Sunday, 31 July 2016

453 Juliet Bravo

First  viewed  :  Autumn  1980

It  took  a  while  for  this  one  to  register  with  me  but  eventually  it  became  a  favourite  and   I  mourned  its  passing.

Juliet  Bravo  was  the  brainchild  of  Ian  Kennedy  Martin , creator  of  The  Sweeney.  It  followed  the  adventures  of  a  local  police  station  in  the  fictional  Lancashire  town  of   Hartley  where  the  inspector  in  charge  was  a  woman. For  the  first  three  seasons  it  was  Jean  Darblay ( Stephanie  Turner  ) , for  the  latter  three,  Kate  Longton  ( Anna  Carteret ). Her  two  sergeants  Joe  Beck ( David  Ellison )  and  George  Parrish  ( Noel  Collins ) were  in  it  for  the  duration. In  the  Darblay  years  there  was  a  new  PC  each  season  but  the  Longton  seasons  had  two  regulars,  the  sensible  Brian  Kelleher  ( C J  Allen )  and  more  impulsive  Danny  Sparks  ( Mark  Botham ).

Although  the  series  tackled  some  hard-hitting  issues  such  as  rape, heroin, incest. the  occult  to  name  a  few, it  was  in  other  respects  a  return  to  the  world  of  Dixon  of  Dock  Green   whose  time  slot  it  inherited. Joe  Beck, though  a  bit  short-tempered, was  every  bit  the  reassuring  town  bobby  that  everyone  would  love  to  see  pounding  the  streets.

Like  The  Gentle  Touch  on  the  other  channel,  Juliet  Bravo  gave  a  fair  amount  of  time  to  its  lead  character's  domestic  life. Jean  Darblay  was  a  married  woman  although  husband  Tom  ( David  Hargreaves  )  didn't  appear  in  every  episode.  That  was  one  of  the  reasons  why  I  held  the  series  at  arm's  length  for  most  of  her  tenure  although  it  gradually  dawned  on  me  that  most  of  the  series  was  filmed  in  nearby  Rossendale  so  spotting  familiar  landmarks  became  a  reason  for  watching  it.

Turner  quit  of  her  own  volition  at  the  end  of  the  third  season  ( 1982 )  but  the  series  continued  with  a  new  first  lady. Kate  Longton  was  single  and  had  romances  with  characters  played  by  Tom  Georgeson  and  Edward  Peel  but  her  personal  life  didn't  seem  to  intrude  on  the  storylines  as  much  as  Darblay's  had. These  latter  three  seasons  coincided  with  the  autumn  terms  during  my  three  years  at  university  and  I  would  often  watch  it  with  my  mum  after  coming  back  from  football  and  before  heading  back  to  Leeds. This  connection  with  my  early  years  watching  the  Dale  and  a  lifestyle  that  will  never  come  round  again  gives  the  series  a  real  nostalgic  glow  and  I  remember  some  of  the  episodes  very  vividly :

  • Solvent  Solution  ( 1983 ) Kate  has  to  deal  with  a  bout  of  glue  sniffing  in  Hartley  not  helped  by  the  arrogance  of  the  hardware  shop  owner  played  by  Simon  Rouse.
  • There's  None  So  Blind  ( 1984 )  An  old  blind  lady on  Joe's  beat  helps  turn  the  tables  against  a  young  thief.
  • Halloween (1984 )  An  evil  man  played  by  serial  TV  villain  Tony  Anholt  has  lured  a  young  girl  into  the  occult  and  persuaded  her  she  will  die  on  October  31st. Joe  and  George  pull  him  in  for  drink  driving  to  make  sure  it  doesn't  happen.
  • Alibi ( 1984 )  The  naive  Danny  Sparks  makes  some  new  friends  who  use  him  as  an  alibi  for  their  criminal  activities  although  he  does  eventually  rumble  them.
  • Resolution  ( 1984 )  Joe  is  investigated  over  a  death  in  custody  and  considers  leaving  the  force
  • Flowers  Tomorrow  ( 1984 ) An  extraordinarily  powerful  story  where  an  unemployed  man  at  the  end  of  his  tether  kills  in  a  moment  of  rage  and  then  climbs  to  the  upper  stories  of  Robin  Wood  Mill  in  Todmorden  ( sadly  now  much  reduced   since  an  insurance  job  fire  in  1992 )  to  commit  suicide. Brian  manages  to  talk  him  down  but  Kate's  blundering  intervention  causes  him  to  jump  out  of  the  window.
  • Hostage  To  Fortune ( 1985 )  A  gang  of  criminals  take  a  bank  manager's  wife  hostage  and  Brian  ends  up  having  to  shoot  one  of  them. He  then  asks  Kate  to  be  taken  off  firearms  duty  because  "I  felt  like  I  enjoyed  it ".
  • Scab ( 1985 )  The  team  have  to  diffuse  a  feud  between  a  striking  miner  played  by  Geoffrey  Hinsliff  and  his  strike-breaking  neighbour  while  contemplating  their  own  role  in  the  dispute.
  • Chasing  the  Dragon ( 1985 )  Heroin  comes  to  Hartley  and  Sally  Whittaker, shortly  before  going  into  Coronation  Street,   is  one  of  the  young  addicts.
  • Inspection ( 1985 )  The  station  is  on  tenter hooks  while  undergoing  an  inspection . Robert  Glenister  plays  a  former  constable  on  the  inspection  team  who's  not  inclined  to  do  his  former  colleagues  any  favours.
  • We  Are  The  People  ( 1985 )  A  contrived  but  memorable  story  where  a  drunken  Scottish  fan  returning  from  Wembley  somehow  finds  himself  wandering  the  Lancashire  moors  and  dropping  into  a  barn. He  tells  the  police  he  was  given  a  blanket  by  a  young  woman  wearing  a  chain. She  turns  out  to  be  the  hidden  offspring  of  a  sibling  farming  couple.
  • Reasons  For  Leaving  ( 1985 )  A  dramatic  conclusion  to  the  series  when  Danny  surprises  a  pair  of  Christmas  tree  thieves. They  knock  him  unconscious  and  he  perishes  through  smoke  inhalation.
I  don't  know  why  the  Beeb  decided  the  series  had  run  its  course   but  sometimes  it's  better  to  go   out   leaving  people  wanting  more. 

None  of  the  series  regulars  had  such  a  high  profile  again  although  Anna  Carteret  remains  a  highly  respected  stage  actress. Both  Ellison  and  Collins  have  passed  away  in  recent  years. Allen  is  a  bit  part  actor  and  Botham , who  had  a  strong  resemblance  to  my  old  school  friend  Patrick, seems  to  have  left  the  profession  at  the  beginning  of  the  nineties.   

Saturday, 30 July 2016

452 Medic 1-6

First  viewed :  26  August  1980

This  was  only  on  for  a  couple  of  nights  as  a  filler  item  while  the  Nationwide  team  went  on  holiday.  It  was  actually  made  by  the  Nationwide  crew  and  was  a  fly  on  the  wall  documentary  about  a  seaside  doctor .  I  think  he  must  have  been  the    local  A &  E  consultant  given  the  content. I  can't  remember  his  name  or  be  sure  about  the  town ( I  think  it  might  have  been  Scarborough  but  I  could  be  completely  wrong  there )  . The  only  thing  I  really  remember  is  from  the  second  programme  where  a  middle-aged  guy  had   been  seriously  injured   - I'm  not  sure  it  explained  exactly  what  he'd  managed  to  do  to  himself  - and  had  to  be  airlifted  to  a  bigger  hospital. I  remember  him  being  conscious  and  apologising  for  his  swearing  - all  bleeped  out  for  early  evening  viewing  of  course -  while  they  manoeuvred  him  into  a  chopper.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

451 The Martian Chronicles

First  viewed  :  9  August  1980

This  is  the  first  ( largely  ) American  mini-series  to  feature  here.

The  Martian  Chronicles   was  an  adaptation  of  the  sprawling  Ray  Bradbury  collection  of loosely-linked  short  stories  about  the  colonisation  of  Mars, originally  published  in  1950. It  was broadcast  as  three  97  minute  episodes   on  a  Saturday  evening  filling  the  gap  between  the   end  of  Knots  Landing  and  the  return  of  Dallas.

