Monday, 30 November 2015

288 Moses the Law-giver

First  watched  :  March  1976

A  sizeable  gap  in  the  vintage  TV  Times   editions  available   for  1976  on  the  Radio  Sounds  Familiar  website   meant   we  went  past  this  until  a  reference  back  to  it  in  the  wikipedia  page  for   another  series  jogged  my  memory. I'm  sure  this  will  happen  again.

Moses  the  Law-giver  was  a  joint  Anglo-Italian  enterprise, an  expensive  mini-series  screened  around  Easter-time  1976. It  starred  Burt  Lancaster  in  the  title  role  as  the  volatile  Biblical  patriarch  and  his  own  son  William  as  his  younger  self. Brit  stalwart  Anthony  Quayle  played  Aaron  and  after  that  there were  no  really  big  names  - in  the  UK  at  least. The  Italians  didn't   take  any  of  the  big  parts  and  little-known  Israelis  played  many  of  the  speaking   roles.

The  story  of  Moses  is   one  of  the  best  Biblical  narratives  you  could  pick  for  this  sort  of  treatment  with   10  plagues, a  burning  bush, golden  calf , manna  from  Heaven  and  of  course  the  parting  of  the  Red  Sea  to  challenge  the  director and  special  effects  crew.  I  recall  the  latter  miracle  being  particularly  impressive.

I  also  remember  Laurent  Terzieff  as  young  Pharoah  Meneptah  and  Yosef  Shiloach  as  the  treacheous  Dathan  being  particularly  good  as  the  villains.  Otherwise  I  recall  it  being  slightly  ponderous  although  I  guess  if  you're  going  to  dramatize  40  years  of  wandering  in  the  desert  that  is  going  to  be  difficult  to  avoid.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

287 Edward the Seventh

First  watched  : Uncertain

I'm  not  sure  whether  I  caught  some  of  this  when  it  was  first  broadcast  in  the  spring  of  1975  or  when  it  was  repeated  on  Sunday  teatimes  early  in  1977. I  suspect  the  latter.  Whichever  it  was  I  didn't  watch  it  religiously  but  dipped  into  it   towards  the  end  of  the  series  as  the  rest  of  the  family  were  glued.

Although  its  production  was  almost  certainly  facilitated  by  the  success  of  Upstairs  Downstairs , Edward  the  Seventh   started  its  own  trend  (  as  we  shall  see  )  of  lengthy  period  dramas  based  on  historical  personages. This  one  was  based  on  Philip  Magnus's  biography  of  the  early  twentieth  century  monarch  and  was  produced  by  ATV..

The  title  is  slightly  misleading  because  of  course  Edward  was  restricted  to  a  relatively  short  reign  by  the  longevity  of  his  mother  Queen  Victoria  and  so  for  nine  of  the  thirteen  episodes  he's  just  Prince  Bertie. Across  the  series  the  main  character  is  actually  Queen  Victoria  as  played  by  Annette  Crosbie.

Although  the  costumes  were  lavish,  the  budget  for  the  series  was  not  unlimited   and  the  series  was  largely  studio-bound  with  limited  outdoor  scenes.  Many  of  the  sets  are  clearly  painted  backdrops.  Major  historical  events  are  largely  conveyed  by  the  likes  of  Palmerston  popping  by  the  Palace  to  tell  Victoria  and  Albert  about  them. Although  Edward  is  played  by  three  different  actors  ( four  if  you  count the  baby ),  many  of  the  other  characters  had  to  be  portrayed  by  the  same  person  and  look  wrong  at  times. Felicity  Kendal  for  instance  is  clearly  too  old  to  be  playing  Princess  Victoria  as  a  fifteen-year-old. Robert  Hardy's  too  old  for  Prince  Albert  at  the  start  but  grows  into  the  part  despite  a  dodgy  German  accent.

The  series  took  pride  in  being  as  historically  accurate  as  possible  although  there  were  limits  to  this.  Edward's  sexual  adventures  had  to  be  largely  skated  over  to  make  it  suitable  for  family  viewing  and  there's  perhaps  a  bit  too  much  foreshadowing  of  World  War  One  in  the later  episodes  with  Christopher  Neame  playing  the  Kaiser  as  a  pantomime  villain.

Despite  these  limitations  the  series  was  a  big  success  which  spawned  a  number  of  imitations.
Playing  the  mature  Edward  was  a  career-making  role  for  Timothy  West  whose  father  Lockwood  had  played   King  Edward  in  Upstairs  Downstairs   and  both  Crosbie  and  Hardy  benefited  from  the  increased  exposure  the  series  gave  them.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

286 Popeye

First  watched : Uncertain

I've  no  idea  when  I  first  caught  this. I  know  I  was  already  familiar  with  Popeye  from  a  comic  although  I  can't  now  remember  which  title  ( Cor  ?  Whizzer  and  Chips  ? ). I  never  liked  it , much  finding  the  character  repulsive. Maybe  that's  just  because  I'm  slightly  built  and  find  tattoed  machismo  intimidating.  I  can't  say  I'm  too  keen  on  spinach  either.

