Friday, 31 March 2017

646 Kennedy

First  viewed : 20  November  1983

Of  course  1983  was  the  20th  anniversary  of   the   post-war  twentieth  century's  most  seismic  event  and  there  was  a  great  deal  of  TV  time  devoted  to  it. ITV  broadcast  this  sympathetic  U.S. mini-series  broadcast  over  three  nights,  concluding  on  the  anniversary  itself.

Kennedy  was  played  by  Martin  Sheen  who  didn't  look  particularly  like  JFK  but  certainly  had  the  political  sympathies. John  Shea  was  an  even  poorer  likeness  for  Robert  Kennedy  while  conversely  Blair  Brown  did  look  a  lot  like  Jackie. The  series  took you  through  the  highs, -the  election  victory, the  Cuban  missile  crisis  - and  the  lows - the  Bay  of  Pigs, the  death  of  young  Patrick - through  to  the  day  of  destiny  in  Dallas.

As  a  Catholic,  I  still  feel  a  sense  of  outraged  loss  even  though  it  happened  over  a  year  before  I  was  born. The  only  crumb  of  comfort  I  can  glean  from  Trump's  victory  is  that  at  least  it  stopped  a  third  member  of  the  ghastly  Bush  dynasty  getting  into  the  White  House  while  the  Kennedys  are  still  stuck  on  one.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

645 Auf Wiedersehen Pet

First  viewed :   11  November  1983

This  isn't  going  to  be  very  lengthy  as  I  only  saw  one  full  length  episode  and  that  was  the  first.  Along  with  a  number  of  house  mates,   I  watched  it  almost  with  a  sense  of  obligation  because  a  lad  called  Roger  Smoothy  - that  was  his  real  name - was  so  anxious  to  see  it  as  he'd  lived  in  Dusseldorf  for  a  time.

The   comedy  drama  series  followed  the  adventures  of  a  group  of  British  expatriate  workers  thrown  together  on  a  building  site  in  Germany. There  was  a  core  trio  of  three  Geordies, sensible  middle-aged  Dennis  ( Tim  Healy ),  appalling  boor  Oz  ( Jimmy  Nail ) and  wet  behind  the  ears  youngster  Neville  ( Kevin  Whately )  who  arrived  together   but  others  such  as  Cockney  chancer  Wayne ( Gary  Holton )  and  boring  Brummie  Barry  ( Timothy  Spall  )  were  regulars  throughout  the  series. It  was  initially  linked  to  Boys  From  The  Blackstuff    but  the  tone  couldn't  have  been  more  different. It  was   largely  written  by  Likely  Lads  creators  Clement  and  La  Frenais  ( though  the  concept  originated  with  Quadrophenia  director  Franc  Roddam )  and  had  much  more  in  common  with  their  previous  work.

As  D.C.  alluded  to  in  a  previous  comment  the  series  was  noted  for  a  very  chauvinistic  view  of  women  that  wouldn't  be  tolerated  today. I  recall  that  in  the  first  episode  there's  a  scene  where  some  of  the  guys  visit  the  red  light  district  and  pick  their   prostitute  for  the  night. Oz  alights  on  a  part  Oriental  girl  called  Suzie  Mo  and  keeps  banging  on  about  it  the  next  day  - "Sex  is  in  its  infancy  in  Gateshead !"

One  other  thing  that  interested  me  was  the  presence  of   Big  Pat  Roach, a  familiar  face  from  the  professional  wrestling  circuit, in  a  regular  role  as  "Bomber".  I'd  seen  him  as  a  heavy  with  minimal  dialogue  in  one  or  two  films  but  it  was  nice  to  see  him  getting  an  opportunity  to  actually  act.

I  remember  when  it  finished, Roger  asked  "What  did  you  think  of  it ?"  which  was  a  strange  question  as  you  couldn't  really  expect  anyone  else  to  be  all  that  interested  in  the  setting. I  think  I  said  something  bland  and  non-committal  but  I  hadn't  really  liked  it  and  didn't  tune  in  the  next  week.

There  were  two  original  seasons, the  second  one  being  set  in  England. The  hard-living  Holton died  before  filming  was  completed  ( necessitating  some  tweaking  )  and  that  seemed  to  be  the  end  of  the  series.  It  was  however  revived on  BBC 1  as  a  six-part  series in  2002  with  Noel  Clarke  replacing  Holton  as  Wayne's  son  , bringing  both  youth  and  an  ethnic  minority  character   into  the  series. I  saw   some  of  the  first  episode  on  repeat  years  later . It  revolved  around  a  silly  plot  to  dismantle  the   Middlesbrough  transporter  bridge   and  relocate  it  to  America. A  further  series  was  made  in  2004. It  was  finally  put  to  bed  at  Christmas  that  year  with  two  special  episodes  in  which  the  seriously  ill  Roach  was  unable  to  take  part. He  died  while  they  were  being  filmed


Wednesday, 29 March 2017

644 Rough Justice

First  viewed : 9  November  1983

This  is  another  series  where  I wasn't  quite  in  at  the  beginning. It  had  started  the  previous  year  but  I  first  saw  the  episode  about  Scottish  "killer"  George  Beattie.

The  programme's  inspiration  came  from  a  fifties  American  series , The  Court  of  Last  Resort , which  investigated  possible  miscarriages  of  justice. It  avoided  high  profile  or  "political"  cases  in  order  to  focus  on  the  little  men  who  didn't  have  anyone  else  in  their  corner. In  Beattie's  case,  he  was  a  young  man  who  was  given  to  telling  tall  stories  and  didn't  help  himself  by  claiming  to  have  witnessed  a   real  murder  that  occurred in  his  home  town  of  Carluke  in  July  1973 . This  put  him  in  the  frame  despite  an  implausible  window  of  opportunity . The  detail  that  stuck  in  my  head  was  Beattie  claiming  that  the  murder  had  actually  been  committed  by  a  man  wearing   a  top  hat  decorated  with  mirrors  which  shows  that  George  had  been  watching  Top  of  the  Pops  on  the  night  of  the  murder. The  programme  din't  say  whether  Noddy  Holder  had  been  taken  in  for  questioning.

