Tuesday, 31 January 2017

596 Masada

First  viewed : 15  February  1983

The  critics  weren't  very  kind  to  this  either  but  in  this  case  I  think  they  got  it  wrong.

Masada  was  made  in  1981, a  four  part  US  mini-series  based  on  Josephus'  ( now  seriously  questioned ) account  of  the  tragic  last  act  of  the  First  Jewish-Roman  War.  It  was  shown  over  a  fortnight  in  February 1983. I  only  saw  one  episode  first  time  round  but  watched  most  of  it  with  my  mum  when  repeated  in  an  earlier  evening  slot  in  the  summer  of  1986.

 It  was  a  good  story, well-paced  with  high  production  values. One  thing  that  might  have  got  up  British  critic's  noses  was  the  clear  segregation  of  the  cast  with  the  heroic  Jewish  resisters  played  by  Americans  and  the  brutal, bullying  Romans  played  by  trusty  Brits. If  you  could  forgive  that  though,  the  cast  was  outstanding. The  producers  scored  a  major  coup  in  securing  the  services  of  Peter  O  Toole  as  the  high-minded  but  ruthless  general  Silva  while  his   main  adversary  Eleazar  was  played  by  Peter  Strauss. You  also  had  Timothy  West  as  the  Emperor  Vespasian, Anthony  Quayle  as  the  veteran  siege  engineer  and  the  architect  of  the  Jews'  downfall, David  Warner  as  a  ruthless  Roman  politician  ( with  Christopher  Biggins  as  his  sidekick )  and  the  gorgeous  Barbara  Carrera ( in  some  pretty  skimpy  costumes )  as  Silva's  Jewish  mistress  ( a  completely  fictional  character  but  hey, no  complaints  from  me  ! ).

Monday, 30 January 2017

595 Minipops

First  visited :  February  1983

Channel  Four's  first  attempt  at  kids  TV  could  hardly  have  proven  more  controversial with  the  programme, all  6  episodes  of  it, sill  cropping  up  on  all  those  Bad  TV  compilation  shows.

Minipops  was  originally  a  kids  troupe  put  together  by  Martin  Wyatt  as  a  showcase  for  his  little  daughter  Jo. When  their  version  of  the  old  Connie Francis  number  Stupid  Cupid  was  a  big  hit  in  France  in  1982 ,  Channel  4  commissioned  Supersonic's  Mike  Mansfield  to  build  a  TV  show  around   the  group  and  held  auditions  to  expand  the  cast..

I  only  tuned  in  very  briefly. I  couldn't  bear  the  butchery  of  the  songs  or  Mansfield's  painfully  garish  sets ; the  deeper  controversy  passed  me  by  entirely.  It  just  didn't  seem  to  have  occurred  to  anyone  that  sex  is  a  pretty  large  ingredient  in  pop  and  if  you're  going  to  have  primary  school  tots  performing  contemporary  material  you've   got  to  sift  it  pretty  carefully. Video  Killed  The  Radio  Star  was  fine  ( though  musically  an  abomination )  but  Sheena  Easton's   9  to  5  was  always   going  to  be  dodgy  with  that  "Night  time  is  the  right  time, we  make  love" line. When  it  was  performed  by  five  year  old  Joanna  Fisher  in  a  white  bath gown  with  groping  gestures  to  emphasise  that  line, it  wasn't  surprising  that  critics  started  suggesting  that  Channel  Four  was  taking  its  brief  to  cater  for  minorities  a  little  too  far. The  bosses  took  fright  and  cancelled  the  series  after  one  season.

It  was  a  trifle  harsh  on  the  guys  behind  the show, none  of  whom  have  been  accused  of  any  actual  crime  then  or  now  and   nobody  protests  about  the  screening  of  films  like  Taxi  Driver  or  Bugsy  Malone  with  Jodie  Foster  in  jailbait  roles.

The group  itself  survived  the  show's  cancellation, toured  Canada  and  released  six  albums  before  disbanding  in  the  mid-eighties. Jo  Wyatt  is  a  successful  voice  actress  while  Joanna  Fisher  has  made  her  mark  in  showjumping

Friday, 27 January 2017

594 The Cleopatras

First  viewed :  February  1983

This  one  isn't  quite  as  notorious  as  The  Borgias  but  it  was  the  final  nail  in  the  coffin  as  far  as  attempts  to  replicate  the  success  of  I  Claudius   went.

The  Cleopatras  followed  the  fortunes  of  the  successive  queens  of  that  name  in  the  Ptolemaic   dynasty  from  145  BC  until   the  last  and  most  famous  bearer  of  that   name  had  her  fatal  encounter  with  a  snake  in  36 BC. However , any  thoughts  that  this  might  make  for  great  feminist  viewing  were  quickly  dispelled  by  the  sheer  number  of  bare  breasts  ( mainly  those  of  dancers  or  uncredited  extras )  on  display. If  the  script  was  to  be  believed , most  of  the  men  in  ancient  Egypt  were  actually  tits  too  so  you  had  an  orgy  of  nipples  to  look  at  until  the  Romans  arrived  and  took  over.

The  sets  looked  like  left  overs  from  a  Dr Who  story  and  writer  Philip  Mackie  decided  to  couch  the dialogue  in  everyday  language  which  ( along  with  not casting  any  venerable  Egyptian  actors  who  couldn't  speak  English  intelligibly )  at  least  allowed  you  to  follow  the plot  although  it  did  give  rise  to  some  bathetic  moments. It's  hard  to  think  Julius  Caesar  ever  said  anything  that  translated  as  "Oh  these  Egyptians  are  getting  me  down".

