Thursday, 29 September 2016
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
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
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
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 ?
( 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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.