Because  of  the  depth  of  research  required,  the  programme  could  only  cover  two  or  three  cases  per  year. When  the  cases  came  to  the  Appeals  Court  and  people  started  being  released, strong  opposition  to  the  programme  began  to  stir  and  the  original  team  fell  into  a  trap. Ironically  it  was  the  most  minor  case  they'd  featured , a  case  of  aggravated  burglary  not  far  from  me  in  Heywood  where  a  guy  called  Anthony  Mycock  had  been  convicted  of  the  crime  despite  some  glaring  inconsistencies  in  the  evidence. As  the  team  delved  into  it,  they  became  convinced  that  there'd  been  no  crime  committed ; the female  "victim" had  made it  up.  They  tracked  her  down  to  America  and  secured  an  interview  in  which  she  admitted she'd  made  it  up,  due  to  "emotional  stresses".

Having  got  that, they  went  to  the  Appeals  Court . They  should  have  smelled  a  rat  when  Lord  Chief  Justice  Lane  himself   took  charge  of   the  case. The  woman  turned  up  and  said  the  producer  and  presenter  had  intimidated  her  into  giving  the interview  by  such  methods  as  threatening  to expose  her  as  a  lesbian  and  she  now  stuck to  her  original  story. Lane  released  Mycock  almost  as  an  afterthought - other  evidence  of  her  duplicity  was  just  too  strong - but  took  her  accusations  against  the  Rough  Justice  team  as  gospel  and  really  laid  into  them, the  right  wing  press  scrupulously  reporting  every  detail. The  BBC  chiefs  buckled  under  pressure  and  took  them  both  off  the  programme  team  in  1987.

I  don't  think they  were  guilty  of  anything  but  naivete. One  look  at  that  woman's  face  during  her  utterly  fake  remorse  at  Mycock's  plight  should  have  warned  them  that  she  was  going  to  try  and  wriggle  out  of  it  the  moment  the  pressure  was  off. People  don't  say  "It's  a  fair  cop"  in  real  life. Peter  Hill's  integrity - he  was  the  producer - can  be  judged  from  the  fact  that long-since  retired, he  was  still  fighting  Beattie's  corner  during  his  last  appeal  in  2009. Beattie  has  been  out  on  licence  since  1988.

The  presenter  Martin  Young  was  replaced  by  David  Jessel, a  worthy  successor  of  equal  tenacity. The  series  continued  but  it  had been  damaged  by  the  Mycock  controversy  and  sensing  a  lack  of  commitment  from  above, Jessel  jumped  ship  to  Channel  4  five  years  later,  relaunching  the  programme  as  Trial  And  Error. To  be  honest ,I was  hardly  aware  the  programme  had  continued  after  that. It  was  eventually  ditched  for  budgetary reasons  in  2007.


Tuesday, 28 March 2017

643 Carrott's Lib

First  viewed  :  22  October 1983

This  actually  started  in  1982  but  I  didn't  see  it  until  the  second  season  in  1983.

Jasper  Carrott  ( aka  Bob  Davies )  had  taken  some  time  to  follow  up  on  the  success  of  his  1975  hit  Funky  Moped   and  spent  the  latter  part  of  the  seventies  in  the  clubs  with  ITV's  attempts  to  launch  him  on TV  meeting  with  limited  success. At  the  start  of  the  eighties  Jasper  saw  which  way  the  wind  was  blowing  and  moved  on  to  observational  comedy  and  political  satire. His  reward  was  this  part-live  comedy  series  late  on  Saturday  nights  on  BBC  One. He  had  a  strong  team  on  the  show  with  Nick  Wilton, Chris  Barrie  and  Jan  Ravens  among  the  supporting  cast.

I  had  a  strange  relationship  to  the  show. Carrott  was  a  known  supporter  of  the  Labour  Party  and  the  left-wing  bias  was  obvious  in  his  material  so  I  was  a  bit  resistant  to  him  on  that  score. On  the  other  hand  some  of  the  sketches  were  really  funny, worthy  of  Not  the  Nine  O  Clock  News  at  their  best.

My  favourite  was  the  brutal  assault  on  Paul  McCartney, timely  in  the  wake  of  the  Late  Late  Breakfast  Show  appearance  detailed  previously. Nick  Wilton  played  McCartney  singing  a  deliberately  inane  lyric  about  black  people  being  the  same  as  white  people  then  he  says  "take  it  away  Linda "  and  Jan  Ravens  as  Mrs  Macca  plays  a  single  note  on  the  piano.  I  was  on  the  floor  at  that  one.

There  was  also  a  sketch  on  Coronation  Street  which  referred  to  recent  scandals  hitting  the  programme  such  as  Peter  Adamson's  kiddie-fondling  charge  ( one  suspects  that  gag  wouldn't  get  through  today )  and   subsequent  acrimonious  departure  and  Anne  Kirkbride's  marijuana  conviction.

Sadly  there  were  only  the  two  seasons. Carrott  would  have  other  vehicles  but  they  weren't  as  good  as  this.

Monday, 27 March 2017

642 Clive James and the Calendar Girls

First  viewed :  1980 / 81

This  was  broadcast  on  15/10/83   but  a  bit  of  research  proves  it  was  first  shown  two  or  three  years  earlier  and  my  own  recollection  is  that  I  watched  it  at  home  rather  than  university.

In  the  documentary , Clive   James  followed  royal  photographer  Patrick  Lichfield  to  Kenya  where  he  was  shooting  5   models  for  the  1981  Unipart  calendar  ( nice  work  if  you  can  get  it ). There  are  two  moments  I  particularly  remember. One  id  the  aristocrat  muttering  that  he  didn't  like  big  boobs  because  they  cast  too  much  shadow.

