Thursday, 30 July 2015
First watched : October 1974
No half-measures here; I absolutely hated this from the migraine-inducing animation and over-loud theme tune and found it so difficult to watch that I couldn't engage with Richard Briers' narration. I know it has its fans but I could never be one of them.
Roobarb was shown in the Magic Roundabout slot. Thirty five minute episodes were made originally. More than thirty years later it was revived on Channel 5 with rival Custard the Cat given equal billing as Roobarb and Custard Too. Briers returned as narrator and 39 more episodes were made.
Saturday, 25 July 2015
First watched : 20 October 1974
False Memory Syndrome strikes again. I'd have placed this much further back, 1971 or thereabouts, well before say Carrie's War. That it was only broadcast after we'd changed schools in the summer of 1974 flabbergasts me.
Heidi replaced the repeat of The Long Chase as the Sunday tea time serial and could hardly have been more different. It was an adaptation of a Swiss novel about a little orphan girl who improves the lives of everyone with whom she comes into contact particularly disabled friend Clara. The BBC version simplified the story and toned down its religious overtones.
It is best remembered as the ( credited ) TV debut of 13 year old Nicholas Lyndhurst. As I got interested in drama shortly after this was broadcast I followed his career with interest and it's hit me in the gut to see him now playing an "old" man in New Tricks . He played Peter Heidi's goat herd friend who ends up doing something rather naughty out of jealousy with unexpected beneficial results.
Heidi herself was played by Emma Blake who has only acted intermittently since, having spells as a jazz singer and dialect coach and time out of the public eye caring for an alcoholic mother. Her grumpy and impressively hirsute grandfather was played by grim-faced German actor Hans Meyer. In a case of life imitating art, the actress who played Clara , Chloe Franks, was struck down by rheumatoid arthritis as an adult and is now a respected disabilities campaigner.
Friday, 24 July 2015
First watched : 1974
This soapy drama was one of my mum's favourite programmes and I think she'd followed it from its memorable start. The old patriarch of a family haulage firm had just died and his will split the shares four ways between his three sons hard-living Ted, boring accountant Brian and young playboy David and his secretary Miss Kingsley, now revealed to be his mistress and mother of his child. How they took things forward from this , with Mum played by the hatchet-faced Jean Anderson sticking her oar in unhelpfully, drove the drama for the rest of the series though there were plenty of diversions into the brothers' love lives..
It is a bit of a seventies relic with the coming decade represented from the fourth series on by ruthless financial whizz kid Paul Merroney played with icy charisma by Colin Baker. His supposed villainy dominated the later series. The Sun had a poll at the time which voted him "Most Hated Man in Britain" . It's interesting to speculate that if the show had been broadcast a few years later Merroney would have been perceived quite differently and might have become as popular as J.R. Ewing.
The Brothers ended rather abruptly in 1976 without much explanation ( even to the cast ! )
What I recall most about it is my mother's irritation that we were watching it at all. By 1974 I in particular was a bit too old to be put to bed before 7.30 on a Sunday. It was no fun being in the cold bedrooms of our non-centrally heated house in the autumn nor being in the kitchen/sitting room with our silence-loving dad so the lounge with Mum was the best option. That entailed Mum having to answer lots of questions about what was going on in this strange world of wealthy , argumentative adults which she wasn't happy about and let it show. When Brian had a nervous breakdown it was the excuse she needed to declare it unsuitable viewing for me and my sister and kick us out.
Thursday, 23 July 2015
First watched : 1974
I remember that in the mid-seventies , after the excitement of the new singles chart at lunchtime, it was a pretty lousy night for TV and this was one of the component parts. You could not get a better representation of seventies middle class values than an episode of Ask The Family where two smug middle-aged professional couples paraded their swotty offspring and competed against each other on a series of general knowledge questions and mental puzzles to get through to the next round.
