Sunday, 22 October 2017
First viewed : Uncertain
For a long time after its launch . I deliberately boycotted this series because it was an extension of his intrusive American chart spot on Top of the Pops which I resented as it denied British acts just outside the Top 40 a priceless slot on the programme and often promoted US hits that had hitherto been struggling to make an impression here. That's what presenter Jonathan King was all about; a resentful anti-patriot belittling everything Britain had to offer and proclaiming the superiority of our former colony's culture.
I think it was probably around 1987 that, softened up by Dallas and Dynasty , we started to watch it semi-regularly. It was a well put-together magazine show with King an under-rated interviewer whose irreverent style paved the way for the likes of Louis Theroux. It was also good for previewing stuff that was inevitably going to come our way; I remember first hearing about Twin Peaks on the show. I recall one uninspiring evening when my Mum and I agreed that Entertainment USA was actually the best thing on that night.
Famously, the show came to grief in 1989 when Janet Street-Porter became head of Youth Programming on BBC Two and promptly axed both this and No Limits , describing them as "dreadful". There were stories of King chasing her down the corridor to protest but it was to no avail.
Saturday, 21 October 2017
First viewed : May / June 1987
I would probably have seen this sooner except that it was usually scheduled directly against Coronation Street. Probably the first one I saw was the repeat episode on 1968 which was broadcast early on Spring Bank Holiday Monday in 1987. Fortunately for me, the third season covering the years in which I was most interested, 1972-80, was broadcast at 8pm.
The series was a development of a Radio One series, 25 Years of Rock , which simply intercut contemporary news bulletins with the records of the day. The Rock 'n' Roll Years had more leeway to match visuals with an appropriate record such as matching footage of dodgy Pakistan premier Bhuttto to Thin Lizzy's Don't Believe A Word. The most striking juxtaposition I can recall is from the 1969 episode, with a performance by Marsha Hunt of Walk on Gilded Splinters cut with footage of the aftermath of the Sharon Tate massacre.
When it came to the years I knew best, inevitably I sometimes disagreed with the selections. I'm still flabbergasted that the 1973 episode somehow omitted to use Part of the Union when covering the industrial unrest that year.
Some of the captioning was a bit slapdash. The 1983 episode covering that year's election had a caption that read "The Liberal and Social Democratic Parties form an alliance" which had actually happened in 1981. And I've just noticed that the caption above is incorrect; there were only five victims* and only three of them were Sharon Tate's friends, the fifth being a friend of the caretaker who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The series stopped at 1989 in a fourth series broadcast in 1994.
* unless you include Sharon Tate's unborn child
Thursday, 19 October 2017
First viewed : 3 May 1987
I didn't think I'd caught the first episode of this but I do recall seeing its most controversial item, the presenter Sankha Guha making a fake cash card Blue Peter -style and then successfully extracting money from a cashpoint machine with it. I never watched it regularly as I often had better things to do on a Sunday but I remember a sympathetic feature on All About Eve in early 1988 which helped turn me on to them.
Network 7 was created by Jane Hewland and Janet Street-Porter and broadcast at noon on a Sunday lunchtime on Channel Four. It was aimed at a youth audience with fresh young presenters, a fast editing style and a focus on entertainment news rather than social problems.
It only lasted 18 months but it was influential and helped land Street-Porter a plum job with the Beeb the following year.
Wednesday, 18 October 2017
First viewed : 13 May 1987
This was a dark and demanding drama from Channel 4 based on a novel by Scottish crime writer Frederic Lindsay. Anyone unfamiliar with the book who claimed that they knew what was going on after the first episode was a liar.
Brond marked the screen debut of John Hannah as Robert, a callow Glasgow University student who witnesses the callous murder of a young boy in broad daylight by a man who conspiratorially winks at him as he goes by . The man we later learn is called Brond ( Stratford Johns ) and he keeps popping up in odd places as Robert's life descends into nightmare. At first, Brond does not interact with any other character and the story takes on an hallucinatory quality but once one of Robert's fellow lodgers turns up dead, the story becomes much more political in tone. There's a side dish of Kafka as Robert realises he's at the mercy of forces beyond his control.
There aren't too many sympathetic characters although you feel for Robert in his hopeless pursuit of Margaret ( Louise Beattie ) who clearly doesn't give a shit about him. This is paralleled by the story of Primo ( James Cosmo ) a deluded Scottish nationalist and hard man with a blind faith in Brond that is almost childlike.
The resolution left many questions unanswered as you always suspected it might. My twopennyworth is that it was a political fable with Brond the embodiment of the perfidious Englishman exploiting Scotland when it suited him. In this interpretation, Primo was your typical Scots S.A.S. man killing to order to sustain a system that didn't benefit him at all.
