Thursday, 27 April 2017

669 Crimewatch

First  viewed : 7  June  1984

Crimewatch  ( originally  Crimewatch  UK )  was  a  programme  that  immediately  caught  my  attention,  tapping  into  the  vigilante  ambitions  that  lie  dormant  in  anyone  who's  been  bullied  a  bit. I  always  watched  it  with  the - still  unfulfilled -  hope  that  I  would  see  someone  I  recognised  and  help  nail  the  bastard. I  guess  I  don't  move  in  the  wrong  circles.

The  show's  most  famous  presenter was  Breakfast  Time's  earnest  Nick  Ross  whose  stint  on  the  show  lasted  23  years.  His  catchphrase  "Please  don't  have  nightmares"  was  much-lampooned  but  nailed  his  appeal  as  a  reassuring  presence. Sue  Cook  was  his  co-presenter  until  1995  when  she  was  succeeded  by  the  ill-fated  Jill  Dando  whose  still-unsolved  murder  four  years  later  may  have  been  connected  with  the  programme. Fiona  Bruce  eventually  took  over  her  chair.

The  show  was  on  monthly  and  featured   three  or  four  reconstructions , necessarily  with  the  violence  toned  down  a  bit , providing  a  good  source  of  work  for  little-known  actors.  Dando's  killing  itself  was  a  featured   reconstruction  but   that  wasn't  in  any  way  responsible  for  the  wrongful  conviction  of  Barry  George.  Serving  police  officers  presented  a  short  section  where they  had  photographs  from  the  crime  or  pictures  of  known  offenders  being  sought. There  was  also  the  Aladdin's  Cave  section   where  an  antiques  expert  would  trawl  through  a  selection  of  stolen  property, a  feature  I  felt  fitted  in  like  a  stone  in  a  shoe,  but  I  suppose  it  served  a  purpose. Viewers  were  given  numbers  to  ring  if  they  could  help  with  any  of  the  cases  and  later  in  the  evening  there  was  Crimewatch  Update   where  Nick  would  tell  you   the  lines  were  still  hot  with  useful  information  though  obviously  he  couldn't  give  any  details.

Many  police  forces  were  extremely  sceptical  about  the  value  of  the  programme  and  initially  only  three  would  co-operate  but , once  the  show  could  boast  one  or  two  successes,  they  all  came  round  and  interviews  with  the  senior  detective  on  the  case  became  a  regular  part  of  the  show. I  can't  remember  the  name  of  the  one  who  came  out  with  the  pearler  that  "Very  often,  the  last  person  to  see  the  victim  alive  is  the  murderer"   but  I'm  sure  he   must  have  been  promoted  for  that  telling  insight.

We'll  cover  the  Crimewatch  File  spin-offs  in  a  separate  post.

I  watched  it  regularly  in  the  eighties  and  nineties,  less  so  after  I  got  married  and  I  don't  think  I've  seen  it  since  Ross  and  Bruce  left  in  2007. It's  been  less  high  profile  since  their  departures  and  has  only  gone  out  every  other  month. but  still  continues.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

668 Brass

First  viewed  : 1984

This  Granada  comedy  series  was  much  discussed  at  the  time  but  I  only  delved  into  the  second  series  in  a  small  way  and  probably  had  missed  too  much  to  fully  get  into  it.

The  series  was  a  satire  on  the  glut  of   Industrial  Age -set   class-based  dramas   in  the  late  seventies  with  BBC  One's  When  he  Boat  Comes  In   the  most  obvious   target . In  a  star-making  role,  Timothy  West  was  the   ruthless  and  greedy  self-made  industrialist   Bradley  Hardacre  who  dominated  the  town. His  most  implacable  opponent  was  militant  Red  Agnes  Fleming  ( Barbara  Ewing ) who  fired  up  the  workers  apart  from  her  supinely  deferential  husband  George  ( Geoffrey  Hinsliff ). The  catch  was  that  Bradley,  married  to  aristocratic  drunk  Patience  ( Caroline  Blakiston ) , and  Agnes  were  also  lovers  on  the  side.

One  of  the features  that  attracted  most  comment  was  Agnes's  appearance, Ewing  agreeing  to  a  corset  arrangement  that  pushed  her  boobs  up  unnaturally  high  and  gave  her  a  formidable  cleavage.

There  were  two  original  seasons  on  ITV  in  1982  and  1984  then  a  revival, with  one  or  two  cast  changes,  on  Channel  4  in  1990.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

667 The Montreux Golden Rose Pop Festival

First  viewed :  28  May  1984

This  was  a  big  pop  shindig  bringing  together  artists  to  lip-synch   their  recent  hits  at  the  Montreux  Casino  ( the  venue  immortalised  by  Deep  Purple's  Smoke  on  the  Water ).  With  Noel  Edmonds  as  host,  it  came  over  as  an  extended  edition  of  Top  of  the  Pops  broadcast   in  three  parts, the  first  on  Bank  Holiday  Monday.

Being  a  trans-European  broadcast  the   hits  featured  had  to  be  popular  across  the  continent  so there  was  no  Style  Council  or  Smiths   but  the  likes  of  Julien  Clerc, The  Dolly  Dots  and  Nino  De  Angelo  - none  of  them  worth  investigating - got  on  the  bill. The  biggest  act  there  were  Queen  who  got to  perform  an  extended  set  although  you  suspect  the  main  reason  they  accepted  the  invite  was  that  Freddie  only  lived  up  the  road  from  the  venue.

The  following  year's  festival  wasn't  televised,  probably  to  avoid  spoiling  the  build  up  to  Live  Aid  six  weeks  later  although  Simon  Bates   reported  from  it  on  his  morning  show  on  Radio  One.

The  1986  one  was  relegated  to  BBC  Two  and  notable  only  for  Frankie  Goes  To  Hollywood  giving  a  first  performance  of  their  crap  new  single  "Rage  Hard "  and  then  mock-trashing  the  set  to  try  and  divert  the  attention  of  the  underwhelmed  audience.

