Wednesday, 31 August 2016

482 The Life and Times of David Lloyd George

First  viewed :  11  March  1981

This  is  a  series  I  should  have  watched  as  we  were  studying  the  period  up  to  the  First   World  War  as  party  of  the  O  Level  History  syllabus  but  the  prospect  of  watching  anything with  Dad  (  who   was  interested  in  this  period  of  history  ) continually  adjusting  the  volume  control  was  too  much  to  stomach. I  did  see  a  small  part  of  it  covering  the  famous  incident  when  LG  antagonised  a  jingoist  mob  with  his  denunciation  of  the  Boer  War  and  had  to  be  sneaked  out  of  the  meeting  hall  dressed  as  a  policeman.

Philip  Madoc  played  the  mercurial  Welshman  and  the  theme  tune  by  Ennio  Morricone  , Chi  Mai,  was  bought  by  many  more  people  than  watched  the  series  and  nearly  became  the  first  instrumental  number  one  since  Eye  Level  in  1973.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

481 Hill Street Blues

First  viewed :  1981

This  was  a  genuinely  groundbreaking  series  with  an  influence  way  beyond  its  genre  and  was  a  real  Marmite  show. You  either  loved  it  or  couldn't  be  bothered  with  it. It  intertwined  professional  and  personal  issues  in  the  lives  of  its   protagonists  to  a  greater  extent  than  any  previous  cop  show. More  revolutionary  than  that  was  the  style, the  use  of  free  roaming  hand  held  cameras  , the  background  noise  and  apparently  careless  editing  so  that  characters  weren't  necessarily  on  screen  when  they  spoke  their  lines . This  combined  with  the  focus  on  urban  poverty  and  difficult  lives  to  give  the  series  a   verite  feel ; you  could  almost  believe   you  were  watching  a  documentary  set  in   a  grimy, chaotic workplace  were  it  not  for  the  obvious  charisma  of  stars  Frank  Furillo  and  Veronica  Hamel. The  series  was  also like  a  soap  in  that  storylines  ran  across  multiple  episodes  demanding  a  commitment  from  its  viewers

I  tuned  in  early  on  , lured  by  the advance  publicity,  and  didn't  like  it.  It  was  originally  on  ITV  in  the  Minder  slot   but  it  was  quickly  obvious  that  it  wasn't  to  going  to  attract  that  sort  of  mass  audience  and  transferred  to  Channel  4, a  more natural  home, as  soon  as the  new  channel  started  broadcasting. I  dipped  in  from  time  to  time  but  never  got  absorbed  enough   to  stay  with  it.

The  series  was  showered  with  awards  throughout  its  lifetime  but  started  to  lose  its  grip  in  its  fourth  season  when  Michael  Conrad, one  of  the  most  popular  actors,  died  and  the  formula  began  to  seem  a  little  stale. It  was  cancelled  after  seven  seasons  in  1987.     

Monday, 29 August 2016

480 The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy

First  viewed :  2  February  1981

Back  to  comedy  again  but  this  was  much  more  like  it.

The  Hitchhiker's  Guide  To  The  Galaxy   was  originally  a  radio  comedy  series  on  Radio  Four  written  by  Douglas  Adams  a  comic  writer   who'd  had  a  peripheral  involvement  in  the  last  series  of  Monty  Python's  Flying  Circus  but  was  otherwise  struggling  for  recognition. It  polarised  the  audience  at  first  but  was  regularly  repeated  and  its  reputation  grew. As  we  always  had  Radio  Four  on  in  the  house  I  caught  snatches  of  it  but  never  really  gave  it  much  attention.

Adapting  it  for  television  was  a  major  challenge  given  the  BBC's  famously  limited  budget  for  special  effects  and  some  fans  of  the  radio  series  at  school  doubted  it  could  be  done. That  may  be  why  I  didn't  tune  in  for  the  first  four  episodes  when  it  was  first  broadcast  on  BBC 2.  When  I  joined  it  in  Episode  5  I  was  hooked  immediately  and  fortunately  it  was  repeated  on  BBC  1  almost  straight  away   when  we  all  watched  it.

Adams  was  happy  to  adapt  the  radio  scripts  and  the   six-part  TV  series  roughly  followed  the  first  six  episodes  on  radio. Susan  Sheridan  who  played  Trillian, the  only  female  role  was   primarily  a  voice  actress  and  was  replaced  by  Sandra  Dickinson, lovely  in  a  revealing  red  outfit . Geoffrey  McGivern  was  less  happy  about  being  replaced  by  David  Dixon  as  Ford  Prefect  but  he  didn't  look  the  part. Otherwise  the  cast  was  the  same.

Arthur  Dent  , played  magnificently  by  Simon  Jones  as  a  hapless, middle  class  Everyman, discovers  that  his  friend  Ford  Prefect  is  really  an  alien  journalist  updating  an  intergalactic  travel  guide. But  Ford  has  more  to  tell  ; the  Earth  is  about  to  be  destroyed  to  facilitate  a  bypass. He  takes  Arthur  on  a  dizzying  ride  through  the  universe  accompanied   by  his  two-headed  cousin  Zaphod  Beeblebrox  ( Mark  Wing-Davey )  his  girlfriend  Trillian  ( herself  an  Earthling ) and  a  depressed  robot , Marvin  the  Paranoid  Android  ( Stephen  Moore ) . The  narrative  is  constantly  interrupted  by  relevant  excerpts  from  the  Guide  itself  voiced  by  veteran  comic  actor  Peter  Jones.

The  script  is  so  rich  it  bears  repeated  viewing; there's  always  something  you  didn't  catch  last  time  round. Beneath  the  surface  though  there  are  deeper  philosophical  concerns. Adams  was  a  convinced  atheist  and  God  gets  peremptorily  dismissed "in  a  puff  of  logic". His  own  view  of  the  chaotic  nature  of  the  universe  is  expressed  in  the  very  melancholic   final  episode  when  the  question  and  answer  to  "life, the  universe  and  everything"  don't  match  up; even  the  laws  of  mathematics  are  suspect.

As  with  all  science  fiction  of  the  seventies, the  future  has  caught  up  with  it  to  some  extent. The  Guide  is  basically  a  smartphone  app  and  the  graphics  used  to  accompany  it  now  look  very  quaint  though  still  clever  and  imaginative  and  of  course,  all  the  computers  are  much  larger  than  the  one  I'm  using  to  enter  this  piece.

A  second  series  was  mooted  but  Adams  and  the  BBC  couldn't  agree  on  the script  and  it  never  happened. I  didn't  like  idea  of  a  film version  ( 2005 ); I  didn't  see  how  this  could  be  improved  so  have  avoided  it.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

479 The Troubles

First  viewed :  5  January  1981

A  slight  shift  in   tone  is  required  here  I  think. The  Troubles  was  a   six  part  series   on  the ongoing  tragedy  of  Northern  Ireland  pertinently  timed  as  it  was  about  to  ratchet  up  a notch with  the  election  and  death  of  Bobby  Sands.  It  proved  that  ITV  could  do  a  serious documentary  if  it  put  its  mind  to  it.

