Sunday, 30 October 2016

528 Oxford Road Show

First  viewed  : 20  November  1981

We're  back  to  Yoof   TV  here.

At  least   initially,  The  Oxford  Road  Show  had   a   more  or  less  identical  premise  to  Something  Else , the  first  regular  episode  of  which  was  based  in  Manchester. It  looked  like  BBC  North  West  didn't  want  to  wait  for  their  annual  turn  at  hosting  the  programme  and  came  up  with  their  own  version  instead.

The  first  series  was  broadcast  at  the  beginning  of  1981  and  completely  passed  me  by. It  was  presented  by  unfamiliar  names  like  Rob  Rohrer  and   Jackie  Spreckley  and  doesn't  seem  to  have  featured  much  music  apart  from  turns  by  Graham  "Jilted  John"  Fellows.  When  it  came  back  in  the  autumn, tellingly  in  the  same  Friday  evening   BBC2  slot   as  the  just-ended  Something  Else , it  featured  chart  bands  and  Rohrer  had  moved  behind  the  cameras  as  a  co-producer  and  Spreckley's  co-presenter  was  journalist  Robert  Elms.

I  must  admit  I  can't  picture  Spreckley  at  all  but  Elms  was  one  of  the  reasons  I  now  tuned  in. He  was  a  familiar  name  from  the music  papers  I  was  reading  as  a  champion  of  the  New  Romantic  scene  and  cheerleader  for  Spandau  Ballet. I  was  interested  to  see  what  he  looked  like  and  was  quite  surprised  that  he  was  a  chirpy  Cockney  enthusiast   rather  than  the  austere  intellectual  I'd  pictured.

The  show  never   quite   became  appointment  TV   for  me  . It  depended  what  bands  were  going    to  be  on  whether  I  was  prepared  to  sit  through  the  endless  discussions  about  unemployment  ( Not  The  Nine  O  Clock  News ' Hey  Wow  sketch  was , as  usual, on  the  money ).  Early   musical  guests included  Japan, Spandau  Ballet  ( I  wonder  how  they  got  on  the  programme )  and  XTC  and  Ben  Elton  had  a  semi-regular  slot.

When  it  returned  in  the autumn  of  1982   Peter  Powell  was  now  presenter  and  the  vox  pop  debates  had  been  junked. It  was  now  an  arts  magazine  with  a   slot  for  a  new  band  alongside   the   big  name  act  and  a  regular  arts  slot  for  Dick  Witts  , lead  singer  of  third  division  indie  act  The  Passage. His  sneering  delivery  never  failed  to  get  my  back  up.

A  lot  of  the  bands  were  actually  lip-synching  on  the  programme. I  remember  John  Peel  on  Did  You  See    deriding  his  R1  colleague  Powell  for  saying  "Play  a  good  set  lads "  before  Duran  Duran  started  miming  to  Is  There  Something  I  Should  Know ?   

For  its  fourth  season  the  show  had  had  another  overhaul. It  was  now  re-branded  as  ORS  84  and  a  year  later,  ORS  85. Apart  from  introducing  two  special  concert  editions  featuring  those  twin  totems  of  mid-eighties  mediocrity,  Howard  Jones  and  Nik  Kershaw  , Powell  wasn't  involved   in  the  latter  series   and  Witts   had  gone  too . Instead  they  used  guest  presenters  such  as  Carl  and  Suggs  from Madness  and  Tom  Robinson  to  work  alongside  tiresomely  childish  local  DJ  Timmy  Mallett. His  involvement  symbolised   the  programme's  final  break   away  from  any  interest  in  "alternative"  culture  as  it  went  for  a  younger  audience .  Indeed   it  was  difficult  to  see  much  difference  between  it  and  things  like  Saturday  Superstore.

I  didn't  see  much  of  those  final  two  series  as  I  was  at  University  by  then  and  usually  still  on  the  train  back  home  when  they  were  broadcast. I  did  however  catch  surely  the  best  bit  in  1985   when  Morrissey  was  let  loose  to  roam  around  his  home  patch  of  Stretford  and  stopped  in  front  of  his  " quite  sadistic " old  school  to  deliver  a  diatribe  about  it. I   could  just  imagine  the  producers  gathered  on  the  following  Monday  morning  , waiting  to  see  if  there  was  a  writ  in  the  post.

The  programme  ended  in  the  spring  of  1985. It  might  have  been  interesting  to  see  how  they  covered  the  beginnings  of  "Madchester"  but  it  wasn't  to  be.

Saturday, 29 October 2016

527 Kessler

First  viewed : 13  November  1981

This  sequel  to  Secret  Army  was  OK  but  not  as  good  as  it  could  have  been.

The  end  of  Secret  Army  in  1979  had  left  a  bad  taste  in  the  mouth  because  of  a  seeming  burning  injustice. Having  contrived  the  execution  of  decent  Luftwaffe  counterpart  Reinhardt  the  series ' chilling  chief  villain  SS  man    Kessler  ( Clifford  Rose )  then  got  away  with  his  Belgian  girlfriend  and  a  false  identity. But  all  was  not  as  it  seems. A  further  episode  set  in  the  late  60s  in  which  Kessler's  past  would  come  to  light was  filmed  but  the  Beeb  didn't  like  it  and  canned  it.

Kessler  is  basically  a  six  part   expanded  version  of  that  rejected  episode.  The  theme  tune  is  a  re-arrangement  of  the  Secret  Army  theme.  Its  problems  began  when  the  Beeb   threw  out   creator  Gerald  Glaister's  original  late  sixties  setting  on  the  grounds  that  the  period  detail  would  make  it  too  costly. GlaisteSecr  objected  that  a  present  day  setting  would  make  the  likes  of  Albert,  and  Kessler  himself,  geriatrics  but  the  suits  said  no  one  would  care  which  didn't  bode  well  for  the  series.

It  also  got  off  to  a  bad  start  by  including  too  much  material  from   the  aborted  Secret  Army  episode. Kessler's   plot  required  no  more  than  one  of  the  Lifeline  survivors  to  appear  in  one  scene  identifying  a  German  industrialist  Manfred  Dorff  as their  former  foe. Instead  Bernard  Hepton, Angela  Richards  and  Juliet  Hammond-Hill  were  all  brought  back  to  reprise  their  roles  ( none  of  them  looking  nearly  old  enough )  and  their  soap-y  reunion  scenes  do  absolutely  nothing  to  advance  the  story  and  merely  impede  its  flow. None  of  them  appeared  in  subsequent  episodes.

The  story  begins  with  a  Belgian  TV  reporter  Van  Eyck  ( Jerome  Willis )  fingering  Dorff  as  Kessler  which  brings  a  number  of  interested  parties  into  play. German  Intelligence  are   interested  in  the  form  of  Bauer  ( Alan  Dobie  )  as  , for  no  very  clear  reason , British  Intelligence.  Kessler  is  also  holding   the  keys  to   a  Nazi  treasure  chest  on  behalf  of  a  network   of  ageing  Nazis   who  are  concerned  about  his  exposure  while  his  fanatical  blonde  daughter  Ingrid  ( Alison  Glennie )  wants  him  to  divert  the  money  to  her  organisation  of  young   Nazi's  including  her  boyfriend  Franz  ( Nicholas  Young  again )  who  acts  as  Kessler's  minder.