The  action  starts  in  1999. With  nuclear  war  threatening  to  destroy  humanity, NASA  turns  to  Mars  as  a  way  to  escape  the  carnage. As  the  first  mission  approaches  the  planet  we  meet  our  first  Martians , telepathic  humanoids  in  skimpy  clothes  who  speak  perfect  English  in  a  monotone. The  first  astronauts  are  killed  by  a  jealous  Martian  husband  almost  before  they've  got  out  of  the  the  spacecraft. The  second  expedition  is  eliminated  more  elaborately  in  a  telepathic  hoax  where  the  astronauts  believe  they're  meeting  lost  loved  ones  in  their  home  town. Before  their  deaths  however  one  leaves  a  parting  gift  of  chicken  pox  which  nearly  wipes  out  the  Martian  population   so  the  third  expedition  led  by  idealistic  Colonel  Wilder  ( Rock  Hudson )  finds  merely   a  deserted  civilisation. This  turns  the  head  of  Major  Spender  ( Bernie  Casey ) who  declares  himself  "the  last  Martian"  and  starts  shooting  the  rest  of  the  crew  before  Wilder  gets  him.

That  was  the  first  and  probably  best  episode . The  second  focuses  on  the  early  settlers  and  the  inevitable  disappointment  with  their  new  home. Each  have  some  contact  with  the  remaining   few  Martians. One  is  trapped  by  his  own  telepathy  into  manifesting  according  to  the  humans'  desire  so  he  appears  as  a  dead  son  to  a  mourning  couple  and  then  Jesus  Christ  himself  to  a  priest . Sam  Parkhill  ( Darren  McGavin )  the  only  other  survivor  from  Wilder's  expedition  ends  up  with  a  land  grant  from  the  Martian  survivors  after  a  desert  chase.

In  the  third  episode  the  nuclear  war  has  happened  so  the  Martian  colony  is  pretty  much  all  that's  left  of  humanity. Wilder  mooches  around  the  survivors  looking  glum  and  philosophising  before  deciding  to  make  the  best  of  things.

The  screenplay  was  necessarily  a  condensed  version  of  Bradbury's  opus  and  he  didn't  like  it   describing  it  as  "just  boring ".  Some  of  it  was -  the  storyline  about  Hathaway  ( Barry  Morse )  creating  an  android  version  of  his  family  wasn't  very  interesting  and  seemed  disconnected  from  the  rest  of  the  narrative   - but  on  the  whole  it  was  a  worthy  attempt  at  bringing  a  difficult  book  to  the  screen.      

It's  been  repeated  twice , as  a  late  Saturday  night  item  on  BBC One  in  March  1983  and  then  an  early  evening  feature  on  BBC  Two  in  1984.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

450 Looking Good Feeling Fit

First  viewed  : August  1980

For  the  first  two  of  its  four  seasons  this  was  a  summer  replacement  for  Tomorrow's  World  and  so  watched  for  much  the  same  reason i.e  it  directly  preceded  Top  of  the  Pops. It  was  presented  by  Richard  Stilgoe  , musical  wit  for  Nationwide  and  That's  Life,  though  he  presented  this  in  straight  fashion  alongside  Gillian  Reynolds  ( better  known  as  a  critic  for  the  Daily  Telegraph )  and  a  doctor  named  Mike  Smith.

The  programme  was  an  early  attempt  to  latch  on  to  the  burgeoning  interest  in  personal  health  maintenance. The  first  season  of  four  programmes covered  broad  topics  such  as  diet, stress  relief  and  the  beauty  industry  and  talked  to  ordinary  people  and  expert  practitioners. It  was  fairly  humdrum  stuff  and  with  Stilgoe  on  board  it  was  sometimes  difficult  to  tell  when  Nationwide  had  finished  and  this  begun.

From  the  second  season  onwards  there  was  much  more  of  an  emphasis  on  celebrity  guests  such  as  Roger  Daltrey, Felicity  Kendall ,  Jimmy  Savile  ( ahem )  and  in  the  first  episode  of  season  two  Kate  Bush .  n  a  pre-recorded  item  Stilgoe  went  down  to  Pineapple  Studios  to  film   her  rehearsing  an  energetic  dance  routine  for  the  video  to  Sat  In  Your  Lap.  Kate  then  gave  Stilgoe  an  interview  in  situ  in  which  she,  possibly  unintentionally ,  undermined  all  the  rationale  for  featuring  her  on  the  programme.

RS : You  do  not  have  pimples, spots  and  all  the  things  that  the  rest  of  us  get  if  we  stay  up  if  we  stay  out  late  all  night. How  do  you  manage  that ?

KB: Well  I  do . I  do  get  pimples  and  things   but  luckily  I've  found  some  creams  and  things  that  are  incredibly  good  for  my  skin  and  I  use  them  morning  and  night  and  seem  to  be  OK. But  I  do  get  spots,  everyone  gets  spots.

RS : You  obviously  enjoy  yourself  and  you're  obviously very  happy . Do  you  think  that  is  why  you're  a  healthy  person ?

KB : I  don't  think  I'm  a  healthy  person. You  see  I  dance  because  I  want  to  dance  not  cause  I  want  to  keep  fit  and  it's  just  a  sort  of  side  thing  that  I  happen  to  keep  fit  at  the  same  time.

Whether  she  meant  to  or  not  she  conveyed   the  impression  that  Stilgoe  had  just  gone  along  to  gawp  at  her  and  tried  to  find  a  justification  for  it  afterwards.

Alas  the  programme  was  never  so  interesting  again. For  the  fourth  and  final  season  only  Smith  survived  as  Sarah  Kennedy  and   Christopher  Lillicrap   took  over  presenting  duties. The  last  episode  was  broadcast  on  5  July  1983.  

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

449 The Six Wives of Henry VIII

First  viewed :  August  1980

This  was  a  BBC2  repeat, a  decade  on,  of  one  of  the  BBC  drama  department's  greatest  triumphs,  a  six  part  account  of  the  fortunes  of  the  six  women  unfortunate  enough  to  marry  the  murderous  despot. The  series  had  gone  all  over  the  world  and  won  numerous  awards. In  1972  it  was  made  into  a  Hollywood  film  which  kept  Keith  Michell  as  Henry  but  re-cast  all  the  wives. What  was  most  remarkable  was  that  it  was  comprised  of  six  separate  plays, each  one  with  a  different  author. While  it  helped  that  the  cast  stayed  the  same, it's  still  a  bit  surprising  that  it  hung  together  so  well.

The  timing  was  a  bit  curious. The  series  had  already  been  repeated  twice  in  1971  and  1972 but  hadn't  been  seen  since  so  why  now ?  Could  it  have  been  related  to  Michell's  unlikely appearance, earlier  in  the  year, in  the  UK  singles  chart  as  the  performer  of  Captain  Beaky ,  a single  released  to  promote  an  illustrated  children's  book   but  given  airplay  by  Noel  Edmunds on  his  wilfully  perverse  Sunday  morning  show ? The  single  made  number  5  and  Beaky  and   his  arch-foe  Hissing  Sid  the  snake  were  all  the  rage  in the  early  months  of  1980  until  a certain  fictional  oil  executive  copped  some  lead . Did  some  BBC2  executive  catch  a  glimpse of  Keith  mugging away  on  Top  of  the  Pops   and  think  "oh  yes,  I  know  what  we  could  use to  fill  out  the  holiday  schedule" ?

I  only  dipped  into  this  perhaps  because  having  studied  the  Tudors  at  both  primary  and  secondary  school, the  content  was  over-familiar.  I  do  recall  the  last  episode  dealing  with  Catherine  Parr  both  for  her  obvious  horror  that  the  bloated  semi-invalid  king  was  still  going  to  want  his  oats  with  her  and  the  often  neglected  truth  that  Henry  , for  all  his  ravages  , still  thought  of  himself  as  a  Catholic  and  was  under  the  influence  of  the   Catholic  Bishop  Gardiner, presented  here  as  a  villain, in  the  last  months  of  his  reign.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

448 The 1980 Summer Olympics

First  viewed : July  1980

I  must  confess   that  by  the  time  these  Olympics  came  round  the  hype  around  the   Coe-Ovett  rivalry  had  had  its  effect  on  me  and  I  was  interested  enough  to  actually  tune  in  and  watch athletics  with  some  engagement. I  didn't  like  Sebastian  Coe  who  came  across  as  a  self-satisfied  prig  but  there  was  something  about  Steve  Ovett's  bony  face  and  that  silly  finger  gesture  at  the  end  of   a  race  that  made  me  favour  the  former.

