Tuesday, 31 May 2016

404 Not The Nine O Clock News

First  viewed : 16  October  1979

Now  we  come  to  my  favourite  comedy  show  of  all  time ; I  can't  recall  any  other  show giving  rise  to  so  much  playground   discussion  although  it  started  off  fairly  quietly.

There  was  a  pilot  show  made  for  broadcast  in  April  1979  but  it  only  featured  Rowan Atkinson  and  Chris  Langham  alongside  more  seasoned  performers  headed  by  Scaffold's  John Gorman. Despite  being  flat  broke  at  the  time,  Mel  Smith  pulled  out  because  he  thought  the script  was  appalling  and  it's  generally  agreed  that  if  it  hadn't  been  pulled  off  the  air  because the  general  election  campaign  had  started , the  subsequent  series  would  never  have  been commissioned.

As  it  was  producer  John  Lloyd  had  the  breathing  space  to  jettison  the  old  hands, bring  Mel back  on  board  and  add  Antipodean  actress  Pamela  Stephenson  ( who'd  recently  been  in Target and  The  Professionals )  to  the  team  after  meeting  her  at  a  party.  Chris  had  the  most substantial  TV  c.v.  having  appeared   on  Spike  Milligan's  Q  series  and  written  for  The Muppet Show; Mel  had  hardly  done  any  TV  at  all.

I  changed  channels  for  the  first  episode   and  instantly  loved  it  from  the  Watership  Down     joke  - "You've  read  the  book, seen  the  film....now  try  the  pie"  - onwards .With  its  colourful language, bad  taste  jokes and  even-handed  political  swipes - the  unions  getting  as  much  stick as  the  Tories -  it  seemed  like  the  most  daring, exciting  thing  on  TV  and  it  probably  was.

I  found  some  friends  who  were  watching  it  but  not  that  many  and  the  first  series did  have its  problems. The  producers  were  over-conscious  of  the  fact  that  they  were  making  the  first satirical  sketch  show  since  Monty  Python's  Flying  Circus   and  the  plentiful  references  back  to Python,  however  justified  by  the  then-raging  controversy  over  Life  of  Brian  didn't  help  its cause.  Repeats  of  the  show  have  always  been  compilations  to  take  out  the  too  obviously dated  political  stuff   but  they've  also  made  little  use  of  content  from  the  first  series. Some more  material  has  recently  emerged  on  You  Tube  and  it  does  justify  that  editorial  decision  to some  extent  with  many  of  the  sketches  going  on  for  far  too  long. Still  there  was  plenty  to  savour  in  the  union  negotiation  sketch, the  punk  song  "Gob  On  You"  ( the  school  punk  band  The  Stiffs  quickly  put  it  in  their  repertoire ), Pamela's  over-sexed  beauty  contestant   and  Rowan's  first  "nutter  in  the  audience"  rant  about  Nationwide.  I   remember  rushing  home  from  a  dress  rehearsal  for  the  school  play  to  see  the  last  episode   and  watching  the  ballad  lamenting  the  recent  sacking  of  ITV's  Reginald  Bosanquet  , beautifully  delivered  by  Pamela-as-Anna  Ford, with  the  smell  of  witch  hazel  still  in  my  nostrils.

A  second  season  was  commissioned  despite  low  viewing  figures  but  there  was  a  casualty  in the  form  of  Chris  who  found  out  he  wasn't  going  to  be  in  it  from   overhearing  a conversation  between  two  make-up ladies. The  story  behind  his  sacking  remains  murky. It  was nothing  to  do  with  his  co-stars  who  appreciated  his  greater  experience. He  admits  he  was over-doing   the   booze  and  drugs  at  the  time   and  does  look  a  bit  wild-eyed  in  some  of  the sketches. He  also  got  into  an  argument  with  the  producers  about  the  Life  of  Brian  sketch because  he  was  actually  in  the  film  and  that  appears  to  have  convinced  the  bosses  they  were better  off  without  him.  He  was  replaced  by  Griff  Rhys-Jones , brother  of  Lloyd's  current  squeeze , who'd  been  one  of  the  minor  players  in  the  first  series. I  never  had  anything  against  Griff   who  played  his  part  in  some  classic  sketches  but  I  always  felt  it  would  have  been  better  if  they'd  kept  Chris.

Still  it  can't  be  denied  that  the  second  series , broadcast  in  the  spring  of  1980   was  when  the show  took  off  like  a  bomb.  The  political  stuff  was  not  quite  as  prominent  and  all  round  the writing  was  sharper  and  snappier .One  particular  episode  grabbed  the  attention,  first  with  the classic  Gerald  the  gorilla  sketch  and  then  the  most  talked-about  sketch  of  all, the  American Express   skit  when  Pamela's  air  hostess  opened  her  blouse  and  said  "And  would  you  like  to rub  my  tits  too ?"  the  tag  line  being  "Stick  your  head  in  between  them  and go  blubble blubble  blubble with  American  Express !" One  over-excited  lad  claimed  she  hadn't  been wearing  a  bra  which  suggests  a  visit  to  the  optician  may  have  been  in  order. She  was actually  topless  in  a  bath  tub  sketch  some  time  later - oh  the  joys  of  the  Pause  button !

Oh  yes  Pamela, what  a  goddess  she  was !  She  may  have  been  an  inch  or  two  short  of  the ideal  but  boy  did  she  make  up  for  it  in  other  ways. And  then  you  had  the  "England  My Leotard"  sketch, one  of  the  two  most  desirable  women  of  the  time  with  a  well-crafted impersonation  of   the  other  one .

Another  eight  part  season  followed  at  the  tail  end  of  the  year  and  brought  us  further delights including  Constable  Savage  ( Griff's  finest  moment ) "I  Like  Trucking"  and  a  coruscating attack  on  That's  Life . The  series  was  now  incredibly  popular  and  an  album  release  featuring material  from  the  first  two  series  nearly  made  the  top  of  the  charts. I  remember  our  Sixth Form  Review   that  year   featured  good  egg  John  Weetman  doing  a  Rowan-style rant  amidst the  audience  which  as  you'd  expect  was  much  funnier  than  a  Cannon  and  Ball  routine  earlier in  the  show.    

Despite  Pamela's  mammoth  sex  appeal  and  Mel's  skills  as  an  actor  - he  was  often  the straight man  in  the  sketches  and  brilliant  at  it -  there  was  no  doubting  who  the  star  of  the  series was. Rowan  Atkinson , a  quiet  guy  who  liked  to  tinker  with  machinery  off  stage, just  had  that something  extra  which  you  could  probably  call  genius. As  he  did  a  solo  comedy  tour  with material  co-written  with  Richard  Curtis,  there  was  speculation  about  whether  there  would actually  be  another  series  and  1981  came  and  went  without  one.

