Thursday, 21 September 2017

795 We Can Keep You Forever

First  viewed :  21  January  1987

This  was  a  one-off  documentary  about   the  thorny  issue  of  whether  or  not  there  were  still  prisoners  of  war  being  held  in  South  East  Asia.  The  programme  focused  mainly  on  Laos  where  a  number  of  pilots  flying  aid  to  anti-communist  forces  in  the  so-called  "Secret  War"  were  shot  down  and  captured  by  the  Viet  Cong's  allies,  the  Pathet  Lao. Most  of  the  M.I.A.s  unaccounted  for  seemed  to  be  in  this  category. The  accumulation  of  evidence  seemed  to  be  quite  strong  and  even  Henry  Kissinger  , interviewed  for  the  programme, was  careful  not  to  entirely  dismiss  the  possibility  of  surviving  prisoners. The  programme  included  an  interview  with  a  real-life  Rambo  figure  planning  incursions  into  remote  areas  of  Laos  from  Thailand  with  the  aid  of  motley  remnants  of  the  anti -communist  force.

Monday, 18 September 2017

794 The World According To Smith and Jones

First  viewed : 11  January  1987

This  was  all  a   bit  strange. Between  Seasons  3 and  4  of  Alas  Smith  and  Jones,  Mel  and  Griff  popped  over  to  ITV  to  make  a  comedy  series  for  the  Sunday  night  slot  usually  occupied  by  Spitting  Image. It  took  the  form  of  the  duo  sitting  behind  a  desk  a  la  The  Two  Ronnies  and  presenting  a  mock-history  of  the  world  through  the  use  of  old  film  clips. It's  probably best  remembered  for  Griff  finding  some  anonymous  fat  guy  among  the  footage  and  claiming  it  to  be  one  of  Mel's  ancestors - not  exactly  high  brow  comedy. The  critics  reviled  it; I  thought  it  was  quite  well  put  together  and  harmless  wind-down  entertainment.

For  some  reason  ITV  stopped  the 12-part  series  after  episode  6 ( almost  certainly  the  last  thing  I  watched  on  the  night  before  I  started  work )  and  presented  the  rest  as  a  new  series  the  following  year. In  between, the new  season  of  Alas  Smith  and  Jones  was   broadcast  on  BBC 2  and  the  first  episode  saw  Mel  and  Griff  ripping  into  the  series  themselves. Perhaps  it  was  a  necessary  penance  as  the  Beeb  had  seriously  contemplated  cutting  them  adrift  for  their  temporary  desertion  but  it  was  odd  to  say  the  least.   

Sunday, 17 September 2017

793 Rockcliffe's Babies

First  viewed : 9  January  1987

More  than  any  other  programme, this  reminds  me  of  those  first  few  weeks  of  1987  before  I  entered  the  world  of  work. More  specifically,  it  reminds  me  of  Fridays  and  a  brief  adventure  which  didn't  seem   all  that  significant  at  the time  but  had  two  big  pointers  for  the  future. In  September  1986,  I  went  to  an  Enrolment  Day  at  Rochdale  College   looking  for  something  that  might  improve  my  employability  and  signed  up  for  a  course  in  Public  Administration  there. On  the  first   morning  the  tutor  asked  us  to  list  our  qualifications  and  shortly  afterwards,  he  pulled  me  out, said  it  wasn't  the  right  course  for  me  and  he'd  arranged for  me  to  attend  a  more  advanced  course  at  Bolton  Institute  of  Higher  Education. This  turned  out  to  be  the  second  year  of  the   qualification  course  for  the  Institute  of  Chartered  Secretaries  and  Administrators,  of  which  I  wasn't  a  student  member  nor  did  I  have  a  sponsoring  authority  so  I  don't  know  what  he  had  arranged  with  regard  to  the  fees. Anyway,  I  started  attending  the  course  and  no  one  challenged  my  place  or  chased  me  for  money. Not  only  did  it  get  me  more  acquainted  with  my  future  place  of  abode, the  course  also  had  a  financial  accounting  module  which  gave  me  a  bit  of  a  head  start  when  studying  the  subject  for  real  12  months  later. Rockliffe's  Babies  was  the  viewing  highlight  of  the  evenings  after  my  last  few  attendances  there.  