I'm  not  sure  I  bothered  tuning  in  to  the  last  one  in  1987. broadcast  over  two  nights  on  BBC  One. In  hindsight,  it  has  a  tragic  significance  as  featuring  the  last  stage  performance  by  Mel  and  Kim. Mel  Appleby  collapsed  in  a  restaurant  later  that  evening  and  left   Montreux  in  a  wheelchair , never  to  get  on  stage  again.

Monday, 24 April 2017

666 The Smiths

First  viewed  : 8  May  1984

Spooky  numbering  for  this  post  as  the  programme  began  with  a  song  called  "Handsome  Devil".

I  distinctly  remember  watching  this  at  home  but   initially   was  wondering  what  I  was  doing  there  during  term  time. Then  it  clicked  that  the  date  was  the  second  Tuesday  in  the  month  and  therefore  I  was  back  home  for  a  meeting  of   the   Littleborough  Civic  Trust  committee. I  had  sat  on  it  since  1981  ( initially  co-opted  as  a  junior  non-voting  member  )  and  not  only  retained  my  seat  but  at  the  1983  AGM  took  on  the  role  of  editing  its  quarterly  newsletter   less  than  a  year  before  I  was  due  to  go  to  university. Looking  back  now , twenty  years  after finally  relinquishing  my  committee  seat  and  with  a  significant  proportion  of  that  committee  no  longer  with  us,  it  seems  colossally  stupid  to  have  maintained  that  level  of  commitment   throughout  my  university  days   and  perhaps  one  or  two  of  the  other  members  should  have  expressed  something  more  than  slight  bafflement  at  my  priorities.

Anyway  back  to  The  Smiths,  a  recording  by  the  Whistle  Test  crew  of   a  concert  by  the  group  at  Derby's  Assembly  Rooms  venue  from  December  1983. At  the  time  the  group  were  getting  a  bit   of  flak  for  short  sets  but  this  meant  it  filled  the  slot  between  7pm  and  the  time  I  had  to  set  off  for  the  meeting  at  8pm  perfectly. My  mum  actually  watched  it  with  me  because,  having  seen  them  on  Top  of  the  Pops  with  the  gladioli,  she  thought  they  were  "funny". I  hadn't  got  fully  into  them  at  this  point  and  sadly  didn't  go  to  see  them  when  they  played  Leeds  in  February  but  this  was  definitely  a  staging  post  in  becoming  a  fan.

They  played  most  of  the  debut  album,  although  significantly  not  "Suffer  Little  Children"  and  one  or  two  other  tracks  that  were  mopped  up  by  Hatful  of  Hollow. Obviously  Johnny  Marr  couldn't  replicate  the  multi-layered  guitar  sounds  on  record  having  only  one  pair  of  hands  so  the  sound  was  leaner  with  Andy  Rourke's  bass  more  prominent. The  highlight  was  undoubtedly  the  encore  of  "You've  Got  Everything  Now"  with  a  stage  invasion - including  a  Robert  Smith  clone  who  seemed  to  have  turned  up  at  the  wrong  concert -  which  frequently  pulled  the  mike  away  from  Morrissey's  lips  as  well  as  divesting  him  of  most  of  his  shirt. It's  a  terrific  document  of  a  great  band  on  the  way  up. 

Friday, 21 April 2017

665 Casablanca

First  viewed : 18  April  1984

I  wouldn't  have  recalled  this  without  the  help  of  the  listings. This  US  series  followed  straight  after  The  Master  of  Ballantrae  finished  at  11.30  pm  and  I  watched  a  few  minutes  of  it  before  going  to  bed.  The  series  was  a  sort  of  prequel  to  the  film  classic  with  David  Soul  playing  Rick  Blaine,  the  Humphrey  Bogart  character.

The  time  slot  will  give  you  an  idea  of  how  successful  it  was. Only  5  episodes  were  made  and  in  America  the  last  two  of  those  were  broadcast  as  random  space-fillers  months  after  the  opening  trio. It  makes  you  wonder  why  ITV  bothered  to  buy  it  at  all.

All  I  can  remember  is  David  Soul  wandering  around  Morocco  in  a  white  suit  looking  more  like  Gary  Numan  than  Bogey.  As  an  interesting  little  footnote  to  that, Soul  popped  up   a  decade  and  a  half  later  in  the  1997  UK  General  election  campaign, going  on  the  stump  to  support  his  mate  Martin  Bell  in  his  successful  effort  to  unseat  sleazy  Tory  Neil  Hamilton  at  Tatton. Bell's  trademark  was  a  white  suit.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

664 The Master of Ballantrae

First  viewed : 17  April  1984

I  only  caught  the  tail  end  of  this  adaptation  of  the  Robert  Louis  Stevenson  adventure  yarn  and, not  knowing  the  source  novel  , I  was  intrigued  enough  to  wish  I'd  seen  it  from  the  beginning. The  mini-series  was  a  joint  Anglo- American  venture  shown  over  two  nights  during  the  Easter  holidays.

The  story  concerned  two  brothers  whose  feuding  begins  during  the  Jacobite  rebellion  when  the  family  decides  to  hedge  its  bets by  having  one  support  the  government, the  other  the  rebels. James  the  eldest  decides  to  join  the  more  romantic Jacobites  cause but  he  is  reported  dead  after  Culloden and  younger  brother  Henry inherits  both  the  estate  and  James's  girl. After  adventuring  overseas, James  returns  and  is   more  than  a  little  peeved  at  the  situation.

I'd  love  to  know  what  viewers  north  of  the  Border  thought  about  the  casting. John  Gielgud played  the  father  ( and  won  an  Emmy  for  it ). Michael  York  played  James  and  Richard  "John-Boy "  Thomas  played  Henry. Finola  Hughes  was  the  girl. Not  too  much  tartan  among  that  lot  is  there ? Also  in  the  cast  were  Ian  Richardson, Timothy  Dalton  and  Brian  Blessed  in  his  usual  understated  form  as  a  smuggling  captain.