A  fourth  season  did  materialise  at  the  beginning  of  1982  but  it  was  an  open  secret  that  it   was  going  to  be  the  last  one.  Even  at  its  peak,  the  material  was  always  a   bit  variable  - with well  over  100  credited  writers  across  the  four  series   that  was  inevitable - but  the  gaps between  the   good  stuff   were  a  bit  wider  in  this  finale. God  knows  who  thought  Roland  Davies  ( a  strike  breaking  train  driver  just  in  case  you'd  forgotten )  was  worth  a  commemorative  song  ( in  an  episode  which  inexplicably  featured  child  actor  John  Alford ). They  also  came  a  bit  unstuck  when  satirising   the   pop  scene ; the  sketch  about  Marc  Almond  was  well  wide  of  the  mark  despite  Pamela's  turn  as  Annie  Nightingale   and  the  much-trailed  "Nice  Video  Shame  About  The  Song"  had  nothing  to  say in  the  end.  There  was  some  good  stuff, a  nice  spoof  of  Game  For  A  Laugh  and  the  infamous  evisceration  of  The  Two  Ronnies  but  Rowan's  instincts  telling  him  to  move  on  were  probably  correct.

Apart  from  poor  Mel  and  Chris  whose  unsavoury  indiscretion  ( I  don't  think  it  was  any  worse  than  that  )  has  cost  him  dear , they're  all   still  going  strong , testament  to  the  once  in  a  lifetime  power  of  the  series.            


Monday, 30 May 2016

403 Last of the Summer Wine

First  viewed : 25  September  1979

This  is  another  one  where  Genome  has  corrected  my  memory  banks. I'd  have  put it  down  as  early  1981  when  I  first  caught  this  but  no  it  was  eighteen  months  earlier.

Last  of  the  Summer  Wine  had  already  been  running  for  six  years  and  ironically, given  the reputation  it  latterly  enjoyed,  it  had  quite  a  cult  cachet  at  school  in  the  late  seventies. I  think this  was  because  it  was  always  on  quite  late , after  the  9pm   watershed , so  lads  were  misled into  thinking  there  was  something  edgy  about  it. In  truth  of  course , for  all  of  Compo's  sexual assaults  on  Nora  Batty  ( as  they  would  now  be  viewed ) , Last  of  the  Summer  Wine  was actually  as  family-friendly  as  TV   comedy  got,  a  gentle  look  at  the  adventures  of  three bachelors  trying  to  fill  their  post-retirement  lives  purposefully  in  a  Pennine  village  not  a  million  miles  away  from  where  we  lived.

I  recall  some  of  my  school  mates  talking  about  it  , in  what  I  now  realise  must  have  been  the  summer  of  1979  when  it  followed  The  Nine  O  Clock  News , for   one  particular  reason.
They  were  all  agreed  ( repeatedly  so )  that  the  character  of  Foggy  was  a  dead  ringer  for  me.
Foggy  ( played  by  Brian  Wilde  from   Porridge  )  had  joined  the  cast  after  the  sudden  death of  Michael  Bates  in  1976. He  was  a   tall,  pompous,  self-regarding,  ex-Army  control  freak  , continually  frustrated  at  his  friends'  lack  of  interest  in  his  grandiose  projects  which  were usually  attempts  to  pass  self-promotion  off   as  doing  something  for  the  community   .

Because  of  this, when,  in  September  1979,   it  was  switched  to  8.30 pm ,  I  had  to  have  a gander.  As  you  would  expect  I  didn't  quite  see  the  resemblance  at  the  time   though  I   concede  now   that  they  may  have  had  a  point. Nevertheless  I  was  quite  taken  with  the  series particularly  given  its  proximity  to  home  and  the  fact  that  I  was  knocking  about  in  a  trio  at the  time.

I  watched  the  series  fairly  regularly  until  Wilde  left  in  1985. I  didn't  like  his  replacement Seymour  ( Michael  Aldridge )   at  all  and  checked  out  soon  after  his  appearance. However   all the  people  I  walked  with  in  the  Littleborough  Civic  Trust  Footpaths  Group  , most  of  whom were  much  older  than  me , were  huge  fans  of  the  series   and  their  chatter  sort  of  kept  me  in touch  with  what  was  happening. In  the  summer  of  1982  I  led  a   Sunday  walk  for  them   from  neighbouring  Marsden   and  found  that   an  episode   was  actually  being  filmed  there   ( the  usual  location  Holmfirth  was  becoming  over-run  with  tourists, making  shooting  there difficult ). It  was  actually  quite  difficult  to  get  the  group  moving  as  they  wanted  to  spectate. I did  get  a  couple  of  shots  of  Bill  Owen  although  it  was  notable  that  he  had  a  stand-in  for   all  the  set-up  work.

By  that  time,  Foggy  had  rejoined  the  cast  and  I  did  start  seeing  some  episodes  after  I  got married  in  1997  although  Wilde  left  the  cast  for  good  shortly  afterwards.  By  that  time  the show  was  firmly  ensconced   in  its  Sunday  teatime  slot  and , I  felt,   becoming  too  much  like  a retirement   home  for   veteran  comic  actors. Wilde  and  Owen  were  reasonably  familiar  faces before  joining  the  series  but  when  Captain Peacock ,  Blakey , Ken  Smith  and  most  of  all Hilda  Ogden  arrived   and  the  cast  expanded , I felt  their  previous  associations  overpowered  the storylines  and  robbed  the  series  of  its  charm.

The  death  of  Owen  in  1999  and  his  replacement  by  his  real-life son  Tom   made  me  switch off  for  good  ( although  Owen  Junior  was  relegated  to  a  minor  character  after  one  series  as part  of  the  trio ) . By  that  time  there  was  something   of  a  movement  against  the  show continuing, much  as  there  had  been  against  Terry  and  June  a  decade  or  so  earlier.  In  2001 the  Queen  told  Thora  Hird  that  it  was  her  favourite  TV  show  ( and  why  wouldn't  it  be  ? ) which  probably  extended  its  lifetime  by  some  years. Two  years  later ,  an  incredibly  mean-spirited  poll  conducted  by  Radio  Times  asked  readers  to  nominate  which  show  they  would most  like  to  see  cancelled  and  Last  of  the  Summer  Wine   won. Although  the  4,000  votes  it got  were  paltry  compared  to  the  millions  still  watching,  the  result  incensed  series  writer  Roy Clarke  and  you  suspect  the  poll  was  deliberately  commissioned  to  bolster  the  case  against   the  series.

Eventually  it  was  the  insurance  companies  that  brought  the  curtain  down  as  they  refused  to sanction  the  most  elderly  cast  members,  Peter  Sallis  and  Frank  Thornton,  doing  any  outdoor scenes  in  2008  . This  necessitated  the  formation  of  a  new core  trio  headed  by  Russ  Abbott which  failed  to  command  the  same  affection.  The  final  episode  ( not  written  as such  )  was broadcast  in  August  2010  and  by  chance  I  caught  a  small  part  of  it. I  felt  some  sadness  that something  which  stretched  back  to  my  school  days  had  come  to  an  end  but  what  was  on screen  that  day  evoked  nothing  at  all  and  there  was  little  argument  that  the  show  had  finally run  its  course.                    