Robert  Hardy  actually  played  Caesar  very  well, capturing  the  monstrous  ego  of  the  man   perfectly  and  Richard  Griffiths  added  to  his  growing  reputation  as  the  grotesque  Pot  Belly  in  the  early  episodes. Michelle  Newell  played  both  the  most  famous  Cleopatra  and  the  third  and  was  OK  although  not  really  beautiful  enough  to  account for  her  illustrious  conquests, especially  when  surrounded  by  such  an  abundance of  alternative  crumpet.

The  critics  were  pretty  unkind  to  it ,  disliking  the  campy  approach  to  history,  and  the  Beeb  have  chosen  to  bury  it   although  someone  has  generously  uploaded  the  entire  series  from  their  VCR  tapes  to  YouTube.  

Thursday, 26 January 2017

593 The Other Side of the Tracks

First  viewed : 22  January  1983

This  was  a  decent  little  programme  from  Channel  4  on  a  Saturday  evening , looking  at  the  workings  of  the  music  business  by  concentrating  on  a  couple  of  artists  each  show. Because  it  was  an  hour  long  show  on  a  commercial channel, the  placing  of  the  ad  breaks  meant  that  one  artist  got  two  thirds  of  the  episode  and  the  other  just  one.

The  programme  was  devised  and  presented  by  one  of  Radio  One's  more  cerebral  DJs , the  American  ex-pat  Paul  Gambaccini  and  reflected  his  interests  in  more  ways  than  one. Most,  though  not  all,  of  the  artists  featured  were  at  least  of  some  interest  to  America  and  at  least  some  of  the  episodes  were  broadcast  there  as  well. Most  of  the  artists  were  also  reasonably  well  established - with  one  glaring  exception.  The  first  programme  ( which  I  didn't  catch )  featured   Phil  Collins  - and  Kajagoogoo.

Who ? Kajagoogoo  were  EMI's  new  signings  and  had  only  just  released  their  first  single. Were  EMI  sponsoring  the  show  or  something ?  In  promoting  the  programme,  Gambaccini , a  classic  rock  and  soul  fan,  was  gushing  over  this  plastic  haircut  band*  comparing  them  to  the  Beatles  and  other  greats. What  was  going  on ? When  the  band's  single  reached  number  one, the  tabloids  soon  winkled  out  the  truth. Gambaccini  and  the  band's  singer  Chris  Hammill  ( "Limahl ") were  living  together. Both  men  were  in  the  closet  at  the  time  and  insisted  it  was  a  platonic  arrangement  but  no  one  was  fooled.  The actual  episode  justified  itself  by  interviewing  EMI  hacks  about  the  mechanism  of  launching  a  new  band  on  the  market.

Nepotism  aside, it  was  a  well  put  together  programme which  was  engaging  even  when  you  didn't  have  much  interest  in  the  artists  involved. I'd  never  buy  a  Lionel  Ritchie  record  but  he  was  so  articulate  and  engaging  in  discussing  his  music  that  he  held  my  attention. On  the  other  hand,  Mark  "I'm  so  laid  back  I'm  not  going  to  say  anything coherent"  Knopfler   drove  me  up  the  wall.

The  programme  was  fortnightly  and  alternated  with  Gastank  , a  televised  jamming  session  memorably  described  by  Mickie  Most  as  "a  bunch  of  old  has-beens  getting  together  for  a  singsong". I  never  bothered  tuning  in  for  that.

The  show  ran  for  two  series  in  1983  and 1984.

* Kajagoogoo  actually  made  one  or  two  decent  records  after  bumping  Hammill  in  the  wake of  his  outing  but  it  was  too  late  for  them  to  be  taken  seriously.


Wednesday, 25 January 2017

592 Dombey and Son

First  viewed : 15  January  1983

I  normally  stuck  with  the  charts  on  Radio  One  rather  than  the  Sunday  tea  time  classic  serial  on  BBC  One  but I  made  an  exception  for  this  10  part  adaptation  of  the  Dickens  novel.

The   reason  was  that  six  months  earlier, during  the  school  holidays, I  had  borrowed  the  book  from  Littleborough  Library  for  a  summer  read, probably  because   I  was  conscious  that  my  sister  was  becoming  somewhat  better  read  than  me. I  suspect  I  picked  it  for  its  relative  obscurity , having  no  outstanding  character   like  Uriah  Heep  or Mr  Bumble  to  guarantee  its  immortality. As  I  was  often  wont  to  do  at  this  time, I  made  a  note of  who  I'd  like  to  cast  in  each  part  in  an  adaptation..

I  was  pretty  surprised  when  I  realised  that  the  BBC  were  broadcasting  an  adaptation  so  soon  afterwards  and  gobsmacked  when  I  saw  that  I'd  called  a  major  casting  decision  exactly  right. I  thought  the part  of  Mr Carker, Dombey's  right  hand  man  who  is  slyly  embezzling  the  company's  funds  while  stroking  his  chief's  considerable  ego,  would  be  perfect  for  Blake's  Seven's  Paul  Darrow  and  someone  obviously  agreed  with  me.

In  the  other  main  parts , the  dour.   awesomely  self-satisfied  Dombey  was  placed  in  the  capable  hands  of  Julian  Glover  while  his  cruelly  neglected  daughter  Florence  was  played  by  future  sexpot  ( but  very  demure here )  Lysette  Anthony. I  can't  remember  who  I'd  earmarked  in  either case.