As  I  say I enjoyed  the  part  I  saw. It  is  currently  on  Youtube  but  as  a  transfer  from  VHS, the  quality's  not  that  great.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

663 Jeopardy !

First  viewed : April  1984

When  we  fret  over  American  cultural  imperialism  it's  a  comforter  to  remember  that  this  quiz  show, a  TV  institution  over  there, has  never  really  taken  off  here  despite  three  attempts.

The  first, and  the  only  one  I  ever  saw,  was   on  Channel  4  after  Countdown , hosted  by  ex- New  Faces  host  Derek  Hobson   and  a  milestone  on  his  personal  road  to  post-fame  obscurity. The  point  of  Jeopardy !  was  that  you  were  given  an  answer  and  then  had  to  construct  an  appropriate  question  which  fit.

I  thought  it  was  a  pretty  stupid  format  and  it  looked  like  the  UK  contestants  thought  so  too  as  they  were  constantly  sidestepping  the  question  framing  with  Hobson, his  patience  clearly  fraying , having  to  snappily  remind  them  of  the  requirement. A  typical  exchange  would  go  :

CLUE : Red , white  and  blue
CONTESTANT : The  colours  of  the  Union  Jack
HOBSON : What  are   the  colours  of  the  Union  Jack  !!

It  made  for  very  uncomfortable  viewing  and  it's  not  surprising  it  was  yanked  after  two  seasons  in  June  1984.

Still  it  sailed  on  in  the  US  regardless  so  ITV  tried  again  in  1990  with  hosts  Chris Donat  and  then  Steve  Jones. This  time  it  lasted  four  seasons  though  it  passed  me  by  entirely. Two  years  after  the  ITV  show  ended  Sky  3,  did  their own  version  hosted  by  Paul  Ross  thus  providing  another  compelling  reason  not  to  watch  it.

Monday, 17 April 2017

662 Countdown

First  viewed : Uncertain

I  don't  know  when  my  mum  first  introduced  me  to  Channel  4's  tea  time  perennial  but  the  programme  that  followed  it  around  this  time  wasn't  on  for  that  long  and  I  remember  seeing  that  so  the  Easter  hols  1984  seem  a  good  bet.

Countdown  was  famously  the  first  programme  on  Channel  Four   ( though  it  was  originally  trialled  by  Yorkshire  TV  as  Calendar  Countdown )   back  in  1982  and  has  remained  inviolate  in  its    teatime slot  ever  since. Two  contestants  try  to  make  words  from  randomly  selected  letters  or  get  to  a  randomly  generated  number  by  performing  mathematical  operations  on randomly  selected  numbers.  The  winner  gets  to  come  back  the  next  day  and  so  on  up  to  8  times.  A  reasonably  erudite  celebrity  sits  in  "Dictionary  Corner"  with  a  nice  academic  girl  ( Susie  Dent  has been  holding  this  position  since  1992 )  to  try  and  beat  the  contestants ( though  there's  no  consequence  if  they  do ) and  provide  a  little  commentary.  I've  caught  it  now  and  then  over  the  years  but  it's  never  been  appointment  TV  for  me ( perhaps  because  my  mum  was  significantly  better  at  the  word  games  than  me ).

The  hosts  have  changed  in  recent  years  but  the  classic  line  up  will  always  be  Yorkshire  TV  journalist  Richard  Whiteley - previously  most  famous  for  having  his  finger  gnarled  by  a  ferret - and  supposed  maths  wizard  Carol  Vorderman. They  helmed  the  show  until  Whiteley's  sudden  death  in  2005 - I'll  just  pause  for  breath  at  the  realisation  that  happened  12  years  ago. Des  Lynam  - at  something  of  a  loose  end  since  the  Beeb  had  pinched  back  the  rights  to  Premiership  highlights - was  his  unlikely  replacement  but  he  lasted  a  year  until  the  travelling  to  Leeds  for  filming  got  too  much  for  him. Then  it  was  Des  O 'Connor  for  a  couple  of  years  and  when  he  left  in  2008  Vorderman  also  decided  to  cut  the  knot. I  used  to  like  her  but  years  of  red  carpet  hogging ,boob  jobs  and   pro-Tory  pronouncements  have  made  me  detest  her.

The  last  time  I  watched  it , I  loved  her  replacement  Rachel  Reilly,  but  I  had  no  idea  who  the  host  was , some  droll , grey-haired  old  guy. I  understand  now  that  he's  something  to  do  with  The  Apprentice  which  explains  my  ignorance.

I  remember  my  friend  and  fellow  Dale  fan   Mark  when  he  started  out  in  teaching  maths telling  me  that  he'd  asked  a  class  if  they  could  name  any  famous  mathematicians   and  someone  volunteered  "Carol   Vorderman". He  puffily  replied  that  he  was  unaware  of  any  theorems  that   she  had  formulated. However,  that  didn't  stop  him appearing  on  the  programme  himself   in  February  1997. He  held  his  own  but  couldn't  unseat  the  incumbent  champion. Unfortunately  I  couldn't  find  a  picture  from  that  particular  episode.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

661 The Laughter Show

First  viewed  ;  Spring  1984

While  ITV  had  Spitting  Image,  BBC1  had  The  Laughter  Show.  Yes, quite. The  Laughter Show  was  a  starring  vehicle  for  comedy  duo  Dustin  Gee  and  Les  Dennis  who  had  honed  their  act  on  Russ  Abbot's  Madhouse  on  ITV. The  show  mixed  sketches, impressions  and  variety  guests.