At  the  time  I  saw  this  I  was   pro-British  after  the  IRA's  mainland  bombing  campaign  in  the  seventies   despite  being  a  Catholic. I  never  once  heard  my  father , who  was  from  Kilkenny,  express  an  opinion  on  the  situation  in  the  North  so  there  was  no  pressure  on  me  to  take  a   side. I  remember  our  R.E.  teacher  Mr  Flynn  getting  a  bit  shirty  with  me  for  reminding  him  that  Sands  had  actually  committed  a  mortal  sin  by  his  suicide.

If  nothing  else , the  series  enabled  me  to  take  a  better-informed  more  nuanced  view  of  the  conflict.

Friday, 26 August 2016

478 Punchlines

First  viewed :  1981

Here's  another  show  that  you  don't  really  want  to  admit  you  ever  watched.

This  terrible  cross  between  Celebrity  Squares  and  Blankety  Blank   was  hosted  by  the  enduringly  useless  Lennie  Bennett.  Eight  celebrities  of  variable,  but  usually  low,  calibre  recited  silly  phrases  which  were  the  punchlines  to  a  series  of  jokes  read  out  by  Lennie. Two  contestants  , assisted  by  two  more , generally  higher  order , celebrities , had  to  match  the  joke  to  its  punchline. One  of  the  phrases  was  a  red  herring.

Very  little  brain  power  was  expended ; the  show  relied  on  cheap  innuendo  for  laughs

The  show  ran  for  five  seasons  from  the  beginning  of  1981  to  the  end  of  1984

Thursday, 25 August 2016

477 Triangle

First  viewed :  5  January  1981

Well  this  is  another  torpedo  to  the  security  of  my  memory  banks. I  could  have  sworn  this  started  in  the  spring  of  1980  but  no , it  didn't  replace  Angels  in  the  post-Nationwide  spot  until  the  beginning  of  1981.

Triangle   of  course  is  a  famous  TV  disaster  that   always  features  in  those  terrible  TV  documentaries. I  watched  the  first  episode  which  was  more  than  enough  to  convince  me that  it  was  going  to  be  absolute  shite  but  my  mum  and  sister  stayed  with  it  , the  latter  I  seem  to  remember, because  she  fancied  Larry  Lamb  ( playing  First  Mate  Matt  Taylor ).

The  programme  was  the  creation  of  producer  Bill  Sellars  who'd  cut  his  teeth  on  Dr  Who   before  moving  on  to  ratings  winners  like  The  Brothers  and  All  Creatures  Great  and  Small . That  gave  him  the  muscle  to  pitch  the  idea  of  a  bi-weekly  soap  set  aboard  a  genuine  North  Sea  ferry  plying  its  trade  between   glamorous   Felixstowe  and  Gothenberg. There  were  ferries  between  the  latter  port  and  Amsterdam  but  the  third  leg  between  there  and  Felixstowe  was  a  fiction.

The  opening  scene  was  completely  ludicrous  and  set  the  tone  for  everything  that  followed. Kate  O' Mara, playing  the  same  hard  nosed  maneater  she  did  in  The  Brothers , had  been  appointed  the  ship's  new  purser   but  before  being  introduced  to  any  of  her  new  colleagues , including the  old  guy  she  was  replacing , she  decided  to  sunbathe  topless  on  the  captain's  deck  as  you  do  on  your  first  day  in  a  new  job. As  if  that  wasn't  bad  enough  she  was  tanning  under a  grey  sky  on  a  choppy  sea  , barely  able  to  keep  her  teeth  from  chattering  when  Lamb  came  out  to  remonstrate  with  her. Credit  is  due  to  the  make  up  artist  for  hiding  her  goose  pimples.

The  other  crew  were  played  by  Michael  Craig  as  the  Captain  who  looked  petrified  in  every  scene  and  Paul  Jerricho  as the  series  J.R,-like  villain  of  the  piece. There  were  other  regular  members  of  the  cast  but  I  can't  remember  what  their roles  were. O'Mara  had  the  sense  to  jump  ship,  if  you'll  excuse  the  pun, at  the  end  of  the  series  but  the  others  battled  through  to  the  end.

That  was  the  series'  only  redeeming  feature , that  cast  and  crew  were  suffering  as  much  as  the  viewer. Whatever  Sellars  imagined  the  North  Sea  crossing  was  like, the  reality  was  cold,  windswept, colourless  and  bumpy . The  VT  technology  of  the  time  struggled  to  cope  with   both  the  difficult  lighting  conditions   and  the  ship's  motion,  giving  the  series  a  very  dowdy  look  that  made  Crossroads  seem  like  Dallas  by  comparison. Sea-sickness  was  a  recurrent  problem.  Given  such  conditions,  none  of  the  writers  felt  much  inspiration  to  come  up  with  decent  scripts  for  actors  more  preoccupied  with  retaining  their  lunch. For  the  critics  it  was  a  gift  that  just  kept  on  giving; Terry  Wogan  ( who , it  turned  out,  was  to  directly  benefit  from  its  demise )  on  Radio  Two  had  a  field  day  with  its  shortcomings.

For  all  that , Triangle  must  have  had  a  reasonable  audience  to  have  lasted  for  three  seasons.  It  finally  came  into  port  in  1983  when  the  suits  decided  that  chat  shows  were  a  better bet  for  its  early  evening  slot.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

476 Did You See... ?

First  viewed :  Late  1980 /early  1981

Beginning  in  December  1980,  this  review  and  discussion  programme   followed  on  from  the  shorter  , less  ambitious  Armchair  Critics  earlier  in  the  year. It  retained  the  three  programme / three  guests  discussion  at  its  core  but  also  incorporated  the  hosts' review  of  the  past  week, a  quiz  and  a  special  pre-filmed  report.

Taking  over  as  presenter  was  respected  journalist  and  occasional  parliamentary  candidate  Ludovic  Kennedy. The  guests  were  chosen  on  the  basis  of  the  special  insight  they  could  bring  to  the  discussion  of   one   of  the  three  programmes under  the  spotlight  so  you  had  an  eclectic  blend  of  celebrities, writers, academics  and  the  odd  politician  filling  the  chairs.

I  always  found  Kennedy's  style   a  bit  too  dry  so  this  never  became  appointment  TV  for  me. One  or  two  episodes  do  stick  in  the  mind. I  remember  Tony  Benn  being  on  for  the  discussion  of  a  Channel  4  series  on  libertarian  philosophies  and  offering  his  own  uniquely  warped  worldview. "You're  getting  in  quite  a  bit  of  propaganda  yourself  Tony"  Kennedy  interjected  drolly.

