Sunday, 31 January 2016

331 Tiswas

First  viewed  :  January  1978

This  Saturday  morning  kids  TV  show  had  been  running  in  some  ITV  regions,   including  its  creator,  ATV,  since  1974  but  Granada  and  others  were  a  bit  sniffy  about  it   and  didn't  buy  in  until  the  fourth  series.

The  regular  presenters  for  this  were  blonde   London  disc  jockey  Chris  Tarrant  who'd  been  with  the  show  from  the  start  and  acquired  more  clout  with  each  year  it  ran  and  actress  Sally  James  who'd  presented  another   Saturday  morning  show  in  the  London  area. Tiswas   ( Today  Is  Saturday,  Watch  And  Smile )  presented  a  direct  challenge  to  Multi-Coloured  Swap  Shop  on  the  other  channel , occupying  more  or  less  the  time  slot  and  presenting  a  more  anarchic , less  patrician   view  of  what  children  wanted  to  watch  with  all  the  flan-flinging  and  slapstick.  For  the  older  boys  it  had  another  extra  ingredient; instead  of  the  fairly  sexless  Maggie  Philbin  you  had  Sally  in  a  variety  of  low-cut  tops  designed  to  give  you  a  better  view  of  her  impressive  cleavage.

You  could  make  a  rough  swots  and  scruffs  distinction  between  the  kids  who  liked  Swap  Shop  and  those  who  favoured  Tiswas . Though  I  would  soon  eschew  staying  in  on  Saturday  mornings , I  leaned  towards  the  latter  because  it  had  a  higher  pop  content.  The  regular  dousings  and  peltings  of   both  presenters  and  guests  I  could  take  or  leave  ; it  got  a  bit  tiresome  after  a  while.

Other  presenters  such  as  Lenny  Henry, John  Gorman  and  Bob  Carolgees  joined  the  team  but  these  all  joined  Tarrant  in  quitting  the  team  to  do  adult  version  O.T.T.   in  1981  leaving  Sally  to  soldier  on   with  a   distinctly  Second  Division  team  of  Midlands  DJ  Gordon  Astley  who  I  can't  even  picture , former  Darts  loon  Den  Hegarty  and  impressionist  Fogwell  Flax. Tiswas  always  had  its  foes  among  the  suits  and  a  combination  of  Sally  throwing  in  the  towel  and  slipping  ratings  brought  the  show  to  an  end  in  1982.

There  was  a  Tiswas  Reunited   show  in  2007  but  no  serious  attempt  to  revive  it. The  show  was  Sally  James's  last  as  a  presenter. She  was  a  reliable  guest  on  things  like  Blankety  Blank    Punchlines  and   Countdown  until  the  early  eighties  when  she  dropped  off  screen  to  concentrate  on  her  business  selling  school  uniforms. She's  had  a  stint  on  BBC  local  radio  and  since  the  turn  of  the  millennium  has  been  a  regular  talking  head  on  nostalgia  shows.

Saturday, 30 January 2016

330 Play For Today

First  viewed :  24  January  1978

".... Wedgwood  Benn, keg  bitter, punk  rock, glue  sniffers, Play  for  Today, squatters, Clive  Jenkins, Roy  Jenkins.."

A  small  snatch  of  the  "Forces  of  Anarchy  "  hitlist  drawn  up  by  Reggie  Perrin's  brother-in-law  Jimmy,  identifying  the  targets  for  his  secret  army  of  right  wing  nutters  which  indicates  how  much  this  particular  programme  got  up  the  nose  of  Daily  Mail  readers  in  the  seventies.

I  hadn't  actually  seen  any  of    The  Fall  and  Rise  of  Reginald  Perrin   at  this  point  and  watched  my  first  Play  for  Today   for  a  completely  bizarre  reason.  Some  pre-publicity  for  the  a  particular play  , The  Spongers   had  alerted  my  mother  to  the  fact  that  the  childrens'  home  for  Downs  Syndrome  sufferers  which  features  in  the  play   was  actually  on  the  front   at  our  holiday  destination   of  yore, Lytham  St  Annes   and  she  tuned  in  specifically  to  see  that. She  expected  my  sister  and  I  to  recognise  this  place  despite  the  fact  we  hadn't  been  to  the  town   for  three  and  a  half  years. Such  is  the  logic  of  parents. It  was  a  crazy  reason  to  watch  one  of  the  most  gut-wrenching  and  influential  dramas  ever  broadcast  on  British  TV  but  there  you  go.  

The  Spongers  was  written  by the  unquestionably  left  wing  Jim  Allen   and  concerns  a  deserted  young  mother  of  four , Pauline , played  by  former  Coronation  Street  actress  Christine  Hargreaves,  who  is  driven  to  the  end  of  her  tether  by  the   inhumane  application  of  the  social  security  system  and  the  political  decision  to  remove  her  Down's  Syndrome  daughter , played  by  a  real-life  sufferer  Paula  McDonagh  in  a  remarkable  performance  if  performance  it  was ,  from  an  expensive  care  home.

 It's  provocatively  set  amidst  the  Queen's  Silver  Jubilee  celebrations  and  the  title  appears  above  giant  cardboard  cut-outs  of  the  royal  couple  to ram  the  point  home, a  far more  potent  gesture  than  Mr  Lydon's  little  ditty. It's  entirely  filmed  on  location ( the  depressing  council  estate  of  Langley  in  Manchester )  on  grainy  film  in  verite  documentary  style  ( passe  now  but  very  fresh  in  1978 ) and  you  really  have  to  give  it  close  attention  to  catch  all  the  dialogue.

The  play  is  probably  best  remembered  for  its  jaw-dropping  ending  where  Paula  takes  the  Magda  Goebbels  solution  to  family  crisis  and  the  human  drama  is  stronger  than  the  accompanying  political  analysis  which  is  quite  crude  in  places. Even  for  1977,  the  idea  of  dumping  Paula  in  an  old  peoples'  home  seems  a  bit  far-fetched. The  then  unknown  Bernard  Hill's  character, Sullivan,  a  community  worker,  is  less  a  flesh  and  blood  person  than a  mouthpiece  for  Allen's  rage  and  Peter  Kerrigan's  monologue  at  an  appeals  tribunal  fills  the  same  function . What's  perhaps  most  interesting about  the  political  aspects  is  the  timing. The  Spongers  was  made  while  Britain  had  a  precarious  Labour  government  and  the  villain  of  the  piece,  smug , complacent  Councillor Conway  ( Bernard  Atcha )  is  a  Labour  politician. Allen  had  been  expelled  from  Labour  in  1962  for  belonging  to  an  entryist  organisation.  I  recall  my  mum  and  gran  discussing  it  the  following  day  and  picking  up  on  details  to  reinforce  their  Protestant  Tory  worldview  - "well  she  wasn't  careful  with  her  money.. the  boy  had  a  bike"  and  so  on.

The  Spongers  won  a  number  of  prestigious  international  awards  including  the  Prix  Italia. It  was  a  clear  influence  on  Boys  from  the  Black  Stuff   four  years  later, the  kinship  reinforced  by  the  presence  of  Hill  and  Kerrigan  in  both  dramas. Both  Jimmy  McGovern  and  Christopher  Eccleston  cite  it  as  a  seminal  inspiration  in  their  careers.

Now  then, rather  than  commit  to  a  long  exhaustive  research  task  at  this  point  to  discover  which  other  Play  for  Todays   I  recall , I'm  going  to  return  to  this  post  and  add  them  as  I  come  across  them  on  Genome.