I enjoyed it but could have lived without seeing Stratford Johns in his underpants ( as seen above ).
Monday, 16 October 2017
First viewed : May 1987
This was the first general election of my working life and a senior officer of the council I worked for was standing for Labour in my constituency. As the history books tell us, Margaret Thatcher won a third and final term as Prime Minister with a scarcely dented majority. Labour under Neil Kinnock improved on Michael Foot's showing in 1983 but not significantly so despite a much more impressive campaign.
The result was far more significant for the Liberal-SDP Alliance. Their share of both votes and seats fell , though not disastrously so, after the campaign exposed significant differences between the SDP's leader David Owen and Liberal leader David Steel. The former SDP leader Roy Jenkins lost his Glasgow seat to a young George Galloway and Shirley Williams and Bill Rodgers were defeated in their final attempts to return to the Commons. All three of them backed the calls for a merger after the election. Owen decided to resist them and brought the curtain down on his political career. I had let my membership of the SDP lapse after graduating but I decided to rejoin after the result and voted for the merger a few months later.
Saturday, 14 October 2017
First viewed : 5 May 1987
This mini-series was the sequel to A Woman of Substance . Both were based on novels by Barbara Taylor Bradford about a woman Emma Harte, who rises from humble beginnings to head a vast business empire and take revenge on the gentry family that abused her. Deborah Kerr resumed her role as the elderly Emma with Jenny Seagrove switching to play her granddaughter instead of her younger self. However, Liam Neeson retained his role as her confidante Blackie , made up as an old man and talking through a voice box like a Dalek. I think it's safe to assume he doesn't view it as his finest hour. For some lost reason, I tuned into the first episode, decided it was absolute rubbish and checked out again.
First viewed : April 1986
This is a bit out of sequence but when doing a bit of research on the series I realised I must have seen it a year earlier than I thought. C.A.T.S. Eyes was a spin-off from The Gentle Touch taking Jill Gascoigne's Maggie Forbes character out of the police station and into a private detective agency which was really a front for a Home Office covert unit. Don Warrington from Rising Damp was the man from the Ministry. In the first series Maggie was number two on the team headed by Pru ( Rosalyn Landor ) and they were assisted by sexpot Fred ( Lesley Ash ). For the second series, Maggie was promoted to replace Pru and the glamour quotient was doubled by Tessa ( Tracy Louise Ward ).
Ward was the sister of dubiously-talented Hollywood actress Rachel Ward and it was the publicity around her entrance that prompted me to tune in as she looked pretty hot. The series was a cross between Charlie's Angels and The Professionals. There was little cross over from The Gentle Touch as the more outlandish and feminocentric storylines meant it was very different in tone.
The series was popular but expensive to make so the plug was pulled after three seasons. After the series ended Gascoigne rarely appeared on UK TV. She moved to Los Angeles with husband Alfred Molina and worked mainly in theatre. In 2009 she pulled out of a planned run in Eastenders and is now in a care home suffering from Alzheimer's Disease. Shortly after the series ended Ward married the Marquess of Worcester and soon gave up acting in favour of environmental politics. She is now the Duchess of Beufort.
Thursday, 12 October 2017
First viewed : Spring 1987
This was not the re-branded version of the Michael Barrymore game show but a drama series. I've always imagined I was watching a repeat run of the series originally broadcast in 1986 but in fact it was a second season, I didn't see enough of it to be totally sure of my ground here but it seemed to be promoting the politically sensitive idea that small shareholders actually counted for something. Its characters were a disparate group of people , including ex -Ant bassist Gary Tibbs as a would-be rock star, whose lives were only connected by having shares in a news agency and all seemed to get a happy ending. No doubt it was Maggie's favourite viewing.
Tuesday, 10 October 2017
First viewed : April 1987
Prospects was first broadcast on Channel Four in 1986. It did well there and so ITV decided to give a repeat of the series a prime time slot the following spring.
Prospects concerned the efforts of two young unemployed men, Pincy ( Gary Olsen ) and Billy ( Brian Bovell ) , living in London's Isle of Dogs , to improve their situation through a variety of ill thought out, often criminal ventures which usually leave them in a worse position than when they started. Chrissie Cotterill had a semi-regular role as Pincy's high maintenance girlfriend Mona. The programme was made by Euston Films and had a very Minder-ish feel with its 50 minute episodes and comic take on the black economy.
I remember catching episodes 3 and 4 and enjoying them. Episode 3 had the boys trying to devise a foolproof betting system around greyhound racing while Episode 4 saw them taking their girlfriends on a camping weekend and all four ending up in the same tent. Unfortunately, after that one, ITV decided the ratings weren't good enough and pushed the remaining eight episodes into a late night slot, abandoning plans for a second series.
