Thursday, 29 September 2016

506 A View From The Lakes

First  viewed  :  7  August  1981

This  is  quite  a  painful  one  to  write  about   given  the  personal  context. This  short  series  of  mini-documentaries  about  the  Lake  District  was  one  of  a  series  of  early  evening  replacements  for  Granada  Reports  whilst  Tony  Wilson  &  co  went  on  their  holidays. I  avidly  tuned  in  because  of  a  developing  obsession  with  the  Lakes  which  wasn't  all  that  healthy.

As  mentioned  a  few  posts  back,  I  had  arranged  a  youth  hostelling  holiday  in  the  Lakes  for  just  after  the exams  with  my  friend  Michael. We  were  staying  for  ten  nights  moving  from  one  hostel  to  another  until  the  end  where  we'd  have  two  nights  at  Ambleside  sandwiching  a  relaxation  day. En  route  between  the  hostels  we'd  be  conquering  some  of  the  highest  mountains  in  the  country. All  went  pretty  much  to  plan  until  the  fourth  day  when  I  refused  the  ascent  of  Bowfell , opting  for  a  road  walk  to  Duddon  Youth  Hostel  instead,  even  though  it  would  leave  us  with  hours  to  kill  in  a   desolate  area  before  the  hostel  opened . There  were  numerous  reasons . One  had  always  been  there;  Michael  was   hardier  , stronger  and  braver  than  me, in  short  a  better  walker. We'd   both  been  spooked   by  our  misty  ascents  of  the  Helvellyn  edges  ( me  Swirral, him  Striding )  the  day  before  but  it  affected  him  less  than  me. I  was  also  fretting  about  what  might  be  happening  back  in  Rochdale  where  my  love  rival  was  planning  to  make  a  move  on  the  girl  I  fancied  after  their  last  exam  that  day. But  really,  it  was  a  combination  of  fatigue  ( bear  in  mind  we  were  doing  every  walk with  a  rucksack  filled  for  10  days )  and  lack  of  appetite  for  walking  high  in  what  looked  like  it  was  going  to  be  heavy  rain. Michael  reluctantly  complied  but  can't  have  been  impressed. He'd  been  happy to  leave   all  the  route-planning  to  me , I'd  talked  about  it  incessantly  for  months  and  now  I   wasn't  living  up  to  it .The  next  two  days  followed  the  same  pattern  of  me  opting  for  the  path  of  least  resistance ( and  picking  up  blisters  from  all  the  road  walking ). We  conquered  just  one  more  mountain  ,Green  Gable, as  staying  at  Black  Sail  gave  us  such  a  good  head  start,  but  the  next  day  Michael  himself  declined  a  summit  and  that  was  the  end  of  our  mountaineering  with  three  days  still  to  go . To  make  matters  worse , just  before  we  broke  up  for  exams ,  my  Drama  teacher  had  suggested  I  re-write  a  silly  set  of  stories  I'd  been  touting,  as  a  play  for  the  new  Drama  group  he  was  organising. Therefore,  I  took  pen  and  paper  with  me  to  write  it  up  in  the  evenings,  without  a  thought  as  to  how  boring  it  would  be  for  Michael , just  sitting  there  watching  someone  else  scribbling.  By  the  end  of  the  holiday,  he  was  getting  pretty  short  with  me  and  no  wonder.

Our  return  journey  concluded  with  Michael's  Dad  picking  us  up  in  Manchester  and  all  the  talk  was  of  him  starting  work  on  the  Monday. The  holiday  was  tossed  off  in  one  line  , "it  was  OK"  or  something  like  that. I  knew  there  and  then  that  I'd  lost  him. It  took  him  a  few  months  to  make  the final  break  but  it  was  inevitable  from  that  point. My  promised great  walking  adventure  had  turned  into  a  tedious  tourist  trot  and  he  was  never  going  to  put  that  sort  of  trust  in  me  again.

That  put  the  Lakes  out  of  reach  as  I  had  no  appetite  for  walking  alone. I  could  have  gone  with  the  school  the  following  year  but  the  climb  down  from  having  organised  my  own  adventure  was  too  much  for  me  to  swallow. Instead,  I  wallowed  in  a  sort  of  self-pitying  exile , lamenting  my  mistakes  and  eagerly  devouring  any  book  or  TV  programme  about  the  area  that  came  along.

The  programme  was  amiable  enough. The  first  episode   concentrated  on  the  first  tourists  in  the  Victorian  era  and  their  bonkers  practice  of  turning  their  back  on  a  great  view  and  looking  at  its  reflection  in  a  hand  held  glass,  lest  their  animal  passions  be  aroused  by  nature  in  the  raw  or  something  like  that. The  other  one  I  recall  was  a  programme  about  Dove  Cottage, Grasmere  which  concluded  by  interviewing  one  of  the  staff  there. They  let  him  drone  on  for  far  too  long  and  he  was  grumbling  about  intrusive  questioning  by  the  tourists  when  my  mum  got  up  and  turned  it  off. I  was  about  to  scream  in  protest  that  I  was  watching  it   but  then  realised  I  couldn't  make  any  sort  of  case  for  continuing  to  watch  an  old  bloke  moaning  about  his  job  and  let  it  go.


Wednesday, 28 September 2016

505 Fundamental Frolics

First  viewed : 31  July  1981

This  was  a  one-off  pre-recorded  film  of   a  concert  featuring  an  eclectic  range  of  musicians  and  younger comedians for  Mental  health  charity  MENCAP. The  line  up  was  :

MUSIC : Hot  Gossip , Chas  and  Dave, Alan  Price, Elvis  Costello, Jon  Anderson, Nico  Ramsden, Ian  Dury

COMEDY : Chris  Langham, Not  The  Nine  O  Clock  News ( both  together  and  solo ),  Neil  Innes, 20th  Century  Coyote  (Rik  Mayall  and  Ade  Edmondson ), Alexei  Sayle

Rowan  and  co  were  the main  draw  of  course  although  as  a  group  they  only  did  a  run-through  of  the  familiar  "Abou  Ben  Adhem"  sketch  and  none  of  their  solo  routines  were  particularly  good. In  fact  they  were  outshone  by  their  exiled  former  colleague  Chris  Langham  in  that  respect.

From  my  point  of  view,  the  concert  is  most  memorable  for  me   for  introducing  me  to  the  "alternative  comedy"  set . This  was  where  I  first  saw  Rik  Mayall, Ade  Edmondson  and  Alexei  Sayle. Having  sat  through  Mayall  doing  his  "Theatre"  rant/poem  and  Sayle's  assault  on  middle  class  preoccupations - the  "Dance  of  the  Faulty  Central  Heating  System"  and  all - I  concluded  that  "alternative"   really   meant  not  funny.

One  other  thing  I  recall  is  Sayle  having  a  pop  at  Bruce  Springsteen  and  my  sister  not  having  heard  of  him  so  after  the  show  I  played  her  a  recording  of  his  last  single  "The  River" which  is  ironically  a  fairly  left-leaning  song.  

