Sunday, 31 December 2017
First viewed : Uncertain
This Yorkshire TV contribution to the late night schedule on Fridays has cropped up rather earlier than I expected. Perhaps it had been on a few weeks before I noticed it on the schedule.
I knew James Whale from my university days at Leeds. He had a three hour show in the small hours on Radio Aire where he filled out the time with phone-ins because they could only afford to play a few records. His trademark of course was being rude and abusive to most of the callers. Being a glutton for punishment, I got on about half a dozen times in 1985. The first time I was told "you sound frightfully boring" but I persevered. I once got on for about 15 minutes extolling my views on debauchery of which I have an incomplete and poor quality recording. If I ever feel like beating my head with something hard I put that on instead as a healthier option. I think the last time I was on it was in praise of James Anderton and he sent me away with a flea in the ear -"You've been on before being stupid ".
Whale made a point of not wanting students on the show - perhaps he feared being worsted in debate- but I'm not sure that he pegged me as one, with my Northern accent. He did agree to take part in a debate organised by the University Union's Debating Society which I attended. He was of course your archetypal short, bald DJ in real life and he seemed rather cowed to be in the lion's den so to speak. He didn't say anything confrontational or particularly memorable.
Now he surfaced in a TV show broadcast from his radio studio. It was riotously un-pc with Whale using every excuse to bring scantily-clad girls into the frame. Linda Nolan regularly appeared in saucy gear as his studio assistant, the peak of her brief career as a glamour girl. He also gave a platform to pariah comedians like Bernard Manning and Stan Boardman. The programme regularly pops up on Great TV Disaster type shows for Whale's attempts to remove a seriously inebriated Wayne Hussey from the studio. Occasionally, he found time to take a few calls but rarely allowed more than a sentence before cutting them off in his usual style.
I think it ran till 1992. Whale's radio career continues to this day.
Saturday, 30 December 2017
First viewed : 26 September 1988
This is another reminder of my Prisoner Cell Block H obsession. The original mini-series about cane cutters in Queensland just prior to World War Two had passed me by but this continuation was advertised in the TV Times and I learned that Peta Toppano ( Karen Travers in Prisoner ) was joining the cast. I thought I'll have to tell Steve Taylor about this. Steve was a fairly senior colleague at work who watched Prisoner and particularly admired Peta's boobs. The problem was that I was on a three week block release at Liverpool at the time and wouldn't see him until after the series finished. I photocopied the article and, not knowing his home address, sent it to him at work. He wasn't ungrateful but somewhat bemused and it had become something of an office talking point. No one admonished me but I got the feeling it hadn't done my reputation any favours.
Anyhow I watched it and found it reasonably enjoyable. Peta played Gina, an Italian immigrant after the war who becomes mistress to one of the guys. Now in her late thirties, she did look appreciably older but was still attractive and hot in the bedroom scenes. The series mainly focused on a group of hunky guys with suitably Ausssie names like Bluey, Whacka and Jacko and highlighted historical developments such as the disastrous importation of the cane toad. I also remember one of them had a Polish wife, distressed at the post-war betrayal of her country and the Communist takeover.
I'm not sure if the third series was broadcast here; I didn't see it if it was.
Friday, 29 December 2017
First viewed : 18 September 1988
This was a two-part drama about Northern Ireland which was a co-production between Ireland, Australia and the U.S.
Patrick Bergin played Michael McGurk , an IRA supergrass who starts a new life in Australia with wife Eileen ( Lisa Harrow ). The IRA aren't too impressed and send a professional hitman from the US called Callaghan ( Elliott Gould ) to find him. Complications arise with a girl called Kathy ( Deborah Lee Furness ) who sleeps with both men. I thought it was good at the time but little of it has stayed with me. I think in the end Callaghan decides not to go through with the hit, as you might have predicted from the casting of Gould.
Thursday, 28 December 2017
First viewed : Uncertain
This long-running late night series was another great Granada contribution to the world of broadcasting. It simply cast a look at the previous week's papers with a prominent journalist preparing a script and illustrating their points with headlines and extracts read by an actor and presented on screen. It was usually fairly light in tone although certain journalists , notably inveterate leftie Paul Foot, would use the platform to push their own hobbyhorses.
I suspect I first saw an episode somewhat earlier than the autumn of 1988 but it was then that Granada put it on immediately after the Thursday episode of Prisoner Cell Block H . The one I remember was someone looking at the coverage of lager louts and disclosing that the beery guy under the headline "The Unacceptable face of Yukkie-dom" in The Sun was actually one of their own journalists.