Friday, 27 November 2015

285 For Schools and Colleges : Engineering Craft Studies

First  watched  :  25  Februrary  1977

This  particular  episode  was  about  joining  and  fastening.  And  that  concludes  the  list  of  programmes  watched  over  that  particular  half-term.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

284 For Schools and Colleges : A Job Worth Doing ?

First  watched  :  25  February  1977

A  Job  Worth  Doing  ?   was  as  the  title  suggests  a  careers  programme. The  episode  broadcast  on  the  date  we  were  watching  was  entitled  "Caring  for  Children"  which  surely  rendered  the  question  mark  unnecessary.  Let's  hope  not  too  many  paedophiles  were  watching.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

283 For Schools and Colleges : Athlete

First  watched  : 25  February  1977

Another  morning  round  at John's  but  this  time  it  seems  we  switched  to  BBC  One  for  the  schools  programmes.  First  up  was  Athlete  which  was  about  pole  vaulting  that  day. I'd  like  to  say  it  inspired  me  to  take  up  the  sport  and  excel  but  sadly  that  wasn't  the  case. I'm  not  where  I  could  have  gone  to  pursue  such  an  interest  as  we  didn't  do  it  at  school.

Monday, 23 November 2015

282 Crown Court

First  watched  :  24  February  1977

I'm   a  bit  more  confident  that  I  first  watched  this  day  time  staple  in  John's  house.

Crown  Court  was  usually  broadcast  three  days  a  week  and  was  brilliantly  simple  in  concept.  A  fictitious  legal  case - once  it  had  got  to  court - would  be  dramatised  into  three  half-hour   parts . Granada  TV  would  then  select  a   real  jury  from  the  electoral  register  to  listen  to  the  arguments  and  come  up  with  a  verdict  - Equity  rules  meant  that  the  foreman  had  to  be  an  actor  though,  The  series  took  advantage  of  the  inherent  theatrical  qualities   of  the  courtroom and  of  course  was  very  cheap  to  make  as  the  set  never  changed.

By  lucky  coincidence  the  very  episode  we  watched  is  on  Youtube. It  was  the  third  concluding  part  of  a  story  called  "A  Matter  of  Faith" where  a  supposed  faith  healer  took  the  husband  of  one  of  his  clients  to  court  after  being  described  as  a  fraud  in  a  radio  broadcast. Watching  it  again  rang  no  bells  at  all  but  there  again  the  diary  says  nothing  about  how attentively we  were  watching; it's  quite  likely  we  gave it  just  the  occasional  glance  whilst  playing  a  game  of  chess.

What  I  did  note  was  some  high  quality  acting  from  familiar  faces. John  Barron  ( C.J. from  Reginald  Perrin )  was  the  droll  judge  and  Richard  Wilson  was  outstanding  as  the  defendant's  barrister. There  were  also  a  few  cutaways  to  a  very  young  ( and  very  attractive ) Gwyneth  Strong   ( Cassandra  from  Only  Fools  And  Horses ) who  I  presume played  a  bigger  part  in  the  earlier  instalments.  Incidentally,  the  jury  found  for  the  defendant.

The  one  episode  I  do  recall  clearly  was  viewed  some  years  later. With  the  help  of  imdb  I  have  determined  it  was  broadcast  on  17  June  1982.  I  don't  remember  being  ill  around  then  but  I  did  have  O  Level  exams  in  Sociology  and  General  Studies  around  that  time  so  I'm  guessing  we  might  have  been  given  the  afternoon  off  after  one  of  those.  It  was  the  final  part  of  a  story  called  "The  Fiddling  Connection"  and  starred  Kevin  Lloyd  as  a  supermarket  employee  accused  of  dishonesty. He  turned  the  tables  on  his  employers  and, conducting  his  own  defence,  exposed  their  fraudulent  practice  of  "buncing"  i.e  adding  a  fictitious  item , such  as  a  tin  of  spaghetti  hoops,  to  the  bill  when  a  customer  came  to  the  checkout  with  a  full  trolley. Watch  out  for  that  when  you  next  go  to  Asda  !  He  got  off.   Now  I  think  about  it  I recall  another  story  where  a  washed-up  actor  had  resorted  to  shoplifting  but  I  can't  recall  the  real  actor's  name  to  look  it  up.

Crown  Court  ran  from  1972   (  the  year  Crown  Courts  replaced  their  medieval  predecessors )   until  1984. I'm  surprised,  given  the  talent  involved,  that  it's  not  more  celebrated. It  seems  to  have  survived  in  the  archives  more  or  less  intact  and  has  been  re-run  on  minor  satellite  channels   over  the  last  decade.


