Sunday, 28 February 2016
First Viewed : Uncertain
I'm not sure when I first caught this series which had been running since 1975 but May 1978 when it was switched from Mondays to Tuesdays and didn't clash with Coronation Street anymore seems a good guess. I could take it or leave it but my mum and sister were huge fans.
Angels followed the adventures of a group of student nurses, initially at a hospital called St Angela's Battersea although the setting was switched to a hospital in Birmingham. Despite its early evening time slot, the storylines were quite hard-hitting and caused some unease with the suggestion that nurses were not all Florence Nightingale types and might be fallible human beings. This was typified by the character of Rose Butchins played by Kathryn Apanowicz, a loud , stroppy nightmare.
With its regularly refreshed cast of attractive young women in uniforms the show had a considerable male following and switched to a twice weekly soap format - though it wasn't on all year round - from 1979 onwards. It finished in 1983 because its creators Julia Smith and Tony Holland had a bigger fish to fry and some of the angels ,including Apanowicz , later turned up in Albert Square.
Thursday, 25 February 2016
First viewed : 1978
I first about this show from a rather colourful character at school called Gerald Van Kleef who was absolutely obsessed by fifties iconography. We were talking about his obsession with Elvis and he mentioned there was a guy on the telly who was even cooler than Elvis called The Fonz. I'd never heard of him and a look in the TV Times didn't reveal any programme of that name so there was a bit of a time lag before I realised what Gerald was on about .
I won't talk at length about Happy Days because I wasn't impressed with what I saw and I doubt I watched more than half a dozen episodes over the years. I never saw Suzi Quatro , Robin Williams or the infamous shark jumping episode. It presented a very rose-tinted view of small town America from the mid-fifties to the mid-sixties with each series roughly representing a year, cutting off just before Vietnam soured the picture somewhat although in truth the series had come off the rails by then. I don't know if ITV kept faith with the series right till the end.
The series span out of an anthology show , Love, American Style but the real spur to its development was the phenomenal success of George Lucas's nostalgia-fest American Graffiti . The Fonz ( Henry Winkler ) was only meant to be a supporting character but soon grew to outshine the rest of the cast put together including the show's nominal star Ritchie Cunningham played by the annoyingly clean-cut Ron Howard. The Fonz lodged with the Cunningham family including toothy, unattractive sister Joanie ( Erin Moran ) though how he paid his rent was always up for debate as he seemed to have no fixed occupation, just plenty of time to swagger into the diner in his black leather jacket- white T-shirt, DA quiff combo , play the juke box by bumping it and show off some unusual dance moves. Great credit is due to Winkler, who always comes across as pretty geeky in other roles, for creating a character that mesmerised millions on both sides of the Atlantic and is still a byword for supposed cool. Ritchie had two other buddies Potsie and Ralph Malph as foils but I can remember very little about them.
The show eventually came to an end in 1984 with an egotistical story line about Howard going off to become a film director which he was already doing of course and very successfully to this day. Winkler attempted to follow in his footsteps but signally failed to eclipse him for a second time . He returned to acting in the nineties and has kept himself busy but always in the shadow of a character who is a true TV legend.
Monday, 22 February 2016
First viewed : 30 April 1978
Having got their fingers sizzled with the infamous Churchill's People three years earlier , the Beeb stuck this new historical drama series safely away on BBC2 at 9pm on a Sunday night with a late night repeat on Fridays. The Devil's Crown followed the fortunes of the first three Plantagenet kings ( Henry II , Richard I , John ) from Henry's marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine to the death of John. It strove to be historically accurate so it was helpful to have such larger than life characters centre stage.
We started watching it as a family- a pretty rare event - but my dad's participation didn't last long. What made him most difficult to live with was his mania about noise. Whether it was due to autism, particularly sensitive hearing or his earlier training to be a monk in Ireland ( needless to say he didn't make it ) he wanted to live in a very quiet house. His mortal fear was the next door neighbours hearing some noise from our house and deciding it was OK to blast pop music through the walls. And so he started watching this with us but every time someone raised their voice - which was pretty much every other line - he got up and adjusted the volume. After about ten minutes of this Mum protested that he was being ridiculous and ruining the programme upon which he left us to it.
We didn't last beyond the first episode. The programme had a decent script but it was hemmed in too much by the budget. The characters declaimed in front of painted backdrops that looked like they'd last been used on Sir Prance-A-Lot. At one point Henry plucks a peach from a metal tree. All the battles had to be covered by messengers arriving with news after the event. It was just too stage-y and claustrophobic for a commitment to watch thirteen 55 minute instalments.
Nevertheless it was a key series for some of its cast. Playing Henry was the breakthrough role for Brian Cox who's never looked back and John Duttine also scored as John although he's less prominent these days . Simon Gipps-Kent pops up again as the ill-fated Arthur of Brittany.
The series has never been re-broadcast or released on DVD but it was popular in France and at the time of writing can be viewed on YouTube as a result.