The show eventually moved to Channel Four and then BBC2 in the nineties. It was axed in 2008 but revived as part of Radio Four's The Westminster Hour from 2010 to 2016.
Wednesday, 27 December 2017
First viewed : Autumn 1988
This had been going since 1985 but we didn't start watching it until it switched from Saturday teatimes to the Wogan slot on a Tuesday in September 1988. It was part of Noel Edmunds' TV empire and his cosy sweaters became a trademark of the programme. As the title suggests, it was a game show where families were quizzed on their knowledge of TV programmes, the age range meaning a broad sweep of TV history could be covered. In later seasons, Radio actor Charles Collingwood kept the scores and appeared on screen to be the butt of Edmunds' jokes.
It finished in 1998.
Tuesday, 26 December 2017
First viewed : 4 September 1988
Dear me, I must have been struggling for reasons not to look at my accountancy text books to end up watching this trash. This was a US mini-series based on a Judith Kranz bestseller about a young woman who becomes head of a publishing empire in New York. The cast included slumming Brit Francesca Annis, the ultra-wooden Barry Bostwick and a young Juliane Moore with the obligatory big hair. Perry King played the slimy JR-style villain.
The main role of Maxine was played by Valerie Bertinelli who was attractive but just as bad at acting as Bostwick which I suppose gave their father-daughter relationship in the story a little added credibility. The elongated scene where she has her big idea for a magazine while rolling around the furniture in her apartment was completely unwatchable.
The other thing I recall is Bostwick getting pushed off a high cliff to his death by his envious brother King. In the next scene however we learned that he was "in a coma" which had us all falling off the sofa.
Monday, 25 December 2017
First viewed : Autumn 1988
This was another Granada contribution to the night time schedule but about as far away from The Other Side of Midnight as you could get.
Pete Waterman says he came up with the idea for the show after seeing Elvis Costello talking about Irish politics on some earnest discussion show when he came home from the pub one night. The basic idea was to take the cameras into a northern nightclub and film the dancing although it was hardly a fly on the wall documentary. It was actually more like Top of the Pops without the bands.
Waterman himself was permanent host assisted by the young Michaela Strachan who was certainly eye candy but more importantly a professional presenter who could cover for her partner's constant cock-ups. Their links after each record were not really needed but then the whole point of the programme was flagrant self-promotion. I don't think anyone else came up with the "Hit Man" nickname. The musical menu of course featured plenty of Stock Aitken and Waterman material.
As well as the links, the duo orchestrated party games like "Showing Out" and "Pass The Mic" giving wannabes their 5 minutes of fleeting fame in the days before reality TV.
Its sheer awfulness did have a compulsive element. It wasn't my sort of music at all but there was a fascination to it and the programmes probably have some value now as cultural documents if you edit out the hosts.
The one saving grace is that I think it did hasten the end of the SAW reign of terror. You really can't be an arbiter of kids' tastes if you're going to be regularly exposing yourself as a sweaty , incompetent , embarrassing uncle at a party.
The show ran until 1992.
Sunday, 24 December 2017
First viewed : 31 August 1988
This was another Def II series. It was a simple idea, just take an artist who'd been around a while and let them review their career for half an hour with appropriate clips. Unfortunately for me, it was on when my Dad was giving a piano lesson so I only saw the last episode with John Lydon. I remember my sister talking about going to the pub in the hope of watching the one with Spandau Ballet but it didn't happen.
Lydon of course proved an excellent subject once you ceased to be distracted by a ridiculous hairstyle and over-sized suit with free potshots at Malcolm McLaren, Alex Cox , Bowie, Sting Spandau Ballet and Bros.
Saturday, 23 December 2017
First viewed : 17 August 1988
Crimewatch File was a spin-off from Crimewatch, a series of 50 minute documentaries giving an in depth account of a successful investigation that had featured on the programme. It was not necessary for Crimewatch to have played a significant role in cracking the case.
The first one I saw was about the Railway Murders, a particularly nasty series of rapes and murders of young women near railway stations in the south of England in the early eighties.
The others I remember are :
- The murder of Police Sargent Keith Speed in Leeds which happened while I was living there but wasn't solved until I was back in Littleborough
- The murder of Karen Price, a young girl released from a care home in Cardiff. Her remains went indiscovered for some years and she had to be identified from a facial reconstruction. The bizarre thing about that one was that the guy who came forward to identify her turned out to have been involved in her death.