Monday, 9 October 2017
First viewed : Uncertain
This Channel Four comedy show had been on since 1985 but I can't be certain I saw it until March 1987 when host Ben Elton had a go at Frankie Goes To Hollywood for pulling out of appearing on the show due to Holly having a cold. That was almost certainly a lie given what we know of the state of relations in the band at the time. Ben had a jibe about that well known slogan "Frankie Says I'm Feeling A Bit Sniffly" . Level 42 had stepped in at short notice and Elton want on to make a very cheap crack about them being higher in the charts at the time.
The show was based on the legendary US show Saturday Night Live , predominantly a vehicle for cutting edge comedians but also including music and the odd variety act. Like Hello Mum, it was mainly live but did include some pre-recorded material. It started with guest hosts each week but by the second series Elton had established himself as the regular host and for better or worse his right-on persona came to define the left wing comedian. Besides Ben's motormouth ranting, other features came to be regular such as Mayall and Edmondson's Dangerous Brothers act ( not very funny ) and Harry Enfield's garrulous Greek chef Stavros.
For its last series, it switched to Fridays, with appropriate change of title. That series became dominated by the success of Enfield's next character Loadsamoney, the vulgar loudmouth plasterer making a mint from the property boom. You know something's hit the mark when politicians start referring to it and the phrase became a regular feature of economic discourse in the final two years of the eighties.
Sunday, 8 October 2017
First viewed : Spring 1987
This started as a daytime show when BBC One launched its afternoon schedule in the autumn of 1986 but was promoted to an early evening slot in March 1987. As the title suggests, it was a magazine programme about clothes. It was originally presented by top fashon designer and Mr Sandie Shaw, Jeff Banks and clothes horse Selina Scott. They were joined by rather cute magazine editor Caryn Franklin who took over as main host with Banks when Scott left.
You'd be hard pressed to find anyone less interested in clothes than me but I did show some interest when they covered women's swimwear.
The programme led to an annual fashion show Clothes Show Live which started in 1989 and continued when the programme was discontinued in 2000. Six years later it was resurrected on a satellite channel with Franklin resuming as one of the hosts and continues to the present day.
Saturday, 7 October 2017
First viewed : March 1987
I missed this three-part adaptation ( by the ever-reliable Brian Clemens ) of a Gavin Lyall novel the first time round in 1984 and I think I missed the beginning of the repeat run in 1987 but I was soon hooked. One reason for that was the terrific theme tune by Dave Greenslade, one of my all time favourites.
Charles Dance played Harry Maxim an SAS officer assigned to protect Professor Tyler a visiting nuclear scientist with a nasty wartime secret. Tyler was played by Dan O'Herlihy, always a reliable villain. The KGB are also interested in the visit and Harry has to tangle with an old adversary, Komoscin ( Constantine Gregory ) , the pair having an almost friendly relationship.
I can't recall all the plot details but I remember it turned out that Tyler had resorted to cannibalism in extremis during World War Two. After discovering the secret, Maxim pulls him away from a banquet and when Tyler protests, Maxim drily remarks "I think you've eaten enough".
Friday, 6 October 2017
First viewed : 3 March 1987
Previously best known for The Slab Boys ( covered in the Play for Today post ) , this was John Byrne's first full TV series though he'd written some episodes of Crown Court in the meantime.
The series was made by BBC Scotland and starred Robbie Coltrane in a dual role as Danny and Jazza McGlone. Danny is the younger, but physically very similar, brother to Jazza and comes home from New York for the latter's funeral after he's killed in a car crash. Jazza has been the lead singer for The Majestics, a rock and roll band who've been going for 25 years without ever making the big time and were about to set off on their Silver Jubilee tour. Because of the physical resemblance, the group's devious manager Eddie Clockerty ( Richard Wilson ) drafts Danny into the band despite the violent hostility of the other members, particularly volatile guitarist Vince Diver ( Maurice Roeves ) . Tensions in the band are also inflamed by Vince cheating on his wife with a much younger girl because his wife is the sister of drummer Bomba ( Stuart McGugan from It Ain't Half Hot Mum ) . Danny bolsters his position by inviting his girlfriend Suzi Kettles ( Emma Thompson ) to join the group as well.
The series was very well received and rewarding for some of its cast but I couldn't get into it. I watched the first and last episodes but not much in between. I tuned in for the first episode because it was branded a comedy but I couldn't identify where I was supposed to laugh. The series captured the joyless toil of being in an unsuccessful act very well with many scenes consisting of petty squabbles erupting in one member's dingy sitting room or whilst cramped up in a transit van but it wasn't funny and none of the characters were particularly likeable. Vince was especially despicable and his self-immolation on stage which closed the series left me utterly unmoved. I think I'd have given him a match myself.