Sunday, 22 November 2015

281 How We Used To Live

First  watched  : 24  February  1977

I  can't  say  with  absolutely  certainty  that  I  did  see  this  for  the  first  time  in  John's  house. I  think  it's  quite  possible  that  I  may  have  seen  the  odd  episode  at  school  before  that.

How  We  Used  To  Live  was  made  by  Yorkshire  Television  and  broadcast  in  the  For  Schools  and  Colleges  strand.  As  the  title  suggests  it   focused  on  social  history  and  spliced  together  drama  set  in  the  fictional  Yorkshire  town  of  Bradley  and  archive  footage  with  a  voice over. As  a  schools  programme  a  resource  pack  for  teachers  was  produced  for  each  series. Altogether  15  series  were  made  between  1968  and  2002  with  the  intervals  between  them  getting  much  shorter  towards  the  end . Inevitably  Tony  Robinson  got  involved  with  the  programme  towards  the  end  of  its  run.

We  could  only  have  been  watching  Series  1  or  2  in  1977. I  suspect  it  was  the  latter  which  covered  the  first  half  of  the  twentieth  century  including  both  World  Wars.

Because  the  series  has  not  been  released  on  DVD,  the  VHS  releases  in  the  mid-nineties  have  become  quite  collectable.    

Saturday, 21 November 2015

280 Rooms

First  watched  : 23  February  1977

This  is  another  one  that   required  prompting  from  the  diary.

"Rooms"  was   a  daytime  soap  produced  between  1974  and  1977 by  Thames  Television  that inverted  the  premise  of  Crossroads   by  concentrating  on  the  transient  occupants  of  a  lodging  house  rather  than  the  staff. Of  the  few  regular  members  of  the  cast  the  most  notable  was  Jill  Gascoigne.  Although  the  cast  over  the  series'  life  includes  many  famous  names  it's  now  almost  entirely  forgotten  and  I  would  include  myself  in  that.  

Friday, 20 November 2015

279 Horse in the House

First  watched  : 23  February  1977

Well  I  have  to  admit  this  isn't  one  I'd  have  recalled  without  the  diary  entry.

This  was  a  children's  comedy  concerning  an  upper  middle  class  family  whose  kids  hide  a  horse  in  a  wing  of  their  mansion  to  stop  it  being  sold  to  an  Arab  millionaire.It  lasted  for  two  six-part  series  and  is   most  notable, if  at  all, for  the  appearance  in  the  second  series  of  Peter  Postlethwaite  as  Uncle  Doug.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

278 Mr and Mrs

First  watched : 23  February  1977

Ah  now  this  is  where  having  the  diary  is  going  to  be  very  useful. It's  revealed  that  this  was  the  time  John, the  lad  next  door  cut  his  knee  at  school  and  it  went  a  bit  nasty,  leaving  him  unable  to  walk  during  the  half  term. His  mum , never  usually  keen  on  having  other  kids  in  the  house , invited  me  in  to  keep  him  company  as  he  sat  on  the  sofa  with  his  leg  propped  up. So  I  spent  the  next  few  days  playing  board  games  and  watching  telly  ( ITV )  at  his  house  ( I  wonder  if  he  remembers  that ) .  And  I've  listed  what  we  watched.

So  we  begin  with  Mr  and  Mrs . This  long  running  quiz  show  was  noted  for   originally  being  made  separately  by  three  different  regions  which  seems  ruinously  wasteful. Granada  bought  the  Border  version  with  the  obsequious  Derek  Batey  ( who  was  actually  Assistant  Controller  of  Programmes  at  Border  as  host) . The  format  was  simple, test  how  much  couples  knew   each  other  by  asking  one  spouse  some  random  questions  when  the  other  couldn't  hear  and  then  see  how  closely  they  matched  when  he/she  was  brought  back. Cash  prizes  were  on  offer. It  was  slightly  smutty  at  times, usually  lightly  embarrassing  and  always  rather  naff  but  entertaining  enough  on  a  boring  afternoon. I  don't  think  I  ever  watched  it  much  afterwards.

The  show  originally  ended  in  1988  but  there  was  a  satellite  channel  revival  in  1995  which  ran  for  three  years  then  a  Julian  Clary-hosted  one  in  1999  which  lasted  a  year.  After  retiring  to  Florida  Batey  returned  to  the  UK  and  died in  2013  aged  84.

