Thursday, 20 July 2017
First viewed : March 1986
Like, I suspect, many people, my only exposure to this domestic sitcom was the 12 unendurable minutes between the end of Coronation Street on ITV and the start of Dallas on BBC 1 in the spring of 1986 when this was in its third series . That however was more than enough to earn my nomination as worst-ever sitcom.
The series was written by a Jon Watkins and concerned a middle aged couple, the Crabtrees ( William Gaunt from The Champions and Patricia Garwood ) whose four children decline to leave home. The eldest girl moves back in with aggravatingly gormless husband Raymond ( Daniel Hill ) in tow. To make matters infinitely worse they lived next door to the Bottings. Trevor ( Michael Sharvell-Martin ) was something of a soul-mate for Pa Crabtree but wife Vera was something else.
There was nothing wrong with Marcia Warren as the mother in Now and Then a few years earlier but, faced with a fairly unbelievable character in the childless animal lover Vera, she resorted to the most grotesque over-acting I've ever seen on British TV, beating even Christopher Rozycki in Casualty. Playing Vera as a demented perpetual student, she was absolutely unwatchable and her cast mates ( including a young Martin Clunes ) looked a bit embarrassed when she got going.
Clunes actually got out at the end of the third season and I suspect the producers realised they had to do something about Warren. Vera did not appear in the fourth season and when she re-surfaced in the fifth and final season in 1987 she was played by Anne Penfold.
Wednesday, 19 July 2017
First viewed : Winter 1986
This one brings back a few memories. Living back at home that term threw up some challenges. Towards the end of the previous year, I had been elected, at the third attempt , to serve on the Student Union Council which met fortnightly on a Monday. To ensure Councillors took their responsibilities seriously, there was a three strikes you're off attendance policy unless the Council accepted your request / explanation for absence. I was already a strike down for missing a meeting to attend an FA Cup replay where Dale beat Scunthorpe to earn a Third Round meeting with Manchester United. Apparently the vote was close and divided roughly on gender lines.
With something like 30 people at the meetings, they tended to drag on for hours and it was always a bit hairy whether they'd finish in time for me to catch the last train to Littleborough at 10.30 pm. With some avowed political foes in the room, I didn't like asking to leave early too often. By means of some desperate sprinting on occasion , I did manage to retain my place on the Council without being stranded .
I began to notice a young man who also got off that train at Littleborough although I'm not sure where he got on. He looked like one of the Farreys a family I knew from school although he wasn't the one I knew best. On one occasion he was clearly drunk and involved in a physical altercation with a guard. I mention it because a few months later, I caught an item on local news where police were appealing for information about the death of a Carl Farrey who had fallen from a Leeds -Manchester train. Putting two and two together, I went into the police station and told them about the incident I'd seen but it didn't seem to be relevant. I can't give any closure to the story; it's just one of those strange, sad coincidences.
Anyhow, after he'd melted into the night, I'd usually have time to pop into Lords' chip shop just before they closed and get a late supper. When I got in, this would usually be on.
The series was a follow-up to 1980's Hammer House of Horror with a similar number of spooky one-off dramas filmed in 1984. This time round, it was partly funded by 20th Century Fox which meant that nearly all of them had an American lead ( e.g. Dirk Benedict, Mary Crosby, Christina Raines ). Unlike the earlier series it was not nationally networked by ITV with different regions showing it at different times. I'm guessing this might have been because the films were 70 minutes long, an inconvenient length for British television. I don't know whether Granada had broadcast it before this appropriately graveyard slot on a Monday night.
I remember three of them reasonably clearly, none of them having a happy ending. In Last Video and Testament , David Langton from Upstairs Downstairs fakes his own death then leads his wife and her lover into a death trap before fulfilling his pledge to dance on her grave. In Black Carrion , an ageing rocker holds a village in his thrall after they mistakenly lynch his brother . In Czech Mate Susan George finds herself trapped behind the Iron Curtain after a defector steals her identity to make her escape.
Monday, 17 July 2017
First viewed : 8 February 1986
Every Second Counts was the new year replacement for Bob's Full House on Saturday evenings. As Dale were playing Preston North End away ( a 1-1 draw in PNE's worst-ever season ) there's no obvious reason why I wouldn't have seen the very first episode.
Like The Generation Game , the contestants played as couples ( three of them ) and played against each other in a number of general knowledge rounds earning seconds rather than points for a correct answer. When the rounds were completed, the couple with the most seconds took them into the second stage where, answering in turn , they had to complete four more rounds of escalating difficulty matched by an increase in the quality of the prize on offer, within the total number of seconds they had earned. The host was diminutive magician Paul Daniels.
I never liked it as much as Bob's Full House because Daniels was an irritant, never as funny as he thought he was but the quizzing itself was OK.
It ran until 1993.