The  other  one  had  Jeffrey  Archer  on  when  they  were  discussing  Moonlighting . Sarah  Dunant , who  stood  in  when  Kennedy  wasn't  well, was  the  host  and  when  Archer's  turn  came  round  he  first  produced  a  bottle  of  champagne  and  glasses  and  then  copies  of  the  script  he'd  transcribed  and  run  off  to  re-enact  with  Dunant  and   the  other  guests. One  was  telegenic  union  boss  Brenda  Dean . I  can't  recall  who  the  other  was ; maybe  they  ran  off. Clearly  startled,  the  women  humoured  him  for  a  short  time  but  the  farce  just  left  you  thinking  what  an  arsehole  this  man  is.  Given  the  quality  of  his  own  output  you  wonder  how  he  had  the  gall  to  criticise  anyone  else's  writing .

Kennedy  stepped  down  in  1988  and  the  series  was  off  air  for  a  couple  of  years  until  Jeremy  Paxman  took  the  chair  in  1991. He  presided  until  1993  when  the  show  was  axed.

Ludovic  Kennedy  died  in  a  nursing  home  in  2009  aged  89.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

475 Dennis Norden's World of Television / Clive James on Television / Tarrant on TV

First  viewed  :  28  December  1980

Wikipedia   currently  credits  this  long-running  series  as  beginning  with  Clive  James  in  1982  but  Norden's  show  two  years  earlier   was  made  by  the  same  company  ( LWT )   and  had  exactly  the  same  premise  so  should  be  considered  the  pilot.

The  idea  behind  the  show  was  simple. Researchers  scour  the  world's  TV  for  funny  or  bizarre  clips  (  as  opposed  to  bloopers, the  province  of  Norden's  It'll  Be  Alright  on  the  Night  )  from  TV  around  the  world  including  commercials. These  were  then  presented , often  in  roughly  thematic  clusters , with  a  wry  quip  from  the  host.

When  it  became  a  regular  series  Norden  was  replaced  by  Clive  James  making  the  move  from  TV  critic  to  TV  personality. I'd  never  heard  of  him  until  1981  when  he  made  some  vaguely  off  colour  remark  in  the  run  up  to  the  Royal  Wedding   and  the  Daily  Mail  got  agitated  about  it. James  had  appeared on  What  The  Papers  Say  and  discussion  shows  but  this  was  his  first  presenting  gig. James's  affable  Aussie  charm  made  him  an  instant  hit.

Because  the  show  went  out  weekly  , certain  items  became  a  regular  feature  particularly  the  Japanese  game  show  Endurance  which  delighted  in  making  its  contestants  suffer . The  viewers  were  left  to  make  uncomfortable  comparisons  with  their  treatment  of  P.O.W.s  in  World  War  Two.

The  show  was  not  without  its  critics  who  pointed  to  the  underlying  assumptions  about  British  cultural  superiority  that  drove  the  show. I  recall  a  Spitting  Image  sketch  which  had  some  fat  Japanese  guy  laughing  his  head  off  at  footage  of  Clive  James. In  that  context  it's   a  sobering   thought  that  some  of  the  things  scorned  in  the  James  era  are  now  mainstays  of  British  TV. The  voyeurism  of  Donohue  or  Jerry  Springer  has  been  replicated  in  things  like  Jeremy  Kyle  and  Embarrassing  Bodies   while  none  of  the  Endurance  tasks  went  beyond  the  bushtucker  trials  in  I'm  A  Celebrity  Get  Me  Out  of  Here   or  some  of  the  challenges  in  Fort  Boyard.

James  went  over  to  the  BBC  in  1988  and  the  series  was  briefly  presented  the  following  year  by  Keith  Floyd. I  didn't  see  any  of  that  because  I  couldn't  stand  the  bloke. It  then  went  to  Chris  Tarrant  ( interrupted  by  two  series  with  James  again  in  1997-98 ). The  clip  I  remember  best  was  from  a  Swedish  chat  show  where  a  guest  wandered  on  nude  and  flapped  his  willy  up  and  down  to  thunderous  applause. That  was  funny  enough  but  Tarrant's  dry  observation  about  an  "easily  pleased  audience"  had  me  on  the  floor.  Even  that  doesn't  seem very  outrageous  now, having  watched  the  latest  episode  of  Channel  4's  Naked  Attraction  last  night.

With  the  advent  of  Youtube , the  show  seemed  to  have  outlived  its  purpose  by  the  mid-noughties  and  it  was  put to  bed   in  2006.

Monday, 22 August 2016

474 Film **

First  viewed :  30  December  1980

I  first  caught  this  long  running  BBC  staple  at  the  end  of  1980  when  a  review  of  the  films  of  the  year  followed  a  highlights  compilation  from  the  latest  series  of  Not  The  Nine  O  Clock  News  on  BBC 1. It  was  probably  the  first  time  it  had  been  on  at  a  decent  hour. I  think  I  had  been  to  the  cinema  earlier  that  day. I  had  wanted  to  see  Airplane  with  my  friend  Michael  but  he  had  declined  the  suggestion  so  I  went  by  myself. I  couldn't  get  into  Airplane   so  ended  up  watching  the  extended  edition  of  Close  Encounters  of  the  Third  Kind  instead. I  remember  the  programme  spent  a  lot  of  time   bigging  up  Being  There , the  last  film  of  the  recently  deceased  Peter  Sellers.

It  had  already  been  running  for  nearly  ten  years . Film  71  started  out  as  a  regional  programme  in  the  south  east  with  a  variety  of  presenters, including  Jacky  Gillott  who  had  committed  suicide  earlier  in  1980 , but  since  Film  72   it  had  been  a  late   night  national  programme  with  a  regular  presenter  in  Barry  Norman.

Barry  Norman  was  the  peoples'  critic, with  a  vaguely  liberal  world  view  and  a  willingness  to  go  against  the  grain  with  his  honest  opinions  for  example  disdaining  Blue  Velvet  or    Robert  Redford's  Oscar-nominated  performance  in  Out  of  Africa . Though  he  generally  gave  short  shrift  to  Michael  Winner's  films, he  did  back  him  in  the  censorship  row  over  scenes  in  The  Wicked  Lady.  It's  a  shame  that  when  interviewing  Hollywood  royalty  he  became  unnecessarily  obsequious. It  was  hard  to  watch  him  tell  Michelle  Pfeiffer  she  was  one  of  the  most  beautiful  women  in  the  world  or  Tom  Cruise  that  he  should  have  won  the  Best  Actor  for  Rain  Man  rather  than  Hoffman  , without  squirming..

Of  course  reviewing  several  films  a  week  for  a  year  was  a  tall  order  so  Bazza  was  allowed  a  number  of  sabbaticals. Among  the  stand-ins  I  recall  were  Iain  Johnstone  the  original  producer  of  the  series  in  1982, Michael  Parkinson,  who  walked  out  of  the  gory  medieval  saga  Flesh  and  Blood,  in  1986  and  Russell  Harty  who  I  recall  waxing  lyrical  about  The  Colour  of  Money  in  1987.