Sunday, 21 February 2016
First viewed : 21 April 1978
After Life At Stake finished its run we had a feature length pilot episode introducing us to Petrocelli , an idealistic defence lawyer played by Barry Newman. Newman had had the leading role in films such as Vanishing Point and Fear Is The Key earlier in the decade but never quite made the A-list. He first played the role in the film The Lawyer in 1970 and was the only member of the cast to make the transition to the TV series four years later.
The Beeb were slow to take up their option on Petrocelli ; the series had been axed in the US more than two years earlier. I'm guessing that after the failures of Gangsters and Life at Stake they were looking for something cheap and cheerful to fill the slot until the second series of Target was ready to air.
Tony Petrocelli worked in a backwater of Arizona where he lived in a trailer with wife Maggie ( Susan Howard ) while his house got built. The standing joke of the series was that the building never got any further towards completion. His professional role allowed for a new twist on what was really another detective series. Petrocelli took on difficult cases where the odds were stacked against him and he had to find some vital piece of evidence to get his client off. Part of each episode was taken up with flashbacks showing "the facts" of the case from different perspectives, the final one of which was "the truth" uncovered by our diligent advocate. He was aided in his investigations by cowboy pal Pete ( Albert Salmi ) and the obligatory friend on the force, the magnificently named Lt Ponce ( David Huddleston ) . Occasionally Petrocelli did eventually realise his client was guilty after all but always managed to persuade them to change their plea so we didn't get to see him trying to get someone he knew to be guilty off the hook. He drove a pick-up truck like a madman, perhaps in jokey reference to his speed freak character in Vanishing Point.
I thought it was quite good and it returned for a further run after Target finished. It was also broadcast again as a daytime programme in the late nineties. Newman has continued working in film and TV until quite recently with a regular role in Nightingales in 1989 the subsequent highlight. Howard of course was a bit luckier. The producer of the series was Leonard Katzman who went on to make Dallas and gave her ( though not immediately ) a leading role as Donna Krebbs and thus TV immortality.
Friday, 19 February 2016
First viewed : Early 1978
This was not something I watched by choice. In the spring term of my second and final year at St Wilfrids School, the shorter of the two "Art " periods ( Thursday afternoons if I recall correctly ) was taken up instead by a lesson with deputy head Frank Randle. Randle was a cantankerous martinet with no sense of humour but these lessons did show a mellower side of him. They were sometimes described as "Logic" but were in fact pretty free form i.e he'd talk about anything that interested him at the time. However in the term my group had him he didn't do much talking , just slipped in a VHS tape ( rare at the time ) of this , recorded from the TV. I never found it very interesting but it was an undemanding lesson.
Nevertheless, Living In The Past , was a ground-breaking and influential series, the forerunner to all those historical hardship reality series like The 1900s House and the currently running 10,000 BC. There's also a clear linkage to Castaway , nearly a quarter of a century later. 15 volunteers ( including three children ) were selected to live as an Iron Age community for a year in a wood clearing in Dorset. Though allowed some modern tools and supplies to get them through the winter the volunteers were required to become self-sufficient in time.
This being a more innocent age the participants were selected more for their aptitude than any telegenic qualities. There was no Ben Fogle Adonis figure hogging the camera here, just some taciturn beardy guys and unmade up ladies getting on with the hard grind of sustaining themselves. There was a bit of casual nudity in the warmer months but nothing prurient. None of the participants went on to have TV careers though some of their children participated in a poorly-received follow-up show Surviving in the Iron Age in 2001.
Thursday, 18 February 2016
First viewed : January 1978
There is a bit of a hole in Genome if you don't live in London. It doesn't consistently give you the variations in the Regional TV slots. And so throughout the early months of 1978 it shows a half-hour edition of news magazine Tonight in the 22.15 pm slot on a Friday night when the other regions were broadcasting something completely different.
In the early part of 1978 it was "Sit Thi Deawn" . As the title would suggest it showcased "traditional" Lancashire entertainment i.e non politicised folk music and humourous dialect poetry. It was profoundly backward-looking and you suspect that much of its intended audience would already be in bed with a cup of cocoa by the time it was broadcast but the programme ran on until the mid eighties so someone was watching it.
The programme was hosted by the Westhoughton folk group the Houghton Weavers and named after one of their songs. They were generous enough to give some exposure to a rival outfit The Oldham Tinkers. In the latter part of 1978 I discovered that the Tinkers were not a full time outfit because one of their number Gerry Kearns was a geography teacher at my final school. He wasn't very popular. I didn't do geography but he had the reputation of being strict, humourless and unyielding. That was only among the pupils though ; the staff I've talked to since remember him as being very charming and obliging. His son is the successful actor Gerard Kearns ( the gay lad in Shameless ) who must live somewhere near me as I've seen him in church a few times.