- A young murderer in Shipley who aroused his girlfriend's suspicions by his sudden enthusiasm for watching Crimewatch when he was "on".
- An investigation into paedophiles led by the notorious Sidney Cook. That was an odd one because it was launched after a rapist started passing on details of jail cell conversations with his paedo cell mate. It was strange because the eventual outcome was that a number of the man's accomplices, who were already in jail, got their sentences reduced because the confessions allowed them to shift more of the blame onto him. It seemed like something of an own goal really.
Friday, 22 December 2017
First viewed : 26 July 1988
This was a provocatively-titled Channel Four documentary about eight young people in Leeds ranging from a would-be yuppie to an unemployable punk known only as Scum. The programme had no overarching narration, letting the subjects tell their own story. I recall Scum saying that things would tick over nicely as long as they kept the benefits coming . I wonder what he's not doing these days. There was also a young lady whose name I can't recall who got by, swinging her very considerable assets at a seedy club.
Thursday, 21 December 2017
First viewed : 1988
This was another game show adapted from an American programme by Scottish Television . Contestants answered a simple general knowledge question to get a spin of a wheel offering various points totals , prizes or the odd forfeit. It also allowed them to pick a letter for what was basically a game of Hangman. The contestant with the most points had a shot at winning a car in the Final.
The original host was new Radio One DJ Nicky Campbell who, round about the same time this show first aired, had been given carte blanche to completely throw over the old Richard Skinner /David Jensen/ Janice Long audience for the evening slot. Instead of The Smiths and Jesus and Mary Chain, Nicky brought you the new ones from The Kinks, Carole King and Van Morrison. As you can imagine, I wasn't very well disposed towards this bumptious little yuppie twerp. For the first series, he was assisted by a black girl Angela Ekaette but she was soon replaced by Scots lass Carol Smillie who rose to fame on the back of the programme.
Campbell eventually left the show in 1996 and subsequent hosts included Bradley Walsh and John Leslie. It was downgraded to a daytime slot in 1999 and axed in 2001.
Wednesday, 20 December 2017
First viewed : Summer 1988
I don't think I ever saw an episode of this from start to finish but it was part of those early night time schedules alongside Prisoner Cell Block H and The Other Side of Midnight . Phil Donahue's talk show had been running since 1970 in the US and was one of the first to encourage audience participation. By the time we got to see it, the celebrity guests seemed to have been phased out and Donahue's topics had narrowed down to one thing, neatly summed up by my college friend Mark's question "Does Donahue talk about anything other than sex ? ". Well not if the trailers were anything to go by, no.
In the nineties , he was superseded by the likes of Oprah Winfrey and the show was finally cancelled in 1996.
Tuesday, 19 December 2017
First viewed : 21 July 1988
This was a short series of five set piece interviews , late night on BBC One ,conducted by the unctuous Esther Rantzen. Naturally one of them was an expert on child abuse ( a doctor from the US ), part of Rantzen's ongoing campaign to try and make us forget that she was a home-wrecker.
The only one I watched was the interview with Sheena Easton , an orgy of mutual back-slapping with Rantzen relentlessly harping on about The Big Time as if anyone needed reminding that's how Easton launched her career. You could almost feel sorry for Easton were she not such an arrogant , self-centred bitch herself, completely clueless as to why she's not loved here.
Monday, 18 December 2017
First viewed : 10 October 1988
This was a two-part US dramatization of the life ( well the interesting bits ) of Anna Anderson, the woman who claimed that she was the Grand Duchess Anastasia having escaped the execution of the Romanov family in 1918. DNA testing since the series was made has proved that Anderson was actually a Polish munitions worker who survived a nasty accident but I think most people accepted she was a fraud before that.
The miniseries muddied the waters even further by fictionalising parts of Anderson's story. All the Romanovs who got out of Russia rejected her claim but here you had Jan Necklas, playing Erich, a young prince who takes up her cause, a completely fictitious character. Anderson was not an attractive woman at all but the gorgeous Amy Irving was cast in the role. Mind you, she was still a better fit than Omar Sharif as the Czar.
It was enjoyable enough if you didn't take it seriously. It's also notable for the last screen appearance of Rex Harrison as Anna's nemesis, Prince Kyril.