As if that wasn't bad enough the show was hosted by the awesomely obnoxious Robert Robinson. Coming on like the evil bastard brother of University Challenge's saintly and genuinely erudite Bamber Gascoine he couldn't have been more supercilious and patronising towards the contestants and audience with an Evan Davis -like propensity for telling you what you'd just seen for yourself. He also sported a ridiculous comb-over. You might have supposed he was sending the whole shebang up except he was just the same on Radio 4's Brain of Britain which he continued to present into his eighties , only giving up a year before his death in 2011.
He wasn't quite so lucky on TV as Ask The Family was ostentatiously axed in 1984 by a BBC anxious to appear more inclusive. It was briefly revived in 1999 in a relatively straight fashion with Alan Titchmarsh as host then disastrously in 2005 as a vehicle for juvenile comedians Dick and Dom, the dumbing-down only highlighted by the decision to trail the new series with a few repeats of the old.
Wednesday, 22 July 2015
First watched : 1974
The move to an early Monday evening slot finally gave me the chance to see Frank Spencer in action after innumerable Mike Yarwood and playground impersonations.
This fairly unique sitcom followed the adventures of accident-prone and socially inept Frank Spencer as he and long-suffering wife Betty negotiated the day-to-day challenges of life. Frank was played by Michael Crawford who looked set for film stardom in the sixties after appearing in Hello Dolly with Barbra Streisand but somehow let it slip. Michelle Dotrice in somewhat one-note performance was Betty.
Famously Crawford performed all his own stunts including the iconic and still utterly fantastic roller skating sequence , a marvel of athleticism and choreography. It's those moments that will always give the show an audience however creaky and dated the rest of it seems. The Health and Safety implications are one reason why we're unlikely to see its like again . Some recent critics have also suggested that Frank's difficulties indicate a mental disorder akin to autism and now find it distasteful.
Crawford seems to have realised early on that he'd created a monster and had to be coaxed back to do a third and final series, five years after the second one finished in 1973 ( though there were two Christmas specials in between ) , with the offer of a big hand in the writing. As he reinvented himself as a major theatre star in the eighties he doggedly avoided anything Spencer-related until 1998 when he appeared as Frank again in Noel's House Party and now seems at ease talking about his days as a comedy legend.
Tuesday, 21 July 2015
First watched : 9 September 1974
Another humdrum offering from Hanna-Barbera which highlights the superior quality of Wacky Races and Scooby Doo in that they are much clearer in the memory than stuff which came two or three years later With Speed Buggy they were cannibalizing their previous work to an even greater extent. It's Scooby Doo with a semi-independent talking car instead of the dog.The driver Tinker is almost indistinguishable from Shaggy. What's more the storylines were actually recycled from Josie and the Pussycats. Sixteen 20-minute episodes were made in total.
Monday, 20 July 2015
First watched : Uncertain
Tommy used to do one hour specials, usually following Coronation Street, so it would be around 1973-74 that I first saw him. I remember my gran dismissing it as "he tries to be a magician and he isn't funny" and the rebel in me took up the challenge. I did find him funny although I can't quite see why he was so highly-rated among his peers.
For all the affection he generated on screen, Tommy seems to have been a fairly disagreeable character in a very private - he would only do interviews in character - life. He was a long-term adulterer, notoriously tight-fisted and a heavy smoker and drinker. The latter and its effect on his health curtailed his TV career as Thames decided in 1980 that continuing with his own shows was too much of a risk though he continued to work with them as a guest on other shows. That seems to have acted as a wake-up call and Tommy made some effort to cut back .
Tommy of course went out "just like that" collapsing backwards on stage during a guest spot on Live From Her Majesty's in 1984 while the unknowing audience guffawed at what they assumed was part of the act. A hasty commercial break signalled to the TV audience that all was not well. Tommy was pronounced dead on arrival at hospital. 1984 was a bad year for show business with Eric Morecambe, Leonard Rossiter and Diana Dors all checking out and Dustin Gee, who followed Tommy on stage that evening, wasn't long in joining them. Like the Bradford fire , footage of Tommy's death comes and goes on YouTube but it's there at the time of writing, posted from Spain.