The  Slab  Boys  ( 6  December  1979 )

This  is  the  second one  I  recall  although  I  think  I  was  ushered  to  bed  before  it  finished. It  was  almost  the  first  work  of  Scottish  playwright  John  Byrne  and  had  already  been  performed  in  Scotland. Based  on  Byrne's  own  work  experience , the  play  was  set  in  the  late  fifties  and   concentrated  on  three  young  guys  working  at  a  carpet  manufacturers, two  streetwise  greasers  and  the  gauche  butt  of  their  jokes,  Hector. Hector  was  played  by  Joseph  McKenna  who  I  recognised  as  the  then  most  recent  incarnation  of  Coronation  Street's  Peter  Barlow.

 The  only  part  I  recall without  help  from  web  sources  ( including  my  friend  Mark  C  on  Letterbox'd  )  is   Hector  getting  a  makeover  from  his  pals  to  help  him  win  a  girl  and  them  making  a  complete  hash  of  it.

In  the  end  though,  Hector  gets  the  last  laugh  with  a  promotion to  the  design  team  while  one of  the  others   gets  his  P45. This  is  an  uncomfortable   truth  of  employment  that  came  home   me  just  recently,  that  the  "hierarchy"  your  ego  puts  its  faith  in  might  not  be  in  accordance   with  the  bosses'  viewpoint.

This  became  a  successful  play  with  a  Broadway  run  featuring  the  starry  trio  of  Kevin  Bacon, Sean  Penn  and  Val  Kilmer   and  in  time  became  part  of  a  trilogy  about  the  lads.  

The  Muscle  Market   ( 13  January  1981 )

This  was  my  first  introduction  to  the  work  of  Alan  Bleasdale. It  was  actually  meant  to  be  part  of  the  Boys  From  The  Black  Stuff   series   following  the  original  The  Black  Stuff  play  ( which  I  hadn't  seen  at  this  point )  but  for  whatever  reason  it  was  shaved  off , filmed  as  a  standalone  play  and  broadcast  nearly  two  years  before  the  main  series.

The   building  contractor  was  re-named  Danny  and  re-cast  with  Pete  Postlethwaite  replacing  David  Calder  and  there  is  no  reference  to  the  events  in  The  Black  Stuff  . In  the  heat  of  the  early  eighties  recession,  Danny's   business  is  crumbling  under  pressure  from  all  sides , the  tax  man  is  onto  his  case, his  accountant  is  embezzling  funds  with  the  aid  of  Danny's  mistress / secretary  ( Alison  Steadman )  and  he  owes  money  to  some  very  shady  figures  from  the  Liverpudlian  underworld. When  he  gets  home  he  has  to  fend  off  his  nymphomaniac  wife  played  by  female  wrestler  Mitzi  Mueller. Danny  has  to  come  up  with  desperate  ruses  to  salvage  anything  from  the  wreckage.

In  the  most  memorable  - and  remarkably  violent  - scene  Danny's  second  meeting  with  the  tax  collectors  Abbott  and  "Costello"  is  interrupted  by  two  masked  thugs  hired  by  his  secretary  in  revenge  for  a  headbutt. While  Danny  gets  his  head  kicked  in,  it's  the  slight  Abbott  who  tries  to  help  while  his  supposed  bodyguard  "Costello"  whimpers  in  the  corner.

The  play  is  superbly  written  but  Bleasdale  scored  an  extra  coup  by  obtaining  rarely  yielded  permission  from  Apple  to  use  Beatles  material  for  the  soundtrack. The  final  scene  which  sees  Danny  clinging  to  the  roof  of  a  bus  and  the  tax  men  remonstrating  with  him  from  the  upper  floor  while  Yesterday   plays  in  the  background  is  a  masterpiece.

Bavarian  Night  ( 31  March  1981 )

This  is  one  of  those  I  remember  best  and  I  think  it  would  have  even  more  resonance  now that  I  work  in  schools. The  comic  drama  was  written  by  Andrew  Davies  best  known  for  his adaptations  of  classics.

Allan  Surtees  plays  Fred  Foleshill,  an  egotistical  young  head  in  a  leather  jacket  who  decides  to  have  a  Bavarian  Night  to  sell  the  new  uniform  to  parents. Of  course  the  band  led  by  Wandering  Hans  ( Brian  Protheroe  )  are  not  really  German  and,  as  the  lager  flows ,events  get  out  of  hand. The  band  teach   the  gathering   a  drinking  song  which  they  will  re-perform  each  time  some  one  gets  up  and  shouts "Eine  Prosit"  so  that  regularly  punctuates  the  action. I  particularly  liked  the  Chinese  guy  who'd  got  the  wrong  end  of  the  stick  and  just  wants  to  discuss  his  daughter's  progress  in  science.

Only  Children  ( 21 August  1984 )

This  one  starred  Charlotte  Cornwell, the  least  remembered  of  the  Rock  Follies  trio   as  Jill, a  thirtysomething who  is  the  mother  figure  in  an  unconventional  family  of  flat  mates  including  gay  Dolly  ( Eric  Deacon )  and  camp  poseur  Flingo  ( Brian  Gwaspari )  that  love  performing  old  musical  numbers  at  the  drop  of  a  hat, to  the  irritation  of  her  obnoxious  lover  Ben ( Simon  Dutton ) a  self-regarding  young  writer. However  when  Ben  manages  to  impregnate  Jill, reality  starts  to  bite  and  her  "children"  have  to  learn  to  fend  for  themselves.

This  satire  on  urban  living  was  written  by  Judy  Forrest, mother  of   novelist  Emma  Forrest.


Thursday, 28 January 2016

329 Sez Lez / The Les Dawson Show

First  viewed : Uncertain

I  don't  know  when  I  first  caught  on  to  Les. His  ITV  show  Sez Les  finished  in  October  1976  which  seems  too  early  and  his  return  on  the  BBC  in  The  Les  Dawson  Show  in  January  1978  seems  too  late. I'm  guessing  that  perhaps  there  was  a  repeat  of  the  former  in  1977  which  would  be  about  right.

Most  of  Les's  most  famous  characters  were  introduced  on  Sez  Les  , including  the  celebrated  double  act  with  Roy  Barraclough  as  two  gossipy  Northern  harridans, Cissie  and  Ada. My  favourite  though  was  Cosmo  Smallpiece  , the  short-sighted  loser  whose  sexual  starvation  leads  to  eruptions  of  manic  behaviour. I  remember  a  great  sight  gag  where  Cosmo  is  running  frantically  up  a  descending  escalator  to  paw  at  an  advert  for  ladies  underwear.

I  don't  remember  the  out  of  tune  piano  playing  until  the  BBC  show  but  I  always  found  that  hilarious  too.

I   always  had  affection  for  Les  as  a traditional  Northern  comic  made  good  but  I  think  doing  Blankety  Blank  was  a  mistake  which  eroded  his  reputation. Les  had  no  regular  TV  spot  at  the  time  of  his  death in  1993  but  I  wouldn't  have  bet  against  him  making  a  comeback. Instead  he  died  in  hospital  of  a  heart  attack  while  awaiting  the  results  of  a  routine  check-up  for  insurance  purposes. One  likes  to  think  he  was  conscious  long  enough  to  appreciate  the  irony.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

328 Maggie and Her

First  viewed :  January  1978

I  may  well  have  seen  the  first*  episode  of  this  sitcom  which  was  broadcast  at  7.30  pm on  Friday  13th  January  1978  but  I  can't  be  sure  because  I  heartily  disliked  the  show.

Maggie  ( Julia  McKenzie )  was  a  divorced  schoolteacher  in  her  mid-thirties  living   in  the  same  block  of  flats  as  Mrs  Perry  ( Irene  Handl ), an  outrageous  outspoken  pensioner  who  unilaterally  took  on  a  maternal  role  in  relation  to  her  flatmate. Maggie  generally  found  her  intrusions  a  blasted  nuisance  but  did  have  some  affection  for  her. With  Handl's  Jewish  roots  , Maggie  and  Her  did  have  some  resemblance  to  the  American  sitcom  Rhoda .