Sunday, 17 December 2017
First viewed : July 1988
This was part of Janet Street- Porter's re-vamp of the BBC's youth programming, going out under the DEF II strand on BBC 2. The Rough Guide series of tourist guidebooks had been started six years earlier by Mark Ellingham and this was the TV equivalent. In some ways the show was a direct replacement for the axed No Limits though of course the locations were somewhat further away and the music featured was genuinely local- no more Huey Lewis and the News ! The presenters were Street-Porter's protege, the perma-shaded Magenta De Vine who'd worked with Sigue Sigue Sputnik and the arrogant Sankha Guha. Both cut their teeth on Network 7 and the show's fast cutting style reflected that. Despite the annoying presenters, it was a good show which didn't shy away from the darker side of the destinations such as highlighting Dublin's spiralling heroin problem or exposing the Yugoslav band Laibach as Croatian fascists.
The success of the first season led to a bigger budget and expansion to Rough Guide To The World, Rough Guide To The World's Journeys .... Islands and so on. Rajan Datar replaced Guha in 1992 then he was replaced with former Brookside actor Simon O' Brien in 1995. It survived the scrapping of the Def II umbrella but took a three year break after 1996 before returning for one series with Edith Bowman and Dimitri Doganis in 1999. There was a revival on Channel 5 with De Vine restored as a presenter which ran from 2007 to 2008.
Saturday, 16 December 2017
First viewed : Summer 1988
This is another mini-milestone as the first programme that I mainly saw on tape.
In the summer of 1988 , I got into the habit of getting a curry on the way home from the pub and then watching ITV into the early hours when this one was broadcast. You watched it in sheer disbelief that in a country the size of America they couldn't find someone a little more hip to present it.
Casey Kasem was the son of Lebanese immigrants who made his name on radio where he presented America's Top 40 from 1970 onwards. He also had a middling career as an actor where his most famous role was the voice of Shaggy on Scooby Doo. America's Top 10 was a spin-off from the radio show and Kasem called the shots. By the time ITV started showing it he was a middle-aged square in a cosy cardigan with Hughie Green swinging arm gestures and a corny showbiz catchphrase "Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars". It seemed like a joke but he was deadly serious.
Staying up late soon lost its attraction but when we got a VCR some 18 months later I'd often end up recording the programme, usually in tandem with something else, and then fast forward to the songs I liked. The show ran on until 1992 just catching the beginning of grunge with Casey announcing Smells Like Teen Spirit as " Nirvana with that song where you can't make out the lyrics",
Casey himself cancelled the show in order to launch a new format. He died of dementia in 2014.
Friday, 15 December 2017
First viewed : June 1988
This six-part documentary series was a showcase for the charitable project Operation Raleigh set up, originally as Operation Drake, by Colonel John Blashford-Snell with the patronage of Prince Charles. The idea was to select a number of young people from various countries, often from deprived communities, put them on board a large ship and sail them round the world to get involved in scientific research or Peace Corps- style community projects. I didn't watch much of it because I was too jealous of those taking part.
The programme helped to put the project on a permanent basis and it became the sustainable development charity Raleigh International in 1992.
Thursday, 14 December 2017
First viewed : 10 June 1988
The European Championships came round again and England qualified this time although probably wished they hadn't as they lost all three of their group games. Ireland beat them 1-0 in the first game then they were thrashed 3-1 in the other two games against Holland and the Soviet Union. It seems astonishing today that Bobby Robson kept his job after that. The main fall guy was the young Tony Adams who was absolutely destroyed by Marco Van Basten as he plundered a hat-trick but Adams proved able to shoulder it and become a stalwart in the nineties. On the other hand it was the end of the line for press darling Glenn Hoddle who marked his final England appearance with a dreadful error that let in the Soviets to score after only 3 minutes. Jack Charlton's Ireland by contrast had a good tournament, drawing with the Soviets and only narrowly being squeezed out by the Dutch.
In the other group Denmark matched England's dismal showing with their supposed superstar Michael Laudrup looking uninterested. Italy and Germany went through.
The Dutch, fielding two former First Division players you'd forgotten about in Hans Van Breukelen and 37-year old Arnold Muhren, went on to win their first international tournament beating the Soviets 2-0 in the Final. Prior to the tournament, all eyes were on their captain Ruud Gullitt , now challenging Maradona for the World's best player accolade, but even he was outshone by Van Basten who crowned a superb tournament with a contender for best ever international goal in the Final. Sadly, an ankle injury forced him out of the game just five years later.