Saturday, 18 July 2015
First watched : 1974
Over to ITV for this Canadian series loosely based on the bestselling novel about a family stranded on a desert island. The series added a young daughter Marie who's not in the novel. She was played by a Heather Graham who was no relation to the blonde film star and not much of an actress either. Leading man Chris Wiggins as Father was pretty wooden too.
Only one series was made ( 26 episodes ) because ABC in America were known to be developing a version of their own.
I can barely recall it and probabluy only saw one or two episodes.
Friday, 17 July 2015
First watched : September 1974
"Jeannie" arrived as the latest offering from Hanna-Barbera on Fridays from 6th September 1974. It was loosely based on the 1960s comedy show I Dream Of Jeannie.
As clumsily explained in one of the worst theme songs in TV history Jeannie's bottle was discovered by surfing hunk Corey when he fell off a wave. The scantily-clad girl genie was unfortunately accompanied by obese trainee Babu for supposedly comic relief. The other regular characters were Corey's geeky friend Henry and love rival S Melvin. Jeannie generally wanted to help Corey with her magic but suffered from Tinkerbell-like jealousy and would sabotage any attempt to get off with another chick.
The voice cast was notable for former Stooge ( as in The Three... not Iggy Pop's compadres ) Joe Besser as Babu and a pre - Star Wars Mark Hammill as Corey.
I can barely remember it and a run of just 16 episodes suggests no one else rated it very highly.
Thursday, 16 July 2015
First watched : Uncertain
I've really no idea when I first caught this show but September 1974 when it followed immediately after Top of the Pops seems like a good candidate. The 1974 series was the third. I remember my mum saying something like "this is really difficult. I might get one or two in the general knowledge round". The show starts by quizzing the four contestants on a specialist subject then brings them back for a general knowledge round. The most famous winner, in 1980, was London cabbie Fred Housego who had a brief career as a TV personality on the back of it.
The show's still on today with pretty much the same format and a good fit for the late Magnus Magnusson in John Humphreys but that does disguise some wobbles. It was cancelled as a BBC 1 show in 1997 fter a big slump in viewing figures but resurrected on Radio Four the following year with Peter Snow as the question master. That lasted three years before Clive Anderson had a go on a satellite channel. After a year's hiatus it resumed on BBC 2 with Humphreys.
When I first saw it I could perhaps answer a handful of the general knowledge questions while the first half of the programme was nigh on incomprehensible. The specialist subjects chosen were often ridiculously esoteric. I still watch it occasionally though never by appointment and the general knowledge round seems pretty easy for an ex-pub quizzer like me. It's more of a challenge to take on the contestants on their own subjects and out-score them which is getting easier now that they often come from popular rather than high brow culture. Inevitably the show has been accused of "dumbing down" and I think there's something in that. Certainly it's now much less difficult than University Challenge whereas I'd say they were once on a par.
Wednesday, 15 July 2015
First watched : 1974
By the time I first caught it in the autumn of 1974 this spy series had been cancelled in the US after a five year run and what we were seeing on a Tuesday evening was the seventh and final season.
The series followed the exploits of a shadowy group of good guys the Impossible Missions Force who would take on assignments to bring down some bad guy whether in politics or crime by some form of covert mission. The team was run by Jim Phelps ( Peter Graves ) from Series Two after the original leader was written out because the producers could not accommodate the actor's religious commitments. His regular assistants - who pre-dated him in the series - were saturnine muscle man Willie ( Peter Lupus ) and electronics expert Barny played by Greg Morris, later the police chief in Vegas. The female member of the team had changed throughout the series; in the final season it was Lisa played by Linda Day George.
It famously started with a self-destructing tape outlining the mission and I always enjoyed watching that but thereafter got a bit lost. The show featured little violence hence its early timeslot ; the interest came from watching the scheme unwind and for a nine year old it was difficult to follow.
