Friday, 30 June 2017

724 Storyboard : Ladies in Charge

First  viewed : 27  August  1985

Storyboard  was  an  ITV  drama  strand  similar  to the  Beeb's  Play  for  Today. Ladies  in  Charge  was  a  comic  drama   about  three  young  single  women  who,  having  been  involved  in  war  work  during  World  War  One, are  looking  for  new  sources  of  excitement. They  set  themselves  up  as  a  sort  of  detective  agency  but  the  wording  of  their  advertisement  leads  some  men  to  think  they  are  offering  services  of  a  rather  different  kind.  I  was  rather  taken  with  the  trio  of  Carol Royle,  Julia  Hills  and  Amanda  Root.

The  play made  a  good  impression  and  led  to a  short  series  under  the  same  title  although  Root  was  unavailable  and  replaced  by  Julia  Swift. Unfortunately  it  coincided  with  my  Finals  in  1986  and  passed  me  by  entirely. Only  six  episodes  were  made  and  it's  largely  forgotten.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

723 Bird Brain of Britain

First  viewed : 16  August  1985

This  was  a  one-off  wildlife  special  presented  by  a  hirsute  Simon  King. It  set  a  number  of  challenges  for  garden  birds  by  devising  contraptions  which  would  release  food  if  the  bird  followed  a  sequence  of  tasks  using  its  beak. If  I remember  correctly,  the  tits  proved  the  most  adept. It  was  first  broadcast  in  April  but  I'm  pretty  sure  it  was  the  repeat  I  saw.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

722 My Brother Jonathan

First  viewed  : 12  August  1985

This  was  a  five  part  adaptation  of  an  interwar  novel by  Francis  Brett  Young. There  was  a popular  British  film  version  in  1948  starring  Michael  Denison. It  is  remembered  as  being  the  first  and  only  TV  series  with  a  leading  role  for  Daniel Day-Lewis  as  My  Beautiful  Launderette  was  already  in  the  cinemas  when  it  was  first  broadcast.

Day-Lewis  played  Jonathan  Dakers , a  young  man  whose  parents  neglect  him  yet  dote  on  his  younger  brother  Harold  ( Benedict  Taylor ). When  his  father  dies, Jonathan  abandons  his  medical  studies  to  take  a  junior  post  in  a  medical  practice  in  an  industrial  town  so  that  Harold  can  complete  his  public  school  education  and  maintain  his  social  standing. Jonathan's  social  conscience  soon  makes  him  an  enemy  of  Dr  Craig ( John  Stone ) the  corrupt  head  of  a  rival  practice. As  if  things  weren't  bad  enough , Edie  ( Caroline  Bliss )  the  object  of  his  desire  falls  for  Harold  instead. There  isn't  a  happy  ending  either.

 Perhaps  Jonathan  is  too  good  to  be  true; is  anyone  really  that  self-sacrificing ?  Nevertheless,I  enjoyed   the  series  but  I  did  think Day-Lewis  was  actually  a  bit  wooden.  My  mum  disagreed  and  said  his  ponderous  delivery was  a  mark  of  his  being  "very  upper  class".

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

721 The Gong Show

First  viewed : Summer  1985

This  influential  talent  show  certainly  brightened  up  tea  times  for  a  couple  of  months  in the  Countdown  slot  on  Channel  Four.

The  Gong  Show had  actually  been  cancelled in  the  US  five  years  earlier  so  we  were  watching  episodes  from  the  late  seventies. The  format  was  somewhat  similar  to  New  Faces  with  the  acts  performing  to  a   three-strong  celebrity  panel,  each  one  of  whom  had  the  ability  to  bring  the  act  to  a  close  by  striking  the  titular  gong  after  a  specified  amount  of  time. The  panel  were  reasonably  famous; Jamie  Farr  from  M.A.S.H.  seemed  to  be  on  a  lot  and  I  remember  seeing  Dionne  Warwick, looking  very  uncomfortable  once.

There  were  occasionally  acts  who  were  reasonably  talented  but  they  didn't  win  very  much. The  point  of  the  show  was  that  most  of  the  acts  were  absolutely  dire, just  begging  to  be  gonged. A  classic  example  were  Have  You  Got  A  Nickel  ( pictured  above ),  two  nubile  young  girls  in  hot  pants  whose  act  consisted  of  sitting  on  the  floor  eating  ice  lollies  suggestively. Amazingly, the  panel  allowed  them  to  complete  their  "performance".

The  first  shows  we  saw  here  were  presented  by  a  guy  called  John  Barbour  who was  your  bog  standard  oily  US  TV  host. He  left  early  on  and  was  replaced  by  the  show's  creator  Chuck  Baris  who  was  something  else. Leaning  back  with  his  eyes  closed  and  the  phoniest  perma-grin   on  his  face,   Chuck  took  insincerity  to  a  new  art  form,chiding  the panel  - "Aww,what  did  you do  that  for ?" - with  mock  horror  whenever  the  gong  was  struck.  I  remember  watching  the  end of  the  Racing  that  preceded  it  once  and  John  McCririck  gave  the  show  an  impromptu  trailer -
"Stay  tuned  for  that  Gong  Show. It's  tacky, it's  hideous  but  it's  also  hilarious. That  guy  who  presents  it  is  the  worst  human  being  in  the  world."
Quite  an  endorsement  when  you  think  about  it.

There  were  a  couple  of  repeat  acts  who  were  purely  there  to  feed  Chuck. The  Unknown  Comic  was  a  man  with a  paper  bag  on  his  head  who  bantered  with  the  host  and  was  occasionally  amusing. Gene  Gene  The  Dancing  Machine on  the  other  hand  was  an  overweight  stage  hand  who  shuffled  about  amidst  a  storm of  missiles  from  the  audience  while  Chuck  demonstrated   Forsyth-esque  dancing  skills  to  his  backing  track.