What  saves  the  series  though  is  that  his  exposure   also  attracts  a  young  Jewish  girl   with military  training,  Mical  Rak ,  who  wants  revenge  on  Kessler  for  sending   her   family  to Dachau  and  then  the  murder  of  her  travelling  companion  ( though  Kessler  actually disapproved  of  the  latter, one  of  many  loose  threads  in  the  narrative ). Played  by  the stunningly  attractive  Nitza  Shaul,  Mical  is  a  marvellously  plucky  heroine  who  gets  knocked about  a  bit   but  comes  back  for  more  and  forms  an  effective  partnership  with  the  dry, unexcitable  Bauer  to  chase  Kessler  across  the  globe.

The  series  aired  in  a  pre-watershed  8pm  slot  on  Friday  nights  and  pushed  the  limits  of  what  was  acceptable  in  early  evening  television. The  female  characters are  usually  scantily  clad and  there  are  regular  outbursts  of  violence . In  the  first  episode  Franz  feels  Mical's  boobs  during  a  frisk  then  receives  a  boot  in  the  goolies  for  his  trouble  and  then  the  episode  ends  with  Mical  discovering  her  friend's  naked  body  with  a  swastika  carved  in  her  back.

As  mentioned  above  the  writing  seems  a  bit   slapdash  and  rushed. In  their  final  encounter  Kessler  demands  an  explanation  from  Mical   seemingly  forgetting  that  he  already  had  that  under  torture  in  Episode  2 . She  also  says  that  her  friend   was  not  involved  in  her  mission  whereas  there  was   a  conversation   between  them  in  the  first  episode  where  Mical  referred  to  staking  out the  Dorffs'  house. There  are  also  many  scenes  where  the  characters  are  clearly  being  used  simply   as  mouthpieces  to  re-hash  the  arguments  about  whether  or   when  to  call  a  halt  to  the  pursuit   of  Nazi  war  criminals. This  is  fair  enough  , if  well-worn  territory,  but  when  Kessler   then   presents  the   surviving  Nazis  as   a  vast  criminal  network  in  the  present  day  that  can  efficiently  murder  people  with  impunity,   the  question  becomes redundant.

Kessler  works  better  as  a  drama  about  inter-generational  conflict. The  intelligence  operatives are  all  smug, venal,  middle-aged  men  who  need  the  rocket  up  the  arse  that  Mical  represents. She has  her  Odile  in  Ingrid  who  is  equally  frustrated  that  the  secret  funds  are  being  used  to keep  old  men  like  Mengele  ( Oscar  Quitak )  and  Bormann ( an  arm  in  a  doorway )* in   relative  comfort  rather  than  prepare  for  a  Nazi  re-launch.  The  writers  missed  a  real  trick  in not  having  the  two  girls  meet  ( well  not  in  circumstances  where  they  could  have  a conversation  at  any  rate ).

I  remember  watching  the  final  episode  on  December  18  1981  very  clearly. It  had  been   moved  to  9.25 pm  although, as  it  was  no  more  violent  than  some  of  the  previous  episodes,  I suspect  that  was  more  about  the  Beeb  wanting   to  get  it  out  of  a  prime  time  slot  asap   than worries  over  its  content . The  move  actually  suited  me  to  the  ground ; in  its  new  slot  it provided  the  perfect  cover  for  bringing  an  awkward  situation  to  a  close. If  you've  read  the Tenko  post,  you  might  recall  that  my  departing  friend  Michael  had  said  he  would  attend  the Littleborough  Rambling  Club  Christmas  Party  which  was  at  our  house  on  that  date. We'd  had no  contact  in  the  intervening  six  weeks  but  he  still  turned  up. It  was  a  tense  affair; I  didn't know  if  he  wanted  to be  friends  again  or  not  so  I  was  walking  on  eggshells  and  it  became the  elephant  in  the  room  for  everyone.  He  stayed  fairly  taciturn  throughout  but  he'd  been like that  at  the  past  couple  of  committee  meetings . The  last  episode  of  Kessler   provided  the perfect  excuse  to wrap  the party  up.

So  we  all  watched  it  together. I  remember  our  new  chairman,  Sean  expressing  tactless amazement that  we  still  had  a  black  and  white  TV. I  also  remember  my  sister  Helen remarking  that,  as usual,  Mical  wasn't  wearing  a  bra   ( she  was  wearing  the  top  in  the  picture above ).

Either  Sean  or  his  brother  Frank  asked,  intrigued  "How  can  you  tell ?"

"Well  look !  Where  are  the   straps ?"

"Oh  right "

So  I  guess  she  can  claim  credit  for  a  little  piece  of  their  sex  education.

Kessler  has  never  been  repeated  so  I'm  guessing  the  ratings  were  disappointing. It  marked  the effective  end  of  Young's  efforts  to  move  on  from  The  Tomorrow  People  though  I   think  it was  his  failure  to  sort  his  adenoids  out  that  sunk  him. How  can  you  convey  authority  or menace  if  you  sound  like  George  Osborne  with  a  peg  on  his  nose  ?  The  lovely  Nitza  tarried in  England  for  a  while  , appearing  in  Dr  Who  and  C.A.T.S. Eyes   before  returning  to  Israel where  she  remains  a  fairly  prominent  actress.  

*  Unknown  to  the  writers  at  the  time,  both  men  were  already  dead  by  1981.


Thursday, 27 October 2016

526 The Borgias

First  viewed  : Autumn  1981

It  wasn't  a  great  autumn  for  the  Beeb. While  ITV  had  Brideshead  Revisited  , BBC  2  unleashed  The  Borgias   on  an  unsuspecting  world.  I  can't  say  too  much  about  this  notorious  TV  turkey  because  I  only  dipped  into  it   but  I  clearly  remember  the  derision  it  provoked.

It  was  promising  material  for  a  drama  series; the  story  of   the  notorious  Renaissance  dynasty offered  a  spicy  blend  of  sex  and  violence  to  rival  the  successful  I  Claudius   of  a  few  years earlier  but  it  didn't  work  out  that  way. The  main  target  was  Sicilian  actor  Adolfo  Celi  who played  the  incest-loving  Pope  Rodrigo  Borgia  ( or  Alexander  VI ).  Celi  was  previously  best known  to  English-speaking  audiences  as the  chief  villain  in  Thunderball. He  was  quite  fluent in  English  but  his  heavy  accent  made  him  difficult  to  follow  especially  in  the  quieter  scenes and  his  declarations  of  "I  am  ze  pop ! "  made  it  a  bit  of  a  catchphrase  at  the  time. Celi's difficulties  rather  over-shadowed  a  tremendous  performance  by  Oliver  Cotton  as  his  murderous  son  Cesare.

The  series  was  also  notorious  for  some  over  the  top  sex  scenes. I  recall  our  excitable  English  teacher  Mrs  Mortimer  mentioning  her  shock  at  an  orgy  later  in  the  series.

