  title  twelve  months  earlier. They  had  finished  the  season  in  third  place  behind  Liverpool  and  surprise  package  QPR  whose  manager  they  would  lure  away  in  little  over  a  year's  time. Coppell  was  my  gran's  favourite  player , his  balancing  of  a  playing  career  and  studying  at  university  appealing  to  her  ideals  of  prudence  and  hard  work.

Their  opponents  were  Second  Division  Southampton  of  whose  number  I  could   now  name  around  seven.  Though  no  fan  of  United  I  wanted  them  to  win  because  the  Saints  had  spoiled  the  party  by  defeating  Crystal  Palace  then  of  the  Third  Division  who  had  made  the  semi-final  after  a  thrilling  giant-killing  run.

It  wasn't  to  be. United  were  lacklustre  throughout  and  seven  minutes  from  time  their  former  player  Jim  McCalliog  played  a  perfect  pass  for  the  little  known  Bobby  Stokes  to  run  on  to  , take  the  ball  past  Stepney  and  score. Many  years  later  I  would  get  to  know  McCalliog  slightly  as  he  was  living  a  few  doors  away  while  managing  ( not  with  any  great  success  )   Halifax  Town  and  he  seemed  like  a  nice  bloke. The  result  was  a  sensation  and  made  their  manager  Lawrie  McMenemy,  who'd  never  actually  played  League  football , a  household  name.  Stokes  unfortunately  fell  victim  to  what  seemed  a  bit  of  a  curse  on   Cup  Final  scorers  during  the  seventies  as  he , Taylor , Ian  Porterfield  ( the  Sunderland  scorer )  and  Allan  Clarke  ( the  Leeds  scorer  in  1972 )  all  suffered  serious  injuries  not  long  afterwards  which  blighted  their  subsequent  careers. He  died  twenty  years  ago  of  bronchial  pneumonia  aged  44.

Mark  was  mortified  but  he  got  over  it  as  you  do  and  enjoyed  their  triumph  over  Liverpool  the following  year.I  didn't  see  that  one , preferring  to  go  for  a  walk  with  my  dad,  who  was  completely  uninterested  in  football, instead.

By  the  time  of  the  next  one  I  was  fully  engaged  with  football  , buying  Shoot  and  watching  all  the  televised  matches. Like  everyone  else  I  expected  Arsenal, in  the  top  five, to  beat  Ipswich, not  too  far  clear  of  the  relegation  zone  and  with  some of  their  best  players  only  half-fit , comfortably. Though  I  didn't  like  Arsenal  much  I hated  Ipswich  for  knocking  one  of  my  favourite  teams, West  Brom, out  in  the semis. Arsenal  though  didn't  turn  up  and  Ipswich  beat  them  much  more  comfortably  than  the  1-0  scoreline  suggests. It  was Alan  Hudson's  last  game  for  Arsenal  and  effectively  the  end  of  his  career  as  a  top  class  player.

Arsenal  returned  to  Wembley  the  following  year  and  beat  United  3-2  after  one  of  the  most  remarkable  finales. Arsenal  were  cruising  to  a 2-0  victory   when  their  manager  Terry  Neill  succumbed  to  sentimentality  and  decided to  give  young  substitute  Steve  Walford,  a  defender,  a  run-out. Quick  as  a  flash  United  exploited  the defensive  confusion  caused  and  were  level. Then , just  as  suddenly,  Liam  Brady , by  a  long  distance  the  man  of  the match, set  up  a  last minute  winner  for  Alan  Sunderland  to  give  Arsenal  the  victory.

Arsenal  came  back  for  the  third  year in  a  row  in  1980  to  play  West Ham, still  marooned  in  the  Second  Division  despite  the  presence  of  top  talent  like  Trevor  Brooking  and  Alan  Devonshire. The  former of  those  two  scored  the  winner  early  on  with  a  rare  header but  the  most  significant  incident  occurred  late  in  the  game . Due  to  injury  West  Ham  fielded  17  year  old  Paul  Allen  in  midfield, the  youngest  ever  player  in  the  Final  at  the  time. He  was  at the  forefront  of  a  West  Ham  breakaway and  bearing  down  on  goal  to  crown  a fairy  tale  story. Then  Willie Young, Arsenal's  graceless  ginger  stopper , chopped  him  down  , taking  the  booking  for  the  team. The  outrage  at  his  cynicism  led  to  the  introduction  of  mandatory  red  cards  for  such " professional"   fouls,  a  rule  change  which  remains  in  the  game  today.    