Sunday, 29 May 2016

402 Ripping Yarns

First  viewed : Uncertain

I'm  not  sure  when  I  first  caught  this. I  remember  my  friends  talking  about  it, specifically  the story  Tomkinson's  Schooldays  which  I  gathered  had  been  a  little  rude  in  May  1978   which was  already  a  repeat  of  the  first  series. I'm  not  sure  whether  I  saw  the  first  broadcast  of  the second  season  ( all  three  episodes  of  it )  on  BBC 2  in  October  1979  or  a  repeat  of  the   whole  set  of  stories  on  BBC1 in  1980.

Ripping  Yarns  was  the  brainchild   of  Pythons  Michael  Palin  and  Terry  Jones  and  the  self-contained  stories  in  the  series  were  affectionate  parodies   of  pre-war  boys  literature. Jones  was too   busy   directing   The  Life  of  Brian   to  appear  beyond  the  pilot  episode  so  Palin  was  left to  carry  all  the  subsequent  stories  on  his  own.

If  you  know  the  series  and  are  familiar  with  my  other  blogs  you  won't  have  too  much difficulty  in  identifying  my  favourite  episode , the  glorious  Golden  Gordon. Exaggerated  as  it is,  nothing  else  has  come  close  to  capturing  the  masochistic  joy  of  supporting  a  generally unsuccessful  football  club. We've all  come  home  wanting  to  smash  the  house  up  like  Gordon after  a  trouncing  and  yearned  for  a  return  to  some  golden  age  receding  ever  further  into  the past. For  Dale  fans  the  equivalent  to  Barnstoneworth's   legendary  Davitt  was  Reg  Jenkins, star of  the  69-70  promotion  side  and  only  in  the  last  few  years  have  we  started  putting  him  to rest.

Gordon  has  cast  such  a  long  shadow  that  my  memory  of  the  other  stories  is  a  bit  sketchy and  I'm  not  even  sure  that  I've  seen  them  all. The  downfall  of  the  series  was  its  high production  costs, the  Beeb  deciding  after  three  episodes  of  the  second  season  that  they  could not  afford  to  finance  any  more.

Saturday, 28 May 2016

401 The Legend of King Arthur

First  viewed : 7  October  1979

One  of  the  rare  things  to  prise  me  away  from  the  Top  40  rundown  on  Radio  One around  this  time  was  this  eight-part  dramatisation  of  the  Arthurian  legend  in  the  Sunday  teatime  slot.  I  had  read  Roger  Lancelyn  Green's  children's  version  so  I  wanted  to  see  this  despite  there  being  plenty  of  goodies  in  the  charts  at  the  time  ( in  fact  they've  rarely  been  stronger  than  in  the  autumn  of  1979 ).

The  main  aim  of  this  serial  was  to  strip  away  the  medieval  anachronisms  of  Thomas  Mallory  and  take  the  story  back  to  its  Dark  Age  roots  and  was  mainly  successful in  this. Budget  restrictions  meant  that  the  battle  scenes  had  to  be  realised  through  quick  cutting  between  individual  actors  and  sound  effects  rather  than  hiring  extras. It  did  conjure  up  something  of  the  feel  of  an  age  groping  for  a  new  sense  of  order  after  the  departure  of  the  Romans  with  Arthur  holding  the  line  against a  descent  into  anarchy.  Nor  did  it  flinch  from  depicting  the  sad  end  to  the  story  as  Lancelot's  passion  for  Guinevere  brought  down  the  whole  court  with  a  little  help  from  Arthur's  evil  half-sister  Morgan  le  Fay.

Arthur  was  played  by  Andrew  Burt  , best  known  as  the  original  Jack  Sugden  in  Emmerdale  Farm  , Guinevere  by  Felicity  Dean , Merlin  by Robert  Eddison  and  blonde  Scot  David  Robb  as  Lancelot.  The  series  is  also  notable  as  the  first  serial  penned  by  period  drama  king  Andrew  Davies. It  was  repeated  in  the  same  slot  in  1981.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

400 Shoestring

First  viewed  : 30  September  1979

Another  new  series  launched  on  the  same  night  as  To  The  Manor  Born  ( in  fact  it  directly  followed  it  )  was  much  more  to  my  liking. Shoestring   heralded   a  whole  new  genre  of  unconventional  TV  detective  series  and  for  my  money  remains  the  best. I  watched  the  first  series  on  my  own  but  my  mum  and  sister  came  on  board  for  the  second.

The  largely  unknown  Trevor  Eve  played  Eddie  Shoestring , a  dishevelled  young  man  in  Bristol ,  recovering  from  a  nervous  breakdown  suffered  from  working  with  computers. Having  decided to  try  his  hand  at  being  a  private  detective,  Eddie's  landlady / lover  Erica  ( Doran  Godwin ) who  is  also  a  barrister,  finds  him  a  case  investigating  the  suicide  of  the  girlfriend   of  a  popular  DJ  at  the  local  radio  station  Radio  West. Having  absolved  the  DJ  from  blame  - in  an  uncharacteristically  dark  storyline  the  girl  killed  herself  after  turning  to  escort  work   and  finding one  of  her  clients  to  be  her  dad - Eddie  is  hired  by  the  station  to  be  its  own "private  ear"  who  will  investigate  cases  for  listeners  and  once  solved, recount  an  anonymised    version  of  his  investigation  over  the  air . The  other  regular  characters  were  his  cautious  but  usually  supportive  boss  Don  Satchley  ( Michael  Medwin )  and  jolly  receptionist  Sonia  ( Liz  Crowther )   with  her  voluminous  frocks.

Unlike  To  The  Manor  Born  , I   can  remember  the  details  of  individual  storylines  pretty  well. A  lot  of  them  involved  tracing  missing  persons. There  was  one  where  he  was  hunting  down a sixties  pop  star  whose  record  suddenly  became  popular  again  and  another  where  he  tracked down  the  wife  of  a  man  who  the  neighbours  thought  had  murdered  her. Other  memorable episodes  were  the  one  where  he  investigated  a  Moonie-like  religious  cult, a  travel  agency which  was  really  a  front  for  burglary  and  the  final  nerve-racking  episode  where  Eddie  had  to track  down  some  dangerously  defective  toys  at  Christmas. There  was  also  the  notorious episode  where  Toyah  Willcox  got  to  perform  a  generous  slice  of  her  music  despite  her character  being  a  fairly  peripheral  part  of  the  proceedings.

What  made  Eddie  such  a  compelling  character  was  his  obvious  vulnerability. He  was  slightly built  so  usually  came  out  the  worst  in  any  physical  confrontations  and  clearly  still  mentally fragile. In  one  episode  he  freaked  out  at  being  faced  with  a  mainframe  computer  again  and in the  episode  "Mockingbird"  he  was  driven  almost  to  breaking  point  by  the  taunts  of  a malevolent  wannabe.

After  two  highly  successful  series  with  Eve a  national  heartthrob, the  Beeb  were  aghast  when he  decided  to  quit  while  he  was  ahead  and  abandon  the  series  for  further  stage  work  and later , a  largely  unsuccessful  attempt  at  stardom  in  America. It  was  a  brave  step  but  whether his  co-stars  ( particularly  Godwin  who  hasn't  acted  in  the  last  two  decades )  appreciated  it   would  be  interesting  to  ascertain. The  production  team  came  up  with  a  replacement  series  in Bergerac  which  I  came  to  like  in  time   but  always  thought  was  a  poor  substitute. Like  Fawlty  Towers, Shoestring  left  you  wanting  more.

