Thursday, 20 July 2017

741 No Place Like Home


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

740 Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense


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

739 Every Second Counts


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

738 Aspel and Company


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

737 The Colbys


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

736 Catchphrase






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

735 Silas Marner



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.