Wednesday, 17 February 2016
First watched : Uncertain
This show started following Coronation Street on a Monday in February 1978 but when I first caught it is anyone's guess. It is chiefly remembered for giving David Jason his first starring role as Peter Barnes, the Everyman continually frustrated by petty bureaucrats and jobsworths always played ( as different characters ) by Richard Wilson ( who must surely have been aware of the similarity of the premise when making One Foot In The Grave years later ) and Alun Armstrong. I remember it as being pretty funny but I never watched it religiously. It ran for four series ( although 1980 's only ran for three episodes) until 1981 when Jason moved on to his most famous vehicle.
Tuesday, 16 February 2016
First viewed : 3 March 1978
Mixed Blessings was a new comedy series based around the inter-racial relationship between a white guy ( Christopher Blake ) and a black girl ( Muriel Odunton ) and the mutual wariness of their respective families. It seems to have escaped the opprobrium meted out to the likes of Mind Your Language ( which it followed on Friday nights ) but whether that's because its cautiously liberal approach passes the pc test or it's simply been forgotten I couldn't say.
Regardless of that , it was certainly an improvement to the Friday schedule when it replaced the awful Maggie And Her, without ever being really funny. It lasted for three series, the last being in 1980. It ended with them having a child which I remember ( about the only incident I can recall ) though whether I'd watched it all the way through is questionable.
Blake worked steadily , with regular roles in two more sitcoms That's My Boy and Down To Earth until his death in 2004. Odunton , who was originally from Ghana, relocated to the USA as soon as the series finished and hasn't been heard from since.
Monday, 15 February 2016
First viewed : 21 February 1978
This show was made by Thames TV and was shown twice-weekly on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The first series comprised five completely separate stories adapted from previously published work and split into four or six episodes.
The first one was Rachel in Danger , about a shy intelligent Scottish girl who takes the train to London for a short stay with a father she hasn't seen since she was a toddler and who normally works in South America. Unfortunately he's been followed over by a friend Juan ( played by the very busy Stephen Grief of Blake's 7 and Citizen Smith fame ) who promptly murders him to steal his identity for a terrorist operation and isn't expecting company. What follows is just a little contrived but eminently watchable, in fact seeing it again, it's better than I remembered. The girl, Della Low, isn't much cop and looks suspiciously like she's reading from cue cards held above her co-stars' shoulders but it's still pretty gripping thanks to excellent performances from Grief and his terrifying Japanese accomplice Aiyako ( Eiko Nakamura ) a study in icy fanaticism. Struan Rodger pops up again as another of the terrorists though I didn't recognise him as the guy from Joe and the Sheep Rustlers.
That one was in four parts , the next one "A Dog's Ransom", was in six and was adapted from a Patricia Highsmith novel. It starts with the kidnapping of a poodle from a middle class couple by an unsavoury and resentful Polish immigrant who demands a ransom. We know by the end of the first episode that he's killed the dog but that's not the point. The police are not that interested apart from a smart young detective who investigates the case in his own time and brings a heap of trouble on himself and his girlfriend. If I recall correctly she gets sent thirty chocolate coins except it's not exactly chocolate under the wrappers. Matters escalate to a very grim conclusion, topped off with an ironic final scene of the couple happily playing with a replacement dog . However there wasn't enough action for some of my peers at school who decried it as slow and boring and I fear I may have listened to them because none of the subsequent stories ring any bells. In fact, judged on the first two stories , the subject matter is remarkably dark for a pre-watershed show and the fact they had to pull a few punches in its presentation shouldn't have put anyone off.
Sunday, 14 February 2016
First viewed : 3 March 1978
I'm very surprised to read that this was actually made in Britain, having long thought that this must have been a German import, the brainchild of some hermit living in the depths of the Black Forest. However it was created by Czech exiles which would account for its mid- European strangeness.
Ludwig is by far the weirdest series that ever filled the Magic Roundabout slot and so came into my Friday night viewing schedule. It had been first broadcast the year before but passed me by. Seeing it in the Radio Times I asked my friend Patrick what it was like and I remember him struggling for a description.
Ludwig was a sort of alien machine disguised as a gemstone who lived in the woods entertaining the animals with the music of Beethoven whether they wanted it or not and generally interfering in their daily existence with his retractable mechanical limbs. His activities were observed by a man in a deerstalker hat, uttering the annoying catchphrase "Aah Ludwig! " at regular intervals and giving a narration which consisted of telling you what you'd just seen for yourself. Perhaps he was Evan Davies in disguise ?
I didn't know what to make of it; was it trying to get toddlers into classical music ? It just seemed completely off the wall. There were 25 5 minute episodes in total.
Saturday, 13 February 2016
First viewed : 17 February 1978
It might have made the cover of Radio Times but this series really has fallen down the plughole when it comes to popular recollection. I honestly did know it was coming round without the help of Genome but it does feel like I'm treading through virgin snow here. There's nothing on wikipedia or TV Cream and very little on imdb , just an incomplete cast list and an erroneous "A" added to the title.