Barry  Norman  quit  in  1998  to  work  for  Sky  instead. He'd  long  been  annoyed  by  the  programme  being  bounced  around  the  schedules  and  at  65  probably  had  an  intimation  his  time  would  be  up  soon  anyway. His  place  was  taken  by  Jonathan  Ross. I  thought  Ross  was  a  reasonable  choice  because  he  certainly  had  a  deep  interest  in  film  even  if  his  tastes  were  a  bit  leftfield  but  somehow  I  got  out  of  the  habit of  watching  it  during  his  tenure. It  was  interrupted  by  his  suspension  over  "Sachsgate"  which  I'm  gobsmacked  to  realise   is  now  eight  years  ago ! He  left  two  years  later  to  be  replaced  by  Claudia  Winkleman  and  co-host  Danny  Leigh.  Empire  magazine   trashed  her  in  an  article  as  a  lightweight  who  would  dumb down  and  perhaps  doom  the  programme but  she's  held  her  own  so  far.

Barry  Norman  was  three  years  at  Sky  before  retiring  in  2001.



Sunday, 21 August 2016

473 Great Railway Journeys of the World

First  viewed : 27  November  1980

At  this  point  in  time  my  youthful  interest  in  railways,  partly  inherited  from  my  dad  and  partly  from  the  Rev  W  Awdry  books,  was  at  a  low  ebb . My  dad  was  now  persona  non  grata   after  first  receiving  a  police  caution  for  indecent  exposure   ( swimming  nude in  a  moorland  pool  that  wasn't  as  obscure  as  he  assumed ) and  then  being  made  redundant  ; I  think  the  two  things  were  probably  related.  Also, the  previous  year  I  received  the  unwelcome  news  that  you  had  to  pay  full  fare  on  the  trains  at  14  ( rather  than  the  surely   more  sensible  16  as  on  the  buses ) . This  meant  trips  to  Manchester  had  to  be  by  two  buses  instead  which  took  much  longer.  That's  probably  why  I  only  saw  one  episode  of  the  first  season.

It  was  a  significant  one  however  , following  Michael  Palin  on   a  journey  through  Britain  from  London  to  Kyle  of  Lochalsh  on  Scotland's  north  west  coast. Although.  due to  his  busy  film  career  in  the  eighties,  it  took  a  while  to  begin  in  earnest  this  was  the  start  of  Palin's  second  career  as  everyone's  favourite  travel  guide. Starting  with  his  confession  that  he  had  been  a  fervent  train  spotter  in  his  Sheffield  youth,  Michael  wandered  up  the  country  talking  to  British  Rail    staff , visiting  a  preserved  line  in  Yorkshire  and  the  National  Railway  Museum  and  offering  the  odd  tart  comment  about  Beeching. Of  course  the  episode's   now  a  period  piece  itself  with  BR , green  parkas , the  125  train , 21p  cups  of  coffee  and  the  Steamtown  Railway  Museum  at  Carnforth  all  long  since  consigned  to  the  past. The  programme  also  contained  some  footage  from  the  Great  Railway  Exposition  that  summer  at  Manchester's  historic  Liverpool  St  Station  marking  the  150th  anniversary  of  the  Liverpool  and  Manchester  Railway. We  were  going  to  go  to  the  first  day  as  one  of  our  Saturday  trips  but  it  never  happened,  probably  because  Patrick , our  biggest  rail  enthusiast , had  dropped  out  for  a  time  following  a  not  entirely  harmonious  hostelling  holiday  in  the  Lakes  ( I'll  concede readily  that  my  behaviour  on  it  wasn't  exemplary ).    

If  a  new  chapter  for  Palin  was  just  opening  it  seems  that  the  final  episode,  featuring  a  journey  from  Paris  to  Budapest , saw  the  door  firmly  shutting  on   someone  else. I  read  somewhere  that  the  journey  was  originally  undertaken  by   Bill  Grundy  but  he  got  so  pissed  in  the  process  that  it  had  to  be  re-shot  with  Eric  Robson. If  true.  the  series  also  marked  the  end  of  Grundy  as  a    national    TV  presenter.

Eight  years  elapsed  before  Palin  started  Around  The  World  In  80  Days   but  the  wait  for the  second   season  of   Great  Railway  Journeys  was  even  longer.  Fourteen  years  elapsed  before  Clive  Anderson  kicked  it  off  with  a  journey  from  Hong  Kong  to  Ulaanbaatar. That  was  excellent  but  the  one  a  fortnight  later  with  Natalia  Makarova  journeying  from  St  Petersburg  to  Tashkent  was  excruciatingly  self-indulgent . I  suppose  that's  what  you  get  when  you  ask  a  prima  ballerina  to  present. Mind  you,  the  one  with  tiresomely  eccentric  writer  Lisa  St  Aubin  de  Teran  was  almost  as  bad.

That  was  the  season   where  I  saw  the  most  episodes.  In  the  latter  two,  I  only  recall  seeing  one  episode  each. In  1996   it  was  the  opening  episode  where  Victoria  Wood  did  a  UK  journey  and  drove  me  up  the  wall  with  a  constant  barrage  of  unfunny  and  inappropriate   similes . I  don't  want  to  speak  ill  of  the  recently  deceased  but  I  never  found  her  funny  at  all; she  always  came  across  to  me  as  one  of  your  mum's  "wacky"  friends  who  thought  they  were  highly  entertaining  when  you  really  wanted  them  to  just  put  a  sock  in  it. That  probably  put  me  off  the  rest  of  the  season.

In  the  1999  season  the  one  I  saw  was  the  second  where  famously  ejected  hardline  Tory  Michael  Portillo  did  a  journey  from  Granada  to  Salamanca  and  considerably  softened  up  his  public  image  with  his  reflective  musings  on  the  Spanish  Civil   War  and  his  family's  part  in  it.  This  set  up  Portillo  to  do   future  spin-off  series  Great  British  Railway  Journeys   which  has  had  five  series  so  far  and  is  regularly  repeated  at  the  time  of  writing.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

472 Royal Variety Performance

First  viewed : 23  November  1980

I  might  have  seen  bits  of  earlier  ones  but  this  is  the  first  one  I  can  remember  clearly. It  marked  the  Queen  Mother's  80th  birthday.