Graves returned for the late eighties re-boot of the series which I'm not sure was broadcast here. Of course since then it's become a successful film franchise despite little connection to the original series. Phelps was in the first film but became a villain and was killed off severing the only real reference to the series.
Tuesday, 14 July 2015
First watched : 31 August 1974
The cartoon version of Star Trek arrived on a Saturday teatime while the live action repeats were still being broadcast on a Wednesday. Fan pressure was not enough to revive the show as a live action proposition but Filmation secured the rights to do an animated series which would carry on where the series left off.
It immediately disappointed me by replacing Chekov with a stupid-looking alien. Most of the original cast were back to do the voices and Leonard Nimoy had insisted that George Takei ( Sulu ) and Michelle Nicholls (Uhura) be included in that but somehow Walter Koenig had to be content with just writing an episode.
Animation in theory should have led to better depiction of alien beings and worlds but in reality budget constraints neutralised that advantage. Shots were re-used, mistakes were evident and the characters' blank expressions soon induced boredom. For Filmation it was actually a success, being their only cartoon series to be re-commissioned and winning an Emmy for one episode.
This series was my point of departure from the Star Trek universe. I've not seen any of the films or watched more than the odd snatch of the post-Kirk series.
Saturday, 11 July 2015
First watched : Summer 1974
More brain-box fodder as the Beeb came up with a thinly-disguised rival to How on the other channel featuring the seventies' version ( albeit less telegenic ) of Brian Cox, James Burke. The Beeb's go-to presenter for anything scientific hosted the show where clever children posed tough-ish questions to a panel of three eggheads ( from a pool of eight ). Alas the series proved a little too cerebral for its Monday teatime slot and wasn't on long enough to turn the academics into celebs. Only eight episodes were broadcast between July and September 1974 and never repeated.
There's a nice little piece recalling the series here.
First watched : 12 July 1974
On 26th January 1974 I went with my gran on a trip to see the circus at Belle Vue, arranged by the school. It is still my only visit to a circus. It came from Denmark. The lady on the front of the souvenir programme ( not mine unfortunately ) is Annette Jensen ( aka "Nelly Jane" who died in 2009 aged 74 ) . We enjoyed it although my recollections of the trapeze acts, clowns and most of the animals are meagre . The one act I really did enjoy was Helmbrecht Hoppe and his Unrideable Mule which offered members of the audience a chance at being a circus star if they could stay on the animal. Some young men ( no one from our party ) tried and failed then a soberly -dressed, middle-aged man got up to the loud protestations of his wife who was trying to drag him back into his seat. The argument continued into the ring and the mule ended up chasing her around. I realise now, and probably had an inkling at the time, that they were part of the act but it was well done and absolutely hilarious.
We must have told my mum about it because six months later she called me out of bed to watch the same thing on BBC One on a Friday evening. I didn't see myself on screen and given the length of the show's run it's unlikely to have been filmed on the same night we were there but the possibility was exciting.
NB I know there's a discrepancy between the title and the programme cover but that's how it appears on Genome.
Friday, 10 July 2015
First watched : 1974
I probably first watched this when it followed Top of the Pops in July 1974 ( actually repeats of episodes first broadcast on BBC2 ). It quickly became one of my favourite programmes and remained so for the rest of the decade.
The Goodies met at Cambridge where they were closely associated with the Monty Python guys. Both Graeme Garden and Tim Brooke-Taylor were presidents of the Footlights Club. Tim looked set to join the Python team but didn't feel he could match the input of the others in writing material and indeed he wrote the least for The Goodies. The trio had appeared together in other shows including the radio hit I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again and Broaden Your Mind. The show always suffered some criticism as a lowbrow version of Python but I think most people would admit to secretly preferring The Goodies.