Life At Stake took over the Friday night post-news slot from Gangsters and was a series of eight dramatic reconstructions of some of the more traumatic news stories of the decade, some of them so recent that I'd been able to follow them. That was the case with the first episode in the series which recreated the ordeal of Dr Tiede Herrema. In one of the stranger incidents during The Troubles, the inoffensive Dutch owner of a factory in Limerick was abducted in 1975 by an escaped IRA convict Eddie Gallagher and his girlfriend Marian Coyle who then demanded the release of some Republican prisoners. The Irish police tracked them down to a house in Dublin and after a tense three week siege, sanity prevailed and the kidnappers gave themselves up with Herrema unharmed. Some Stockholm Syndrome bonding had occurred between Gallagher and his captive and he considerately gave the doctor one of his bullets as a momento.
The other events covered were : the rescue of Pisces III a submersible that got in trouble under the Irish Sea in 1973, the hi-jacking of a train in Holland by South Moluccan terrorists in 1975, the seizure of the West German embassy in Stockholm by the Baader-Meinhof gang the same year, the Faraday school kidnapping in Australia in 1972 , Apollo 13, an episode of post- plane crash cannibalism in remote Canada in 1972 and the kidnapping of British diplomat James Cross by Quebec separatists in 1970 . Although Genome doesn't give any more clues I'm wondering if it was an international venture ; the production values were pretty high, it was all on film and I don't recall thinking the effects on the Apollo 13 episode were shoddy.
Overseas money or not, the series had problems and it has never been repeated or released on VHS / DVD. The chief problem was that in most of the cases you knew how it turned out so you needed to engage with the characters to make it really gripping. That was difficult enough given the time frame but here it was compounded by the need to avoid giving offence to people who were very much still alive and hence to stick rigidly to what was in the public domain. With the series largely eschewing recognisable actors - I only know Edward Hardwicke, Tony Osoba and Sylvestra La Touzel from the cast list - what you had were basically 50 minute Crimewatch reconstructions with the same potential for emotional engagement. It also suffered from the same disadvantage as Gangsters in being up against The Professionals on the other channel.
Although it was obviously a failure and never gets mentioned in despatches I think the programme does have some significance as an early experiment in docudrama. I've already mentioned Crimewatch and if you take away the terrorism episodes, what's left looks pretty similar to the nineties series 999.
Thursday, 11 February 2016
First viewed : 8 February 1978
This is another milestone. Although it's not quite the last children's programme in this list it ended up being the only one I was still watching into adulthood.
Grange Hill replaced A Traveller In Time as the Wednesday serial in February 1978 but was a very different beast. For that we have to credit one of my least favourite people. "Professor" Phil Redmond who's done more than anyone to debase the whole concept of higher education in the UK. Nevertheless , Grange Hill was a landmark in childrens' programming and should always be regarded as a feather in his cap.
Grange Hill was set very firmly in the present day and the first series ( of 9 episodes ) followed the fortunes of what we'd now call a Year 7 class as they entered a comprehensive secondary school for the first time. And so we were introduced to lovable rogue Tucker Jenkins ( Todd Carty ), long-faced moaning Cock-er-nee Trisha Yates ( Michelle Herbert ), shy swot Justin ( Robert Morgan ) and deprived black football ace Benny ( Terry Sue Patt ) in the form class of typically bland geography teacher Mr Mitchell ( Michael Percival ) with his naff clothes and even naffer jokes . Some of the others introduced in the first episode ( in which nothing remotely interesting happens ) like Judy, Ann and David have vanished from my memory banks. My favourite was big fat Alan ( George Armstrong ). He started out as a minor character , one of a pair of henchmen for Tucker's escapades; the scriptwriters didn't even give him a consistent surname in the first series before settling on "Humphries". However, Alan clicked with the audience and, whereas the other lad didn't make it to the second series , he became a strong character in his own right. Towards the end of the series the first villain was introduced in Michael Doyle ( Vincent Hall ) a shifty-eyed blonde lad but he was a bit weedy compared to his successors and always fairly easily outwitted by Tucker.
It took just four episodes before the first real controversy arose when Tucker and his mates dropped the benches into the swimming pool and parents and teachers became concerned about copy cat behaviour. Some primary kids were said to be terrified by the series.
Nevertheless it returned the following year and in a big way , now twice weekly with a run of 18 episodes. Ann was dropped but the class was fleshed out with some new characters mainly girls like goody-good Susi McMahon ( Linda Slater ) who was often compared at our school to the girl I fancied, posh redhead Penny ( Ruth Davies ) and bright Asian , Sudhamani ( Sheila Chandra ). The series also acquired its first sex symbol ( Trisha actually had an older sister Carol who was quite nice but didn't feature enough ) in buxom Cathy Hargreaves ( Lindy Brill ). I actually preferred her dark haired sidekick but she never had an individual storyline. Justin got a mate called Andrew who had family problems and Tommy, who'd barely had a line before, got a new head and a beefed up role as another mate of Tucker. There were more adult regulars, such as new headmaster Mr Llewellyn ( Sean Arnold ) prissy English teacher Mr Sutcliffe ( James Wynn ) and hard but fair games teacher Mt Baxter ( Michael Cronin ). I don't think I saw much of this series first time round but my sister started following it.
