Saturday, 30 April 2016

388 Kids

First  viewed  :  Spring  1979

This  is  one  that  seems  to  have  slipped  out  of  popular  memory,  perhaps  because  it  was  in  the  wrong  time  slot. 9 p.m.  on  a  Friday  evening   really   wasn't  the  right  place  for  an  earnest, hard  hitting  drama  about  difficult  children  being  sent  to  an  assessment  centre   run  by  James  Hazeldine.  Each  episode  was  a  self-contained   story  about  a  particular  child  based  on  a  real  life  case.

 By  this  time  spending  Friday  evenings  at  my  gran's  ( who  lived  ten  minutes'  walk  away )  had  become  a  routine  and  I  chiefly  remember  this  coming  on  as  a  cue  to  go  home. Therefore  I'm  not  sure  if  I  ever  watched  an  episode  right  through  to  the  finish.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

387 Out

First  watched :  25 April  1979

This  had  been  originally  broadcast  in  1978  but  I  picked  up  on  it  during  its  first  repeat  in  April   1979  and  was  instantly  grabbed,  despite  coming  in  halfway  through  the  series. I  eventually  saw  those  first  episodes  when  the  series  was  repeated  again  in ( I  think ) 1983.

Out  was  a  six  part  crime  drama  from  Euston  films   but  told  from  the  point  of  view  of  a  villain, Frank  Ross  ( Tom  Bell )  who's  just  got  out  of  jail  after  an  eight  year  stretch  for  a  bank  robbery where  the  police  were  waiting. Frank  wants  to  know  who  grassed  him  up  and  doggedly  follows  the  trail  to  the  answer. Frank  is  a  villain  of  the  old  school  who  doesn't  sell  out  his  mates  or  relish  violence   but  wants  an  answer  particularly  as  his  family  has  disintegrated  in  his  absence.

Watching  Out  now   seems  like  a  guilty  pleasure  with  its  regular  outbursts  of  violence  and  casually  racist  and  sexist  dialogue. It's  also  a  wonderful  nostalgia  trip  into  the  world  of  Down  In  The  Tube  Station  , Ford  Granadas, vandalised  telephone  boxes  and  hit  men  in  beige  raincoats. Above  all  that  though  it's  still  an  absorbing  and  exciting  drama  that  sustains  its   grip  to  the  end  with  a  brilliant , BAFTA -nominated  central  performance. Tom  Bell,  a  picture  of  tight-lipped   self  control  and  latent  menace, was  henceforth  one  of  my  favourite  actors  right  up  to  his  death.

Having  said  that  all  the  performances  are  top  notch. Frank's  main  adversaries  are  icy , peroxide  blonde  crime  boss  McGrath  ( Brian  Cox )  who  secretly  idolises  him  and  cynical, loveless  police inspector  Bryce  ( Norman  Rodway )  whose  contempt  for  Ross  leads  him  to  stray  over  the  line. Both  are  impeccable  as  are  comedy  actor  John  Junkin  as  Frank's  thuggish  associate  and  Derek  O  Connor  as  McGrath's  sadistic  hatchet man.

I  remember  my  friend  Stephen  being  very  amused  by  the  scene  where  Frank's  wayward  son  Paul  ( Andrew  Paul )  has  a  piss  on  the  front  porch  then  tells  his  foster  "I'm  making  the  milk  bottles  grow". My  favourite   bit  was  the  scene  where  Frank's   beleaguered  mate  Chris  ( Brian  Croucher )  takes  a  swing  at  the   mild-mannered  repo  man  played  by  Norman  Eshley   who's   come  for  his  car. Eshley  then  calmly  proceeds  to  beat  the  shit  out  of  him  without  breaking  sweat.

In  the  end  Frank  was  able  to  take  Bryce  down  but  McGrath  slipped  away , leaving  the  door  wide  open  for  a  sequel . It  never  materialised   because  Bell  refused  to  revisit  the  part  so  the  series  remains  a   one-off  classic .

It's  interesting  to  note  that  its  director  Jim  Goddard  went  on  to  direct  infamously  poor  Madonna  vehicle  Shanghai  Surprise   some  years  later.


Saturday, 23 April 2016

386 1979 General Election

First  viewed  : April  1979

Once  the  Easter  holidays  were  over  we  were  into  a  general  election  campaign  in  earnest. It  seemed  like  a  long  time  since  the  last  one, Jim  Callaghan  managing  to  keep  his  government  going  to  near  term   despite  losing  his  parliamentary  majority  some  time  back. There  was  no  sense  during  the  campaign  of  just  how  epochal  this  particular  election  was  going  to  be.

I  was  more  engaged  this  time  round  without  being  fully  committed  one  way  or  the  other, unlike  my  parents  who  needed  the  Conservatives'  promised  Assisted  Places  scheme  to  keep  my  sister  at  her   independent  grammar  school. However  my  Dad  was  agonising  over  his  vote  because  our  Labour  MP  Joel  Barnett  ( he  of  Scottish  funding  formula  fame ) had  been  very  helpful  in  securing  his  early  retirement  from  teaching  and  he  may  have  abstained   because  of  that.

I  remember  Barnett  and  the  council  candidate  David  Moffat  ( who  later  had  a  small  part  in  the  John  Stalker  affair )  coming  into  the   shelter  in  Littleborough  Square   where  I  was  waiting  for  the  bus  to  Rochdale  and  him  shaking  everybody's  hand  but  mine. I  obviously  wasn't  old  enough  to  vote  but  it  wouldn't  have  hurt  him. I  liked  his  politics  and  people  who  knew  him  said  he  was  a  nice  guy  but  that  always  rankled  a  bit.

I  watched  some  of  the  party political  broadcasts   this  time  round  including  the  famous  Saatchi  and  Saatchi  one   emphasising  Labour's  high  unemployment  figures. It  was  a  valid  political  point; they  just  left  out  the  bit  about  doubling  them  once  they  got  into  power. I  also  saw  the  Liberal  one  presented  by  neighbouring  MP  Cyril  Smith  in  what  was  a  very  difficult  election  for  them  after  the  Jeremy  Thorpe  scandal.