This was a period when Thompson could do no wrong which lasted until her self-titled show eighteen months later but a rather large stain in her copy book. Wilson and Coltrane of course got major TV roles on the back of the series.
Thursday, 5 October 2017
First viewed : 27 February 1981
As part of the government's drive to educate the public about the dangers of the AIDS virus, there were a number of programmes on the subject on both the Beeb and ITV on Friday 27 February 1987. ITV had First AIDS or "AIDS - The Variety Show" with Mike Smith introducing various pop stars and comedians to bleat on about the subject for 90 minutes . I suspect a certain Chris Morris may have been watching but we opted for Blankety Blank and Dynasty instead.
The Beeb went for a more succint 10 minute slot after the Nine O Clock News broadcast on both channels . The odd duo of Janice Long and Ian Dury presented the then known facts and half way through Dury memorably demonstrated how to put a condom on an erect penis. It's not known if notorious rock groupie Cynthia Plaster Caster was responsible for the model used but if Dury was the, erm, model he had nothing about which to be ashamed. I remember Sharon, the young junior on our team, remarking how shocked she'd been to see it.
There was a debate hosted by the dreaded Robert Kilroy-Silk on after Rockcliffe's Babies but I went with The Last Resort with Jonathan Ross instead.
Tuesday, 3 October 2017
First viewed : February 1987
Following the success of The Life and Loves of a She-Devil, BBC Two quickly followed it up with an adaptation of a novel Fay Weldon hadn't finished writing and came a cropper with a series no one liked very much and which has never been repeated.
I think the idea was to puncture the ideal of country living and show rural Britain as a nasty , unfriendly place now run by ruthless agri-barons. The vehicle for this was the story of Nataie Harris, a pampered housewife living near Glastonbury who is deserted without warning by her husband and left with two kids and no money. If I remember rightly, she has to sell herself to slimy landowner Arthur Wandle ( Derek Waring ) to survive.
Heart of the Country is at least remembered for giving a first TV role to a 12 year old Christian Bale as one of Natalie's kids. Perhaps he's paying to keep it under lock and key although I think there might have been a radio broadcasting in the background for much of it which always causes problems for DVD releases and repeats.
However , it wasn't Bale that struck me amongst the cast, it was Jacqueline Tong as Natalie's benefit buddy Sonia. I hadn't seen - or at least hadn't recognised - her since she played Daisy the attractive housemaid in Upstairs Downstairs a dozen years earlier and boy, had she gone to seed. Though not yet forty, she was now an overweight frump and Sonia was less a character than a ranting mouthpiece for Weldon's views on the iniquities of the benefit system, threatening to turn the series into Girls from the Brown Stuff. IIRC, she organised the protest at the Glastonbury Carnival which ended in someone getting killed in the last episode.
Monday, 2 October 2017
First viewed : 23 February 1987
Ah yes, I wouldn't have recalled the title of this but I remember it, a live comedy show adapted from a radio show, starring spook-eyed Helen Lederer, former Jasper Carrott sidekick Nick Wilton, Clive Mantle and Arnold Brown. Most of the show was performed in front of, and sometimes involved, a studio audience but there were some pre-recorded inserts. It was just dire and there was no second series.
Although Lederer escaped more or less unscathed, it seemed to scupper Wilton's career as a comic performer though he's still around as both a writer and an actor. Mantle of course found his metier in a straight role as Dr Mike Barrett in Casualty and Holby City.
Sunday, 1 October 2017
First viewed : February 1987
I missed this new John Sullivan comedy first time round but my Mum had caught some of it and recommended it when the first season was repeated in February 1987.
It starred Ralph Bates as the titular John , a middle aged divorcee looking to start again by joining a singles club run by overbearing Louise ( Rachel Bell ) with her prurient interest in the members' sex lives. The regulars were supposedly frigid Kate ( Belinda Lang ), chronically boring Ralph ( Peter Denyer ) and self-deceiving moron Kirk St Moritz ( Peter Blake ).
Bates seemed a strange choice to play the hapless John. He made his name as a Hammer villain in the early seventies then played the dastardly George Warleggan in Poldark . Apart from a turn as a comic French detective in Minder on the Orient Express , he had no background in comedy or sympathetic roles but was very good as John, a decent guy who can't stand up for himself.