I  had  two  main  problems  with  the  show. One  was  McKenzie;  with  her  carrot-coloured  perm , frumpy  frame  and  bird like  features,  I  couldn't  believe  that  she  would  have  as  many  male  admirers  as  the  storylines  required. The  other  was  that  although  Handl  was  a  good  actress , Mrs  P's  behaviour  was  just  too  extreme  to  be  either  believable  or  endearing e.g. the  second  episode  where  she  gets  a  job  as  a  dinner  lady  in  Maggie's  school  and  starts  insulting  the  headmistress  during  their  first  meeting.

It  lasted  for  two  short  series, Handl  continued  working  right  up  to  her  death  in  1987  aged  85. McKenzie  looks  likely  to  at  least  equal  that  with  a  long  string  of  credits  on  both  stage  and  TV  screen.    

* There  was  a  pilot  episode  entitled  Poppy  and  Her  in  1976.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

327 Mind Your Language

First viewed : January 1978

After  Kick  Off  came  a  comedy  hour  on  ITV. First  off  was  this  favourite  ( or  at  least  second  favourite ) whipping  series  for  the  pc  brigade.

Mind  Your  Language  was  set  in  what  would  now  be  called  an  ESOL  class  presided  over  by  the  hapless  Jeremy  Brown ( Barry  Evans, a  promising  young  actor  in  the  sixties  whose  film  career  seemed  to  have  stalled ). His  class comprised  people  of  various  nationalities  with  varying  degrees  of  competence  in  the  English  language. The  humour  derived  in  roughly  equal  parts  from  the  characters  playing  up  to  their  national  stereotypes and  their  creative  misinterpretations  of  the  language  they  were  learning.

Undeniably  the  series  did  rely  for  good  or  ill  on  national  stereotypes  but  I  wouldn't  call  it  racist  because  the  non-white  characters  were  not  treated  any  less  fairly  or  portrayed  as  any   more  ridiculous  than  their  Swedish   or  Italian  counterparts. Unlike  the  irredeemable  Love  Thy  Neighbour  , Mind  Your  Language  never  resorted  to  racist  abuse   to  get  laughs  and  the  characters  were  generally  pretty  tolerant  in  their  relations with  each  other. I  think  the  Germans  had  most  cause  for  complaint,  being  represented  by  Anna  Schmidt , a  frigid  and  severe  blonde played  by  the  non-Teutonic  Anna  Harding. The  characters  I  remember  most  were  the  jolly  Pakistani  Ali  Nadim,  though  this  was  probably  because  he  was  played  by  Dino  Shafeek , instantly  recognisable  as  Char  Wallah  from  It  Ain't  Half  Hot  Mum  and  busty  French  sexpot Danielle  ( Francois  Pascal ).

I  enjoyed  it  but  did  not  stick  with  it  after  the  first  series. It  was  very  popular  around  the  world  particularly  in  those  countries  who  were  represented  in  the  class.  Despite  this,  and  the  fact  that  he originally  commissioned  the  series  Michael  Grade  cancelled  it  in  1981  ostensibly  through  distaste  at  offensive  stereotyping. Grade  is  Jewish  so  it  can  be  taken  at  face  value though  it's  possible  he  needed  a  daring  decision  on  his  c.v.  and  chopping  a  popular  series  he  personally  disliked  fitted  the  bill.

The  continued  success  of  the  series  abroad  prompted  an  independent  company  Tri  Films  to  produce  another  13  episodes  in  1986  with  about  half  the  original  cast including  Evans  but  not  Pascal  who  had  moved  to  Hollywood  when  the series  finished. Grade  had  moved  on  to  the  BBC  by  that  time  but  the  individual  ITV  companies  were  divided  in  their  response. Anglia, Granada  and  Central  showed  the  whole  series   while  the  others  showed  only  a  few  episodes  or  none  at  all.

Once  that  had  finished  Evans  found  work  very  hard  to  come  by. He  made a  surprise  return  to  film  in  1993 in  The  Mystery  of  Edwin Drood  but  it  failed  to  re-ignite  his  career  and  he  ended  up  working  as  a  taxi  driver. His  death  in  February  1997  remains  a  mystery. His  body  was  found  at  his  home  when  police  went  there  to  tell  him  his  stolen  car  had  been  found. He  had  a  head  wound  and  high  levels  of  alcohol  in  his  blood  but  there  was  insufficient  evidence  to  charge  any  of  the  car  thieves. The  Coroner  returned  an  open  verdict. Pascal  returned  to  the  UK  in  1987;  since  then  she  has  worked  exclusively  in  the  theatre  but  is  listed  as  having  a  couple  of  film  projects  in  production.

Monday, 25 January 2016

326 Kick Off

First  viewed  : January  1978

Granada  Reports  was  followed  at  6.30 pm  on  a  Friday  by  the  regional  football  preview  show  Kick  Off.  At  the  start  of  1978,  I  dropped  2000  AD  in  favour  of  Shoot ! ( and  still  have  some  of  those  early  issues )  and  this  little  taster  for  Saturday's  action  was  a  must  ( even  though  I  was  by  no  means  only  interested  in  north  west  clubs; the  team  I  "supported"  at  this  point  was  Luton  Town  ).

The  programme  was  presented  by  the  experienced  commentator  Gerald  Sinstadt  who  had  cut  his  teeth  on  BBC  Radio  then  gone  to  Anglia  before  heading  north. As  well  as  being  Granada's  main  football  man  he  was  unofficially  ITV's  number  three  commentator  behind  Brian  Moore  and  Hugh  Johns. His  squeakily  excitable  tones  were  heard  at  World  Cup   and  UEFA  Cup  games  as  well  as  domestic  fixtures. His  number  two  on  the  programme  was  the  much  younger  Elton  Welsby  who  had  just  joined  the  programme  as  I  tuned  in.

With  the  big  four  North  West  clubs  to  cover  and  Bolton  about  to  join  them  in  the  top  flight, the  lower  league  clubs  didn't  get  much  of  a  look  in ( Rochdale  were  rooted  to  the  bottom  of  the  old  Fourth  Division  throughout  the  1977-78  season )  and  the  first  time  the  Dale  were  really  featured  was  vaguely  embarrassing.

Bobby  Hoy  was  a  goalscoring  winger  who  had  played  for  England  Youth  and  in  the  top  flight  with  Huddersfield  Town. He  was  before  my  time  at  Rochdale  but  by  all  accounts  was  one  of  the  better  players  we  had  in  those  grim  days. He  was  featured  on  the  programme  because  mid-season,  sometime  around  '78  or  '79  he  decided  to  quit  the  game  in  favour  of  becoming  a  folk  singer  in  the Yorkshire  clubs. I  presume  the  club  allowed  this  breach  of  contract  to  save  on  wages. Hoy  came  into  the  studio  to  close  the  show  out  with  a  song. A  year  or  so  later  he  returned  to  the  club  a  little  wiser  and  had  another  season  of  professional  football  with  the  Dale. Other  than  that  the  only  time  Dale  featured  was  when  they  had  a  three  match  marathon  FA  Cup  Third  Round  tie  with  Bury  in  1980.

Other   features  I  remember  from  this  period  were  a  beauty  contest  won  by  Kenny  Dalglish  and  Polish  captain  Kaz  Deyna  on  a  shopping  excursion  with  his  wife  having  just  signed  for  Manchester  City. As  you'd  expect  the  programme  gave  a  fair  amount  of  coverage  to  the  madness  that  was  Malcolm  Allison's  second  reign  at  City.