The  adaptation  was  OK, perhaps  a  little  stiff,  and,  as  always  with  Dickens, somewhat  hollowed  out  with  colourful  but  inessential  characters  excised  altogether.  I  remember  my  sister  being  quite  affected  by  the  final   reconciliation  scene  between  Florence  and  her  father  which  rather  surprised  me.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

591 Breakfast Time

First   viewed  :  17  January  1983

Hot  on  the  heels  of  Channel  Four, another  part  of  the  modern  TV  landscape  fell  into  place   in  the  middle  of  January  1983  when  BBC  One  launched  Breakfast  Time  a  couple  of   weeks  ahead  of  ITV  who  weren't   quite  ready  to  go  with  their  alternative. There  were  a  number  of  naysayers  around,  including  my  mother , who  said  people  would  never  have  the  time  in  a  morning  to  switch  the TV  on. Mum  stuck  faithfully  to  her  beloved  Radio  Four  and  never  watched  anything  before  6pm  on  a  weekday.

Curiosity  compelled  me  to  get  up  early  and  watch  a  bit  of  it. The  main  host  was  Nationwide  anchorman  Frank  Bough  in  his  comfy jumper, aided  by  glamorous  newsreader  Selina  Scott  poached  from  ITV  and  earnest  law  reporter  Nick  Ross, also  casually  attired. Perhaps  having  some  inkling  of  its  rival's  business  plan, the  programme  emphasised  its  cosiness  and  informality  with  all  its  guests  interviewed on  copious  sofas. Though  it  didn't  shy  away  from  covering  serious  news, memorably  filming  the  extraction  of  Norman  Tebbitt  from  the  rubble  of  the  bombed  hotel  in  Brighton, 1984, the  show  was  on  the  whole  pretty  anodyne.

The  initial  carrot  for  me  was  the  promise  of  a  chart  rundown  on  a  Wednesday  morning  but  when  I  realised  this  would  only  feature  one  song,  I  soon  gave  up  on  it  and  chose  to  stay  in  bed  a  bit  longer.

Nevertheless  Breakfast  Time  was  a  success. The  travails  of  TV-am  on  the  other  channel have  been  well-documented  with  the  head  start  enjoyed  by  BBC  turning  out  to  be  the  least  of  their  worries. There  are  few  better  examples  of  disconnect  between  the  political  establishment  and  the  ordinary  population  than  the  catastrophic  failure  of  Peter  Jay's  "mission  to  explain".
Jim  Callaghan's  son-in-law  put  together  his  "famous  five" - Parkinson, David  Frost, Angela  Rippon, Anna  Ford  and  the  less  stellar  Robert  Kee  , a  dry  old  stick  from  Panorama ,  to  helm  a  show pitched  at   Guardian  readers. The  viewing  figures  were  dismal  and  Jay  was  unceremoniously  dumped  by  investors  led  by  Tory  crook   Jonathan  Aitken. Ford  and  Rippon  were  sacked  for  publicly  siding  with  Jay  and  replaced  by  Roland  Rat. Newsnight  took  pity  on  Jay  and  found  him  a  spot  as  their  economics  reporter.

Ironically,  after  the  new  downmarket  version  of  TV-am  had  caught  up  with  them  in  the  ratings,  the  Beeb  ditched  the  sofas  and  woolly  jumpers   in  1986  and  went  for  a  harder  news  approach  with  desks  and  presenters  in  suits. Ross  already  had  a  good  life  raft  in  Crimewatch. Scott  survived  making  a  terrible  self-indulgent  documentary  about  herself  to  carve  out  a  career  in  the  US.

Bough  initially  was  switched  to  Holiday  as  a  replacement  for  veteran  Cliff  Michelmore  but  in  1988  a  tabloid  scandal  arose  when  he  was  alleged  to  be  using  prostitutes  and  taking  cocaine. Frank's  ill-advised  mea  culpa  turned  it  into  a  sensation  and  even  though  he'd  left  Breakfast  Time  a  year  earlier  it  was  surely  no  coincidence  that  the  Beeb  decided  on  a  re-brand  as  Breakfast  News  the  following  year.

Monday, 23 January 2017

590 Philip Jap

First  viewed  : 4  January  1983

Here's  the  little  epilogue  to  The  David  Essex  Showcase.

To  recap  from  the  earlier  post, the  overall  winner  of  the  talent  show  was  Bowie-fixated  singer  Philip  Jap  and  the  prize  was  his  own  TV  show.  I  bet  they  didn't  tell  him  his  35  minute  showcase  would  be  stuck  in  a  graveyard  slot  - 22.45pm  on  a  Tuesday  evening  just  after  Christmas.

Philip  got  to  perform  his  two  minor  hits of  1982 , Save  Us  and  Total  Erasure   plus  tracks  from  his  forthcoming  album. Peter  Powell  who'd  championed  him  on  Radio  One  ( almost  invariably  the  kiss  of  death  for  any  aspiring  artist ) acted  as  his  MC  on  the  show. Kenny  Lynch, Simon  Ward  and  Fiona  Richmond  - an  eclectic  bunch  to  be  sure- were  the  other  guest  stars  playing  parts  in  his  pseudo-videos. I  only  watched  a  few  minutes  of  it, Jap's  music  being  resoundingly  derivative  and  mediocre  however  much  gusto  he  put  into  its  physical  performance.