The  show  ended  here  when  Richard  and  Carol  returned  from  their  summer  holidays . A  pilot  for  a  British  version hosted  by  Frankie  Howerd  died  a  horrible  death  that  December  and  it  was  never  seen  again. Baris  died  earlier  this  year aged  87.


Monday, 26 June 2017

720 No Limits

First viewed : Summer  1985

This  was  another  Jonathan  King  effort, a  sort  of  British  counterpart  to  Entertainment  USA. The  show  would  come  from a  different  town  each  week  and  its  young  presenters  would  anchor  what  was  almost  a  tourist  information  film  about  the  place, interspersed  with  music  videos  featuring, surprise  surprise, American  AOR  hits. King  advertised  for  new  presenting  talent  in  his  column  for  The  Sun  but  after  the  changeover  at  the  end  of  season  one  he  got  fed  up  of  this  and  so  Jenny  Powell and  Tony  Baker  ( above ) remained  in  place  for  the  rest  of  the  series.

The  programme  was  unceremoniously  dumped  in  1988  when  Janet  Street-Porter  took  over  as  Head  of  Youth  Programming  and  axed  both  of  King's  shows   as  one  of  her  first  priorities. Powell  dusted  herself  down  and  her  presenting  career  is  still  ongoing  but  Baker  has  disappeared.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

719 Bodymatters

First  viewed : Summer  1985

I  wouldn't  have  remembered  what  this  was  called  but  I  do  recall  this  popular  medical  programme  presented  by  Graeme  Garden   ( now  minus  most  of  his  hair ). Graeme  presented  it  in  a  jocular  fashion,, usually  in  a  lab  coat,   but  it  was  a  serious  programme.

The  only  bit  that's  stuck  with  me  is  Graeme  giving  a  big  build  up  before  unveiling  the  creature  with  the  fastest  reflexes  in  the  animal  kingdom  which  turned  out  to  be   - the  cockroach ! He  then  demonstrated  this  by  trying  and  failing  to  swat  some. Bad  news  for  Environmental Health  Officers  everywhere.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

718 After the Bomb Nagasaki-Return Journey

First  viewed : 29  July  1985

This  was  one  of  a  series  of  programmes  to  mark  the  40th  anniversary  of  the  atomic  bombs  on  Hiroshima  and  Nagasaki  which  ended  the  Second  World  War. Ludovic  Kennedy  was  the  anchor man. The  one  I  saw  followed  Leonard  Cheshire, an  observer  on  the  plane  that  dropped  the  bomb  on  Nagasaki  and  a  British  P.o.W. who  saw  its  effects  on  the  ground  returning  to  the  city  to  chew  over  its  fate. Both  remained  convinced  that  the  bombing  was  necessary  and  justified.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

717 Fell Tiger

First  viewed : 24  July  1985

This  six-part serial  on  Wednesday  evenings  seems  to  have  fallen  through  the  cracks  which  is  a  little  surprising as  it  was  the  first  TV  series  to  give  the  leading  role  to  David  Hayman. It  also  featured  one  of  the  last  appearances  of  Dr  Who's  Ian  Marter  in  a  supporting  role.

Hayman  played  Joe  Barrow, a  dour  professional  rock  climber  who  is  forced  to  re-evaluate  his  life  when  a  serious  accident  curtails  his  career. His  marriage  to  Kath  ( Alison  Spiro ) is  on  the  rocks  but  he  fancies  his  doctor, Susan ( Jan  Harvey ) anyway. He  gets  a  job  as  an  instructor  at  an  Outward  Bound  School in  the  Lakes  but  his  lack  of  people  skills  and  dodgy  boss  Don  ( Neil  Phillips  from  A  Kind  Of  Loving  )  don't  make  his  new  life  any  easier.

The  similarity  in  the  premise  to   the  soon-to-come  Howard's  Way  had  me  looking  at  the  respective  crews  for  connections  but,  apart  from  proximity  and  Jan  Harvey  starring  in  both,  I  couldn't  find  any.

Fell  Tiger  had  great  scenery  ( the  main  draw  for  me ) but  not  much  else  to  recommend  it. If  I  recall  correctly  there  wasn't  much  climbing  footage  in  it. The  series  went  out  at  8pm  and it  perhaps  needed  to  be  post-watershed to  pep  up  the  party  with  some  sex  and  violence.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

716 Film Buff of the Year

First  viewed : 23  July 1985

I  can  only  remember  watching  this  once  and  I  can  pin  it  down  to  the  same  evening  as  the  OMD  concert  which  makes  sense.

Film  Buff  of  the  Year  was  a  cross  between  Mastermind  and   Screen  Test  chaired  by  the  dry-as-a-bone  Robin  Ray. There  were  specialist  rounds  but  they  were  assigned   in  advance  not  chosen ;  my  personal  nightmare   would  have  been  Jerry  Lewis. The  episode  I  watched  had  a  guy  answering  questions  about  Clint  Eastwood. I  remember  one  of  the  questions  was  name  a  film  in  which  Clint  Eastwood  dies . The  Beguiled   must  have  been  one  but  I'm  a  bit  stumped  for  the  others. High  Plains  Drifter  would  be  a  tricky  one  to  call.

The  series  ran   from  1982  to  1986.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

715 OMD Live At Sheffield City Hall

First  viewed : 23  July  1985

This  was  a  one-off  special  by  the  ORS  85  crew  interspersing  concert  footage  from  a  date  on  the  Crush  tour  with  a  mini-documentary  presented  by  Peter  Powell  who  was,  to  be  fair, a  long  time  fan  of  the  band. This  included  a  brief  contribution  from  Tony  Wilson  and  a  short  interview  with  the  guys  themselves.

The  concert  was  fairly  enjoyable  although  the  sound  was  a  bit  murky  and  Andy  McCluskey's  vocals  were  always  a  bit  wayward  even  in  the  studio, The  other  comment  to  make  is   that  this  wasn't  the  best  time  to  catch  OMD. The  Crush  LP  was  patchy and  the  one  before  that,  Junk  Culture , was  a  dog  so  you  got  crap  like  White  Trash    and  Crush  rubbing  shoulders  with  the  classics - Messages, Enola  Gay,  Maid  of  Orleans  and  so  on.