These  Games  held  in  Moscow,  were  dogged  by  political  controversy  with  many  nations  choosing  to  boycott  them  over  the  Soviet  invasion  of  Afghanistan  in  1979,  most  notably  Jimmy  Carter's  U.S.A. The  absence  of  the  Americans  in  particular  threw  a  question  mark  over  the   authenticity  of  many  of  the  medals  gained.

In  the  event  it  was  honours  even  between  the  two  Brits. Ovett  first  beat  Coe  in  his  less  favoured  800  metres  and  boldly  stated  he  would  not  only  win  the  1500  metres  but  shave  four  seconds  off  the  world  record. Thus  set  up  for  a  fall, Ovett  came  third  as  Coe  won  the  race. A  third  Brit  made  the  800  metres  final , a  guy  with  a  moustache  called  David  Warren  who  confidently  proclaimed  that  he  would  win  the  bronze. He  came  last.

Much  more  likable  than  either  of  them  was  the  Scottish  sprinter  Allan  Wells  who  won  gold  in  the  100  metres  final  by  a  micrometre. His  right  to  gold  was  more  questioned  than  the  others'  but  hey  you've  got  to  be  in  it  to  win  it  as  they  say. That  race  has  become  notable  as  the  last  100  metres  final  to  even  feature  a  white  runner  let  alone  a  winner.

The  other  main  memory  I  have  of  the  Games   is  the  transformation  in  Romania's  Nadia  Comaneci  from the  half-starved  waif  at  14  in  1976  to  18-year  old  sexpot. She  now  had  boobs  and  towered   over  her  fellow  competitors. Inevitably  the  change  in  her  physical  shape  had  its  effect  on  her  performances. She  successfully  defended  two  ( although  one  was  shared  with  Russia's  Nelly  Kim )   of  her  three  titles  but  was  felt  to  have  been  the  beneficiary  of  over-generous  marking.

Nadia  was  the  subject  of  many  lurid  rumours  linking  her  to  Nicu  Ceaucescu, the  playboy  son  of  the  Communist  dictator  who  was  said  to  have  raped  her  and  beaten  her  up  on  numerous  occasions. In  fact  they  scarcely  knew  each  other  and  apart  from  a  drinking  problem  that  eventually  killed  him  Nicu  was  actually  a  fairly  decent  guy  in  the  circumstances. She  defected  to  the  USA  just  before  the  Romanian  revolution  , married  a  former  US  gymnast  and  became  a  naturalised  American  in  2001.      

Monday, 18 July 2016

447 Sounding Brass

First  viewed  : July  1980

It's  sad  to  recount  that  this  one's  slipped  into  obscurity  as  I  thought  it  was  great. I  had  to  pop  down  to  my  gran's  to  watch  it  as  my  mum  and  sister  wanted  to  continue  with  The  Big  Time  on  BBC 1.

Written  by  Don  Shaw   whose  past  credits  included  Survivors  and  Danger -UXB , Sounding Brass  was  concerned  with  the  fortunes  of   the  fictional  Ettaswell  Brass  Band  and  their pigheaded  autocratic  leader   H G  Beswick  , a  part  Brian  Glover  was  born  to  play. H  G  is  a butcher  by  trade  but  the  band  is  his  whole  raison d'etre   and  he  can  never  understand  why   other  members  let  life  get  in  the  way.

They  were  all  well  cast  too. Stephen  Hancock, in  his  first  role  since  Ernie  Bishop's  dramatic  demise  on  Coronation  Street  played  Leonard  Dukes. Standing  out  as  the  band's  middle  class  member,  Dukes  is  a   music  master . He's  probably  more  qualified  to  lead  the  band  and  H.G,  knows  it. Dukes  doesn't  want  to  supplant  H.G.  but  will  stand   his  ground  and  there's  frequent  tension  between  the  two. In  one  episode  Dukes  is  tapped  by  a  rival  firm  and  the  E.B.B. have  to  purchase  an  expensive  cornet  to  persuade  him  to  stay

You  also  had  Ray  Mort  as  Gerry,  the  faithful  lieutenant  and  only  other  commitee  member ,  who's  had  to  become  expert  at  smoothing  the  feathers  H.G.  ruffles, grouchy  Teddy  Turner  the  tuba  player  who's  getting  past  it  - "It's  me  lips,  H.G. ! " - and  Philip  Jackson  ( who  was  also  in  Brassed  Off  many  years  later  ) as  dour  Wilf  who's  got  a  chip  the  size  of a  house  brick on  his  shoulder.

There  was  one  episode  where  H.G.  gets  ousted  but  they  eventually  realise  they  need  someone  with  his  level  of  commitment.

The   episode   I  remember  best  is  the  last  one  , "H.G  and  the  Exploding  Orange  which  was  clearly  influenced  by  the  success  of  the  Brighouse  and  Rastrick  Brass  Band.  Much  to  H.G.'s  displeasure,  young  Tim  the  drummer,   played  by  future  Blue  Peter  presenter  Mark  Curry,  starts  moonlighting  with  a  rock  group . H.G.'s  anger  is  mollified  when  the group's  manager  Spencer  le  Fevre  ( Gregory  Floy ) evinces  an  interest  in  recording  the  band  as  well. His  introduction  starts  with  the  classic  exchange  :

Spencer  : Do  people  still  dig  brass  bands ?
Wilf : No  they  dig  gardens  !

Eventually  it's  only  H.G. , whose  ego  Spencer  has  successfully  massaged , that  can't  see  they're being  ripped  off  but , as  usual,  Gerry  saves  the  day  and  things  get  back  to  normal.

Unfortunately  that  was  the  last  we  saw  of  them  after  just  6  episodes. It  didn't  make  Brian Glover  the  big  TV  star  he'd  hoped  though  he  was  hardly  out  of  work  as  one  of  our  best character  actors  until  his  untimely  death  in  1997. I  think  it  was  just  a  case  of  bad  luck,  The Big  Time   proving  too  big  a  draw  to  allow  this  to  gather  the  audience  it  deserved.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

446 The Innes Book of Records

First  viewed  :  30  June  1980

This  is  an  odd  one  , a  programme  I  didn't  really  like  but  which  provided  a  couple  of  moments  that  have  stayed  with  me  over  the  years.

Ex-Bonzo  Dog  Doo-Dah   Band  frontman  Neil  Innes  earned  the  right  to  his  own  series  through  his  collaboration  with  the  Pythons  on  the  last  Cleese-less  series  and  the  success  of  Rutland  Weekend  Television  which  he  co-created  with  Eric  Idle. In  1979  he  was  invited  to  make  what  were  effectively  new  pop  videos , not  only  for  his   recent  album  of  the  same  name  but  also  for  previous  songs   from  his  conspicuously  unsuccessful  solo  career. There  were  also  spoken  interludes  either  from  Neil's  star  guests  or  the  man  himself.

The  resulting  show  was  surreal,  unsurprisingly  Python-esque  and  cerebral  with  many  references  to  high  art. There  was  never  much  danger  it  would  cross  over  from  BBC2  and  it's  difficult  to  imagine  it  getting  the  green  light  today. Eighteen  episodes  were  filmed  and  broadcast  over  three  seasons  between  1979  and  1981  with  a  number  of  recompiled  repeats  shown  up  to  1984.

I  tuned  in  for  an  episode  in  the  second  season  , probably  for  special  guest  Rowan  Atkinson although  his  silly  monologue  about  organs  is  far  from  his  greatest  moment. There  was   a ghost  story,  told  from  the  boat  in  Speedwell  Cavern,  and  Neil's  stab  at  punk  pastiche, "Paranoia ",  which  withers  and  dies  next  to  NTNOCN's  Gob  On  You  .

But  there  was  also  "Kenny  and  Liza "  one  of  Neil's  Beatles  pastiches  which  sounds  like  he's continuing  the  story  of   She's  Leaving  Home.  The  song  has  an  earworm  chorus  which  I  can still  hum  thirty-six  years  later. Neil  didn't  appear  in  the  accompanying  film, it  just  followed the  two  young  proletarian  lovers  as  they  stopped  at  Knutsford  Services  , had  a  brew , looked at  their  reflections  in  the  spoons  and  played  a  very  primitive  arcade  game,  interspersed  with footage  of  night  time  traffic. It  was  deeply  affecting  and  every  time  I've  stopped  at  motorway services  during  the  night  I've  been  reminded  of  it.