Granada  must  have  been  laughing  all  the  way  to  the  bank. Apart  from the  Sunday  night  repeats  at  the  time , the  series  has  never  been  re-broadcast. However,  an  American  version  with  the  same  title  was  made  in  2011  and  ironically  the  part  of  Rodrigo  went  to  Jeremy  Irons.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

525 Tenko

First  watched  : 12  November  1981

I  wondered  if  anything  was  going  to  fall  on  this  particular  date  and  yes,  a  trawl  through  the  synopses  and  a  peek  on  YouTube  confirm  that  my  first  exposure  to  this  series  did  indeed  occur  that  evening.

It  was  a  red  letter  day  because  an  hour  or  so  earlier, at  our  regular  monthly  meeting  at  my  gran's  house,   my  friend  Michael  announced  that  he  was  quitting  Littleborough  Rambling  Club . In  one  sense  it  wasn't  so  surprising  ; it  had  been  effectively  agreed  that  he  would  step  down  as  chairman  in  the  new  year,  making  way  for  Sean, our  young  treasurer.  but  it  was  still  a  shock  that  he  was  calling  time  early. He  was  very  polite  about  it, waiting  until  Any  Other  Business  and  saying  that  he  would  still  be  coming  to  the  Christmas  party  ( which  will  feature  in  another  post ).

Very  unwisely,  I  asked  him  "Are  you  just  fed up ?"  and  received  the  devastating  reply  "Not  of  walking ! " *

The  meaning  of  that  was  clear  enough. I  dared  not  delve  any  further  nor  was  there  any  need.

My  attention  switched  to  Sean. He  lived  virtually  next  door  to  Michael, seemed  to  admire   him  and  looked  like  he  had  known  what  was  coming.

" I  suppose  you're  going  too  then  ? "  I  asked  him.

Sean  looked  surprised  and  said  no  so  we  (  the  four  of  us  including  our  Secretary, another Michael )  went  through  the  silly  business  of  electing  him  as  chair.  That  actually  made  the situation  worse; if  Sean  had  said  yes,  that  would  have  allowed  me  to  offer  throwing  over  all the  formal  nonsense  and  the   hopeless  trying  to  attract  adults  with  easy  local  walks  which Michael  had  never  been  enthusiastic  about  and  going  back  to  the  sort  of  walks  he  enjoyed, perhaps  on  a  monthly  basis. With  Sean  wanting  his  spell  in  the  chair,  that  option  wasn't available. Even  worse,  it  put  me  entirely  at  Sean's mercy ; when  he  got  fed  up, and  I'd  no doubt  at  all  that  he  would , the  house  of  cards  would  collapse.  Everyone  knew  that   and  the   next  six  months  were  almost  entirely  miserable, waiting  for  the  Sword  of  Damocles  to descend. Looking  back, I  can appreciate the  irony  of  someone  as  virulently anti-communist  as me  taking the  classic  Bolshevik  route  to  getting  one's  own  way  by  formalising  relationships and  then  manipulating  the  structures. Except  in  the  end. it  worked  against  me.

It  would  be  very  unfair  on  a  few  individuals  ( one  of  whom  was  best  man  at  my  wedding ) to  say  that  the "members"  of  the  Club  were  my  only  friends  at  the  time  but  Michael  was   the  last  friend  who  I  could  trust  to  say  yes  to  my  ideas  more  or  less  unconditionally. I  could no  longer  feed  my  ego  that  way; I  would  have  to  learn  about  compromise, "fitting  in "  and letting  others  take  the  lead,  a  painful  process.

So  I  came  home  that  evening,  shocked  and  full  of  apprehension  for  the  future , to  find  my mum engrossed  in  the  fourth  episode  of  Tenko, of  which  she  was  already  a  big  fan. Tenko actually  sprang  from  This  Is  Your  Life  when  a  researcher  on  the  programme  Lavinia  Warner was  investigated  the  experiences  of  an  incarcerated  nurse  and  thought  it  had   dramatic potential. She  was  proved  correct.

The  first  two  episodes  were  filmed  in  Singapore  before  its  fall  giving  an  introduction  to  the privileged  lifestyle  the  British  were  enjoying  there.  It's  interesting  that  those  first  two episodes  were  written  by  a  man   and  give  equal  weight  to  the  male  characters. Thereafter , the  episodes  were  filmed  on  VT  on  a  purpose-built  set  in  Dorset, written  by  a  female  duo and   were very  female -centric. \The  series  was  part-funded by  Australia's  ABC  so  there  were  a couple  of  Aussies  in  the  cast  although  I  don't  think  there  was  any  cross  over  with  a  certain Australian  soap  about  female  captives

The  series  follows  the  lives  of  a  group  of  British  and  Dutch  female  prisoners  taken  by  the Japanese  around  the  fall  of  Singapore. They  have  to  make  the  best  of  life  amid  dreadful conditions  and  appalling  cruelty   although  this  was  slightly  toned  down  to  keep  the  series watchable. The  camp  commander  Yamauchi  ( Bert  Kwouk )  was  a  relatively  humane  figure. The  central  relationship in  the  series   is   the  platonic  friendship   between  Marion  Jefferson ( Anne  Bell )  , an  army  wife  who  becomes  the  leader   of  the  British  women   and  is  capable although  her  constant  self-analysis  becomes  a  bit  grating  over  time  and  grumpy,  repressed lesbian  doctor  Bea  Mason. (  Stephanie  Cole  ). The  chief  Dutch  characters  were  Sister  Ulrica  , a  formidable,  single-minded  nun  and  Mrs  Van  Meyer  , vain  and  selfish  but  a  born  survivor. Both  characters  were  played  by  British  actresses  ( Patricia  Lawrence  and    Elizabeth  Chambers  )  who  had  to  keep  up  the  accent  for  three  series.

Although  my  mum  always  regarded  it  as  "a  woman's  series "  I'm  sure  the   simulation  of  a tropical  climate  meant   it  had  a  certain  male  audience  with  a  thing  for  women  in  1940s underwear  even  if  they  weren't  wearing  make-up. There  was  occasionally  a  topless  scene. First off  the  mark  in  that  respect   was  Cockney  trollop  Blanche  played  by  Louise  Jameson; for anyone  who  remembered  her  from  Dr  Who  it  was  a  shocking  disappointment. Best  to  stick with  your  memories  of  Leela  in  the  animal  skins.  Later,  in  the  third  season  there  was  a tabloid  fuss  about  one  of  the  Aussies , Kate  ( Claire  Oberman )  getting  them  out  for  a  bathtub scene.

That  first  episode  I  saw  largely  focused  on  the  efforts  of   scarred   young  widow  Dorothy  ( Veronica  Roberts  )  to  find  enough  food  for  her  baby  which  has  dreadful  consequences   for an Asian  villager  who  trades  with  the  camp. It  may  have  been  just  the  mood  I  was  in  after  the meeting  but  I  had  a  dreadful  feeling  of  foreboding  for  the  baby  and  I'm  glad  I  didn't  see the subsequent  episode  in  which  it  perished. Dorothy  goes  on  to  become  a  compelling  character who  sleeps  with  the  guards  to  the  disgust  of  the  other  women  but  they  do  make  use  of  it.