Sunday, 16 July 2017
First viewed : Uncertain
This Saturday night chat show on ITV started in 1984 but as we were pretty chained to the BBC on Saturday nights, it was a while before I first saw it. The show garnered a lot of attention, seven weeks into its first season, when Margaret Thatcher appeared on the show and started crying when talking about her father attracting widespread cynicism. After that, it got a lot of good press for Aspel's quietly forensic, self-effacing style in contrast to the self-promoting mugging of Wogan and Harty. Even if the guests weren't that interesting , it was absorbing to see the ultimate professional at work.
One episode above all stands out and no prizes for guessing which one. Oliver Reed's notorious second appearance on the show in February 1987 occurred at the end of my first week at work and thus constitutes my first " water cooler moment".
Oliver had been drinking something rather stronger than water when he came on to promote his new film Castaway and after putting down his jug of orange juice and God knows what else. the dishevelled actor went over to the house band and asked them to give him some backing for a rendition of The Wild One. They gamely gave it a go whilst trying not to corpse and Ollie bawled out a verse while "dancing" in a manner that suggested he should be in a police cell rather than a TV studio.
Having satisfied his craving to be a rock star he did sit down and manage to give vaguely coherent answers to Aspel's tart questions like "You've just finished making the film Castaway, do you remember any of it ?" He spilled some of his "juice " on fellow guest, the tiresomely wacky comic actress , Su Pollard, who was wearing a typically exhibitionist dress so he deserves some credit if he meant it. Clive James asked him why he drank, getting the reply that the finest people Ollie knew were those he'd met in pubs.
The show outlasted its rivals but came to grief in 1993 when Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis appeared on the show to promote their new restaurant venture in London, Planet Hollywood. The plugging was so outrageously obvious , with Aspel having to read out the menu, that the show was heavily criticised in the press. Aspel took it on the chin and announced he'd be quitting chat shows at the end of the season which had 5 more episodes to run.
Saturday, 15 July 2017
First viewed : 28 January 1986
I purposefully left out mention of this in the Dynasty post but in reality the two series were inextricably linked. The Colbys was a spin-off from Dynasty plucking out the dullest character Jeff Colby ( John James ) and transplanting him and Fallon Carrington ( Emma Sams ) to California where his relatives operated. It was messily set up in the parent series around the same time as the Moldavian massacre. Fallon wanders into town as an amnesiac and gets picked up by playboy Miles Colby ( marginal Brat Packer Maxwell Caulfield ). They get married which comes as an unpleasant surprise for Jeff when Miles brings his new bride home. The series was originally titled Dynasty II : The Colbys in the UK and ran in tandem with Dynasty in 1986 with The Colbys on a Wednesday and Dynasty on a Friday. When Dallas returned in March though , it claimed the Wednesday night spot and The Colbys and Dynasty alternated on a Friday which was very aggravating, especially, I'm guessing , to those who'd previously shunned the spin-off.
The Colbys had some big names up its sleeve with Charlton Heston and his toupee as patriarch Jason Colby, veteran Barbara Stanwyck as his sister Constance, Stephanie Beacham as his wife Sable , Katherine Ross as her sister Francesca ( Jason's true love ) and Ricardo Montalban as vengeful business rival Zack Powers.
Alas, that didn't save it from being a lukewarm copy of its parent with nothing new to bring to the table apart from some really terrible acting. The worst offender was Caulfield , a posing pretty boy who thought he was James Dean and either flicked his quiff around or tried an Elvis lip curl. in lieu of acting. Stanwyck quit after the first series but she was bad as the rest and it was painful to watch her hamming whilst clinging on to the furniture for dear life.
The Colbys was an inevitable failure. Joan Collins recognised that from the start and refused to make any guest appearances. She later said that the show had damaged the Dynasty brand and was probably right about that too. With its cancellation confirmed before the end of season two , the writers ensured it would be remembered for at least one thing by having Fallon abducted by aliens in the final scene, leaving Dynasty with a silly plotline to untangle when she and Jeff returned to the main show. Sable and dullard daughter Monica ( Tracey Scoggins ) were subsequently written into Dynasty's final season two years later.
Friday, 14 July 2017
First viewed : 1986
We move on into 1986, something of a red letter year for me and quite a busy one for this blog as we'll see.
I mentioned a few posts back that I'd moved into shared accommodation for my final year at university but it wasn't long before I came to regret it. The seeds had been sown before we even moved in. Right at the start, my friend Dave L had asked me if we should invite anyone else and me, always wanting to construct a gang, had suggested Pete and Dave M , two other students who'd been left behind after the mass exodus from the hall of residence at the end of Year One. We walked miles around Headingley in April / May 1985 until we found somewhere that apparently suited everybody, then right at the point when we were giving the landlord a deposit , Dave M pulled out and decided to stay put for a third year. We then had to start afresh, looking for somewhere as a trio. We found a back to back in Woodhouse and, fearing that the whole project was on the point of collapse, I agreed to take a very small room to seal the deal.