The  other  number  I  recall , for  different  reasons , was  "Feel  No  Shame"  from  the  penultimate  episode  in  1981. Neil  wrote  the  song  for  Oxfam  back  in  1973  which  accounts  for  its  Mott  The  Hoople  glam  sound. The  film  started  with  Neil  in  monk's  robes  playing  his  guitar  on  a  rocky  beach. We  then  see  a  nun  walking  along  the  edge  of  the  sea  but  she  ignores  him  and  returns, not  to  a  convent, but  a  shabby  bedsit  on  the  seafront. There  she  strips  down  to  her  underwear  and  underneath  the  wrappings  she's  smoking  hot ! She  then  puts  on  jeans, a  baggy  jumper  and  Afghan  coat  and  joins  a  Women's  Lib  march. It's  still  one  of  the  sexiest  sequences  I've  seen  on  TV, whatever  point  Neil  was  trying  to  make  about  double  standards. I  don't  know  who  the  girl  was ; she  might  not  even  have  been  credited  but  she's  certainly  lodged  in  the  memory.

Apart  from  a  Rutles  reunion  in  1996, Neil  hasn't  had  such  a  high  profile  since  but  he's  kept  busy, working  in  childrens  television, involved  in  many  ex-Python  projects  and  increasingly  appearing  in  music  documentaries  as  a  sixties  survivor  who's  still  got  his  head  together.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

445 Playhouse : Crest of a Wave

First  viewed  :  20  June  1980

This  is  another  near-forgotten  little  playlet  I  watched  with  my  Gran  on  a  Friday  night. It  was actually  a  repeat,  having  first  been  shown  in  1978  under  the  Premiere  banner  ( for  the director ;  writer  Douglas  Livingstone  already  had  a  long  string  of  credits  in  a  40  year  career as  a  screenwriter ) .

It  starred  Denholm  Elliott  as  Jim  a  middle  aged  man  who , accompanied  by  his  wife , drops in   on  an  old  friend  Nifty  ( Ian  Hendry )  who  was  in  the  Scouts  with  him. Jim  is  gregarious and  rather  full  of  himself  , Nifty  rather  tongue-tied  and  awkward . Jim  wastes  no  time  in dredging  up   embarrassing  memories  for  Nifty  and  flashbacks  reveal  young  Jim  as  something of  a   self-aggrandising  bully  who  takes  advantage  of   Nifty's  mildness  and  lack  of imagination. Once  that's  over  though  Jim, recently  made  redundant,  wonders  if   Nifty  can  find him   a  job. After  he's  gone,  Nifty's  wife  asks  if  he's  really  going  to  help  Jim  . Nifty,  now completely  secure  and  unruffled  by  Jim's  desperate  attempt  to  restore  the  old  pecking  order , nonchalantly  says  yeah  he  can  probably  find  something. Water  off  a  duck's  back.

Needless  to  say  Denholm  Elliott  was  excellent.  

Friday, 15 July 2016

444 The European Championship 1980

First  viewed  : 12  June  1980

It's  interesting  to  be  writing  about  this  less  than  a  week  after  the  latest  tournament  concluded.

In  1980  the  European  Championship  was  much  less  of  a  deal  than  it  is  now. In  fact  the  Finals  had  only  just  been  extended  from  four  to  eight  teams ; the  1976  tournament  had  completely  passed  me  by.  What  made  this  one  important  is  that   it  was  the  first  major  Finals  England  had  qualified  for  in  a  decade  ( even  further  back  if  you  don't  count  qualification  as  hosts  or  holders ) . Ron  Greenwood  had  managed  it  without  too  much  drama  as  England  had  come  through  a  relatively  easy  group  unscathed. The  squad  was  fairly  settled  with  many  players  ( Shilton, Clemence, Corrigan, Neal, Mills, Cherry, Watson , Hughes ,Wilkins, Brooking , Keegan , Coppell )  involved  right  from  the  beginning  of  Greenwood's  reign  in  1977.  Liverpool's  dominance  of  the  domestic  game  was  reflected  in  the  addition  of  Thompson, Johnson, McDermott  and  Ray  Kennedy  ( taking  Peter  Barnes'  place  on  the  left ) to  the  squad  while  Nottingham  Forest  had  Garry  Birtles, Viv  Anderson  and  their  former  striker  ( now  with  Cologne ) Tony  Woodcock  keeping  Shilton  company.

England  were  in  a  group  with  hosts  Italy, Spain  and  Belgium who  hadn't  qualified  for  the  1978  World  Cup.  The  winners  would  go  straight  to  the  Final, the  runners-up  to  the  Third  Place  Play  Off . England's   first  game   was  against  Belgium  and  was  a  tepid  1-1  draw  with  a  rare  goal  by  ultra-cautious  midfielder  Ray  Wilkins  opening  the  scoring.  Belgium  equalised  shortly  afterwards  through  Jan  Ceulemans.  Unfortunately  the  game  is  better  remembered  for  a  section  of   England   supporters  starting  a  brawl  on  the  terraces  and  the  game  being  held  up  while  police  dispersed  them  with  tear  gas . Some  of   the  gas  drifted  onto  the  pitch  and  affected  Ray  Clemence  who  received  treatment  for  it.

 Italy's  game  with  Spain  was  goalless. Belgium  won  their  next  game  against  Spain  so  England  needed  at  least  a  draw   in  their  game  against  Italy  to  stay  in  contention.

They  didn't  get  it. The  Italians  playing  their  usual  cynical  defensive  game  typified  by  the  inappropriately  named  defender  Claudio  Gentile  shut  England  out   and  then  got  a  goal  on  the  break. To  rub  salt  in  the  wound  the  goal  was  scored  by  their  man-marking  specialist  Marco  Tardelli. I remember  Mick  Channon  once  saying  he  thought  Tardelli  was  going  to  join  him  on  the  toilet.  I  had  assumed  the  bloke  couldn't  actually  do  anything  else  so  it  was  a  shock  to  see  him  leave  Keegan's  side  and  poke  the  ball  home  past  Shilton. Greenwood  was  still  doing  what  he  is  most  often  criticised  for, refusing  to  make  a  judgement  call  between  Clemence  and  Shilton  and  playing  them  in  alternate  games.

No  possible  result  between  Belgium  and  Italy  in  the  final  group  game  would  allow  England   or  Spain  to  make  the  Final  so  the  game   between  them   was  essentially  meaningless. Goals  from  Brooking  and  Woodcock  gave  England  a  2-1  win. Belgium  held  off  Italy  for  a  0-0  to  go  through  to  the  Final  on  goal  difference  and  keep  England  out  of  the  Third  Place  play  off.

It  had  been  a  disappointing  showing. Ray  Kennedy, perhaps  getting  the  first  intimation  of  the  Parkinson's  Disease  which  has  subsequently  blighted  his  life, announced  his  retirement  from  international  football  as  the  squad  flew  home.

West  Germany  saw  off  holders  Czechoslovakia, Holland  and  surprise  qualifiers  Greece  to  top  their  Group  and  then  defeated  Belgium  2-1  in  the  Final.

Not  all  the  matches  were  shown  live  and  the  England  v  Spain  game  was  on  while  I  was  still  at  school. I  think  I  may  have  only  seen  the  first  two  England  games  and  perhaps  some  highlights  from  the  others.            

Thursday, 14 July 2016

443 The Big Time

First  viewed : 11  June  1980

This  show  was  on  to  its  third  and  final  season   when  I  tuned  in.  It  was  created  (  and  initially  narrated )  by  Esther  Rantzen  and  was  an  early  "reality"  show  where  amateurs  or  beginners  in  a  field  were  given  a  crack   at  appearing  on  the  big  stage  through  the  good  offices  of  Auntie  Esther. The  results  were  always  prerecorded  and  the  programme  given  a  smooth  narrative  arc. The  programme  had  attracted  controversy  in  the  first  season  in  1976  when  Fanny  Craddock  was  invited  to  comment  on  the  efforts  of  an  amateur  chef. Craddock  went  badly  off  message  and  tore  the  woman  to  shreds. Rantzen  saw  that  she  didn't  appear  on  BBC  TV  again.