The one episode that stands out for me is the one where Kirk sets up Ralph as DJ for a disco night as "Dazzling Darren". Unfortunately "Darren" only has one record, Shaky's Green Door so that plays continuously while Ralph reads robotically from Kirk's script of 1970s disco cliches - "Boogaloo", "Strut Your Funky Stuff " etc. As background to the other characters' conversations it was hilarious.
Dear John was surprisingly cancelled after just two series, a decision still somewhat shrouded in mystery especially as they then bought an American adaptation with Judd Hirsch shortly afterwards. I avoided that on principle but I did see a brief snatch of one episode which had Trevor Eve playing a role originally played by Kevin Lloyd.
Saturday, 30 September 2017
First viewed : 14 February 1987
This one brings the "dole era" to an end; I watched this on the Saturday night, knowing I'd be starting work on the Monday.
This was a concert recording from the The Tube team , catching the band right at the end of their halcyon period, while they were touring their last successful album Through The Barricades . As readers of my other blogs will know , I was very disappointed by the band's shift away from electronic dance music after the first album and hadn't really been a fan since but some vestigial affection remained. That was rewarded as the band closed the set with a scintillating extended version of their debut single "To Cut A Long Story Short " which sent me to bed happy ( and a little apprehensive of course ).
Friday, 29 September 2017
First viewed : 1987
I only saw brief snatches of this so I'm not qualified to say much about it. The US legal soap was noted for its high gloss production values which fix it firmly in the eighties although it did run on until 1994. It had an ensemble cast although the two main stars were undoubtedly stuffed shirt Harry Hamlin and Susan Dey from The Partridge Family although neither of them were with the show for the duration. The character I tended to notice most was Benny , the simpleminded office messenger played by Larry Drake and I wondered if he was inspired by his Crossroads namesake.
Thursday, 28 September 2017
First viewed : Uncertain
Not one to admit you ever watched, but I did take in a few episodes of the downmarket soap in its twilight, mainly to see Gregory's Girl star Dee Hepburn.
Crossroads was ATV's attempt to match Coronation Street with a soap set in a motel on the outskirts of Birmingham. It quickly became a byword for low production values with low-flying boom mikes and silent telephones being answered and was never seen as anything more than a poor relation , bumped around the schedules by ATV's rivals. However it clung gamely on to its audience for more than two decades.
The series jumped the shark in 1981 when Noele Gordon , who played the hatchet-faced owner Meg Mortimer was sacked. It was a major media event and made the front page of The Sun. I recall seeing that when I was on a walking holiday in the Lakes that June. She was replaced by the more glamorous Gabrielle Drake but the series never really recovered from her departure. Central took over from ATV in 1982 and were less committed to the series, regularly axing cast favourites like the Fred West -anticipating Benny, in a bid to kill or cure the series. It eventually came to an end in 1988. A revival featuring a handful of original characters lasted eighteen months in 2001-03.
Wednesday, 27 September 2017
First viewed : 6 February 1987
Another piece of the modern world falls into place here with the entrance of a star who's still pretty much at the top of his game.
Jonathan Ross was an unknown researcher on Channel 4 programmes such as Loose Talk and Solid Soul . Whilst working on the latter he met Alan Marke and they came up with the idea for a new chat show shamelessly based on Late Night with Letterman and formed a production company Channel X to produce a pilot. Though not the original plan, positive feedback for the lisping Ross as host led to him fronting the show.
Ross and Marke reportedly told Tom Jones it wasn't "a plug show". That's a bit rich ; most of the guests had a record / book/ film out at the time which got mentioned but it generally did try to lure the guests out of their comfort zone or zoom in on an unusual side line.
Channel 4 didn't seem to have total confidence in the new show and the first few episodes went out at half past midnight on a Friday before a good response and the willingness of more high profile guests to appear led to a more civilised 10.30 pm slot. I came in at Episode 5 attracted by the appearance of the American actor Brian Dennehy whom I admired for a while. The eccentric nature of the show was well illustrated by the shift from a serious interview with Dennehy about his new film Belly of an Architect ( not that great actually unless you're a fan of director Peter Greenaway ) to one with Maria Whittaker , a low-rent Samantha Fox , with whom Jonathan performed a parody of a scene from recent wank-fest 9 1/2 Weeks. Also on that show were modern soul group Hot House featuring the pre-fame Heather Small.