Monday, 16 November 2015

277 Starsky & Hutch

First  watched  :   5th  February  1977

My  mum  had  been  watching  this  on  Saturday  nights  after  we'd  gone  to  bed  for  a  while . I've  got  a  Boots  Scribbling  diary  for  1977,  the only  year  where  I  religiously  kept it  up  for  the  full  twelve  months ,  and  the  entry  for  5th  February  1977  reads  "Mum  let  me  stay  up  to  watch  Starsky  and  Hutch "  which  would  indicate  it  was  the  first  time.  This  of  course  coincided  with   David  Soul  ( Hutch )  being   at  the  top  of  the  UK  charts  with  Don't  Give  Up  On  Us  Baby.  The  irony  of  Hutch  getting  all  that  teenybop  attention  was  that.  if  the  11-13  year  old   girls  at   my  school  were  anything  to  go  by, it  was  Paul  Michael  Glaser  ( Starsky  )  who  was  the  real  heart-throb.

Starsky  and  Hutch   emerged  a  couple  of  years   after  the  demise  of  Alias  Smith  and  Jones  and  transferred  the  idea  of  two  young  male  buddies   to  a  crime-ridden  neighbourhood  of   1970s  Southern  California  and  put  them  on  the  right  side  of  the  law  as  police  detectives.  It  broke  new  ground  by  making  them  subordinate  to  an  Afro-American  police  chief, Captain  Dobie  ( Bernie  Hamilton )  . The  series  also  tapped  into  contemporary  urban  black  culture  with  the  character  of  streetwise  informer  Huggy  Bear  ( Antonio  Fargas )  and  a  jazz  funk  soundtrack  including  the  memorable  theme  tune.

Soul  and  Glaser  were  capable  young   actors  who  hadn't  quite  capitalised  on  early  breaks. Soul  was  best  known  as  the  leader  of  the  vigilante  rookie  cops  in  Magnum  Force  while  Glaser  had  a  good  role   in  Fiddler  On  The  Roof  as  a  student  revolutionary.  They  gelled  perfectly  as  the  unlikely  pair; Starsky  being  an  impulsive  Jewish  New  Yorker   and  Hutch  a  more  laid  back  mid-Westerner.

The  series  quickly  established  itself  as  both  the  most  exciting   and  the  funniest  - the  episode  where  they're  hunting  a  supposed  vampire  is  absolutely  hilarious  - of  the  seventies  detective  shows.  However  after  the  second  series  ended  in  1977   a  widespread  concern  about  the  effects  of  TV  violence  led  the   producers  to  tone  down  the  action  and  delve  into  the  pair's  personal  lives  to  a  greater  extent.  While  still  highly  watchable  the  series  did  lose  some  of  its  edge  after  that.

Although  he  approved  of  the  changes  Glaser  became  increasingly  dissatisfied  with  the  show  and  throughout  the  latter  two  series  the  producers  struggled  to  keep  him  on  board  , making  a  number  of  contingency  plans  to  keep  the  series  going  if  he  bailed  out. Glaser's  desire  to  quit  became  public  knowledge  and  the  audience  for  the  final  series  began  to  drift  away. He  therefore  got  his  wish  when  a  proposed  fifth  series  was  cancelled  in  1979.

Neither  of  the  pair   have  had  a  particularly  easy  time  since then. After  a  run  in  so-so  TV  movies  and  mini-series,  Soul  ended  up  in  jail  for  alcohol-fuelled  domestic  abuse   in  1987  although  he  has  resurrected  his  acting  career in  England  which  led  to  his  bizarre  involvement  in  the  1997  General  Election  campaign  in  the  constituency  of   Tatton.  Glaser's  preferred  career  as  a  director  largely  ran  into the ground  after  The  Running  Man  in  1987  and  he  lost  both  a  wife  and  child  to  AIDS.  Fargas  has  maintained  a  steady  career  as an  actor  while  Hamilton  more  or less  retired  in  the  mid-eighties  and  pursued  a  low-key  career  in  music  until  his  death  in  2008.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

276 Wildlife On One

First  watched  : January  1977

This  long-running  natural  history  series, starting  out  at  8.30  pm  on  a  Friday,  was  really  just  BBC  Two's  The  World  About  Us  trimmed  down  to  30  minutes  and  of  course  depended  on  how  interested  you  were  in  the  animals  being  examined. I'm  not  really  one  for  birds  so  may  not  have  caught  the  first  episode  about  the  goony  bird  but  the  second  one  was  a  film  about  sharks  with  underwater  filming  kingpins  Ron  and  Valerie  Taylor  ( who  also  featured  in  many  Survival  episodes  on  ITV ) so  I'm  very  likely  to  have  tuned  in  for  that  one.

The  programme  was  usually  narrated  by  David  Attenborough  and  came  to  an  end  in  2005, probably  because  the  78-year  old   legend  needed  to  lessen  his  workload.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

275 The Rockford Files

First  watched : Uncertain

As  the  least  violent  and  lightest  in  tone  of  the  US  detective  series  The  Rockford  Files   moved  around  the  early  evening  schedules  a  fair  bit  and  I'm  not  sure  when  I  first  caught  it.