The   never-repeated  ( there's  a  surprise ! ) show  had  zero  impact  on  Jap's  commercial  fortunes. His  next  single  and  the  album  that  followed  bombed  completely. To  his  credit  Jap  accepted the  verdict, gave  up  on  being  a  singer   and  went  behind  the  scenes  as  a  composer  and  arranger  with  his  own  production  company,  Audiofield.. He  wrote  the  music  for  a  series  called  The  Glory  Boys  in  1984 and  many  commercials. He  also  wrote  for  briefly  successful  singer Leilani  in  the  late  nineties.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

589 Top Secret

First  viewed : Uncertain

We'll  leave  1982  with  this  one  because  it's  marginally  more  likely  that  I  saw  an  episode  of  this  in  its  first  season  ( autumn  1982 )  than  the  second  ( autumn  1983 ).

Barry  Took  chaired  this  celebrity  quiz  show  where  an  ordinary  person  with  some  ( reasonably  )  extraordinary  secret  was  wheeled  on  and  the  celebrity  panellists  had  to  determine  what  it  was  by  elimination  questions. The  in-the-know  audience  could  applaud  to  let  them  know   they  were  getting  close. Jan  Leeming. Chris  Kelly  and  Alfred  Marks  were  regulars  on  the  panel.

The  only  one  I  can  remember  is  a  man  who  made  a  loophonium, an  instrument  made from  a  toilet.  Hmm, no  queue  of  people  waiting  to  put  their  lips  to  that  one.

It  lasted  for  two  seasons  then  I  guess  they  ran  out  of  secrets.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

588 Allo' Allo !

First  viewed : 30  December  1982

This  has  cropped  up  a  little  bit  earlier  than  I  expected. This  is  because  the  pilot  was  shown  more  than  eighteen  months  before  the  first  series  aired.

Allo'  Allo  !  was  the  latest  series  from  David  Croft  although  it  was  a  collaboration  with  his  less  frequent  writing  partner  Jeremy  Lloyd  rather  than  Jimmy  Perry. Lloyd  and  Croft's  collaborations  were  generally  more  risque  ( as  in  Are  You  Being  Served ? with  Mrs  Slocombe's  pussy)  and  Allo'  Allo ! pushed  the  boat  out  further  in  that  respect.

Allo' Allo' ,   at  least  at  first  ,was  a  surprisingly  close  parody  of  Secret  Army. You  could  draw  direct  links  between  many  of  the  characters  , Rene  was  Albert, Michelle  was  Yvette, Herr  Flick  was  Kessler  and  so  on. Rene  the  hapless  cafe  owner  was  forced  to  work  for  both  the  Resistance   in   hiding  two  British  airmen ( both  completely  useless  upper  class  twits )  and  the  Germans, venal  rather  than  evil  here, in  smuggling  works  of  art. As  well  as  that  he  was   always  juggling  between  three  or  four  different  women. who  found  him  irresistible.

Allo'  Allo!  was  therefore  unusually  demanding  of  its  audience  for  a  primetime  sitcom  with  its  absurdly  complicated  plots  stretching  over  a  number  of  episodes. This  necessitated  the  recap  from  Rene  that  commenced  each  show. Gorden  Kaye  had  been  a  journeyman  actor  for  well  over  a  decade , his  nearest  brush  with  stardom being  a  short  stint  in  Coronation  Street  but  he  took  this  chance  with  both  hands  and  as  the  fulcrum  around  which  the  storylines  revolved, made  himself  a  household  name.

My  mum's  favourite  character  was  Crabtree, the  British  agent  posing  as  a  French  policeman. He  was  played  by  Arthur  Bostrom who  seems  to  have  been  in  the  audience  at  the  Bolton  Octagon  every  time  I've  ventured  there.

The  series  had  to  take  an  enforced  break  in  1990  when  Kaye  was  nearly  killed  in  a  freak  storm  in  the  South  of  England. I  think  I'd  already  drifted  away  by  then  and  it  was  finally  put  to  bed  in  1992. A  reunion  show  fifteen  years  later  passed  me  by  completely.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

587 Saturday Night Thriller - Grass

First  viewed:  18  December  1982

It's  a  shame  there's  not  much  trace  of  this  tense  little  thriller  about  a  convict  ( Billy  Murray )  who  rats  on  his  mates  in  return  for  conjugal  visits  from  his  wife  Judy  Geeson. When  he  gets out, he's  a  marked  man. If  I  remember  rightly  he  survives  but  the  old  lag  who  tries  to  help  him  cops  it.

Apart  from  an  episode  of  Tales  of  the  Unexpected  six  months  later  , this  was  Geeson's  last  appearance  on  British  TV  before  she  permanently  relocated  to  America  ( though  she  did  return for  an  episode  of  Boon  in  1989 ).

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

586 Whatever You Want

First  viewed : November  1982

This  long-forgotten  show  was  Channel  Four's  first  attempt  at  "yoof  TV".

Having  the  usual  chat  and  music  formula, the  show  was  broadcast  from  the  Ace  Theatre, Brixton  a  decent-sized  venue  on  the  regular  rock  circuit. The  band  playing  there  - a  reasonably  big  name  like  The  Undertones  or  Stiff  Little  Fingers - would  have  a  couple  of  numbers  televised  and  then  it  would  cut  to  an  earnest  discussion  on  unemployment  or  apartheid  backstage  with  the  muffled  sound  of   people  having  rather  more  fun  in  the  background. The  relative  proportions  of  the  audience  who  tuned  in  for  the  music and  the  chat  can  easily  be  guessed.