Saatchi  and  Saatchi  did  bring  a  new  professionalism  to  political  campaigning  which  helped  the  Conservatives  steal  a  march  on  their  opponents  but  it  was  really  the  Winter  of  Discontent  that  did  for  Labour, the  electorate  giving  the  Tories  a  clear  mandate  to  tackle  the  unions. Margaret  Thatcher  went  to  Downing  Street  and  made  one  of  the  most  inappropriate   political  speeches  of  all  time  when  she  promised  to  act  as  St  Francis  of  Assisi. Yeah,  right.

  The  most  prominent   losers  were  Thorpe  whose  constituents  decided  that  a  man  about  to  stand  trial  for  conspiracy  to  murder  wasn't  the  best  person  to  represent  them  , the  SNP  who  lost  most  of  their  seats  after  siding  with  the  Tories  in  the  vote  of  confidence  to put  Callaghan  out  and  Labour's  education  secretary  Shirley  Williams  who  was  surprisingly  turfed   out  at  Stevenage .    

Friday, 22 April 2016

385 The British Rock And Pop Awards

First  viewed :   11  April  1979

This  cheap  and  cheerful  annual  awards  show  for  the  pop  industry  is  often  mistakenly  thought  of  as   the  forerunner  of  the  Brits. In  fact  the  show  was  nothing  to  do  with  the  British  Phonographic  Industry,  which  didn't  have  its  own   ceremony  for  the  first  three  years  this  was  on  ( perhaps  to  avoid  giving  any  gongs  to  those  awkward  punk  types )  and  then,  in  1983  and  1984,  held  their   shindig  at  a  different  venue  on  the  same  nights !

The  British  Rock  and  Pop  Awards   was  a  joint  venture  between  Radio  One, Nationwide  and  The  Daily  Mirror,  which  unlike  the  Brits   handed  out  the  gongs  for  Best  Single, Best  Album , Best  Group, Best  Male  Singer  , Best  Female  Singer  and  Best  Family  Entertainer  based  on  the  public  vote  ( so  you  didn't  get  Annie  Lennox  winning  in  years  when  she  didn't  have  a  record  out ). The  public  were  slightly  steered  by  preview  features  on  Nationwide  ( which  made  it  worth  watching  for  once )   in  the  weeks  leading  up  to  the  show. There  were  also  two  special  awards  for  All  Round  Pop  Personality  voted  by  just   the  Mirror  readers  and  an  award  given  by  the  Radio  One  disc  jockeys  for  an  outstanding  contribution  to  music.

Unlike  the  Brits,  the  artists   normally  behaved  themselves  and  there  were  no  real  Jarvis  Cocker  moments  in  the  six  years  it  was  on. Kate  Bush  had  a  near  monopoly  of  the  Best  Female  Singer  Award  in  the  early  years ,  Nick  Lowe and  Jerry  Dammers  were  worthy  winners  of  the  first  two  DJ  trophies   and  Hazel  O  Connor's  stupendously  naff  "D-Days" was  almost  certainly  a  hit  due  to  the  exposure  it  got  on  the  1981  show.

Sadly  in  1985  the  Beeb  took  the  decision  to  televise  the  BPI  Awards  instead  with  all  the  irritations  that  brought  in  its  wake  but  we'll  discuss   that  in  due  course.



Thursday, 21 April 2016

384 Laff-A-Lympics

First  viewed  :  April  1979

A  bittersweet  memory  this  one. This  isn't  quite  the  last  entry  from  kids  TV  but  I  think  it  is  the  last  cartoon  series  to  feature  until  The  Simpsons.  Laff-A-Lympics  had  been  on  before  but  I  first  saw  it  in  the  morning  schedule   during  the  Easter  Holidays  of  1979  on  the  recommendation  of  the  lad  next  door,  with  whom  an  irreconcilable  fall-out   was  just  a  few  short  months  away.

What  made  Laff-A-Lympics  such  an  unexpected  delight  was  that  it  drew  its  cast  from  all  the  Hanna-Barbera  cartoons  of  the  past  three  decades  though  there  were  omissions  for  complicated  legal  reasons. They  were  organised  into  three  teams ,  two  sporting  teams   headed  by Scooby  Doo  and  Yogi  Bear  respectively  and  a  team  of  villains  whose  ranks  had  to  be  swelled  by  some  original  characters.  Copyright  issues   meant  that  no  Wacky  Races  characters  could  feature  so  instead  the  chief  villains  were   Dread  Baron  and  cackling  sidekick  Mumbly  who  were  Dick  Dastardly  and  Muttley  in  all  but  name.

The  re-branding  was  an  irritation  but  not  enough  to  spoil  the  fun  of  seeing  all  your  favourite  characters  from  yesteryear  popping  up  again  for  little  cameos. This  was  the  first  TV  programme  I  enjoyed  for  nostalgic  reasons  which  is  perhaps  a  little  worrying  as  I  was  only  fourteen  at  the  time.

24  episodes  were  made  in  total.


Wednesday, 20 April 2016

383 Chalk and Cheese

First  viewed  : Monday  2  April  1979

This  short  lived  comedy  series  proved  a  salutary  lesson  that  if  you  want  to  escape  your  past  you  must   take  care  to  choose  the  right  vehicle. Eager  to  escape  the  image  of  Frank  Spencer  , Michael  Crawford  took  on  the  role  of  Dave  Finn  ( played  by  Jonathan  Pryce  in  the  1977  pilot ) , a  caustic , opinionated , left  wing, bearded  layabout  awaiting  the  birth  of  his  third  child  and  a  constant  annoyance  to  middle  class  neighbour  Roger  ( Robin  Hawdon ). In  the  first  episode  , the  only  one  which  I   ( and  I  suspect  many  others ) watched , Roger  had  the  misfortune  of  having  Dave   for  company  in  the  maternity  ward  waiting  room , hectoring  him  about  his  lifestyle  and  pretending  to  be  having  sympathetic  labour  pains.