Series 3 saw a split focus between the old class , now under form teacher Miss Peterson and a new crop of Year 7's including good-looking Duane Orpington ( Mark Baxter ) and charmless fat boy Pogo Patterson ( Peter Moran ) . Their form teacher was the too-good-to-be-true Mr Hopwood ( Brian Capron ). Redmond started pushing the envelope a bit more with this series which included Susi having problems with a bra, Cathy having period pains and Sudhamani's dad fretting over her Westernisation. There was also a nice storyline for Alan who started a romance with Susi towards the end of the series. I think my viewing was intermittent to begin with but became more regular towards the end.
Series 4 is the one where I was most committed to watching the series. The younger class was expanded with goodie-two-shoes Clare ( Paula Ann Bland ), her rebellious mate Suzanne ( Susan Tully ), likely lad Stewpot ( Mark Burdis ), giant black girl Precious ( Dulice Liecier ) and the show's most notorious villain, Gripper Stebson ( Mark Savage ) . New adult characters were headmistress Mrs McCluskey ( Gwyneth Powell ) , sexy IT teacher Miss Lexington ( Allyson Rees ) and the supremely irritating caretaker, Mr Thompson ( Timothy Bateson ). This series saw the show becoming much more soap-like with story arcs stretching across a number of episodes. One of these saw Cathy forming a band with two sidekicks , one of whom , ( either Ruth or Gerry, I'm not sure ) was a dark-haired beauty but she never got a surname or an individual storyline. That story ended with them getting the cane ( Note for CP fetishists ; it's not worth you checking it out ) for bunking off which reminds you that we were still in the corporal punishment era here. However in what was the most memorable episode of all , a transient PE teacher Mr Hicks, played by serial TV villain Paul Jerricho, oversteps the mark and gets walloped by Mr Baxter , a scene we'd been waiting for since Kes twelve years earlier. This was the last series written ( in the main ) by Redmond who had his hands full with Brookside which debuted later in the year.
One year on, I was in the sixth form and no longer watching kids TV ( I took part in a sketch based on Willo the Wisp in the Sixth Form Review despite never having seen the programme ) but was drawn back to Series 5 by all my class mates talking about it and one character in particular, the hapless, hopelessly obese Roland Browning ( Erkan Mustafa ) and the main target for the ever-nastier Gripper. He was part of a new year 7 intake, along with the too self-regarding to be likable prankster Jonah ( Lee Sparke ), his slightly dim sidekick Zammo ( Lee McDonald ), bubbly croaky-voiced blonde Fay ( Alison Bettles ) and slappable spoilt brat Annette ( Nadia Chambers ). The one thing Roland had going for him was a self-appointed guardian angel Janet ( Simone Nylander ) who followed him around over-enunciating his name as "Ro-land" but alas her passion was unrequited. Episode 15 "Despair", where all Roland's difficulties come to a head is a junior equivalent to "Yosser's Story" in Boys from the Blackstuff, a remarkably harrowing 25 minutes for a children's TV slot. The only significant addition to the teaching cast was long-haired , sociology-spouting leftie Mr McGuffie ( Fraser Cains ) who was something of a caricature.
With kids preoccupied by impending O Levels not offering too many dramatic possibilities , the original class were reduced to cameo roles in this series ( Tommy and Susi didn't appear at all ). Apart from Tucker making a couple of re-appearances as an adult many years later, this was the last series to feature the survivors from the first one ; Alan, Trisha, Benny and Justin ( who'd been pretty redundant from series 3 ) all took their final bows.
Having baulked at killing Roland off in the previous series the only way for the writers to go in Series 6 was to make him a bit more comfortable in school and that necessitated getting Gripper off his back. The way they did that was to make this the most violent and controversial series of all as Gripper became preoccupied with racism and set up his own version of the BNP in the school which would eventually lead to his expulsion. Some light relief was had with three episodes taking place outside the school precincts on a field trip to St Alban's and an Outward Bound course in Wales. Educational politics, which hadn't been a major part of the series before, reared their head with the new teacher Mr Smart ( Simon Heywood ), fresh from public school with a head full of inappropriate ideas and approaches.