The  series  was  most  notable  for   its  acerbic  host. Here  began  the  slow  climb  to  TV  ubiquity  of  Keith  Allen, previously  best  known  as  a  naked  ventriloquist  on  the  alternative  comedy  circuit. As  well  as  his  provocative  chairing  of  the  discussions, Allen  used  the  show  to  premiere  his  debunking  of  The  Professionals  with  "The  Bullshitters",  depicting  "Bonehead"  and  "Foyle"  as  a  couple  of  gaylords  obsessed  with  their  underpants. It  was  funnier  in  concept  than  execution  but  his  heart  was  in  the  right  place.    

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

585 Sportsnight

First  viewed  : Uncertain

It's  highly  likely  I  caught  some  of  BBC1's   midweek  sports  magazine before  the  autumn  of  1982  but  this  is  when  I  became  a  regular  viewer  as  they  began  following  the  progress  of  Britain's  newest  heavyweight  hopeful  Frank  Bruno.

Sportsnight  began   in  1968  as  Sportsnight  with  Coleman , the  latter  part  of  the  name  being  dropped  in  1972  when  the  conceited  commentator  gave  way  to  Tony  Gubba  as  main  host.  Although   the  programme  covered  most  sports, primacy  was  nearly  always  given  to  football, mainly  highlights  from  FA  Cup  replays , League  Cup  matches   and  European  ties . It  also  ran  with  the  football  season,  taking  a  break   in  the  summer  months  each  year.

Harry  Carpenter  took  over  from  Gubba  in  1975  ensuring  that  his  own  cherished  sport  of  boxing  got  an  increased  share  of  the  action  despite  a  growing  medical  opposition  to  the  sport. You  couldn't  help  wondering  when  listening  to  Harry's  commentary  what  he  himself  would  be  like  in  a  fight. You  suspected  not  very  good  from  the  look  of  him.

Bruno  had  only just  turned  professional  in  1982  but  was  tipped  for  the  top  and  was  carefully  managed.  Bruno  had  a  formidable  physique  and  a  lethal  punch  but  was  very  endearing  in  person. Most  of  his  early  interviews  with   Carpenter  lasted  considerably  longer  than  the  "fight"  he'd  just  been  in   as  a  succession  of  obvious  inadequates  were  dispatched, usually  in  the  first  round. At  the  same  time , the  best  British  contender  of  the  previous  decade,  Joe  Bugner,  was  making  a  comeback . Bugner , never  popular  for  his  defensive  style, less  than  total  commitment  and   controversial  defeat  of  national  treasure  Henry  Cooper,  was  now  an  Australian  citizen  and  there  was  a  lot  of  speculation  about  when  the  two  would  meet. Before  that  eventually  happened   in  1987 , Frank  had  suffered  two  potentially  derailing  defeats  against  James  "Bonecrusher"   Smith  and  Tim  Witherspoon  in  his  first  world  title  shot .

The  Bugner  match  wasn't  shown  live  on  terrestrial  TV. Characteristically,  Bugner  hadn't  bothered  to  slim  down  to  his  fighting  weight  and  Frank  saw  him  off  with  a  technical  knock  out  in  the  eighth  round. Two  years  later  he  was  fighting  the  ferocious  Mike  Tyson  ( the  two  men  were  friends  outside  the  ring )  and  after  being  too  slow  to  follow  up  a dangerous  left  hook  in  the  first  round, took  a  heavy  battering  which  was  stopped  in  Round  Five.

I  think  most  people  realised  at  that  point  that  Frank  wasn't  going  to  reach  the  top  of  the  profession  but  he  did  eventually  snatch  the  WBC  heavyweight  title  in  1995  with  a  points  victory  over  Oliver  McCall. He  held  it  for  barely  six  months  before  another  mauling  from  Tyson in  his  first  defence. He  retired  on  medical  advice  immediately  afterwards. By  that  time  Carpenter  had  already  hung  up  on  the  microphone.

As  regards  the  football,  it  captured  a  number  of  memorable  games. There  was  the  League  Cup  tie  between  Everton  and  Oxford  with  the  latter  poised  to  win  the  tie  and  most  likely  put  Howard  Kendall  out  of  a  job  before  a  suicidal  back  pass  from  the  hapless  Kevin  Brock  allowed  Everton  to  equalise  and  kick  started  their  mid-eighties  glory  years. Sportsnight   also  captured  the  1985  Kenilworth  Road  Riot  when  Millwall  supporters,  their  ranks  swelled  by  thugs  from  Chelsea  and  West  Ham  it  must  be  said,  went  berserk  in  their  FA  Cup  defeat  at  Luton  and  wrecked  the  stadium  , sparking  the  thankfully  short-lived  vogue  for  banning  away  supporters. Of  the  European  matches  I  particularly  enjoyed  Red  Star  Belgrade's  demolition  of  Rangers  just  before  the  Yugoslav  wars  destroyed  the  team.

And  then  of  course  Sportsnight  were  at  Selhurst  Park  ten  years  later  to  capture  the  most  infamous  non-fatal  football  incident  of  all  when  a  certain  sent-off  French  striker  decided  to  treat  the  crowd  ( one  or  two  of  them  being  non-consenting, if  not  entirely  blameless , participants ) to  an  impromptu  kung  fu  demonstration  as  he  left  the  pitch . This  handed  Blackburn  Rovers  what  will  almost  certainly  be  their  only  Premier  League  title  in  my  lifetime.

That  was  pretty  much  the  programme's  last  big  coup. The  advent  of  live  Champions  League  matches  meant   the  loss  of   much  of   its  raison d'etre  and   the  brand  was  finally  put  to  bed  in  1997.