1981  saw  a  team  I  had  some  emotional  investment  in , Manchester  City,  make  the  Final  against  Tottenham  Hotspur. City  were  still  recovering  from  the  crazed  second  coming  of  Malcolm  Allison  two  years  earlier  and  their  appearance  in  the  Final  was  something  of  a  surprise  having  knocked  out  title  contenders  and  press  darlings  Ipswich  along  the  way.  City  acquitted  themselves  well  in  the  Final  and  were  unlucky  to  be  held  to  a  draw  by  means  of  an  unfortunate  deflection  from  Tommy  Hutchison  who'd  scored  City's  goal  earlier. In  the  replay  they  were  edged  3-2   with  the  winner  a  memorable  solo  goal  from  the  less  celebrated  of  their  Argentinian  pair,  Ricky Villa.  Our  maths  teacher  was  a  big  Spurs  fan  and  was  so  overcome  with  the  victory  we  spent  the  entire  next  lesson  talking  about  it  despite  the  imminence  of  our  O  Level  exams.

Tottenham  had  to  do  without  the  Argentinians  the  following  year  as  we  were  fighting  them  in  the  South  Atlantic  at  the  time   which  gave  Second  Division  QPR  under  Terry  Venables  more  of  a  chance . This  one  also  went  to  a  replay  with  a  Glenn  Hoddle  penalty  finally  settling  the  tie. It  hasn't  left  much  impression  on  me.

1983's  Final  was  the  third  in  a  row  to  go  to  a  replay  with  Ron  Atkinson's  Manchester  United  facing  Jimmy  Melia's   Brighton  who'd  managed  to  combine  Cup  heroics  including  knocking  out  Liverpool  and  relegation  from  the  top  flight. The  previous  Saturday  Brighton's  giant  centre  half  Steve  Foster  had  been  booked  which  took  him  over  the  suspension  line  and  despite  a  High  court  challenge to  the  FA  he  was  unable  to  play  in  the  Final. His  replacement  utility  man  Steve  Gatting  played  heroically  and  Brighton  would  have  won  the  game  had  former  Rangers  striker  Gordon  Smith  not  fluffed  a  golden  chance  in  the  last  minute. With  Foster  restored  to  the  side  Brighton  went  down  4-0  in  the  replay  with  the  United  fans  gleefully  taunting  Foster  with  "What  a  difference  you  have  made  !"

I  watched  the  1984  Final  at  my  hall  of  residence  at  Leeds  when  Everton  on  the  up  beat  Watford   in  decline  2-0, Graham  Taylor  paying  the  penalty  for  sticking  too  long  with  dodgy  keeper  Steve  Sherwood. BBC 's  coverage  was  notable  for  giving  too  many  free  plugs  to  Watford  chairman  Elton  John's  latest  single.

I  watched  the  1985  Final  between  Manchester  United  and  Everton  at  home  and  I  remember  warning  my  mum  that  referee  Peter  Willis,  who  always  caused  controversy  whenever  he  reffed  a  Dale  game , would  do  something  to  get  himself  noticed. He  duly  delivered  by  sending  off  United's  Kevin  Moran  for  a  not  especially  bad  tackle  so  I  suppose  justice  was  done  when  United  won  the  game  with  a  great  goal  by  Norman  Whiteside .

I  don't  remember  much  about  the  all-Merseyside  final  in  1986  apart  from  getting  annoyed  by  all  the  cloying  comment  about  the  rival  fans  sitting  together  as  if  the  Red  half  hadn't  just  got  English  clubs  banned  from  European  competition  for  the  rest  of  the  decade. Liverpool  won  3-1  as  part  of  a  Double.

The  following  year's   was  my  favourite   Final  as  Coventry  , a  team  I'd  long  been  willing  to  actually  win  something , beat  Tottenham  3-2  after  putting  out  Manchester  United  in  the  earlier  rounds. They   won  with  an  own  goal  from  Gary  Mabutt  but  it's  journeyman  striker  Keith  Houchen's  second  equaliser , a  classic  diving  header  that's  remembered.

The  1988  Final  was  also  won  by  the  underdogs  as  Wimbledon  spoiled  Liverpool's  party  by  taking  home  the  trophy  with  a  headed  goal  from  Lawrie  Sanchez  and  a  penalty  save  by  giant  keeper  Dave  Beasant. Those  two  moments  apart  the  game  was  pretty  dismal.

A  year  later  there  was  a  dismal  atmosphere  to  the  game  for  a  different  reason  given  the  deaths  at  Hillsborough  in  one  of  the  semi's. It  was  Liverpool  and  Everton  again  with  the  Reds  winning  3-2  after  extra  time.