The  big  draw  in  1980  was  an  appearance  by  man-of-the-moment  Larry  Hagman. Although  he  could  sing  well  enough  to  appear  in  musicals  earlier  in  his  career  he  chose  to  do  a  number  as  J.R, in  Rex  Harrison  style. The  song  was  "My  Favourite  Things"  from   "The  Sound  of  Music"  ( first  performed  by  his  mother  Mary  Martin  on  Broadway ) . Larry  changed  the  lyrics  to  fit  his  persona  so  it  became  "My  Favourite  Sins"   but  neglected  to  learn  them  properly  and  they  deserted  him  on  the  night. Larry  did  his  best  to  keep  smiling  and  laugh  it  off  but  the  performance  was  acutely  embarrassing. After  completely  screwing  up  in  his  solo  spot  he  then  had  to  introduce  his  mother  as  an  unbilled  special  guest  and  she  blew  him  away  with  a  performance  that  belied  her  66  years. But  we  still  loved  him.Apart  from  Hagman  the  other performances  I  remember  are

  •  an  interminable  "comic"  turn  from  pianist  Victor  Borge. When  I  complained  at  how  long  it  was  dragging  on  for   my  mother  snapped  "Well  other  people  like  it"  or  words  to  that  effect.
  • a  solo  Rowan  Atkinson  doing  his  father  of  the  bride  turn
  •  the  inescapable  Sheena  Easton  doing  the  crushingly  boring  "When  He  Shines"
It's  interesting  to  look  at  the  mix  on  the  bill  that  night, the  music  hall  boys  on  their  last  legs  - Athur  Askey, Chesney  Allen , Tommy  Trinder, the  Hollywood  vets  - Danny  Kaye, Sammy  Davis  Junior,  and   the  TV  reliables - Brucie  and  Lionel  Blair. Besides  Rowan  and  Sheena  the  younger  stars  on  view  were  Grace  Kennedy,  a  black  singer  who  won  Opportunity  Knocks  but  gradually  faded  from  view  as  the  decade  progressed  and  now  runs  a  successful  wedding  planning  business   and  Paul  Squire, a  young  Mancunian  comedian  who  completely  disappeared  from  public  view  a  few  years  later   although  you  can  still  find  him  on  cruise  ships  and  in  regional  pantomime.        

Friday, 19 August 2016

471 Steptoe and Son

First  viewed : Uncertain

I've  no  idea  when  I  first  caught  an  episode  of  this. I  suspect  it  was  probably  earlier  than  the  repeat  run  on  BBC 2  in  1989. I  remember  Mum  and  Gran  not  wanting  me  to  watch  it  due  to  concerns  about  coarse  language  which  of  course  gave  it  some  allure.

Steptoe  and  Son  had  two  innings  , a  black  and  white  run  from  1962  to  1965  ( none  of  which  I've  seen ) and  a   return  in  colour  from  1970  to  1974. It  concerned  a  grimy  old  rag  and  bone  man  Albert  Steptoe  ( Wilfred  Brambell )  and  his  son  Harold  ( Harry  H  Corbett, no  relation  to  the  Sooty  presenter )  who  wants  to  escape  the  trade  and  better  himself.  Though  there  was  much  broad  comedy , there  was  also  a  note  of  pathos  which  became  more  pronounced as  the  series  went  on  as  it  became  clearer  that  Albert's  always  successful  attempts  to  spike  Harold's  plans, particularly  with  women, were  motivated  by  fear  of  loneliness  rather  than  envy  or  spite. You  really  didn't  know  which  one  to  root  for  and  that  was  at  the  core  of  the  show's  appeal. Something  of  their  relationship  was  transferred  to  Del  and  Rodney  in   Only  Fools  and  Horses.

The  show  ended  partly  because of  Brambell's  alcoholism  and  apart  from  a  TV  commercial, a  disastrous  Australian  tour  of  a  stage  version ended  their  working  relationship  in  1977  . Corbett  , a  heavy  smoker  died  in  1982  aged  57. I  remember  a  distressing  interview  Nationwide  did  with  Brambell  at  the  time.  He  died  three  years  later  aged  82.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

470 Russell Harty

First  viewed  :  Autumn  1980

While  ITV  were  luring  away  some  of  the  Beeb's  big  hitters  ( Yarwood, Forsyth , Morecambe  and  Wise  etc  )  there  was  some  movement  the  other  way.  Harty, a  former  public  school  teacher  in  Yorkshire , had  come  up  in  the  wake  of  Simon  Dee's  demise  as  a  chat  show  host  on  ITV    and  established  himself   as  their   main  rival  to  Parkinson  . The  two  guys   couldn't  have  been  more  different  in  their  approach  with  Harty's  camp  insinuation  the  antithesis  of  Parky's  bluff  Yorkshire  blokiness. Quite  why  it   appealed  to  Harty  to  switch  to  interviewing  B-listers  on  BBC  2  mid  week  while  Parky  reigned  supreme  on  Saturday  nights , I'm  not  too  sure.  Perhaps  with  his  educational  background  he  felt  the  Beeb  was  the  more  appropriate   environment  for  his  talents. He  was  not  always  deferential  to  his  guests  and  his  rather  hostile  questioning  of  David  Bowie  in  the  mid-seventies  was  much-criticised.

  I've  no  recollection  of  who  the  guests  were  on  the   shows  we  watched  but  I  remember  that  we  didn't  see  the  infamous  encounter  with  Grace  Jones,  three  episodes  in ,  which  ended  with  her  pummelling  him  for  turning  to  another  guest. ( Jones  has  recently  admitted  she  was  off  her  head  on  cocaine  at  the  time ). That  gave  the  show  a  priceless  publicity  boost. Two  years  later  it  switched  to  BBC 1  in  the  post-Nationwide  slot   where  it  was  just  called  Harty.

At  the  beginning  of  1985 Michael  Grade  replaced  him  with  Wogan  but  he  remained  a  popular  presenter  with  the  BBC  on  both  TV  and  radio  and  had  a  stint  replacing  Barry  Norman  as  host  of  Film  87.  Harty  actually  appeared  as  a  guest  on  Wogan  ( although  Sue  Lawley  was  standing  in  for  Terry ) where  he  joined  in  the  ridiculing  of  Vivienne  Westwood's  designs  in  one  of  his  last  public  appearances.

He  died  just  a  few  months  later  aged  53.  He  had  tried  to  keep  his  private  life  secret  but  his  death  from  AIDS -related  Hepatitis  B  threw  an  unwanted  spotlight  on  his  partner , the  future  author  James O'Neill  , who  hadn't  told  his  parents  about  the  relationship. I  hadn't  realised  it  was  quite  that  long  ago  to  be  honest.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

469 Rock Goes To College

First  viewed :  28  October  1980

This  seminal   music  programme  ran  for  four  seasons  between  1968  and 1981  which  coincided  with  my  own  personal  "Golden  Age"  for  music  ( as  expounded  elsewhere ). The  snag  was  that  it  was  usually  on  at  very  inconvenient  times  for  me. The  first  season  was  broadcast  late  on  Friday  nights  with  a  repeat  on  Sunday  afternoons  while  the  latter  two  clashed  with  Monday  night's  Coronation  Street  . Hence  I  haven't  actually  seen  that  many  of  them.

As  the  title  suggests  the  series  consisted  of   live  gigs  at  universities  and  polytechnics  usually  introduced  by  Radio  One's  Pete  Drummond  and  broadcast  simultaneously  on  Radio  One  so  viewers  could  take  advantage  of  stereo. The  programme  followed  a  1960s  series  called  Jazz  Goes  To  College  and  used  a  pretty  eclectic  definition  of   "rock" ; I  don't  think  John  Martyn, The  Roches  or  UB40  ever  thought  of  themselves  as  a  rock  act. The  producer  was  Michael  Appleton  who  did  Old  Grey  Whistle  Test   and  like  that  programme  it  kept  a  carefully  neutral  balance  between  the  new  wave  and  the  old.