With  the  popularity  of  the  series  soaring , new  characters  were  introduced  in  the  second  season  as  the  women  were  moved  to  a   camp  with  slightly  better  conditions. Both  Bea  and  Ann   have  to  contend  with  already-installed  rivals  for  their  positions. Ann's  nemesis  Verna  Johnson ( Rosemary  Martin )  thinks  nothing  of  ripping  off  the  other  women  for  her  own  gain.  Sour faced  battle-axe  Jean  Anderson  from  The  Brothers   joined  the  cast  as  crusty  old  Joss.  The  season   ends  dramatically  with   the  death  of   high  maintenance  Rose  ( Stephanie  Beacham )  who  was  shot  while  having  an  unlikely  rendez-vous  with  her  fella  outside  the  camp  and  perishes  slowly  and  then  an   Allied  air-raid   on  the  camp .

By  the  third  season  the  series  was  really  popular  and  commanded  a  much  higher  budget. It was  a  mirror  image  of  the  first  season  with  the  first  two  episodes  set  in  the  camp  as  the war  ended  and  the  rest  filmed  in  Singapore  as  the  survivors  ( missing  Verna  and  Blanche who  were  tersely  mentioned  as  having  died  in  the  intervening  years )  struggled  to  rebuild their  lives  and  deal  with  a  population  no  longer  content  to  accept  British  rule  after  the  tame surrender  of  1942. I  was  never  a  fervent  viewer  of  the  series  but  this  season  did  seem  to  go on  too  long.

The  series  was  rounded  off  with  a   feature  length   reunion  episode  on  Boxing  Day  1985  set five  years  later. This  had  a  melodramatic  storyline  with  Ulrica  getting  shot  ( not  fatally )  and Christina   ( Emily  Bolton ) , the  mild-mannered  mixed  race  girl  exposed  as  a  Communist terrorist  and  imprisoned.

It  was  repeated  on  Yesterday  a  few  years  back  to  the  delight  of  my  wife  who'd  also  been  a big  fan  of  the  series.

* I've  no  doubt  he  meant  it  sincerely  but,  from  subsequent  conversations,  I  don't  now  think  he  did  much  walking  after  that  night.  

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

524 Everyman

First  viewed  :  Uncertain

Beginning  in  1977 , Everyman  was  another  long-running  documentary  strand, this  one concentrating  on  religious  and  moral  issues. It  was  always  on  after  the  news  late  on  Sunday evenings. I  probably  caught  snatches  of  earlier  episodes  but  the  first  one  I  recall  with certainty  was   ...

Carry  Me  Away   ( 2  November  1981 )

This  episode  covered  an  event  held  in  a  London  hotel  earlier  in  the  year  when  a  thousand disciples  of   Indian  guru  Bhagwan  Shree  Rajneesh   ( aka  Osho )  gathered  together  for  what one  tabloid  called  a  "Ring-a-ring-a-roses  Sex  Orgy". Osho  believed  that  religion  should  not  be about  suffering  and  in  the  free  expression  of  sexuality. One  of  his  acolytes  on  the  programme seemed  to  sum  up  the  approach  as  do  it  until  you  get  bored  of  it. Accordingly  the  film incorporated  much  footage  of  nude  people  mauling  each  other  which  is  probably  why  it's stuck  in  my  mind. When  not  tediously  bonking  each  other, his  disciples  would  line  the  roads  waiting   for  the  great  man  to  drive  past  in  one  of  his  fleet  of  Rolls  Royces.  

I  don't  think  Osho  himself  was  interviewed  by  the  programme; he  was  in  the  U.S.  setting  up a  commune  in  Oregon  which  provoked   virulent  opposition  from  the  locals. There  are  a couple  of  contemporary  documentaries  on  YouTube  , one  of  which  is  absolutely  hysterical  ( in both  senses  of  the  word ) , comparing  him  to  Jim  Jones  and  Adolf  Hitler. The  rednecks  eventually  got  their  way  when  Osho  was  deported  in  1985. He  died  of  heart  failure  in  1990.  

Monday, 24 October 2016

523 Stanley Baxter Picture Show / Stanley Baxter Series

First  viewed  :  Uncertain

Stanley  was  always  the  most  enigmatic  of  the  big  entertainers  of  the  seventies. He  was  a  Christmas  fixture  who  flitted  between  BBC  and  ITV  but  the  rubber-faced  Scot  was  hard  to  define, somewhere  between  an  impressionist  ( most  famously  of  the  Queen ) and  a  comic  actor. Though  still  alive  at  90,  he  seems  half-forgotten , never  celebrated  on  those  boring  comedy  great  docs  with  Barry  Cryer  droning  on  about  him.

I  include  him  here  because  he  had  a  regular  Monday  night  series  on  ITV  in  the  autumn  of  1981  though  I'd  probably  caught  one  or  two  of  his  Christmas  specials  before  that.

The  only  sketch  I  can  clearly  remember  is  Stan  playing  a  crusty  old  buffer  of  the  Raj  who  goes  to  a  fortune  teller  and  is  appalled  by  the  prospect  of  Asian  shops  on  every  street  corner  of  England.

Baxter  more  or  less  retired  from  television  in  the  mid-eighties  as  the  bean  counters  grumbled  at  the  cost  of  his  Christmas  specials  but  made  a  major  comeback  on  radio  in  the  mid-nineties  with  a  show  on  Radio  Four  until  as  recently  as  2014.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

522 Bergerac

First  viewed : 18  October  1981

I  grew  to  like  this  in  time  but   was  very  hostile  towards  it  at  the  beginning.

In  one  sense  Bergerac  should  never  have  been  made. Its   roots  lie  in  the  shock  decision  of  Trevor  Eve  to  walk  away  from  Shoestring  after  just  two  series.  Producer  Robert  Banks  Stewart  had  to  re-write the  whole  premise , re-cast  and  move  the  setting  from  Bristol  to   Jersey.  Much  stayed  the  same, the  episodes  were  50  minutes  in  length  and  on  film  rather  than  VT, there  was  a  regular  supporting  cast   and  George  Fenton's  theme  tunes  were  so  similar  that,  even  now , I  still  get  them  confused. Also,  the  central  character  was  returning  to  work  after  battling  personal  demons.

That  leads  on  to  the  first  problem  with  the  series. Whereas  Eddie  Shoestring  had  had  a  nervous  breakdown  when  faced  with  the  encroaching  advance  of  computer  technology, an  interesting,  topical  idea,  Jim  Bergerac  was  a  run  of  the  mill  reformed  alcoholic  getting  over  a  messy  divorce, nothing  very  novel  about  that.  Further  to  that , Eddie   as  played  by  Eve  was  clearly  still  quite  vulnerable  whereas  John  Nettles's  Jim. once  back  on  the  job,  often    came  across  as  a  sneering, self-righteous  bully  and  was  nowhere  near  as  sympathetic.

Jim's  job  was  a  further  difficulty. He  was  not  a  private  eye  but  a  police  sergeant  working  for  the  fictional  Bureau  des  Estrangers   which  dealt  with  crime  where  non-residents  i.e  people  who  didn't  have  the  right  to  live  there, were  involved. So  whereas  Eddie   took  up  cases  involving  vulnerable  people  who  needed  a  champion, Jim  and  his  crew  often  seemed  more  like  gamekeepers  or  a  private  security  firm,  protecting  the  lives  and  property  of  the  over-privileged   few  who  had  bought  their  way  on  to  the  island. For  all  the  lovely  coastal  scenery  on  show,  Jersey  society  came  across  as  narrow-minded  and  selfish  as  personified  by  the  main  supporting  character,  Jim's  father-in-law  Charlie  Hungerford  ( Terence  Alexander  ).