Having  just  endured  the  Winter  of  Discontent ,  the  audience  found  Crawford's  new  character  as  appetising  as  a  bucket  of  cold  sick  and  turned  off  in  droves,  just  as  they  would  emphatically  reject  Dave  Finn's  values  at  the  ballot  box   in  the  General  Election  which  more  or  less  coincided  with  the  end  of  the  series'  run. It  never  returned.

Crawford  has  rarely  been  on  television  since , pursuing  a  highly  successful  career  in  musical  theatre  instead. He  occasionally  appears  on  chat  shows  to  promote  his  latest  show  and  has  even  agreed  to  don  the  old  mac  and  beret  on  a  couple  of  occasions, for  Noel's  House  Party  and  this  years  Sport  Relief. Hawdon  has  never  appeared  on  TV  since  but  has  become  a  successful  playwright  and  novelist  with  stage  acting  gradually  taking  a  back  seat  to  his  writing.    

Monday, 18 April 2016

382 Malice Aforethought

First  viewed : March  1979

I  don't  think  I've  given  this  one  much  thought  since  it  finished  37  years  ago  but  there  it  is  in  the  schedules. Malice  Aforethought  was  a  three  part  adaptation,  on  BBC2 ,  of  a  popular  crime  novel  of  the  1930s . The  tale  is  not  a  whodunnit  but  a  will  he  get  away  with  it  story  about  a  mild  mannered  doctor  Edmund  Bickleigh  who  slowly  poisons  his  awful   wife  Julia    to  be  with  Madeline. However  Madeline  not  only  doesn't  wait  for  him  but  becomes  the  one  person  who  is  suspicious  about  Julia's  death.

The  adaptation  starred  Hywel  Bennett  as  Bickleigh, Cheryl  Campbell  as  Madeline  and  Judy  Parfitt  as  Julia  and  was  very  faithful  to  the  book. It  was  remade  in  2005  by  Granada  with  Ben  Miller   playing  Bickleigh.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

381 The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew Mysteries

First  viewed :  March  1979

Who  remembers  this  one  then ?  It  replaced  The  Pink  Panther  and  Dr  Who  on  a  Saturday  teatime  from  the  beginning  of  March  to  the  end  of   August  1979.

The  clumsily-titled  series  drew  together  two  separate  book  franchises  owned  by  the  Stratemeyer  Syndicate. The  Hardy  Boys  and  Nancy  Drew  titles  were  aimed  at  adolescents  and  teen  boys  and  girls  respectively  with  the  protagonists  getting  involved  in  mystery stories in  a  similar  fashion  to  Enid  Blyton's  Famous  Five. They  had  been  going  since  the  1930s  although  of  course  the  protagonists  never  aged.

The  TV  series  was  set  in  the  present  day  and  broke  with  the  books  in  Season  Two by  bringing  the   characters  together  in  a  number  of  "crossover" episodes.  All   the  stories  in  Season  One    featured  either  the  boys  or  Nancy   on  alternate  weeks  although  they  were  all  featured  in  the opening  titles.  The  equitable  split  was  abandoned  in  Season  Two  with  only  three  solo  outings  for  Nancy  compared  to  eleven  for  the  Hardys. Unsurprisingly  the  actress  Pamela  Sue  Martin  flounced  before   the  season was  completed  so  Janet  Louise  Johnson  played  Nancy  in  four  crossover  episodes  at  the   tail  end  of  the  season.  In  the  third  and  final  season  Nancy  was  dropped  altogether  and  it  was  cancelled  after  10  episodes.

That  had  just  finished  in  the  US  when  BBC 1  started  screening  the  series. They  mixed  and  matched  episodes  from  the  first  two  seasons ( the  third  has   never  been  shown  here )  but  maintained  the  alternating  pattern. The  Johnson  episodes  were  avoided  although  the  opening  titles  and  the  actress  playing  Nancy's  friend  George  changed  between  the  seasons.

The  Hardy  brothers  were  played  by  Parker  Stevenson  ( Frank ) and  Shaun  Cassidy ( Joe ) . Cassidy  was  half-brother  to  David  and  had  a  few  hits  himself  ( although  not  here  and  each  one  peaked  lower  than  the  one  before ). He  too  was  rather  feminine  in  appearance  and,  given  Nancy's  pluckiness, led  to  the  thought  that  it  should  have  been  called  "The  Nancy  Boys  and  Hardy  Drew  Mysteries"  instead.

Both  the  brothers  and  Nancy  largely  worked  on  cases  to  help  their  fathers. They  were  a private  detective  and  attorney  respectively  and  were  both  remarkably  cavalier  about  placing their  offspring  in  mortal  danger . The  boys  did  tend  to  get  the  better  storylines  including  the only  one  I  can  clearly  remember  where  Joe  is  blackmailed  into  helping  an  assassin  get  to  a federal  witness.

It  was  a  likable  amalgam  of  Ellery  Queen, Scooby  Doo  and  Charlie's  Angels,   but  unlike  the execrable  The  Dukes  of  Hazzard   which  started  later  on  the  same  evening  it  hasn't  left  much of  a  mark  on   popular  culture.

The  original  UK  season  ended  in  August  but  it  returned  two  years  later  in  the  same  time slot  when  six  more  episodes  were  shown  in  the  late  spring  including , bizarrely,  the Christmas episode  ( a  Nancy  story  from  Season  Two ). The  remaining  episodes , including  all  those featuring  Johnson , were  shown  in  the  morning  over  the  Christmas  holiday  period  in  1981. The  Christmas  episode  is  the  only  one  that's  ever  been  repeated.

The  delectable  Martin   went  on  to  a  high  profile  role  as  Fallon  Carrington  in  Dynasty . Cassidy  has  become  a  successful  writer / producer  while  Stevenson  has  always  had  plenty  of work  in  TV  and  TV  movies. Johnson  , who  later  preferred  to  be  known  as  Janet  Julian  , had further  acting  work  in  TV  until  the  mid- nineties  but  now  teaches  childcare  in  Hollywood.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

380 Give Us A Clue

First  viewed : Early  1979

Give  Us  A  Clue   was  simply  Charades  on  the  TV  with  Michael  Aspel  presiding  over   a  contest  between  male  and  female   teams   headed  by  character  actress  Una  Stubbs  and  annoyingly  camp  light  entertainer  Lionel  Blair.  The  teams  consisted  of  two  other  celebrities  and   initially   a  usually  rather  overawed  member  of  the  public  though  they  were  soon  dropped  in  favour  of  having  a  fourth  celebrity.