I  actually  only  watched  the  one  episode  when  it  was  first  broadcast, the  opening  one  where  a  27  year  old  schoolteacher  from  Burnley  wanted  to  become  a  professional  wrestler  and  the  doyen  of  the  circuit  in  Britain, Max  Crabtree,  agreed  to  put  him  on  the  bill  at  the  Royal  Albert  Hall. Keith  Rawlinson  was  a  mild , religious, rather  callow  young  man , with  a  touch  of  Craig  Cash  about  him, who  fancied  getting  in  the  ring  despite  weighing  less  than  12  stone.

By  this  point  Rantzen  had  turned  over  narrative  duties  to  her  acolytes  so  it  was  Paul  Heiney who  followed  his  adventures  without  concealing  his  bafflement  as  Keith  spent  three  months getting  seven  bells  knocked  out  of  him  by  the  likes  of  Tally-ho-Kaye  ( who  the  programme revealed  to  be  a  pretty  nice  guy  in  contrast  to  his  ring  persona )  and  Cyanide  Sid  Cooper. He  found  the  time  to  pose  the  question  about  match-fixing  to  which  ring  commentator  Kent Walton  provided  a  not  entirely  convincing  anecdotal  answer.

At  the  end  of  the  three  month  training  period  Heiney  proclaimed  that  Keith   was  "beginning to  look  like  a  wrestler"  but  nobody  else  seemed  very  convinced  and  they  were  proved  right on  the  night. Keith , re-christened  "Rip"  was  up  against  "Golden  Ace " John  Naylor,  a  taciturn but  generally  fair  lightweight  from  Wigan  who  despatched  him  without  breaking  sweat. In  the first  round  he  got  Rip's  leg  in  a  painful  submission  hold  and  Keith,  not  recognising  the trouble  he  was  in , refused  to  submit. Eventually  Naylor  let  go  but  the  damage  had  been  done and  Keith  was  hobbling. A  further  attack  on  the  leg  produced  an  instant   submission. Keith struggled  through  two  more  rounds, probably  by  Naylor's  leave, and  then  had  to  throw  in  the towel.

Crabtree  later  agreed  to  film  a  sequence  where  he  supposedly  saw  Keith  off   at  the  stage door  at  the  end  of  the  night. In  reality  Keith  was  taken  straight  to  hospital  but  that  wasn't the  ending  Esther  wanted. The  poor  guy  was  still  receiving  treatment  months  later . To  his credit,  Crabtree  offered  to  find  him  a  job  on  the  circuit  but  I'm  guessing  he  stuck  with teaching.

The  most  famous  episode  of  all  three  seasons  followed  three  weeks  later  when  it  followed  the  first  steps  of    Sheena  Easton 's  career. Although  the  programme  ended  on  a  note  of  uncertainty  because  her  first  single,  Modern  Girl,  hadn't  made  the  Top  40 , she  had  another  one  lined  up  to  go  once  the  episode  had  been  aired   and  9  To  5  shot  up  the  charts.  I  didn't  see  that  one  until  it  was  repeated, half  a  dozen  hits for  Sheena  later , in  1981.

The  programme  was  re-vamped, for  the  better  in  my  opinion,  as   In  At  The  Deep  End   which  we'll  come  to  in  due  course.


Wednesday, 13 July 2016

442 The Other 'Arf

First viewed :  Spring  1980

As  far  as  ITV  sitcoms  go  this  was  a  reasonably  engaging  show  about  class  conflict  which provided  another TV vehicle  for  former  model  Lorraine  Chase  beside  her  regular  occupancy   of   "bimbo  corner "  on  Blankety  Blank.  Chase   made  her  name   in  ads  for  Campari   in  the late seventies  which  made  effective  use  of  the  contrast  between  her  exotic  looks  and  Deptford accent. Terence  Howard,  who  scripted  those  ads,  pitched  extending   the  idea  to  a  comedy series  to  the  Likely  Lads  duo  Dick  Clement  and  Ian  La  Frenais  who  agreed  to  come  on board.

Chase , who  had  little  acting  experience  other  than  the  ads, played  Lorraine  Watts  (  to  help her  with  her  cues ), a  Cockney  model  who  becomes  involved  with  a  benign  Tory  MP  Charles Latimer  ( John  Standing )  and   they  start  moving  in  each  other's  circles. It  was  basically  an update  of  Pygmalion   with  the  Alf  Dolittle  role  performed  by  John  Cater  as  Lorraine's  dad George.

It  was  OK  I  suppose. I  never  watched  it  with  full  attention  but  it  ran  for  four  seasons  so  it must  have  held  its  own  in  the  ratings.


Monday, 11 July 2016

441 Tales From A Long Room

First  viewed  : Spring  1980

If   Your  Life  In  Their  Hands   was   unpalatable  then  a  continuous  loop  of  this,  which  followed  it  on  a  couple  of  Thursdays , would  be  part  of  my  Room  101  nightmare.  That  actually  seems  a  little  churlish  since  there  was  only  half  an  hour  of  it  spread  over  two  weeks.

Tales  from  a  Long  Room  started  out as  a  comic  novel  by  Peter  Tinniswood  the  writer  of  the  successful  late seventies  comedy  series  I  Didn't  Know  You  Cared  . It  was  basically  the  reminiscences  of  a  blinkered , half-senile , xenophobic  Brigadier  in  a  village  called  Witney  Scrotum  who  gets  important   world  events  mixed  up  with  cricket  matches. He  was  played  by  Robin  Bailey  who'd  made  his  name  by  playing  cantankerous  old  Yorkshireman  Uncle  Mort   in  IDKYC.

There's  one  word  in  there  which  explains   my  aversion  to  it. I  have  a  lifelong  detestation  of   cricket  and  its  attendant  culture  which  comes  from  my  dad  hogging  the  television  set , which  otherwise  he  affected  to  disdain,  and  radio  during  the  summer  holidays. Cricket  came  with  dry  old  bores  talking  about  nothing  in  particular  and  impenetrable  jargon. Worst  of  all  matches  went  on  forever  and  at  the  end  of  them  the  weather might  have   decided   the  outcome. Playing  it  was  slightly  more  interesting  but  still  involved  large  stretches  where  you  stood  around  not  doing  very  much.

I've  no  doubt  Tinniswood's  scripts  were  sharp  and  witty  if  you  were  in  the  know  but  once  cricket  was  involved,  the  shutters  came  down  for  me  I'm  afraid.

The  series,  if  you  can  call  it  that,  was   repeated  in  1981  and  1982 . There  were  also  two  five  part  radio  adaptations  - again  with   Bailey- broadcast  in  those  two  years. One  of  them  was  re-broadcast  to  mark  Tinniswood's  passing  in  2003.

Sunday, 10 July 2016

440 Your Life In Their Hands

First  viewed : Spring  1980

I  have  many  faults, too  many  to  mention, but  can  honestly  say  that  hypochondria  isn't  one  of  them. I  get  annoyed  by  being  ill  and  are  more  likely  to  make  it  worse  by  soldiering  on  through  it  than  wallowing  in  it.

My  mother, for  all  her  many  virtues, was  a  hpochondriac  and  always  likely  to  interpret  a slight  tickle  in  her  throat  as  laryngitis , encouraged  by  watching  programmes  like  this.

Your  Life  In  Their  Hands    was  originally  broadcast  between  1958  and  1964. It  basically  went  into  hospitals  and  investigated  the  treatment  of  various  medical  phenomena  incorporating  pre-  recorded  footage  from  the  operating  theatre. Hospitals  and  their  staff  took  part  in  it  in  the  face  of  trenchant  opposition  from  the  British  Medical  Association  who  felt  that  it  was  voyeuristic  and  would  increase  pressure  on  the  health  service  as  people  got  more  informed. It  returned  in  1980  on  BBC2  with  the  promise  of  now  seeing  blood  and  guts  in  colour. It  was  also  more  focused  on  individual  cases  than  general  issues.

I  can't  for  the  life  of  me  understand  why  anybody  would  choose  to  watch  this  for entertainment. I'm  not  squeamish - as  you  probably  know  I  like  horror  films - I'm  just completely  uninterested  in  the  subject  matter. Just  let  the  professionals  get  on  with  it ! Therefore  this  falls  into  the  category  of  something  I  saw  reluctantly  because  I  was  fed  up  of sitting  in  my  room  alone.