Monday, 19 June 2017

714 Off The Record

First  viewed : Uncertain

This  10  minute  BBC 2  space  filler  was  like  a  condensed  version  of  Radio  One's  My  Top  !2. Steve  Blacknell  turned  up  at  a  celebrity's  home  , rifled  through  their  record  collection  and  chose  one  or  two  discs  for  a  30-second  clip  and  a  few  words  of  praise  from  the  owner. It  wasn't  a  bad  idea  for  a  longer  show  but  it  simply  wasn't  worth  the  trouble  of  tuning  in  for  just  10  minutes.

The  only  one  I'm  certain  I  saw  ( because  of  what  followed  it  )  was  on  23.7.85  when  the  subject   was  camp  astrologist  Russell  Grant. I  remember  him   picking  out  Chris  de  Burgh and, this  being  pre  -The  Lady  In  Red ,  my  mum  saying  she'd  never  heard  of  him. 

Sunday, 18 June 2017

713 Live Aid

First  viewed  : 13  July  1985

This  of  course  was  the  TV  event  of  the  year, the  huge  concert  following  on  from  the  Band  Aid  record. I  have  already  written  about  it  on  other  blogs  so  you'll  have  to  forgive  any  repetition  here.

The  TV  coverage  was  on  BBC Two,  compered  by  the  Whistle  Test  team  with  various  Radio  One  DJs  and  other  celebrities  dropping  by  to  help.  Some  of  these  no  doubt  baffled   American  viewers  and  Ian  Astbury  from  The  Cult,  who'd  only  just  cracked  the  Top  40 , baffled  everybody  including  host  David  Hepworth  who  only  worked  out  who  he  was  right  at  the  end  of  the  link. The  Wembley  Stadium  concert  finished  around  9pm  with  the  one  at  the  JFK  Stadium  in  Philadelphia  continuing  into  the  small  hours. It  should  be  remembered  that  other  countries  were  participating  too  as  sporadic  satellite  inserts  showed.

I  didn't  watch  it  right  through. I  had  to  compromise  with  my  Dad  as  there  was  cricket  on  BBC  One. I  watched  the  first  few  acts  - Status  Quo, Style  Council, Boomtown  Rats ,Adam  Ant  ( a  one  song  set  comprising  his  failed  comeback  hit )  and  Ultravox. The  latter  were  one  of  the  few  acts  I  genuinely  wanted  to  see  because  apparently  Bob  Geldof  and  Harvey  Goldsmith  ( presumably  with  Midge  Ure's  acquiescence  )  had  decided  they  didn't  want  any  synth  acts  apart  from  Ultravox  so  no  OMD, Human  League  or  Depeche  Mode. I  can  understand  the  thinking,  that  they  were  putting  on  a  rock  concert  but  other  people  on  the  bill  - Style Council, Sade, solo  Bryan  Ferry , Nik  Kershaw  - weren't  playing  stadium-friendly  music  either.

I  came  back  to  it    briefly  around  4.30  during  Paul  Young's  set  then  it  was  tea  time  and  when  I  returned  it  was  Queen, universally  regarded  as  the  best  set  of  the day. I  then  saw  the Dancing  In  The  Streets video, Simple  Minds, David  Bowie, Pamela  Stephenson  blubbing  at  the  Ethiopian  footage  set  to  The  Cars'  Drive, The  Who , Elton  John, Madonna  with  The  Thompson  Twins  ( one  imagines  her  viewing  that  now  and  asking  "Who  were  those  guys  again ? ),  Paul  McCartney  and  his  malfunctioning  microphone   and  then  the  all  star  rendition  of   Do  They  Know  Its  Christmas   featuring  a  peeved  Stuart  Adamson  whose  band  had  been  left  off  the  bill  because  Geldof  thought  they'd  split  up.

That  closed  the  Wembley  concert . I  stayed  with  Philadelphia  through  Tom  Petty, The  Cars  , Neil  Young  and  The  Power  Station   featuring  Michael  Des  Barres   deputising  for  the  indisposed  Robert  Palmer. Then  Jeff  Bridges  took  the  mike  to  do  the  link  to  the  next  act. With  no  clear  idea  of  what  he  was  going  to  say,  the  actor  made  a  complete  tit  of  himself, improvising  a  history  lesson  about  "us  flower  children"   before  finishing  with  the  words  "Phew  rock  and  roll". The  memory  intruded  when  watching  his  films   for  years  afterwards.
The  next  act  were  unfortunately  Crosby  Stills  and  Nash  who  carried  on  in  that  vein  giving  little  homilies  about  Woodstock  before  a  set  of  their  most  anodyne  songs. I  decided  it  was  time  for  bed  so  yes  guys  you  literally  did  send  me  to  sleep.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

712 Travelling Man

First  viewed :  July  1985

This  is  one  that  got  away  for  me. I  saw  odd  bits  of  it  when  the  first  season  was  repeated  in  the  summer  of  1985  and  was  intrigued  but  it  was  on  too  late  and  for  most  of  the  second  season  I  was  living  in  a house  without  a TV.

Travelling  Man  was  made  by  Granada. It  was  written  by  Roger  Marshall  one  of  the  original  team  on  The  Avengers. Leigh  Lawson  played  Max  Lomax, an  ex-policeman  who  has  recently  been  released  from  stir  after  being  framed   for  a   drugs  offence  . He  retreats  to  his  narrowboat  Harmony  on  the  Cheshire  Ring , observed  by  various  parties  who  believe  he  has  access  to  a  stash  of  money. Max  is  looking  for  both  his son  Stephen  and  the  man  who  framed  him   and  this  is  the  overarching  narrative  although  Max  has  diversionary  adventures  along  the  way  so  that  many  of  the  episodes  are  self-contained. There  are  obvious  similarities to   Out  and  The  Fugitive  and  Shoestring  were  also  influences.