Shoestring  was  repeated  in  1981  and  1982  but  then  disappeared  from  terrestrial   television  until   January   2002  when  some  episodes , highly  edited  for  daytime  viewing, were  aired  in  the  afternoon. For  a  long  time  there  was  no  DVD  release  because  the  amount  of  music  played  in  the  scenes  at  Radio  West  made  it  uneconomic  to  clear  all  the  rights  but  eventually  some  deal  with  the  P.R.S .  was  done  and  a  box  set  of  the  first  series  came  out  in  2012.                 

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

399 To The Manor Born

First  viewed  :  30  September   1979

After  the  phenomenally  popular  The  Good  Life  came  to  an  end  in  1978  the  search  was  on for  suitable  vehicles  for  all  four  of   its  stars. For  Penelope  Keith  it  came  in  the  form  of  To  the  Manor  Born, the  epitome  of  the  Sunday  night  sitcom.

She  played  Audrey  Fforbes-Hamilton   a   recent  widow  forced  out  of  the  family  manor  house by  her  husband's  debts  and  forced  to  downsize  to  the  gatehouse  with  only  faithful  family   retainer  Brabinger  ( John  Rudling ). To  make  matters  worse  the  estate  is  purchased  by  suave food  millionaire  Richard  DeVere   who  it  transpires  is  a  second  generation  Czech  immigrant with  an  embarrassing  mother  Mrs  Polouvica  ( Daphne  Heard ) in  tow  to  prick  his  social pretensions. Richard  finds  he  can't  enjoy his  new  estate   without  bumping  into  his  awkward neighbour  and  her  friend  Marjorie  ( Angela  Thorne )  at  every  turn.

To  the  Manor  Born  had  no  pretensions  to  being  a  kitchen  sink  drama. How  Audrey  supported  herself  and  Brabinger  and  what  enabled  Marjorie  to  have  so  much  free  time  to  lavish  on  her  friend's  affairs  was  never  really  explained. Nevertheless  it  was   a  massive  success; Keith  appeared  to  have  brought  The  Good  Life's  audience  with  her. I'm  not  sure  how  much  of  it  I  actually  watched;  I  was  never  a  great  fan   and  details  of  individual  storylines  now  escape  me. It  lasted  for  three  series,  at  the  end  of  which  the  pair  got  married. There  was  a  one-off  episode  in  2007  but  that  passed  me  by.  

It  proved  to  be  the  high  watermark  of  Keith's  career. Although  Audrey  was  gentry  on  the  way  down  rather  than  a  social  climber  like  Margot  Leadbetter, the   two  characters  were  pretty  similar  and  her  image  as  a  well-spoken,  bossy,  harridan  became  fixed  in  the  public's  mind. A  lot  has  been  said  about  Margot  being  an  unwitting  herald  for  Thatcher  and  conversely,  perhaps  Keith's  popularity   waned   as  Thatcher  became  a  more  polarising  figure.  When  her  next  sitcom,  Sweet  Sixteen in  1983   bombed , she  took  herself  off  to  ITV  and  four  separate  sitcoms  which,  while  not  disasters,  failed  to  make  the  same  impact. She  returned  to  the  BBC  in  1995  to  make  Next  of  Kin   but  when  that  was  axed  two  years  later  largely  forsook  TV  in  favour  of  the  theatre ( apart  from  the  aforementioned  2007  special ). In  recent  years  she  has  turned  to  presenting  rather  than  acting.    


Monday, 23 May 2016

398 Prince Regent

First  viewed  :  September  1979

After  ITV's  success  with  Edward  VII  and  Edward  and  Mrs  Simpson , the  Beeb  came  up  with  its  own   royal   historical  drama  concentrating  on  the  future   George  IV  and  his  long  wait  for  the  throne.

Suave  Peter  Egan  played  George  from  his  coming-of-age  in  1782   to  his  accession  to  the throne  in  1820, thus  making  considerable  demands  on  the  make-up  department.  It  covered  his debauchery  with  friends  Fox  and  Sheridan  ( Keith  Barron  and  Clive  Merrison  respectively ), secret  and  illegal  marriage  to  Maria  FitzHerbert  ( Susannah  York ), disastrous  real  marriage  to  Caroline  of  Brunswick ( Dinah  Stabb )  and  ongoing  generational  conflict  with  his  father  George  III  ( Nigel  Davenport ).

For  all  the  costumed  finery  and  gay  antics  there  was  a  strong  melancholic  thread  throughout the  8-part  series  as  we  watched   George  III  descend  into  complete  madness  and  the   death  of Prince  George's  only  daughter  Charlotte ( Cherie  Lunghi ). Above  all  of  course,  we  saw the slow  physical  decline  of  George  and  his  pals  from  young  bucks  to  exhausted  old  men; there was  a  very  poignant  scene  where  George  receives the  doddering  Sheridan  for  the  last  time. I'm  sure  none  of  this  would  be  lost  on  a  certain  jug-eared  sexagenarian  of  our  own  day.

Talking  of   Sheridan,  I  remember  my  mum  and  sister  going  on  and  on  about  just  having seen  Clive  Merrison  in  a  play  at  the  Oldham  Colosseum  like  it  was  something  extraordinary.

The  series  has  never  been  repeated. I'm  wondering  if  that  has  something  to  do  with  the  fact  that  it  was  written  by  Ian  Curteis  who,  you  may  recall, kicked  up  such  a  fuss  about  his  pro-Thatcher  Falklands  drama  not  being  broadcast  a  few  years  later.      

Sunday, 22 May 2016

397 Junior That's Life

First  watched : 1  September  1979

Well  I'd  have  said  this  one  was  1980  but  no  I'm  a  year  out.

As  the  title  suggests  this  was  an  attempt  to  produce  a  kiddie-friendly  version  of  That's  Life for  a  Saturday  teatime  audience.  From  what  I  can  recall  it  had   a  very  similar  format   to  the main  programme  just  a  slight  toning-down  of  the  material. Of  course  there  was  a  fair  amount of  hubris  involved; by  having  a  "Junior"  version , it  suggested  that  the  main  programme  had an  adult  gravitas  that  it  didn't  really  possess.

The  junior  version  also  had  the  same  cast  with  one  exception.Cyril  Fletcher's  chair  was  occupied  by  two  schoolboys  who  presented  on  alternate  weeks. One  was  Shaun  Ley  , a  bespectacled , precocious  10  year  old  geek  in  the  mould  of  George  and  Mildred's   Tristan Fourmile  who'd  clearly  been  selected   to  be  as  aggravating  and  unbearable  as  children  can  get  . The  other ,Toby  Robertson,  was  a  more  normal  kid  with  a  cheeky  chappy  appeal.

The  programme  only  lasted  for  6  weeks  and  the  experiment  was  never  tried  again.