The  programme  went  off  air  early  in  the  eighties  as  Sinstadt  moved  south  to  produce  some  opera  programmes. I  don't  know  which  was  cart  and  which  was  horse  there. It  was  revived  in  1988  with  Welsby   now  as  main  host   and  initially  former  Manchester  City  boss  John  Bond  as  resident  pundit.

Bond  was  "resting"  between  jobs  after  being  sacked  by  Birmingham  City, the  latest  in  a  long  line  of  clubs  to  be  relegated  during  , or  not  long  after , Bond's  tenure  in  the  hot  seat  ( to  be  fair  he  did  slow  down  Swansea's  plummet  from  the  First  Division  and  can't  really  be  blamed  for  them  going  back  into  the  Fourth ). He  quite  obviously  didn't  want  to  be  there  and  Welsby  addressing  him  as  "Bondie"  clearly  irked  him  as  much  as  the  rest  of  us. His  mood  didn't  improve  as  the  first  show  incorporated  a  kangaroo  court  with  a  live  link  up  to  a  pub  in  Burnley  where  a  group  of  irate  Clarets  fans,  marshalled  by  the  less  than  impartial  Rob  McCaffrey, wanted  to  interrogate  him  about  his  spell  at  the  club  ( which  had  ended  more  than  four  years  before ). Bond's  major  crime  there  was  letting  go  of  future  internationals  like  Trevor  Steven  and  Lee  Dixon  and  replacing  them  with  past it  pro's  like  Joe  Gallagher  and  Peter  Hampton  on over-generous  contracts. Bond  defended  himself  as  best  he  could i.e  he  didn't  have  a  crystal  ball  to  tell  him  how  those  he  discarded  would  turn  out, and  he  was  as  animated  as  he  ever  got   on  the  programme. The  rest  of  us wondered  what  the  point  of  raking  over  all  this  old  news  was  if  it  wasn't   some   Burnley  fan  on  the  production  team  wanting   to  deliberately  antagonise  their  own  "talent".

Shortly  afterwards perhaps  the  very  next  programme, Welsby  read  out  some  controversial  news  item - I  can't remember  what  it  was  about  now - then  the  following  exchange  took  place :

WELSBY : What  do  you  make of  that,  Bondie ?

BOND : I'm speechless

( Long  awkward  pause )

WELSBY : Is  that  it ?


Bond  was  quietly  shuffled  off  the  programme  after  that  and the  competent  but  very  Man U  biased  commentator  Clive  Tyldesley  became  Welsby's  main  foil  after  that.  As  the  ageing  Brian  Moore  was  gradually  phased  off  screen  Welsby  rose  to  become  ITV's  main  football anchorman  despite  his  mullet  and  unimpressive  interviewing  skills. He  conducted a  toe- curling  interview with  the  Leeds  United  squad  after  winning  the  last  First  Division  title  in 1992, little  imagining  his   career  was  about  to  nosedive.

That  summer Sky  won  the  contract  to  show the  new  Premiership  games  and  the  Beeb  got  the  scraps  from  Murdoch's  table in  terms  of  showing  highlights. Match  of  the  Day  was  back, including  Sinstadt  as  a  match  reporter  until  his  arrest  for  masturbating  in  an  adult  cinema  a  couple  of  years  later, and  Welsby  was  relegated,  at  a  stroke,  back  to  regional  TV.

Kick  Off   switched  to  the  Saturday  lunch  time  slot  formerly  occupied  by  Saint  and  Greavsie. Of  course they  now  had  little  footage  of  the  big  guns  apart  from  League  Cup  games  so  the  smaller  clubs  got  a  more  generous  slice  of  the  cake  and  there  was  a  "Yesterdays  Hero"  feature  showing  archive  footage  which  was  usually  quite  interesting. Former  Dale  boss  Vic  Halom  was  an  early  subject .  Tranmere   Rovers  and  Stockport  County  got  a  disproportionate  amount  of  coverage  through  being  allowed  to  play  on  Friday  nights. The  main  problem  with  the  new  show  of  course  was  that  if  you  went  to away  games you  missed  every  other  show.

|In  the  late  nineties  it  moved  to  a Sunday  tea  time  slot, still  presented  by  Welsby, now  a  forlorn  greying  figure,  who'd  been  passed over  for  the  1994  World  Cup  and  subsequent  tournaments. His  interviewing  skills  hadn't  improved  and  he  upset  Alex Ferguson  by  a  tactless  comparison  with  David  |Moyes  which  started  with  the  reminder  that  neither  had  been  great  players. There  was  still  a  bias  towards the  |Merseyside  clubs  with  a  long  tribute to  Liverpool  coach  Ronnie  Moran,  a  very  obnoxious  character  whose  career  could  be  summed  up  in  the  phrase  "not  up  to  the  top  job". 

When  ITV  won  the  Premiership  highlights  contract  in  2000  there was  no  need  for  regional  football  programmes  so  Kick  Off  ceased  and  Welsby, unwanted  on  Des  Lynam's  team,   was  made  redundant. There  have  been  fleeting  glimpses  of  him  on  TV  since  but  his  career is  pretty  much  over. He  was  naff  but  it's  always  sad  when  someone's  put  out  to  grass  before  their  time.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

325 Granada Reports

First  viewed : Uncertain

I'm  not  sure  when  I  first  caught  this  but  I  think  I  would  have  chosen  this  over  Nationwide   as  part  of  that  Friday  night  schedule.

This  was / is  Granada's   version  of  Yorkshire's  Calendar  or  LWT's  Today  , a  half-hour  round-up  of  regional  news  and  events, sometimes  interesting  , sometimes  boring or  faintly  embarrassing. The  only  thing  that  made  it  stand  out  for  me  was  that  I  absolutely  hated  one  of  the  presenters  and  I  think  you  can  probably  guess  who  that  was.

At  this  point  in  time  I  didn't  have  a  clue  about  the  extracurricular  musical  activities  of  Tony  Wilson  ( as  he  then  was  )  ; he  was  just  this  super-aggravating  smarmy  git  with  an  awful  haircut  and  a  voice  and  delivery  that  insinuated  he  was  somehow  above  his  colleagues.

I  eventually  learned  to  tolerate  him  and  after  the  demise  of  Factory  made  him  more  vulnerable  I  grew  to  appreciate  what  he  tried  to  do  for  the  city  and  was  sad  when  he  passed  away.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

324 Fred Basset

First  viewed  :  January  1978

This  is  here  because  in  the  early  part  of  1978  I  established  a  pattern  that  Friday  night  was  telly  night. I'd  get  home , have  tea, get  into  pyjamas  and  then  watch  the  box  unbroken  from  the  tail  end  of  Crackerjack  to  the  beginning  of  the  regional  programme  on  BBC1  at  10.15pm.

At  the  start  of  this  period  the  programme  in  the  Magic  Roundabout  slot  was  Fred  Basset  which  had  first  been  shown  in  1976. It  brought  the  character  from  the  Daily  Mail  comic  strip (  which  is  still  going  ) to  the  small  screen. Fred  came  from  an  impeccably  middle  class  household  and  had  the  attitudes  to  match. The  TV  series  was  shortlived  and  made  very  little  impression  on  me.

Friday, 22 January 2016

323 Q7

First  viewed  : January  1978

I  watched  this  on  the  recommendation  of  a  school  friend  and  found  it  pretty  funny  although  there  were  only  six  episodes  and  I  don't  recall  at  what  point  I  tuned  in.