What  made  Travelling  Man  unique  was  the  setting, the  grim  storylines  working  themselves  out  against  the  picturesque  and  lesisurely-paced   lifestyle  of  the  canal  traveller  although  unfortunately  it  was  all  shot  on  VT. The  series  was  successful  and  the  haunting  theme  tune  was  a  minor  hit  for  Duncan  Browne  but  a  third  season  had  to  be  scrapped  because  Lawson   fell  out  with  the  producers.

The  series also  introduced  some  young  talent. Alan  Cumming  made  his  TV  debut  in  one  episode  as  Max's  pal  Jamie  and  it  also  provided  my  first  sighting  of  Kate  Hardie  as  jailbait  Susie.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

711 Emmerdale Farm

First  viewed :  April  1985

I  don't  know  why  my  mum  started  watching  this  in  1985; we'd  ignored  it  throughout  the  seventies. Yorkshire  TV's  answer  to  Coronation  St  had  always  been  a  poor  relation, shunted  around  the  daytime  schedules  by  the  different  ITV  companies  and  much  mocked  for  its  agricultural  storylines. Nonetheless  the  show had  gradually  built  up  a  loyal  audience  and  by  the  eighties  had  a  regular  twice-weekly  evening  slot  on  Tuesdays  and  Thursdays  i.e.  the alternative  nights  to  Coronation  Street.

I  picked  up  on  it  during  the  Easter  Holidays  in  1985. The  storylines  at  the  time  seemed  to  concentrate  on  the  alpha  male  rivalry  between  independent  farmer  and   miserable  bugger  Jack  Sugden  ( Clive  Hornby  ) and  the  suave  but  rotund  Alan  Turner  ( Richard  Thorp ), manager  for  a  larger  agricultural  concern  NY  Estates. Turner  was  a  fairly  recent  addition  to  the  cast as  a  replacement  for  Jack's  younger  brother  Joe  (  Frazer  Hines who  was  taking  time  out  from  the  show ). There  was  some  tabloid  interest  in  building  up  Turner  as  a  JR  type  villain   but  it  never  really  caught  on  ; he  was  an  averagely  venal  man  who  caught  corners  when  he  could  but  never  a  real  villain.

The  rivalry  took  on  an  extra  spice  when  Turner  accidentally  ran  over  Jack's  rather  charmless  illegitimate  son  Jackie  Merrick  ( Ian  Sharrock )  putting  him  in  intensive  care  for  a  while. There  were  further  complications  when  Jackie's  sister  Sandy  started  seeing  Turner's  slimy  son  Terence  ( Stephen  Marchant ).

There  were  a  couple  of   characters  I'd  heard  of  before  watching  the  show  was  pompous  pub  landlord  Amos  Brearley  with  his  pipe  and  mutton  chop  whiskers  and  catchphrase  "Nay  Nay  Mr  Wilks" , your  stereotypical  tight-fisted  and  belligerent  Yorkshireman.  The  other  was  Walter, an  extra  in  the  pub  scenes "played" by  a  guy  called  Al  Dixon. He  was  never  credited  in  the  cast  list  because  he  didn't  say  anything  but  he  was  always  there  and  became  a  sort  of  running  joke.

Towards  the  end  of  1985,  the  cast  was  shaken  up  by  the  re-appearance  of  lawless  quarry  owner  Harry  Mowlem  ( Godfrey  James ) an  aggressive  Bluebeard character  who  came  to  a  sticky  end  at  the  hands  of  local  villains. At  that  point  though  I  had  a  tough  call  to  make. The  Thursday  episode  was  scheduled  against  BBC1's  fledgling  soap  Eastenders  which  was  taking  a  hit  as  a  result. At  the  beginning  of  1986  therefore,  the  BBC  Controller  Michael  Grade  decided  to  switch  that  episode  around  with  Top  of  the  Pops . We  didn't  have  a  VCR  at  this  point  so  reluctantly  I  had  to  let  Emmerdale  Farm  go  just  as  they  were  introducing  a stunning  new  character  in  Kathy  Bates ( Malandra  Burrows ).

Therefore,  I  wasn't  watching  in  1993  when  Phil  Redmond   changed  the  rules  of  the  game  for  British  soaps  for  good   by  having  a  plane  crash  into  the village, wiping  out  a  few  unnecessary  characters. I  remember  my  friend  Rosemary  lamenting  the  demise  of  her  favourite, Archie. It  was  a  genuine  TV  landmark  and  revived  interest  in  an  ailing  soap now  renamed  as  Emmerdale..

I  didn't  get  back  into  it  until  the  end  of  1997  when  I  was  newly  married  and  mortgaged. My  wife  liked  it  and  we  couldn't  afford  to  go  out  much. After  over  a  decade  away there  was  much  to  catch  up  on. There  were  only  three  survivors  from  my  previous  stint, Jack  with  his  false  teeth, Alan  Turner  who  now  ran  the  pub,Amos  having  retired  to  Spain   and  shiftless  gamekeeper  Seth  Armstrong  ( Stan  Richards ), still  sporting  that  stupid  handlebar  moustache.

Terence  was  no  longer  in  the  cast  although  oddly  the  actor's  name  had  been  re-cycled   for  a  new  character, the  shifty  yuppie  boyfriend  of  the  show's  queen  bitch  Kim  Tate  ( Claire  King ).  She  was  in  permanent  conflict  with  her  stepson  Chris  who'd  been  left  crippled  by  the  plane  crash  and  was  played  by  her  real-life  husband  Peter  Avory.