Now   Ley  is  a respected  political  correspondent  and  reporter  for  the  BBC  and  there  seems  to have  been  a  concerted  attempt  to  spare  his  blushes  and  erase  this  aspect  of  his  past.  His imdb  entry  makes  no  reference  to  the  show  and  he's  never  been  featured  on  Before  They Were  Famous . I   can't  find  any  footage  or  even  stills  to  show  you  what  he  was  like   although  it  clearly  is  the  same  bloke; I  recognised  him  immediately,  the  first  time  he   re-appeared  as  an  adult . Now  of  course   Esther  Rantzen  wouldn't  want  to  be  reminded  of  a failure  in her  c.v.  so  perhaps  Ley  is  just  an  incidental  beneficiary  of  her  brand  protection  but who knows  ?


Saturday, 21 May 2016

396 Match of The Day

First  watched  : 18  August  1979

Finally  I  got  to  watch  the  BBC's  flagship  football  programme  on  a  day  of  huge  sentimental significance,   being  the  day  I  went  to  Milnrow  in  response  to  a  newspaper  ad  and  picked  up a  kitten  who  became  Tuffy,  our  best-loved  family  pet  for  the  next  sixteen  years.

Helpfully,  the  Beeb  put  Match  of  the  Day  on  an  hour  early  because  they  were  showing  a boxing  match  live  later  in  the  evening. This  was  the  first  day  proper  of  the  1979-80  season   and  the  Beeb  decided, correctly, that  the  most  interesting  fixture  of  the  day  was   Manchester City's  home  game  against  Crystal  Palace.

This  was  all  about  Malcolm  Allison.  City's  coach  from  their  early  seventies  glory  years  had been  brought  back  to  the  club   halfway  through  the  1978-79  season  after  City  had  been unable  to  find  any  consistent  form  under  his  former  protege  Tony  Book. Despite  his  return   having  had  little  discernible  impact  as  City  finished  15th, Allison  was  promoted  to  head   coach  at  the  end  of  the  season  with  Book  relegated  to  a  "general  manager" administrative   role.

Once  installed  in  the  top  job, the  fun  really  started. Allison  dominated  the  back  pages  that  summer  as  he  ripped  the  heart  out  of  the  side  selling  Dave  Watson , Asa  Hartford  and  most  controversially  Gary  Owen  and  Peter  Barnes  and  replacing  them  with  completely  unproven  players  at  ridiculous  prices. Steve  McKenzie  a   teenage  midfielder  yet  to  make  his  League  debut  arrived  from  Crystal  Palace  for  £250,000. Michael  Robinson,  a  young  striker  from  Preston  cost  three  times  that. Bobby  Shinton  a  27  year  old  journeyman  striker  from  Wrexham  cost  £300,000. Watson's  replacement  was  Tommy  Caton, a  16  year  old  thrown  straight  in  from  the  youth  team. It  was  crazy  and  you  suspected   Allison  was  being  outrageous  for  its   own  sake  rather  than  shaping  a  team.

The  bizarrely  re-shaped  team  were  facing  Allison's  previous  British  club  Crystal  Palace  who'd  caught  the  eye  three  years  earlier  with  a  run  to  the  FA  Cup  Semi-Finals  whilst  a  Third  Division  club   with  a  team  of  youngsters Allison  had  brought  through. He  hadn't  stayed  to  finish  the  job  but  Terry  Venables  had  kept  the  side  together, achieved  two  promotions   and  now  had  the  tag  "Team  of  the  Eighties".

The  game  inevitably  ended  0-0  with  neither  side  looking  like  they  were  going  to  set  the League  alight.  A  fortnight  later  the  insanity  at  City  peaked  when  they  paid  one  and  a  half million for  Steve  Daley  a  midfielder  from  Wolves, still  I  think  the  most  ludicrously  over-valued  player  in  history. He  was  a  neat  and  tidy  player  but  no  one  else  thought  he  was worth  that  sort  of  money. Allison  and  his  chairman  Peter  Swales  blamed  each  other  for  the deal  for  the  rest  of  their  lives, conscious  that  it  set  back  the club  for  at  least  a  decade.  City finished  two  places  lower  than  the  previous  season, five  lower  than  Palace.

It  wasn't  the  most  memorable  of  seasons  with  Liverpool  retaining  their  title  although  a resurgent  Manchester  United  pushed  them  close. The  surprise  packages  were  Wolves  who'd immediately  spent  the  Daley  money  on  proven  goalscorer  Andy  Gray  and  the  result  was  a League  Cup  Final   win   over  holders  Forest and  fifth  place  finish. Forest  had  the  consolation of  retaining  the  UEFA  Cup.

In    those  days  it  was  still  Jimmy  Hill  at  the  helm  with  his  stock  of  instant  opinions  and former  Arsenal  keeper  Bob  Wilson  as  his  genial  sidekick. There  was  a  big  shake-up  the following  season  when  ITV  won  a  larger  share  of  the  broadcasting  rights  and  Match  of  the Day  moved  to  a  Sunday  teatime  slot. That  presented  me  with  a  big  dilemma as  it  now  partly clashed  with  the  chart  rundown on  Radio  One. I would  have  to  miss  the  first  half  hour  where most  of  the  new  entries  were. I  think  football  won  out  over  pop  up  to  Christmas  and  then with  the  New  Romantics  storming  the  charts  the  radio  snatched  me  back  in  1981.

For  the  next  three  years  the  programme  flitted  between  Saturday  and  Sunday  before  reverting to  Saturdays  for  1983-4. It  was  still  covering  some  lower  league  action  and  I  remember watching  highlights  of  Blackpool  v  York , with  audible  chants  of  "Jimmy  Hill  is  a  wanker ", at  my  hall  of  residence  in  February  1984.  That  was  the  last  Fourth  Division  action  to  be shown  and  the  intervening  divisions  had  been  dropped  by  1986   though  not  before  Manchester  City's  3-0  win  over  Wimbledon  at  Maine  Road   in  January 1985  in  the  old  Second  Division  which  was  the  first  time  I  was  at  one  of  the  featured  games.

In  1988  ITV  won  exclusive  rights  to  League  games  so  for  the  next  four  years  Match  of  the  Day  only  appeared  on   FA  Cup  weekends. The  Beeb   used  it  as  an  excuse  to  slowly  start  pushing  Hill  out  of  the  picture  as  Des  Lynam  became  the  main  host  with  Hill  featuring  as  a  pundit. This  left  them  with  the  unenviable  task  of  doing  a  programme  on  the  Hillsborough  disaster  which  they  did  exceedingly  well, Lynam  identifying  the  key  questions  which  featured  on  the  inquest  just  gone  and  Hill  correctly  predicting  the  arrival  of  all-seater  stadia. I do  recall  being  slightly  peeved  that  they  wouldn't  show  us  at  least  the  goal  from  the  other  game.