By Series 7 I had left school myself and was at university but there were plenty of other Grange Hill fans in my Hall of Residence and I saw most if not all of the series. The major newcomers were a raffish rogue Jimmy McClaren ( Gary Love ) , love interest for Zammo , Jackie ( Melissa Wilks ) and the obnoxious Jeremy Irvine ( Vincent Matthews ) who'd appeared briefly in the previous series as the now-departed Jonah's cousin. He provided the series' main talking point when , after a few close calls in previous series the writers , bolstered by Redmond's return ( at least the credits for each episode say so ) , went the full hog and killed someone off, Jeremy not re-surfacing after arsing around in the swimming pool . Gripper had a small , rather disappointing cameo in one episode. This series was the end of the line for most of the second wave of pupils. Duane and Pogo departed along with Suzanne who provided another of the series' iconic moments when she turned up dressed as Boy George and gave Mrs McCluskey a mouthful in the corridor ( wildly cheered in our TV room ) having already left the school.
The big break happened now for me . 90% of the students in the Hall left at the end of the year either because they'd graduated or preferred to house share in the bedsit land nearer to the campus. The handful of us that chose to remain divvied up the vacant roles on the Junior Common Room Committee between us ( I was Treasurer ) but perhaps inevitably we were bitterly resented by some of the incoming students saddled with a team they'd had no say in electing. And so we tended to huddle together for mutual protection and thus began the ritual of trying to be first in for dinner at 5.30pm. This meant queuing from 5.00 pm, outside the doors where there were some comfy chairs to sit on ; we were later satirised for this in the Hall newsletter although nobody was personally singled out. By the time Grange Hill came back round for Series 8 in February 1985 the habit was too ingrained and so I stopped watching it.
And so I missed Mr Smart's conversion to a good guy, the entrance of the fearsome Mr Bronson ( Michael Sheard ) , Zammo's love triangle with Jackie and rival Banksy ( Tim Polley who she would certainly have picked in real life ) and most famously of all Zammo's drug habit in Series 9. I was aware of all the tabloid hype and of course the "Just Say No" single and having left the Hall by then could have gone back to the series but I didn't.
That was the series' zenith ; though it marched on it would never enjoy the same high profile again. Once the hysteria had died down I thought little more about it except for when a familiar face would pop up in something else.
Then in April 1993 the Beeb started repeating the series starting from the beginning on a Sunday morning on BBC2 to celebrate the show's fifteenth anniversary. This was irresistible , to wallow in something from what I already deemed the golden period of my life and so I watched Grange Hill all over again with far greater loyalty than I had the first time round ! I didn't stop until the end of the drugs series which they reached in 1996. There was no reason to continue beyond that point so I signed off for good. I don't recall that I had any real consciousness that the series was still going strong on the other channel.
I remember reading about its cancellation in February 2008 and once I'd got over my utter amazement that it had still been going for all those intervening years I felt as much sadness as for the passing of Top of the Pops and Smash Hits, those other totems of my youth that todays generation had discarded. For a couple more years there will be school children who dimly remember the series then the lights will go out.
As with the wrestlers, I'm not going to attempt to trace the subsequent careers of all those I've mentioned . Inevitably many of them didn't stay in acting and have long since vanished from the public eye. Some of them we'll meet again in a spin-off series further down the line. In 2005 Justin Lee Collins featured Grange Hill in his Bring Back... series despite the series not having finished yet but he concentrated almost solely on those involved in the Zammo storyline including Erkan Mustafa who'd had a little brush with the law over drugs himself ( not sure if it went to court ) Alison Bettles who was now just a happy housewife after a brief spell in The Bill and Lee McDonald who did some reality TV on the back of the show and seems to be the one most enthusiastic to return to the public eye.
They're not the ones who really hold a place in my heart though. I was sad to hear of the passing of Terry Sue Patt last year. My favourite , George Armstrong was last heard of working as the theatre manager at a public school. His lost love Linda Slater has long since vanished . Sheila Chandra had a brief pop career as lead singer of Monsoon and managed to sustain a low-key career in world music until she fell seriously ill a few years ago and had to retire. The lovely Lindy Brill gave up acting when she turned 30 and now works in personnel at a finance company .In case anyone's interested ( and let's face it guys we are ) I think just three of the actresses I've mentioned above have subsequently disrobed, Paula Ann Bland in The Fruit Machine ( 1989 ) , Rudi Davies in A Sense of Guilt ( 1990 ) and The Lonely Passion of Judith Herne ( 1987 ) and Melissa Wilkes in The Advocate ( 1993 ).
Sunday, 7 February 2016
First viewed : 4 February 1978
I doubt whether the above date is the first time I was in a room when World of Sport was on the telly but it is the first time I watched it with any real attention. Before we go on I should mention that I am indebted to John Lister and the team at www.itvwrestling.co.uk for supplying me with that date and much other information used in this post.
World of Sport was the perennial poor relation of BBC's Grandstand against which it was scheduled. The Beeb had all the tennis, cricket and athletics rights sewn up leaving ITV scratching around for enough footage of minority sports to fill up its time slot. Contrary to popular belief I don't think they ever did cover a tiddlywinks event but some of the stuff came close . The host was the cheery Dickie Davies with his gap-toothed grin and strange white lock ( caused by poliosis ) , seemingly unconcerned at being perceived as the poor man's Des Lynam. Perhaps that's because he knew he held an ace card , broadcast each week at 4pm , three bouts of professional wrestling.