The  other  is  the  shoot  where  they  required  a  naked  girl  to  sit  cross-legged  in  front  of  a  puff  adder  that  had  been  thoughtfully  frozen  for  the  purpose. The  crew  were  bothered  that  it  looked  too  inert; the  girl  was  understandably  a  little  concerned  about  what  might  happen  if  it  warmed  up  in  the  sun. I  seem  to  recall  that  they  didn't  actually  use  the  shot  in  the  end.  

Sunday, 26 March 2017

641 Ladybirds

First  viewed :  14  October  1983

Now  things  get  a  bit  more  fractured  as  we  enter  my  university  days. I  didn't  have  a  portable  TV  for  my  room . There  was  a  TV  lounge  in  my  hall  of  residence  but  it  was  shared   with  80+  other  people  and  the  house  entertainments  committee  were  often  renting  videos as  well. Therefore  , after  missing  the  final  part  of  The  Old  Men  At  The  Zoo  and  my  continued  anxiety  over  The  Prisoner , I   consciously  avoided  starting  serials   so  there'll  be  a  bias  towards  one  off   programmes   as  we  cover  the  next  three  years. It's  also  the  case  that  these  programmes  don't  seem  quite  as  distant  now.

Ladybirds  was  a  series  of  hour-long documentaries  on  Channel  4, each  featuring  a  female  singer. The  only  one  I  can  definitely  recall  watching  about  was  about  Jane  Birkin. Birkin  remains  a  one  hit  wonder  in  the UK  with   Je t'aime  non  plus   but  that's  largely  through  her  own  choice  as  she  records  and  acts  mainly  in  French  having  settled  there  since  her  relationship  with  Serge  Gainsbourg  began  in  1968. By  the  time  of  the  documentary  she  was  37  and  had  split  up  with  him  although  they  were  still  working  together  musically. I  can't  remember  too  much  of  the  programme   except  that  it  concluded  with  her  saying  rather  sweetly  that  she  hoped  people  in  Britain  still  remembered  her.


Friday, 24 March 2017

640 Lynda Lee's People

First  viewed  : Summer  1983

This  was  a  regional  programme  made  by  BBC  North  West, the  rest  of  the  country  being  fortunate  enough  to  escape it. Lynda  Lee  was  Lynda  Lee-Potter, right  wing  columnist  for  the  Daily  Mail . She  was   a  miner's  daughter  from  Leigh  who  went  to  a  grammar  school  and  made  her  way  up  the  social  ladder  as  a  journalist. Following a  filmed  report  on  her  home  town  as  a   Nationwide  feature,  she  was  commissioned  to  make  this  series  about  other  people  from  the  north  west  who'd  made  good  such  as  Debbie  Moore  founder  of  the  Pineapple  Dance  Studios.

As  a  TV  presenter  she  had  an  irritating  voice  and  a  very  patronising  manner  which  got  my  back  up  immediately. However,  the  series  had  one  huge  feather  in  its  cap  for  me, a  rare  ( at  the  time  at  least ) TV   interview  with  my  ultimate  hero, the  Lakeland   guidebook  writer  Alfred  Wainwright .

There  were  no  great  revelations  from  the  interview  which  he  described  as  "a  torment"  at  its  close. I  already   knew  he  was  in  his  late  seventies  so  there  was  no  shock  in  seeing  him  as  a  brittle  old  man; I  just  wondered  at  his  judgement  in  granting  an  interview   to  the  appalling  Ms  Potter.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

639 The Member for Chelsea

First  viewed : 24  August  1981

Here's  one  I  realise   I've  missed   from  somewhat  earlier.

The  Member  for  Chelsea  was  a  dramatisation  of  one  of  the  Victorian  era's  most  infamous  political  scandals. Sir  Charles  Dilke  was  a  rising  star  of  late  Victorian  politics, a  radical  Liberal  tipped  as  a  future  leader  but  his  prospects  were  smashed  when  he  was  cited  in  a  divorce  case by  a  fellow  MP  Donald  Crawford. Dilke  made  things  much  worse  for  himself  by  needlessly  taking  the  stand  and  though  he  remained  an  MP  until  his  death  years  later  his  prospects  of  high  office  were  smashed  completely.

No  one  really  knows  what  went  on  behind  closed  doors. If  I  remember  correctly,  the  three  part  serial  ( on  consecutive  nights ) posited  the  idea  that  the  woman  involved  Virginia  Crawford  ( Felicity  Dean )  was  actually  using  Dilke  ( Richard  Johnson )   as  cover  for  the  active  sex  life  she  and  her  friends  were  enjoying  with  much  younger  men. There  was  a  fair  amount  of  nudity  involved  which  is  probably  why  I  recall  it, Miss  Dean  being  particularly  well  endowed.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

638 Just Good Friends

First  viewed : 22  September  1983

I'm  not  going  to  spend  too  long  on  this  one  because  I  only  watched  the  pilot  episode  and  decided  it  wasn't  for  me. It  was  a  John  Sullivan  effort,  prompted  by  a  rebuke  from  actress  Cheryl  Hall  ( who'd  been  in   the  first  two seasons  of  his   Citizen  Smith  )   that  he  didn't  write  good  parts  for  women. Just  Good  Friends  therefore   featured  an  independent  woman   Penny  Warrender  ( Jan  Francis, now  in  her  mid-thirties  and  looking  rather  plain  although  the  haircut  didn't  help ) who  bumps  into  the  man  who  jilted  her  at  the  altar years  before , the  slightly  seedy  Vince  ( mid-seventies  pop  star  and  film  actor Paul  Nicholas ) . She's  willing  to  take  him  back  but  on  her  own  terms   and  their  on-off  romance  played  out  over  three  seasons.

I  simply  didn't  find  the  first  episode  funny  enough  though  I  accept  that  millions  disagreed  and  made  this  a  big  hit .

Sullivan  put  the  series  to  bed  with  the  two  getting  wed  in  a  Christmas  Day  special  in  1986. However,  after  the  success  of  Just  Good  Friends,  Sullivan  began  to  weave  romantic  threads  into  the  storylines  of  his  other  big  TV  hit  which  we'll  be  discussing  before  too  long.  