Wednesday, 13 December 2017
First viewed : May 1988
Over four weeks in May 1988, BBC Two broadcast highlights of a special 13 hour concert to k'mark the 40th anniversary of Atlantic Records at New York's Madison Square Gardens. Most of the artists were either veteran soulsters or prog rock and therefore not my cup of tea but I did catch Emerson and Palmer ( with Robert Berry standing in for the estranged Greg Lake ) doing America with trademark showmanship and eighties hairstyles.
Tuesday, 12 December 2017
First viewed : Summer 1988
This was a late night Channel 4 music show presented by Tim Graham and Nicky Horne. It was aimed very much at the Q-buying rock fan rather than younger music fans and seemed like a throwback to the days of the Old Grey Whistle Test. It was roundly attacked in Record Mirror with particular venom directed at Horne.
I never stayed in for it but usually caught some of it when I came in from the pub. I remember the feature on Brian Wilson and his involvement with controversial doctor , Eugene Landy. It also introduced me to 10,000 Maniacs for which I'm grateful.
It only lasted the one series.
Monday, 11 December 2017
First viewed : 2 May 1988
This was a Bank Holiday documentary tracking the tempestuous story of Fleetwood Mac, resurgent once more with the success of Tango in the Night. The story has of course been told in full or in part a fair few times since so it's not easy to recall which bits were in which programme. What I do recall strongly about this one was that it concluded with an audio interview with founding genius Peter Green at a low point in his long struggle with mental illness. Green didn't want to be filmed though he was able to speak reasonably coherently. He did allow the inclusion of a few still photos taken during the interview showing a bloated, dishevelled man in a shabby duffel coat with grotesquely long fingernails which he seemed to be using as an excuse not to pick up a guitar again. It was a very downbeat ending to a supposedly celebratory programme.
Sunday, 10 December 2017
First viewed : 16 April 1988
This was a weekend football festival held at Wembley to celebrate 100 years of the Football League. The League decided to invite 16 teams to participate in a knockout tournament based on form over the last few months including one from each of the lower divisions. This had the unhappy accident of excluding the four biggest London clubs with a consequent effect on attendance. One notable absentee was Nottingham Forest manager Brian Clough who didn't turn up to see his side in action on the Saturday.
The undoubted stars were Fourth Division Tranmere Rovers whose qualifying run of form had begun with a 6-1 thrashing of Rochdale on a miserable Friday evening. Perhaps helped by the 40 minute format, they put out Wimbledon and Newcastle on their run to the semi-final where Forest beat them on penalties. A majority of games actually went to penalties in the opening round.
With only four teams involved on the Sunday, the attendance shrunk to a miserable 17,000. It boiled down to a 60 minute Final between Forest and Sheffield Wednesday. With the atmosphere akin to a morgue, the two teams played the most boring sterile match since the Germany v Austria stitch-up in 1982. It finished 0-0 and Forest won on penalties.
The whole thing was something of an embarrassment to the Football League and it's tempting to see it as a significant milestone on the road to the formation of the Premier League just four years later
Saturday, 9 December 2017
First viewed : 11 April 1988
This was a series of documentaries shown over successive nights which sought to examine the prevalence of racism in British society by a series of experiments. In one example , a young white guy answered an ad for a flat and the landlady was happy to have him. Then his black mate answered the ad and got a different reception. The offender was then challenged about their attitude. I think I only saw the first one.
Friday, 8 December 2017
First viewed : 9 April 1988
This famous late night Channel Four discussion show began in 1987 but I didn't catch it until the one about horse racing which was broadcast on the same day as the Grand National. The host was , yet again, Tony Wilson, although this changed regularly. Among the guests were the Duchess of Argyll , some Communist guy and racing pundit John McCririck. I already loathed McCririck as a tiresome professional eccentric but hitherto I'd no idea that he was a hate figure in Liverpool for his right wing views about the city's problems. He lost no time in reiterating them ; his main bugbear seemed to be that Liverpudlians had played no part in securing the future of Aintree racecourse after a decade of uncertainty because they were all workshy scroungers. Naturally, our Commie friend didn't see eye to eye wit him on that. The Duchess sat patiently through that until Wilson invited her to expound her views on overuse of the whip. She said she didn't like it and then buggered off. McCririck the toady cried "Stand for Her Grace !" which Wilson and most of the other guests obeyed but the Communist stayed put in his seat.
The other one I recall was about press intrusion and ethics and was dominated by recently disgraced ex-Tory MP Harvey Proctor who'd been caught out with underage rent boys. The programme brought him face to face with some of his persecutors in the press. Proctor's a scary looking bloke anyway but the looks he was giving them suggested he could pull a knife out any moment. Although the only sympathy he got on the programme came from Christine Keeler , his steadiness under fire did lead to increased investment in his new shirt selling venture. I also recall gossip columnist Nina Myskow's striking admission that the story, of her going to bed with a contestant, twenty years her junior, in a male beauty contest she was judging, was actually true.