The  Rockford  Files  started  in  1974.  One  of  its  creators  Roy  Huggins  had  worked  with   James  Garner  on  the  successful  Maverick  ( 1957-62 )  and  wanted  to  place  him  in  a  more  contemporary  setting. Jim  Rockford   was  an  ex-con  ( wrongly  accused  of  course )  making  a  precarious  living  as  a  private  eye  in  Malibu,  California. The  contrast  between  the  opulent  setting  and  Jim's  down-at-heel  lifestyle  in  a  trailer  on  a  parking  lot - slightly  undermined  by  his  driving  a  Pontiac  Firebird  - was  one  of  the  hallmarks  of  the  series. The  other  main  characters  were  his  dad  Rocky  ( Noah  Beery  )  always  involved  in  the  case  one  way  or  another   and  his  lugubrious  friend  in  the  police  force  Dennis  ( Joe  Santos )  who  often  had  to  go  out  on  a  limb  for  him.  The  series  was  also  blessed  with  a  memorable  opening sequence  -  after  a  usually  completely  irrelevant  answering  machine  message  for  Jim  the  screen  would  explode  with  a  photo- montage  of  Jim  in  action  set  to  Mike  Post's  dynamic  theme  played  on  (now ) vintage  synthesiser.

Garner  was  always  an  actor  of  great  charm  and  it  was  likable  enough  but  I  found  it  frustratingly  lightweight  compared  to  Kojak  or  Cannon.

It  finished  in  1979  when  Garner  took  medical  advice  to  quit  because  of  the  toll  it  was  taking  on  his  knees.  He  and  Universal  then  spent  the  next  decade  suing  each  other. It  was  resolved  enough  to  allow  a  string  of  TV  movies  to  be  made  in  the  nineties  although  Beery  died  after  filming  the  first  one  in  1994. Garner  died  last  year.  

Friday, 13 November 2015

274 Rosie

First  watched  : 1977

To  say  this  ran  for  four   series,  you  don't  hear  much  about  it  these  days  do  you ?

Rosie  was  another  Yorkshire-set  Roy  Clarke  creation.  It  concerned  a  young  police  constable  Michael  Penrose  ( Paul  Greenwood )  trying  to  pursue  his  career  despite  an  over-protective  family  and  bonkers , over-possessive  girlfriend  doing  their  best  to  get  in  the  way.  Rosie   actually  followed  on  from  an  earlier  series  The  Growing  Pains  of  P C  Penrose  which  was  broadcast  in  1975  in  a  later  time  slot. That  featured  the  same  main  character  but  was  more  station-based  in  a  South  Yorkshire  mining  town  and  didn't  feature  his  family. It  didn't  quite  work  so  Clarke  revamped  the  series , having  Penrose  transferred  to  Scarborough  on  compassionate  grounds  to  be  closer  to  his  bogusly  invalid    mother  ( Avril  Elgar ). This  series  gave  much  more  time  to  his  private  life  and  he  didn't  usually  get  out  on  the  beat  with  droll  partner  Wilmot  ( Tony  Haygarth )  until  at  least  halfway  through  the  episode.

Like  Last  of  the  Summer  Wine , Rosie  relied  on  eccentric  characters  coming  out  with   amusing non-sequiturs  rather  than  particularly   witty  scripts   or  farcical  situations. I  think  it  was  meant  to  be  gentle  and  wry  but  didn't  really  come  across  that  way. Greenwood  was  not  a  comic  actor  and  with  his  gaunt  features  and  most  of  his  lines  consisting  of  sarcastic  putdowns   he  wasn't  very  sympathetic   and  so   the  series  had  a  rather  sour, slightly  misogynistic  tone  to  it. That's  perhaps  why  nobody  seems  to  have  a  great  affection  for  it.

Having  said  that   Rosie  was  perhaps  more  influential  than  we  realise.  Little  Britain   of  course  picked  up  the  idea  of  the  relative  who  was  putting  it  on  a  bit  and  Rosie's  self-absorbed  inner  monologues  lead  straight  to  Peep  Show ; by  strange  coincidence   Frankie  Jordan  who  played  his  girlfriend  both  looked,  and  particularly  sounded,  like  Dobby.

The  series  ended in  1981. Greenwood  still  works  as  an  actor  although  Haygarth  has  been  the  busier  of  the  two.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

273 The Phoenix and the Carpet

First  watched  : 29  December  1976

I'd  have  put  this  one  as  being  broadcast   during   my   primary  school  days  but  obviously  not.  
The  Phoenix  and  The  Carpet  was  an  eight  part  adaptation  of  a  children's  novel  by  Edwardian  writer  E  Nesbit  (  most  famous  for  The  Railway  Children )   and  concerned  four  children  whose  mother  buys  an  old  carpet  which  is  found  to  contain  a  china  egg. They  accidentally  hatch  it  and  encounter  a  conceited  2.000  year  old  bird  who  instructs  them  on  how  to  make  the  carpet  fly  to  interesting  places . The  tone  of  the  series  was  lightly  comic  as  it  probably  needed  to  be  with  the  rudimentary  special  effects;  the  phoenix  looked  like  it  had   flown  in  from  the  set  of  Bagpuss.  I  remember  it  as  being  quite  enjoyable.