That was one problem. The next, and I'll have to choose my words carefully here, was Pete. Pete was in the neighbouring room to me that second year in hall and we had a certain amount in common . He liked walking and playing snooker and I enjoyed his propensity for practical jokes as long as they were directed at other people. That's why I suggested him despite having full knowledge of one or two disturbing incidents - Pete had a very poor relationship with many of the incoming students - which should have given me pause for thought. Dave M later said that the main reason he'd pulled out was the thought of spending a year in the same small house as Pete.
By his own admission, Pete had just scraped onto a chemistry course at Leeds after disappointing A Level results. He struggled on it and at the end of that second year, calamitously, he failed the exams and had to take a year out. His tutors said they'd turn a blind eye to him attending lectures but he had to fend for himself as far as maintenance went. His parents gave him enough to survive which meant he could stay in Leeds and have plenty of free time in the house to think up annoying wheezes. I came very close to hitting him on one occasion which would certainly not have ended favourably for me. That wasn't the full extent of the problems though. One evening Dave L and I came back to a house full of smoke. Pete had made the cellar his own, to work on his bike and play with his air rifle, but it had got cold so he decided it would be a good idea to make a fire despite the fairly crucial absence of a chimney. On another occasion, I came back from a weekend at home and the guy from the adjoining property was on the doorstep, threatening to give me and Dave L a good hiding over the excessive noise Pete and his drinking buddies had made on the Saturday night.
It didn't seem safe to stay with Pete and then there was an external threat. The Yorkshire Post started reporting that a large gang of feral kids were targeting students for attack. The reports indicated that the kids were roaming from Woodhouse into the more obviously student territory of Headingley but it was still too close for comfort.
Those were the push factors. Then there was a pull factor. Leeds Student reported on a recent court case - Street v Mountford - I think - where the judges declared that licence agreements, exactly the type of contract we'd made with the landlord were a sham to avoid fair rent legislation and must now be regarded as tenancies. I wasn't that interested in screwing the landlord for a lower rent ; what I wanted to know was did the judgement mean I could tear up the licence, cancel the two post-dated cheques he still had to cash and walk away from my mistake ? Nobody seemed sure but that prospect was the final nail in the coffin for my tenure at 17 Thomas St. Over the Christmas holidays I decided that I would not be returning there and, indeed, never spent a night there again.
Having made that decision , I had no other option except to stay at home and commute in to Leeds when necessary. My mother was very much against this idea, taking the view that I was running away from my first encounter with the real world. I only had one good argument to deploy, that my dissertation, on Edwardian politics in North East Lancashire, required more research in local libraries, which it did. With that , and a contribution to maintenance which I could ill afford because I couldn't find the assurance I needed to cancel that next rent cheque, she grudgingly yielded for the time being. This also meant that, once again, I could watch midweek TV.
That's not entirely relevant to Catchphrase although it was on Sunday nights at a time by which I would normally have started my journey back to Leeds. I have no idea when I first caught an episode but some time during its first year of transmission seems a fair bet.
Catchphrase was a very lowbrow game show akin to Punchlines where the two contestants had to identify a well-known phrase, proverb etc. from a partially-revealed, faintly humorous animation, often featuring the show's Dusty Bin-esque mascot Mr Chips.
The show found its ideal host in slimy Irish comedian Roy Walker, another New Faces winner. His queasy repartee and shark-eyed insincerity were a perfect fit for the cheap concept and that gave the show a certain sleazy charm and durability.
It was the sort of show I'd never stay in to watch and I missed the most infamous episode in 1994 with the "Snake Charmer" animation where Mr Chips appeared to be bashing the bishop. It had me on the floor when it first featured on a Bloopers show.
Walker was a smart cookie and knew when it was time to quit in 1999. Nick Weir foolishly tried to replace him. He fell down the stage on his first show and things didn't get much better as ratings plummeted. Weir was sacked in 2002 and Mark Curry took over for a final series in 2004 now relegated to a daytime show.
The show was revived with Stephen Mulhearn and is currently on its fifth season.
Thursday, 13 July 2017
First viewed : 30 December 1985
This was a single drama adaptation of George Eliot's Victorian classic with an all-star cast. Ben Kingsley was in the title role as the miserly weaver who is robbed of both his wealth and reputation but finds redemption by taking in a lost orphan girl. Jenny Agutter popped over from Hollywood to play the wife of the local squire Godfrey Cass ( Patrick Ryecart ) whose secrets Silas has been keeping. The girl Eppie was played by Patsy Kensit, then tring to make it as a pop star in the dire Eighth Wonder.
I came upon it when it had about twenty minutes to run and was intrigued enough to wish I'd seen the rest.