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

637 Give Us A Break

First  viewed : 22  September  1983

This  is  another  reminder  that  we're  in  snooker's  golden  age  at  this  point. Over  on  Channel  4,  Steve  Davis  had  his  own  late  night  chat  show  A  Frame  With  Davis  around  this  same  time.

Give  Us  A  Break    was  a  mixture  of   Minder  and  The  Hustler. Robert  Lindsay  played  Micky  Noades, a  dodgy  entrepreneur  very  much  in  the  Arthur  Daley  mould  shacked  up  with  girlfriend  Tina  ( Shirin  Taylor  who  must  have  been  relieved  to  put  her  bra  back  on  after  The  Cleopatras ) .Down  on  his  luck  he  discovers  that  her  kid  brother  Mo  ( Paul  McGann ) is  a  snooker  ace  and  sets  about  exploiting  him.

It's  chiefly  remembered  for  giving  first  breaks ( excuse  the  pun )   to  McGann  and  writer  Geoff  McQueen  who  went  on  to  create  The  Bill. That's  because  it  wasn't  much  cop. The  relationship  between  Micky  and  Mo  was  too  close  to  Arthur  and  Terry  in  Minder  with  Lindsay's  character  so  unsympathetic  you  never  really  rooted  for  him. It  was  billed  as  a  comedy  drama  but  the  laughs  were  well  spaced  out , usually  coming   at  the  end  of  a  laborious  set-up.

A  second  series  was  planned  but  negative  reaction  to  the  first  meant  this  was  reduced  to  a  single  one-off  episode  in  1984  to  tie  up  the  loose  ends.   

Monday, 20 March 2017

636 The Prisoner

First  viewed : 19  September  1983

Part  of  Channel  4's  early  remit  was  to  allow  repeats  of  classic  ITV  series  of  yore   such  as  Upstairs  Downstairs, Out  and  The  Avengers.  Now  it  came  round  to  The  Prisoner . I  had  absolutely  no  memory  of  it   from   the  first  time  round  and  knew  little  about  it  but  I  was  still  intrigued. Ellen  Smiths   Ltd  had  run  coach  trips  from  Littleborough  to  Portmeirion in  the  seventies  and  advertised  them  as  the  location  for  the  series. I  also  noted  a  paperback  displayed  in  the  newsagents  we  used  to  visit  in  Hebden  Bridge  which  had   Patrick   McGoohan  with  the  tag  line  "I  am  not  a  number  I  am  a  free  man !"  and  that  also  piqued  my  interest.

At  the  time  the  series  was  made  in  1967  McGoohan  was  the  highest  paid  actor  thanks  to  his  success  as  John  Drake, a  cerebral  government  agent  in the  series  Danger  Man. He  had   enough  clout  to  pull  the  plug on  Danger  Man  and  get  his  new  project  made. As  with  all  cult  favourites   the  key  facts  have  become  contentious  and  the  exact  extent  of  McGoohan's  creative  contribution   to  The  Prisoner   is  disputed  but  it's  indisputable  that  it  was  his  star  power  that  got  the  series  made  at  all. It's  also  hotly  debated  whether  the  series  was  in  fact  a  continuation  of  Danger  Man  with  Number  Six  and  John  Drake  one  and  the  same ; McGoohan  gave  different  answers  at  different  times to  this

Whoever  he  was , Number  6  was  gassed  and  abducted  from  his  home  in  London  shortly  after  resigning  from  an  important  government  position. He  wakes  in  a  strange, isolated  village   full  of  polite. mostly  disengaged  people  and  is  prevented  from  escaping  by  a  sophisticated  surveillance  operation  under  the  control  of  Number  2  ( played  by  a  succession  of  different  actors  throughout  the  series  including  Leo  McKern, George  Baker  and  Peter  Wyngarde ). Number  6  becomes  locked  in  a  battle  of  wits  with  Number  2  who  wants  to  know  the  reasons  behind  his  resignation  while  6  has  his  own  inevitable  question  who  is  number  one  ?

That's  about  the  only  question  that  does  get  answered  in  a  series  full  of  riddles   and  allegories. The  overarching  theme  is  the  individual's  resistance  to  being  controlled  by  others  which  chimed  in  nicely  with  the  era's  anti-establishment  ethos.

Despite  the  unavoidable  trappings  of  sixties  kitsch  I  was  immediately  hooked  by  the  first  episode  but  that  presented  me  with  a  worry. After  episode  two,  I would  be  in  a  hall  of  residence  at  university  and  there  was  no  guarantee  I  would  have  access  to  a  television  to  see  the  remainder  of  the  series. As  it  turned  out ,  I  did  get  to  see  most  of  it  although  I  was  somewhat  disappointed  that  not  one  of  my  80+  house  mates  were  consistently  interested   in  watching  it  with  me.

For  the  most  part  I  enjoyed  it  although  I  didn't  like  the  Alexis  Kanner  character  and  while  the  final  episode  did  provide  some  closure  it  was  horribly  self-indulgent  in  the  exposition. McGoohan  was  famously  hounded  by  fans  demanding  more  of  an  explanation.

It  became  his  defining  role . He  relocated  to  the  US  not  long  afterwards  and  was  rarely  seen  on  British  TV  thereafter. His  1977  series,  Rafferty  is  only  remembered  for  being  mentioned  in  a  Teardrop  Explodes  song. He  had  a  decent-ish  film  career  with  a  late  triumph  as  Edward  I  in  Braveheart   and  died  in  2009   after  a  short  illness.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

635 The Old Men At The Zoo

First  viewed :  15  September  1983

This  was  an  interesting  BBC2  drama, a  five  part  adaptation  of  Angus  Wilson's  satirical  novel  by  the  ever-reliable  Troy  Kennedy -Martin. My  mum  tuned  in  for  her  favourite  actor  Stuart  Wilson  but  didn't  like  it  and  abandoned  it  after  the  first  episode. My  viewing  was  interrupted  by  the  inconvenient  fact  of    starting  at  university  during  its  run  and  I  missed  the  final  episode.