Most  of  the  artists  featured  were  familiar  to  me  at  the  time,  at  least  by  name,  but  Crawler, Bethnal  and  Live  Wire  remain  a  complete  mystery  even  now. The  most  interesting  - and  likely  to  be  repeated  - ones  were  those  that  featured  a  new  act  on  the  cusp  of  greatness. The  first  one  I  saw - because  some  of  the  most  successful  got  a  one  off  repeat -   featured  The  Specials  at  Colchester  and  was  originally  broadcast  in  January  1980  just  before  the  release  of  the  Too  Much  Too  Young  EP.  It  doesn't  feature  any  material  from  the  second  album  but  captures  them  at  the  peak  of  their  prowess  as  a  live  act  with  the  last  three  numbers  played  whilst  having  to  cope  with  a  mass  stage  invasion. It's  a  reminder  of  what  a  great  front  man  Terry  Hall  was  ( probably  still  is  ) with  his  baleful  stage  presence  and  sardonic  banter  and  how  crucial  bass  man  Horace  Panter  was  to  the  sound.

Individual  episodes  ( probably  not  the  ones  featuring  the  three  bands  mentioned  above  )  still  pop  up  on  BBC  Four  from  time  to  time.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

468 Strangeways

First  viewed : 29  October  1980

Again, I  didn't  see  much  of  this  fly  on  the  wall  documentary  about  life  in  Manchester's  Strangeways  prison,  perhaps  only  part  of  the  first  episode. It  does  stick  in  the  mind  though  as  my  first  sighting  of  male  genitalia  on  TV  when  a  new  inmate  named  Trevor  had  a  medical  examination  during  his  induction  and  his  meat  and  two  veg  came  out  for  air.

Monday, 15 August 2016

467 To Serve Them All My Days

First  viewed  : October  1980

This  was  the  second  adaptation  of  an  R F  Delderfield  novel  after  the  success  of  A  Horseman  Riding  By .  It  starred  John  Duttine , hot  property  after  The  Mallens , as  an  invalided  soldier  who  becomes  a  teacher  at  a  public  school  after  the  First  World  War.  Like  the  previous  series  it  was  a  favourite  of  my  mum  and  sister  but  I  only  dipped  in  occasionally  so  I'm  not  equipped  to  say  much  more  about  it.

One  thing  I  will  note  , which  explains  the  choice  of  still,  is  that  it's  the  only*  TV  drama  to feature  both  of  the  most  prominent  child  actors  of  the  seventies,  Nicholas  Lyndhurst  and  Simon  Gipps-Kent , together. Both  of  them  were  pushing  it  to  be  playing  schoolboys  at  19  and  21  respectively.

* Both  appeared  in  The  Tomorrow  People  but  at  different  times.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

466 Return To St Kilda

First  viewed :  3  October  1980

This  was  a  memorable  one-off  documentary  on  BBC  Two  on  a  Friday  night. It  marked  the  50th  anniversary  of  the  evacuation  of  the  inhabitants  of  the  remote  archipelago  of  St  Kilda, the  westernmost  land  in  the  UK, over  a  hundred  miles  from  the  Scottish  mainlands. I  watched  it  down  at  my  gran's. She  remembered  the  evacuation  as  a  news  story.

The  islands  ( or  rather  the  main  one,  Hirta )  had  been  inhabited  for  thousands  of  years. The  tiny  community  was  by  necessity  egalitarian  and  had  become  strictly  Sabbatarian.  They  survived  on  a  few  meagre  crops, sheep  farming  and  harvesting  the  seabird  colonies  ( mainly  fulmar  and  gannet )  that  nested  on  the  highest  sea-cliffs  in  Britain. The  Atlantic  storms  meant  they  were  effectively  marooned  for  nine  months  of  the  year.

The  First  World  War  was  the  beginning  of  the  end  for  the  community. Hirta  was  used  for  a  naval  post  and  attracted  some  shelling  from  a  submarine  but  it  was  the  contact  with  the  outside  world  that  did  for  it. When  the  soldiers  left  in  1918  some  of  the  islanders  went  with  them. Although  tourism  in  the  next  decade  brought  some  extra  income, the  numbers  were  not  viable. Health  visitors  expressed  concerns  about  inbreeding.

The  islanders  took  the  decision  to  evacuate  themselves  and  left  on  29  August  1930. The  sheep  were  left  to  become  feral  and  their  descendants  remain  on  the  islands  today.  Needless  to  say  the  scattered  remnants  of  the  community  regarded  the  event  with  a  great  deal  of  sorrow  and  viewing  it  you  shared  their  pain.

The  programme  interviewed  survivors  of  the  evacuation. One  bloke  explained   the  highly  hazardous  operation on  the  cliffs. The  men  were  lowered  on  ropes  from  the  cliff  tops  then  had  to  move  along  the  slippery  ledges  and  break  the  birds'  necks  before  they  spat  out  the  valuable  stomach  oil  which  fuelled  their  lamps. Both  birds  and  their  eggs  were  collected.  He  said  St  Kildans  had  developed  particularly  long  toes  for  this  purpose  and  took  his  shoe  and  sock  off  to  illustrate  this. I  remember  some  years  later  to  this  in  an  argument  with  my  bio-chemist  housemate  who  said  such  localised  genetic  adaptation  was  impossible. God  knows  how it  came  up.

The  last  survivor, an  eight  year  old  girl  at  the  time, died  earlier  this  year.


Friday, 12 August 2016

465 A Tale of Two Cities

First  viewed  : October  1980

The  second  drama  in  a  row  to  end  with  an   execution  ,this  was  the  latest  Dickens  adaptation  in  the  Sunday  teatime  classic  serial  slot.  I  dipped  in  and  out  of  it  because  of  course  it  clashed  with  the  Top  40  show  on  Radio  One  so  it  rather  depended  on  what  records  were  in  the  teens  that  week  which  one  I  chose  though  I  certainly  saw  the  final  episode.

For  those  who  don't  know  the  story, Sydney  Carton , a  cynical  dissolute  barrister  falls  in  love  with  a  French  girl  Lucie  but  she  prefers  a  worthy  but  dull  French  aristocrat  Charles  Darnay. To  rub  salt  in  Carton's  wound,  Darnay  looks  exactly  like  him. When  the  latter  foolishly  returns  to  revolutionary  France  to  help  out  a  family  servant,  he  gets  in  serious  trouble  and  Carton  has  to  save  him  in  the  most  shattering  display  of  self-sacrifice  in  all  literature.