They  were  an  unlikely  duo . Gee  was  more  than  a  decade older  than  Dennis   and  a  popular cabaret  act  for  two  decades. Dennis  had  won  New  Faces  in  1974   bur  was  soon  eclipsed  by  Jim  Davidson  and  had  been  toiling  some  way  down  the  bill  on  variety  shows  ever  since. Their  signature   act  was  doing  Vera  Duckworth  ( Gee)  and  Mavis  Riley  ( Dennis ) and  although  it  has  to  be  said  that  Liz  Dawn's  limited  range  made  Vera  an  easy  mark, it  was  very  obvious  Gee  was  more  accomplished  than  his  partner. It's  still  impossible  to  sit  still  while  watching  Dennis  do  Mavis.  If  Gee's  private  life  had  been  better  known,  there  would  have  been  press  speculation  that  blonde  pretty  boy  Dennis  ( actually  married  and  straight )  wasn't  in  the  act  for  his  talent.

Around  the  same  time  the  show  first  aired,  the  pair  were  involved  in  one  of  the  most  macabre  examples  of  "the  show  must  go  on"  in  the  history  of  light  entertainment. The  duo  were  booked  to  appear  on  the  ITV  variety  show  Live  from  Her Majesty's   just  after  Tommy  Cooper  ( not  the  greatest  of  slots ). Cooper's  slot  ended  prematurely  when  he  collapsed  on  stage  and  lay  half  in  and  half  out  of  the  curtains. The  duo  went  on  and  did  their  act  with  Cooper's  lower  legs  between  them  while  attempts  were  made  to  revive  the  dying  comedian  in  the  limited  space  behind  the  curtains.

In  a further  macabre  twist , less  than  two  years  later, Gee  himself  suffered  a  heart  attack    during  a  pantomime  performance .In  his  case  he  managed  to  stagger  off  and  died  two  days  later  in  hospital aged  43 . The  third  series  of  The  Laughter  Show  had  already  been  filmed  and  after  a  short  break, Gee's  family  encouraged  the  BBC  to  air  it. Dennis  continued  as  the  sole  host  until  1991  

Saturday, 15 April 2017

660 Jerusalem

First  viewed : 8  April  1984

This  absorbing  documentary  on  the  world's  most  hotly-contested  city  was  presented  by  playwright  and  novelist  Michael  Frayn. Clearly  at  least  agnostic  himself,  Frayn  tried  to  be  even-handed  between  the  competing  claims  of  the  rival  fatihs  while  indulging  in  some  laboured  irony  about  religious  excess  and  an  extended  metaphor  likening  faith  to  nuclear  energy. He  eschewed  a  chronological  approach, threading  historical  narrative  into  his  travelogue  as  he  walked  around  the  city's  main  sites.

Friday, 14 April 2017

659 Earsay

First  viewed  : 31  March  1984

Earsay  was  a  mildly  diverting  Saturday  evening  pop  magazine  show  in  the  latterday  Whistle  Test  mould  . It  ran  on  Channel  4. It  had  a  nicely  balanced  presenting  team  of  Nicky  Horne, a  bearded  junior  Bob  Harris , who  liked  guitar  pop  and  the  annoying  London  DJ,  Gary  Crowley,  who  adhered  to  the  Weller  manifesto  that  rock  was  dead  and  jazz  and  soul  were  the  way  forward.

It  is  best  remembered  for  Horne  conducting  a  45  minute  interview  with  Morrissey  that  then  went  unbroadcast   though  you  can  find  it  on  Youtube.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

658 Spitting Image

First  viewed :  March  1984

One  of  the  game-changing  TV  programmes  of  the  eighties, Spitting  Image  matched  the  wonderful  caricatures  of  puppeteers  Peter  Fluck  and  Roger  Law  with  up to  the  minute  satire  from  its  team  of  young  writers. The  show  took  aim  at  both  politicians  of  all  sides  and  the  major  celebrities  and  sportspeople  of  the  day. The  first  season  was  much  criticised  for  the  quality  of  the  writing. The  team  did   subsequently  up  their  game  but  in  truth  it  was  always  a  bit  hit  and  miss, the  result  of  trying  to  be  as  topical  as  possible.

I  missed  the  first  episode; the  first  one  I  saw , which  may  have  been  the  second, had  one  of  the  series' best  -remembered  sketches, where  terminally  boring  snooker  champion  Steve  Davis  decided  to  re-brand  himself  as  Steve  "Interesting"  Davis . In  fairness  to  him,  Davis  took  it  in  good  part  and  used  the  word  in  the  name  of  his  promotions  company. He  became  a  regular  character  boring   celebrities  outside  the  world  of  snooker  with  tales  of  his  matchbox  collection.

Other  people  who  found  their  puppets  amusing  were  Michael  Heseltine  who  wanted  to  buy  his  manic  warmonger  and  Roger  Moore  whose  eyebrows  were  the  only  animate  part  of   his  puppet. On  the  other  hand, Phil  Collins  was  not  at  all  pleased  with  his  self-pitying  balladeer  moaning  about  the  loss  of  his  hair  although  a  year  or  so  later  he  was  happy  to  call  the  team  in  to  make  the  video  for  Land  of  Confusion . Genesis 's  anonymous  keyboard  player  Tony   Banks  was  wryly  amused  that  the  puppet  had  a  stage  charisma  that  he  certainly  didn't  possess.

The  puppets  which  appeared  most  frequently  were  not  surprisingly  Thatcher  and  Reagan , the  former  depicted  as  an  evil  dictator who  eventually  had  Satan  in  her  Cabinet  and  the  latter , a  dangerous  imbecile. The  show  tried  to  be  evenhanded  in  its  politics. Labour's  Neil  Kinnock  certainly  didn't  get  an  easy  ride   but  the  politician  who  complained  the  most  was  Liberal  leader  David  Steel  who  resented  the  implication  that  he  was  a  subservient  midget  in  David  Owen's  pocket. I  think   Steel's  indolence  compared  with   Owen's  formidable  energy  was  at  least  partly  responsible  for  this  and  I've  often  wondered if  his  pre-emptive  call  for  merger  immediately  after  the  1987  election  was  influenced  by  a  desire  to  repair  the  "damage"  he  attributed  to  the  programme.