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

504 The Black Stuff

First  viewed  : 30  July  1981

This  Alan  Bleasdale  classic  was  a  great  tonic  after  Charles  and  Di  the  day  before. Originally  broadcast  18  months  earlier  on  BBC2 ,  this  was  its  last  showing  which  is  strange  given  how  often  Boys  From  The  Black  Stuff   has  been  repeated. You  don't  need  to  have  seen  this  to  make  sense  of  the  stories  in  BFTBS  but  it  certainly  helps  to  know  how  the  characters  are  connected  and  what  originally  pushed  Yosser   Hughes  over  the  edge. It  also  tells  you  a  lot  more  about  Kevin  Dean  who  was  relegated  to  a  fairly  minor  character  in  the  series.

The  play  concerns  a  Liverpudlian  tar  gang  who  go  to  Middlesbrough  to  work  on  a  new  housing  estate . Harrassed  foreman  Dixie  ( Tom  Georgeson )  has  to  deal  with  an over-fussy  clerk  of  works  ( Edward  Peel ) , son  Kevin  ( Gary  Bleasdale )  trying  to  get  his  end  away  at  every  opportunity  and  his  gang  slipping  off  to  do  a  foreigner  the  minute  his  back  is  turned. The  gang  comprise  Yosser  ( Bernard  Hill )  an  alpha  male  convinced  he  is  special, George  ( Peter  Kerrigan ) an  older  man  who's  coming  to  the  end  of  his  usefulness  and  two  easy  going  likely  lads , Chrissie  ( Michael  Angelis )  and  Loggo  ( Alan  Igbon ). They  are  approached  by  a  couple  of  gypsies  to  do  somebody's  drive  instead  which  leads  to  them  ( and  Dixie  for  losing  control )  being  fired. They  do  the  job  but  are  then  ripped  off  themselves  by  the  tinkers  who  get  away  with  the  cash  after  a  memorable  van  chase. I  don't  think  I've  ever  been  so  disappointed  by  a  dramatic  outcome  as  when  Yosser  fails  to  catch  up  with  them  and  rip  them  apart. His  crazed  rant  at   Chrissie's  fatalistic  acceptance  of  the  situation  sets  up  his  story  in  the  subsequent  series.

Monday, 26 September 2016

503 The Royal Wedding 1981

First  viewed  : 29  July  1981

I  knew  this  was  going  to  be  a  day  of  endurance  for  me. It's  not  like  I  got  an  extra  day's  holiday  out  of  it. I've  come  round  to  thinking  that  the  monarchy  is  the  best  option  though  I  would  prefer  a  restoration  of  the  true  Yorkist  line.  At  this  time  I  just  thought  the  Royal  Family  were  a  necessary  evil  and  the  fawning  obsequiousness  of  my  mum  and  gran  drove  me  round  the  bend. Some  might  have  thought  having  such  an  ostentatious  ceremony  at  a  time  when  three  million  people  were  unemployed  was  a  bit  insensitive   but  Gran  had  an  answer  to  that. "This  will  help  with  the  unemployment  too, making  all  the  bunting"  !!

That  wasn't  actually  the  nadir  of  her  royalism. A  few  years  earlier  she'd  spotted  a  picture  of  minor  royal  Lady  Helen  Windsor  in  the  Sunday  Express , noted  a  reasonable  resemblance  between  her  and  my  sister, cut  it  out  and  sent  the  paper  a  photo  of  my  sister. She  got  the  following  reply :

Dear  Mrs  Hall

Thank  you  for  sending  me  the  photograph  of  your  grand-daughter. I  agree  there  is  a  resemblance  between  her  and  Lady  Helen  Windsor. Life  really  is  full  of  coincidences  isn't  it  ?

Yours  sincerely  

(  I  can't  remember  the  guy's  name )

Having  seen  the  topless  pics  of  Lady  H, there  must  have  been  a  dramatic  divergence  somewhere  along  the  line.

Anyhow  back  to  1981. The  Royal  Wedding  took  up  most  of  the  day  on  TV  and  I  watched  some  of  it. I  remember  Lady  Di  getting  out  of  her  carriage  and  chief  bridesmaid  Sarah  Armstrong-Jones  struggling   to  get  that  ridiculously  extravagant  dress  back  into  some  sort  of  shape. I  also  recall  her  father  leading  her  up  to  the  altar  in  clear  discomfort  after  a  recent  stroke  but  managing  to  play  his  part. That's  about  it  though.

There  was  a  silver  lining  though. Di's  ghastly, self-publicising   step-gran  Barbara  Cartland  wasn't  there. She  said  it  was  a  day  for  the  young  ones  implying  she'd  turned  down  an  invitation  but  in  truth  she  never  got  one.

We  all  know  how  things  turned  out  with  the  marriage  and  whatever  your  view  of  the  two  participants, it's  impossible  not  to  feel  a  twinge  of  sadness  that  this  undeniably  magnificent  event  was  so  miserably  undone  barely  a  decade  later. That's  had  a  lasting  impact ;  subsequent  royal  hitching  ceremonies  have  been  notably  more  low-key  and  we'll  never  see  anything  quite  as  grand  as  this  again.  

Saturday, 24 September 2016

502 Best Sellers : The Word

First  viewed : July  1981

After  the   induction  week,  it   was  a  long  eight  week  break  before life  in  the  sixth  form began. I  would  perhaps  have  been  better  looking  for  some  sort  of  job  but  I  wasn't  really  cut out  for  manual  work  and  I  didn't  suppose  there'd  be  anything  else  available. The  early  part was  brightened  up  by  an  afternoon  re-run  of  this  enthralling  mini-series. I  didn't  see  it  when  first  broadcast  on  Saturday  evenings  in  1978  and  only  came  to  it  halfway  through  this  time  round  but  found  it  absolutely  captivating.

The  Word   was  based  on  a  very  prescient  1972  novel  by  Irving  Wallace . David  Janssen  (  who  had  died  since  the  original  broadcast )  plays  Stephen  Randal, a  top  flight  PR  man  who  is  hired  by  a  religious  publishing  house  to  handle  the  publication  of   "The  Gospel  According  To  St  James" , a  new  version  of  Christ's  life  discovered  in  Roman  ruins  six  years  earlier  and  authenticated  by  leading  Biblical  scholars  but  fiercely  opposed  by  some  factions  in  the  Christian  world  personified  by  radical  Dutch  minister  de   Vroome  ( Nicol  Williamson ). After  some  rather  improbable  escapades  including  the  brief  kidnapping  of  the  manuscript  from  its  Fort  Knox-style  vault   Randal  is  alerted  by  a  spy  in  the  camp  to  a    historical  flaw  in  the  text  and  decides  to  investigate  its  authenticity. The  remainder  of  the  story  is  quite  close  to  Ibsen's  An  Enemy  of  the  People  as  Randal  discovers  it  is  almost  certainly  a  forgery  and  tries  to  pursue  the  truth  whatever  the  personal  cost.