There was something of a local connection to the show as Bill Oddie was born in nearby Rochdale and back in 1980 my friend and I once met an old lady on a bus who claimed to be his mum. Lillian Oddie was still alive at this time so I suppose it might have been her.
The great thing about The Goodies is that from its premise of three ill-assorted guys ( mad scientist, highly-strung conservative and obnoxious anarchist ) available to take on any assignment it could go pretty much anywhere except for nudity and bad language. The shows took in slapstick, sight gags, surrealism , character comedy, a liberal sprinkling of pop cultural references and satire. Any popular film or TV show in the seventies was likely to be spoofed by the trio. What sealed its place in the hearts of people of my age was the special extended episode The Goodies Rule OK where the gang have to deal with a Britain under a literal puppet government i.e Sooty and Sweep, Hector , Andy Pandy and so on , all your childhood icons drawn into this marvellously silly scenario.
Some of it was un-p.c of course. It's difficult to imagine the episode spoofing Roots , which featured a blacked-up Enoch Powell , getting the green light now.
The Goodies was also famous for someone actually dying while laughing at the show. I heard this at school and for long assumed it was an urban myth but it is actually true. A guy's heart gave out while watching the Rochdale-referencing Kung Fu spoof introducing the martial art of "Ecky Thump" and his widow did send them a friendly telegram about it.
That happened in their annus mirabilis year of 1975 when, in addition to being in a top-rated comedy show they also had five hit singles all written by Bill , most memorably "Funky Gibbon".
The Achilles heel of The Goodies was that it was expensive to make and as soon as the ratings slipped a bit it was under pressure. Between 1977 and 1980 only 6 episodes were made. Not surprisingly the guys went over to ITV in 1981 but hit the same brick wall as Simon Dee , Brucie and Mike Yarwood with their show being cancelled in 1982 after only six further episodes.
The trio dispersed without acrimony and worked together again providing the voices on the cartoon series Bananaman. After that Graeme seemed to remember he was a doctor and presented the BBC series Bodymatters in the mid-eighties before returning to comedy writing. Tim became a comic actor in a string of undistinguished sitcoms. The two maintained their involvement in the long-running radio comedy I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue.
Bill of course went back to his childhood hobby of bird-watching and gradually built up a whole new TV persona as a grouchy wildlife presenter,
Bill's successful re-branding was helped by the BBC's aversion to paying them any repeat fees with extremely rare repeats of any of their work until a documentary show Return Of The Goodies in 2005. That year the trio did a 13 date tour of Australia . A UK tour in 2007 had Graeme and Tim on stage with contributions from Bill on video. Though now all in their seventies they remain active in TV and radio,
Tuesday, 7 July 2015
First watched : 5 July 1974
Another brain-racker this one. It appeared on Fridays over the summer in 1974 ( and again the following year ) . John Craven was the host of this quiz show where four brainy school kids answered questions apparently generated by a computer called B.E.R.Y.L. ( aka Brainchild Electronic Random Year and Letter ) . They either got a question based on an event in a particular year or a word beginning with the selected letter.
The computer was completely fake, just a stage prop, and the programme only ran for two short series but it was a clear antecedent to ITV's long-running Blockbusters.
Monday, 6 July 2015
First watched : Uncertain
How was the brainchild of Jack Hargreaves, the Deputy Programme Controller of Southern Television, an avuncular character, already halfway through his fifties, with some idiosyncratic ideas on what made riveting television. Accordingly How as first envisaged, was targeted at people like himself, middle-aged bores coming home from the pub , to settle arguments or teach tricks. After the late night pilot in 1966 , Hargreaves felt it was better aimed at inquisitive children and viewing figures soon proved him right.
There were occasional temporary changes in the line up but for most of the time the quartet of presenters were eager Fred Dineange, dry scientist Jon Miller, jolly Bunty James and of course bearded, pipe-smoking Jack himself. They usually each got one question to answer per show and there was some jovial banter between them especially as it was broadcast live with frequent mistakes and mishaps. As with all magazine shows you were lucky if you were interested in every item; in fact with this show I felt lucky if I was interested in one although compared to Jack's other contemporary offering ,Out of Town , a weekly tour of his garden shed , it was always enthralling.