Charlie  was  basically  Arthur  Daley  made  good, a  rather  vulgar  businessman  with  a  finger  in  many  pies,  some  of  them  still  shady , relishing  his  place  at  the  top  table. Though  not  without  some empathy  for  others , he  was  your  stereotypical  self-made  Tory.  In  some  way  or  other  Charlie was  involved  in  every  case  Jim  investigated.  The  other  regulars  were  Jim's  boss  Crozier  ( Sean  Arnold, previously  the  first  headmaster  in  Grange  Hill )  who  effectively  performed   the  same  function  as  Michael  Medwin's  character  in  Shoestring.  In  the  first  four  seasons  you  also   had  Diamante  Lil  ( Mela  White )   but  eventually  the  self-inflicted  problem  of  writing  a  barmaid  into  the  stories  when  the  main  character  was  teetotal  became  too  much  and  she  was  dropped. Semi-regular  at  first  was  Jim's  dislikable  ex-wife  Deborah  ( Deborah  Grant ) ; later , Dr  Who  girl   Louise  Jameson , had  a  five  year  stint  as  his   girlfriend  Susan.
Also  in  later  series,  Jim  got  a  couple  of  young  constables ,  Ben  and  Willy  ( David  Kershaw, John  Telfer ) to  push  around.

I  watched  the  first  episode  and  didn't  like  it  ( as  you've  probably  guessed ). It  just  felt  like  following  caviar  with  Turkey  twizzlers. However  my  mum  liked  it. Although  this   might  have  been  as  much  to  do  with  a  fondly-remembered  holiday  in  the  Channel  Islands  decades  earlier  as   the   storylines,  it  meant  that  it  was  always  on  so  it  was  inevitable  that  I  would  eventually  come  back  to  it.  From  looking  at  the  list  of  episodes  on  wikipedia  - which  doesn't  give  synopses  so  I'm  relying  on  the  guest  stars  column - it  looks  like  this  was  the  fourth  series  in  1985.

Things  had  improved. Bergerac   had  a  large  team  of  writers  and  they  seemed  to  have  been  encouraged  to  take  risks  with  the  format  so  there  were  episodes  with  supernatural  elements , some  quite  outlandish  plots  and  one  or  two  very  bleak  endings. The  one  that  sticks  in  my  mind  is  where  Jim  spends  the  whole  episode  keeping  a  pretty  young  witness  safe  from  hitmen  only  for  her  to  be  bumped  off   the  moment  he  passes  her  over  at  the  airport. The  last  shot  is  of  her  staring-eyed  corpse  hitting  the  ground. Jim's  spoiled   brat  of  an  ex-wife  featured  less  often  and  the  annoying  Lil  was   soon  dropped  altogether.

The  stories  I  recall  best  were  these

  • Jim  tries  to  foil  the  planned  assassination  of  a  dodgy  foreign  general  by  an  SAS  man  running  loose  on  the  island. It  turns  out  he's  acting  for  the  Home  Secretary  ( Bernard  Hepton )  who's  really  a  crooked  arms  dealer. Jim  is  threatened  into  silence.
  • The  one   where  a  nude  Jeremy  Clyde  turns  out  to  be  an  amnesiac  aristocratic  murderer   whose  buddies  try  to  help  him  escape  justice. The  episode  is  clearly  based  on  the   Lord  Lucan  affair.
  • One  where  Nick  Stringer  plays  the  villain  and  ends  up  dangling  by  his  foot  from  a  crane. This  was  broadcast  barely  a  year  after  the  death  of  Michael  Lush  doing  a  suspiciously  similar  stunt  for  the  Late  Late  Breakfast  Show .  Had  he  died  just  to  save  the  Bergerac  team  a  few  bob ?
  • The  anti-yuppie  episode  where  Jim  ludicrously  arranges  for   the  pushy  bitch  who's  been  giving  him  a  hard  time  ( Hetty  Baynes )  to  desert  her  wealthy  husband (  and  Jersey  ) for a  Scouse  chancer  played  by  Stephen  McGann
  • A  number  of  episodes  where  Jim  has  a  flirty  cat  and  mouse  game  with  a  jewel  thief  played  by  Liza  Goddard
  • An  old   London  cop  harasses  a  rich  islander  ( George  Costigan ) who  he  believes  has  got  away  with  an  insurance  scam  that  invalided  a  colleague. Jim  is  pretty  much  a  bystander  in  this  one.
  • The  one  set  mainly  in  France  where  a  couple  of  students  unwittingly  interfere  with  the  plans  of  a nasty  explosives  dealer  played  by  Kenneth  Cranham
  • One  from  the  final  season  with  Jim  working  as  a  private  eye  in  France   guarding  an  international  assassin  who  has  started  to  question  his  calling.
Later  episodes  often  took  place  in   England  or  France  ( the  setting  for  the  whole  of  the  final  season )  as  the  popularity  of  the  series  made  filming  in  Jersey  increasingly  difficult.  That  final  season  in  1991  was  a  brave  attempt  at  breaking  with  a  tired  format  and  doing  something  new  with  the  character  but  it  didn't  really  work  and  Jim  was  put  to  bed  in  a  Christmas  special  at  the  end  of  that  year  which  I'm  not  entirely  sure  I  watched.           

Saturday, 22 October 2016

521 Brideshead Revisited

First  viewed :   12th  October  1981

There  is  no  doubt  that  this  was  the  TV  event  of  1981,  a  monumental  adaptation  of  Evelyn  Waugh's  novel  that  proved  that  commercial  television  could  match  the  BBC  in  quality  given  the  right  circumstances  and  a  lasting  memorial  to  the  glorious  reign  of  David  Plowright  at  Granada  Television.

Plowright  commissioned  the  project  as  Controller  of  Programmes  in  1979  and  kept  the  ship  afloat  through  numerous  production  problems  and  changes  in  direction. For  example  though  credited  as  screenwriter  John  Mortimer's  scripts  were  not  actually  used  as  the  producers  tried  to  be  as  faithful  to  the  book  as  possible  over  11  mesmerising  episodes.  The  casting  was  faultless, the  cinematography  sumptuous  and  the  music  almost  a  character  in  its  own  right.

The  story   details  twenty  years  in  the  life  of   Charles  Ryder  ( Jeremy  Irons ). As  an  army  captain  on  the  cusp  of  middle  age  in  1943  Ryder  finds  that  his  unit  has  been  billeted  on  the  Brideshead  estate  and  is  overwhelmed  by  memories  of  his  involvement  with  the  aristocratic  family, the  Marchmains  who  lived  there. From  an  upper  middle  class  background  Charles  bumps  into  the  second  son  Sebastian  ( Anthony  Andrews )  at  Oxford  and  forms  a  romantic  friendship  with  him. Sebastian  is  spoiled  but  vulnerable, clinging  to  his  childhood  teddy  bear  Aloysius  and  drinking  too  heavily.  Depressed  by  his  joyless  home  with  his  fussy , self-absorbed  bibliophile  father  ( John  Gielgud ), Charles  is  spellbound  by  the  architectural  glories  of  Brideshead  and  is  soon  introduced  to  the  rest  of  Sebastian's   family  his  devout  Catholic  mother  ( Claire  Bloom ) , ultra-conservative  elder  brother  Brideshead  ( Simon  Jones ), and  sisters  , socialite   Julia  ( Diana  Quick )  and  pious  wallflower  Cordelia  ( Phoebe  Nicholls ).
Lord  Marchmain  ( Laurence  Olivier  who  was  Plowright's  brother-in-law )   flew  the  nest  some  years  earlier   and  lives  on  the  Continent  with  an  Italian  mistress.