At  first  Janssen  seems  a  bit  miscast  as  you  can't  imagine  his  grumpy  persona  being  useful  in  persuading  people  of  anything  but  he  comes  into  his  own  in  the  second  half   as  the  lone  honest  man  in  a  sea  of  crooks .  The  sometimes  unwatchable  Williamson  is  in  good  form  too  but  the  best  performance  comes  from  Ron  Moody  as  the  forger  De  Bruyn   whose  revelatory  emcounter  with  Randel  is  brilliantly  filmed. The music  too  is  terrific  , adding  a  real  sense  of  tragic  gravitas  to  the  story  right  down  to  its  downbeat  conclusion. It  isn't  perfect  - you  require  a   fair  suspension  of  disbelief  to  accept  the  number  of  murders  for  instance  - but  very  good  indeed.

Life  has  imitated  art  since  in  two  completely  separate  instances. Not  long  after   this  was  re-broadcast,  you  had  the  infamous  Hitler  Diaries  hoax  which  developed  along  remarkably  similar  lines . And  then  ,we've  already  discussed  the  whole  Priory  de  Sion  nonsense  which  hadn't  yet  been  exposed  as  a  hoax. You  wonder  if  Leigh, Baigent  and  co  ever  saw  this  and  recognised  themselves.

Warning : If  this  write-up  encourages  anyone  to  seek  it  out  beware  that  the  video  currently  on  YouTube   is  culled  from  the  VHS  release   which  was  a  three-hour  condensation  of  a  series  that  was  originally  nearly  eight  hours  long. You  can  imagine  what  that  does  for  narrative  continuity  but  if  you  don't  mind  characters  disappearing  without  explanation  and  multiple  plot  threads  left  hanging   in  the  air  please  do  check  it  out.

501 Newsnight

First  viewed  : 16  July  1981

I  first  caught  BBC2's  long  running  current  affairs  show  on  the  date  above  when  it  was  a  special  edition , extended  to  cover  the  result  of  the   Warrington  by-election.

For  those  who  weren't  around  at  the  time  the  by-election  was  one  of  the  most  extensively covered  of  my  lifetime  and  was  in  the  papers  every  day  for  a  month  before  the  poll. The reason  for  this  extraordinary  interest  was  the  candidature  of  former  Labour  Chancellor  and Home  Secretary  Roy  Jenkins  in  the  first  electoral  contest  for  the  new  Social  Democratic Party.

Jenkins  had  been  absent  from  Parliament  for  five  years  having  taken  the  job  of  President  of the  European  Economic  Commission  ( as  it  was  then )  when  Jim  Callaghan  easily  saw  him off  for  the  leadership  of  the  Labour  Party  in  1976. The  leftward  drift  of  the  party  since  defeat  in  1979  led  to  three  prominent   Labour  moderates  deciding  to  quit  and  set  up  a  new  party. Having  already  let  his  membership  lapse  Jenkins  was  quick  to  jump  on  board  and  make  it  the  "Gang  of  Four" (  ironically  an  expression  recycled  from  communist  China ). He  already  had  a  good  relationship  with  the  Liberal  leader  David  Steel  who  was  able  to  persuade  most  of  his  party  to  co-operate  with  the  new  players  in  the  centre  ground.

The  first  electoral  test  was  the  unpromising  seat  of  Warrington,  vacated  by  the  previous  MP  becoming  a  judge  and  solidly  Labour  since  1945. One  of  the  Gang,  David  Owen ,no  great  admirer  of  Jenkins, later  wrote  that  the  most  popular  of  the  quartet, Shirley  Williams, who  had  lost  her  seat  in  1979,  ducked  the  contest  on  the  advice  of  psephologist  Tony King.  Jenkins  decided  to  pick  up  the  baton  with  the  local  Liberals  (  a  distant  third  in  1979 )  accepting  him. As  the  Alliance  between  the  two  parties  hadn't  yet  been  cemented,  he   was described  on  the  ballot  paper  as   "Social  Democratic  Party  with  Liberal  support". The  coverage  made  much  of  Jenkins'  patrician  air  , wondering  how  his  reputation  as  a  bon  viveur    would  play  in  a   northern  working  class  constituency.  Moreover,  Jenkins's   previous  constituency , Birmingham  Stechford,  had  been  a  safe  Labour  seat  giving  him  little  experience of  hard  campaigning.   His  Labour  opponent  Douglas  Hoyle  was  a  rather  charmless  left  winger  who'd  been  turfed  out  of  his  previous  constituency  in  1979.

I  was  interested  because,  with  the  Tories  under  fire  for  the  huge  unemployment  figures , the SDP  seemed  the  best  hope  of  blocking  the  rise  to  power  of  Anthony  Wedgewood  Benn. Benn's  utopian  socialist  vision  was  utterly  anathema  to  me  because it  threatened  my  most fervent  hope  for  the  future,  namely  earning  more  money  than  the  people  who  bullied  me  at school . I  wasn't  intending  to  hire  people  to  take  them  out  but  I  certainly  would  have enjoyed driving  past  while  they  queued  up  at  the  Post  Office. So  anything  that  pushed  Benn  out  to the  margins  was  worth  supporting. As  time  went  on  my  support  for  the  SDP  took  on  a slightly  more  positive  aspect. As  my  personal  life  nosedived , the  prospect  of   these  key figures  from  the  Callaghan  era  returning  to  power  seemed  increasingly  appealing. If  the  clock could  be  turned  back  politically,  to  the  time  in  which  the  Littleborough  Travelling  Society flourished,  perhaps  it  too  could  be  resurrected ?   The  early  SDP's   policy  prospectus  was  later criticised  by  key  figures  in  the  party  as  unimaginative  and  timid. I  think  it  was  David Marquand  who  said  they  were  promising  "a  better  yesterday"  but  that  was  exactly  what  I wanted. Unfortunately,  a  military  dictator  thousands  of  miles  away  put  paid  to  that.

In  the  event  Hoyle  squeaked  home  by  a  whisker  with  Jenkins  collecting  42%  of  the  vote. His  speech  at  the  count  commented  that  it  was  his  first  defeat  in  30  years  in  politics  but "by  far  the  gweatest  victowy"  in  which  he'd  ever  been  involved. Expectations  for  the  new party's  prospects  ballooned  and  Jenkins's  political  courage  now  made  him  the  frontrunner  for leadership  of  the  SDP. Even  his  political  foes  were privately  impressed; Jim  Callaghan  later said  his  opinion  of   Jenkins  had  shot  up  during  the  campaign. In  a  personal  sense  Jenkins' words  were  truer  than  he  realised; if  he'd  actually  won  at  Warrington  rather  than  Glasgow  Hillhead  six months  later,  the  membership  would  have  had  rather  more  time  to  ruminate  on  his  poor  performances  in  the  Commons  and  might  have  plumped  for  David  Owen  instead.

After  that  I  began  watching  Newsnight  semi-regularly . It  was  to  have  started  broadcasting  at  the tail  end  of  1979  but  a  strike  at  the  BBC  delayed  its  launch  until  January  1980.  I  enjoyed the  political  analysis  and  Peter   Snow  became  a  great  favourite. I'm  a  bit  surprised  to  read that  its  most  famous  presenter / interrogator  Jeremy  Paxman   didn't  join  the  programme  until 1989.  The  programme  has  made  mistakes  as  any  institution  that's  lasted  for  over  35  years  is going  to  and  has  thankfully  survived  its  greatest  crisis  over  the  Savile  affair. I  don't  watch  it religiously  but   will  often  check  what  it's  covering  if  I  have  the  remote  around  10.30pm.