I first caught it on the date above at my friend Patrick's house although a student teacher we had covering physical fitness had mentioned wrestling a week or so earlier referencing a mysterious character called Big Daddy. He wasn't on the bill that afternoon. The one that caught my eye was a youngster in the lightweight category who went by the name of The Dynamite Kid. He was fighting the premier, in fact pretty much the only, villain in the light or welter weight brackets, where the bouts tended to feature displays of speed and gymnastic ability rather than good vs evil contests. Breaks however could only be a villain , a small man with a pudding basin haircut and the sort of face you wanted to slap. Besides throwing rabbit punches on the blind side of the referee, Breaks also antagonised the crowd with his high-pitched complaining and foot-stamping tantrums when things weren't going his way. He seemed to have only one legitimate tactic, trying to lift his opponent in the air while bending his elbow back to force a submission, what was known as the "Breaks Special". Dynamite Kid won the bout with a fall and a submission. Also on the bill that day was the most famous villain of all, the splendidly seedy Mick McManus with his fierce battle cry of "Not me ears !" . He was fighting the much lighter Johnny Saint, a lithe clean cut guy who lived up to his surname in the ring but not surprisingly lost to McManus. The other bout was a middleweight contest between the likable middle-aged Alan Dennison who looked like Richard Fairbrass's dad and a villain, Peter "Tally-ho" Kaye whose gimmick was entering the ring dressed as a huntsman.
It helped that the wrestling neatly filled the gap between the Half Time Scores and Final Results but I quickly became hooked on it for its own sake. I heard rumours that it was fixed early on but didn't believe them and certainly didn't want to. The regular triumph of the good guys over their adversaries was very comforting in an increasingly scary world of international terrorism and arms races. I think I started having doubts with those tag team contests which featured the real life brothers Bert Royal and Vic Faulkner which were splendidly entertaining and well choreographed but they did get away with the same tricks every time. Surely even opponents as stupid-looking as Cyanide Sid Cooper would know what was coming ? It's now pretty much universally acknowledged that at least the outcomes were fixed but there was as much skill and bravery as in any other sport. Even if you trusted that he was going to take the weight on his hands and knees it still took guts to lie on the canvas and let the 40 stone Giant Haystacks do his "splash" move on you ! Ditto the ugly bruiser Mal "King Kong" Kirk with his guillotine chop across the neck. If he got that wrong you'd be in deep trouble if not actually decapitated.
Generally the good guys were the better looking, younger fighters and the villains were the older , uglier ones though there were odd exceptions. Mark "Rollerball" Rocco was a super villain but looked like Olympic swimmer Mark Spitz while the main rival in his weight, the usually fair Marty Jones was cross-eyed. As a consequence Rocco was allowed to win more bouts than was usual for a "heel". Sometimes they got it wrong and had to change tack. The Irish fighter Fit Finley started out as a fair competitor but audiences weren't warming to him and he made a much bigger impression as a villain with bunny-boiler wife Princess Paula, who dressed up as an Indian squaw , in tow. Political correctness wasn't exactly high on the agenda as Alan Bardouville whose ring ID was, ahem, "Kid Chocolate" would no doubt agree.
I didn't see Big Daddy until 25 March 1978 when he beat the aforementioned Kirk. His real name was Shirley Crabtree . His father who shared the same Christian name was a wrestler himself and his brothers Max and Brian were also involved in the sport as a top promoter and MC respectively. The Crabtrees actually lived just a short bus ride away from me in Millbank village near Ripponden. Shirley had been a wrestler since the fifties , in other guises, but hadn't reached the top of the game and was pretty washed-up by the early seventies. Max and Shirley's wife Bert ( I'm kidding there ; she was actually Eunice ) masterminded his re-branding as Big Daddy, making a virtue of the fact he'd gone to seed physically with a massive beer belly and man-boobs. Big Daddy started out as a villain in a tag team partnership with the terrifying Haystacks but after he was cheered for unmasking Kendo Nagasaki ( something the latter conveniently forgot when he staged his famous unmasking ceremony a few years later ) he was converted into a fantasy hero.
Once he became a good guy Big Daddy's popularity went through the roof and he became a more popular figure for children than Mickey Mouse. He spent more time making personal appearances at children's wards and parties than he did in the ring. With his snowy hair, top hat, naturally carrot-shaped nose and white leotard he looked like a snow man come to life.