Wilson  plays  Simon  Carter, a  TV  personality  in  a  not  too  distant , largely  pedestrianised  future  , who  accepts  a  job  at  a  London  zoo  run  by  a  gerontocracy  of  eccentric  old  men, some  benign, others  highly  dangerous. He  soon  finds  he  has  to  jump  to  the  tune  of  another  old  man, a  megalomaniac  press  baron, Lord  Godmanchester   ( Robert  Morley ). Europe  is  on  the  verge  of  a  nuclear  war  with  the  OPEC  countries  and  Godmanchester  wants  the  zoo  evacuated  to  Wales, nurturing  the  wildlife  reserve  visions  of  crackpot  director  Leacock  ( Maurice  Denham ) . After  Leacock's  bra-less  hippychick  daughter  ( Jan  Harvey )  dies  in  an  overzealous  bout  of  bestiality  with  her  dog   ( mostly  offscreen  thankfully )  he  switches  loyalties  to   the  equally  insane  Bob  Falcon  ( Robert  Urquhart )  whose  age  doesn't  prevent  him  screwing  Carter's  wife.

It's  not  perfect  by  any  means. Much  of  it  was  shot  on  VT  and  the  budget  was  a  bit  unequal  to  bringing  the  wide  sweep  of  the  novel  to  the  screen. It's  also  flabby  in  places; much  of  the  first  episode  is  concerned  with  the  death  of  a  young  keeper  whose  gonads  are  mashed  by  a  giraffe  and  there's  an  extended  scene  at  his  funeral  introducing  characters  that  we  don't  see  again.  Nevertheless it  had  a  thought-provoking  premise,  an  excellenr  cast   and   many  bleakly  comic  moments.

At  the  time  of  writing  you  can  watch  it  right  through  on  YouTube.  

Saturday, 18 March 2017

634 Eight Days A Week

First  viewed : 14  September  1983

This  was  one  of  my  favourite  TV  programmes  of  the  eighties   and  it's  a  real  shame  it  only  lasted  for  a  couple  of  seasons  in  1983-84. It  was  basically  Did  You  See  about  pop  music  with  The  Guardian's  Robin  Denselow  chairing  the  discussion  and  slipping  in  his  own  acerbic  observations  ( "his  guitar  playing  didn't  look  live  to  me " ) in  the  arch  style  that  Angus  Deayton  would  soon  make  his  own. The  studio  panel  were  usually  from  different  worlds  to  engender  a  lively  discussion  and  they'd  cover  three  or  four  albums, books, gigs  etc  a  show  with  short  clips  relating  to  each one. The  first  series  was  produced  by  ZTT  eminence  gris  Jill  Sinclair , the  second  by  future  Radio  One  assassin  Trevor  Dann. The  theme  music  was  Way  of  the  West's  1981  hit  "Don't  Say  That's  Just  For  White  Boys".

It  was  always  entertaining  but  the  most  memorable  e[isode  was  on  25th  May  1984  when  George  Michael, Morrissey  and  Tony  Blackburn  gathered  to  discuss  Everything  But  The  Girl.  Break  Dance, some  Atlantic  reissues  and  the  book  about  Joy  Division An  Ideal  for  Living.  I  was  watching  it  in  the  common  room  at  my  hall  of  residence  sitting  next  to  a  Welsh  guy  called  Mike  Hughes. He  liked  whatever  the  NME  told  him  to  like  and  was  instantly  hostile  to  Michael  saying  "you  haven't  got  a  thought  in  your  head "  before  he'd  even  opened  his  mouth. It  was  ever  so  slightly  unfair,  although  George's  appearance., coiffed  hair, vest  top  and  sun  tan,  could  have  been  said  to  invite  it

He  went  a  bit  quiet  when  Michael  revealed  a  liking  for  the  second  side  of  Closer.  Yes,  this  is  the  show  that  Marcello  Carlin's  bangs  on  about  whenever  George  Michael  crops  up  on  Popular  as  if  all  the   often  vapid  and   shallow  stuff  Michael  has  produced  since  is  validated  by  this  random  listening  choice. Michael  also  said  their  image  was  "pretentious  and  contrived  and  it  did  have  very  fascist  elements  to  it"  but  Mr  Carlin  doesn't  usually  quote  that  bit. Incidentally,  when  I  first   came  to  Popular  I  thought  "DJ  Punctum"  might  actually  be  Mike  Hughes, so  similar  were  their  opinions,  but  I  know  better  now.

Denselow  handled  some  pretty  large  egos  very  deftly  and  could  have  played  for  a  chat  show  gig  but  instead  stuck  with  serious  journalism  on  Newsnight . He  still  writes  on  music  for  The  Guardian.

Friday, 17 March 2017

633 The Dark Side of the Sun

First  viewed :  September  1983

This  was  the  last  of  a  quartet  of  BBC  serials  written  by  Michael  Bird   which   capitalised  on  the  opening-up  of  the  Med  to  British  holiday-makers  in  the  seventies. It  stretched  over  a  decade  beginning  with  The  Lotus  Eaters  in  1973 , the  others  being  Who  Pays  The  Ferryman ?  and   The  Aphrodite  Inheritance.

This  was  the  darkest  of  the four. I  didn't  see  all  of  it  but  what  I  did  seemed  pretty  good. Patrick  Mower  plays  a  photographer  killed  in  a  car  crash  in  Rhodes. His  widow  Emily  Richard  goes  over   there  to  complete  his  assignments  and  soon  feels  threatened  by  dark  forces, including  visitations  from  her  deceased  husband, emanating  from  the  sinister  tycoon  played  by  Peter  Egan. From  what  I  can  recall  he  turned  out  to  be  an  undead  Templar still  exerting  a   malevolent  hold  on  the  island.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

632 Ear To The Ground

First  viewed  : Summer  1983

This  must  be  one  of  the  more  obscure  shows  featured  here, a  late  night  current  affairs  show  on  Channel  4   directed  at  young  people. There  is  a  little  footage  on  YouTube  as  The  Farm  were  featured  in  their  infancy  during  a  feature  on  that  little-covered  topic, unemployment  in  Liverpool. I  recall  it  because  I  was  quite  taken  with  one  of  the  presenters, a  fresh-faced , very  straight,  young  lady  called  Julie  Hall.