  Confusingly,  it  had  the  same  theme  as  Grange  Hill  for  the  first  two  series.

I  never  tuned  in  specially  to  watch  it  but  it  was  a  reasonably  entertaining  alternative  to  Nationwide  on  a  Wednesday.

Michael  Parkinson  and  Liza  Goddard  replaced  Aspel  and  Stubbs  in  later  series.

It  ran  for  13  years  from  1979  to  1992. There  was  a  brief  revival  on  BBC One  in  1997  with  none  of  the  original  participants  involved.

Friday, 15 April 2016

379 CHiPs

First  viewed  :  Early  1979

CHiPs   promised  to  be  Starsky  and  Hutch  on  choppers  as  it  featured  two  buddy  cops , dark  Ponch  ( Erik  Estrada )  and  blonde  Jon  ( Larry  Wilcox )  fighting  crime  as  they  rode  the  L.A.  freeways  on  their  fancy  hogs  as  part  of  the  California  Highway  Patrol.

Unfortunately  CHiPs  was  tailored  to  an  early  evening  audience  and  lacked  any  bite  in  its  storylines,  with  violence  kept  to  a  minimum. As  a  result,  although  I  think  I  watched  it  a  fair   bit  at  first,   I  don't  remember  any  of  the  plots ; they've  all  dissolved  into  a  general  impression  of  sunny   blandness .

It  must  have  been  popular  though  because  it  ran  for  six  years. It  didn't  keep  its  prime  time  Saturday  evening  slot  after  Mork  and  Mindy  but  the  ITV  regions  stuck  with  it  to  the  end  in  various  time  slots. Estrada's  kept  his  acting  career   going   in  low  budget  films  and  daytime  TV   though  latterly  you're  more  likely  to  find  him  in  reality  TV  programmes. Wilcox moved  into  TV  production  though  still  taking  the  odd  acting  job  and  doing  community  service  for  a  securities  fraud  in  2010.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

378 Antiques Roadshow

First  viewed : February  1979

This  Sunday  teatime  perennial  was  my  Mum's  favourite  show  though  I  never  really  understood  why.  With  one  grandfather  declared  bankrupt  and  the  other  redundant  before  his  time  and  forced  to  downsize, Christ  knows  we  had  nothing  of  the  sort  ourselves. What's  more,  while  glued  to  this, my  Mum  unceasingly  complained  about   Dad  filling  up  all  her  cupboard  space  with  old  books  and  regularly badgered  my  sister  and  I  to  yield  up  old  toys  for  her  playgroup's  jumble  sales. It's  therefore  hard  to  figure  out  why  someone  with  no  understanding  of  the  collector's  mentality  found  this  programme  so  engrossing.

This  show  replaced  the  earlier  antiques  show  Going  For  A  Song  which  finished  in  1977  and  had  more  of  a  quiz  show  format.  It  transplanted  the  elderly  antiques  expert  Arthur  Negus  from  the  earlier  show  but  this  time  had  members  of  the  public  bringing  in  their  treasures  in  the  hope  of  being  told  they  were  sitting  ( sometimes  literally )  on  a  goldmine  whatever  they  might  say  to  the  contrary. I  guess  part  of  the  appeal  is  watching  the  squirming  impatience  of  the  avaricious  philistines  as  the  expert  gives  an  unhurried  rumination  on  the  piece's  history    and  keeps  them  waiting  for  that  all-important  valuation.

Angela  Rippon  briefly  fronted  the  programme  then  left  Negus  to  helm  the  show  on  his  own  for  a  year. Seeing  this  was  something  of  a  struggle  for  a  guy  pushing  80 , they  brought  in  Nationwide  reporter  and  a  longstanding  antique  collector  himself  , Hugh  Scully  to  help  him  in  1981. Negus  retired  from  the  show  when  he  turned  80  in  1983  (  he  died  two  years  later  ) leaving  the  remarkably  square-headed  Scully   in  sole  charge  until  2000  when  he  quit  to  work  for  an  online  auction  company. He  died  six  months  ago, an  event  that  passed  me  by  I'm  afraid. He  was  replaced  by  Michael  Aspel  who  at  67  was  close  to  being  an  antique  himself. He  held  the  fort  until  2008  when  the  current  presenter  Fiona  Bruce  took  over.

I  can  honestly  say  I've  never  turned  the  TV  on  to  catch  this  but  over  the  years  I  watched  quite  a  lot  of  it  due  to  its  timeslot, just  as  I  was  coming  in  from   a  walk  and  wanting  to  throw  myself  on   the  sofa .  

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

377 The BBC TV Shakespeare

First  viewed : 11  February  1979

This  was  one  of  the  BBC's  greatest  projects  , the  adaptation  of  all  37  Shakespeare  plays  over  seven  seasons.  It  was  first  proposed  in  1975  by  producer  Cedric  Messina  but  it  took  three  years  to  overcome  opposition  and  get  the  fiance  together.  The   Beeb  had  in  fact  adapted  most  of  them  in  one  form  or  another  over  the  decades  but  never  as  part  of  a  continuous  series.