In both cases , I think I only watched the first thirty minutes or so. It was just on too late and with no scheduled end time you could end up watching it until the early hours.
The series is most infamous for Oliver Reed's appearance in 1991 when he gave an unwanted kiss to a dowdy feminist he referred to as "Big Tits" and got asked to leave the show. It was axed , amid much protest, by Michael Grade in 1991 though sporadic revivals have taken place.
Thursday, 7 December 2017
First viewed : 5 April 1988
Having missed the first series featuring my walking hero due to not having access to a TV in Leeds I did catch some of this second series he made with farmer and broadcaster Eric Robson. I should include the caveat that he wasn't quite as big a hero to me as before, the revelations of his somewhat bitter worldview and shabby treatment of his first wife in the recently-published Ex-Fellwanderer having somewhat taken the shine away.
Still it was reasonably enjoyable to see and hear the old guy even though the series was about somewhere I'd never walked and didn't have any plans to visit. I remember them visiting Cape Wrath in Sutherland and Robson having to intervene to stop the now visually impaired octogenarian from wandering over the edge of a cliff.
A repeat of the first series followed shortly afterwards.
Wednesday, 6 December 2017
First viewed : 16 March 1988
This was a BBC Two documentary series of seven separate films chronicling some aspect of life in the north. I had a special interest in the fifth film in the series which gave a platform to cultural historian Robert Hewison to expound his views on the "heritage industry".
I'd noted a review of Hewison's recent book The Heritage Industry in The Guardian and ordered a copy from the library. At the time I was active in Littleborough Civic Trust and Hewison seemed to be attacking everything we were trying to do in terms of realising the town's tourist potential. Hewison's argument was that pouring money into heritage projects encouraged a rosy-eyed view of the past and acceptance of industrial decline and public funds should be diverted to supporting more challenging ( and usually left wing ) areas of the arts. To be fair he wasn't attacking the voluntary sector apart from the National Trust but didn't want to acknowledge that the impetus for heritage projects often came from ordinary local people. I wrote a scathing review of the book for the Littleborough Civic Trust Newsletter.
Hewison had a special contempt for the Wigan Pier Experience , one of the first museums to use live actors as part of the exhibitions. I must confess that always put me off going but it is sad to see the buildings standing forlorn and derelict since it closed in 2007.
Tuesday, 5 December 2017
First viewed : 9 March 1988
That William G Stewart was a contrary cove. As well as hosting Fifteen To One, the producer of that most materialistic show The Price Is Right also produced this series of six state-of-the-nation plays for Channel Four which were decidedly critical of Thatcherism. The series was split over two seasons in 1987 and 1988.
I only saw the last one Everyone A Winner , because it was written by Barry Pilton whose humorous account of walking the Pennine Way, One Man and His Bog I'd recently enjoyed.
The play posited a world where Thatcherism ran on unchecked for decades and starred Jonathan Pryce as a well-meaning vicar trying to hold on to traditional cultural values in a world of rampant philistinism. He's relieved when his son gets a job at the British Museum then finds it consists of breaking up the exhibits and selling off the chunks to the highest bidder. Anna Carteret played his wife, a private nurse whose services go beyond medical care ( there was a brief glimpse of her boobs ).
Sunday, 3 December 2017
First viewed : February 1988
This was a short series of seven broadcasts from an alternative comedy club in Battersea on BBC 2. It was the first time I saw Arthur Smith ( the funniest in my opinion ), Tony Hawks, Simon Fanshawe, Joan Collins Fan Club and Ian Saville ( above. He must have watched his step when he ventured into Belfast ).
Saturday, 2 December 2017
First viewed : 21 February 1988
Another watershed here. Prisoner Cell Block H is the last programme with which I became really obsessed, to the point where my friends and colleagues became aware of it.
Prisoner Cell Block H was the brainchild of Australian media mogul Reg Grundy whose organisation was also responsible for Neighbours and The Young Doctors . Unlike those soaps , the adult content and violence in the show made it unsuitable for daytime viewing so it had to wait until the advent of nighttime TV to get a UK airing. It had actually finished in Australia by the time we saw it here. In Australia it was simply called Prisoner ; the Cell Block H was added here to avoid confusion with the sixties classic which is why there are very few references to Block H in the show. It must have had an odd resonance to viewers in Northern Ireland where the word "H-Block" has a very different connotation.