I'd never even heard of Letterman and found the show a very refreshing antidote to the likes of Wogan and Harty. The moments I particularly recall are :
- The illusionist who seemingly swallowed a length of string and then pulled it out of his stomach ( don't try that at home kids ! )
- Sarah Miles being quizzed about the drinking her own urine story
- Bonkers American actor Crispin Glover bringing along what looked like an acidhead's school project model and talking us through it
- Bernard Manning's spoof ad for his Smiths tribute LP
Besides launching Ross himself as a major star, the show is also remembered for re-vitalising a couple of music careers. Tom Jones had long been written off as a corny cabaret act and his recent musical- advertising hit A Boy From Nowhere was his first for a decade. As they didn't want him to perform that Jones suggested he did the Prince song Kiss, which he had recently worked into his live set , instead. The response was tremendous and Jones made a second appearance a few weeks later where the other guests - Terry Gilliam. Dawn French and Corrine Drewery - played along with an extended gag about his supposed reluctance to perform. Overnight he was transformed into an icon of ironic cool, a status he's more or less maintained to the present day. Though not quite as spectacularly, Donny Osmond also did himself no harm on the show with his dry humour and willingness to send himself up with the aid of Billy Bragg and Hank Wangford on a version of Puppy Love.
There was actually less of The Last Resort with Jonathan Ross than people remember, fewer than three dozen shows , most of them in 1987. Having made his mark, Ross moved on quickly to other vehicles ,showing a fleet-footedness that has served him well over the years. The legacy of the programme endures.
Tuesday, 26 September 2017
First viewed : 4 February 1987
This was a short documentary about the making of the film version of Raymond Briggs' cheery graphic novel about an old couple trying to survive a nuclear attack by following the government manual with predictably disappointing results. I haven't seen the film so I can't comment too much but I gather it was a bit one note i.e how moronic to believe what the government tell you.
Monday, 25 September 2017
First viewed : 4 February 1987
I can't find much trace of this black comic drama from Channel Four which is a shame because it was excellent.
Neil Pearson played Nick Target, the straight guy in a struggling alternative comedy trio with girlfriend Patti ( a slimline Caroline Quentin ) and her brother Victor ( Paul Bown ). At an audition for a commercial, he meets Tommy ( Charles Lawson ) who draws him into pyramid selling , which has a frightening effect on Nick's personality. Hugh Laurie and Nigel Terry are among the bad guys as the organisation is revealed to be a Scientology-like cult.
As a satire on both yuppie values and the New Age spiritualism that was supposedly replacing them, it was spot on .
Thursday, 21 September 2017
First viewed : 21 January 1987
This was a one-off documentary about the thorny issue of whether or not there were still prisoners of war being held in South East Asia. The programme focused mainly on Laos where a number of pilots flying aid to anti-communist forces in the so-called "Secret War" were shot down and captured by the Viet Cong's allies, the Pathet Lao. Most of the M.I.A.s unaccounted for seemed to be in this category. The accumulation of evidence seemed to be quite strong and even Henry Kissinger , interviewed for the programme, was careful not to entirely dismiss the possibility of surviving prisoners. The programme included an interview with a real-life Rambo figure planning incursions into remote areas of Laos from Thailand with the aid of motley remnants of the anti -communist force.
Monday, 18 September 2017
First viewed : 11 January 1987
This was all a bit strange. Between Seasons 3 and 4 of Alas Smith and Jones, Mel and Griff popped over to ITV to make a comedy series for the Sunday night slot usually occupied by Spitting Image. It took the form of the duo sitting behind a desk a la The Two Ronnies and presenting a mock-history of the world through the use of old film clips. It's probably best remembered for Griff finding some anonymous fat guy among the footage and claiming it to be one of Mel's ancestors - not exactly high brow comedy. The critics reviled it; I thought it was quite well put together and harmless wind-down entertainment.
For some reason ITV stopped the 12-part series after episode 6 ( almost certainly the last thing I watched on the night before I started work ) and presented the rest as a new series the following year. In between, the new season of Alas Smith and Jones was broadcast on BBC 2 and the first episode saw Mel and Griff ripping into the series themselves. Perhaps it was a necessary penance as the Beeb had seriously contemplated cutting them adrift for their temporary desertion but it was odd to say the least.
Sunday, 17 September 2017
First viewed : 9 January 1987
More than any other programme, this reminds me of those first few weeks of 1987 before I entered the world of work. More specifically, it reminds me of Fridays and a brief adventure which didn't seem all that significant at the time but had two big pointers for the future. In September 1986, I went to an Enrolment Day at Rochdale College looking for something that might improve my employability and signed up for a course in Public Administration there. On the first morning the tutor asked us to list our qualifications and shortly afterwards, he pulled me out, said it wasn't the right course for me and he'd arranged for me to attend a more advanced course at Bolton Institute of Higher Education. This turned out to be the second year of the qualification course for the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators, of which I wasn't a student member nor did I have a sponsoring authority so I don't know what he had arranged with regard to the fees. Anyway, I started attending the course and no one challenged my place or chased me for money. Not only did it get me more acquainted with my future place of abode, the course also had a financial accounting module which gave me a bit of a head start when studying the subject for real 12 months later. Rockliffe's Babies was the viewing highlight of the evenings after my last few attendances there.