My  own  interest  in  Shakespeare  sprang  from  an  interest  in  school  drama  around  the  beginning  of  1976 . The  only  play  texts  we  had  in  the  house  were  in  my  mum's  1955  edition  of  The  Works  of  Shakespeare  so  I  spent  some  hours  staging  productions  using  my  Matchbox  cars  to  play  the  characters. The  one  I  spent  most  time  on  bizarrely  was  The  Life  and  Death  of  King  John  because  it  was  the  first  of  the  historical  plays  and  therefore  most  likely  to  be  interesting  to  me. Of  course  at  that  age  I  only  half-understood  what  I  was  reading  and  was  also  perplexed  by  some  of  the  bard's  dramatic  choices. I  mean  what  is  the  point  of  the  character  of  James  Gurney ? A  servant  to  Lady  Faulconbridge  he  comes  in  with  her, is  almost  immediately  dismissed , says  the  line  "Good  leave . good  Philip"  then  is  never  seen  again. I  guess  you'd  know  you  weren't  the  apple  of  the  director's  eye  if  he  said  "I  think  you'd  make  a  perfect  James  Gurney ! "

The  first  one  I  studied  at  school  was  Julius  Caesar  in  1977  or  1978  and , as  luck  would  have  it,  this  was  the  fourth  play  to  be  broadcast  in  the  first  season  so  we  stayed  tuned  after  Life  On  Earth. I  don't  remember  much  that  was  specific  to  the  production  apart  from  the  interesting  casting  of  David  Collings  as  Cassius. Collings  was  a  very  busy  actor  at  the  time  but  usually  played  good  guys  - I  knew  him  from  Dr  Who  and  Midnight  Is  A  Place  - so  it  was  a  change  to  see  him  as  a  villain.  

We  stayed  with  it  the  following  week  for  Measure  For  Measure,  probably  the  bard's  smuttiest  work . I  was  beginning  to  understand  sexual  innuendos  now  and  found  it  pretty  funny  particularly  the  performance  of  John  McEnery  as  the  fop  Lucio  whose  scurrilous  talk  gets  him  into  trouble. As  a  consequence  I  learned  the  original  meaning  of  the  word  "punk". The  cast  was  interesting  for  the  appearance  of  Jacqueline  Pearce  ( Blake's  Seven's  Servalan )   as  one  of  the  play's  trio  of  wronged  women.

I  wasn't  interested  in  the  next  and  final  play  in  the  first  season  The  Famous  History  of  the  Life  of  King  Henry  the  Eight ,  generally  regarded  as   a  superficial, propagandist  work  which  deliberately  skirts  the  major  controversies  of  the  reign.

The  second  season  started  at  the  tail  end  of  1979  with  the  two  parts  of  Henry  IV  then  Henry  V.  I  tuned  in  for  Twelfth  Night  ( 6.1.1980 )  for  Robert  Lindsay  as  Fabian  and  because  we'd  studied  it  in  English  the  previous  term  even  though  I  hadn't  liked  it  much. I  also  watched  The  Tempest  ( 27.2.80 )  which  was  pretty  familiar  to  me  as  the  first  play  in  Mum's  book. David  Dixon  played  the  spirit  Ariel. I  think  I  saw  some  of  Hamlet ( 25.5.80 )  because  I  remember  Lalla  Ward  as  Ophelia  and  Patrick  Stewart  as  Claudius  but  didn't  watch  it  from  start  to  finish.

The  third  season  started  in  the  autumn  of  1980  with  The  Taming  Of  The  Shrew . I  remember  the  publicity  buzz  around  the  casting  of  John  Cleese  as  Petruchio  but  I'm  not  sure  I  actually  watched  any  of  it.  I  remember  Warren  Mitchell  and  Gemma  Jones  as  Shylock  and  Portia  respectively  in  Merchant  of  Venice   ( 17.12.80 ). After  that,  a  volley  of  three  plays  I  had  no  familiarity  with , meant  I lost  a  lot  of  interest  in  the  series.

I  caught  a  bit  of  Troilus  and  Cressida  ( 7.11.81 )  in  the  fourth  season  because  I've  always  been  interested  in  The  Trojan  War  but  Kenneth  Haigh's  Achilles  was  so  far  from  my  conception  of  the  character  I  was  glad I  hadn't  watched  the  whole  thing.

The  fifth  season  was  mainly  taken  up  with  the  three  parts  of  Henry  VI  and  then  Richard  III  presented  in  sequence. I  came  back  to  it  towards  the  end  because  I'm  a  firm  Ricardian  and  the  Henry  VI  plays  also  benefited  from  featuring  Bernard  Hill ( as  Richard  of  York )   who'd  become  the  hottest  actor  in  the  UK  since  the  plays  were  filmed  , due  to  Boys  from  the  Blackstuff.

The  controversial   final  scene   which  had  Queen   Margaret  cackling  while  cradling  the  dead  Richard  atop  a  pile  of  the  war  dead  ( despite  her  having  died  seven  years  before  the  Battle  of  Bosworth )  was  actually  my  last  sight  of  the  series . The  final  two  seasons  were  mainly  broadcast  while  I  was  at  university  and  it  was  never  the  consensus  choice  in  the  common  room  so  I  missed  both  the  plays  I  studied  for  A  Level  ( Macbeth  and  Much  Ado  About  Nothing  )  and , rather  sadly , King  John .      

Monday, 11 April 2016

376 Rebecca

First  viewed :  January  1979

I  think  we  saw  more  of  this  when  repeated  on  BBC1  the  following  year  but  I  remember  catching  some  of   it  the  first  time  round  on  BBC2.

This  of  course  was  an  adaptation  of  Daphne  Du  Maurier's  novel  , a  perennial  favourite  of  schoolgirls  everywhere  if  not  of  critics. I  recall  later  in  the  year  an  English  class  where  we  had  to  read  a  passage  from  a  book  of  our  own  choice. Two  girls  independently  went  for  Rebecca  but  after  the  first  reading  our  acerbic  English  teacher  Mr  McInerny  declared  "I  think  we've  had  enough  Rebecca"  and  sent  the  luckless  second  girl  off  to  find  something  else. She  fared  better  than  another  guy  who  was  told  his  Alistair  McLean  novel  was  "ludicrous". I  escaped  without  censure  after  reading  the  twist  ending  of  Brian  Aldiss's  short  story  Intangibles  Inc . That  class  also  contained  a  special  young  lady  called  Rebecca  but  sadly  I  can't  recall  what  she  read.