When  not  focussed  on  the  Tates  , much  of  the  attention  went  to  a  family  of  ne'er  do  wells  the  Dingles , their  star  early  on  being  the  super-sized  Mandy  Dingle  ( Lisa  Riley  who  soon  outgrew  the  show,  so  to  speak ). I  watched  it  for  around  three  years  but  gradually  got  a  bit  fed  up  with  the  stunt  storylines  , the  never-ending  supply  of  new  Dingles   and  the  casting  of  Seventies  refugees  like  Patrick  Mower  and  Elisabeth  Estensen. Thereafter  I'd  check  in  sporadically  but  I  really  disliked  the  character  Cain  Dingle  and  thought  the  storyline  of  him  screwing  both  the  policewoman  and  her  young  daughter  was  distasteful. What  really  ended  my  interest  was  the  Soapstars  programme  in  2002  which  catapulted  five  amateur  actors  into  the  show  to  the  alarm  of  acting  union  Equity  and  the  rest  of  the  cast. Although  they  did  well  enough  to  earn  an  extension  to   their  initial  contracts,  they  were  all  gone  within  a  year  and  the  whole  episode  seemed  grubby  and  cynical. The  following  year  I  tuned  in  to  watch  the  hammy  exit  of  Chris  Tate  then  my  interest  ceased  for  good.  

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

710 The Max Headroom Show

First  viewed  ;  April  1985

There  are  few  more  identifiably  eighties  icons  than  Max  if  only  as  a  sort  of  test  card  for  how  far  computer  graphics  had  come  on  by  1985.

Max  was  a  product  of  the  boom  in  promotional  videos; both  his  creators,  Rocky  Morton  and  Annabel  Jankel , were  involved  in  the  business  and  launched  the  character  in  an  hour-long  TV  drama  set  in  a  dystopian  future. Canadian  actor  Matt  Frewer   played  an  investigative  reporter  who  meets  with  a  nasty  accident . While  comatose  his  brain  waves  are  digitally  recorded  by  a  computer  geek  and  used  to  launch  a  virtual  version   which  soon  turns  out  to  have  an  eccentric  life  of  its  own. I  wasn't  sufficiently  enticed  to  watch  the  original  programme.

The  character  was  then  used  to  host  an  early  Saturday  evening  show  starting  the  following  week  on  Channel  Four. It  was  very  similar  to  Rock n. America   with   Max  providing  comic  inserts  in  between  pop  videos. Frewer  remained  in  the  role  and  was  allowed  creative  input  into  the  character  which  he  based  on  a  particularly  insincere  and  smarmy  US  TV  host. Because  VR  was  still  in  its  infancy,  his  appearance  was  not  actually  computer-generated  at  all  and  required  Frewer  to  spend  many  hours  virtually  immobilised  in  latex.

I  still  wasn't  in  from  the  beginning  and  remember  my  mum  shouting  me  down  from  upstairs  wondering  why  I  wasn't  watching  a  programme  that  showed  a  lot  of  music  videos. It  never  became  appointment  TV  for  me ; I  found  Max's  smart  alec  persona  irritating  as  of  course  it  was  meant  to  be. Nevertheless,  it  considerably  boosted  Channel  Four's  viewing  figures.

By  the  time  of  the  second  season  the  producers  had  realised  the  potential  of  Max  as  an  interviewer  who  could  ask  questions  human  hosts  would   avoid. Sting  was  one  of  the  initial  victims. The  road  to  Mrs  Merton  starts  here.

The  third  and  final  season  was  early  in  1987. One  of  the  very  last  episodes  featured  Max  interviewing  Oliver  Reed  not  long  after  his  notorious  appearance  on  Aspel  &  Company. On  this  occasion  Reed  was  debonair, completely  sober  and  unruffled  by  anything  Max  could  throw  at  him.

By  then  the  producers  felt  that  the  show  had  run  its  course. The  latter  two  seasons  had  been  shown  in  the  U.S.  but  not  made  much  impact  in  a  nation  saturated  by  MTV's  fare. Instead  ABC  went  back  to  source  and  re-shot  the  pilot  retaining  Frewer  but  making  some  plot  changes. It  launched  Max  Headroom , a  sci-fi  adventure  series  which  ran  for  two  seasons  in  1987-88. If  this  was  ever  shown  in  the  UK,  I  never  saw  it.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

709 Paisley, Child of Wrath, Man of God

First  viewed : 12  April  1985

This  was  a  late  night  BBC  One  documentary  about  the  mad  bigot  who  had  already  proved  himself  to  be  one  of  the  major  obstacles  to  achieving  peace  in  Northern  Ireland. The  "Reverend "  Ian  Paisley  had  had  himself  ordained  in  America   to  set  up  a  splinter  church  of  his  own, his  views  being  too  extreme  for  mainstream  Presbyterianism  ( not  known  for  its  liberalism  as  we're  currently  being  reminded ) . The  man  imagined  himself  to  be  a  latter  day  John  Knox  and  it  shows  just  how  bad  the  situation  in  Northern  Ireland  had  become  that  his  violently  expressed  sixteenth  century  bigotry  found  a  mass  following.

We  know  his  story  had  a  happy-ish  ending   but  that  looked  a  long  way  off  when  this  was  broadcast.

Monday, 12 June 2017

708 Cover Up

First  viewed :  11  April  1985

This  one  season-only  US  series  is  only  really  remembered  for  killing  off  one  of  its  cast.

Cover  Up    starred  Jennifer  O' Neill  as  Dani  Reynolds,  a  famous  fashion  photographer  who  discovers  that  her  husband's  death  was  due  to  him  being  a  government  agent. Despite  a  rather  obvious  lack  of  training,  Dani  decides  to  pick  up  where  he  left  off  and  recruits  a photogenic  ex-Green  Beret   Mac  ( Jon-Eric  Hexum )  as  part  of  her  cover  now  that  she's  working  for  the  CIA.