Where  the  show  really  broke  new  ground  was  in  the  coverage  of  the  Royal  Family. No  previous  programme  had  attacked  them  so  directly  including  the  Sovereign  herself. Whether  its's  really  fair  to  lampoon  someone  whose  role  precludes  the  right  to  reply  is  still  a  valid  question  but  Spitting  Image  well  and  truly  broke  the  mould  there  and  the  concept  of  deference  suffered  another  mortal  blow

The  show  suffered  a  major  blow  in  1990  when  its  biggest  star  was  shunted  off  the  stage  and  although  they  nailed  John  Major  pretty  well  as  the  pea-eating  grey  man  whose  wife  is  set  to  explode  with  boredom, there's  no  doubt  that  the increasing  convergence  of  the  parties  towards  the  centre  ground  gave  the  team  less  promising  material. In  1993  a  number  of  writers  quit  the  programme  and  the  viewing  figures  plummeted. It  was  eventually  cancelled  in  1996; a  planned  resurrection  in  2006   came  to  grief.

Apart  from  the  ones  already  mentioned above  my  favourite  bits  were :

  • Lester  Piggott  being  subtitled  whenever  he  spoke
  • Donald  Sinden's  craven  obsession  with  getting  a  knighthood  and  the  Queen  calling  him  a  "boring  old  ham"
  • Stephen  Hendry's  zits
  • Gary  Lineker  being  bland  and  reasonable  when  the  Grim  Reaper  comes  for  him
  • David  Owen  reacting  to  Clint  Eastwood's  election  as  Mayor  of  Carmel  with  the  observation " I've  always  said  it's  policies  not  personalities  that  matter"
  • Reagan  demonstrating  the  precision  of  American  fighter  pilots  in  the toilets
  • Paul  McCartney  approaching  Desmond  Tutu  for  a  duet  and  being  told "piss  off  you  Scouse  git!" 

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

657 Winter Olympics 1984

First  viewed  ;  February  1984

I  was  never  really  interested  in  the  Winter  Olympics  but  I  remember  seeing  some  footage  of  Torvill  and  Dean's  unparalleled  triumph  at  the  1984  event. Having  absolutely  no  knowledge  of  his  move  into  musical  theatre,  I  recall  being  baffled  by  Frank  Spencer's  appearance  on  the  sidelines  cheering  them  on.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

656 Alas Smith and Jones / Smith and Jones

First  viewed :  Early  1984

This  was  always  likely  to  be  disappointing - Not  The  Nine  O  Clock  News  without  the  genius  of  Rowan  Atkinson  or  Pamela  Stephenson's  sexual  charisma. The  remaining  duo  of  Mel  Smith  and  Griff  Rhys-Jones   wrote  much  of  the  material  themselves  but  also  used  some  of  the  NTNOCN  team. Former  colleague  Chris  Langham  appeared  fairly  regularly  with  them.

The  show  was  mainly  sketch-based   with  the  main  innovation  being  the  Pete  and  Dud -ish  head  to  head  dialogues  for  which  they  are  best  remembered.

I  watched  it  but  never  religiously  . My  recollection  is  that  many  of  the  sketches  went  on  a  bit  too  long  and  for  a  show  that  ran  for  ten  seasons  ( with  name  and  channel  change  about  half  way  through ) there  aren't  too  many  classic  moments  that  have  stayed  with  me. I  remember  a  laboured  sketch  about  Griff  being   a  former  woman  who's  now  an  executive  rival  of  ex-husband  Mel, a  savage  attack  on  their  own  series  for  ITV  The  World  According  To  Smith  and  Jones  and  the  duo  taking  flak  from  a  female  guest  until  she  accuses  them  of  being  worse  than  Hale  and  Pace  and  then  taking  umbrage  but  that's  about  it.

Monday, 10 April 2017

655 The Living Planet

First  viewed  :  January  1984

This  was  the  sequel  to  Life  On  Earth, another  monumental  natural  history  series  put  together  and  presented  by  David  Attenborough. This  one  was  segmented by   habitat  rather  than  tracing  the  evolutionary  tree  so  there  was  an  episodes  about  deserts , the  tundra, the  deep  ocean, the  rain  forest  and  so  on. There  was  a  strong  ecological  message  throughout  which  may  have  helped  the  emergence  of  green  issues  later  in  the  decade.

Because  of  my  circumstances  I wasn't  able  to  watch  this  as  religiously  as  Life  on  Earth  but   I  think  I've  probably  seen  most  of  it.  

Sunday, 9 April 2017

654 Razzmatazz

First  viewed  : January  1984

We  are  more  or  less  done  with  children's  TV  but  I  do  recall  watching  a  couple  of  episodes  of  this  ITV  music  series  at  the  beginning  of  1984. Razzmatazz  ran  from  1981 to  1986  and  was  very  similar  to  Cheggers  Plays  Pop  with  its  mix  of  lip-synched  performances  and  children's  games .  The  show  had  various  presenters  with  Alistair  Pirrie  having  the  longest  run  although  the  most  famous  with  hindsight  was  a  17-year  old  Lisa  Stansfield  ( who  hated  the  experience )  for  a  season  in  1983.

The  only  two  performances  I  recall  were  of  complete  turkeys - I  suppose  it's  because  I  didn't  hear  them  anywhere  else - David  Grant's  Organise  and  the  Boomtown  Rats's  Tonight .

Saturday, 8 April 2017

653 Six Into One : The Prisoner File

First  viewed : 16  January  1984

I  won't  dwell  on  this  one  long  because  we've  covered  most  of  the  ground  already.

The  infamous  final  episode  of  The  Prisoner  was  broadcast  on  16  January  1984  and  immediately  followed  by  a  documentary  programme  about  the  series . It  was  presented  in  an  appropriately  surreal  fashion  by  one  Saul  Reichlin ( ? ) a  Number  Two  figure  who  looked  disturbingly  like  disgraced  Tory  MP  Neil  Hamilton.*  However  it  did  manage  to  round  up  all  the  key  players  for  an  absorbing  insight  into  the  making  of  the  series  and  make  a  decent  attempt  at  explaining  its  meaning.

