Tuesday, 31 May 2016
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.