She  went  on  to  be  a  political  correspondent  for  ITN  then  nailed  her  colours  to  the  mast  by  taking  on  the  job  of  Neil  Kinnock's  chief  spin  doctor  which  involved  a  presumably  platonic  accommodation  arrangement  with  Peter  Mandelson. She  achieved  notoriety  during  the  1992 election  campaign  over  an  election  broadcast  about  an  NHS  case  for  both  being  cavalier  with  the  truth  and  at  least  partially  breaching  patient  confidentiality. When  Kinnock  resigned  immediately  after  his  defeat,  she  was  out of  a  job. I  actually  saw  her  in  the  flesh  at  Burtonwood  Services  a  couple  of  years  later. In  the  nineties  she  was  involved  with  Tony  Blair's  Active  Community  Unit  and  now  works  in  academia.

There's  one  other  reason  why  I  recall  her; I  married  someone  of  the  same  name  in  1997.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

631 The Winds of War

First  viewed  : 11   September  1983

This  monumental  U.S.  mini-series  arrived  here  with  such  a  bad  press, led  by  Clive  James  in  particular, that  you  had  to  tune  in  just  to  see  if  it  was  as  atrocious  as  reputed.

It  was  an  adaptation  of  Herman  Wouk's  mammoth  novel  about  the  Second  World  War  in  which  a  fictional  American  naval  officer, Victor  "Pug"  Henry  or  a  member  of  his  family  are  caught  up  in  every  significant  event  of  the  war  despite  the  inconvenient  fact  that  the  Americans  were  not  very  involved  in  the  first  third  of  it . Wouk  himself  was  the  main  writer  of  the  screenplay.

 Robert  Mitchum  - at  65,  surely  somewhat  old  for  a  serving  officer - played  "Pug"  and , true  to  the  book,   bumped  into  the  great  and  bad  on  contrived  pretexts. The picture  above  shows  him  shaking  hands  with  a  particularly  unconvincing  Hitler ( Gunter Mesiner  )  - he's  the  short  guy  third  from  the  left  in  case  you're  struggling .

The  critics  were  right , it  was  crap  but  my  mum  defiantly  stuck  with  it  - "well  I  like  it !"

There  was  a  sequel  with  some  casting  changes  five  years  later. War  and  Remembrance   was, if  anything.  even  more  reviled,  particularly  for  using  Jane  Seymour  to  represent  the  Holocaust  victims, although  I  think  Ali  McGraw,  who  played  the  character  in  the  earlier  series,  would  have  been  worse.  

Sunday, 12 March 2017

630 The Coral Jungle

First  viewed  :  9  September  1983

Channel  4  gave  us  a  late  summer  break  from  music  between  the  end  of  Switch  and  the  start  of  the  second  season  of  The  Tube. In  the  same  time  slot  we  had  a  series  of  colourful  nature  documentaries  about  the  coral  seas  presented  by  Leonard  Nimoy. The  series  actually  dated  back  to  1976  but  hadn't  been  shown  here  before.

I  found  the  one  about  sea  snakes  the  most  interesting. There  was  a  team  of  scientists  collecting  sea  snake  venom  which  faced  the  difficulty  that,  despite  being  highly  venomous,  most  sea  snakes  are  surprisingly  docile  and  reluctant  to  bite. Therefore  you  have  to  seriously  provoke  them  to  get  a  sample. I  remember  a  diver  going  in  and  antagonising  one  of  the  most  poisonous  species  and  coming  under  ferocious  attack  although  he  avoided  injury.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

629 The Gathering Seed

First  viewed  : 7  September  1983

This  was  the  final  TV series  for  left  wing  playwright  Jim  Allen , ( of  The  Spongers  fame ).  Set  in  Collyhurst  , the  six-part  BBC2  serial  followed  the  fortunes  of  a  young  man,  Joe  Henshaw,  from  an  impoverished  childhood  in  the  thirties, service  in  the  war  and  industrial  disputes  in  the  fifties. It  starred  a  young   David  Threlfall  as  Joe   and  the  cast  also  featured  James  Ellis, Brenda  Fricker  and  Peter  Kerrigan..

Opening  with  a  bare  knuckle  fight  between  two  middle-aged  men. it  was  grimy, sombre  and  violent. I  watched  half  an  hour  of  the  first  episode  and  that  was  enough . The  series   was  poorly  received  and  has  never  been  repeated.

Allen  went  on  to  write  a  number  of   screenplays  for  Ken  Loach  and  died  of  cancer  in  1999.

Friday, 10 March 2017

628 Video Video

First  viewed : 3  September  1983

This  was  TV's  first  show  to  explicitly  cover  the  burgeoning  market  in  VHS  cassettes. How  quaint  that  now  sounds; I  literally  can't  give  away   a  dozen  or  so  that  I've  got   in  the  cupboard. I  feel  very  sorry  for  people  that  have  substantial  collections.

Video  Video   was  broadcast  on  Channel  4  early  on  Saturday  evenings   and  like  Film ... consisted  of  reviews  and  film  reports. It's  only  memorable  for  presenter  Adam  Faith's  struggles  - with  the. - autocue  but  then  uselessness  was  always  part  of  his  charm.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

627 Clive James at the Movies

First  viewed : 29  August  1983

This  one-off  special,  in  which  Clive  James  trawled  through  the  worst  of  the  B-movies  of    yesteryear , was  actually  a  curtain-raiser  for  a  Worst  of  Hollywood  season  on  Channel  4  presented  by  Michael  Medved  ( later  to  be  reviled  as  an  arch-conservative  critic  in  the  U.S. )  . It  was  splendid  stuff, my  first  introduction  to  the  world  of  Ed  Wood  and  the  equally  jaw-dropping  Robot  Monster  ( a  man  in  a  gorilla  suit  wearing  a  diving  helmet ) , The  Wild  Women  of  Wongo  and  The  Creeping  Terror  where , clearly  slow-witted, teenagers  are  ambushed  by  a   ( just  about ) mobile  carpet.