Although  Reichlin  and  many  of  the  interviewees  repeatedly  mentioned  that  Patrick  McGoohan  was  difficult  to  work  with, he  seemed  affable  enough  in  discussing  the  series  on  camera.  What  came  across  was  that  the  series  thrived  on  the  tension  between  himself  and  story  editor  George  Markstein. Markstein  was  quite  clear  that  Number  Six  was  John  Drake  and  saw  it  as  an  adventure  series   while  McGoohan  wanted  to make  it  an  allegory  and  explore  open  ended  philosophical  questions.

Alexis  Kanner  appeared  in  a  children's  playground  beneath  a  graffiti'ed  slogan  "Grenada"  ( effectively  dating  the documentary )  although  his  actual  contribution  was  quite  straightforward.

*Funnily  enough,  Hamilton  himself  would  first  come  to  public  attention  a  few  weeks  later  in  the  Panorama   programme    Maggie's  Militant  Tendency  featuring  new  Tory  MPs  whose  views  were  rather  out  there.

Friday, 7 April 2017

652 The Fight For The Settle-Carlisle

First  viewed : 16  January  1984

This  was  a  half-hour  documentary  on  what  became  a  major  issue  in  1983, the  proposed  closure  of  the  railway  line  between  Settle  and  Carlisle. The  line  was  built  by  the  Midland  Railway  in  the  1870s  as  a  result  of  commercial  rivalry  and  was  a  triumph  of  Victorian  engineering. It  also  provided  a  very  scenic  journey  as  it  snaked  through  the  sparsely  populated  Yorkshire  Dales  and  Eden  Valley.

The  line  had  experienced  a  long  decline  beginning  with  the  merging  of  railway  companies  in  1923. Beeching  suggested  the  removal  of  passenger  services  and  although  this  was  not  actioned, most  of  the  intermediate  stations  were  closed  in  1970  and  a  restricted  service  of  two  trains  a  day  in  each  direction  applied. From  1974  though,  special  Dalesrail  services  were  introduced  using  the  little  stations  to  promote  the  line  to  ramblers  and  ultimately  this  helped  to  save  the  line. In  the  early  eighties,  British  Rail  announced  that  it  thought  the  cost  of  repairing  the  viaducts  particularly  at  Ribblehead   was  too  prohibitive  to  keep  the  line  open. A  pressure  group  the  Friends  of  the  Settle-Carlisle  Line  was  created  to  resist  the  idea

In  1984, closure  notices  went  up  with  the  intention  of  ceasing  services  when  the  current  timetable  ceased  in  February. The  programme  was  made  with  that  deadline  in  mind.

My  interest  in  railways  had  lain  pretty  dormant  since  the  unwelcome  discovery back  in  1979  that  14  year  olds  were  expected  to  pay  full  fare  on  the  trains. This  re-awakened  it  and,  having  bought  a  Young  Person's  Railcard  as  soon  as  I  got  my  grant  to  facilitate  visits  home   ( with  bags  of  washing  of  course ) , I  took  a  trip  along  the  line  on  Saturday  28th  January  1984. I  can't  say  it  was  all  that  thrilling. It  was  a  lousy  day  with  a  lot  of  misty  rain  obscuring  the  views.  I  recall  visiting  Carlisle  Castle  and  Cathedral  and  moseying  around  the  latter's  bookshop. I  didn't  feel  it  was  worth  waiting  around  for  the  one  going  back  to  Leeds  at  5pm  as  the  route  would  be  in  darkness  so  I  came  back  via  the  alternative  Lancaster  route, an  attractive  journey  in  itself.

As  things  turned  out , the  line  got  a  stay  of  execution and  in  1989  was  reprieved  altogether,  a  decision  for  which  a  certain  Mr  Portillo  likes  to  claim  the  credit. As  covered  in  a  separate  blog  I  used  the  line  frequently  in  1992-3  for  walking  The  Settle-Carlisle  Way.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

651 The Thorn Birds

First  viewed  :  7  January  1984

BBC  One's  screening  of  this  US  miniseries was  very  controversial  with  many  critics  seeing  it  as  a  watershed  cultural  moment. Garbage  like  Triangle  and  The  Borgias  could  be  excused  as  not  having  turned  out  as  well  as  hoped  but  in  the  case  of  The  Thorn  Birds , Michael  Grade  saw  the  finished  product  and  purchased  it  as  a  ratings  buster. The  Beeb's  reputation  has  never  been  quite  the  same  since.

Colleen  McCullough's  novel  is  airport  trash  so  at  least  you  could  say  this  was  a  faithful  adaptation . It  concerns  a priest  Ralph  de  Bricassart  exiled  to  a  remote  parish  in  Australia  ministering  to  a  large   Catholic  family  the  Clearys. The  father  is  only  a  blacksmith  but  he  has  a  very  wealthy  sister  Mary  who  wants  to  share  her  sins  with  Ralph  but  not  in  the  confessional  booth. For  his  part,  Ralph  is  more  interested  in  the  Cleary's  only  daughter  Meggie. Mary  reacts  to  his  spurning  by  making  a  huge  bequest  to  the  church  which  leads  to  Ralph  becoming  a  cardinal  but  that  doesn't  stop  him  bonking  Meggie.

The  shortcomings  of  the  plot  were  vastly  exacerbated  by  the  casting. Richard  Chamberlain  was  nearly  50  and  utterly  unconvincing  as  the  young  priest.  Venerable  actress  Barbara  Stanwyck,   who  played  Mary,  was  pushing  80  and  her  attempted  seduction  scenes  with  Ralph  threatened  to  bring  up  your  dinner. Jean  Simmons  as  the  Cleary  mum  was  getting  pregnant  at  55.  Rachel  Ward  was  a  suitable  age  for  Meggie  but  a  diabolical  actress. There  were  one  or  two  decent  performances  from  Bryan  Brown  as  Meggie's  cuckolded  husband  and  Christopher  Plummer  as  Ralph's  Vatican  mentor  but  nothing  could  save  this  from  being  risible  melodrama .