By  the  time  the  pilot  was  shown  here , we knew  the  tragic  story. Hexum  had  been  fooling  around  with  a  gun  on  set  preparing  for  a  scene  and  managed  to  fire  the  wadding  from  a  blank  cartridge  into  his  skull. He  died  six  days  later. The  producers  decided  to  go  with  the  eight  episodes  they  had  in  the  can  then  replace  Mac  with  a  new character played  by  Anthony  Hamilton. As  with  any  unexpected  death  in  the  US, there's  been  some  lurid  speculation  after  his  mother  settled  out  of  court  with  the  TV  company  but  there's  nothing  there  but  a  stupid  accident.

I  watched  some  of  the  pilot  but  it  didn't  engage  me  so  I  never  came  back  to  it. It  was  cancelled  after  one  season due  to  poor  ratings.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

707 Bleak House

First  viewed : 8  April 1985

This  was  the  BBC's  second  adaptation of  the  Charles  Dickens  classic, the  first  being  broadcast  in  1959. It  was  adapted  into  eight  50  minute  parts  by  Arthur  Hopcraft  and  broadcast  on  BBC2  on  a  Wednesday  with  a  Sunday  repeat.

The  action  begins  when  three  young  people,  Esther, Ada and  Richard  go  to  live  with  their    guardian  John  Jarndyce  played  by  Denholm  Elliott. All  are  in  some  way  connected  with  an  interminable  legal  case  involving  conflicting  wills , Jarndyce  v  Jarndyce   from   which  the  wise  and  kindly  John  expects  absolutely  nothing  and  counsels  his  wards  accordingly. Nearby  live  an  aristocratic  couple,  the  Dedlocks, also  involved  in  the  case. Lady  Dedlock  ( Diana  Rigg )  is  startled  by  the  handwriting  on  a  routine  legal  document  which  the  family lawyer  Tulkinghorn  ( Peter  Vaughan )  notices  and  decides  to  investigate. As  usual  with  Dickens, there  is  a  large  cast  of  colourful  supporting  players  played  by  the  likes  of  Bernard  Hepton, Frank  Windsor  and  T  P  McKenna . The  final  episode  is  largely  concerned  with  the  disintegration  of  young  Richard  ( an  early  role  for  Darling  Buds  of  May 's  Philip  Franks )  who  casts  off  his  guardian's  advice  and  gets  involved  in  the  case.

I  saw  the  first  and  final  episodes  but , again due  to  living  in  a  hall  of  residence, only  snatches  of  what  came  in  between  which  was  a  shame   because   it  looked  very  good. With  a  cast  like  that, it  could  hardly  fail.

Why  the  Beeb  decided   to  commission  Andrew  Davies  to  produce  another  version  twenty  years  later  I'm  not  quite  sure.


Saturday, 10 June 2017

706 Racing

First  viewed  : April  1985

This  is  an  equivalent post  to  the  one  about  cricket  the  previous  year, something  I  was  watching  to  ward  off  holiday  boredom. To  make  it  more  interesting,  I  popped  out  to  the  bookies  and  put  a  small  bet  on  a  horse  called  Temple  Rise. In  a  photo-finish  it  was  declared  joint  winner. Thankfully,  I  didn't  develop  the  habit.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

705 I Woke Up One Morning

First  viewed  : March  1985

This  was  a  violently  depressing  "comedy"  from  the  pen  of  Carla  Lane. Michael  Angelis  led  the  cast  as  one  of  four  alcoholics  drying  out  on  a  detoxification  programme.. The  premise  didn't  promise  too  many  laughs  and  it  didn't  deliver  any. The  wonder  is  that  it  ran  to  a  second  season  the  following  year.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

704 The Last Place On Earth

First  viewed  : March  1985

Again,  I  just   dipped  into  this  ITV  serial, perhaps  only  the  last  episode.  It  was  a  dramatisation  of  the  race  between  Scott  and  Amundsen  for  the South  Pole  in  1912 It  was  made  by  Central  Television  alone  although  it  featured  all  Norwegian  actors   for  Amundsen's  party  with  the  unknown  Sverre  Ankar  Ousdal  playing  Amundsen. Martin  Shaw played  Scott  and  the series  gave  him  that  crucial  opportunity  to  escape  from  his  Professionals  persona  that  would  always  elude  Lewis  Collins.

The  series  had  an  excellent  cast  ( including  a  young  Hugh  Grant  in  a  minor  role )  and  high  production  values. Given  the  setting  and   how  well  known  the  eventual  outcome  was, it  couldn't  evade seeming  a  bit  gloomy  but  it  was  impressive  TV  nonetheless.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

703 Cover Her Face

First  viewed : March  1985

Another  partly-glimpsed  serial  from  the  first  half  of  1985, Cover  Her  Face  was    ITV's  third   P.D. James  adaptation  with  Roy  Marsden  as  poetry-loving  detective  Adam  Dalgleish. This  one  had  a  particularly  convoluted  plot  shifting  from  the  murder  of  a  Cypriot  drug  dealer  that  Dalgleish  was  already  investigating  in  London  to  the  country  mansion  of  the  Maxie  family  living  a  highly  anachronistic  lifestyle  for   the  1980s. The  connecting  link,  or  one  of  them  at  least , was  Sally  Jupp   ( Kim  Thomson ) a  single  mother  and  scheming  minx  who  doesn't  make  it  to  the  final  episode. Life  On  Mars 's  Philip  Glenister  had  an  early  role  as  her  bumpkin  patsy.

I  came  in  about  halfway  through  and  was  intrigued  enough  to  see  it  through  to  the  end  where  the  murderer,  as  usual,  turned  out  to  be  the  least  likely  suspect.

Monday, 5 June 2017

702 Wogan

First  viewed : Uncertain

I'm  sure  I  must  have  caught  some  of  the  earlier  iterations  of  this  show  that  went  out, usually  on  a  Saturday  night,  in  1982-84   following  the  success  of  his  encounter  with  Larry  Hagman. However  what  I'm  really  talking  about  here  is  the  thrice-weekly  show  that  went  out  at  7pm  from  February  1985  when  Michael  Grade  re-vamped  the  schedules.