Happier  times  occurred  in  November  1991  when  Rochdale  drew  an  away  tie   at   Gretna  in the  FA  Cup  First  Round. As  they  were  the  first  Scottish  side  to  feature  at  this  stage  in  the competition  for  over  a  century  the  game  drew  a  considerable  amount  of  media  attention including  the  Match  of  the  Day  cameras. So  it  was  that  yours  truly  made  his  debut  on national  TV.  Draw a  straight  line  down  from  the  "r"  at  the  end  of  "Milner"  and  there  I  am or  at  least  my  26  year  old  self  is - I  wouldn't  want  them  to  film  me  from  that  angle  today ! Sadly  the  game  itself  was  a  0-0  anti-climax   with  the  only  talking  point  an  outrageous  foul by  our  dodgy  keeper  Gareth  Gray  just  outside  the  penalty  area. It  was  the  most  obvious  red  card  you  could  ever  see  but  the  referee  was  Ken  Redfern , the  only  official  ever  to  give    Dale more  than  their  fair  share  of  decisions. He  conjured  up  an  imaginary  covering  centre  half  to  justify  letting  Gray  off  with  a  yellow. Barry  Davies  commented  "Gareth  Gray  can  consider  himself  pretty fortunate "  but  we  knew  exactly  why.

At  the  end  of  that  season  everything  changed. The  Premier  League  started   and  Rupert Murdoch  swatted  ITV  away  to  win  the  coverage , tossing  the  Beeb  the  right  to  show  highlights  as  crumbs  from  the  table. Match  of  the  Day  resumed  its  weekly  place   in  the  schedules. Hill  was  rarely  involved  now  as  Lynam's  chief  pundits  were  Alan  Hansen  and  Gary  Lineker  both  of  them  very  popular  with  female  viewers  and  his  stand-in  was  the  nervy  Ray  Stubbs.

Lynam  quit  in  1999  with  Lineker  taking  over, a  position  he's  held  ever  since  apart  from  the  hiatus  from  2001 and  2004  when  ITV  won  the  highlights  rights. When  it  came  back  to  the  BBC  Match  of  the  Day  2  was  created  to  cover  the  games  on  Sundays. My  interest  in  the  Premiership  has  diminished  over  the  years  as  teams  I  had  a  soft  spot  for  like Coventry, Blackburn  and  Leeds  have  been  relegated  and  the  matches are  largely  played  by  selections  of  foreign  mercenaries  with  no  connection  to  the  communities  they  nominally  represent  but  I  do  still  watch  Match  of  the  Day  most  weeks,

Saturday, 14 May 2016

395 Shelley

First  viewed  : Uncertain

This  is  another  one  that  I  only  occasionally  dipped  into  with  little idea  of  when  that  was.

It  seems  strange  that,  so  soon  after  the  disaster  that  was  Chalk  and  Cheese ,  ITV  would launch  another  sitcom  with  a  similar  premise. Shelley  ( Hywel  Bennett  with  the  character's surname  perhaps  a  jokey  reference  to  his  appearance  in  the  Percy  films )  is  a  layabout   who can't  find  a  use  for  his  geography  PhD  and  so  sits  around  taking  apart  his  friends'  lifestyles with  his  sarcastic  wit  and  remedying  the  world's  problems  from  his  armchair.

In  reality  of  course,  such  a  person  would  have  no  friends  at  all  and  be  a  shabby  figure  in the  corner  of  a  library  somewhere  but  scriptwriter  Peter  Tilbury  and  his  successors  kept  it  going  for  five  years  until  1984   then,  after  a  sabbatical,  for  another  four  years  up  to  1992.  

Sunday, 8 May 2016

394 Sapphire and Steel

First  viewed : Summer  1979

I'm  not  going  to  linger  long  on  this  one  because  I  only  dipped  into  it  and  decided  it  wasn't my  bag. Besides  which,  there  are  plenty  of  sci-fi  fansites  or  blogs  where  you  can  find  a detailed  analysis  of  the  series. In  ITV's  ceaseless  attempts  to  produce   a  sci-fi   series   to  rival  Dr  Who  ,  they  came  up  with  Sapphire  and  Steel . Sapphire   ( Joanna  Lumley )  and  Steel  ( David  McCallum )  were  extraterrestrial  troubleshooters  like  the  good  Doctor  except  in  this , time , specifically  the  past ,  was  a  hostile  force  looking  to  impede  human  progress  and  an  accumulation  of  old  objects  could  trigger a  catastrophe.

Both  stars  were  big  names  and  the  series  was  heavily  promoted. Unfortunately , it  seemed  like  once  the  two  stars  and  the  geeks  who  came  up  with  the  Ice  Age  computer  graphics  had  been  paid , the  budget  was  exhausted  for  the  episodes  were  very  set-bound, dingily lit  and  clogged  up  with   lengthy  expository  dialogue . A  lot  of  people  did  buy  into  it  for  the  ratings  were  very  high  but  it  wasn't  for  me. Perhaps  you  had  to  be  in  from  the start.

The  original  season  was  interrupted  by  the  ITV  technicians'  strike  of  1979  but  it  survived  until  1982 when  neither  Lumley  nor McCallum  wanted  to  continue. It's  yet  to  be  rebooted  on  TV  but  there  were  some  audio-plays  produced  in  2004  with  both  parts  recast.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

393 B. J. and the Bear

First  viewed : Uncertain

I  never  watched  this  one  very  regularly. It  was  a  light  comedy / adventure  series  about  an unencumbered  trucker  roaming  the  highways  in  his  massive  vehicle   in  the  company  of  a chimp  called  Bear  who  didn't  talk  but  knew  how  to  make  himself  scarce  when  B  J  wanted to  unload  his  rig  with  a  procession  of  nubile  young  co-stars. The  series  unashamedly  rode  on the  coat-tails  of  the   big  trucking  pictures , most  obviously  Every  Which  Way  But  Loose, but otherwise  it  followed  the  usual  pattern  of  a lone  wolf  outsider  sorting  out  a  local  bad  guy. BJ's  most  regular  adversary  was  played  by  Murray  Hamilton  from   Jaws.

BJ  was  played  by  likable  Greg  Evigan . Many  of  the  female  characters  were  truckers  themselves  giving  the  series  some  thin  cover  from  the  accusations  of  rampant  sexism.

The  only  scene  I  really  remember  and  I  can't  pinpoint  the  episode  , is  a  bomb  scare  at  the  country  club  and  a  young  blonde  lady  in  a  dripping  bikini  running  round  telling  everyone  to  get  out. I  can't  think  why  that's  stayed  in  my  mind.

It  lasted  for  three  series.

Friday, 6 May 2016

392 Juke Box Jury

First  viewed : 16  June  1979

This  show  has  had  three  separate  iterations. For  most  of  the  sixties  it  was  a  Saturday  night  staple  with  a  panel  of  four,  mainly  drawn  from  the  music  business,  giving  their  views  of  whether  a  record  would  be  a  hit  or  miss  after  hearing  a  brief  snatch  of  it. To  add  spice,  the  artists  behind  one  of  the  records  would  be  in  the  studio  and  would  come  on  after  the  panel  had  given  its  verdict.  This  simple  formula  remained  for  all  three  versions.