In  1990  it  was  Manchester  United  against  Crystal  Palace  who'd  beaten  Liverpool  4-3  in  the  semis. This  was  one  of  the  rare  occasions  I  wanted  United  to  win  a  game,  having  a  strong  dislike  of  Steve  Coppell's   Palace  since  witnessing  their  gamesmanship  in  a  match  at  Maine  Road  three  years  earlier. Palace  had  also  put  Dale  out  in  the  fifth  round  and  if  we  could  have  got  past  them  our  quarter-final  opponents  would  have  been  fellow  Fourth  Division  side  Cambridge. The  match  was  a  3-3  thriller  with  fingers  pointed  at   United's  Scottish  goalkeeper  Jim  Leighton  despite  none  of  the  Palace  goals  being  due  to  an  obvious  howler. Then  came  the  decision  that  turned  things  round  for  the  beleagured  United  manager  Alec  Ferguson  when  he  dropped  Leighton  (  who  he'd  brought  in  from  his  previous  club  Aberdeen ) for  the  replay,  replacing  him  with  former  Coventry  and  Luton  man  Les  Sealey. Sealey  duly  kept  a  clean  sheet  and  United  won  1-0  with  a  goal  from  soon  to  be  displaced  left  back  Lee  Martin.  

1991  was  a  disappointing  result  for  me . Like  most  neutrals  I  had  great  respect  for  Brian  Clough  and  his  Nottingham  Forest  team.  After  Forest's  1980  European  Cup  win  he'd  lost  his  way  a  bit , over-spent  on  indifferent  players  and  mislaid  right  hand  man  Peter  Taylor  but   gradually  he'd  rebuilt  the  side   and  by  the  late  eighties  they  were  clearly  the  second  best  side  in  the  country  playing  a  scintillating  brand  of  football.  They  weren't  able  to  seriously  challenge  Liverpool  for  the  title  but  were  a  formidable  cup  side  with  two  recent  League  Cups  and  a  victory  in  the  short  lived  Full  Members  Cup. Now  they  had  the  chance  to  give  Brian  Clough  the  one  honour  that  had  always eluded  him.

It  didn't  turn  out  that  way. Forest  could  rightly  feel  aggrieved  that  bubble-permed  referee  Roger  Milford, anxious  to  maintain  his  smiley  image, didn't  send  off  Paul  Gascoigne  for  his  two  berserk  fouls  ( either  one  of  which  would  get  him  a  straight  red  today )  early  on  which   would  have  given  them  a  considerable  advantage. Nevertheless  they  didn't  play  that  well  and  eventually  succumbed  to  a  Des  Walker  own  goal  after  extra  time.  During  the  break  after  full  time  Clough  excited  comment  by  talking  to  a  policeman  rather  than  going  on  the  pitch  and  giving  a  team  talk. It  signalled  the  beginning  of  the  end  ; two  years  later  he  was  forced  by  a  combination  of  drink, scandal  and  relegation  to  relinquish  his  post  at  Forest  and  he  never  managed  anyone  again.

The  1992  Final  was  routine  with  Liverpool  easily  disposing  of  Second  Division  Sunderland  2-0  in  a  match  I  only  remember  for  Jimmy  Hill's  bizarre  argument  that  a  blatant  penalty  Sunderland's  Paul  Bracewell   got  away  with  didn't  count  because  of  the  angle   of  his  tackle.

1993  saw  Arsenal  beat  Sheffield  Wednesday 2-1  with  a  goal  from  their  first  reserve  centre  half  Andy  Linighan    and  then  a  year  later  United  beat  Chelsea  4-0. The  outcomes  were  getting  very  predictable. 1995  sprung  a  bit  of  a  surprise  when  the  "dogs  of  war"  approach  Joe  Royle  adopted  at  Everton  to  stave  off  relegation  was  enough  to  beat  United  , deprived  of  the  services  of   Eric  Cantona  after  his  moment  of  lunacy  earlier  in  the  year.  I  think  I  saw  Cantona  crown  his  comeback  with  the  winning  goal  against  Liverpool  the  following  year  but  my  interest  in  top  flight  football  was  waning. With  each  year  of  the  Premier  League  it  was  clearer  that  money  ruled  football  more  than  ever  before  and  the  number  of  potential  prizewinners  was  shrinking  to  a  handful  of  clubs  populated  by  dislikeable  foreign  mercenaries.

I  don't  think  I  saw  the  1997  Final  between  Chelsea  and  Middlesbrough; I  just  had  too  much  else  going  on  in  my  life  at  the  time,  breaking  a  twenty-year   viewing  stretch. And  I'm  not  sure  I've  ever  sat  down  and  watched  a  full  Final  since  I  got  married  late  that  year. I  may  have  been  tempted  by  the  City-Stoke  final  in  2011  had  I  been  in  but  I  was  out  on  a walk  that  day.