Wednesday, 31 August 2016
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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"
Friday, 19 August 2016
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.