The  programme  ran  regularly  until  1987  and  has  been  revived  periodically  since.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

439 Arena

First  viewed  : Uncertain

I  must  admit  I  never  quite  got  my  head  around  the  difference  between  Omnibus  and  Arena ,  the  two  long-running  arts  strands,  except  that  the  former  was  on  BBC1  and  the  latter  on  BBC2.

Arena  started  in  1975  and  was  originally  split  into  two  separate  strands  on  alternate  weeks , one  dealing  with  the  theatre  and  one  with  art  and  design . A  third  strand  for  cinema  started the  following  year  and  there  were  new  ones  for  "Television" and  "Rock" in  1978  which  were only  used  for  one  episode  each. This  demarcation  was  scrapped  in  1979.

The  first  Arena  episode  I  can  definitely  recall  watching  is  the  one  on  21  May  1980  which featured  the  work  of  satirists  Peter  Fluck  and  Roger  Law  who  of  course  went  on  to  do Spitting  Image. At  this  point  their   work  was  in  plasticene  with  completely  static  figures  to be used  for  magazine  covers  and  illustrations.

As  with  other  long-running  strands  I  will  add  to  this  as  we  go  along  -

Superman  ( 26  December  1981 )

As  the  title  suggests , this  episode  looked  at  the  origins  and  cultural  impact  of  the  original  American  superhero, beginning  by  interviewing  its  creators  Joe  Schuster  and   Jerry  Siegel. It  mixed  footage  from  the  various  incarnations  with  talking  head  contributions  from  the  obvious  ( Christopher  Reeve, Margot  Kidder ) to  little-known  academics  and   alternative  comic  champions.  It  didn't  avoid  the  darker  aspects  of  the  tale  such  as  the  name's  origin  with  Nietzsche  or  the  suicide  of  1950s  TV  Superman  George  Reeves. And  of  course  we  know  the  story  had  another  dark  twist  to  come. The  part  I  recall  best  is  British  strong  man   Dave  Prowse  grousing  about  not   getting  the  part  because  he  wasn't  an  American   ( as  his  West  Country  burr  would  have  made  obvious )  and  then  being  asked  to  buff   up  Christopher  Reeve  for  the  role "so  he  looks  just  like  you ".

Friday, 8 July 2016

438 Voices From The Past

First  viewed : April  1980

I'm  not  expecting  to  ever  be  able  to  find  an  illustration  for  this  one.

Historians  of  the  punk  rock  movement  , when  discussing  the  infamous  Bill  Grundy  interview  in  1976  , usually  throw  in  some  cheap,  lazy  line  like  "Grundy  never  worked  again". That's  not  true . London  viewers  may  not  have  seen  him  on  their  Today  programme  for  much  longer  but  he  certainly  wasn't  short  of  work  on  regional  TV  for  some  years  afterwards.

BBC  North  West,  for  example, employed  him  as  a  presenter  for  a  number  of  shows  and  this  was  one  of  them. I  think  there  was  an  earlier  series  but  I  caught  the  one  that  began  in  May  1980. Voices  from  the  Past, broadcast  in  the  Friday  night  slot  usually  occupied  by  Home  Ground ,  was  a  serious  attempt  to  investigate  whether  there  was  any  truth  in  the  theory  of  reincarnation. It  brought  into  the  studio  a  number  of  people  who  believed  they'd  enjoyed  past  lives  and  put  them  under  hypnosis  to  probe  into  their  "experiences ". The  one  I  remember  best  was  a  middle  aged  lady  who  answered  the  expert  interrogator's  questions  as  a  Jacobite  soldier.

Grundy. who'd  made  his  reputation  in  the  sixties  as  a  dependable  anchorman, was  a  sceptical  but  not  hostile  host  who  discussed  the  findings  with  the  experts  in  good  faith.  The  programme  employed  reputable  archivists  to  dig  into  the  records  to  find  out  if  these  past  people  had  really  existed  and  the  answer  came  back  negative. At  the  end  of  the  series  Grundy  announced  that  there   was  no  evidence  of  reincarnation  but  that  the  experiment  had  been  a  worthwhile  investigation  into  a  psychological  phenomenon.  I  tend  to  agree  with  him.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

437 The Iranian Embassy Siege

First  viewed  :  5  May  1980

I  purposely  didn't  mention  this  in  the  Snooker  post  but  anyone  who  was  watching  Cliff Thorburn  grinding  his  way  to  victory  against  Alex  Higgins  on  the  May  Day   Bank  Holiday 1980  ( or  indeed  the  John  Wayne  film  on  BBC1 ) will  never  forget  the  broadcast's  sudden and dramatic  interruption  at 19.23 pm  by  live   coverage  of  an  extraordinary  scene  developing  in Central  London.

Six  days  earlier  half  a  dozen  gunmen  from  Iran's  Arabic  minority  had  stormed  the  Iranian  embassy  after  overpowering  - but   not  killing - the  sole  policeman  on  guard  outside. They  were  not  fundamentally  opposed  to  the  Khomenei  regime  which  had  taken  power  just  over  a  year  earlier  but  wished  to  take  advantage  of  the  confusion  to  gain  autonomy  for  their  southern  province. The  immediate  aim  of  the  siege  was  to  obtain  the  release  of  a  large  number  of  political  prisoners  in  Iran.

The  British  authorities  were  placed  in  the  position  of  refereeing  someone  else's  fight  on  their  patch, made  more  difficult  by  the  Iranian  government's  exceptionally  hostile  attitude  to  the  West  ( despite  Khomenei  enjoying  the  hospitality  of  the  French  during  his  years  in  exile ).  What  gave  Margaret  Thatcher's  government  more  interest  in  the  affair  was  that  besides  the  captured  policeman  Trevor  Lock, the  gunmen  were  holding  three  other  British  hostages  including  two  BBC  technicians  who'd  gone  in  for  a  visa.

The  negotiations  did  seem  to  be  making  headway. The  gunmen  had  not  carried  out  their  threat  to  shoot  someone  when  their  first  deadline  expired  and  a  number  of  distressed  hostages  had  been  released  unharmed,  including  one  of  the  BBC  guys  who  was  experiencing  stomach  pains. What  changed  matters  on  that  Monday  was  the  execution  of  a  hostage,  Abbas  Levansani. As  soon  as  his  body  was  dumped  outside  the  embassy,  Home  Secretary  William  Whitelaw  put  a  covert  Plan  B  into  operation; the  building  would  be  stormed  by  the  Special  Air  Service.

It  was  a  frightfully  risky  decision. Two  previous  counter-terrorist  operations  in  the  past  decade  had  gone  frightfully  wrong. West  Germany's  attempt  to  rescue  the  Israeli  hostages  in  Munich  had  resulted  in  them  all  being  slaughtered  while  President  Carter's  operation  to  rescue  the  US  hostages  in  Iran  had  come  to  grief  in  the  Iranian  desert  just  weeks  earlier. On  the  other  hand  Israel's  spectacular  raid  on  Entebbe  Airport  to  resolve  a  hostage  crisis  in  1976  had  been  a  stunning  success. The  S.A.S.  motto  "Who  Dares  Wins"  could  equally  apply  to  Whitelaw.

TV  cameras  were  on  hand  to  capture  the  drama , at  least  at  the  front  of  the  building ; there  were  simultaneous  operations  going  on  out  of  sight  round  the  back. Black  clad  figures  in  hoods  and  gas  masks  abseiled  down  the  front  of  the  building  to  a  first  floor  balcony  where  they  blew  out  the  windows  with  incendiary  bombs  and  went  in  shooting. While  reporters  including  the  young  Kate  Adie  scrambled  to  make  sense  of  the  scene, cameras  caught  the  stumble  to  safety  of  the  other  BBC  guy  Sim  Harris  as  one  of  the  soldiers  beckoned  him  to  cross  over  to  a  secured   adjacent   balcony.

Within  minutes  the  siege  was  over   at  the  cost  of  one  more  Iranian  death  and  two  woundings  among  the  hostages. An  SAS  man  was  injured  during  the  operation  though  by  a  mishap  not  terrorist  action. Five  out  of   the  six  gunmen  were  killed   ( two  while  they  were  apparently  trying  to  surrender  though  they  had  just  raked  the  hostages  ; the  inquest  jury  absolved  the  SAS ).   The  last  guy  survived  by  hiding  among  the  hostages  until  identified  by  Harris. He  was  released  on  parole  after  28  years  in  UK  prisons  and   now  lives in  a  legal  limbo  as  the  Human  Rights  Act  precludes  his  deportation  to  Iran.