Q7  was  confusingly  the  third  in  a  row  of  six  series  of  surrealist  sketch  comedy  written  primarily  by  and  starring  Spike  Milligan.  It  was  filmed  in  front  of  a  live  studio  audience  and  included   many  fluffed  lines  and  a  fair  amount  of  corpsing  including  Milligan  himself. It  also  included  an  incongruous  "straight"  musical  interlude  and  regular  appearances  by  the  spectacularly-endowed  Julia  Breck  The  original  series  Q5  was  an  acknowledged  influence  on  Monty  Python's  Flying  Circus.  

I  don't  recall  tuning  in  for  any  of  the  subsequent  series. Probably  by  then  I'd  become  aware  of  the  Goons  and  all  the  hype  around  them  and  consequently  alienated  from  them  as  individuals  ( Secombe  particularly ).

Thursday, 21 January 2016

322 All Creatures Great And Small

First  viewed :  8  January  1978

Yorkshire  vet   James  Wigt  became  , in  late  middle  age , one  of  the  publishing  phenomena  of  the  seventies  with  his  loosely  autobiographical  series  of  novels  about  the  lives  of  three  country  vets  in  the  Yorkshire  Dales  of  the  1930s  and  40s  under  the  name "James  Herriot" . My  mum  loved  them  and  as  she  was  terrible  at  taking  care  of  books, we  became  used  to  finding  bits  of  them  all  over  the  house. She  persuaded  me  to  go  and watch  the  1975  film  All  Creatures  Great  and  Small  when  it  was  shown  in  Rochdale  as  a  double  bill  with  a  wildlife  film,  Beautiful  People.  ( Interestingly,  Herriott  never  actually  wrote  a  novel  with  that  title- it  was  given  to  an  American  compilation  of  the  first  two  , If  Only  They Could  Talk  and It  Shouldn't  Happen  To  A  Vet.  I  found  the  film  really  boring  as  a  10  year  old  and  much  preferred  the  documentary  feature. I  didn't  bother  with  the follow  up  film  It  Shouldn't  Happen  To  A Vet  a  year  later.

The  young  Wigt/ Herriott  was  played  by  the  unknown  Christopher  Timothy  after  both  the film  Herriots  ( Simon  Ward  and  John  Alderton )  and  Richard  Beckinsale  had  turned  down  the  role. His  fictionalised  partners  were  the  eccentric  and  temperamental  Siegfried ( Robert  Hardy )  and  his  much-younger  and  more  likable  brother  Tristran ( Peter Davison  in  his  breakthrough  role ). His  wife  Helen  was  played  by  the  attractive  but  mumsy  Carol  Drinkwater.  With  much  of  the  action  taking  place  in  a  small  village  there  were  plenty  of  other characters  who  appeared  in  more  than  one  episode  most  memorably  Mrs  Pumphrey  the  elderly  widow  doting  on  the  poodle  Tricky-woo.

This  was  quintessential  feelgood  Sunday  night  TV  though  some  of  the  stories  were  quite  poignant. The  one  where  James  accepts  payment  from  an  impoverished  man  in  the  form  of a  cigar  and  then  smokes  it  when  he  dies  was  the  only  episode  I  recognised  from  the film. I  watched  it  pretty  regularly  as  there  wasn't  a  cat  in  hell's  chance  of  changing  channel  and  enjoyed  the  irrepressible  Tristran's  storylines  but  otherwise  it  left  me  pretty  cold. I  thought  Siegfried  was  an  appalling  character  and   James  and  Helen  a  bit  cloying.

Of  course  the  one  everyone  remembers  is  Peter  Davison  sticking his  hand  up  a  cow's  nether regions  to  deliver a  calf, apparently  for  real  although  it  has  been suggested  that  Davison's  histrionics  are  a  bit  exaggerated. It  was  certainly  much  talked  about  in  the  playground  the  following  Monday  morning.

After  three  immensely  popular  series  the  programme  had  more  or  less  caught  up  with  Wigt  and  the  series  had  to  stop  for  want  of  material  apart  from  two  Christmas  specials  in  1983  and  1985. Its  impact  was  profound; three  years  after  the  series  halted  in  1980,  veterinary  studies  was  the  hardest  degree  course  to  get  on  to  with  three  straight  A's  in  relevant  subjects  the  minimum   requirement.

Eventually  Wigt  agreed  to  let  the  Beeb  come  up  with  its  own  stories  and  the  series  was  resurrected  in  1988. Drinkwater  had  taken  up  environmental  activism  in  the  meantime  and  didn't  want  to  reprise  her  role  ( she  eventually  returned  to  acting  and  a  successful  second  career  as  a  writer ). Her  controversial  replacement  was  Linda  Bellingham  then  best  known  for  a  series  of  annoying  adverts  for  Oxo  gravy.

I  never  tuned  in  for  the  revived  series  and  can't  remember  if  mum  did  either.  It  eventually  ended  with  a  Christmas  special in  1990. Davison  of  course  was  Dr  Who   during  the   hiatus  in  the  series  and  remains  a  bankable  TV  actor. Hardy  remained  a  top  character  actor  , much  in  demand  for  patrician  roles  in  historical  dramas  though  he  seems  to  have  retired  now, having  turned  90  a  few  months  back. Timothy's  had  a  much  harder  time  of  it  with  a  six  year  stint  in   daytime soap  Doctors   the  most  substantial  thing  on his  cv.  The  Yorkshire  ton  of  Thirsk  and  its  environs  still  have  a  thriving  tourist  industry  based  on  the series  and  its  author. Wigt  himself  died  in  1995. He  would  have  turned  100  this  year.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

321 Logan's Run

First  viewed :  7  January  1978

More  dystopian  sci-fi  but  this  was  pretty  tame  stuff  compared  to  Blake's  7.

It  was  a  spin-off  from  the  1976  movie  covered  in  my  film  blog  ( in  the  Jenny  Agutter  post  of  course )  and  used  some  of  the  same  sets  though  none  of  the  original  cast. Gregory  Harrison  replaced  Michael  York  as  Logan, Randy  Powell  replaced  Richard  Jordan  as  Francis  and  Heather  Menzies, hitherto  best  known  as  one  of  the  kids  in  The  Sound  Of  Music ,  replaced  Agutter  as  Jessica.  The  other  regular  character , Rem  , the  affable  android  played  by  Donald  Moffat   didn't  feature  in  the  film  at  all.

The  pilot  obviously  had  to  reprise  the  original  story  to  some  extent  for  those  who  hadn't  seen  the  film  but  did  this  economically - the  suspicious  plastic  surgeon  and  Box the  robot  were   completely  excised - and  introduced a  new  element  in  having  a  hidden  council  of  elders  who  induce  Francis  to  pursue  the  couple  for  personal  gain.  They  do  go  to  the  Capitol  building  but  instead  of  meeting  Peter  Ustinov  they  uncover  a  futuristic  hovercraft  in  which  to  travel  around. From  that  point  the  series  leaves  the  film  behind  although  one  episode  does  involve  Logan  returning  to  the  city. The  rest  of  the  pilot  sees  the  couple  having  two  mild  adventures, the  second  one  of  which  results  in  them  acquiring  Rem  as  a  travelling  companion  and,  more  often  than  not,  handy  saviour . Francis  is  their  regular  adversary  but  he  doesn't  appear  in  every  episode  and  sometimes  is  forced  to  work  with  them  against  a  common  enemy.

The  general  structure  of  an  episode  was  that  Logan  and  Jessica  would  bump  into  that  week's  guest  star  who  would  generally  have  sinister  intentions  and  often  be  an  alien  and  then  have  to  be  rescued  by  Rem  or  Francis. The  guest  stars  included  The  Magnificent  Seven's  Horst  Bucholz  and  Kim  Cattrall .