Prisoner Cell Block H was an ideal schedule filler for the ITV regions but the show was never networked. I think Central TV started showing it six months before Granada. The timeslot varied but it was never on before 10.30pm and usually started before midnight. It was usually on three nights a week. It was often introduced by a continuity guy - I think he was called Colin Weston - who would always smirk about it which really got up my nose.
I first caught it by accident coming home from the pub one Sunday night and wondered what on earth I was watching. It was the melodramatic third episode where the feud for top dog status between fearsome redhead Bea Smith and butch biker Frankie Doyle culminates in a riot, during which the prison social worker Bill Jackson , husband to saintly warder Meg is stabbed with a pair of scissors. I quickly picked up that it was Australian and idly wondered if Peita Toppano ( see Return To Eden ) was in it. When the cast list came up I saw that she was although I hadn't spotted her.
I had to tune in to the next episode and quickly identified her , minus the dyed red hair she'd sported as Jilly Stewart, as out of place middle class murderess Karen Travers. The episode also revealed the murderess to be rough prostitute Chrissie Latham out of jealousy. I wanted to watch more but I was getting up too early for block release in Liverpool and so I missed the next few months. The series got its first celebrity endorsement when Paul Morley said he loved it on The Other Side of Midnight.
By the time I returned to it in the summer, Frankie was gone and there was a new male deputy governor Jim Fletcher. Karen was being let out to attend a university course. Two storylines grabbed me, the plight of an old woman, Edie, who brought out Jim's softer side and the murder of a child killer , Bella , in the prison bathrooms. From that point on I was hooked. Shortly afterwards there was a small feature in the TV Times about a Prisoner Cell Block H Fan Club and I joined that although my introductory pack was held up by a national postal strike.
I soon found an ally at work in Steve, our Financial Resources Analyst, who was watching it regularly although in a fairly ironic way. He found it hard to believe I hadn't picked up that the episodes we were watching dated back to the seventies from the clothing. Others were just baffled at my enthusiasm for it. Most harped on about the low production values; Susan who was then married to a builder , couldn't see past the cardboard walls. Mike H was very amused by the idea of the fan club and enquired if he could get a signed poster of Noeline, a spectacularly ugly inmate.
The Fan Club turned out to be run by a lesbian couple from Derby. They were trying to get some co-operation from the Grundy Organisation but having cancelled the series two years earlier, its makers didn't want to know and ignored them. They finally got a break when Sheila Florence who played the endearing, drink-loving old lag Lizzie Birdsworth got in touch with them and opened doors to her fellow cast members. The magazine you got was interesting but given that they lived in the Central region they should have taken more care about spoilers; I was reading about the grisly fates of characters who hadn't yet appeared.
In the autumn Karen's story took centre stage as she got parole and then became manager of a halfway house to help re-integrate those women who'd been released back into society. At the same time she was having an on/off relationship with the prison doctor Greg. This culminated in a melodramatic incident where Karen was shot and her life was in the balance but she recovered to marry Greg ( Toppano and the actor Barry Quinn were married in real life ) and leave the series for good.
By that time, it had become that the series was actually very popular despite the timeslot and the networking issue. I was told that the CB radio network went dead during broadcasts. A woman's magazine ran a four week " Where Are They Now ?" series on some of the main stars and so I ended up buying that and bringing it in to work for Steve. Our lunchtime dinner table was actually more interested in the problem page which strangely featured a lot of guys writing in about their sexual problems. In 1989 the limpid theme tune On The Inside was a number 3 hit here for Lynne Hamilton. There were books too, a couple of novelisations and a behind the scenes story by one Hilary Kingsley which was riddled with errors.
Then the series attracted its most unlikely convert of all; my dad started coming in to watch it. We'd grown somewhat apart by then but at least we had something to share in the latter part of his life . God knows what its appeal was to a backward-looking Irishman in his sixties who was usually only interested in classical music and cricket but you can never fully understand someone else's tastes can you.
At the tail end of 1989, I went to The Palace in Manchester to see a stage play based on the series, mainly the Frankie Doyle storyline with Brit stalwart Joanna Monroe playing her, which featured a sprinkling of original cast members. The party included my college friend Mark who was very dismissive of the series as "just melodrama" but he came along for a laugh. It wasn't much cop; neither Elspeth Ballantyne ( Meg Morris ) nor Patsy King ( first governess Erica Davidson ) seemed to have any stage presence at all.