I  really  enjoyed  it  and  was  disappointed  a  few  weeks  later  to  discover  that  my  new  house  mates  didn't  share  my  enthusiasm  for  the  celebration  of    trash  and  preferred  to  stick  with  an  old  Amicus   werewolf  film  over  the  screening  of   Plan  9  From  Outer  Space.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

626 One Summer

First  viewed : 8  August  1983

This  five  part  drama  by  Willy  Russell  was  made  by  Yorkshire  TV  and   broadcast  by  Channel  4  on  a  Sunday  evening. Besides  being  part  of  Russell's  illustrious  c.v., it's  notable  for  superb  talent-spotting  by  the  casting  crew  ( John  Murphy  and  Ruby  Boyle )  as  the  three  young  male  leads - each  one  in  their  teens  at  the  time - have  all  gone  on  to  greater  things.

The  series  concerns  two  disadvantaged  16  year  old lads  from  Liverpool  Billy  Rizley  ( David  Morrissey )  and  his  intellectually  challenged  mate  Icky  ( Spencer  Leigh )  who  have  the  cheek  to  turn  up  for  the  school  camping  trip  in  Wales  despite  weeks  of  truancy. Sent  away, they  decide  to  travel  there  under  their  own  steam  motivated  by  rare  happy  memories  for  Billy. They  are  eventually  accepted  as  house  guests  by  a  self-sufficient  hippy  called  Kidder  ( James  Hazeldine  ) but  he's  a  man  with  a  past  and  all  hell  breaks  loose  when  Icky  makes  contact  with  the  school  trip  and  his  dodgy  mate  Rabbit  ( Ian  Hart, then  going  under  the  surname  Davies ).  As  usual  with  Russell, events  take  a  tragic  turn.

We  only  watched  half  of  it  because  by  the  time  it  came  to  the  screen, we'd  been  watching  Now  and  Then  for  a  couple  of  weeks and,  in  our  pre-VCR  days,  they  clashed. So  we  turned  over  as  soon  as  the  credits  rolled on  that ,  for  the  last  half  hour  of  One  Summer  and  caught  up  as  best  we  could. I  have  a  feeling  my  sister's  preference  would  have  been  to  watch  this  right  through. I  can't  remember  if  this  marks  the  beginning  of  her  affection  for  all  things  Scouse   or  just  a  staging  post.


Tuesday, 7 March 2017

625 The "A" Team

First  viewed : 29  July  1983

My  mother  watched  the  pilot  for  this  the  week  before  and  said  it  was  rubbish. Of  course  you  don't  take  your  mum's  recommendations  or  otherwise  on  trust  so  I  made  sure I  checked  out  the  next  episode. It  wasn't  long  before  I  realised  she  was  right.

I  know  it's  still  regarded  with  affection  by  many  eighties  kids  but  I  just  rejected  it  straight  away  mainly  for  its  brain-numbingly  repetitive  formula  which  made  Quincy  seem  challenging. The  gang  of  four  Vietnam  vets, wise-cracking  leader Hannibal  ( George  Peppard ), aerophobic   behemoth  B.A.  Baracus  ( Mr  T) , schizo  Murdock  ( Dwight  Shultz  )  and  violence-evading  pretty  boy  Face  ( Dirk  Benedict )  were  on  the  run  from  the  US  army  and  scratched  a  living  as  good-hearted  mercs  turning  up  in  a  small  town  and  righting  wrongs. It  was  not  too  dissimilar  to  The Incredible  Hulk  in  that  sense.

It  was  also  like  Hulk  in  another   important  sense. The  Team  had  mastered  the  same mysterious  art  of  causing  violent  mayhem  without  anyone  getting  seriously  hurt. Cars  would  be  blown  up  - actually  it  was  usually  just  the  one  explosion  filmed  from  different  angles - then  the  occupants  would  emerge  unscathed. The  Beeb  actually  had  first  option  on  the  series  but  rejected  it  for  promotion  of  the  dangerous  idea  that  violence  had  n  consequence . An  unconcerned  ITV  gratefully  snapped  it  up.

In  the  first  couple  of  series  the  Team   were  assisted  by  a female  reporter. The  actress  playing  the  first  one , Melinda  Culea  was  chivalrously  told  by  Peppard  she  wasn't  wanted , even  before  filming  started  and  the  female  member  was  jettisoned  at  the  end  of  the  second  season.  Benedict  still  shamelessly  champions  it  as  the  last  great  masculine  show.

The  show  lasted  for  five  seasons  until  everyone got  bored  of  it  and  it  finished  in  1987.

Monday, 6 March 2017

624 Campus

First  viewed : 28  July  1983

This  was  a  fly  on  the  wall  documentary  series  in  six  parts  about  life  at  Edinburgh  University  which  might  have  been  of  more  interest  to  me  had  it  started  a  few  weeks  later  rather  than  finishing  the  night  before  I  got  my  A Level  results.

As  it  was  I  only  saw  one  episode  which  centred  on  whether  or  not  to  close  a  day  nursery  for  student  parents  in  the  face  of  budget  pressures. What  caught  my  eye  was  that  one  of  the  key  decision  makers  involved  was  Liberal  leader  David  Steel  who  was  also  Rector  of  the  University. I  seem  to  recall  that  some  solution  was  found  and  Steel  presented  that  same  unflappable  bonhomie  that  was   always  his  public  persona  until  a  certain  satirical  puppet  show  got  to  work  on  him.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

623 Fame

First  viewed  :  28  July  1983

This  was  an  eighties  phenomenon  to  which  I  was  strongly  resistant. Alan  Parker's  1980  film  about  students  at  the  New York School  of  Performing  Arts  got  a  mixed  reception  at  the  time  but   did  well  enough  to  generate  a TV  series  featuring  some  of  the original  cast. After  BBC  bought  the  series  in  1982,  the  film  was  re-released  to  cinemas  in  the  UK  and  Irene  Cara's theme  song  went  to   number  one, building  anticipation  for  the  TV  series   in  the  autumn.