This  adaptation  had  Jeremy  Brett  as  Maxim  De  Winter, Joanna  David  as  his  mousey  unnamed  new  bride,  the  bird-faced  Anna  Massey ( Brett's  former  wife )  as  the  psychopathic  housekeeper  Mrs  Danvers  and  the  always  reliable  Julian  Holloway  as  blackmailing  cad  Jack  Favell. It  dragged  slightly at  first  but  hotted  up  considerably  when  the  plot  thickened. How  that  compares  with  the  novel  I  wouldn't  know  but  I  don't  remember  my  Mum  uttering  her  usual  protests  when  they  got  something  wrong.


Sunday, 10 April 2016

375 Life On Earth

First  viewed : 21  January  1979

This  was  a  major  TV  event,  the  first  and  most  famous  of  David  Attenborough's  landmark  wildlife  documentary  series  (  as  opposed  to  self-contained  documentaries  for  Wildlife  On  One  or  The  World  About  Us ). In  13  55- minute  episodes  he  traced  the  standard  evolutionary  timeline  from  amoebas  and  jellyfish  to  human  beings  , filming  the  most  colourful  examples  of  each  species. In  the  course  of  it  he  became a  national  treasure, a position  he  has  never  forfeited.

The  undoubted  highlight  of  the  series  was  his  impromptu  encounter  with  the  mountain  gorillas  of  Rwanda  in  the  penultimate  episode  which  has  become  one  of  the  most  famous  pieces  of  television  ever  filmed.

I  tend  to  be  more  interested  in  cold-blooded  species  so  the  earlier  episodes  were  the  best  for  me  but  it  was  all  top notch  stuff. I  remember  being  chuffed  that  the  final  episode on  humans  incorporated  a  bit  of  wrestling  footage , illustrating  audience  reaction  to  a  fight  between  Giant  Haystacks  and , I  think, Tony  St  Clair.

One  other  great  thing  about  the  series  was  that  it  didn't   have  those  tedious  final  ten  minute  segments  showing  "how  we  did  it" . Those  are  a  curse  of  the  media  studies  generation  and  boring  as  hell  to  anyone  who  doesn't  want  to  work  in  television. I'm  not  saying  TV  producers  should  guard  their  tricks  like  the  Magic  Circle  but  it's  criminal  to  jettison  10  minutes  of  precious  wildlife  footage  in  order  to  show  bearded  guys  setting  up  cameras  and  microphones  in  unlikely  places.

We  watched  the  Sunday  night  repeat  because  the  original  broadcast  on  a  Tuesday  night  clashed  with  Dallas.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

374 University Challenge

First  viewed : Uncertain

I've  absolutely  no  idea  when  I  first  caught  this  hardy  perennial  but  it  was  probably  towards  the  end  of  the  seventies  when  I  started  being  able  to  answer  a  handful  of  the  questions. Some  time  in  the  seventies  it  featured  my  former  work  colleague  Steve  Taylor  as  a  contestant  for  Warwick  University.

Television's  most  cerebral  quiz  is  another  monument  to  the  glory  of  Granada's  Golden  Age. Cecil  Bernstein, brother  of  Granada's  founder  Sidney  produced  it  after  seeing  the  show  College  Bowl  in  America. It  started  in  1962  with  the  young  theatre  critic  and  historian  Bamber  Gascoigne  in  the  presenter's  chair. Despite  its  highbrow  content,   the  show  was  an  immediate  success, much  of  it  due  to  the  appealing  personality  of  its  diligent   host.

After  the  sixties , it  did  suffer  through  the  other  networks  treating  it  as  a  space  filler   without  a  regular  spot  in  the  schedule . It  eventually  fell  victim  to  cultural  dumbing-down   in  1987. However  there  was  always  a  chorus  of  discontent  about  the  decision  and  in  1994  the  BBC  agreed  with  Granada  to  bring  it  back  on   BBC2.

By  that  time  Gascoigne  had  become  involved  in  his  great  project  to  create  the definitive  encyclopaedia  of  world  history  and  turned  down  the  opportunity  to  resurrect  his  TV  career.
Instead  the  job  went  to  a  very  different  personality  in  Jeremy  Paxman  who  has  presented  it  ever  since.  Gascoigne's  History  World  website  was  launched  in  2001 and  has  always  been  well  regarded  but  that  was  the  same  year Wikipedia  launched   and  Gascoigne's  venture   has  always  lived  in  its  shadow.

I've  never  watched  it  on  a  regular  basis  with  either  presenter  but  still  catch  it  occasionally.

Friday, 8 April 2016

373 Danger UXB

First  viewed : Winter  1979

I  never  saw  very  much  of  this  wartime  drama  series  made  by  Euston  Films  ,  either  because  it  was  on  at  9.00  pm  on  a  Monday  or  because  Mum  preferred  the  Nine  o  Clock  News  to  something  with  the  loathed  Iain  Cuthbertson  in  it  or  a  combination  of  the  two.

The  series  followed  a  young  lieutenant  Brian  Ash ( Anthony  Andrews )  who  unexpectedly  finds  himself  in  charge  of  a  bomb  disposal  unit  in  London  during  the  Blitz. He  has  to  deal  with  unexploded  bombs  as  the  Germans  make  their  fuses  progressively  more  complicated  and  his  life  ever  more  dangerous. His  love  life  becomes  equally  complicated  when  he  starts  an  affair  with  Susan  ( Judy  Geeson ), the  married  daughter  of  the  boffin  Dr  Gillespie  ( Cuthbertson ) with  whom  he  is  working. There  was  a  strong  supporting  cast  with  stony-faced  Scot  Maurice  Roeves  playing  his  loyal   Sergeant, George  Innes  as  his  shiftless  Corporal  and  first  regular  TV roles  for  Kenneth  Cranham  and  Robert  Pugh  ( the  priest  in  The  Lakes ).

The  series, based  on  the  real  life  adventures  of   a   Major  A  B  Hartley,  made  for  good  drama  with  plenty  of  nailbiting  tension, a  high  mortality  rate  and  plenty  of  gallows  humour. It  only  lasted  for  one  13-part  series  but  that  was  probably  for  the  best; there's  only  so  many  bomb  de-fusings  you  can  screen  without  the  series  either  getting  boring  or  needing  a  replacement  lead  character  on  a  regular  basis.