 It  concerned  seven  young  plain  clothes  constables  working  for  a  London  crime  squad  under  hard  task  master  Sergeant  Rockliffe  ( Ian  Hogg )  on  a  tough  manor  known  as  "The  Dragon"  hence  the  theme  tune  of  stroppy  kids  chanting  about  social  deprivation. They  comprised  two  sensible  girls  Jan  and  Karen  ( Alphonsia  Emmanuel  and  Susannah  Shelling ) , poncey  graduate  David  ( Bill  Champion ),  headstrong,  accident-prone  Scouser  Gerry  ( Joe  McGann ), lazy  Welshman  Paul ( Martyn  Ellis ). slow-witted  yokel  Keith  ( John  Blakey )  and  street  smart  Steve  ( Brett  Fancy ). The  latter  character  dates  the  show  more  than  anything  else . Though  an  effective  copper  and  good  team  player,  Steve  was  also  an  overt  racist  with  links  to  far  right  groups  and  it's  inconceivable  now  that  any  such  character  would  be  allowed  to  go  through  two  seasons  without  being  made  to  account  for  such  transgressions.

Though  the  setting  was  grim  and  bleak, there  was  a  lot  of  humour  in the  show  in  the  banter  between  the  seven  fledglings  and  with  their  mentor. I  think  it's  probably  the  cop  show  that's  come  closest  to  recapturing  the  essence  of  The  Sweeney. On  the  downside,  Hogg's  mannered  style  of  acting  was  an  acquired  taste  that  I  never  really  savoured   and  the  whole  series  was  shot  on  VT  which  didn't  do  it  any  favours.

The  programme   ran  for  two  seasons  before  mutating  into  something  else  which  I'll  cover  as  a  separate  show. Apart  from  Shelling  whose  career  seems  to  have  ground  to   halt  a  decade  ago  they're  all  still  acting  but  none  have  become  stars, McGann  having  probably  the  highest  profile  now. For  Champion, Ellis  and  Blakey  as  well  as  Shelling  this  was  definitely  the  highpoint  of  their  careers.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

792 Home and Away

First  viewed : 7  January  1987

This  was  nothing  to  do  with  Australian  soap  operas  but  a  one-off  documentary  about  two  female  footballers,  Kerry  Davis  and  Rose  Reilly. At  the  time,  the  women's  game  seemed  to  be  defined  by  the  Not  The  Nine  O  Clock  News  sketch  with  Smith  and  Jones  as  two  pervs  sitting  through  a  really  inept  display  for  the  shirt-swapping  at  the  end. That  may  have  been  an  exaggeration  but  there  was  certainly  no  money  in  it  so  Kerry  from  Crewe  and  Rose  from  Kilmarnock  had  to  up  sticks  and  sign  semi-professionally  for  Italian  clubs, Lazio  and  AC  Milan  respectively. Rose  had  actually  been  playing  in  Italy  for  over  a  decade   but  Kerry  hadn't  taken  any  Italian  lessons  beforehand  and  was  struggling  to  settle. I  remember  doing  a  radio  interview  and  tetchily  asking  them "Do  you  not  think  I  would  speak  Italian  if  I  could ?" The  programme  climaxed  with  a  game  between  the  two  sides ; I  can't  recall  who  came  out  on  top.

Despite  her  issues  Kerry  did  play  for  four  seasons  in  Italy  for  Lazio  and  Napoli   before  returning  to  the  UK  and  is  remembered  as  a  top  England  international  as  the  women's  game  rose  in  status. Rose  played  on  until  she  was  forty  and  appeared   for  both  Scotland  and  Italy , winning  the  women's  world  cup  with  the  latter  in  1984.