Charles  recalls  idyllic  summer  days  with  Sebastian  but  clouds  begin  to  gather. The  Marchmains  know  their  lifestyle  is  under  threat  from  "the  Socialists "  in  what  Charles  calls  "the  age  of  Hooper "  ( after  his  coarse, philistine  lieutenant ). Sebastian's  drinking  gets  out  of  hand  and  Charles  eventually  has  to  choose  between  remaining  faithful  to  him  and  maintaining  his  privileged  position  as  a  family  friend.  The  result  is  exile  from  both  as  Sebastian   follows  his  father's  example  and  runs  away. As  in  the  novel  there  is  then  a  big  jump   of  some  years   in  Episode  8  where  we  find  Charles , a  fairly  successful but  morose  and  dissatisfied  artist , married  to  Celia  ( Jane  Asher )  and  sailing  back  to  England  with  her  on  a  luxury  liner . She  has  been  unfaithful  to  him  for  which  he  is  grateful  as  it  liberates  him  to  begin  an  affair  with  Julia  when  he  finds  she  is  a  fellow  passenger. They  go  to  live  at  the  Hall  until  Brideshead  informs  them  his  new  wife  couldn't  share  a  house  with  an  adulterous  couple. However  they  are  spared  eviction  by  the  return  of  the  dying  Lord  Marchmain   ( his  wife  having  died  earlier ). The  last  episode  sees  a  prolonged  struggle  between  Brideshead  and  Cordelia  and  their  father   who  they  want  to  reconcile  with  God  before  his  death. The  outcome  moves  Julia  to  renounce  her  relationship  with  Charles  as  a  religious  sacrifice   which  he  accepts  because  he  too  is  moving  towards  Catholicism.  At  that  point  the  action  returns  to  1943   and  a  bittersweet  epilogue.

As  well  as  the  main  characters  there's  an  exceptionally  rich  supporting  cast. Dad's  Army's   John  le  Mesurier   in  one  of  his  last  roles  plays  Father  Mowbray  who  has  the  thankless  task  of  trying  to  explain  Catholicism  to  Julia's  rich  but  terminally  stupid  American  fiance  Rex.
Mona  Washbourne  plays  Sebastian's  beloved  Nanny . Theatre  director  Nikolas  Grace  made  an  impact  with  his  rather  fruity  performance  as  Sebastian's  gay  friend  Anthony  Blanche  who  dissects  Charles's  relationship  with  the  Marchmains  with  brutal  honesty.

Irons  and  Andrews  were  both  31  when  filming  started  so  they  don't  really  look  the  part   in the  Oxford  scenes  but  it's  hard  to  imagine  anyone  else  in  the  roles. Irons  of  course  went  on to  become  an  A-list  Hollywood  star ; it  didn't  quite  happen  for  Andrews  although  his performance  drew  more  awards  at  the  time.  Gielgud  is  splendid  as   the  infuriating  Ryder  Snr and  Olivier  later  regretted  that  he  hadn't  taken  that  part  instead. My  favourite  performance though  is   Simon  Jones  who  somehow  manages  to  make  Brideshead  , a  cold,  repressed  prig,   rather  endearing. Frequent  US  repeats  of  the  series  have  allowed  him  too  to have  a   Hollywood  film  career  , often  in  wildly  incongruous  roles  ( cf  The  Devil's  Own ) .

The  series  did  come  under  attack  later  in  the  decade  from  left  wing  critics   for  supposedly  promoting  "Victorian  values"  in  art   and  helping  to  create  "the  heritage  industry".  I  do  think  that,  had  he  still  been  alive , Waugh,  would  have  sided  with  the  likes  of  Gilmour  and  Pym,  looking  on   aghast  at  the  ascendancy  of  the  decidedly  Hooperite  Margaret  Thatcher  and  her  cronies.

I  only  dipped  into  it  the  first  time  round, not  really  getting  it. I  think  you  have  to  be  in  from  the  start   to  understand  it. I  watched  it  right  through  when  it  was  repeated  in  the  summer  of  1983. Having  spent  most  of  the  last  couple  of  years  mourning  a  lost  friendship ( which  was  in  its  dying  throes  when  the  series  was  first  broadcast ) it  now  struck  a  powerful  chord.  The  harsh  truth  Charles  Ryder  eventually  realises  with  Blanche's  help, that  the  Marchmains  meant  far  more  to  him  than  he  did  to  them,  continues  to  resonate  with  me , reinforced  since by  my  favourite  novel  The  Secret  History  whose  narrator  Richard  Papen  has  a  similar  longing  to  be  with  the  beautiful  people.

Plowright  eventually  met  his  own  Hooper  (  or  "ignorant  upstart  caterer" in  John  Cleese's  words )  in  Gerry  Robinson  and  resigned   rather  than  implement   the  new  boss's  profits  before  quality  policy  in  1992. He  was  found  a  role  as  deputy-director  of  Channel  4  for  five  years   but  there's  little  evidence  to  show  he  had  much  influence  there  and  did  some  lecturing  at  Salford  University  before  his  retirement. He  died  in  2006.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

520 Game For A Laugh

First  viewed :  26  September  1981

This   became  one  of  the  great  success  stories  of  the  early  eighties  despite  having  one  of  the  most  charmless  presenting  line-ups  ever.

It  was  the  brainchild  of  Jeremy  Beadle  who  developed  it  with  US  producer  Michael  Hill after  the  BBC  rejected  the  pilot  for  a  similar  show. It  was  the  first  practical  joke  show  since the  demise  of  Candid  Camera   but   it  was  also  influenced  by  Crackerjack  and  Tiswas  in  the studio-based  sections. Beadle  himself  , a  malevolent  gnome-like  figure,  presented  it  assisted  by the  appalling  Matthew  Kelly  ( initially  with  a  broken  leg  sustained  in  a  parachute  jump which sadly  didn't  finish  him  off )  , the  equally  odious  Henry  Kelly who  came  across  as  an  Irish used  car  salesman  and   most   incongruously,  the  frumpy  Sarah Kennedy  who  seemed  more suited  to   a  BBC  2   arts  programme  than  something  as  stridently  lowbrow  as  this. Perhaps Beadle  saw  her  presence  as  a  trick  in  itself .

Some  of  the  set-ups  were  quite  funny  and  for  me  were  the  only  bits  worth  watching  in  a show  that  ran  at  a  frantic  pace  so  I  never  loved  it.

 It  ran  for  four  years  but  as it  relied  so  much  on  surprise,  it  had  a  built  in  obsolescence  factor  and  all  three  of  Beadle's  co-presenters  recognised  this  and  got  out  while  the  going  was  good, After  one  season  with  a  new  team  featuring  the  supremely  annoying  Rustie  Lee  the  show  was  put  to  bed  in  1985.