None  of  the  four  actors  were  or  became  household  names. Gary  Russell  has  made  a  living  on  the  fringes  of  the  Dr  Who  scene  with  some  factual  books  on  the  series  and  comic  strips  for  magazines  but   hasn't  done  any  acting  since  1997.

Monday, 9 November 2015

272 The Gemini Man

First  watched : Autumn  1976

The  Gemini  Man  was  basically  a  re-boot  of  the  previous  year's  The  Invisible  Man  with   less  expensive  special  effects  ingeniously  explained  by  the  titular  agent's  inability  to  stay  invisible  for  more  than  15  minutes  of  the  day. The  main  part  of  Sam  Casey  was  played  by  Ben  Murphy  fresh  from  Alias  Smith  and  Jones  but  a  second  big  TV  hit  was  to  elude  him. The  Gemini  Man  was  even  shorter-lived  than  its  predecessor. Only  eleven  episodes  were  made  and  in  the  US  it  was  pulled  after  only  five  had  been  shown. Over  here  it  was  allowed  to  run  its  course  but  has  left  little  impression.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

271 The Tom O Connor Show

First  watched  :  Autumn  1976

Another  one  requiring  a  memory  correction. I   remembered  the  week  night  correctly   ( Tuesdays )   but  not  the  channel  ( ITV )  or  the  season  ( I  thought  it  was  earlier  in  the  year ).

The  Scouse  comic  first  appeared  on  TV  in  the  series  The  Comedians  in  1971  but  didn't  make  a  big  impression  and  his  big  break  came  four  years  later  with  a  three  week  winning  run  on  Opportunity  Knocks  . After  that  the  TV  work  came  flooding  in  both  for  stand-up  slots  and  gameshow  host  roles. He  then  got  his  own  half-hour  show  mixing  stand-up  routines  with  the  odd  star  guest.

I  perceived  at  the  time  that  Tom  wasn't  quite  in  the  first  rank of  comedians  but  he  was  amusing  enough  and  usually  the  best  choice  on  a  ropey  night  for  TV.  Although  the  show  didn't  last  long  he  has  managed  to  keep  his  career  going  right  through  to  the  present   time.

In  1992  Tom  blotted  his  copy book  by  being  one  of  those  celebrities  who  came  out  in  favour  of  the  Tories  during  the  election  campaign. The  other  two  I  recall  were  fellow  talent  show  winner  Patti  Boulaye  and  that  arch-plaigiarist  Andrew  Lloyd-Webber  and  I  theorised  that  the  genuinely  talented  don't  vote  Tory  because  they  have  the  confidence  that  they  can  recoup  anything lost  to the  taxman  while  the  chancers  who've  had  a  lucky  break   are  keen  to hold  on  to  what  they've  got  in  case  it  all  goes  pear-shaped.        

Saturday, 7 November 2015

270 Multi-Coloured Swap Shop

First  watched  : 2  October  1976

Although  I don't  regard  this  show  with  special   affection  it  does seem  like  another  milestone  emerging  through  the  murk  of  childhood  memory.  I  had  not  long  started  secondary  school  but  there's  a  more  particular  memory  associated  with  the  programme. During  the  summer  my  mum  had  become  concerned  at  a  couple  of  speech  defects  I  apparently  had. One  was  pronouncing  r's  as  w's  Roy  Jenkins-style ; the  other  th's  as  f's. The  latter  could  be  corrected  by  a  few  sessions  with  a  speech  therapist  but  the  former  was  caused  by  my  tongue  being  too  firmly  anchored  and  I  had  to  have  a  simple  operation  to  free  it  up  a  bit  requiring  general  anaesthetic  at  Rochdale  Infirmary.

Genome  has  confirmed  the  date of  the  operation  to  be  Friday  8th  October  1976. I  know  this  because  my  mum  said  I  would  have  to  stay  in  all  day  on  the  Saturday  after  having  anaesthetic  and  my  consolation - along  with  my  first  packet  of  Top  Trumps  ( Locomotives  which  I  still  have )  - was  being  able  to  watch  the  whole  of  the exciting  new  programme  which  I'd  caught  the  tail  end  of  the  week  before.

Before  Multi-Coloured  Swap  Shop  Saturday  mornings  were  a  graveyard  slot  largely  occupied  by  repeated  cartoons  and  vintage  comedy  films  ( Laurel  and  Hardy, Chaplin , Abbott  and  Costello  etc ).  The  cartoons  were  incorporated  into  the  Swap  Shop   ( the  "Multi-Coloured"  was  dropped  after  a  while  ) format  but  with  colour  TV   now  the  norm   ( not  for  us  yet  ),   the  old  films  largely  disappeared  from  BBC1  from  this  point.  