Friday, 15 September 2017

791 Sporting Triangles

First  viewed : 7  January  1987

This  was  ITV's  belated  attempt  to  match  BBC  One's  long-running  A  Question  of  Sport.  The  teams  of   sporting  celebrities  had  to  navigate  their  way  around  a  Trivial  Pursuits-style  board  answering  questions  relating  to  their  own  sport  or  others,  depending  where  they  landed.  Like  its  rival  Sporting  Triangles  started  with  two  teams  of  three  under  resident  captains  Jimmy  Greaves  and  Tessa  Sanderson. It  switched  to  three  teams  of  two  when  Emlyn  Hughes  was  poached  from  AQOS . Andy  Gray  began  his  TV  career  here  as  an  alternative  captain, the  shows  featuring  three  out  of  the  four  in  random  combinations. Nick  Owen  was  quizmaster  for  the  first  two  seasons  then  was  replaced  by  Andy  Craig  until  the  show  was  axed  in  1990.

I  checked  out  the  first  episode  with  its  strong  line  up  of  guests  ( Bryan  Robson, Dennis  Taylor, Seb  Coe  and  Lloyd  Honeyghan )  but  didn't  watch  much  of  it  after  that. That's  not  because  I  thought  it  was  atrocious  but   I'm  not  a  general  sports  fan  and  didn't   have  the  appetite  for  two  sports  quiz  programmes  a  week.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

790 Alfred Hitchcock Presents

First  viewed : 6  January  1987

Alfred  Hitchcock  Presents  was  a  re-boot  of  an  American  TV  classic  from  the  fifties  and  early  sixties   whereby  the  great  film  director  would  play  on  his  reputation  as  the  master  of  suspense  with  a  campy  monologue  and  epilogue  bookending  a  short  drama. Hitchcock  himself  only  directed  a  handful  of  them  but  it  was  an  extremely  popular  series.

Twenty  years  after  it  finished , NBC  decided  to  revive  it  with  re-filmed  versions  of   previous  episodes  and  some  entirely  new  stories. Of  course  Hitchcock  had  been  dead  for  five  years  by  then  but  they  colorised   his  contributions  and  re-used  them, fitting  the  most  apposite    they  could  find  to  the  new  stories  and  hoping  for  the  best.  It  ran  for  four  years.

ITV  ( or  at  least  Granada )  broadcast  it  very  late  at  night  and  the  only  one  I  recall  watching  is  The  Creeper  ( one  of  the  re-filmed  stories )   because  it  starred  Karen  Allen. She  played  Jackie  Foster, a  paranoid  yuppie  woman  who  is  plagued  by  a  stalker  and  ends  up  garotted  by  someone  she  actually  does  trust.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

789 Inspector Morse

First  viewed  :  January  1987

I  wasn't  a  great  fan  of  this  when  it  started  and  I  think  I  saw  most  of  it  through  repeats  in the  nineties. I  thought if  John  Thaw  wanted  to  do  another  police  detective  series  then  it  should  be  as  Jack  Regan, older  and  possibly  wiser  but  still  in  and  around  "the  manor " ,not  poncing  around  Oxford  listening  to  classical  music in  a  fancy  old  Jaguar. I  found  his  attempt  at  an  upper  class  accent  particularly  aggravating.

The  series  was  liberally  based  on  the  novels  by  Colin  Dexter; the  Lewis  character  as  played  by  Kevin  Whately  was  completely  different  from  the  man  described  in  the  books. There  were  originally  seven  seasons  of  3-5  episodes  between  1987  and  1993  then  Thaw  went off  to do  Cavanagh  Q.C.  probably  to  the  relief   of  Dexter  who  was  struggling  to  keep  pace  with  the  series. Thereafter,  there  was  one  episode  per  year  until  the  character  was  killed  off  in  2000. There  have  been  two  spin-off  series  Lewis  ( which  may  have  just  finished ) and  Endeavour ( ongoing ),

Although  I  did  get  to  like  it, I  don't  completely  endorse  it. For  all  its  high  production  values, I don't  think  it  always  justified  its  two  hour  length. There  are  only  two  episodes  ( both  from  the  1992  season ) where  I  can  recall  the  plot  in  detail, the  infamous  rave  story  directed  by  Danny  Boyle  where  Morse  investigates  the  suicide  of  his  neice  and  has  to  brush  up  on  what  these  young  people  are  getting  off  on  and  the  one  where  an  old  flame  of  Morse   helps  arrange  her  dying  partner's  suicide  to  frame  his  son-in-law  whose infidelity  caused  his  daughter's  death.