It concerned seven young plain clothes constables working for a London crime squad under hard task master Sergeant Rockliffe ( Ian Hogg ) on a tough manor known as "The Dragon" hence the theme tune of stroppy kids chanting about social deprivation. They comprised two sensible girls Jan and Karen ( Alphonsia Emmanuel and Susannah Shelling ) , poncey graduate David ( Bill Champion ), headstrong, accident-prone Scouser Gerry ( Joe McGann ), lazy Welshman Paul ( Martyn Ellis ). slow-witted yokel Keith ( John Blakey ) and street smart Steve ( Brett Fancy ). The latter character dates the show more than anything else . Though an effective copper and good team player, Steve was also an overt racist with links to far right groups and it's inconceivable now that any such character would be allowed to go through two seasons without being made to account for such transgressions.
Though the setting was grim and bleak, there was a lot of humour in the show in the banter between the seven fledglings and with their mentor. I think it's probably the cop show that's come closest to recapturing the essence of The Sweeney. On the downside, Hogg's mannered style of acting was an acquired taste that I never really savoured and the whole series was shot on VT which didn't do it any favours.
The programme ran for two seasons before mutating into something else which I'll cover as a separate show. Apart from Shelling whose career seems to have ground to halt a decade ago they're all still acting but none have become stars, McGann having probably the highest profile now. For Champion, Ellis and Blakey as well as Shelling this was definitely the highpoint of their careers.
Saturday, 16 September 2017
First viewed : 7 January 1987
This was nothing to do with Australian soap operas but a one-off documentary about two female footballers, Kerry Davis and Rose Reilly. At the time, the women's game seemed to be defined by the Not The Nine O Clock News sketch with Smith and Jones as two pervs sitting through a really inept display for the shirt-swapping at the end. That may have been an exaggeration but there was certainly no money in it so Kerry from Crewe and Rose from Kilmarnock had to up sticks and sign semi-professionally for Italian clubs, Lazio and AC Milan respectively. Rose had actually been playing in Italy for over a decade but Kerry hadn't taken any Italian lessons beforehand and was struggling to settle. I remember doing a radio interview and tetchily asking them "Do you not think I would speak Italian if I could ?" The programme climaxed with a game between the two sides ; I can't recall who came out on top.
Despite her issues Kerry did play for four seasons in Italy for Lazio and Napoli before returning to the UK and is remembered as a top England international as the women's game rose in status. Rose played on until she was forty and appeared for both Scotland and Italy , winning the women's world cup with the latter in 1984.
Friday, 15 September 2017
First viewed : 7 January 1987
This was ITV's belated attempt to match BBC One's long-running A Question of Sport. The teams of sporting celebrities had to navigate their way around a Trivial Pursuits-style board answering questions relating to their own sport or others, depending where they landed. Like its rival Sporting Triangles started with two teams of three under resident captains Jimmy Greaves and Tessa Sanderson. It switched to three teams of two when Emlyn Hughes was poached from AQOS . Andy Gray began his TV career here as an alternative captain, the shows featuring three out of the four in random combinations. Nick Owen was quizmaster for the first two seasons then was replaced by Andy Craig until the show was axed in 1990.
I checked out the first episode with its strong line up of guests ( Bryan Robson, Dennis Taylor, Seb Coe and Lloyd Honeyghan ) but didn't watch much of it after that. That's not because I thought it was atrocious but I'm not a general sports fan and didn't have the appetite for two sports quiz programmes a week.
Thursday, 14 September 2017
First viewed : 6 January 1987
Alfred Hitchcock Presents was a re-boot of an American TV classic from the fifties and early sixties whereby the great film director would play on his reputation as the master of suspense with a campy monologue and epilogue bookending a short drama. Hitchcock himself only directed a handful of them but it was an extremely popular series.
Twenty years after it finished , NBC decided to revive it with re-filmed versions of previous episodes and some entirely new stories. Of course Hitchcock had been dead for five years by then but they colorised his contributions and re-used them, fitting the most apposite they could find to the new stories and hoping for the best. It ran for four years.
ITV ( or at least Granada ) broadcast it very late at night and the only one I recall watching is The Creeper ( one of the re-filmed stories ) because it starred Karen Allen. She played Jackie Foster, a paranoid yuppie woman who is plagued by a stalker and ends up garotted by someone she actually does trust.