The  raid  was  a  huge  success  for  the  government  and  brought  the  S.A.S. , formerly   a  shadowy  unit  operating  largely  in  Northern  Ireland,  a   worldwide  prestige  and  formidable  reputation  that  endures  to  this  day. A  film  based  on  their  exploits  was  soon  in  production  starring  Lewis  Collins.

The  Iranian  government  were  incredibly  churlish  about  the  rescue  of  their  diplomatic  staff. They  made  a  grudging  statement  of  appreciation  but  any  fond  hopes  that  they  might  release  their   US  hostages  in  response  were  soon  dashed  and  incredibly  negotiations  for  the  repair  of  the  building  dragged  on  until  1993.

The  irony   of  the  assault  is  that   it  may  well  have  been  unnecessary. The  organisation  the  gunmen   represented  was  a   potential  ally  against  Khomenei  and  their  treatment  of  Lock  in  particular  suggests  that  they  were  not  inclined  to  harm  the  British  hostages.  The   releases  during  the  siege  indicate  they  were  not  inhumane. The  event  that  triggered  the  assault  was  caused  by  Levensani, a  Khomenei  fanatic's  own  desire  for  Islamic  martyrdom; he  provoked  them  into  it. But  of  course  we  understand  such  things  rather  better  now  than  we  did  then.            

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

436 BBC2 Playhouse : Happy

First  viewed :  25  April  1980

This  is  one  I'd  never  have  remembered  without  Genome  to  jog  the  brain  cells.  It  was  on  at  9pm  on  a  Friday  night  and  I  watched  it  at  my  Gran's  who  had  probably  switched  channels  from  The  Gentle  Touch  in  the  hope  of  more  snooker. I  usually  went  home  as  soon  as  I'd  finished  my  chips  but  we  watched  this  to  the  end.

The  play  concerned  two  brothers  Vernon ( Paul  Copley )  and  Gary ( Max  Hafler ) . Gary  has serious  mental  health  issues  but  Vernon  persists  in  trying  to  look  after  him  at  home  rather than  put  him  in  residential  care  ( this  being  nearly  a  decade  before  the  implementation  of Care  in  the  Community ) . At  the  start  of  the  play  Vernon's  marriage  has  broken  down  because his  wife  Linda  ( Lynne  Miller )  couldn't  cope  with  the  strain  of  living  with  Gary.  He persuades  her  to  return  but  after  a  case  of  coitus  interruptus  by  Gary  playing  with  scissors , she  realises  that  she  is  less  important  to  Vernon  than  his  need  to  be  his  brother's  keeper   and  departs  once  more.

This  sad  little  story  has  never  been  repeated  and  the  writer  Derrick  Buttress  has  only  one  other  credit  on  his  imdb  page  ( a  playlet  in  the  equally  obscure  The  Other  Side  series  in  1979 ) .

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

435 Snooker

First  viewed  : April  1980

As  mentioned  in  previous  posts  I  used  to  spend  Friday  nights  with  my  Gran  and  around  this  time  discovered  that  she  had  a  secret  passion  for  snooker  despite , like  us  , only  having  a  black  and  white  television. The  source  of  this  was  an  edition  of  This  Is  Your  Life   featuring  the  current  World  Champion  Terry  Griffiths. I  remember  visiting  my  friend  Stephen's  house  the  previous  year  when  his  granddad  was  getting  excited  by  Griffiths's  progress  to  the  World  Championship  Final  at  the  first  attempt  but  we  didn't  sit  down  and  watch  any  of  it. My  gran  loved  Griffiths  because  "he  was  so  modest  and  unassuming"  and  had  been  watching  Pot  Black  ever  since.

It  was  a  good  job  Griffiths  was  modest  because  if  he  thought  he  was  going  to  collect  a   long row  of  trophies  for  his  mantelpiece  he  was  in  for  a  rude  awakening. The  following  year he  lost  his  first   match  of  the  World  Championship  to  a  cocky   youngster  from  London   called  Steve  Davis  who  would  severely  restrict  the  opportunities  for  Terry  and  all  his contemporaries  for  the  next  decade. My  gran  never  forgave  Davis  for  this  and  would  seethe whenever  he  appeared  on  screen.

I  think  I  came  in  at  the  semi-Final  stage.  The  volatile but  often  brilliant  Alex  "Hurricane " Higgins, still  to  some  extent   the  enfant  terrible  of  the  sport  since  his  one  world  title  win  as  a  23  year  old  in  1972,  was  facing a  younger  version  of  himself  in  21-year  old  Kirk  Stevens  from  Canada, the  youngest  ever  semi-finalist  who  played  a  fearless  attacking  game  in  a  snazzy  white  suit.. The  other semi-Final   featured  another  Canadian  Cliff  Thorburn  who  couldn't  have  been  more  different , an  older-looking  32-year  old  with  a  baleful  glare  whose  tactic  seemed  to  be  to  bore  his  opponents ( and  the  audience ) to  death  with  his  slow  cautious  play. His  opponent  was  the  dapper  silver-haired  Mancunian  David  Taylor  who'd  put  out  top  seed  Ray  Reardon  in  the  Quarters.

Neither  match  went  the  way  I  wanted. I  was  enthralled  by  Stevens  who  became  my  favourite  player  but  Higgins  eventually  won  a  great  encounter  and  local  pride  demanded  I  back  Taylor  but  Thorburn  had  an  easy  win. By  the  time  of  the  Final  my  mum  and  sister  were  also  watching  and  we  were  all  backing  Higgins. It  seemed  like  his  for  the  taking  but  Thorburn  eventually  wore  him  down to  become  the  first  ever  overseas  player  to  win  the  World  title.

My  sister  had  a  brief  crush  on  Higgins, difficult  to  understand  as  he  was  a  small  wiry  bloke  with  gaunt  pinched  features  reflecting  his  Belfast  upbringing. The  following  year  she   defied  the  rest  of  us  and   switched  her  affections  to  Davis , immediately  recognising  a  winner. She's  never  been  one  for  siding  with  the  underdog.  There  was  never  any  doubt  he'd  win  that  year sweeping  aside  Higgins, Griffiths  again  and  Thorburn  ( whose  attritional  game  never  bothered  Davis )  with  his  robotic  precision  to a  Final  with  another likable  Welshman  Doug  Mountjoy.  Nerves  gave  Mountjoy  more  frames  than  he  probably  deserved  but  Davis  won  18-12.

The  1982  tournament  began  with  a  seismic  shock  when  Davis  was  taken to  the  cleaners  by  the  young  Bolton  pro  Tony  Knowles  in  the  opening  match. Knowles  won  10-1  to  throw  the  tournament  wide  open, the  more  so  when  Griffiths  and  Thorburn  also  departed  at  that  stage  if  less  dramatically. Attention  quickly  switched  to  another  young  Londoner  Jimmy  White  who  played  at  an  unbelievable  pace. Inarticulate  and  barely  able  to  write  his  name , he  was  nevertheless  an  impeccable  sportsman  who  quickly  became  a  crowd  favourite.  He  raced  his  way  past  both  Canadians  on  the  way  to  another  classic  semi-final  clash  between  two  swashbucklers  as  he  came  up  against  Higgins.  The  two  of  them  traded  blow  for  blow to  leave  White  15-14  up   as  the  clock  ticked  towards  midnight. He  clocked  up  59-0  then  jawed  a  tricky  red  played  with  the  rest to  throw  Higgins  a  lifeline  but  he  had  an  awful  lot  to  do.  He  proceeded  to  reel  off  one  awkward  pot  after  another  to  make  a  clearance  of  69. It's  probably  the  most  famous  frame  of  all  time, repeated  many  times  since. In  the  final  frame  which  no  one  really  remembers  Jimmy  hadn't  recovered  his  composure  and  pretty  much  surrendered  it  to  a  nerveless  Higgins. He  went  on  to  defeat  a  past-his-best  Ray  Reardon  in  the  Final  and  declare  himself  "the  People's  Champion", a  direct  challenge  to  Davis  whom  he  despised  ( by  contrast  he  and  White  became  lifelong  buddies ).