Thursday, 22 September 2016

500 Get Set For Summer

First  viewed  : Summer  1981

I  now  realise  I  brought  Hi -De-Hi  in  too  early  because  I  first  saw  the  ghastly  Su  Pollard  on  this  which  didn't  start  until  a  month  after  the  first  repeat  of  the  comedy  series.

Get  Set  For  Summer  was  a  curate's  egg  of  a  show . Broadcast  from  Manchester  on  a   Saturday  morning ,  it   seemed   to  be  a  ragbag  of  ideas  from  elsewhere  with  a  pop  band performing  live  and  doing  a  short  interview  with  host  Peter  Powell, a  guest  presenter  also from  the  world  of  pop  (e.g  Toyah, Pauline  Black ), a  "comedy"  weather  spot  c/o  the terminally unfunny  Pollard  and  "fun"  ideas  features  straight  from  Why  Don't  You ...?  Apart  from  some of  the  musical  performances,  it's  hard  to  imagine  anyone  recalling  it  with  much  affection.

The  first  series  started  on  11  July  with  the  summer  nearly  half  over  and  ran  for  5  weeks.  The  second  series  began  more  sensibly  in  April  1982  after  the  last  Multi-Coloured  Swap  Shop   and  was   quite  a  different  beast. Pollard  was  no  longer  involved  and   actor  Mark  Curry  had  been  promoted  to  co-presenter  instead  of  the  guests.  Ostensibly  it  ran  for  an  extra  half  hour  but  in  reality  this  was  filled  by  cartoons  and  a  repeat  screening  of  the  hoary  old  Robinson  Crusoe  serial. The  programme  now  ran  to  a  strict  timetable  with  the  band  doing  their  first  number  at  10.15, an  open  invitation  not  to  bother  switching  the  TV  on   until  then.

That  version  of  the  show  ran  until  June  1982. Six  weeks  later  it  was  back  without  Powell  and  re-branded  as simply  Get  Set .  This  ran  until  the  beginning  of  October  and  has  the  distinction  of  being  the  first  thing  I  saw  on  our  new  colour  television  that  summer .The  only   other   thing  I    remember  from  it  was  the  Video  Vote  where  the  youngsters  in  the  studio  judged  which  was  the  best  of  four  pop  videos  from  small  snippets   although  strangely  enough  the  winner  was  always  the  group  with  the  largest  fan  base.  I  was  disgusted  that  what  turned  out  to  be  Talk  Talk's  breakthrough  hit , Today ,  got  about  three  votes though  I'd  have to  admit  it's  not  a  great  video.

 It  was  then  re-branded  again  as  The  Saturday  Picture  Show  , still  with  Curry , but  I  think  I'd  given  up  by  then.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

499 Cosmos

First   viewed  : July  1981

This  monumental  documentary  series  about  life, the  universe  and  everything  seemed  like  archetypal  BBC2  fodder  but  was  actually  a  late  night  item  on  BBC  One. We  never  made  an  appointment  to  watch  it  but  often  stayed  in  our  seats  as  it  followed  a  repeat  series  of  Shoestring  on  Wednesday  nights.

The  BBC  was  actually  a  partner  in  the  production  of  the  series  which  was  partly  written  by  its  presenter  Carl  Sagan . It  was  first  screened  in  the  USA  where  it  was  wildly  popular  with  both  critics  and  public  and  won  numerous  awards.  An  astronomy  professor  from  Cornell  University  in  his  mid-forties,  Sagan  was  a  likable  and  telegenic  host  with  a   full  repertoire  of  unusual  intonations  which, had  the  series  been  shown  in  prime  time, would  have  made  him  an  absolute  gift  to  impressionists It  was  though  a  little  unfortunate  as  the  content  was  so  cerebral  you  really  didn't   want  to  be  distracted  by  the  eccentricities  in  the  delivery. Vangelis  provided  much  of  the  music.

The  series  ran  for  13  episodes  which  had  been  slightly  trimmed  to  fit  a  50  minute  time  slot.
It  hasn't  been  repeated  here  since  1982. In  the  US  it  was  regularly  re-shown  and  Sagan would  add  new  bits  in  the  light  of  recent  discoveries  until  his  death  from  pneumonia  nearly twenty  years  ago.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

498 Quincy

First  viewed : Summer   1981

This   U.S.  series  had  been  running  on  ITV   since  1977  as  a  late  night  item  but  its  popularity  eventually  convinced  programme  chiefs  that  it  could  work  in  a  prime  time  slot.

Quincy  did  have  some  things  going  for  it, an  above -average  lead  in  Jack  Klugman , previously  best  known  for  the  TV  series  The  Odd  Couple  and  a  memorable  title  sequence with  its  row  of  fainting  police  cadets  going  down  like  dominoes  as  Dr  Quincy  set  to  work  on  an  autopsy. However,  it  is  unfortunately  best  remembered   for  being  extremely  formulaic  and  running  what  seemed  like  the  same  story  every  week.

Your  average  Quincy  episode   went  like  this. The  good  doctor  received  a  corpse  to  examine  and  an  explanation  from  either  his  boss  or  a  police  chief  as  to  the  circumstances  but,  Holmes-like,  Quincy  usually always  smelled  a  rat. For  the next  half-hour,  Quincy  sniffed  around  the  case  without  getting  anywhere,  then,  at  exactly  the  same  point  in  each  episode,  he'd  have  a  lightbulb  moment, usually  prompted  by  some  mundane  remark  from  his  Watson  , Japanese-American  lab  assistant  Sam  ( Robert  Ito )  which  enabled  Quincy to  prove  he  was  right  all  along. Episode  after  episode  stuck  to  this  template  rigidly. My  friend  Francis  assured  me  that  this  was  only  the  second  most  predictable  show  on  TV  behind  Hart  to  Hart.  I  never  watched  that  but  found  his  assertion  hard  to  believe.

Despite  that, the  series  was  undoubtedly  popular  and  there  was  a  lot  of  it,  with  nearly  150  episodes  made   over  seven  years  between  1976  and  1983. Klugman  died  in  2012  aged  90.

Monday, 19 September 2016

497 Pop Quiz

Chart  entered :  4  July  1981

Having  spent  nearly  two  weeks  away  from  the  TV  in  the  Lake  District , I  came  back  to  find this  starting  on  the  first  Saturday  back ,  shortly  after  John  McEnroe  ended  the  Borg-era  at Wimbledon.

Pop  Quiz  was  the  brainchild  of  its  presenter, Radio  One's  know-it-all  DJ  Mike  Read  whose  star  was  very  much  in  the  ascendant. To  be  fair  to  him  he  certainly  was  an  expert  on  pop  history  although  inevitably  he  made  the  odd  mistake. I  remember  Duran's  John  Taylor  being  asked  what  Roxy's  last  hit  was  and  correctly  answering  Take  A  Chance   when  Read  was  looking  for  Avalon.  Read  was  also  very  well  connected  and  it  was  a  huge  surprise  to  see  major  rock  stars  who  wouldn't  dream  of  doing  Top  of  the  Pops  appearing  on  the  show, none  more  so  than  David  Gilmour. At  the  time  I  thought  Pink  Floyd  were  faceless  untouchables  so  it  was  a  revelation  to  see  that  at  least  one  of  them  was  an  normal-looking  amiable  bloke.