Paul  Shelley  from  Secret  Army  played  the  dual  role  of   Carton / Darnay  with  aplomb  but  it  was  well  acted  all  round  with  special  mentions  for  David  Collings  playing  against  type  as  the  duplicitous  spy  Barsad  and  Judy  Parfitt  , terrifying  as  the  revenge-crazed  Madame  Defarge.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

464 We, the Accused

First  viewed  :  September  1980

This  adaptation  of  Ernest  Raymond's  classic  crime  novel was  broadcast  on  BBC 2  on  a   Wednesday  evening  with a  repeat  on  Saturdays. Apart  from  that  it  has  never  been  re-broadcast.

Ian  Holm  starred  as  Paul  Presset  , a  decent  mild-mannered  man  with  a  ghastly  wife. After  finding  love with  a  younger  woman , life  with  his  wife  becomes  unbearable  and  he  is  driven  to  kill  her. When  the  police  become  suspicious  he  and  his  mistress  go  on  the  run. My  mum  was  watching  it  from  the  start; I  came  in  when  they  were  already  fugitives.

This,  I  think,  was  when  I  first  became  aware  of  my  mum's  animus  towards  Iain  Cuthbertson who  played  the  pursuing  police  detective,  Boltro. She  just  kept  going  on  about  how  bad  an  actor  he  was  whenever  he  entered  the  scene.

There  was  no  happy  ending  to  the  story . The  mistress  rightly  got  off  the  murder  charge  but  the  series  ended  with  Presset  at  the  end  of  the  judicial  rope.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

463 Hammer House of Horror

First  viewed : 20  September  1980

This  series  of  hour  long  chillers  from  the  famous  film  studios  pepped  up  the  Saturday  night  schedule  during  the  autumn  of  1980. Not  all  of  them  had  supernatural  elements ; in  some  the  horror  came  from  the  human  capacity  for  evil.

I  didn't  get  to  see  them  all  but  the  ones  I  did  featured  a  degree  of  titillation  and  no guarantee  of  a  happy  ending . The  one  I  remember   most  fondly, The  Carpathian  Eagle   ticked  both  those  boxes  and  featured  Suzanne  Danielle in  varying  states  of  undress  as  a novelist-cum-serial  killer  despatching  lechers  ( including  a  young  Pierce  Brosnan ) with  a curved  blade.

The  other  ones  I  caught  were :

  • The  Thirteenth  Reunion  A  health  farm  is  found  to  be  a  front  for  cannibalism
  • The  Silent  Scream  Peter  Cushing, an  ex-Nazi, torments  ex-con  Brian  Cox  and  his  wife  Elaine  Donnelly. They  think  they've  turned  the  tables  on  him  but  when  they  get  home  they  find  he's  turned  their  house  into  an  electrified  prison  with  no  way  out. That's  the  one  that  spooked  me  the  most.
  • Children  of  the  Moon  Christopher  Cazenove  and  his  wife  stumble  on  a  family  of  werewolf  children  being  nannied  by  Diana  Dors. She  apparently  had  a  really  nasty  side  to  her  personality  and  you  can  believe  that  from  her  performance  in  this.
  • Guardian  of  the  Abyss Ray  Lonnen  gets  into  real  trouble  when  he  tries  to  help  a  young  woman  escape  from  a  Satanist  coven.
  • Visitor  From  the  Grave  An  interesting  twist   on  the  old  "drive  the  heiress  insane"  plot  line  where  the  conspirators  get  a  taste  of  their  own  medicine.
Thirteen  episodes  were  made  and  producer  Roy  Skeggs  said  that  a  second  series  was  in  the pipeline  but  Lew  Grade 's  ITC  Entertainment  who  were  part-funding  it  had  to  pull  the  plug because  of  the  losses  suffered  by   the  film  turkey   Raise  The  Titanic . 

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

462 Escape

First  viewed  : 12  September  1980

This  obscure  series  of  six  50  minute  dramas  was  producer  Frank  Cox's   successor  to  the  uncelebrated  Life  At  Stake  from  two  and  a  half  years  earlier. Whereas  that  had  got  the  cover  of  Radio  Times  and  a  BBC1  slot  this  was  stuck  away  on  BBC2.

Escape  followed  the  same  formula  as  the  previous  series  with  dramatic  reconstructions  of   major  news  stories  from  the  previous  two  decades , this  time  focusing  on  celebrated  bids  for  freedom. This  time  round  though, the  dramas  had   overarching  narrators  to  help  the  viewer  make  sense  of  them.

The  only  one  I  saw  was  the  first  which  featured  the  case  of  Lord  Lucan. It  was  an  odd  choice  given  that  we  still  don't   know  the  details  of  how  he  evaded  justice  so  the  drama  necessarily  focused  on  the  investigation  and  the  inquest  into  the  death  of  nanny  Sandra  Rivett. This  included  the  following classic  exchange :

QC : So  what  happened  next ?

Lady  Lucan : I  grabbed  his  testicles

QC : What  happened  then ?

Lady  Lucan : He  moved  back    

The  inquest  of  course  ended  with  the  verdict  of  "Murder  by  Lord  Lucan". There   was  a  caveat  at  the  end  of  the  programme  to  explain  that  since  that  time  ( 1974 )  an  inquest  jury's  right  to  name  a  perpetrator  had  been  abolished  by  the  Criminal  Law  Act  1977. In  fact  Lucan  was  the  last  person  to  be  so  named.

Monday, 8 August 2016

461 The Professionals

First  viewed  : September  1980

We  say  a  belated  hello  to  Bodie  and  Doyle  here,  now  into  their  fourth  season. As  regular  readers  might  recall  the  first  Friday  night   season  clashed  with  Gangsters  on  BBC 1  and  for  the  subsequent  two  Saturday  night  seasons  we  stuck  with  Starsky  and  Hutch  (  a  major  inspiration  for  The  Professionals )  . However  I'm  sure  I've  seen  many  episodes  from  those  first  three  seasons  on  repeat.

The  Professionals  was  developed  as  a  replacement  series  for  The  New  Avengers  with  Brian  Clemens  wishing  to  produce  a  more  realistic  drama  series. The  science  fiction  elements  and  campy  humour  of  the  previous  series  were  dropped  but  it's  debatable  whether  much  "realism"  was  ever  achieved  with  Gordon  Jackson's  shouts  of  "Oh  My  God  he's  a  KGB  agent ! " mid-plot  and  Bodie  and  Doyle  besting  a  whole  squad  of  Angolan  mercenaries  in  unarmed  combat.

