Saturday, 21 April 2018
First viewed : 13 April 1991
This was a portmanteau of four little playlets with a linking theme of seduction. I tuned in for Arkie Whiteley whose run in Prisoner Cell Block H had just been broadcast in the Granada region. She was now based in Britain. She played a small part in But Beautiful about a man with a saxophone fetish. The one that's remembered is Ultimate Object of Desire with Adrian Rawlins and Lynsey Baxter playing out a wicked parody of those puling Gold Blend commercials.
Friday, 20 April 2018
First viewed : 1 May 1991
This showcase for actress/comedienne Josie Lawrence doesn't have the same stigma as the wretched Thompson , perhaps because it was tucked away on Channel Four, but it didn't last any longer, with only six episodes ever made.
Lawrence had made her name , over the previous couple of years, on the improvisation show Whose Line Is It Anyway ? with her comic songs. That show never appealed to me, the hook for me watching the first episode of Josie was reading somewhere that it was going to include a spoof of Prisoner Cell Block H.
It duly did, as part of an extended sketch with Josie playing a dim-witted Australian actress which also included parodies of Skippy and Neighbours . It was part-written by novelist John O' Farrell. When it came, Prisoner Writer's Block H was pretty unfunny, aiming at obvious targets like the cardboard walls and the good cop / bad cop distinction between Meg and Vera.. The rest of the show was only mildly diverting and I never bothered tuning in again.
Lawrence remained in comedy for the rest of the nineties, still appearing on Whose Line... and working with Paul Merton but for the past couple of decades she's mainly worked as a straight actress.
Thursday, 19 April 2018
First viewed : 29 April 1991
This was a Monday night documentary series on Channel Four looking at the work of private detectives. Most of the episodes looked at operatives in the USA but the first one featured Steve McLoughlin who worked around Manchester. The programme revealed the vast bulk of his work was thoroughly unglamourous though still potentially dangerous. He mostly dealt in repossessions , process serving and low level fraud. The programme built up to Steve delivering a summons to a notoriously unstable guy on a council estate in Moss Side. Steve clearly approached the task with some trepidation but the man actually accepted it perfectly calmly.
If I saw any of the American episodes, nothing has stuck with me from them.
Wednesday, 18 April 2018
First viewed : 12 April 1991
This was part of a season of programmes which had or should have been censored. I remember this one for introducing me to America's Andrew Dice Clay Clay, a New York Jew himself, used America's protection of free speech to do a stand-up routine that made Bernard Manning look like Ben Elton. The part I remember was his persistent reference to Asians as "piss-coloured people".
Clay's career peaked in the early nineties. Later, he got married. toned down his act and his popularity declined. He is still working but mainly as an actor.
First viewed : 11 April 1991
This had been on for a while before Mum and I tuned it and with the help of YouTube and imdb I've managed to pinpoint exactly when we started which was Episode 4 of the second series.
The Crystal Maze was loosely based on the French game show Fort Boyard , and involved a team of six contestants, previously unknown to each other, completing a set of challenges both physical and mental against the clock in order to win crystals which bought them precious time "in the dome". This was a plastic edifice where they had to pluck pieces of gold paper whipped up by fans and post a hundred, after deducting any spoiler silver pieces which had been mistakenly posted. Each contestant then won a day's paragliding or something similar. The contestants were usually under 40 and working in a professional capacity. The set was purpose-built with four thematic zones with a moderate physical challenge involved in moving from one to the other. I was very tickled by the girl who managed to fall into the water in the Aztec zone at the very start of one episode.
The leftfield choice as host was actor and Rocky Horror Show creator Richard O' Brien. O' Brien was an acerbic presence, generally helpful but allowed to show exasperation at the contestants' failings and fond of barbed asides to the camera. He was also astonishingly lithe and nimble given that he turned 50 in the course of his stint on the programme. He was assisted in running some of the challenges by actress Sandra Caron, previously best known as the sister of the ill-fated fifties singer Alma Cogan, as "Mumsy" ( in reality she was only six years older than O' Brien.