Wogan  lasted  half  an  hour  and  was  unashamedly  a  plug  show. Everyone  on  it  was  selling  something. It  normally  got  through  three  guests,  interviewed  separately,  with  a  musical  break  though  these  were  much  reduced  and  restricted  to  established  acts  in  later  years. I  remember  my  mum  being  enthused  by  an  appearance  by  The  Flaming  Mussolinis  early  on.

This  was  Terry  Wogan  at  the  height  of  his  fame  but  crucially  not  at  his  best. As  the  Victoria  Principal  interview  referred  to  a  few  posts  back  proved, he  could  not  be  as  irreverent  as  he  was  on  radio. All  guests  had  to  be  accorded  a  certain  amount  of  deference  and  the  strain  showed. At  the  time  I  thought  the  squirming  in  the  chair  was  part  of  his  act  along  with  the  regrettable  mugging  and  sideways  glances  at  the  camera  but  after  a  thoughtful  interview  he  gave  to  Smash  Hits  I  realised  that  he  was  genuinely  uncomfortable  with  representing  the  Establishment.

He  had  some  breaks  with  guest  presenters   coming  in  like  Derek  Jameson  and  Sue  Lawley  who  disgraced  herself  by  allowing  the  audience  to  mock  Vivienne  Westwood. Bruce  Forsyth  took   that   opportunity  to  re-launch  himself  as  an  all-round  entertainer  after  years  of  crappy  game  shows  and  a  dire  sitcom  on  ITV.

As  the  decade  turned , the  totemic  eighties  shows  - and  this  was  undoubtedly  one  of  them -   started  shedding  viewers. I  didn't  see  the  infamous  George  Best  interview  in  1990  (and  still  haven't  seen  the  whole  version  which  apparently  contained  some  very  libellous  remarks  about  Tommy  Docherty )  but  it  certainly  didn't  do  the  programme  any  favours.

There  was  though  one  huge  spike  in  the  declining  viewing  figures , in  1991 when  David  Icke  called  in. Icke  had  quit  his  successful  TV   presenting  career  in  order  to  become  a  spokesperson  for  the  Green  Party  and  was  at  the  helm  when  they achieved  15%  of  the  vote  in  the  1989  European  elections. He  left  that  position  a  year  or  so  later  and  we  soon  found  out  why. Early  in  1991  he  called  perhaps  the  most  bizarre  press  conference  of  all  time  in  order  to  announce  the  probable  end  of  the  world, his  own  qualification to  be  the chosen  prophet  as  a  son  of  God  and  the  special  properties  of  the  colour  turquoise. The  general  verdict  was  that  he  had  suffered  a  serious  mental  breakdown  and  gone  insane.

His  appearance  on  the  show  promised  to  be  a  real  car  crash,  particularly  after  the  Westwood   experience  and  certainly  the  studio  audience  were  ready  to  turn  it  into  a  bearpit. To   his  credit,  Icke  was  extremely  calm  and  made  his  arguments  very  cogently. Terry wasn't  rude  to  him  and   occasionally   tried  to  pick  at  the  low  hanging  fruit  in  Icke's  rhetoric  with  polite  scepticism  but  mainly  he  just  listened  with  increasingly  visible  discomfort. He  entirely  missed  the  largest  chink  in  Icke's  armour, that  "the  Godhead"  had  told   him  to  move  a  younger  woman  into  his  home  alongside  his  wife,  but  perhaps  that  wasn't  a  suitable  line  of  inquiry  that  early  in  the  evening.

It  wasn't  long  after  that  that  Terry  told  the  Beeb  he  thought  the  show  had  had  its  day  and  he  wanted  to  quit. He  was  persuaded  to  stick  it  out  another  year  before  the  show finally  made  way  for  ill-fated  soap  El  Dorado . Terry  was  moved  to  a  Friday  night  show,  more  focused  on  comedy  with  Frank  Skinner  as  a  sidekick,  but  it  failed  to  pull  enough  punters  away  from  The  Word  and  didn't  last. Terry  retreated  back  to  radio  and  we  soon  fell  in  love  with  him  again.


Sunday, 4 June 2017

701 Charters and Caldicott

First viewed  : February  1985

Again, I  only  saw  a  small  portion  of  this  comic  drama   serial  at  the  beginning  of  1985. The  original  Charters  and  Caldicott  were  two  cricket-loving  obsessives  used  as  comic  relief  in  the  1938  Hitchcock  film  The  Lady  Vanishes. They  were  so  popular  they  appeared  in  other  films  and  on  radio  until  one  of  the  actors  died  in  1952.  Keith  Waterhouse  decided  to  revive  them  and  place  them  as  old  men  in  the  eighties  played  by  Robin  Bailey  and  Michael  Aldridge. Bailey  of  course  had  form  playing  a  cricket  bore  in  Tales  from  the  Long  Room  which  was  revived  - with  Bailey- on  Channel  4  immediately  after  this  series  finished.

The plot  was  actually  a  murder  mystery. A dead  girl  is  found  in  Caldicott's  flat  and  the  two  old  buffers  decide  to  investigate  the  crime  without  of  course  missing  an  over, much  to  the  exasperation  of  the  police.

They  have  not  been  revived  since.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

700 Blott on the Landscape

First  viewed :  February  1985

I  only  caught  snatches  of  this  black  comedy serial,  largely  because  my  curiosity  was  piqued  by  a  nice  Scouse   girl  at  my  hall  of  residence  called  Gaye  McParlin  ( now  a  director  at  professional  services  firm  EY )  who  was  a  big  fan  of  Tom  Sharpe  on  whose  novel  it  was  based. She  was  excited  at  it  coming  to  the  screen  and  was  recommending  it  to  us.