Monday, 17 October 2016

519 Labour Party Conference 1981

First  viewed  : 27  September  1981

I  wouldn't  normally  be  watching  a  party  conference  at  the  tender  age  of  16  but  this  one  was different. The  whole  family  were  in  the  room  to  watch  one  of  the  most  pivotal  moments  in  recent  political  history.

Ever  since  Labour's  defeat  to  Margaret  Thatcher in  1979  one  figure  had  dominated  debate within  the  party, our  friend  Anthony  Wedgewood  Benn. He  had  led  the  movement  to  change the  rules  under  which  the  party  leader  was  elected  in  1980. Jim  Callaghan  promptly  resigned to  allow  his  succcessor  - Dennis  Healey  he  hoped -  to  be  elected  before  the  changes  came into  effect. Having  been  heavily  defeated  in  the  leadership  contest  of  1976  Benn  decided  to bide  his  time  and  support  venerable  old  leftie  Michael  Foot  instead. Foot  won  and  Healey had to  settle  for  the deputy  leadership , a  very  poor  consolation  prize. Who  now  remembers   Edward  Short, Harold  Wilson's  deputy  from  1972 to  1976 ?

Nevertheless  once  the  new  rules  were  in  place  in  1981, Benn  made  the  momentous  decision to  challenge  Healey, ignoring  an  invitation  from  an  incandescent  Foot  to  directly  challenge him  instead.  That  set  the  stage  for  a  furious  internecine  contest  out  of  all  proportion  to  the paltry  prize  on  offer. Healey  had  the support  of  most  of  the  MPs  and  Benn  was  the  darling of  the  activists  so  both  men  went  after the  third  part  of  the  electoral  troika, the  unions'  block votes,  to  decide  the  winner  and  as  many  saw it  the  fate  of  the  party. A  third  candidate, the obnoxious  John  Silkin  , threw  his  hat  into  the  ring  but  was  never  a  serious  contender.

With  excitement  at  fever  pitch,  the  NEC  decided  to  start  the  Party  Conference  a  day  early  and  get  the  count  and  announcement  of  the  result  out  of  the  way  before  the Conference  proper  began. The  Newsnight  team   moved  in  to  cover  the  declaration  live  on  BBC2  that  Sunday  evening.

In  an  atmosphere  of   unbearable  tension  the  chairman  ground  his  way  through  the  figures  to  announce  the  narrowest  of  wins  - less  than  one  percentage  point - for  Healey. What had  made  the  difference  was  the  decision  of  a  number of  Labour  MPs   on  the  so-called  "soft"  Left  to  abstain , most  notably  everyone's  tip  as  heir  apparent, Neil  Kinnock.  Far  closer to  Benn  on  policy,  they  had  walked  to  the  brink  of  the  abyss   with  him  and   then  drawn  back.

Benn  was  finished  and  he  knew  it  immediately. You  can  see  it  in  that  extraordinary  grimace as  the  result  was  announced. He'd  taken  a  high  stakes gamble  and  lost. His  influence  in  the party  didn't  vanish  overnight  but  thereafter  he  was  always  fighting  a  rearguard  action. He suffered  a  further  blow  18  months  later  when boundary  changes  meant  he  wet  down  in Labour's  rout  at  the  1983  General  Election. Without  a   seat  in  Parliament  he  had  little influence  in  the  leadership  contest that  year  which  brought  his  assassin  Kinnock  to  power. He got  back  in  at  Chesterfield  6  months  later  ( I  played  a  very  minor  part  in  the  Liberals'  by-election  campaign )  but  a  front  bench  role  under  Kinnock  was  unthinkable. Instead  his championship  of  Arthur  Scargill  and  the  Militant  Tendency  simply  pushed  him  further  to  the margins. In  1988, dismayed  by   Kinnock's  rightward  drift  , he  launched  a  last  desperate  bid for the  leadership  against  the advice  of  all  his  former acolytes  and  was  thoroughly  trounced. He remained  an  impotent   backbencher  right  through  to  Tony  Blair's  first  term  before  retiring  in  2001  "to  spend  more  time  on  politics". This  witty  epigram  was  actually  suggested  by  his dying  wife  as  cover  for  his  real  wish  to  be  with  her  throughout  her  last  days.  After  her death,  the  great  bogeyman  became  a  sort  of  cuddly  uncle  figure , still   doggedly   preaching   his   romanticised   version  of  socialism  on  lecture  tours. It  became  hard  to  recall  how   terrifying   he'd  seemed  back  in  the  day. He  died  a  couple of  years  ago  aged  88.        

Sunday, 16 October 2016

518 Fanny By Gaslight

First  viewed  : 24  September  1981

This  was  a  four-part  adaptation  of  Michael  Sadleir's  novel  which  had  been  filmed  with  James  Mason  back  in  1944. Although  often  thought  of  as  a  Victorian  novel,  it  was  actually  published  in  1940  and  looks  back  to  a  time  when  courtly  romance  and  the  utmost  depravity  existed  side  by  side.

Fanny  ( Chloe  Salaman  )  lives  comfortably  with  her  mother  and stepfather  Hopwood  ( that man  Stephen  Yardley  again )  who  runs  a  gentleman's  club  which  is  a  front  for  prostitution including  children. He  makes  the  mistake  of  evicting  the  dissolute  aristocrat  Lord Manderstoke ( Michael  Culver ) who  avenges  the  insult  by  blowing  the  whistle  on  the  club  and  ruining  the family. Fanny  finds  work  as  a  maid  and  companion  and  meets  a  genuine gentleman  in  Harry Somerford   ( Peter  Woodward ). However  her  friend  Lucy  ( Julia  Chambers )  brings Manderstoke  back  into  her  orbit  with  tragic  consequences.  The  final  word  from  Fanny, spoken at  a  funeral  is  "Nothing".

It  was  a  good-looking  series  with  a  splendidly  malevolent  performance  by  Culver  as  the villain.  It  went  out  on  Thursday  evenings  after  the  Nine  O Clock  News  although, for  all  the seedy  backdrop,  I  can't  remember  it  having  any   sex  scenes  as  such . It  was  repeated  once , two  years  later  and  as  far  as  I know isn't  available  on  DVD.

Chloe  Salaman, neice  of  Alec  Guinness,  seemed  set  for  a strong  career  -  in  the  same  year she had  a  good  part  in  Winston  Churchill  - The  Wilderness  Years   and  appeared  in  the  film Dragonslayer -  but   it  didn't  work  out  that  way  and  her  appearances  have  been  sporadic  since then.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

517 East of Eden

First  viewed  : 21  September  1981

This  one's  come  around  a  bit  earlier  than  I  was  expecting.  I  only  saw  a  brief  part  of  the  second  episode  of  this  epic  mini-series  first  time  round . It  was  repeated  in  the  summer  of  1985  and  although  coming  in  at  more  or  less  the  same  point  I  watched  it  through  to  the  end. That  was  when  I  fell  in  love  with  Karen  Allen.