The series came to a halt in 1981 when Southern lost its franchise to TVS. They waited nine years before reviving it as How 2 in 1990. Dineange had graduated to senior presenter and stayed with the revived show until its end in 2006.
Jack went over to Channel 4 and presented a show called Old Country until 1985. He retired to Dorset and died in 1994. Miller was 60 when the show ended; he did not appear on TV again and spent his retirement in Cornwall writing erudite letters to newspapers and magazines. He died in 2008 . James left the show in 1977 and vanished into obscurity apart from a brief reappearance as herself in the nostalgic TV film The Happening in 1991. She is now in her eighties and thought to be living in Scotland.
Sunday, 5 July 2015
First watched : 1974
Wow, this is another that I'd forgotten . This replaced Opportunity Knocks on a Monday evening for the summer in 1974. There had been a previous series hosted by Edward Woodward but I don't think I saw any of that. The draw for this was Jon Pertwee taking the games master role - he was on the cover of TV Times - just after his last outing as Dr Who ( the dire Planet of the Spiders ) had been broadcast.
Whodunnit was loosely based - though this was never acknowledged- on Cluedo. Jon would introduce a little playlet with a murder at its heart and then ask two panels, a celebrity one and one derived from the audience to identify the murderer and justify the decision. The celebrity panel always included the none-more-seventies duo of Patrick Mower and Anouska Hempel and two guests. Following the play the celebs could question the actors and request short scenes again with the guarantee that only the murderer could lie to them. The audience panel only got a short slot to announce their decision and seemed a bit tokenistic. And of course you could play along at home.
I seem to remember it was OK but I'm surprised to read it ran until 1978. I suspect that we got a bit bored of it as Tom Baker started erasing memories of Pertwee's Who stint and drifted away.
Saturday, 4 July 2015
First watched : 1974
In 1973 Opportunity Knocks got a brash new rival talent show, again on ITV. Although New Faces fished from the same pool of club acts and deluded freaks the crucial difference was that the act had to please a panel of show business experts to progress rather than the less discerning TV audience. Not surprisingly New Faces was much better at producing durable winners, some of whom are still high profile entertainers today.
The panel of four was drawn from a rotating cast of luminaries. The most notable were creaky old musical hall comedian Arthur Askey and record producers Mickie Most and the man above , Tony Hatch. They had to give up to ten points each in the categories of "Presentation" "Content" and "Star Quality" . Hatch quickly became the show's star with his plain-speaking brutality, once despatching a useless guitarist with a treble zero score. Sometimes he had to be smuggled out of the studio afterwards. Most was pretty waspish himself but managed a veneer of politeness. It did give rise to the suspicion that poor acts were deliberately being chosen by the producers to be publicly eviscerated.
The first winners I remember were Manc impressionist Aiden J Harvey because he was living in Littleborough at the time, although I don't remember ever bumping into him , and young soul band Sweet Sensation who got to number one with Sad Sweet Dreamer. Later came Our Kid , the youngest of whom was born in the same year as me and who nearly pulled off the same trick. Then of course there were the young gun comedians and political soulmates Lenny Henry and Jim Davidson.
The series ended in April 1978 but was revived in the late eighties with former winner Marti Caine presenting ( in place of Derek Hobson whose career went straight down the tube when the series finished ) and gobby TV critic Nina Myskow trying to fill Hatch's boots. It lasted three series and has the dubious distinction of foisting Joe Pasquale on us.
In recent years there's been a lot of fatuous comparisons with the likes of The X Factor usually omitting the crucial distinction that Hatch and Most were talented people in their own right ( particularly the former ) with real creative input into the records they made not just self-satisfied business people piggybacking on the talents of others.