The  story  concerned  an  aristocratic  woman  Lady  Maud  ( Geraldine  James )  whose  treacherous  husband   Sir  Giles  ( George  Cole )  wants  to  allow  a  motorway  through  her  ancestral  lands. His  ally  is  mild-mannered  bureaucrat  Dundridge  ( Simon  Cadell )  while  she  can  call  on  her  dodgy  East  European  gardener  Blott  ( David  Suchet )   to  help  her  thwart  them.

I  didn't  like  it  much; the  humour  seemed  cruel  rather  than  funny (  although  my  wife  disagrees ). The  only  part  that  sticks  in  my  mind  is  George  Cole  strapped  to  a  bed  wearing  only  a  leather  pouch, not  a  pretty  sight  and  staggering  that, at  the  height  of  his  fame  in  Minder , he  agreed  to  do  it.  

Friday, 2 June 2017

699 Miami Vice

First  viewed  :  February  1985

One  of  the  most  iconic  TV  shows  of  the  eighties  began  halfway  through  the  decade.

Miami  Vice  was  something  of  a  successor  to  Starsky  and  Hutch. Both  creator  Anthony  Yerkovich   and  executive  producer  Michael  Mann  had  written  for  the  earlier  show and both  David  Soul  and  Paul  Michael  Glaser  would  direct  episodes. Their  equivalents  were  Crockett  and  Tubbs  played  by  Don  Johnson  and  Philip  Michael  Thomas  two  thirtysomething  actors  whose  careers  hadn't  reached  the  heights  once  expected.

However  the  series  didn't  make  its  impact  through  being  just  another  buddy  cop  show. Yerkovich's  starting  concept  was  "MTV  cops"  and  he  won  a  larger  budget  to  purchase  the  rights  to   use  contemporary  pop  tunes  alongside  the  original  electronic  music  supplied  by  Jan  Hammer  and  inspired  by  the  film  scores  of  Tangerine  Dream.  Phil Collins  was  a  particular  favourite  and  showed  his  appreciation  for  the  boost  to  his  bank  balance  by  becoming  a  guest  star  on  the  show  Both  stars  attempted  to  launch  their  own  musical  careers  on  the  back  of  the  show; Johnson's  was  more  successful.

 Just  as  important  was  the  look of  the  show. Mann  stipulated  "no  earth  tones "  so  everyone  was  in  pastel  colours. Jacket  and   T-shirt combos, rolled  up  sleeves and  wearing  shoes  without  socks  became  instant  eighties  fashion  statements. The  coastal  setting  provided  a  good  excuse  for  a  regular  parade  of  well-toned  bikini-clad  flesh  in  the  background  /Crockett  drove  a  car  he  couldn't  possibly  have  afforded  without  being  as  bent  as  a  nine  bob  note  but  nobody  minded.

In  contrast  to  the  glitzy  presentation  the  storylines  were  quite  dark. Miami  was  one  of  the   drug  capitals  of  the  US  and  the  duo's  adversaries  were  ruthless  gangsters  who  mowed  down  anyone  in  their  way. The  guys'  boss  was  played  by  the  sinister  Edward Olmos  from  Blade  Runner   adding  a  further  neo-noir  dimension  to  the  show.

When  these  two  aspects   to  the  programme  blended  well  the  results  could  be  quite  impressive  but  often  they  didn't . The endless  parade  of  pop  stars  of  dubious  acting  talent  including  Sheena  Easton  ( who  married Crockett )  and  Glenn  Frey  as  well  as  Collins  was  a  distraction and  the  need  to  incorporate  a  montage  while  a  popular  song  played  in  place  of  dialogue  meant  that  exposition  was  often  sketchy.

For  those  reasons, it  never  became  compulsive  viewing  for  me  and  only  two  atypical episodes  stand  out. One  was  an  episode  where  Tubbs  was  kidnapped  by  a  religious  maniac  who  was  killing  prostitutes  and  the  other  was  called  "Stone's  War "  where  the  titular  character  ( surely  a  playful  pop  at  Mann's  contemporary.  Oliver  Stone )  had  to  be  protected  because  he  had  explosive  film  of  American  activities  in  Central  America. That  episode  featured  the  most  bizarre  guest  star  of  all. Nixon's  unrepentant  aide  G. Gordon  Liddy   as  a  black  ops  chief.

The  series  was  cancelled  in  1989  after  a  slow  decline  in  ratings  following  Mann's  departure  at  the  end  of  season  two. He  directed  a  feature  film  version  in  2005.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

698 Lace

First  viewed : 9  September  1984

Here's  another  that  slipped  through  the  net  earlier.  Lace  was  a  two  part  adaptation  of  Shirley  Conran's  bestseller.  It  was  necessarily  bowdlerised  , the  Arab  prince's  penchant  for  slipping  goldfish  into  intimate  places  had  to  be   jettisoned  for  instance.  The  story  is  utter  hokum, three  schoolgirls  ( played  by  overaged  actresses ) at  a  Swiss  finishing  school  in  1960  have  illicit  liaisons   with  older  men  and  one  gets  pregnant. They  assume  joint  responsibility  for  this  and  drop  the  baby  girl, Lilli,  in  for  adoption. The  adoptive  parents  are  killed  in  Hungary  and  the  six  year  old  girl  goes  into  a  Hungarian  work  camp  ( in  1966 ? really ? ) . She  eventually  escapes  and  goes  to  Paris  where  she  works  her  way  up  from  whore  to  film  star  remarkably  quickly  then  calls  the  three  successful  career  women  together  to  pose  the  infamous  question "Which  one  of  you  bitches  is  my  mother ?"

  A  young  Phoebe  Cates  played  Lilli   and  certainly  looked  the  part  but  was  in  trouble  the  moment  she  opened  her  mouth. The  three  women  Brooke  Adams, Bess  Armstrong  and  Arielle  Dombasie  were  better  but  only  by  comparison. Slumming  Brits  in  it  included  Nikolas  Grace, Leigh  Lawson, Trevor  Eve  and  Annette  Badland.