My  mother  and  sister  went  to  see  it  at  the  cinema ,possibly  because  it  was  coupled  with  something  else. I  remember  the  biggest  impression  my  sister  took  away  was  that  Cara's  puppies  were  no  bigger  than  hers !  They  were  both  enthusiastic  viewers  of  the  series  when  it  first  came on  air   on  Saturday  nights  but  a  combination  of  not  having  seen  the  film  with  them  and  the  terrible  songs  that  started  making  the  charts  by  "The  Kids  From  Fame"  kept  me  away.

The  second  season  was  switched  to  a  Thursday  night, coming  on  after Top  of  the  Pops  which  was  logical  scheduling. Hence  I  eventually  ended  up  watching  an  episode. Some  old  ham  turns  up  at  the  School  and  puts  budding  director  Doris's  nose  out  of  joint  by  taking  over  her  patch  but  he  is  eventually  exposed  as  a  fraud. Doris  was  played  by  Valerie Landsburg who  wasn't  in  the  film. The  girl  who  took  Cara's  role , Erica  Gimpel , looked  a  lot  like  her  but  Landsburg  couldn't  have  been  more  different  from  Maureen  Teefy  who  played  Doris  in  the  film, a  short,  chubby  Jewess  replacing  a  willowy  blonde.

 It  was  watchable  enough  but  didn't  tempt  me  to  tune  in  again. Already,  you  had  the  sense  that  the  tide  was  going  out  for  the  franchise. There  were   four  more  seasons  made  in  the  US   but  the  Beeb  called  it  quits  after  Season  4  finished  in  1985.

When  the  film  was  first  screened  on  TV  in  1984,  I  thought  it  was  quite  good.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

622 Bouncing Back

First  viewed : 25  July  1983

This  was  a  Sunday  night  single  play   on  ITV  starring  Gregory's  Girl 's  John  Gordon  Sinclair.  It's  so  obscure  it's  not  listed  on  any  of  the  actors'  imdb  filmographies. John  plays  a  loser  with  depression  who's  referred  to  a  drama  therapy  group  by  his  sister  Phoebe  Nicholls. One  of  the  guys  in  the  group  is  Roger  Lloyd  Pack  , a  manic  depressive . Phoebe's  character  becomes  alarmed  by  the  new  ego  displayed  by  JGS . That's  all  I  can  remember  of  it.

Friday, 3 March 2017

621 Now and Then

First  viewed : 25  July  1983

This  Esmonde  and  Larbey  comedy  series   on  ITV   doesn't  seem  to  have  left  much  of  a  footprint  despite  an  excellent  cast, particularly  notable  for  featuring  both  the  UK's  favourite  grannies,  Liz  Smith  and  June  Brown.

Bernard  Holley  played  middle  aged  Peter  Elston  , fondly  looking  back  to  his  childhood  during  World  War  Two. His  younger  self  was  played  by  John  Alford  while  Sam  Kelly  and  Marcia  Warren  played  his  parents. He  had  two  sexpot  sisters  in  Tracy  Hyde  and  Cindy  O' Callaghan. One  got  married  to a  serving  private  ; the  other  was  engaged  to  a  supercilious  nerd  Randall  ( Mark  Burdis )  who  was  dodging  the  front  in  a  supposedly  vital  civilian  role. The  young  Peter  utterly  despised  him. He  also  had  an  uncle  Gordon  ( Barry  Stanton )  who  was  involved  in  the  black  market  and  gave  his  nephew-in-law  a  box  of  condoms  as  a  going  away  present.

Despite  the  latter  incident,  the  comedy  was  mostly  of  a  fairly  gentle  nature  with  all  the  characters  bar  Randall  warm  and  sympathetic. I  watched  the  first  season  ( 7  episodes )   on Sunday  nights   with  my  mum  and  sister . My  mother  would  smile  in  recognition  at  many  of  the  privations  and  improvisations  such  as  using  Bisto  to  simulate  unobtainable  stockings   although  she  was  generally  resistant  to  nostalgia,  especially  where  World  War  Two  was  concerned,  having  been  an  evacuee  from  Manchester.

The  second  season   ( six  episodes  )  in  1984  passed  me by  entirely. I  don't  even  know  whether  it  stayed  a  wartime  drama  or  moved  on  into  the  late  forties.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

620 The Beggar's Opera

First  viewed : 20  July  1983

I  only  dipped  into  this  Channel  4  production  of  the  enduring  eighteenth  century  satirical  opera  to  catch  a  glimpse  of  Paul  Jones  playing  the  central  character, notorious  Scottish  rake  Macheath. Jones  had  been  playing  the  role  at  the  National  Theatre  from  the  year  before.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

619 Royal Premiere : Superman III

First  viewed  :  18  July  1983

Here's  a  reminder  of  what  one  of  the  big  films  of  the  summer  was, the  third  Superman  film  starring  Christopher  Reeve. Here  he  was  up  against  Robert  Vaughan  rather  than  Gene  Hackman   with  sidekicks  computer  hacker  Richard  Pryor  and  busty  femme  fatale  Pamela  Stephenson.

The  programme  consisted  of  Peter  Marshall  and  Susan  King  ( neither  of  whom  ring  any  bells  ) hovering  around  the  ABC  cinema  in  London  and  buttonholing  celebrities , whether  connected  to  the  film  or  not, as  they  arrived  at  the  building. This  of  course  was  interspersed  with  clips  of  the  movie.

It  didn't  inspire  me  to  go  and  watch  it  and  I  still  haven't  seen  it.