The  original  series, hosted  by  David  Jacobs  ran  from  1959  to  1967  when  the  musical  shift   towards  albums  and  problems  caused  by  discussing  records  with  blatant  drug  references  led  to  its  cancellation.

When  punk  revitalised  the  7  inch  single , a  revival  of  the  show  followed  in  1979  with  the  ubiquitous  Noel  Edmunds  replacing  Jacobs  in  the  chair.  Pete  Murray  who  was  on  the  very  first  panel  and  had  occasionally  stood  in  for  Jacobs  appeared  on  the  panel  in  the  first  episode.  Some  of  the  panellists  were  strange  choices  like  Joan  Collins  and  swimmer  David  Wilkie . I  watched  it   religiously   apart  from  a  couple  of  weeks  when  I  was  on  holiday. Unfortunately  that  included  the  most  infamous  episode  where  a  certain  Mr  Lydon  appeared  and  drew  a  predictable  number  of  complaints. He  didn't  actually  swear  but  was  his  usual  rude  , acerbic  self   tersely  dismissing  records  with  comments  like  "rubbish"  and  "that's  awful"  to  the  delight  of  the  studio  audience. Edmunds  chastised  him  for  not  offering  much  "well-balanced  criticism "  ,  Alan  Freeman  told  him  to  "Shut up "  which  was  odd  considering  he  hadn't  said  very  much   and  Elaine  Paige  sitting  next  to  him  looked  scared  to  death. The  moment  I  recall  best  from  the  episodes  I  did  catch  was  Jonathan  King  in  that  ridiculous  wig  hiding  behind  the  desk  when  Black  Lace  came  on  after  royally  rubbishing  them.

I don't  think  the  programme  had  much  impact  on  the  actual  chart. I  remember  Dollar's  Love's  Got  A  Hold  On  Me    getting  a  real  mauling  and  then  it  making  the  Top  5.

The  Edmunds  version  didn't  return  for  a  second  season   and  the  series  remained  dormant  until  April  1989  when  Arena  ran  a  special  one-off  edition  with  Jacobs  in  the  chair  ( and  Murray  again  on  the  panel ).  It  was  notable  for  Roland  Gift  surprising  Dusty  Springfield  as  the  mystery  guest  after  she'd  said  she  had  a  crush  on  him.

Reaction  to  the  programme  proved  so  positive  that  the  BBC  commissioned  a  series  though  it  was  Jools  Holland  that  got  the  presenting  job. Housed  on  a  weird  set  that  looked  like  the  "Aladdin's  Cave"  room  on  Crimewatch,  the  series  was  now   more  of  a  roughly  edited  light  entertainment  programme  than  a  musical  discussion  show  with  the  panel  usually  featuring  at  least  one  comedian. In  any  case,  the  nature  of  the  music  business  had  changed  so  much  by  that  time  that  a  high  placing  in  the  singles  chart  signified  little  more  than  effective  marketing   and  the  views  of  a  celebrity  panel  on  whether  or  not  it  would  be  achieved  were  more  irrelevant  than  ever .

Nonetheless  it  was  quite  entertaining  and  there  were  plenty  of  moments  to  savour  :  Black  Francis's  horror  at  the  dance  re-mix  of  The  Cure's   Close  To  Me   - "it's  the  wrong  drumbeat  !",  Adrian  Edmondson  with  a  rubbishing  of  rap  music  that  would  see  him  run  out  of  town  if  he  said  it  today,  Bros  appearing  with  their  manager  to  keep  an  eye  on  them  and  Maria  McKee  frantically  fanning  herself  after  some  form  of  substance  abuse.

This  time  round  I  did  see  the  most  notorious  episode  where  Glenn  Medeiros  appeared  after the  panel  ( again  including  Alan  Freeman )  had   unanimously  demolished  his  latest  effort. I don't  suppose  the  Hawaiian  was  familiar  with  the  phrase " a  right  load  of  old  cobblers"  ( Vic  Reeves )  but  I  think  he  got  the  gist. Holland's  trepidation  at  introducing  him  was  palpable. Neneh  Cherry  , who'd  been  particularly  scathing  about  his  attempt  to  appear  more  "street" hid  her  face  in  her  hands  while  John  Fashanu  didn't  know  where  to look. Medeiros  managed  a  forced  grin  when  Holland  tried  to  defuse  the  tension  by  offering  him  a  fake  painting  but  couldn't  summon one  for  the  panel  and  after  giving  Bob  Mortimer  a  death  ray  glare  flounced  off  the  set. I  never  tire  of  watching  it.

The  programme  ran  to  a  second  series  in  1990  but  hasn't  been  seen  since.              

Thursday, 5 May 2016

391 The Mallens

First  viewed  : 10 June  1979

This  Sunday  night  adaptation  of   a   series  of   Catherine  Cookson  potboiler  novels  about  a  lusty  squire  whose  sexual  exploits  cause  mayhem  in  nineteenth  century  Northumberland  certainly  provided  some  talking  points. I  vividly  recall  a  school  mate  describing   a  scene  in  History  - "he  was  on  top  of  her, mauling  her !"  My  Gran  knew  the  books  and  was  a  Cookson  fan  ; my  mum  preferred  the  more  escapist  fantasies  of  the  ludicrous  Barbara  Cartland.

The  central  figure  in  the  first  series  is  lupine  serial  rapist  Thomas  Mallen  ( John  Hallam ) a  country  squire  whose  attempts  to  stave  off  bankruptcy  by  marrying  his  legitimate  son  Richard  ( David  Rintoul )  to  a  coal  heiress  are  thwarted  by  the  careless  talk  of  a  servant  , compounded  by  Richard  accidentally  shooting  a  bailiff. He  is  forced  to  live  in  straitened  circumstances   with  his  nieces,  Barbara  ( Pippa  Guard )  and  Constance ( Julia  Chambers )   and  their  resourceful  governess  Miss  Brigmore ( Caroline  Blakiston )  who  becomes  his  lover. The  two  girls  are  courted  by  a  pair  of  brothers  the  Radlets  from  a  nearby  farm . Donald  ( John  Duttine )  is  actually  Thomas's  son  , the  product  of  a  casual  rape  in  the  opening  scene, and  has  the  tell  tale  Dickie  Davies  white  streak  in  his  hair. His  mother  Jane  ( Gillian  Lewis ) then  married  and  had  a  legitimate  son ,   the  consumptive  Matthew  ( Ian  Saynor ). This  only  leads  to  more  tragedy  and  the  cast  was  severely  depleted  by  the  end  of  the  first  series, Thomas  offing  himself  after  not  recognising   in  the  dark  that  his  last  victim  was  Barbara.

The  Mallens  was  another  step  in  my  sex  education  with  my  Mum  having  to  explain  exactly  how  Donald  Radlet  knew  on  his  wedding  night  that   Constance  had  already  been  with  someone  else; the  word  "hymen"  now  entered  into  my  vocabulary.  Despite  the  fact  that  sex  drives  the  plot,  there  was  virtually  no  nudity  at  all  in  the  series ;  a  quick  glimpse  of  John  Duttine's  bum  in  the  dark  and  Caroline  Blakiston's  bare  back  were  all  you  got.