Unfortunately,  it  was  very  popular and,  as  we  shall  see,  spawned  a  host  of  imitations  for  the  rest  of  the  decade.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

650 Only Fools and Horses

First  viewed : Uncertain

Like  many  people,  I  didn't  see  this  from  the  word  go. Though  I've  seen  the  chandelier  clip  - the  show's  earliest  highlight  - umpteen  times  I  don't  think  I  was  watching  when  the  episode  was  first  broadcast. Looking  through  the  episode  synopses,  the  first  one  I  can  definitely  recall  watching  is  the  Christmas  Day  special  in  1983  by  which  time  three  series  had  been  aired.

Famously,  Only  Fools  and  Horses  had  a  troubled  inception,  Despite  the  success  of  Citizen  Smith  , John  Sullivan  had  difficulty  getting  a  new  series  commissioned  and  it  was  only  the  success  of  Minder  on  the  other  channel  that  got  his  proposal  for  a  series  about   a  pair  of  brothers  involved  in  dodgy  trading  in  London  the  green  light.  Reliable  player  David  Jason  and  Nicholas  Lyndhurst,  who'd  recently  established  himself  as  a  comic  talent  on  Butterflies  were  signed  up  as  the  Trotter  brothers  Del  and  Rodney . Minder  proved  a  mixed  blessing  as  the   first  two  seasons  were  perceived  as  a  pale  imitation  and  were  only  moderately  popular. It  was  only  when  they  were  re-broadcast  in  the  summer  of  1983  as  a  warm-up  for  the  third  series  that  autumn  that  the  ratings  started  perking  up.

The  Christmas  special  was  notable  for  featuring  the  only  appearance  of  the  boys'  absentee  father  Reg, still  a  rogue  who  tries  to  con  Del  that  he's  illegitimate .  It  was  also  the  final  appearance  of  Lennard  Pearce  as  Grandad  , the  third  member  of  the  core  trio. Because  of  his  failing  health,  his  part in  the  forthcoming  series  had  been  reduced  so  the  substitution  of   his not  previously  mentioned  Uncle  Albert  ( Buster  Merryfield ) was  accomplished  fairly  quickly.

It  was  from  that  point  that  I  started  watching  regularly  and  for  me  the  show  had  its  peak  in  1985-6  as  the  supporting  cast , including  Roger  Lloyd  Pack  as  the  gloriously  stupid  Trigger. ,expanded  and  the  storylines  got  more  ambitious. I  particularly  liked  the  one  where  the  guys  get  taken  hostage  in  a  supermarket  by  a  young  gunman. When  he  dozes  off,   Rodney   creeps  up  on  him  but  uses  the  opportunity  to  grab  his  packet  of  fags  rather  than  the  pistol.

During  the  filming  of  the  fifth  series  in  1986   Jason  indicated  a  wish  to  move  on  and  the  show  went  on  a  hiatus  with  only  Christmas  special  episodes  in  1987  and  1988. In  the  latter  Del  fatefully  meets  a  woman  called  Raquel.

Many  people  would  cite  the  arrival  of  "the  girls"  as  the  point  of  no  return  for  the  series. I'd  go  half  way  with  that. Lyndhurst  was  pushing  30  by  1989 . He couldn't  go  on  playing  the  gormless  teenager  much  longer. He  had  to  be  allowed  to  mature  and  giving  him   a  steady  girlfriend  was  an  effective  device  to  achieve  that. Gwyneth  Strong  as  Cassandra  was  a  likable  addition  to  the  cast.

Besides , the  first  season  to  feature  her  was  a  strong  one. Sullivan  had  been  granted  his  wish  to  have  a  shorter  season  of   six  50  minute  episodes  and  these   showcased  a  more  political  edge  as  Del  self-consciously  adopted  the  trappings   of  the  yuppie  age  and  Rodney  tried  to  fit  into  Cassandra's  middle  class  milieu. It  featured  most  viewer's  favourite  moment  when  Del  falls  through  the  bar  at   a  yuppie  club  and  my  own  favourite  episode  with  the  inflatable  dolls  that  really  do  blow  up  , a  rather  daring  storyline  for  a  pre-watershed  show.

For  me  the  series  "jumped  the  shark"  in  the  1989  Christmas  special  by  reintroducing  Raquel  and  making  her  a  regular  character. Tessa  Peake-Jones  is  a  decent  actress  but  she  had  no  comic  timing  and  her  limitations  were  cruelly  exposed  in  scenes  with  Jason  and  Lyndhurst. There  was  no  good  reason  for  Del  to  settle  down  either ; his  dodgy  lady friends   had  provided  a  rich  source  of  humour  in  previous  seasons  and  with  Rodney  now  able  to  cast  a  more  sceptical  eye   on  Del's  enterprises  Raquel  wasn't  needed  as  a  critic. There  had  been  good  sense  in  keeping  Mrs  Mainwaring  and  Mrs  Daley  off  screen; Sullivan  failed  to  appreciate  that   and  so  the  seventh  and  final  season in  1991 was  burdened  with  this  inert  piece  of  baggage,  sat  on  the  couch  with  a  stupid  smirk,  trying  not  to  corpse  as  the  others  performed  around  her.

I  remember  in  particular  the  fourth  episode  where  the  occasional  character, bent  copper  Slater  ( Jim  Broadbent  )  returns  and  turns  out  to  be  Raquel's  ex-husband. Broadbent's  a  great  actor  but  I  never  felt  Slater  added  much  on  his  previous  appearances  and  the  whole  episode  was  barren  of  laughs  from  start  to  finish. Sullivan  had  turned  the  show  into  a  soap  opera  and  I  remember  dinner  table  conversations  at  work  lamenting  how  much  it  had  deteriorated.