Logan's  Run   fitted  into  the  same  sci-fi   genre  as  things  like  The  Six  Million  Dollar  Man   and  Man  from  Atlantis  but  it  was  also  a  prime  example  of  so-called  "jiggle  TV" . The  delectable  Ms  Menzies  - and  it's  a  very  tough  call  who  you'd  take  between  her  and  Jenny - wore  what  was  basically  just  a  short  pink  nightie  and  a  pair  of  knickers   for  a  role  that  required  a  lot  of  running, jumping  and  bathing  and  she  certainly  caught  the  eye. Menzies, who'd  already  done  a  Playboy  spread  was  unfazed  and  said  the  well-ventilated  costume  was  an  advantage  when  they  were  shooting  scenes  in  the  desert.

The  series  was  expensive  to  make  and  inevitably  short-lived ; only  14  episodes  including  the  pilot  were  made. It  was  fun  at  the  time  but  I  can't  say  I  felt  cheated  when  it  disappeared. Harrison  has  had  a  long  steady  career  in  US  television  ever  since  with  the  occasional  film  role  such  as  the  lead  part  in  Razorback.  Menzies  had  the  lead  female  role  in  Piranha   ,made  around  the  same  time  as  Logan's  Run   but  let  her  own  career  run  down  in  the  eighties  as  she  had  three  children  with  Robert  Urich  who  we'll  meet  soon  enough. Since  his  death  she's  run  a  charitable  foundation.  Moffat  maintained  a  long  career  as  a  character  actor , most  notably  as  the  US  President  in  Clear  and  Present  Danger  ,but  retired  around  a  decade  ago. Powell  made  a  big  impression  in  his  one  season  in  Dallas  particularly  for  the  amount  of  chest  hair  he  unveiled  in  his  bedroom  scenes   but  quickly  faded  after  that  and  since  the  late  eighties  his  acting  credits  have  been  few  and  far  between.

Monday, 18 January 2016

320 Gangsters

First  viewed : 6  January  1978

Back  to  late  night  adult  drama  with  this  six-part  serial  which  took  over  Target's  post-watershed  Friday  night  slot. I  remember  Gangsters  semi-fondly  though  I could  hardly  make  head  or  tail  of  it. I  realise  now  that  was  partly  because  I  hadn't  seen  the  Play  for  Today   original  drama  in  1975  or  the  serial  that  it  led  to  a  year  later  so  there  was  a  fair  bit  of  back  story  I  was  missing.

What  seemed  to  be  going  on  was  that  a  man who  could  take  care  of  himself  John  Kline  ( Mauirce  Colbourne  )   was  caught  in  a  no-man's  land  in  the  Birmingham  underworld,  semi-co-operating  with  an  Asian policeman  called  Khan ( Ahmed  Khalil ) and  a  black  American  girl  Sarah  Gant  (Alibe  Parsons )   against  a  whole  host  of  villains  from  every  different  race  on  the  planet. He  also  had  a  flaky  white  girlfriend  Anne  ( Elisabeth  Cassidy )  to  keep  out  of  trouble. As  the  series  progressed  his  most  dangerous  adversaries  turned  out  to  be  a  Chinese  Triad  gang  who  sent  out  a series  of  asssassins  to  nail  him,  each  one  more  bizarre  than  the  last. In  the  end  Kline  was  bumped  off  by  a  mere  touch  from  a  man  pretending  to  be  WC  Fields  - actually  it  was  the  series'  writer  Philip  Martin  who  then  took  a  wrecking  ball  to  the  fourth  wall  by  having  a  gravestone  dedicated  to  the  makers  of  Gangsters  at  Kline's  funeral  and  then  Cassidy  walking  off  set  and  followed  backstage  to  her  dressing  room in  a  post-modernist  grand  gesture.

I  think  Mum  might  have  watched  a  small portion  of  it  because  she  identified  one  of  the  thugs,  Sturt,  as  ex-boxer  Terry  Downes. The  character  could  only  speak  by  pressing  a  battery  operated  device  to  his  neck; I  don't  know  if  this  was  as  a  result  of  events  in  the  previous  series . He  didn't  last  long  in  this  one  as  he  dropped  his  own  petrol  bomb  on  his  foot . I  liked  the  way  he  had  the  presence  of  his  mind  to  use  the  device  to  say  "Oh. Shit"  as  he  erupted  in  flames.

There  was  another  scene  I  didn't  quite  get  where  Sarah  was  lying  on  her  back  apparently  undergoing  some  sort  of  torture  but   not  seeming  to  mind  too  much. I  realise  now  I  was  watching  my  first  sex  scene,  filmed  from  the  POV  of  her  rogerer . If  he'd  been  in  the  shot  I  might  have  twigged  what  was  going  on  as  I'd  been  told  the  mechanics of  the  act  but  I  had  no  concept  of  the  orgasm  and  didn't  come  across  the  word  until  the  other  end  of  the  year.

The  other  reason  I  was  struggling  to  make  sense  of  Gangsters  is  that  no  one  else  was  watching  it . All  my  peers  were  glued  to  Bodie  and  Doyle  on  the  other  channel  so  it  seemed  like  quite  a  perverse  act  for  me  to  stick  with  it.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

319 A Traveller In Time

First  viewed  :  5  January  1978

We're  not  quite  done  with  kids  TV  yet.  This   was  a  five  part  serial  about  a  20th  century  girl  Penelope,  played  by  Sophie  "sister  of  Emma"  Thompson , who  goes  to  stay  at  her  uncle's  Elizabethan  farm  and  finds  herself  transported  back  400  years  to  the  time  of  the  Babingtons  who  were  leaders  in  the  final   conspiracy  to  replace  Elizabeth  I  with  Mary  Queen  of  Scots  which  resulted  in  the  latter's  execution.

Penelope  forms  a  friendship  with  younger  brother  Francis  ( Simon  Gipps-Kent  again )   and  knowing  how  the  plot  ended   frets  over  whether  she  can  change  the  course  of  history. I  can't  remember  how  it  was  resolved  but  as  the  real-life  Francis  was  not  implicated  in  the  plot  and  was  allowed  to  succeed  to  his  brother's  estate  I  guess  it  had  a  reasonably  happy  ending.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

318 Blake's 7

First  viewed  : 2  January  1978

This  is  another  all  time  favourite. With  anticipation  building  for  the  release  of  Star  Wars ,  I  was already  buying  ( for  a  short  time ) 2000  AD  and  science  fiction  novels   and  tuning  back  into  Dr  Who   before  the  first  episode  The  Way  Back  was  screened  in  January  1978. Blake's  7   was  the  creation  of  Dalek  creator  Terry  Nation  who  was  granted  a  13  part  series  although  his  suggestion  that  the  Dalek's  feature  in  it  was  rejected. Instead  the  villain  was  The  Federation  a  totalitarian  government   - more  of  the  left  than  the  right  though  this  not  explicitly  stated -  that  repressed  its  citizens  and  murdered  them  when  they  got  uppity  about  it.