Monday, 16 January 2017

584 The Barchester Chronicles

First  viewed : November / December  1982

This  is  another   programme   where  I  only  dipped  in  the once, I  think  towards  the  end  of  the  series.

This  lauded  seven-part  costume  drama  was  an  adaptation  of  the  first  two  books  in  Anthony  Trollope's  Chronicles  of  Barsetshire   which  satirised  contemporary  politics   through  the  sheanigans  surrounding  ecclesiastical  appointments  in  a  quaint  cathedral  town  in  the  Home  Counties. The  series  had  a  very  strong  cast  including  Donald  Pleasance  playing  against  type  as  the  kind, unwordly  vicar, Nigel  Hawthorne, Susan  Hampshire    and  Geraldine  McEwan. However,  it  was  a  relative  newcomer  who  stole  the  show  with  Alan  Rickman  superb  as  the  obsequious  social climber  Obadiah  Slope.

With  all  the  plaudits  the  series  received,  including  multiple  BAFTA nominations , it  seems  strange  that  the  Beeb  let  the  other  four  novels  in  the  series  lie  and  never  followed  it  up.

There  was  no   great  TV  career  ahead  for  Rickman  either  who  returned  to  the  stage  for  the  next  six  years  before  his  re-emergence  as  a  major  film  star  with  Die  Hard.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

583 Shogun

First  viewed  :  Autumn  1982

This  is  barely  worth  noting  as  I  only  saw  a  few  minutes  of  this  five  part   U.S.  mini-series   based  on  a  1975  novel  by  James  Clavell  about  an  English  sailor  shipwrecked  in  Japan  who  rises  to  become  a  samurai  warrior  in  the  closed  feudal  world  of  seventeenth  century  Japan. The  novel  was  very  loosely  based  on  a  true  story.

The  only  reason  it  sticks  in  my  mind  is  that  the  bit  I  saw  had  star  Richard  Chamberlain  being  urinated  on  for  some  transgression  which  was  not  normal  fare  in  these  sort  of  things.

582 The Real World

First  viewed  : 29  November  1982

I'm  pretty  sure  this was  the  only  time  I  tuned  into  ITV's  rival  to  Tomorrow's  World .  It  was
however  the  TV  event  of  the  week  as  the  programme  was  going  to  present  some  3D  images  and  special  glasses  were  given  away  with  TV  Times  that  week  to  enable  viewers  to  enjoy  them.

TVS  had  poached  Michael  Rodd  from  the  BBC  to  present  the  series  alongside  the  mumsy  Sue  Jay  ( and  later  Jackie  Spreckley )  . It  had  a  more  thematic  approach  compared  to  Tomorrow's  World's  magazine  style  though  the  most  intriguing  scientific  mystery  of  all, how  not  a  single  strand  of  Michael's  hair  had  moved  since  Screen   Test , remained  unsolved.

The  3D   episode, which  seems  to  be  pretty  much  the  only  thing  anyone  can  now  recall  about  the  series, was  something  of  a  let  down. The  team  had  cobbled  together  some  cheap  effects  to  throw  at  you  - a   bull  in  a  china  shop  coming  towards  the  screen, a  boxer  throwing  a  punch, girl  on  a  swing  etc,  then  repeated  them  all   at  the  end   to  eke out  the  time  if   you  hadn't  been  disappointed  enough  the  first  time  round.   The  rest  of  the  programme  was  technical  and  drab; Rodd  was  an  effective  communicator  but  this  stuff   was  a  tough  sell  for  a  7pm  audience. The  fact  that  35  years  later  we  still  don't  have  3-D  television  shows  how  effective  the  "experiment"  was  although  the  predictions  about  3-D  cinema  eventually  came  true.

The  Real  World   ran  for  three  seasons  before  being  ditched.  Apart  from   a  short  series  on  Channel  4  in  1987,  ( Circuit  Training,  which  must  have  entirely  passed  me  by )  Rodd  hasn't  had  a  regular  TV  gig  since,  although  he's  alive  and  well  and  still  running  the  company  he  set  up  to  advise  businesses  on  new  technology.

581 Three Of A Kind

First  viewed : 27  November  1982

I  didn't  see  the  first  series  in  1981  but  word  of  mouth  suggested  I'd  missed  something  so  we  tuned  in  at  the  start  of  the  second.

Three  of  a  Kind  was  a  fast  moving  sketch  show  with  a  musical  interlude. The  title  was . perhaps  intentionally  ironic,  as  its  trio  of  stars  could  hardly  have  been  more  different  in  style. Lenny  Henry  was   still  primarily  an  excitable  impressionist, David  Copperfield  ( real  name  Stanley  Barlow )  was  a  young-ish  but  old  style   Northern  club  comedian  and  Tracey  Ullman  was  a  phenomenal  comic  actress.

Three  of  a  Kind  bridged  the  gap  between  Not  The  Nine  O  Clock  News  and  the  more  established  sketch-based  fare  served  up  by  the  likes  of  Dick  Emery  and  Les  Dawson. Being  on  BBC 1  it  wasn't  going  to  be  as  vicious  and  satirical  as  the  former  but  there  weren't  going  to  be  any  sexist  or  racist  gags  either.

Some  of  the  material  was  a  bit  tame  but  there  were  some  classic  moments,  none  more  so  than  the  Jenny  Hill  Show  where   Tracey  turned   the  tables  on  Benny  as  a  lewd   and  lecherous  young  woman  on  the  rampage . I  also  remember  one  where  she  appears  to  be  giving  birth  but  the  camera  eventually  pans  back  to  reveal  she's  merely  getting  a  new  pair  of  jeans  on , the  climax  of  the  sketch  being  her  saying "Fine, I'll  take  them !". Henry  used  the  opportunity  to  fine tune  the  comic  characters,  like  the  gross  soul  man,  that  would  become  the  bedrock   of  his  own  future  show. Copperfield's  best-remembered  contribution  was  Medallion  Man. a  welcome  debunking  of  the  Saturday  Night  Fever  stereotype.