The  show  wasn't  out  to  humiliate  anyone  so  the  individual  questions  did  normally  fall  within  the  artist's  own  genre  or  time  period. Nevertheless  some  of  those  appearing  did  get  horribly  exposed  such  as  ex-Selecter  frontwoman  Pauline  Black  or  Lynsey  De  Paul  who  clearly  hadn't  turned  the  radio  on  for  years  and  just  sat  there  gawping  helplessly  at  Read.

In  the  1984  season  Morrissey  turned  up  and  did  fine  alongside  his  incongruous  team-mates  ( see  above ). Interestingly,  they  were  up  against  the  bassists'  union  of  Nick  Beggs, Phil  Lynott  and  Derek  Forbes. That  season  ended  with  a  special  episode  pitching  arch-rivals  Spandau  Ballet  and  Duran  Duran  against  each  other. Smash  Hits  rather  pooped  the  party  by  inadvertently  printing  a  photo  showing  the  final  score - a  convincing  victory  for  the  Brummie  boys  - before  the  show  was  broadcast. After  that  the  programme  was  put  on  ice  but  not  before  Read  had  made  a  small  fortune  from  a  board  game  version.

Ten  years  later  it  was  revived  in  the  same  time  slot  and  with  much  the  same  format  but  the  world  had  changed.  Read  had   been  allowed  to  do  a  one -off  special  to  mark  the  30th  anniversary  of  Top  of  the  Pops  at  the  start  of  the  year  but  he  had   long  since  fallen  from  grace  and   become  a  bit  of  a  joke  so  the  new  host  was  former  Tiswas  presenter  and  top  London  DJ,  Chris  Tarrant. His  irreverent  approach  was  a  change  from  Read's  ingratiation  and  was  a  plus  but  the  format  ignored  the  fact  that  the  mass  audience  for  pop  of  the  early  eighties  had  splintered  into  numerous  sub-genres  with  militant  disinterest  in  each  other. The  contestants  were  being  asked  to  identify  snatches  of  lyric  from  hits  that  had  the  lifespan  of  a  cheap  firework..

For  example,  The  Wonder  Stuff's  Miles  Hunt  got  a  couple  of  lines  referencing  Sylvia  Plath  and  Harold  Pinter  from  Manic  Street  Preachers'  Faster  , a  ferociously  uncommercial  single    that  spent  a  single  week  in  the  Top  30  at  number  16. Totally  baffled,  he  said  "I've  no  idea  but  it  sounds  like  the  sort  of  drivel  Morrissey  would  come  out  with". When  Tarrant  told  him  it  was  the  Manics  he  retorted , "Well  I  said  it  was  drivel !"

The  other  episode  I  recall  from  the Tarrant  revival  was  the one  where  St  Etienne's  Sarah  Cracknell  appeared  in  a  very  revealing  pink  dress  ( unfortunately  I couldn't  find  a  still  for  that  one  )  and  team-mate  Tony  Hadley  addressed  all  his  answers  to  her  cleavage.

It  was  axed  again  after  one  season.

Read  finally  got  the  chance to  revive  it  in  2008  on  the little-known  Red  TV channel, best  known  for  ( if  anything )  repeats  of  Crown  Court .  He  was  doing  it  in  conjunction   with  a  guy  called  Jon  Kutner   who  works  on  the  Network  Chart. Jon's  also an  enthusiastic  pop  quizzer  and  I'd  got  to  know  him  over  the  years. There  was  no  budget  for  star  contestants  so  they  had  to  make  do  with  members  of  the  public  instead   and  Jon  asked  me  and  a  number  of  other  stalwarts  to  make  up  the  numbers.

So  I  drove  down  to  Birmingham  to  a  studio  in  an  industrial  estate  unit  that  was  little   bigger  than  a  lock-up  garage. We  milled  around  downstairs  for  a  while  at  the  end  of  an office  with  a  few  girls  working  onscreen. None  of  them  looked  up  when  Mike  Read  arrived but  he  stayed  in  good  spirits  saying  "It  may  only  be  Swindon  v  Mansfield  but  at  least  we're on  the  pitch".  Then  the  director  came  downstairs, a  fat  arrogant  Asian  guy  and  shouted "Right- who's  the  host ?"  Read  took  that  one  on  the  chin  as  well.

We  went  upstairs  and  I  met  my  team-mates  , a  brother  and  sister  duo  from  London  that  I'd never seen  before  in  my  life  ,but  for  the  purposes  of  the  programme , I  had  to pretend  I  was part  of  their  pub  quiz  team. We  were  up  against  a  general  knowledge  trio  who'd  recently
appeared  on  Eggheads   and  had  clearly  caught  the  TV  bug.  We  absolutely  caned  them  and it was  almost  pitiful  watching  them  deflate  as  they   gradually  realised  how  far  out  of  their depth  they'd  wandered. Afterwards  one  of  them  came  up  to  me  and  said  "You  know  far  too much !" The  only  blot  on  the experience  was  that  we  were  using  a  buzzer  system  that  Jon had  borrowed  from  my  friends  Ray  Marshall  and  Steve Burdin. I  was  very  familiar  with  it but  Mike  Read  wasn't  and  he  kept  forgetting  that  he  had  to  re-set  it  after  each  question. As I was  answering  most  of  the  questions  in  the  quickfire  round  at  the  end,  I  kept  pressing  my buzzer  and  not  getting  any  sound  so  I  started  saying  "beep  beep"  to  attract  his  attention  in the  expectation  it  would  be  overdubbed  with  a  buzzer  noise  in  the  editing  suite. That  was optimistic; it  went  out  exactly  as  it  happened  which  made  me  look  a  bit  of  a div.

The  show  didn't  catch  fire  and  Read  was  declared  bankrupt  not  too  long  after  that. He  got  another  go  at  it  in  2011  ( I  don't  know  if  Jon  Kutner  was  involved   or  not )  on  Vintage  TV  but  it  only  lasted  for  three  weeks.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

496 Best Sellers : Top of the Hill

First  viewed :  19  June  1981

This  is  one  where  the  circumstances  of  watching  it  are  much  more  vivid  in  my  mind  than  the  content.

Friday  19th  June  1981  was  something  of  a  red  letter  day. As  it  was  the  day  of  my  last  exam , the  written  part  of  the  Drama  O  Level , it  marked  the  end   of  my  time  in  compulsory  education. I  always  intended  to  go  back  and  do  A  Levels  at  the  school  but  the  plain  fact  was  that  I  had  the  option  of  never  setting  foot  in  the  place  again. A  twelve  year  journey  had  come  to  an  end  and  there  were  plenty  of   familiar  faces  that  I  would  never  see  again.