Wednesday, 13 September 2017
First viewed : January 1987
I wasn't a great fan of this when it started and I think I saw most of it through repeats in the nineties. I thought if John Thaw wanted to do another police detective series then it should be as Jack Regan, older and possibly wiser but still in and around "the manor " ,not poncing around Oxford listening to classical music in a fancy old Jaguar. I found his attempt at an upper class accent particularly aggravating.
The series was liberally based on the novels by Colin Dexter; the Lewis character as played by Kevin Whately was completely different from the man described in the books. There were originally seven seasons of 3-5 episodes between 1987 and 1993 then Thaw went off to do Cavanagh Q.C. probably to the relief of Dexter who was struggling to keep pace with the series. Thereafter, there was one episode per year until the character was killed off in 2000. There have been two spin-off series Lewis ( which may have just finished ) and Endeavour ( ongoing ),
Although I did get to like it, I don't completely endorse it. For all its high production values, I don't think it always justified its two hour length. There are only two episodes ( both from the 1992 season ) where I can recall the plot in detail, the infamous rave story directed by Danny Boyle where Morse investigates the suicide of his neice and has to brush up on what these young people are getting off on and the one where an old flame of Morse helps arrange her dying partner's suicide to frame his son-in-law whose infidelity caused his daughter's death.
Saturday, 9 September 2017
First viewed : 3 January 1987
Jasper was back with a new vehicle, four years after Carrott's Lib finished.
Carrott Confidential was on a bit earlier on a Saturday evening than Carrott's Lib so the content was toned down a bit and he didn't have as strong a team around him. I think Steve Punt and Hugh Dennis have improved over the years but they were awful at this point, their solo slot the equivalent of Ronnie Corbett's armchair turn in The Two Ronnies.
Carrott Confidential also had less political content although Jasper did come a cropper when he made an offhand remark about Denzil Davies MP, seemingly selected at random, being drunk in the Commons. Before the following week's programme, the Beeb had to broadcast a grovelling apology to Davies for the offence caused.
Carrott Confidential ran for two seasons before another re-boot as Canned Carrott in 1990.
Friday, 8 September 2017
First viewed : Uncertain
This had been running since 1976 with Tom O' Connor as the first host and it's quite likely that I'd caught some of it before 1986 but that's when it started preceding Coronation Street with irritating song-and-dance man Lionel Blair ( who succeeded O' Connor in 1983 ) as host.
I now look back in wonder at my naivete in pondering how a contestant in the final round could identify a song like Let Me Be The One ( The Shadows' long-forgotten Eurovision entry in 1975 ) from one note on the piano. Now it's perfectly obvious that the tune was selected from a narrow range of songs to which the contestants had prior exposure before the show went on air.
The show was axed in 1988 with a revival hosted by Jools Holland on Channel 5 in 1997-98.
Thursday, 7 September 2017
First viewed : 25 December 1986
When this started in February 1985, I instantly took against the idea of the BBC having a twice weekly soap. The idea of a public service broadcaster spending the licence fee on a product already well supplied by the commercial channels seemed like a capitulation to Thatcherite philistinism. I also suspected that it in part stemmed from Southerners' resentment that the nation's favourite soap was firmly embedded in the industrial north. I made a deliberate point of not watching it and hoped it would soon fall flat on its face.
Initially it looked like my hopes would be realised. Only one person, a Londoner of course, in my hall of residence seemed interested in it. However when I came back to university in the autumn, I realised everything had changed . The father of young Michelle's baby had become a hot topic among my peers and the soap's stars were now all over the tabloids. The following year they all started crashing the charts with terrible records, none more so than Nick Berry's Every Loser Wins, the worst number one of all time.
The first time I caught a snatch was the tail end of the Christmas Day episode in 1986 because I'd come down for Only Fools and Horses. It was the one where "Dirty" Den Watts ( Leslie Grantham ) tells his wife Ange he's divorcing her. Grantham is a particular bugbear for me. One, he's a bloody awful actor with only two expressions- sneering psychopath or bug-eyed maniac. Two he's a fully fledged murderer that I don't particularly want to support through the licence fee. I just don't get how the people that holler for racists and sex offenders to be banished from our screens are content that he still has an acting career.
The more attention the show got, the more resolved I became never to watch a full episode of it. This became more difficult when my sister returned home in 1987 and infected Mum with the virus. The peril increased after I got married and found my wife was a fan. I can proudly say I still haven't watched an episode from start to finish but I have come dangerously close. One Sunday afternoon, I came home drenched and exhausted from an arduous walk and sat on the sofa through most of an omnibus edition where John Junkin played a former boys home warden who'd mistreated Billy Mitchell. I also saw a fair chunk of the one where Martin Kemp's character made his fiery exit. Fortunately, my wife threw it off some time in the mid-noughties and the danger has passed.