The  show  became  very  popular  and  Ullman  overtook  Pamela  Stephenson  to  become  Britain's  favourite  comedienne. Unlike  Stephenson , she  managed   to  successfully  launch  herself  as  a  pop  star  although  she  rather  outstayed  her  welcome  particularly  with  her  dreadful  version  of  Madness's  My  Girl , Neil  Kinnock  exercising  his  usual  sound  judgement  by  appearing  in  the  video  with  her.

By  that  time  the  show  had  already  ended, the  final  episode   broadcast  being   broadcast in  October  1983. Ullman  went  over  to  ITV  to  do  a  sitcom  before  moving  to  the  U S   with  her  producer  husband  and  there  was  no  thought  of  trying  to  replace  her. Henry  was  given  his  own  show  which  in  some  respects  was  a  continuation  although  without  Copperfield  who  was  allowed  to  drift  back  into  clubland. Apart  from  a  reality  series  in  which  he  competed  with  other  faded  comedians  in  the  noughties,  he's  rarely  been  on  TV  since.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

580 The Young Ones

First  viewed : 23  November  1982

This  was  the  comedy  series  that  replaced  Not  The  Nine  O  Clock  News in  the  affections  of  the  young  but  not  I'm  afraid  in  mine.  I  remember  seeing  the  episode  where  Madness  appeared  first  time  round  but  mainly  I  watched  this  fairly  reluctantly  on  repeat  in  my  hall  of  residence,  among  people  who  could  anticipate  whole  sections  of  dialogue.

The  series  was  written  by  one  of  its  stars  Rik  Mayall, his  friend  Ben  Elton  and  American girlfriend  Lise  Mayer whose  father  taught  the  two  lads  drama  at  Manchester  University. It  was  based  on  the  exploits  of  four  students in  grotty  digs  provided  by  eccentric  landlord  Alexei  Sayle.  Mayall  played  Rick  a  narcissistic  anarchist . The  others  were  Vivian, a  psychotic  punk  , Neil  an  out-of-his-time  hippy  and  Mike , a   sharp-dressing  jack-the-lad. Comic  Strip  buddies  Adrian  Edmondson and  Nigel  Planer  played  Vivian  and  Neil  respectively. Peter  Richardson  was  due  to  play  Mike  but , predictably, couldn't  work  with  producer  Paul  Jackson  and  the  role  went  to  diminutive  actor  Christopher  Ryan  instead.

The  show  was  ostensibly  a  sitcom  but  had  many  surreal  elements  such  as  talking  vegetable  puppets  and  incorporated  a  live  musical  performance  in  order  to  attract  a  variety  show  budget. The  performance  would  normally  be  incorporated  into  the  story  in  some  way. Madness  performed  "House  of  Fun"   in  the  lads'  local. Rick  asks  them  if  they  know  Cliff's  Summer  Holiday  to  which  Suggs  replies  "You  hum  it, I'll  smash  your  face  in", a  rather  ironic  exchange  given  the  quartets  last  outing.

Like  I  said  above  I  didn't  really  buy  into  the  over-the-top  characters, the  slapstick  or  the  taken  for  granted  assumption  that  everyone  young  is  left  wing  in  the  writing. Like  Fawlty  Towers   only  12  episodes  were  made  but  it  was often  repeated. The  BBC   suits  were  uneasy  about  some  of  the  content  but  felt  it  was  necessary  for  BBC2   to  meet  the  challenge  of  the  new  channel.

The  series  ended  in  the  summer  of  1984  but  Planer  went  to  do  an  album  as  Neil  scoring  a  big  hit  with  a  version  of  Traffic's  Hole  In  My  Shoe. Then  two  years  later  the  gang  reunited  to  do  a  Comic  Relief  record  with  Cliff  Richard , a  funny-for-one-play version  of   "Living  Doll". As  Sayle  correctly  predicted  in  refusing  to  participate , these  musical  outings  ended  up  damaging  the  brand.  Ryan  went  his  own  way  as  a  straight  actor  after  that  but  the  others  have  reunited  on  other  projects.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

579 A Woman Called Golda

First  viewed  :  November  1982

I  only  dipped  into this  two-part  mini-series ( probably  the  second  episode )  dramatising  the  life  of  the  former  Israeli  Prime  Minister.

It's  notable  for  featuring  the  last  screen  performance  ( and  her  first  in  four  years  )  of  non-Jewish  Hollywood  legend,  Ingrid  Bergman,  who  had  died  of  cancer  a  few  months  before  it  was  broadcast. She  played  the  older  Golda  ( Judy  Davis  was  her  younger  self ). The  producers  were  unable  to  insure  their  stricken  star  and  at  times  it  looked  like  the  project  might  go  unfinished  as  Bergman  was  often  too  ill  to  shoot   but  it  was  completed. Bergman  won  a  posthumous  Emmy  and  Golden  Globe  for  her  work.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

578 The Tube

First  viewed :  5  November  1982

This  was  the  main  draw  for  me  as  far  as  the  new  channel  was  concerned, a  105 -minute    live  pop  show  at  5.15 pm  on  a  Friday.