And  that's  where  the  bitter  sweet  memory  comes  in. It  was  the  last  time  I  saw  my  friend  Tim  Navesey. Our  friendship  had  developed  through  us  both  doing  Drama, at  which  he  was  better  than  me. The  exam  was  fine;  it  was  my   best  subject  and  there  were  no  nasty  surprises. After  it,  we  were  walking  to  the  bus  stop  together, a  bit  light  headed  with  relief  that  it  was  all  over  and  I  mentioned  I  was  going  on  a  walking  holiday  the  following  Monday. Tim  then  said  he'd  like  to  get  involved  in  walking  with  me. This  was  tremendous  news. I  was  somewhat  apprehensive  ( rightly  as  it  turned  out )  about  the  fact  that  my  companion  on  the  holiday,  Michael, would  be   starting  work  ( on  a YTS  scheme  ) as  soon  as  it  was  over   and   had  been  wondering  whether  I'd  see  him  as  regularly  after  that. I  was  also  conscious  that  it  wasn't  healthy  to  have  all  your  eggs  in  one  basket  as  far  as  friendships  went. Hitherto  the  association  with  Tim  had  only  been  school-based  but  he  obviously  wanted  to  develop  it  further. If  Michael  did  drift  away,  I  wouldn't  be  so  exposed.

So  I  arrived  home  in  a  very  happy  mood   and  just  wanted   some  comedown  TV. The  Best Sellers  franchise  was  originally  launched  by  the  American  company  NBC  in  1976   to  link   together  a  number  of  mini-series  based  on  adaptations  of  popular  novels. It  didn't  seem  to  work  that  well  in.  the  US  for  it  was dropped  after  one  season. It  did  work  for  ITV  though  who  continued  to  use  it  even  when  it  was  broadcasting  series  which  hadn't  been  produced  by  NBC. There  was  little  concern  for  literary  quality  - I  think  there  were  a  couple  of  Jeffrey  Archers  in  there  -  but  they  attracted  some  big  stars. By  the  eighties  the  repeats  were  being  used  as  daytime  schedule  fillers.

Top  of  the  Hill  was  written  by  Irwin  Shaw  best  known  for  Rich  Man,  Poor  Man , an  early  adaptation  in  the  series.  It's  a  potboiler  about  love  and  professional  rivalry  amongst  the  competitors  at  the  Winter  Olympics. The  series  starred  fading  sixties  starlet  Elkie  Sommer ,  Adrienne  Barbeau  and, with  macabre  irony, Sonny  Bono  as  a  ski  instructor. It  wasn't  very  engaging  and  after  half  an  hour  or  so  I  got  up  and  found  something  else  to  do.

After  the  holiday , I  had  to  attend  the  Sixth  Form  Induction  Week  at  school. Tim  was  nowhere  to  be  seen . I  tracked  down  his  younger  brother  and  received  the  gobsmacking  news  that  he  had  gone  off  to  train  as  a  priest. He'd  never  given  me  the  slightest  inkling  that  he  was  inclined  that  way.*  That  was  the  low  point  of  an  awful  week. The school  could  have  cleared  the  necessary  business  of  choosing  options  and  signing  up  to  classes  in  a  couple  of  days but  instead  we  were  stuck  there  for  five , watching  boring  careers  films  or  talks, each  one  completely  irrelevant  to  95%  of  the  audience. As  well  as  that,  I  got  the  slight  sense  that  every  one  else   had  grown  up  just  a  little  bit  more  than  me; what  they  would  have  found  entertaining  just  a  couple  of  months  earlier  was  now  regarded  as  tiresome  or  childish. It  didn't  bode  well  for  the  next  couple  of  years.

And  that's  how  this  personal  stuff  marks  a  bit  of  a  watershed  in  this  blog. Because  of  the  rapid  deterioration  in  my  social  life,  I  would  expect  the  coverage  of  the  next  two  years  ( which  of  course  includes  the  launch  of  Channel  4  )  up  to  my  going  to  university  to  be  much  more  comprehensive  as  I  was  in  the  house  much  more  often. Added  to  that  my  bed  times  were  no  longer  monitored ; I  could  stay  up  as  late  as  I  wanted.

* About  a  year  later  Tim's  brother  asked  for  my  address  as  he  wanted  to  write  to  me. A  couple  of  letters  were  exchanged. A  year, or  maybe  two , after  that   he  got  in  touch  to  say  that  he'd  knocked  the  priesthood  idea  on  the  head  and  had  just  started  driving. He  was  supposed  to  drive  over  to  see  me  but  I  think  he  got  lost  or  something  and  it  never  happened. To  this  day  I've  not  seen  him  since  that  day  in  June.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

495 Magnum P.I.

First  viewed : Uncertain

I  think  I'm  probably  covering  this  a  bit  early  but  as  I  have  no  idea  when  I  first  caught  an  episode  we  may  as  well  get  it  out  of  the  way  now.

Magnum  PI  was  first  broadcast  on  ITV  towards  the  end  of   May  1981. It  inverted  the  usual  cliches  of  private  eyes  being  somewhat  down  at  heel  by  placing  its  protagonist  in  the  ludicrous  situation  of  living in  a  beachside  mansion  at  the  gift  of  its  unseen  owner  ( voiced  occasionally  by  Orson  Welles )  , an  extravagant  reward  for  unspecified  previous  service , and  only  working  when  he  felt  like  it.

The  series  was  generally  light  in  tone , somewhat  akin  to  The  Rockford  Files  and  Tom  Selleck,  the  hairy  faced  giant  with  the  squeaky  voice  in  the  title  role, was  an  amiable  presence.  What  made  it  rather  unpalatable  was  that  Magnum  had  to  put  up  with  the  owner's  disapproving  English  butler, a  trope  filched  from  Two's  Company  , although  the  said  Higgins  was  played  by  an  American  actor  John  Hillerman. With  his  dodgy  accent  and  stiff, anal  personality   Higgins  seemed  almost  designed  to  get  up  the  nose  of  English  viewers.

Nonetheless  it  was  popular  on  both  sides  of  the Atlantic   and  ran  for  early  8  years. Selleck  was  able  to  enjoy  a  reasonably  successful  film  career  for  the  next  decade. Hillerman's  career  petered  out  not  long  afterwards.


Friday, 16 September 2016

494 Sweet And Sour

First  viewed :  June / July  1981

No  stills  found  for  this   and  I  expect  that's  the  way  it  will  stay   as  it  will  certainly  never  be  broadcast  again.

I  wrote  the  TV  Cream  entry  ( getting  the  dates  wrong  I  must  confess )  so  I  might  as  well  reproduce  it  here ; do  bear  in  mind  it  was  written  long  before  news  of  Mr  Hall's  transgressions  broke  

HISTORIANS OF punk rock remain blissfully unaware of the hapless BILL GRUNDY’s twilight career on regional TV, here playing the “sour” in this pre-Grade space-filler in the 10.15pm spot on Friday nights. The ultimate cheapo conceit, it consisted of a weekly face-off in the studio wherein “sweet” STUART HALL would spout bollocks on any subject that came into his head in his usual fashion before the baton was passed to lugubrious GRUNDY for a sober (not a word normally associated with him) putdown. Occasionally it worked the other way – Grundy liked dogs while Hall complained about crap on his lawn. Limited, perhaps wisely, to viewers only in the North West.