It's  hard  to  recall  what  exactly  captivated  me  on  first  viewing  the  show. Perhaps  it  was  just  the   sheer  length  of  the  show; it  seemed  like  a  major  triumph  that  a  children's  show  had  been  given  most  of  the  morning  rather  than  being  squeezed  in  between  Nai  Zindagi  and  the  cricket.  I  would  also  have  been  pleased  to  see  a  familiar  face  from  Top  of  the  Pops  at  the  helm.

This  of  course  was  the  beginning  of  Noel  Edmunds's  rise  to  the  top  of  the  telly  tree. For  all  the  brickbats  thrown  his  way  over  the  years,  the  abstemious  ultra-professional  took  command  of  an  unprecedented  three-hour  kids'  show  completely  live  and  reliant  on  technology  working  and  children  behaving  themselves. And  he  nailed  it  completely ; Ant  and  Dec  acknowledge  him  as  the  Godfather  of  their  art.

His  three  main  co-presenters  are  all  still  working  in  TV  today,  another  reason  why  it  doesn't  seem  too  long  ago.  I  suppose  Keith  Chegwin  , a  mildly  successful  child  actor  who'd  been  in  Polanski's  Macbeth , took  his  cues  from  the  Play  School  presenters, but  they  were  in  a  studio. He  was  out  in  the  rain  and  cold, bringing  his  manic  enthusiasm  from  some  car  park  in  the  provinces  where  kids  gathered  to  swap  their  Action  Man  for  a  Mastermind  game  and  his  style  seemed  astonishingly  fresh. Of  course  he  later  married  Maggie  Philbin  who  joined  the  programme  from  series  3  onwards. Making  up  the  quartet  was  Newsround  presenter  John  Craven,  basically  doing  an  extended  version  of  his  weekday  slot, though  he  was  allowed  to  show  a  lighter  side in  his  banter  with  Noel.

The  first  show  had  repeats  of  Hong  Kong  Phooey  and  Land  of  the  Dinosaurs,  pop  guests  Harpo  and  Flintlock  ( not  exactly  a  great  start ) ,  a  cookery  slot  with  Delia  Smith, star  guest  Elisabeth  Sladen  and  of  course  the  swap  board  allowing  viewers  to  phone  in  with  their  offers  though  you  had  to  be  pretty  quick  to  respond.

There  was  also  an  appearance  by  15  year  old  Peter  Gardiner  who  collected  light  bulbs,  an  item  which  came  to  be  seen  as  typical  of  the  show.  One  lad  infamously  appeared  accompanied  by   his  collection  of  World  War  2  artifacts  with  a  Nazi  flag  draped  over  the  couch  behind  him. There  was  a  perception  that  Swap  Shop  favoured   the  same  sort  of  middle  class  kids  that  appeared  on  Ask  The  Family.  On  the  other  hand  you  could  view  it  as  giving  the  geek  a  chance  to  shine.

Inevitably  with  the  magazine  format  there'd  be  items  that  were  less  absorbing  than  others  and  I  remember  that,  even  while  watching  that  second   edition,  my  interest  started  to  flag  before  the  end. I  don't  know  if  it  was  on  that  particular  episode  but  early  on  they  had  patrician  newsreader  Richard  Baker  on  the  couch  discussing  what  piece  of  classical  music  would  best  suit  a  small  film  of  a  kitten  playing  and  I  remember  thinking  what  child  is  going  to  find  this  entertaining ?

So  after  that  I  rarely  watched  the  whole  show  and  it  wasn't  long  before  I  found  something  much  better  to  do  on  Saturday  mornings. By  co-incidence  that  ended  ( something  I've  never  fully  come  to  terms  with  )  pretty  much  at  the  same  time  Swap  Shop  did  ( March  1982 )   when  Noel  moved  into  adult  TV  with  The  Late  Late  Breakfast  Show . Except  it  didn't  really  end  there. The  remaining  trio  were  all  re-engaged  to  work  on  successor  show  Saturday  Superstore   with  Edmunds-wannabe  Mike  Read ( the  two  men  are  not  exactly  bosom  buddies ). The  swapping  element  was  ditched  but  otherwise  it  was  pretty  much  the  same  show  and  the  formula  has  endured  through  the  decades.

I'm  aware  I've  ignored  the  elephant  in  the  room  that  usually  crops  up  whenever  Swap  Shop  is  discussed  but  for  me,  apart  from  length  and  time  slot,  that  show  had  little  in  common  with  it  and  it  was  more  or  less  a  coincidence  they  emerged  together.