In that first episode I saw, the team was "led" by a James Songster, a giant Texan loudmouth living in Scotland and described as a "part time magician". James's obnoxious braying advice seemed to put off his team-mates rather than help them and his own performance was questionable. He put himself forward for two physical challenges ;in the first of which he didn't want to get his feet wet and in the second, he managed to get himself locked in. Unsurprisingly his team-mates opted to leave him in there.
Nevertheless that got me hooked on the programme and we watched it regularly after that. A Crystal Maze attraction opened at Blackpool shortly afterwards but my work colleague Erica told me it wasn't that good.
After four series O' Brien and Caron decided to quit the show. He was replaced by Ed Tudorpole ( aka Tenpole Tudor ) who took a softer, friendlier line towards the contestants and the show carried on for another two seasons, finishing in 1995.
Channel Four decided to revive the show two years ago. I took a look but decided I couldn't bear the host ( Richard Ayoade ) and haven't been back. I gather some team managed to go through an episode without winning a single crystal just two days ago so I might catch up on that one !
Monday, 16 April 2018
First viewed : 8 April 1981
I didn't see the first episode of this celebrated police drama but so many colleagues were praising it the next day that I decided to check out the concluding part that evening.
The series starred Helen Mirren as detective Jane Tennison , the only constant character across the seven series, as she battled her way forward in the male-dominated world of the Metropolitan Police Force. Although the series was made by Granada, six of the seven series were set in London rather than the north west.
In the original series, Tennison had to struggle to earn respect from male colleagues who believed she was not up to leading a major murder investigation . Her major adversary was sexist sergeant Bill Otley ( Tom Bell ). It was compelling viewing though it was hard to accept Larry from Families as a sadistic serial killer.
Prime Suspect 2 ( 1992 ) switched the focus from sexism to racism with Tennison treading warily through the minefield of soured community relations when a young back girl's body is discovered although ironically the murder is eventually found to have no racial connotations at all.
Prime Suspect 3 ( 1993 ) is the darkest of all and my favourite. Tennison switches to the Vice squad but immediately gets involved in another murder investigation when the death of a rent boy is found to have links to a paedophile ring. Her superiors keep her in the dark to try and hush up the involvement of a senior colleague ( Trevor Harvey, again from Families ). Ciaran Hinds, David Thewlis and Peter Capaldi guest in an impressive cast. The series also allowed Otley to redeem himself as a hard-working officer.
Prime Suspect 4 ( 1995 ) differed in format in having three self-contained episodes although Tennison's fractious relationship with her peers particularly the slimy Thorndike ( Stephen Boxer ) was an overarching theme. The final episode saw her having to re-examine the case against Marlow , the killer from the original series although he was played by a different actor. Families again supplied a villain in Thomas Russell who featured in the second episode.
Prime Suspect 5 ( 1996 ) was filmed in Manchester making good use of the then-derelict Victoria Baths and disused parts of Piccadilly Station. Tennison investigates the murder of a drug dealer but is more interested in nailing his boss "The Street" ( Stephen Mackintosh ). She complicates matters by having an affair with her superior ( John McArdle ).
Mirren worried about typecasting and didn't return to the role until 2003 for Prime Suspect 6 which I missed first time round and saw on repeat. It saw Tennison investigating a murder with links to Bosnian war crimes and I must confess that I kept dozing off during it which isn't a good sign.
Prime Suspect 7 ( 2006 ) confirmed that the series had run its course with Tennison battling an alcohol addiction as she struggled through an investigation into a child's disappearance. Sloppily written and melodramatic, it was a serious letdown. It also featured the ailing Tom Bell ( at 73, far too old to still be a serving officer ) as Otley once again and killed him off. Bell died less than a fortnight before its first broadcast.
Saturday, 14 April 2018
First viewed : 29 March 1991
This was a good humoured look at the popularity of Australian soap operas first broadcast on ITV on New Year's Day then repeated on Good Friday which was when I saw it.
The most surprising aspect of the programme was that it was presented by Barry Norman. You couldn't really picture Bazza setting the VCR for Neighbours . Nevertheless he took you through the history in his usual droll fashion without any heavy-handed irony. There were copious contributions from Kylie, Jason and the rest.
It did focus on the two really popular ones Neighbours and Home and Away . There was the briefest acknowledgement of Prisoner Cell Block H and no mention at all of Families.