I  forgot  to  mention  that  one  episode  in  the  second  series  had  a  guest  ranter  in  Crewe  MP  Gwyneth  Dunwoody  who  vented  her  spleen  on  journalists.

The  show  did  have  a  small  cult  following  at  my  school  where  we  were  fascinated  by  the  cheapness  of  the  conceit  and  Hall's  way  over  the  top  verbosity.  It's  sad  that  you  can  only  whisper  an  affection  for  the  latter  now.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

493 Hi-De-Hi

First  viewed :  Summer  1981

Hi-De-Hi  was  one  of  the  big  hits  of  1981  although  we  didn't  start  watching  it  until  the  beginning  of  the  repeat  run  on  a  Saturday  evening.

It  was  the  third  hit  comedy  series  from  Jimmy  Perry  and  David  Croft  and  like  the  previous  two  was  based  on  the  real-life  experiences  of  Perry  who  was  a  Butlins  Redcoat  after  the  war. The  series  was  set  in  the  late  fifties /early  sixties  hey-day  of  the  holiday  camp , well  and  truly  gone  by  the  beginning  of  the  eighties. The  make  do  and  mend  tawdriness  of  the  set-up   gave  plenty  of  opportunities  for  slapstick  comedy  but  there  was  also  a  strong  vein  of  pathos  running  through  it  from  empty-headed  cleaner  Peggy's  fervent  ambition  to  be  a  Yellowcoat  to  ballroom  dancers  Barry  and  Yvonne's  boundless  resentment  at  their  loss  of  status  which  they  usually  took  out  on  each  other.

The  series  began  with   the  appointment  of  shy, gauche,  public school-educated   Jeffrey  Fairbrother   ( Simon  Cadell )  to  entertainment  manager.  He  had  to  contend  with  fending  off  the  attentions  of  the  ghastly  chief  Yellowcoat    Gladys ( Ruth  Madoc ) and  the  sly  subversion  of  camp  comic  Ted  Bovis  ( Paul  Shane )  who  wanted  his  job.  Ted   had  a  naive  young  apprentice  Spike  ( Jeffrey  Holland ) whom  he  mentored, their  relationship  being  very  similar  to  Fletcher  and  Godber  in  Porridge .

As  usual  with  Perry  and  Croft  there  was  a  strong  ensemble  cast  and  a  pro-rata  distribution   of  lines  so  that  the  most  junior  member  was  lucky  to  get  a  word. In  this  the  Private  Sponge  character  was  the  third  Yellowcoat  girl  who  seemed  to  change  each  season. My  favourite  was  Val  in  the  second  season  who  was  played  by  Gail  Harrison. She  actually had  a  decent  c.v.  behind  her,  having  had  a  good  part   in  David  Copperfield  and   a  recurring  role  in  Emmerdale   Farm  as  Henry  Wilks'  daughter,   so  it's  hard  to  understand   why  she  took  such  an  unrewarding  role  in  the  first  place.

The  star  of  the  show  was  undoubtedly  Shane, a  mate  of  Les   Dawson  and  the  epitome  of  the  tragicomic  Northern  club  comedian. He  held  all  the  big  showpiece  scenes  together  and  his  comic  timing  was  invaluable   as  the  scripts  were  not  always  up  to  scratch. Of  the  four  main  Perry  / Croft  productions , I'd  say  Hi-De-Hi  was  the  least  well-written.

I  never  loved  the  series  and  really  struggled  to  get  past   Su  Pollard  whom  I  find  near-unbearable  and  I  don't  think  I  watched  it  much  past  the  first  two  series. I  only  watched  one  or  two  episodes  at  the  most  after  Cadell  left  -  a  big  blow - in  1984. The  series  carried  on, pepping  itself  up  with  new   regular  characters , until  1988.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

492 Cheggers Plays Pop

First  viewed  : 1  June  1981

As  this  durable  kids  TV  show  had  been  running  for  three  years  before  I  tuned  in , I  suppose  I  need  to  answer  why  a  pop  fan  like  me  hadn't  dropped  by  before. I  can't  really  remember  as  I  had  no  great  animus  against  Cheggers. I  guess  it  was  a  mixture  of  wanting  to  pull  out  of  kids  TV,  feeling  that  pop  was  too  important  to  be  trivialised  and  fear  that  it  might  unearth  someone  my  age  who  knew  more  about  pop.

I  know  the  date's  right  because  I  remember  999 ,  enjoying  a  brief  second  wind  commercially, appearing   and  being  struck  by  one  of  the  class  of  '77  now  entertaining  school  kids. Looking at  the  date  I  suspect  I  was  watching  it  as  comedown  TV  after   one  of  my  O  Level  exams.

The  show  was  a  mixture  of  Runaround, Crackerjack , We  Are  The  Champions  and  the  soon-to-come  Pop  Quiz , interspersed  with  two  or  three  lip-synching  appearances  by  bands  who  had  a  single  out.

It  ran  from  1978  to  1986.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

491 The BAFTA Awards

First  viewed :  Early  1981

I  recall  watching  the  "British  Oscars"  for  the  first  time  in  1981  which  of  course looked  back  to  the  films  and  TV  of  1980. Many  of  the  films  had  featured  in  the  Film  80  Review  of  the  Year  so  there  were  more  clips  of  The  Elephant  Man  and  Being  There. I   do  recall  that  the  Best  Actress  Award  went  to  someone I'd  never  heard  of,  Judy  Davis  for  My  Brilliant  Career  and   her  being  linked  up  by  satellite  while  sitting  in  front  of  Sydney  Opera  House  ( 'cause  she's  Australian  you  see ).  I  was  happy  that  Not  The  Nine  O  Clock  News  won  Best  Light  Entertainment  Programme  and  Rowan  Atkinson  got  Best  Light  Entertainment  Performance.

The  other  thing  I  recall  from  that  first  show  was  the  ambush  job  on  Barry  Norman. He  came  on  stage  to  present  an  Award  to  someone  else.  then,  while  he  was  up  there,  David  Frost  announced  he  himself  was  the  winner  of  the  Richard  Dimbleby  Award  for  services  to  broadcasting. Bazza  accepted  it  with  becoming  modesty.

After  that  I  watched  the  annual  ceremony  regularly,  mainly  for  the  clips. As  the  TV  section  was   an   invaluable  guide  to  what  was  likely  to  be  repeated  over  the  next  year  it  was  useful  to  see  tasters  for  things  you  might  have  missed  first  time  round. With  the  films  the  main  interest  was  to  see  which  U.S.  stars  thought  it  was  worth  their  while   flying  in  to  attend  the  ceremony.  You  also  sometimes  watched  it  to  see  justice  being  done  such  as  the  1983  show  where  Bernard  Hill  was  an  absolute  shoe-in  for  Best   TV  Actor.  Sometimes  I  did  get  a  bit  bored  when  something  I  hadn't  watched  got   multiple  nominations  , the  best  example  being  The  Jewel  In  The  Crown .