The  "Professionals"  were  a  duo  who  worked  for  the  fictional  C.I.5  who  sat  neatly  between  the  Flying  Squad  and  M.I.5  giving  the  scriptwriters  freedom  to  go  either  way  between  serious  crimes  and  national  security  storylines. Bodie  ( Lewis  Collins )  and  Doyle  ( Martin  Shaw )  always  worked  together  and  there  was  some  on-screen  chemistry  although  their  dialogue  rarely  rose  above  laddish  ribaldry  for  which  the  series  was  often  criticised. There  was  however  one  glaring  difference  between  them. Shaw, as  his  subsequent  career  proves, was  a  decent  actor ; Collins  wasn't  and  relied  on  one  facial  expression  , an  arrogant  smirk  , to  accompany  his  wooden  delivery. They  reported  to  former  hard  man  George  Cowley  , played  in  an  hilarious  piece  of  miscasting,  by  Gordon  Jackson, fresh  from  Upstairs  Downstairs.  No  doubt  he  thought  he  was  proving  his  versatility  by  taking  the  role  but  he  always  looked  like  a  fish  out  of  water.

The  series  employed  a  number  of  different  writers  and  so  the  stories  varied  from  being  reasonably  engaging  to  mundane  and  formulaic. There  was  always  a  car  chase  and  some  violence  , whether  a  shoot-out  or  fisticuffs  and  usually  some  mild  titillation  such  as  the  memorable  scene  where  Bodie  had  to  retrieve  a  hand  grenade  that  had  fallen  down  Pamela  Stephenson's  blouse ( see  above ).

The  ones  I  recall  are :

  • An  episode  where  the  agents  question  themselves  over  the  use  of  dum  dum  bullets  , complicated  by  the  fact  that  they  unwittingly  become  friendly  with  their  eventual  adversaries
  • A  story  where  the  lads  investigate  a  chief  constable  who's  taking  zero  tolerance  a  bit  too  far
  • A  sniper  storyline  which  has  Karl  Howman  in  drag  ( not  a  pretty  sight ) 
The  series  was  a  regular  target  for  Mary  Whitehouse  but  in  the  end  it  was  Shaw  and  Collins  who  decided  to  pull  the  plug  on  it. Shaw  had  long  been  publicly  unhappy  in  the  role   while  Collins  had  landed  the  star  role  as  an  S.A.S.  chief  in  Who  Dares  Wins  and  imagined  a  glittering  film  career  lay  ahead  of  him.  This  was  in  1981  although  the  last  episodes  were  not  broadcast  until  1983. Shaw  is  still  a  bankable  TV  name  but  poor  Collins  suffered  a  steep  decline  in  opportunities  as  he  aged  and  spent  his  last  decade  selling  I.T.  equipment  in  the  U.S. He  died  three  years  ago  aged  67. Cowley  was  Jackson's  last  regular  TV  role  but  he  still  acted  for  the  rest  of  the  eighties  in  mini-series  and  the  occasional  film  role  before  his  death  from  cancer  aged  66  at  the  beginning  of  1990.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

460 Holding The Fort

First  viewed : 5  September  1980

After  his  huge  success  in  the  semi-comic  role  of  Tristan  Farnon  in  All  Creatures  Great  And  Small  the  search  was  on  for  a  suitable  comedy  vehicle  for  the  likeable  Peter  Davison .

The  first  one  he  landed  in  was  Holding  the  Fort  on  ITV . It's  also  notable  as  the  first  collaboration  of  the  durable  comic  writing  team  of  Laurence  Marks  and  Maurice  Gran.

The  premise  was  that  Russell  Milburn  ( Davison )  didn't  earn  enough  as  a  brewery  manager   in  London  to  support  his  wife  Penny  ( Patricia  Hodge )  and  their  baby  daughter in  the  appropriate  style. When   the  firm  re-locate  to  Workington  it's  decided  that  he  should  stay  at  home  with  the  baby  and  run  a  home-brew  business  while  Penny  returns  to  the  Army  ( in  which  she  is  a  captain ). The  series  might  have  had  something  to  say  about  the  upending  of  traditional  gender  roles  in  the  new  decade  but  it  was  never  very  amusing.

What  made  the  series  unpalatable  for  me  was  the  third  member  of  the  cast.  It  launched  an  abiding  pet  hate  of  mine. I  simply  cannot  bear  Matthew  Kelly  , making  his  TV  debut  here  as  Russell's  scrounging , over-opinionated  lorry  driving  friend  Fitz. He  was  offensively  hairy  but  it's  that  voice  - loud , singsong  and  ever-so-camp - that  just  goes  through  me. It  didn't  help  that  he  was  playing  an  obnoxious  hectoring  character  ( it's  worth  noting  that  he  was  a  member  of  Vanessa  Redgrave's  Worker's  Revolutionary  Party  at  the  time  which  may  have  helped  win  him  the  role ).  

In  the  only  episode  I  remember  clearly  the  couple  get  the  opportunity  to  re-locate  to  the  Lake  District   after  a  holiday  there  but  ridiculously  allow  Fitz  to  dissuade  them  by  pointing  out  the  location  of  Windscale   ( former  name  of  Sellafield )  on  the  map. Coupled  with  the  disparaging  references  to  Workington  in  the  first  episode,   I  can't  imagine  this  series  had  too  many  fans  in  the  Border  TV  region.

It  ran  for  three  seasons  until  1982  when  Davison  became  Dr  Who.

Saturday, 6 August 2016

459 Cowboys

First  viewed  :  September  1980

I  may  only  have  seen  one  episode  of  this  shortlived  sitcom  about  an  incompetent  building  team.

Roy  Kinnear  played  Mr  Jones  the  nervy  owner  who  "maintained"  a  skeleton  crew  of  cynical  plumber  Richard  Geyser  ( Colin  Welland )  , drunken  Irish  painter  Wobbly  Ron  ( David  Kelly )  and  thick  as  two  short  planks  driver  Eric  ( James  Wardroper )  who  could  all  be  relied  upon  to  leave  a  property  in  a  worse  state  than  when  they  started. In  the  first  series  Jones's  secretary  was  played  by  ubiquitous  busty  blonde  Debbie  Linden; in  the  second,  they  went  to  the  opposite  extreme  and  her  replacement   was  played  by  Janine  Duvitski.

Besides  playing  on  middle  class  nightmares  of  botch  jobs  the  series'  premise  gave  plenty  of  opportunities  for  Some  Mothers  Do  Ave  Em  - style  slapstick  which  weren't  missed. A  house  fell  down  rather  impressively  in  the  first  episode. Colin  Welland  got  most  of  the  best  lines.

The  episode  I  remember  is  the  second  one  "Perks"  where  the  lads  are  helping  themselves  to  things  from  a  hotel  they're  renovating  such  as  the  copper  wiring. Ron  gets  startled  while  on  the  roof  and  ends  up  hanging  from  the  guttering. Eric  tells  him  to  lift  himself  up  then  chides  him  for  not  moving. Ron's  reply  is  "Neither  would  you  with  half  a  ton  of  lead  in  your  pockets !"

There  were  two  seasons  comprising  thirteen  episodes  in  total. Kinnear, Welland  and  Kelly  all  moved  on  but  the  series  was  the  end  of  the  line  for  Wardroper  as  an  actor. Ironically  he  became  a  painter  and  moved  to  France. He  does  have  the  consolation  that  he  and  Duvitski  are  the  only  surviving  members  of  the  cast.