In  the  first  episode  Blake  ( Gareth  Thomas  ) a  docile  citizen  is  persuaded  by  a  work  colleague  Ravella  ( Gillian  Bailey  from  Here  Come  The  Double  Deckers   though  I  didn't  recognise  her )  to  abstain  from  food  and  then  venture  into  an  off-limits  area  on  the  promise  of  finding  out  something  about  his  missing  family. He  is  brought  into  a  secret  assembly  of  dissidents   and  introduced  to  a  man  called  Foster  who  reveals  that  they  were  actually  comrades  in  a  guerilla  movement  fighting  the  Federation who  have  subsequently  brainwashed  and  drugged  him  into  pacifically  accepting  the  status  quo  and  by  the  by  murdered  his  family  too. A  befuddled  Blake  wanders  away  to  collect  his  thoughts  and  so  narrowly  avoids  a  massacre  of  the  entire  gathering,  including  Foster  and  Ravella,  by  Federation  troops, orchestrated  by  a  double  agent  called  Tarrant. Apprehended  as  he  returns  to  the  city  the  Feds  arrange  a  show  trial  where  Blake  is  found  guilty  of  paedophilia  and  sentenced  to  life  in  a  penal  colony  at  the  far  end  of  the  empire. Tarrant  arranges  the  murder  of  Blake's  defence  lawyer  and  his  wife  when  they  get  too  close  to  the  truth  and the  prison  ship  takes  off .  Blake , memory  now fully  restored,  vows  to  return.  

I  can't  remember  any  other  first  episode  which  had  a  comparable  effect  on  me  and  it  seemed  a  very  long  week  waiting  for  episode  2. I  was  overwhelmed  by  the  bleakness  of  it. In  particular  the  death  of  pretty  young  Ravella  ( Bailey  was  only  22 ), impassively  blasted  in  the  abdomen by  an  anonymous  masked  trooper  just  following  orders,  shocked  me  more  than  anything  in  Target  or  Secret  Army  (  I acknowledge  there  may  have  been  an  early  sexual  response  in  there  ).

Blake's  7  was  consistently  surprising  and  the  first  unexpected  twist   was  that  the  events  of  the  first  episode  were  immediately  forgotten  within  the  series. Apart  from  Jenna  and  Vila  who  are  briefly  introduced  towards  the  end  of  the  episode,  none  of  the  characters  reappear  or  are  even  mentioned   again. I  longed  for  Blake  to  return  to  Earth  and  avenge  Ravella's  murder  by  taking  out   the  treacherous  Tarrant   but  when  the  latter's  name  was  used  for  a  completely  different  character  at  the  start  of  the  third  series  I  had  to  accept  that  wasn't  going  to  happen.

The  Way  Back  set  the  tone  for  the  rest  of  the  series. There  was  none  of  Star  Trek's  Peace  Corps  optimism  here.  Instead  of  Kirk's  insufferable  moralising,  you  had  Blake's  glassy-eyed  fanaticism, determined  to  bring  the  Federation  down  whatever  the  cost  in  human  life . None  of  the   band  he  mustered  over  the  next  three  episodes  were  people  you'd  particularly  want  as  friends. Gorgeous  blonde  Jenna  ( Sally  Knyvette)  had  the  smug  invulnerability  of  the  gangster's  moll.  Cynical  computer  genius  Avon  ( Paul  Darrow)  was  ruthless  and  self-seeking. Career  criminal  Vila  ( Michael  Keating )  was  a  lecherous  coward. Androgynous  alien  telepath  Cally  ( Jan  Chappell  who  vied  with  Legs  and  Co's  Lulu  for  the  title  of  most  flat-chested  woman  on  seventies  TV )  had  the  icy  hauteur  of  the  superior  species  ( though  this  was  softened  as  the  series  progressed ). Loyal  lunkhead  Gan  ( David  Jackson  ) didn't  really  fit  the  frame  and  was  killed  off  halfway  through  the  second  series.

In  the  sixth  episode  two  regular  Federation  antagonists  were  introduced. The  army's  Supreme  Commander  was  Servalan, a  short-haired  psychopath  played  with  relish  by  Hammer  alumnus  Jacqueline  Pearce .  She  was  after  power  for  its  own  sake  and  was  so  sadistic  that  later  attempts  to  humanise  her  just  didn't  ring  true. Her  principal  agent  was  a  space  commander  Travis ( Stephen  Grief  then  Brian  Croucher )  , out  for  revenge  after  being  maimed  by  Blake  in  an  earlier  encounter. He  was  brutal  but  at  least  had  a  residual  sense of  loyalty  and  some  concern  for  his  crews. In  the  second  series  he  becomes  as  hacked  off  with  the  Federation  as  Blake  but  chooses  to  let  some  nasty  aliens  in  to  destroy  it  rather  than  join  the  outlaws. The  other  Federation characters  were  generally  venal  and  infinitely  corruptible  but  occasionally  allowed  humane  characteristics  such  as  the  prison  ship's  captain  Leylan  who  unwittingly  facilitated  Blake's  escape  by  sending  him  on to  an  abandoned  space  craft.

This  turns  out  to  be  more  technologically  advanced  than  anything  in  the  Federation  fleet  , particularly  the  teleportation  system,  and  allows  Blake  and  his  crew  to  remain  one  step  ahead  of  them. The  Liberator was  operated  by  the  benign  Zen, the  first  of  three  computer-characters  all  voiced  by  Peter  Tuddenham   who  made  up  the  titular  seven.

Once  all  this  was  established  the  stories  generally  became  a  cat  and  mouse  game  with  the  outlaws  seeking  out  new  technology  which  could  give  them   a  decisive  advantage, usually  in  direct  competition  with  Servalan  wanting  the  same  thing  for  her  own  nefarious  purposes. These  were  though  interspersed  with  a  number  of  standalone  episodes  which  didn't  feature  the  Federation  at  all  but  developed  the  theme  of  moral  ambiguity  that  ran  through the  whole  series. Genuinely  decent  people  in  the  series  could  only  be  found  in  the  guest  stars  and  usually  met  with  the  ultimate  punishment  for  their  foolishness. In  episode  10  a  space  station  bolt-hole  staffed  almost   entirely  by  benign,  unaligned  doctors  was  blown  to  smithereens.

The  crew's  biggest  triumph,  in  the  last  episode  of  the  first  series  was  capturing  Orac, a  super-computer  who  was  basically  the  internet  in  a  plastic  box. Although  he  was  often  the  agent  of  their  salvation  in  subsequent  episodes , his  first  contribution  was  to  show  them  a  vision  of  the  apparent  destruction  of  the  Liberator  as  a  suitable  cliffhanger  for  the  end  of  the  first  series.

Season  Two  followed  on  much  the  same  lines  although  Nation's  involvement  was  much  reduced  with  ten  of  the  thirteen  episodes  written  by  others. At  the  end  of  it  Travis  was  finally  killed, though  by  Avon  not  Blake,  and  the   crew  ended  up  fighting  with  the  Federation  against  the  invading  aliens.

Change  was  forced  on  the  third  season  as  both  Thomas  and  Knyvette  chose  to  quit  and  so  Blake's  7  no  longer  featured  Blake  apart  from  a  couple  of  guest  appearances  in  the  final  episodes  of  the  subsequent  series. However  it  became  more  popular  without  him  as  Avon,  always  the  more  interesting  character, had  to  take  on  his  mantle  having  spent  most  of  the  previous  two  series  looking  for  a  way  out  of  the  struggle. Their  replacements  were  the  aforementioned  Tarrant  ( Stephen  Pacey )  taking  over  Jenna's  role  as  pilot, an  arrogant  bully  and  cold-blooded  murderer  to  boot,  and  Dayna  ( Josette  Simon )  a  headstrong  young  weaponry  expert   after  Servalan's  blood   for  the  murder  of  her  father  in  the  opening  episode.