After  that  season  ended  with  Del  becoming  a  father, the  series  continued  as  Christmas  specials  which  had  their  moments   but  the  law  of  diminishing  returns  set  in. The  1991 two-parter  sent  the  brothers  to  Miami  which  was  no  doubt  good  fun  for  them  but  the  story  was  overblown  and  laboured. The  1992  one  concerning  Del's  fake  spring  water  was  much  better. From  the  synopsis  it  looked  like  I  opted  out  of  the  1993  episode.

Two  years  went  by  without  a  visit  to  the  Trotters  and  then  there  was  a  three  parter  over   Christmas  1996. This  provided  the  last  great  comic  moment   of  the  series  when  the  brothers  disturb  a  mugging  dressed  as  Batman  and  Robin  but  even  so  it  felt  leaden  and  Jason  was  now  evidently  too  old  for  the  role. I  might  have  missed  the  middle  one. The  last  one  ended  with  the  Trotters  finally  becoming  millionaires  in  a  contrived  way.

That  was  intended  to  bring  the  series  to  a  close  but  it  was  revived  for  three  more  Christmas  specials  beginning  in  2001. The  subsequent  two  were  actually  filmed  at  the  same  time  but  held  over. Merryfield  had  died  in  the  meantime  so  the  first  one  opened  with  his  funeral. I  watched  the  first  quarter  of  an  hour  which  was  dreadful  and  that  was  it  for  me. A  year  after  the  final  episode  it  was  voted  Britain's  Best  Sitcom. I  ignored  both  spin-off  series.

Sullivan's  death  in  2011  would  appear  to  be  the  final  curtain  for  the  series.


Monday, 3 April 2017

649 Once Upon A Murder

First  viewed : 18  December  1983

Some  Christmas  holiday  viewing   now  and  this  superior  US  mini-series  was  broadcast  in  three  parts  over  consecutive  nights  on  ITV.  It  was  an  adaptation  of  Stuart  Woods'  novel  Chiefs   and  broadcast  under  that  name   in  the  US. ITV  re-branded  it  presumably  finding  the  original  title  a  little  prosaic.

The  series  follows  the  development  of  a  fictional  small  town  Delano  through  three  generations  of  its  police  chiefs  observed  by  town  patriarch  Hugh  Holmes  ( Charlton  Heston  in  moustache  and  toupee ) . The  town  becomes  very  prosperous  but  has  one  small  problem. It's  home  to  a  Gacy-like  serial  killer  in  lone  wolf  farmer  Foxy  Funderburke  ( Keith  Carradine )  whose  killing  spree  spans  over  decades. Apart  from  Carradine  who  was  nominated  for  an  Emmy  , the  dominant  performance  comes  from  Brad  Davis  as  the  "middle" police  chief  Sunny  Butts  who  gets  the  job  because  he's  a  war  hero. However  he's  also  a  violent  racist  and  sex  pest  and  Davis  is  marvellously  unhinged  in  the  role. The  rest  of  the  series  just  drops  a  notch  when  he  exits.    

Sunday, 2 April 2017

648 Royal Film Premiere - Never Say Never Again

First  viewed ; 14  December  1983

This  is  another  programme  I  recall  watching  at  my  hall  of  residence. Never  Say  Never  Again was  an  unofficial  Bond  film  which  saw  Sean  Connery  return  to  the  role  although,  as  far  as  the  plot  goes , it's  a  re-hash  of  Thunderball  which  is  of  course  in  the  canon. It's  OK , the  only  outstanding  feature  is  the  performance  of  Austrian  actor  Klaus  Maria  Brandauer  as  the  villain.

The  premiere  was  notable  for  the  performance  of  TV  historian  Michael  Wood  as  the  host. Out  of   his  comfort  zone , Wood  combined  ineptitude  with  stating  the  obvious  - " well, crowds  are  now  arriving, as  we  wait  for,er, Prince  Andrew  to  come"  and  toe-curling  fawning  at  the  stars, reminding  us  that  he  was  a  Bond  fan   at  every  opportunity. His  interviewing  skills  were  particularly  bad,  asking  the  actors  if  they  enjoyed  playing  their  roles  for  instance. My  favourite  was  when  he  said  to  beautiful  Barbara  Carrera  "Let's  now  see  a  clip  of  your  climactic  moment " .

All  this  was  mercilessly  heckled  by  the  assorted  students in  the  junior common  room  which  is  why  it's  stuck  in  my  mind. I  don't  remember  Wood  getting  a  similar  gig  again.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

647 After The Day After

First  viewed : 10  December  1983

I  made  a  decision  at  the  start  of  this  blog  not  to  cover  films  including  TV  movies  but  in  the  case  of  The  Day  After  there  was  a  discussion  programme  straight  after  it  was  broadcast    and  it  doesn't  make  sense  to  cover  that  without  some  word  on  the  film  itself. The  film  concerned  the  after-effects  of  a  nuclear war  focussing  on  a  small  town  in  Kansas  where  the  director  of  a  university  hospital  played  by  Jason  Robards  tries  to  cope  with  aiding  the  survivors  and  gradually  realises  it's  hopeless  as  he  too  succumbs  to  radiation  sickness. It's  bleak  enough  but  still  somewhat  sanitised  for  the  American  TV  audience  especially  compared  to  the  British  take  on  the  same  subject  matter  some  nine  months  later.

ITV  scored  a   coup  by  getting  the  Secretary  of  State  for  Defence, Michael  Heseltine in  for  a  debate  on  the  issues  raised  immediately  afterwards. It  was  getting  quite  late  so  I  only  watched  the  first  few  minutes. I  do  recall  Heseltine  and  the  CND  representative  ( it  wasn't  Kent )  getting  bogged  down  in  an  argument  over  whether  one  of  the  characters  had  survived  the  explosion  or  not. It  seemed  quite  surreal  that  the  man  in  charge  of  our  national  security  should  let  himself  get   embroiled  in  a  debate  better  suited  to  Screen  Test.  Once  that  was  sorted  out  and  the  well-worn  pros  and  cons  of  unilateral  vs  multilateral  disarmament  started to  receive  their  umpteenth  airing,  I  went  to  bed.