The  series  was  an  adaptation  of  John  Steinbeck's  epic  novel,  re-telling  the  Cain  and  Abel  story  over  two  generations  of  the  Trask  family  from  the  American  Civil  War  to  World  War One . It  was  dramatised  in  three  lengthy  episodes, its  scale  allowing  it  to  be  much  more  faithful  to  the book  than  the  1955  James  Dean  film. Production  values  were  high and  it  was  largely  well  cast. I  say  largely  because  unfortunately the  leading  role  of  high-minded  Adam  Trask  went  to  Timothy  Bottoms  who  seems  to  think  looking  down  your  nose  with  a  solemn  expression  constitutes  acting.

Adam  is  one  of  the  two  sons  of  tyrannical  hypocrite  Cyrus  Trask  ( Warren  Oates ). He  is  the favoured  one  despite  being  placid  and  easy-going  in  contrast  to  hotheaded  workaholic  Charles ( Bruce  Boxleitner ) . The  brothers  have  a  fearsome  fight  before  Adam  is  dragooned  into  the Army  by  his  father. Finding  the  strength  to  defy  the  old  man,  Adam  becomes  a  wanderer before  returning  to  the  family  farm  after  Cyrus's  death  for  reconciliation  with  Charles. Their father's  corruption  has  made  them  both  rich.

After  a  brief  period  of  harmony,  they  are  finally  pulled  apart  by  the  appearance  of  Cathy  ( Jane  Seymour )  who  Adam  takes  in  after  being  found  beaten  close  to  death. We  have  already seen  that  she  is  a  liar, whore  and  murderess  whose  assailant  Edwards   ( Howard  Duff  )  was her  whoremaster . Charles  can  see  her  for  what  she  is  but  Adam  falls  in  love  with  her, gets married  and  moves  to  California  leaving  Charles  behind  for  good.

After  failing  to  abort  her  pregnancy , Cathy  deserts  Adam  after  giving  birth  to  twins  Caleb  ( Sam  Bottoms, a  better  actor  than  his  brother  ) and  Aron  ( Hart  Bochner )  and , through   another  murder,  becomes  a  brothel  madam. Adam  is  destroyed  but  his  friends  kick  him  into some  sort  of   shape . However  he  becomes  just  as  guilty  of  favouring  one  son  over  the other  as  his  father  and  the  destructive  cycle  begins  again.  Karen  Allen  plays  Abra , Aron's virginal  girlfriend.

Seymour  won  a  Golden  Globe  for  her  stunning  portrayal  of  the  irredeemably  evil  Cathy  making  her  a  hot  property  in  the  US. Her  performance  contributes  to  the  dark  tragedy  of  the  story  and  although  we'll  be  covering  some  quite  terrible  US  mini-series  over  the  next  few  years  this  one  is  worth  catching.

Friday, 14 October 2016

516 The Sky At Night

First  viewed  : Uncertain

I  really  have  no  idea  when  I  first  caught  an  episode  of  this  long-running, late  night,  astronomy  series  and  suspect  it  may  have  been  earlier  than  1981  but  with  bed  time  curfews  now  abandoned  this  seems  as  appropriate  a  time  as  any  to  include  it.

The  Sky  at  Night   was  first  broadcast  as  a  live  show  presented  by  amateur  astronomer  Patrick   Moore  who  was  at  the  helm  for  every  monthly  episode  bar  one   until  his  death  three  years  ago  , a  record-breaking  stint. I  realise  the  programme  has  carried  on  since  then  but  can't  really  imagine  it  working  without  him. Space  is  a  bloody  frightening  subject   emphasising  how  small  and  vulnerable  the  human  race  is  and  it  needed   his  lovable, avuncular   if  cranky  presence  to  make  it  cosy  late  night  viewing. I  never  became  a  regular  viewer  but  tuned  in  from  time  to  time,  half  an  hour  of  Moore  having  the  same  appeal  as  a  cup  of  cocoa.

From  2004  it   had  to  be  broadcast  from  Moore's  home  due  to  advancing  arthritis  and  became  less  comfortable  to  watch  as  he  was  propped  up  and  plastered  with  make-up  in  a  futile  attempt  to  mask  his  obvious  physical  decline. Still  the  mind  remained  active  to  the  end   and  he  died  in   harness. I've  never  seen  it  with  the  new  team  in  place  but  it's  telling  that,  barely  a  year  after  Moore's  death,  it  was  moved  over  to  BBC  Four.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

515 Behind the Scenes with ...

First  viewed :  10  September  1981

This  was  a  ten  part  documentary  series  going  "backstage"  with  various  creative  people. I  only  watched  the  first  episode  because  its  subject  was  Pamela  Stephenson.

It  was  clear  from  the  word  go  that  Pamela  was  preparing  for  a  solo  career  so  the  programme  increased  fears  that  Not  The  Nine  O  Clock  News  was  no  more.  It  also  gave    clues  as  to  why  Pamela  ultimately  failed  to  become  a  top  comedienne  outside  of  the team. For  one  thing  she  was  trying  to  be  too  many  things  at  once , dancer, author, actress  and  singer. For  another,  she  made  some  lousy  choices  when  looking  for  collaborators. As  you  can  see  from  the  picture  she's  throwing  shapes  with  ex-Shock  duo  Tik  and  Tok  who  were  only  headed  for  the  dumper. For  her  musical  debut  she  called  on  Richard  Burgess  and  John  Walters  from  briefly  popular  jazz-rockers,  Landscape,   after  appearing  in  the  video  for  their  second  ( and  last ) hit  "Norman  Bates". The  EP  she  made  with  them,  "Unusual  Treatment",  died  a  horrible  death  when  released  at  the  beginning  of  1982. The  programme  included  her  performing  the track  "Music  Bitch  Weekly".

Of  course  Pamela  bounced  back  in  various  guises  but  the  programme  was  an  interesting  look  at  someone  taking  a  wrong  turn  at  the  height  of  their  fame.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

514 The Day of the Triffids

First  viewed  : 10  September  1981

This  was  a  six-part  adaptation  of  John  Wyndham's  science  fiction  classic  and  was  partly  funded  by  Australia's  ABC  although  there  are  no  concessions  to  Oz  in  the  casting.

John  Duttine  ( again )  starred  as  Bill  Masen , a  temporarily  blinded  man  who  misses  a  spectacular  meteor  shower  which  has  left  everyone  who  did  watch  it  permanently  blind. In  the  chaos  a  group  of  genetically  engineered mobile  and  carnivorous  plants  , the  Triffids, have  got  loose  and  started  preying  on  the  incapacitated  humans. Bill  finds  some  other  sighted  survivors  including  Maurice  Colbourne  and  Stephen  Yardley  ( yet  again )  who  argue  about  how  to  rebuild  society  or  whether  it  is  better  simply  to  find  an  island  retreat.

The  show  was   moderately  absorbing  and  the  special  effects  were  quite  good. The  Triffids themselves   were  a  little  Dr  Who-ish   but  then  again  few  plants  look  inherently  terrifying   so looking  like  giant  sticks  of  rhubarb  was  as  good  an  idea  as  anything  else. It  also  suffered   a bit  from  having  a  pre-watershed  slot  ; a  reasonable   injection of  sex  and  violence  would  have  spiced  it  up  a  bit  without  compromising  the  story.

The  series  has  been  repeated  three  times  on  BBC  Four  over  the  past  decade  so  the  Beeb  are  still  proprietorial   over  it   i.e  you  can't  watch  it  on  You Tube  without  coughing  up.