The  quality  of  the  writing  did  become  a  bit  variable. Blake  and  Jenna's  separation  from  the  rest  of  the  crew  was  not  satisfactorily  explained  and  episode  6 ,  Rumours  of  Death , was  the  low  point  of  the  series, a  messy  resolution   to   Avon's  back  story  in  which  the  crew  , including  the  supposedly  blood-crazed  Dayna  unaccountably  released  Servalan  when  she  was  at  their  mercy.  The  series  ended  with  the  apparent   Pyrrhic  triumph  of  Servalan , now  President  of  the  Federation  after  a  coup , who  lured  the  crew  to  a  planet  called  Terminal  with  a  hologram  of  Blake  and  abandoned  them  there  while  she  commandeered  the  Liberator.
Unbeknown  to  her  the  ship  was  on  the  point  of  destruction  and  she  was  apparently  killed  ( with  Zen )  while  the  crew  faced  a  bleak  future  on  an  inhospitable  planet   alone  with  some  hostile  degenerated  humans.

That  was  supposed  to  be  the  end  of  the   series  but  BBC  Controller   Bill  Cotton   unilaterally  announced  a  fourth  season  to  the  surprise  of  cast  and  crew. Chappell  didn't  want  to  be  in  it  and  was  killed  off  ( unseen )  in  the  opening  episode. She  was  replaced  by  the  much  sexier  Soolin ( Glynis  Barber )  a  laconic  mercenary.  Season  Four  was  written  quite  hastily  ( without  Nation  who  was  now  in  Hollywood )  and  that  did  show . The  opening  episode  in  which  the crew  ( minus  Cally )  are  rescued  by  a  sinister  salvage  man  named   Dorian  was  largely  based  on  The  Picture  of  Dorian  Gray  and  Soolin  only  appeared  as  an  afterthought in  the  following  episode. Dorian's  apparent  immortality  allowed  him  to  equip  his  routine  carrier  Scorpio   with  improbably  advanced  features  so  that  it  became  roughly  equivalent  to  the  Liberator  with  a  computer,  Slave,  who  had  the  personality  of  Uriah  Heap.  Servalan,  had  equally  improbably  survived  the  Liberator's  implosion ,  but  been  deposed  in  her  absence  and  now  operated  under  an  alias  Sleer  and  so  the  struggle  continued. This  was  the  central  weak  point  of  the  whole  season  ; once  they  knew  Sleer's  identity, why  didn't  they  just  expose  her  and  let  the  new  guys  in  charge  eliminate  their  mortal enemy ?  

The  final  episode,  broadcast  just  before  Christmas  1981, saw  Avon  leading  the  crew  to  a  remote  planet  called  Gauda  Prime  where  Blake  is  masquerading  as  a  bounty  hunter. Scorpio was  attacked  and  destroyed  on  approach  and  the  crew  scattered. When  they  eventually  re-congregated  Tarrant  believed  that  Blake  had  betrayed  them ( it  was  actually  his  companion  a  Federation  double  agent )  and  so  Avon  killed  him,  triggering  an  ambush  by  Federation  troops  ( not  led  by  Servalan ; Pearce  was  reportedly  outraged  that  Servalan  didn't  appear  in  the  finale )   who  polished  them  off . And  so  the  series  ended  as  it  began, with  a  massacre. At  least  this  time  they  were  armed.

It's  intensely  aggravating  to  find  Blake's  Seven  featuring  on  the  likes  of  It  Was  Alright  in  the  Seventies  where  they  round  up  some  half-educated , twentysomething,  no-marks  to  jeer  and  guffaw  at  the  not-so-special  effects  and  primitive  computer  graphics . That's  because  they  only  had  your  parents  licence  money  to  spend , you  morons ! Blake's  7  never  set  out  to  dazzle you  with  technical   wizardry  -  the  "creeping  carpet"  monster  in  The  Harvest  of  Kairos is  so  bad  it's  classic -  its  strengths  lay  in  the  inventiveness  of  the  storylines  , the  strong  characterisations  and  the  interplay  between  the  regular  cast. Avon's  withering  putdowns   of  the  hapless  but  indispensable  Vila, the  latter's  mordant  fourth  wall-tickling  reflections  on  their  plight, Cally's  moral  qualms  and   Avon's  alpha  male  rivalry,  first  with  Blake  then  Tarrant   were  all  brilliantly  written  and  performed  by  a  capable  cast.

Nonetheless  Blake's  7 was  coruscatingly  grim. Even  the  insanely  clever  Avon  could  never  find  an  escape  from  the  unrelenting   toil  of   endless  fight-or-flight  decision-making. That's  why  he's  smiling  as  the   troops  close  in  for  the  kill  in  the  final  shot. Only  death  can  release  you  from  all  this. Blake's  7  was  very  much  a  product  of  its  time ; all  three  Joy  Division  albums  were  released  during  its  run  and  would  have  made  a  great  soundtrack  to  the  series .

Conversely  Blake's  7 's   lifespan  was  roughly  coterminous  with  the  happiest  period  of  my  life.  Perhaps  that  allowed  me  to  indulge  in  some  gloom  tourism  and  if  it  had  been  shown  at  some  other  time  I'd  have  found  its  pessimism  indigestible.

Although  I  watched  the  first  episode  alone  I  persuaded  my  mum  and  sister  to  tune  in  for  the  next  and  they  were  quickly  just  as  hooked. My  sister  took  a  particular  shine  to  Paul  Darrow  and  I  think  has  an  autographed  publicity  card  somewhere. As  she's  quite  likely  to  read  this  I  won't  say  any  more.

In  the  subsequent  years  I was  disappointed  that,  despite  the  popularity  of  the  series , its  stars,  having  given  me  so  much  pleasure  , didn't  seem  able  to  capitalise  on  it.  Thomas,  who  seemed  to  age  drastically  once  the  series  finished,  returned  to  the  theatre  with  occasional  guest  star  roles  in  things  like  Casualty  where  my  mum  would  invariably  recognise  him  before  I  did.  We'll  meet  Darrow  again  soon  in  a  period  drama  but  he  too  remains  a  jobbing  actor  who  does  a  lot  of  voice  over  work; I  last  saw  him  in  Hollyoaks  which  is  very  sad. Pearce  was  no  spring  chicken  so  Servalan  was  her  last  sexy  role  but  she  continued  working  as  a  character  actress; after  a  brush  with  cancer  but  now  lives  in  retirement  in  South  Africa. Keating,  whose  comic  timing  was  excellent,  has  been  criminally  under-employed  since;  I  don't  think  I've  seen  him  since  a  nothing  role  as  a  security  officer  in  Yes  Minister  though  I   believe  he's  been  in  Eastenders  as  a  vicar. Pacey,  too  took  up  the  cloth  in  an  ITV  sitcom  whose  name  I've  forgotten  but  has  since  carved  out  a  niche  narrating  audiobooks.  Knyvette,  who  went  to  university  after  leaving  the  show,  had  a  regular  role  as  Joe  Sugden's  wife  in  Emmerdale  Farm  for  a  time  and  has  since  appeared  briefly  in  other  soaps.  Chappell  remains  a  jobbing  actor  on  stage  and  screen  ( I  spotted  her  in  Reilly:Ace  of  Spies  )  as  were  Jackson  and  Tuddenham  until  their  deaths  in  2005  and  2007  respectively.

The  younger   women  actually  did  best. I  saw  Simon, less  than  a  year  after  the  series  finished  as  one  of  the  witches  in  a  rather  rum  production  of  the  Scottish  play  at  Stratford  and  is  a  highly  regarded  stage  actress  who  received  an  OBE  in  2000.  Barber  is  the  only  one  who's  better  remembered  for  a  different  TV  role,  as  the  female  star  of  Dempsey  and  Makepeace   and she  also    appeared  in  the  titular  role  of  Jane  in  the  BBC  adaptation  of  the  wartime  cartoon. She  too  has  had  a  stint  in  Emmerdale  and  amongst  other  film  roles   appeared  in  the  1983   remake  of  The  Wicked  Lady  where  she  insisted  on  a  body  double  rather  than  have  her  boobies  fondled  by  Oliver  Tobias.