Another  reason  The  Mallens  was   popular  was  the  high  production  values  , worthy  of   something  a  little  more  high  brow. The  Northumbrian  scenery  is  jaw-dropping  although  the  Mallens'  mansion  was   actually  Illam  Hall  Youth  Hostel  in  the  Peak  District. In  addition  to  that  the  cast  was  selected  with  unusual  care; all  the  people  who  were  supposed  to  be  related  did  actually  look  similar , particularly  Matthew  , his  son  and  his  father.

Sadly,  the  second  series  in  1980  was  a  bit  of  a  let  down. Set  20  years  later it  concentrated  a  la  Wuthering  Heights  on  the  next  generation  represented  by  Michael  Radlet  ( Gerry  Sundqvist )  , the  son  of  Constance  and  Matthew  though  brought  up  as  Donald's  ( the  brothers  were  both  killed  in  a  skirmish  at  the  end  of  the  first  series )  and  Barbara  ( Juliet  Stevenson  in  her  first  screen  role  )  the  offspring  of  Thomas's  final  rape  ( the  elder  Barbara  died  giving  birth  to  her ) who  is  deaf  ( despite  Thomas  and  his  niece  not  being  blood  relatives ). They  find  each  other  despite  the  best  efforts  of   the  survivors,  Miss  Brigmore  and  Constance  ( now  played  by  June  Ritchie  , another  good  match )  to  keep  them  apart  and  the  cycle  begins  again.

It  just  didn't  grip  in  the  same  way  and  seemed  slow, with  the  producers  going  over  the  top  on  the  setting  to  compensate.  At  one  point   there's  a  country  fete  and  the  camera  abandons  the  characters  and  goes  wandering  around  the  set  for  a  good  five  minutes  just  to  use  up  the  time. By  contrast  the  ending  where  Barbara  and  Michael  end  up  drowning  each  other  seemed  rushed  and  unsatisfactory  ( and, as  my  Gran  protested  , seriously  at  variance  with  the  books ).

Monday, 2 May 2016

390 Sword of Justice

First  viewed  : 2  June  1979

Another  long-forgotten  series, this  was  like  an  American  version  of  The  Saint  which  went  into  the  pre-Match  of  the  Day  slot  on  Saturday  evenings.  It  starred  future  Dallas  man  Dack  Rambo  as  Jack  Cole  a  rich  play  boy  who , in  the  series  pilot, gets  three  years  in  prison  for  a  fraud  actually  committed  by  a  business  associate  ironically  played   by  Larry  Hagman.  After  a  thorough  grounding  in  criminal  techniques  inside,   Jack  comes  out  with  a  mission  to  take  down  white  collar  criminals  by  beating  them  at  their  own  game  then  leaving  a    number  3  playing  card  with  a  cryptic  message , usually  lost  on  its  recipient.

The  series  was  not  a  great  success. Despite  having   a  comic  sidekick  Hector  ( Bert  Rosario )  , the  revenge  aspect  made   Jack   a  brooding , humourless  hero  and  the  fact  that  much  of  the  action  took  place  at  nighttime  gave  it  an  overwhelmingly  dark  feel  that  audiences  found  hard  to  take. Only  nine  episodes  were  made.

The  producer  Glen  A  Larson  later  recycled  some  of  the  elements  for  the  much  more  successful  Knight  Rider.  As  noted  above  Rambo  re-surfaced  in  Dallas   for  a  couple  of  years  until  the  return  of  Patrick  Duffy  made  his  character  redundant. He  popped  up  again  in  long -running  US  soap  Another  World   in  1991  until  an  HIV  positive  diagnosis  prompted  an  abrupt retirement  from  acting. He  died  of  AIDS  three  years  later.        

Sunday, 1 May 2016

389 Rhoda

First  viewed : Uncertain

I  have  little  idea  when  I  first  saw  this. I  recall  that  my  Mum  had  been  watching  it  for  a  while  without  me  and  my  sister  and  that  by  the  time  we  caught  up, her  favourite  character  Ida  wasn't  in  it.  That  would  make  it  the  third  US  season  which  was  broadcast  here  in  1978  and 1979.

Rhoda  was  a  spin-off  from  The  Mary  Tyler  Moore  Show  where  the  character  of  Rhoda  Morgenstern  (  Valerie  Harper  )  appeared  as  Mary's  Jewish  best  friend. She  was  given  her  own  show  in  1974  along  with  her  frumpy  sister  Brenda  ( Julie  Kavner ) and  overbearing  mama  Ida  ( Nancy  Walker ).   Despite  Ida's  stereotypical  behaviour,   Rhoda's  Jewishness  was  actually  downplayed  compared  to    TMTMS    and  in  fact  neither  Harper  nor  Walker  were  genuinely  Jewish.  The  show  took  off  like  a  bomb  and  the  hour  long  episode  where  Rhoda  got  married  to  a  guy  named  Joe  drew  a  phenomenal  audience.

There  was  a  price  to  be  paid  for  that  though. When  the  writers  felt  Rhoda's  marriage  had  run  its  course  and  decided  on  a  divorce  in  the  third  season   much  of   the  show's  audience    turned  off  ( Walker's  absence  from  this  season  probably  also  contributed  to  the  desertion ).  In  the   subsequent  seasons ,  the  focus  switched  more  to  Brenda's  love  life  and  there  was  some  recovery  in  the  ratings  but  it  never  regained  its  former  popularity.  It  was  cancelled  in  1978  after  five  seasons.

I  never  liked  it. I  hated  the  laughter  track  with  its  wild  whoops   at  not  particularly  funny  moments  and  simply  couldn't  believe  that  any  guy  would  be  interested  in  Brenda,  with  her  big  nose  and  that  grating  squawk  of  a  voice , if   Rhoda  was on  hand.  Even  more  irritating  though  was  Carlton, the  unseen  doorman  whose  whiny  camp  monotone  was  surely  the  inspiration  for  the  voice  of   Marvin  in  The  Hitchhiker's  Guide  To  The  Galaxy.

Harper  eventually  found  another  successful   comedy  vehicle  in  Valerie  in  the  mid-eighties  though  it  ended  sourly  for  her  and  she  later  to  Broadway. In  recent  years  she  has  been  struggling  with  cancer.   Walker  fancied  moving  behind  the  camera  but  her  directorial  career  was  stillborn  after  the  notorious  failure  of  the  Village  People  film   Can't  Stop  The  Music. She  continued  to  find  work  in  TV comedy  and  won  an  Emmy  for  her  work  in  The  Golden  Girls  . She  died  in  1992.  Kavner  had  a  few  lean  years  before  being  rescued  by  Woody  Allen  with  a  good  role  in  Hannah  and  Her  Sisters  .  That  was  followed  by  The  Tracey  Ullman  Show   which   led   directly  to  the  part  which  has  been  her  bread  and  butter  for  the  past  three  decades  - the  voice  of  Marge  in  The  Simpsons - though  she  has  taken  film  roles. mainly  for  Allen.