The Fan Club had a major boost when Val Lehman who played Bea Smith got in touch and was willing to come over to the UK . The girls were able to come off the dole and manage a P.A. tour of the country for her. I remember her appearing on Granada Upfront to spout off about gay equality. They repeated the trick with Betty Bobbitt who played token American Judy Bryant but then came a cropper when they invited Amanda Muggleton who played Chrissie . She was poached for pantomime work as soon as she got off the plane leaving them high and dry. Their enterprise and then relationship failed and the Fan Club finished before the series did.
The high watermark of my obsession with the series came around Easter 1991 with a storyline where Bea, who'd lost her daughter to drugs , tries to help a young drug addict called Donna played by the sadly-deceased Arkie Whiteley. It's in vain though and Donna dies from a tampered fix, leaving Bea distraught once more . The storyline profoundly affected me for the next year and I wrote a screenplay based on it envisaging Patsy Kensit as Donna and Kylie Minogue as her friend Suzie I've still got it if anyone's interested in bringing it to the screen ?
That was getting towards the end of Bea Smith's time on the show. Behind the scenes she'd fallen out with Grundy and she was written out rather tamely with a transfer to another prison arranged by her nemesis, evil lesbian warder Joan "the Freak " Ferguson. It was never quite the same without her. There was a dismal period where she was replaced by an awful character called Minnie, a sort of latterday Fagin that everyone hated. The writers then found a Bea-substitute in Myra Desmond , previously an occasional character as head of the Prison Reform Group , who came in and resumed the battle with the Freak.
Myra was eventually killed off in a terrorist seige and my interest waned. It became more of a ritual after that to tape the episodes for my dad who couldn't manage the late nights any more and see it through to the finish. Between them, the Fan Club magazines and the Kingsley book had given me a good idea of the major events to come and I was ticking off the arrival of the necessary characters to enable them to happen . Repetition was creeping in with plotlines that were blatant retreads of earlier ones. I hated the last top dog Rita Connors, the gangly giant and her motorcycle gang and only the miserly-mouthed Ray Meagher, in the last of three villainous turns , as psychotic governor Ernest Craven brightened up the tail end of the series.
At last it finished in February 1995 with the Freak getting her final comeuppance as Connors lures her into a police sting and the Department seemingly agreeing to turn the prison into a holiday camp. There was a brief phone interview with Maggie Kirkpatrick who played Ferguson, before the final episode which I taped and still have.
When Channel Five launched two years later it began repeating the series nightly from Episode One which allowed me to catch up on everything I'd missed. This was just before I got married. My wife had also been a big fan of the series and we used to watch it occasionally in the early days but not beyond Bea's departure. I've not seen any of the reboot as Wentworth. Some things are better just left as a memory.
Friday, 1 December 2017
First viewed : February 1988
Towards the end of 1987, 24 hour TV became a reality on ITV. Granada rejected the London-based Night Network and went its own way. One of its offerings was this late night arts magazine presented by, you guessed it, Tony Wilson ( did he ever leave the building ? )
He didn't have much of a budget but he was free to promote what he liked which of course meant a lot of Factory acts, something Paul Morley called him out on when he appeared on the programme. He also had the good luck that he got the gig just as his home city became the centre of a new music explosion and Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, Inspiral Carpets and A Guy Called Gerald all got early exposure on the programme.
I used to put it on when I'd got back from the pub so it's perhaps not too surprising that I don't recall too many specific features. I do recall him having Robert Elms on and haranguing him about his championing of Spandau Ballet and the New Romantics - "the most vapid era in music". Some might argue "vapid" was a pretty good word to describe the bulk of Factory's output that didn't involve anyone surnamed Hook or Ryder but we'll let that pass.
The show ran from 1988 to 1989.
Thursday, 30 November 2017
First viewed : February 1988
I recall this Olympics for one thing only -the exploits of Eddie "the Eagle" Edwards , the plucky British amateur who became the first British ski jumper at an Olympics since 1929. With limited training due to lack of funding, Eddie still qualified fair and square at the 1987 World Championship and became a media sensation. As a friend of mine commented "he looks like the guy that gets sand kicked in his face" which added to his underdog appeal. Edie predictably finished last in both his events and the spoilsports on the Olympic committee changed the rules to make it difficult for him ( Eddie failed to qualify in 1992, 1994 and 1998 ) , or anyone of his ilk, to qualify again but he remains a legend.