Andrews  went  on to  Brideshead  Revisited  but  aside  from  the  forgotten  Breakaway  this  was  the  last  regular  British  TV  series  for  Geeson  before  she  emigrated  to  LA  in  1984.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

372 Dick Turpin

First  viewed : January  1979

Dick  Turpin  was  another  feature  of  those  wintry  Saturday  evenings  of  early  1979.  It  was  the  latest  series  written  by  Richard  Carpenter  ( Catweazle, The  Ghosts  of  Motley  Hall )  and  followed  Harrison  Ainsworth  in  romanticising  the  eighteenth  century  highwayman.

Carpenter's  Turpin  ( Richard  O' Sullivan )  is  basically  Robin  Hood  moved  on  six  centuries, an  unjustly   disinherited  soldier  who  takes  to  the  road  to  take  on   a  corrupt  establishment  in  the  form  of  rapacious  squire  Sir  John  Glutton ( Christopher  Benjamin )  and  his  hatchet  man  Captain  Spiker  ( David  Daker ). To  draw  in  the  kids  he  had  a  young  apprentice  Swiftnick  ( Michael  Deeks )  he  often  had  to  rescue.  He  sometimes  found  time  to  help  out  damsels  in  distress  such  as  Phyllida  ( the  lovely  Julie Dawn  Cole  above ).

The  series  looked  good  and  was  clean  escapist  fun  giving  O ' Sullivan   a  chance  to  stretch  his  wings  in  a  more  or  less  straight  role. Only  two  13  episode  series  were  made  in  1979-80 plus  a  star laden  feature  length  story. For  some  reason  the   second  series  was  curtailed  after  seven  episodes  in  1980  , the  TV  film broadcast  as  a  five  part  serial  in  1981  then  the  six  unseen  episodes  shown  as  a  final  series  in  1982.

O' Sullivan's  sad  decline  has  been  well  publicised  but  Deeks   just  gave  up  on  acting   after  an  appearance  in  The  Bill  in  1994.

Monday, 4 April 2016

371 Mork and Mindy

First  viewed :  12  January  1979

This  followed  straight  after  Dick  Barton  that  Saturday  night  and  was  heartily  recommended  by  Stephen.

Mork  and  Mindy  was  a   spin-off  from  a  rather  leftfield  episode  of  Happy  Days  where   Richie  is  set  to  become  an  alien  abductee  at  the  hands  of  a  comic  alien  called  Mork  played  by  then-unknown  comedian, Robin  Williams. The  character  was  so  popular  that  work  started  on  a  separate  vehicle  for  Mork   straight  away.

Mork  and  Mindy  transported  him  to  1970s  Colorado  where  he'd  been  sent   by  unseen  boss  Orson   to  observe  earth  culture. There  he  ends  up  the  house  guest  of  a  young  journalist  Mindy  ( Pam  Dawber )  who  endeavours  to  teach  him  the  ways  of  the  world  while  learning  about  his  own  quirky  customs.

Now  I  know  I'm  in  a  minority  here  but  I  never  found  Williams  very  funny and  that  limited  my  enjoyment  of  the  show  particularly  as  he  was  given   progressively  more  space  to  improvise  which  often  left  Dawber  in  danger  of  corpsing.  The  first  series  was  phenomenally  popular  but  after  changes  to  give  it  a  more  romantic  angle,  the  ratings  fell  off  dramatically  and  it  was  cancelled  after  four  series  in  1982.

Williams  retreated  into  stand-up  before  re-emerging  as  a  major  film  star  at  the  end  of  the  eighties. Dawber  appears  to  be  a  classic  "Where  are  they  now ?  "  contender  in  the  UK  because  her  next  major  vehicle , "My  Sister  Sam"  was  never  shown  here  so  the  death,  in  a  stalker  shooting  of  her  young  co-star  Rebecca   Schaeffer  and  her  subsequent  advocacy  of  gun  control  went  unnoticed  here. In  the  US  her  steady  string  of  TV  and  film  roles  and  marriage  to  the very  hardworking  Mark  Harmon  have  kept  her  profile  relatively  high. She  made  an  appearance  on  Williams'  ill-fated  TV  series  The  Crazy  Ones  just  before  his  death.          

Sunday, 3 April 2016

370 Dick Barton Special Agent

First  viewed : 12 January  1979

I  first  caught  this  at  my  friend  Stephen's  house   though  it  had  started  the  previous  week. Earlier  that  day  I'd  gone  with  him  to  Rochdale  to  help  him  purchase  walking  boots  and  a  riucksack  then  in  the  afternoon  we'd  gone  for  a  stroll  round  Hollingworth  Lake. My  diary  also  records  that  we'd  played  Pong  on  his  TV  and  had  a go  at  the  Bontempi.

We'd  just  finished  an  extra  week  off  school  because  there  was  no  heating. It's  often  forgotten  that  the  "Winter  of  Discontent"  was  also  marked  by  extreme  weather, the  worst  winter  in  my  memory  although  I  don't  know  how  it  compared  to  1963. It  played  havoc  with  our  Saturday  morning  plans  for  the  first  few  months  of  1979.

Dick  Barton  Special  Agent  was  an  ITV  attempt  at  reviving  a  popular  BBC  radio  character  from  the  immediate  post-war  period  before  it  was  controversially  axed  for  The  Archers.   Hammer  had  started  a  film  franchise  featuring  the  character  but  it  was  discontinued  after  three  films  when  the  lead  actor  Don  Stannard  perished  in  a  car  crash.

Dick  had  served  as  a  Commando  in  the  War and  now  headed  a  three man  unit  with  sidekicks  Snowy  White  and  Jock  Anderson  investigating  crimes  which  had  national  security  implications. The  storylines  were  pulpy  and  sensationalist  with   a  melodramatic   cliffhanger  at  the  end  of  each  episode  . Dick  was  suave  and   aristocratic  while  Snowy and  Jock  were  obediently  working  class.