In  recent  years  my  interest  has  waned  , mainly  due  to  not  seeing  as  much  film  or  TV  and  I  don't  think  I've  watched  it  for  quite  a  while  now.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

490 Roots

First  viewed  : 31  May  1981

When  Dallas   finished  for  the  summer  ( with  Mary  Crosby  floating  upside  down  in  the  Southfork  swimming  pool ) BBC 1  replaced  it  with  a  back  to  back  repeat  run  of  the  two  series  of  Roots  (originally  shown  in  1977  and  1979 ).

The  Roots  story  was one  of  the  cultural  phenomena  of  the  seventies. Journalist  Alex  Haley  who  made  his  name  interviewing  major  public  figures  ( Malcolm X, Martin  Luther  King, Muhammad  Ali, Johnny  Carson ) for  Playboy  magazine. published  his  novel  Roots : The  Saga  of  an  American  Family   which  recounted  the  story  of  his  family  going  right  back  to  his Mandinka  ancestor  Kunta  Kinte  brought  to  America  as  a  slave  and  ending  with  the  author  successfully  pinpointing  his  origins  in  The  Gambia. It  became  an  instant  bestseller  and  the  original  TV  series  broke  records  in  the  US. I  didn't  watch  it  first  time  round  but  was  well  aware  of  the  hoo-ha  around  it , not  least  through  the  parody  version in  an  episode  of  The  Goodies. 

It's  since  been  established  that  Haley's  story  was  largely  a  work  of  fiction, the  product  of  plaigiarism,  sloppy  research,  and  wishful  thinking,   Nevertheless  it  made  gripping  drama  as  the  family  lived  through  the  humiliations  of  slavery, the  American  Civil  War, lynch  mobs, Ku  Klux  Klan   and  more  subtle  discrimination. I  missed  the  first  three  episodes  this  time  round  probably  due  to  O  Level  revision  but  was  hooked  from  the  fourth  episode  on.

That  meant  I  missed  most  of  the  story  of  Kunta  himself  as  he  and  his  daughter  Kizzy  ( Lesley  Uggams ) were  separated  in  that  episode  when  she  was  sold  to  a  new  owner  Tom  Moore  ( Chuck  Connors ). The  dramatic   denouement  of  that  episode  was  Moore's  rape  of  Kizzy  on  her  first  night  there  , probably  the  most  shocking  moment  of  the  entire  series  although  there  was  an  horrific  lynching  a  few  episodes  on,  orchestrated  by  the  series  chief  villain  Earl  Crowther  ( the  reliable  Paul  Koslo ). His  own  eventual  murder  was  one  of  the  most  satisfying  come-uppances  in  TV  history.

After  Kunta , the  most  memorable  of  the  black  characters  was  his  grandson  Chicken  George  ( Ben  Vereen  )  who  wins  his  freedom  and  improves  the  lot  of  his  family  by  becoming  expert  at  training  cocks  for  fighting.

After  the  phenomenal  success  of  the  first  series , the  second  one  had  a  much  higher  budget  and  the  likes  of  Henry  Fonda , James  Earl  Jones  and  Marlon  Brando  dropping  in  to  play  cameo  roles. It  suffered  a  little  through  the  events  being  not  quite  so  traumatic  as  we  moved  into  the  twentieth  century   but   it  still  held  your  interest.

Friday, 9 September 2016

489 Somewhere More Central

First  viewed :  19  May  1981

I  assumed  at  the  time   that   this  little  half  hour  play  in  a  graveyard  slot  on  a  Tuesday  evening  was  a  regional  TV  production  but  no  it  was  nationally  networked.

This  touching  drama  was  written  by  Beryl  Bainbridge  and  concerns  a  gauche  young  girl  Olive  (  Caroline  Embling )  attending  her  grandmother's  funeral.  Flashbacks  show  the  extrovert   old  lady  was  a  much  needed  family  ally  and   that  Olive  will  miss  her  in  a  much  more  meaningful  way  than  the  rest  of  the  family. The  last  moments  had  Olive  lingering  alone  by  the  graveside  and  seeing  her  grandma  helped  out  of  the  hole  by  a  male  admirer   all  dressed  up  for  a  night  on  the  town.

Embling  had  recently  been  in  Tess  and  the  following  year  had  the  titular  role  in  a  mini-series  called  Claire which  I  don't  remember  at  all. She  dropped  out  of  view  in  the  mid-eighties.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

488 The Risk Business

First viewed :  6  May  1981

I  didn't  normally  watch  this  documentary  series  about  business  ventures  but  this  episode  was  trailed  with  footage  from  the  video   for  Adam  and  the  Ants'  Stand  And  Deliver   ( the   UK  number  one  at  the  time )  and  promised  an  insight  into  the  new  video  disc. In  the  event  Adam's  part  in  the  programme  was  small, merely  an  illustration  of  one  potential  market  for  the  technology  but  it  was  a  fascinating  glimpse  into  the  future.

At  the  time  there  were  three  separate ,  completely  incompatible  VD  players  being  developed  by  Philips , Thorn  and  RCA, each  hoping  to  corner  a  market  that  may  not  even  exist  as  asserted  by  a  smug  idiot  from  Sony  placing  all  his  eggs  in  the  VCR  basket. As  it  turned  out,  none  of  them  took  off    whether  due  to  the  prohibitive  cost  or  perhaps  this  programme  highlighting  the  risk  of  picking  the  wrong  one  and  buying  into  instant  obsolescence.  History  will  record  that  the  Philips  model  came  closest  to  the  DVD  as  we  know  it  today  and  that independent  producer  Andrew  Maxwell-Hyslop  was  the  most  far-sighted  contributor  to  the  programme.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

487 The Nightmare Man

First  viewed : 1  May  1981

I  knew  this  one  must  be  cropping  up  soon. BBC  1  slotted  a  modest  little  science  fiction  serial  into  the  Friday  night  slot  usually  occupied  by  their  less  popular  sitcoms.

The  Nightmare  Man  was  an  adaptation  of  the  novel  Child  of  Vodyanoi  by  David  Wiltshire  about  a  genetic  experiment  gone  wrong  and  wreaking  havoc  on  a  remote  Scottish  island. It  was  written  by  Robert  Holmes  and  directed  by  Douglas  Camfield  both  Dr  Who  stalwarts   and  it  showed  in  both  the  structure  and  the  pacing  of  the  story.

Though  filmed  on  VT   with  a  modest  budget  ( with  Cornwall  standing  in  for  Scotland )  it  was  always  watchable.  In  its  pre-9pm  timeslot  the  gore  had  to  be  discussed  rather  than  shown.   Comprising  four  30  minute  episodes  it  didn't  allow  too  much  room  for  character  development  and  the  romance  between  rugged  English  dentist  ( James  Warwick )  and  pharmacist  Fiona  ( the  not  very  Scottish  Celia  Imrie ) was  pretty  dull  though  Celia  flashed  a  fair  amount  of  cleavage  in  one  scene.  Jonathan  Newth  was  authoritative   as  the  army  colonel  who  wasn't  quite  what  he  claimed  to  be  and  the  reliably  Scottish  duo  of  hatchet-faced  Maurice  Roeves  and  James  Cosmo  made  a  good   pairing  as  the  local  plod.