The  show  was  made  by  Tyne  Tees  and  broadcast  from  their  studios  in  Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The  presenters  were  Jools  Holland  and  a  pregnant  ( with  Fifi  Trixibelle ) Paula  Yates. The  idea  was  to  have  a  mix  of  live  interviews, pre-filmed  features  and  comedy  interludes  and  mini-sets  from  a  few  live  acts . The  biggest  name  among  the  bands  would  generally  have  the  last  half  hour  of  the  programme  to  themselves. With  it  being  live , unpredictability  was  a  key  selling  point.

The  first  episode  scored  a  couple  of  coups  with  the  first  ever  live  performance  by  Heaven  17  and  the  last  TV  appearance  by  The  Jam  who'd  announced  their  split  a  couple  of  weeks  earlier. They  did  the  last  set  with  Paul  Weller  singing  deeper  and  hoarser  than  usual.

I  watched  it  regularly,  at  least  until  I  went  to  university,  but  irritation  soon  set  in. With  it  not  being  a  chart-based  show,  the  music  selection  was  prone  to  nepotism. Squeeze's  Gilson  Lavis  seemed  to  be  the  house  drummer  for  the  programme . Paul  Young  got  more  than  his  fair  share  of  appearances on  the  programme  due  to  working  with  Holland's  former  backing  singers. The  Christians  got  a  leg  up  due  to  working  with  Squeeze's  producer  Laurie  Latham . ZTT's  eminence  gris  Jill  Sinclair  had  a  stake  in  the  show  so  all  their  acts  got  a  more  than  fair  hearing. I'm  presuming  Glaswegian  electro-funk  outft  Set  The  Tone  had  some  connection  with  Muriel  Gray , the  skinny  Scotswoman  who  took  over  when  Yates  became  indisposed.

The  other  thing  that  gradually  alienated  me  from  the  programme  was  the  erosion  of  the  musical  content  in  favour  of  alternative  comedy. At  first  you  just  had  a  poet  called  Mike  Miwurdz  whose  material   was  10%  funny   and  the  odd  appearance  by  performance  artist  Wavis O  Shave   (  0 %  funny )  but  then  you  had  regular  appearances  by  French  and  Saunders  and  so  on.  In  later  years  it  got  very  kitsch-y  with  appearances  by  sixties  word-mangler  Stanley  Unwin. He  was  a  "panellist"  in  a  dreadful  elongated  spoof  of  Celebrity  Squares  compered  by  an  unknown  comedian  who  was  so  wooden  and  amateur-ish  that  I  felt  confident  he'd  never  be  seen  on  TV  again. He  turned  out  to  be  Vic  Reeves. I'm  sure  this  shift  was  the  main  reason  for  the  show's  declining  ratings.

Still  there  were  some  memorable  moments  over  the  programme's  life  span   -

  • Two  great  singles  I  first  heard  on  the  show , It's  Immaterial's  Driving  Away  From  Home  and  Thomas  Lang's  The  Happy  Man

  • Muriel  Gray  fearlessly  subjecting  Mick  Jagger  to  some  hard  questioning  about  the  "controversial"  video  to  Undercover  of  the  Night

  • Marc  Almond's  microphone  conking  out  during  Where  The  Heart  Is
  • Heavy  metal  hard  man  Thor  blowing  up  and  bursting  a  hot  water  bottle  with  suitable  "don't  try  this  at  home"  warnings
  • Yates  sparking  off  three  decades  of  tabloid  frenzy  with  her  interview / seduction  of  Inxs's  frontman  Michael  Hutchence  
The  show  eventually  came  to  grief  in  1987. Holland  referred  to  "groovy  fuckers "  in  a  live  trailer for  the  show  and  it  was  taken  off the  air  for  three  weeks  as  a  result  of  the  controversy.  It  returned  with  a  penitent  Holland  still  on  board  but  the  writing  was  on  the  wall  for  the  show  and  it  was  axed  in  April  1987  after  four  and  a  half  years.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

577 Q.E.D.

First  viewed :  Uncertain

I  might  have  dipped  into  this  series  earlier  but  I'm  pretty  sure  I  saw  the  episode  broadcast  on  3.11.82  which  dealt  with  the  Shroud  of  Turin.

Q.E.D.  was  a  popular  science  series  beginning  in  1982  as  a   shorter,  more  accessible  alternative  to  BBC2's  long-running  Horizon. The  episode  about  the  Shroud  was  the  second  of  the  second  season. The  documentary  was  made  six  years  before  the  radiocarbon  testing  of  the  Shroud  which  pointed  to  a  fourteenth  century  origin  for  the  relic. This  has  been  generally  if  not  universally  accepted  although  debate  continues  on  how  the  forgery  was  achieved.

The  Q.E.D. branding  was  discarded  in  1999. As  with  other  long-running  documentary  strands , I  will  add  to  this  post  as  we  go.

The  Horse  That  Doped  Itself   ( 24.11.1982 )  Kieran  Prendiville  looked  into  the  science  behind  a  racing  scandal  from  the  previous  year  where  one  of  the  horses  owned  by  the  Aga  Khan  failed  a  drugs  test  but  was  later  declared  by  The  Jockey  Club  to  have  internally  manufactured  the  steroid  itself.  I  can't  remember  what  the  conclusion  ( if  there  was  one  )  was.

Round  Britain Whizz  ( 19.02.1986 )   This  one  used  sped  up  aerial  photography  to  make   a  flight  around  Britain's  coastline  fit  the  programme's  half  hour  slot. It  was  technically  impressive  but  not  all  that  easy  to  watch.