Though  it  had  original  plots  by  Clive  Exton  who  later  wrote  much  of   Poirot , the  TV  series  made  no  attempt  to  update  the  character. He remained  in  the  late  forties  with  attitudes  to  match  , picking  his  way  through  the  bomb  sites  and  patronising  his  female  supplicants. He  was  played  by  the  plummy-voiced  Tony  Vogel. Anthony  Heaton  played  the  cockney  Snowy  , a  hothead  somewhat  akin  to  Bud  White  in  LA  Confidential,    while  the  more  cerebral  Jock  was  played  by  ubiquitous  Scotch  hard  man  James  Cosmo.  As  in  the radio  version  the  episodes  were  fifteen  minutes  long. It  was  shown  on  Saturday  and  Sunday  evenings.

Although  I  enjoyed  it  at  the  time  , few  details  of  the  stories  have  remained  with  me  which  is  indicative  of  how  ephemeral  it  was. Four  stories  were  broadcast  in  total  but  it  was  apparently  expensive  to  make  and  there  was  no  second  series.  Vogel  remained  an  actor , popping  up  here  and  there  but  appears  to  have  retired  around  a  decade  ago. Heaton  had  a  part  in  Widows  in  1983  but  died  four  years  later  aged  just  39.  

Saturday, 2 April 2016

369 Blankety Blank

First  viewed : 18  January  1979

This  long-running  quiz  show  filled  the  gap  between  Top  of  the  Pops  and  Butterflies  on  a  Thursday  evening.  It  made  its  original  host,  the  recently-deceased  Terry  Wogan,  a  top  TV  star.

The  show  was  based  on  an  Australian  show  and  involved  two  contestants  trying  to  match  their  answers  to  a  missing  word  in  a  phrase  or  sentence  to  those  supplied  individually  by  a  panel  of  celebrities.  The  panel  was  made  up  of  three  men  and  three  women. They  usually  put  the  smarter  cookies  on  the  top  row , a  comedian  bottom  centre  and  an  apparent  bimbo  ( Lorraine  Chase , Sandra  Dickinson ) for  Terry  to  tease  bottom  right.  The  questions  were  usually  mildly  smutty,  giving  Terry  plenty  of  opportunity  to  raise  an  eyebrow in  the  direction  of  the  camera.

The  prizes  were  hardly  worth  having  ( Terry's  expression  at  announcing  a  weekend  in  Reykjavik  was  priceless  ) ; the  joy  of  the  show  was  Terry's  easy  interaction  with  the  guest  stars  even  when, as  in  the  case  of  Kenny  Everett, they  destroyed  his  trademark  silly  microphone. This  eventually  led  to  him  to  giving  up  the  show  in  1984  to  host  a  nightly  chat  show.

Les  Dawson  took  over  , presenting  the  show  - and  particularly  the  prizes  - with  a  heavy  irony  which  eventually  became  a  bit  wearisome. You  thought  if  he  despises  the  show  that  much  why's  he  taking  the  money  to  do  it  ?  I  bailed  out  some  time  in  the  mid-eighties  and  the  show  finished   at  the  end  of  the  decade.

It  was  revived  in  1998  hosted  by  Lily  Savage  who  I've  never  found  remotely  entertaining  so  I  was  never  going  to  tune  in  for  that. It  lasted  two  years   then  switched  to  ITV  for  another couple  of  years.  Special  versions  have  appeared  on  charity  shows  since  then.  

Friday, 1 April 2016

368 Butterflies

First  viewed  :  1979

This  Carla  Lane-penned  domestic  comedy   was  premiered  on  BBC2  then  got  a  repeat  showing  on  BBC1 on  a  Thursday  evening  which  was  when  we  usually  caught  it.

The  comedy  revolved  around  a  family  of  four , Ria  ( Wendy  Craig )  a  bored  housewife  whose  lack  of  culinary  skills  was  a  running  gag,  loyal   but  slightly  neglectful  dentist   husband  Ben  ( Geoffrey  Palmer )  and  two  teenage  sons  Russell  ( Andrew  Hall ) and  Adam  ( Nicholas  Lyndhurst ) who  show  no  signs  of  eagerness  to  enter  the  world  of  work  and  adult  responsibility.  Throughout  the  series  Ria  is  contemplating  adultery  with  wealthy  divorcee  Leonard  ( Bruce  Montague )  while  grappling  with  normal  family  dramas.

Butterflies  was  infuriating  because  it  was  part  brilliant,  part  awful. The  scenes   around  the  dinner  table  were  superb   thanks  to  the  comic  timing  of  Palmer  and  Lyndhurst. It  was  here  ( and  perhaps  Going  Straight  around  the  same  time )  that  the  latter  moved  effortlessly  from  ubiquitous  child  star  to  genius  comic  actor.  Although  Hall  couldn't  match  him,  they  were  a  great  comic  duo  and  perhaps  the  inspiration   for  Men  Behaving  Badly  a  decade  or  so  later.  Unfortunately  these  scenes  had  to  be  punctuated  by  Ria's   everyday  monologues  treating  us  to  the  Carla  Lane  view  of  the  world  and  its  absurdities , rarely  funny  and  often  aggravating  in  its  middle  class  self-absorption. Then  you  had  the  never-ending  scenes  with  Leonard  , her  male  equivalent; at  least  you  felt  they  deserved  each  other.  

In  a  major  plot  development   in  the  third  series,   Russell  ended  up  getting  a  girl  pregnant  and  so  had  to  grow  up  a  bit.  Palmer's  awkward  delicacy  when  she  came  round  to  meet  the  family  was  brilliantly  played  and  very  touching.

It  finished  after  four  series  in  1983  apart  from  an  extended  reunion  sketch  on  2000's  Comic  Relief  which  I  think  I  caught  but  can't  remember  much  about.

After  the  series  finished  Craig  had  long  periods  out  of  the  spotlight   for  the  next  two  decades  before  playing  Matron  in  The  Royal  from  2003  onwards.  She's  still  a  regular  screen  presence  in  her  eighties . Palmer  and  Lyndhurst  of  course  went  from  strength  to  strength. Hall  hasn't  been  quite  as  busy  but  he's  still  a  working  actor  and  has  done  some  directing  of  late.