In  fact  it  was  to  be  the  last  Final  for  both  of  them. Reardon  made  the  semis   once  more   in  1985  where  he  was  annihilated  by  Davis  and  then  dropped  quietly  out  of  contention. That  wasn't  Higgins'  way. After  the  sweetest  of  victories  over  Davis  in  the  1983  UK  tournament   Final,  his  career  slipped  away  in  a  hail  of  controversies - death  threats, head  butts, tears drunken  rants  -  all  in  futile  protest  at  the  waning  of  his  talent . He  died  in  2010  after  a  long  battle  with  throat  cancer.

Davis  came  roaring  back  in  1983  with  only  Dennis  Taylor  in  the  Second  Round  putting  up  much  resistance. He  crushed  Thorburn  whose  previous  three  matches  had  all  gone  the  distance  18-6. Thorburn  had  the  consolation  of  being  the  first  person  to  score  the  maximum  147  at  the  tournament  though  not  in  the  Final.

I  started  playing  the  game  myself  in  1983  when  I  realised  that  my  hall  of  residence  had  a  snooker  table. I  wasn't  great  but  good  enough  to  have  competitive  games  with  my  housemates  and  later  some  fellow  Dale  supporters. What  took  me  back  a  bit  was  their  almost  unanimous,  visceral  hatred  for  Davis. His  comment  that  snooker  was  better  than  sex  seemed  to  particularly  rile  them. There  was  wild  applause  when  Spitting  Image  nailed  his  lack  of  charisma  with  the  famous  Steve  "Very  Interesting"  Davis  sketch. to  be  fair  to  the  guy  he  took  it  in  good  part  and  named  his  management  company  Interesting  Productions.

By  this  time  snooker  was  enjoying  a  real TV  boom  with  many  of  the  other  tournaments being  broadcast  and  ITV  getting  in  on  the  act. It  was  on  their  coverage  that  I  first  caught  the  ghastly  sight  of  professional  eccentric  John  McCririck  who'd been  brought  in  to  give  some  betting  coverage.  They  also  covered  the  Masters  tournament  in  1984  when  Stevens  scored a  147. Stevens  made  his  second  and  final  appearance  in  the  semis  that  year  where  he  narrowly  lost  to  White. White  then  lost  18-16   to  Davis  although  he  was  never  ahead  in  the  match.

Stevens  did  reach  a  Final  at  the  beginning  of  1985  in  the  Dulux  Open, a  match  he  should  have  won  against  the  shady  South  African  Silvino  Francisco  whose  curious  game  seemed  to  rely  on  making  things  harder  for  himself  by  constantly  losing   position. At  the  beginning  of  the  match  Francisco  grabbed  hold  of   Stevens  and  accused  him  of  being  on  drugs. A  disconcerted  Stevens  then  lost  the  match  13-9. After  the  game  the  authorities  heavily  fined  Francisco  for   misconduct  but  shortly  afterwards  Stevens  took  the  legs  from  under  them  by  admitting  he  had  a  problem  with  cocaine. Despite  going  into  rehab,  he went  into  a  rapid  decline, a  sad  end  to  a  very  promising  career  but  at  least  he's  alive  and  well  and  still  playing  in  Canada.  

In  the  World  Championships  that  year  the  solid  Irishman  Dennis  Taylor  attracted  attention  by  wearing  an  unusual  pair  of  oversized  glasses  to  help  him  see  the  balls. Nevertheless  they  seemed  to  spark  an  impressive  return  to  form  with  four  emphatic  victories  taking  him  to his  first  Final  since  his defeat  by  Griffiths  in  1979  . There  Davis  inevitably  awaited  him  and  when  the  Champion  went  8-0  up   many  people gave  up. Taylor  then  pulled  one  back  and  lifted  his  finger  as  they  went  into  the  interval.  It  seemed  painfully  quixotic  at  the  time  but  he  justified  it  gradually  crawling  his  way  back  into  the  match  as  Davis  faltered  until  unbelievably  ,going  into  Monday  morning  , he  pulled  it  back  to  17-17. The  TV  room  at  my  hall  was  packed  for  the  final  frame  with  the  steady  stream  of  abuse  hurled  at  Davis  increasing  in  pitch  and  virulence  as  the  stomach-knotting  tension  ratcheted  up. Then  incredibly  it  was  down  to  the  black  and  Dennis  had  first  dibs. He  missed  it  to  howls  of  anguish ! There  it  was  for  Davis - on a  plate  and  - no  he's  jawed  it !  People  were  on  their  knees. Dennis  had  a  second  chance  but  harder  than  the  first.  Yessss !!!!! That  was unique  - there  will  never  be  another  moment  quite  like  that  in  my  life , shared  with  18.5  million  people  across  the country  watching  the  television  after  midnight, a  record  that  will  surely  never  be  beaten.

Davis  did  himself  no  favours  in  the  post-match  interview  with  David  Vine , his  weak  joke  about  it  being  "all  there  in  black  and  white"  getting  lost  amid   the  otherwise  monosyllabic  answers  when  everyone  was  expecting  a  graceful  concession. Yeah  of  course  he  was  gutted   but  there  was  a  clear  etiquette  for  such  occasions  and  he  miserably  failed  to  play  his  part.
He  did  better  in  1986  when  he  lost  to  the  unfancied  journeyman   from  Bradford  , the  Anglo-Asian  Joe  Johnson  who  did  a  Leicester  City  and  suddenly  found  the  form  of  his  life  to  pot  his  way  to  the  title.  Johnson  got  to  the  Final  again  in  1987  after  some  very  tight  matches  but  this  time   round  Davis  was  too  good  for  him  and  he  went  back  to  his  former  level  almost  as  quickly  as he'd  risen.

By  that  time  I'd  started  work  and  as  you'd  expect  didn't  have  quite  so  much  time  to  invest  in  watching  a  snooker  tournament   as  before  so  I  gradually  started  to  lose  touch . Davis  won  two  more  titles  and  the  BBC  Sports  Personality  of  the  Year  in  1988  but  in  1990  young  Scot  Stephen  Hendry  won  the  first  of  his  record  seven  World  titles  and  effectively  blocked  Davis  from  ever  winning  it  again. The  nineties  saw  a  new  gripping  drama  with  the  repeated  failure  of  Jimmy  White  to  prise  the  title  away  from  Hendry .  In  the  1992  Final  he  led  14-8  but  then  lost  10  frames  in  a  row . Anecdotally  that  seems  to  be  when  many  people  turned  away  as  the  sport  suffered  a  severe  dip  in  popularity  though  I  think  I'd  gone  a  couple  of  years  earlier   despite  still  playing  it  fairly  regularly.

I  gravitated  back  towards  it  in  the  early  noughties  for  no  particular  reason  that  I  recall. Apart  from  Hendry  who  was  ridiculously  still  in  his  thirties  there  were  few  familiar  faces. Davis  was  still  plodding  away  and  John  Parrott  and  sadly  still  Jimmy  White  though  you  knew  he  was  no  longer  a  contender. Hendry  himself  never   won  the  World  title  in  the  new  millennium  so  White  had  no  chance. Otherwise  all  the  old  guard   were  now  pundits  including  Davis  and  Parrott  after  their  inevitable  early  exits. Davis  is, as  you  would  expect,   earnest, long-winded  and  boring  but  would  you  have  him  any  other  way ?

 There  were   interesting  new  faces  most  notably  Ronnie  "Rocket"  O  Sullivan,  the  natural  successor  to  Higgins  and  White,  although  his  outspoken  tendency  to  bite  the  hand  that  feeds  him  makes  him  rather  less  lovable.  I  rather  liked  Australian  nutter  Quinten  Hann  who  wound  up  his  opponents  so  much  one  of  them  ended  up  taking  him  on  in  a  boxing  match. In  2006  though,  he  was  banned  from  snooker  for  eight  years  for  accepting  an entrapment  bribe  from  The  Sun  to  lose  a  match   and  though  that  has  now  expired,  he's  shown  no  sign  of  wanting  to  return  to  the  sport  having  made  a  lot  of  money  on  the American  pool  circuit.

I  watched  Stuart  Bingham  win  last  year's  World  title  although  I  didn't  see  any  of  this  year's  competition. Too  busy  with  these  blogs  you  see.