Sunday, 31 January 2016
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.