Thursday, 5 November 2015

269 This Is Your Right

First  watched  : Uncertain

This  is  the  first  regional    ( i.e  North  West )  only    programme  to  appear  here. This  Is  Your  Right  was  a  nightly  five  minute  consumer  bulletin  in  the  Granada  region.  It  was  presented  by  doctor  and  politician  Michael  Winstanley  who  was  briefly  an  MP  during  its  run  ( in  1974  )  and  then,  as  Baron  Winstanley,  a  life  peer  from  1976  onwards.  It  was  discontinued  in  1986, seven  years  before  Winstanley's  death.

It  seemed  dull  as  ditchwater  at  the  time  but  now  seems  like  something  else  of  which  the  pre-92  Granada  could  be  proud.

Monday, 2 November 2015

268 The Good Life

First  watched :  September  1976

This  extremely  popular  sitcom  was  into  its  third  series  by  the  time  we  caught  up  with  it  in  the  8.30  pm  slot  on  a  Friday  night. Written  by  Esmonde  and  Larbey  the  team  behind  Please  Sir ,  it  concerned  a  40  year  old  man  Tom  Good   ( Richard  Briers )  deciding  to  quit  his  job  as  a  draughtsman  and  live  a  self-sufficient  lifestyle  in  the  heart  of  Surbiton  with  long-suffering  wife  Barbara  ( Felicity  Kendal ). The  prospect  of  animals  roaming  around  the  garden  next  door  appalls  stroppy  social  climbing  neighbour  Margot  ( Penelope  Keith )  to  the  secret  delight  of  henpecked  husband  Jerry  ( Paul  Eddington ) .

There  were  four  series  between  1975  and  1978   with  two  specials, the  last  a  Royal  Command  Performance  in  front  of  the  Queen.  Only  Briers  was   well  known  beforehand  but  all  four  became  stars  and  went  on  to  starring  roles  in  subsequent  sitcoms.

The  series  has  had  its  knockers.  It  was  resolutely  middle  class  with  none  of  the  characters'  little  dilemmas  very  important  in  the  overall  scheme  of  things  and  the  lovey-dovey  relations  between  and  across  the  couples  now  appear  too  saccharin. More  specifically  Keith's  character  has  been  accused  of  softening  up  the  nation  for  Thatcher. See  here  for  instance  ( I'm  right  about  the  number  of  series  btw)  or  here. Which  is  all  good  fun  like  the  programme  itself.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

267 Kojak

First  watched  :    September  1976

Kojak   made  a  huge  impact  when  first  screened  in  the  UK  in  the  summer  of  1974  culminating  in  its  star, bald  character  actor   Telly  Savalas  topping  the  singles  chart  with  his  murmured  version  of   Bread's  If  in  the  early  months  of  1975,  surely  one  of  the  worst  number  ones  of  all  time. At  school  one  lad  in  my  class  got  upset  when  he  was  teased  about  his  dad's  lack  of  hair  so  mention  of  the  series  was  banned. Because  of  its  time  slot  it  was  something  only  Mum  watched  until  it  got  an  8.10  pm  slot  on   a  Thursday  in  September  1976.

Savalas  was  the  titular  police  lieutenant  in  South  Manhattan, conscientious  but  not  above  bending  the  rules  slightly  to  get  his  man.  His  boss  Frank  McNeil  ( Dan  Frazer ) was  generally  supportive  and  he  had  a  loyal  team  of  detectives  , the  impetuous  Crocker  ( Kevin  Dobson  )  , the  interchangeable  Saperstein  and  Rizzo  and  dopey  lump  Stavros  played  by  Savalas's  real-life  brother  George .  The  relationship  was  initially  disguised  by  George  being  credited  as  "Demosthenes"  in  the  cast  list.

What  I  liked  about  Kojak  in  contrast  to  later  police  series  was  that  it  concentrated  on  the investigation   in  hand  rarely  delving  into  the  private  lives  or  back  stories  of  the  detectives  unless  they  impinged  directly  on  the  case.  The  dialogue  was  dense  and  full  of  New  York  street  slang  so  it  wasn't  always  that  easy  to  follow  but  you  usually  got  the  sense  by  the  end. Along  with  The  Streets  of  San  Francisco  on  the  other  channel  it  made  urban  America  seem  a  pretty  frightening  place.

Kojak  was  pulled  in  1978  to  Savalas's  dismay  due  to  falling  ratings  though  there  was  a  string  of  TV  movies   running  from  1985  to  1990  .  Savalas  died  of  cancer  in  1994  putting  paid  to  any  more  though  there  was  a  one  series  revival  of  the  show  with  Ving  Rhames  in  the  role  in  2005 . I'm  not  sure  that  was  screened  in  the  UK.

George  had  died  of  leukemia  aged  60  in   1985  having  spent  the  years  after  the  series  ended  touring  as  a  performer  of  Greek  songs.  Frazer  died  in  2011  leaving  Dobson, still  a  working  TV  actor  at  72,  the  only  survivor  of  the  four  main  players.