You didn't actually get that much ring action from Daddy ; in his late forties by 1978 and quite obviously less than fully fit, he only had a limited repertoire of moves and stamina. You had to accept that his blubbery belly was brick hard and could be deployed as an offensive weapon. He didn't fight many singles bouts he was usually to be found in tag team matches which always followed the same script. He was paired up with a much lighter good guy against two cheating bruisers . His partner would start in the ring and after a brief bit of wrestling would get dragged over to the opponents' corner where both would kick the shit out of him and take the lead with a fall or submission. In the next round they'd carry on where they left off then, with the last ebb of his strength , he'd make a fingertip contact with Daddy who'd storm in and wipe the floor with them often both at the same time. It was terribly corny but it worked every time and I loved him as much as any other child. He was an idol for bullied children everywhere; who wouldn't want to believe in a super "Dad" who could come into the playground and mete out instant justice to your persecutors. He reversed the routine for an appearance on Jim'll Fix It where a little boy was his tag team partner. The fall guys were the long-haired Banger Tony Walsh and a barely mobile 40 stone tub of lard called Fatty Thomas who were each laid low by Daddy before the little lad came on to lie on their shoulders and claim the fall. I do hope Daddy didn't get too friendly with his fellow Yorkshireman ( and a former werestler himself ) , the host; it would just kill me if his name got dragged into the mire.
At the beginning of 1979 a Canadian heavyweight named the Mighty John Quinn came over to the UK . He really did look the part and after demolishing the hapless Beau Jack Rowlands with his strength and villainy he started calling out the British wrestlers on the MC's microphone. World of Sport followed his progress as he bested Barry Douglas, Len Hurst and Lee Bronson making himself more and more unpopular on the way to a final showdown with Big Daddy in the summer. Of course Daddy polished him off in less than two minutes at Wembley Arena. The Quinn/Daddy feud storyline was repeated again a couple of years later with Daddy's former tag partner Haystacks taking Quinn's role. The big match ended in the first round. with Haystacks falling out of the ring , demolishing a table as he fell and not being able to climb back inside in time.
Other wrestlers I remember from the late seventies included Catweazle who bore a slight resemblance to the TV character , fought in a Victorian bathing costume and used "girlie" tactics like pulling hair and nipping. I hated him but liked Kung Fu , a blonde Irish guy who fought barefoot. Another blonde was Ray Steele , a Charlton Heston lookalike heavyweight and consequently a good guy. Steve Grey was a lightweight who looked like Gareth Thomas from Blake's 7 and fought two very technical battles in the best possible spirit with world lightweight champion Johnny Saint but failed to take his belt. Johnny Kwango was a black guy whose specialty was fake headbutts but outside the ring had been a ballet dancer, actor and jazz musician. John Naylor was a generally fair lightweight who is remembered for crushing the hapless Keith Rawlinson who entered the ring through Esther Rantzen's The Big Time ( not in a bout screened by World of Sport of course ). There was also the bearded Pat Roach before he found fame on Auf Wiedersehn Pet who seemed to plough his own furrow in the heavyweight bracket , neither hero nor villain.
Some of the guys brought martial arts expertise into the ring. Besides the aforementioned Kung Fu there was Iron Fist Clive Myers a good-looking black dude who wore a headband and pin up boy Judo Chris Adams. I remember watching one programme at my grans and her incredulous surprise at seeing people her age in the audience. Needless to say when Adams fought his bout she was as swept along with it as those baying on screen.
One interesting story arc began with the entrance of a 16 year old Dave Boy Smith ( Dynamite Kid's cousin ) in the autumn of 1978 who was managed by Alan Dennison. After his prodigy's punishing encounter with Breaks for the welterweight title, Dennison , a middleweight , announced that he'd be losing the required pounds to get down to Breaks's weight and teach him a lesson. He was as good as his word but only just managed it. Interestingly, as Dennison shed the pounds Smith bulked up and eventually landed in the heavyweight bracket.
Another memorable contest, again involving Breaks , was broadcast on 14 February 1981. He was fighting an unremarkable goodie called Jon Cortez. In the final round, out of the referee's sight but in full view of the commentary table, he illegally pulled at Cortez's trunks which allowed him to gain the decisive fall. As soon as referee Max Wall counted Cortez out , World of Sport's genial commentator Kent Walton jumped up and told Wall what he'd done saying as an aside "Oh I'm going to get into trouble for this ". Breaks of course grabbed the microphone and protested his innocence but Wall eventually decided to believe Walton and disqualified Breaks prompting the usual tantrum. Dickie Davies jokingly announced that the following week's action would feature a bout between Breaks and Walton.
I was a regular viewer by the turn of the decade and led by me, getting back home in time for the wrestling became a regular feature of the Saturday trips with my friends. In December 1979 posters went up in Rochdale advertising a professional wrestling event at the Champness Hall. After much umming and aahing I bought a ticket and this , two and a half years before my first match at Spotland , became my first paying attendance at a sporting event. Part of my hesitation was due to the fact that I only recognised one name on the bill , the humdrum Manchester welterweight Mike Flash Jordan* which suggested it might not be a top rank event. My fears were well founded. I have never felt so ripped off. The whole event was amateur-ish from start to finish. None of the bouts were as advertised. Jordan did show up but lost very tamely to a bloke called Abe Ginsberg, apparently a regular on Coronation Street i.e. one of those Equity-card holders drinking in the background in the Rovers , who was supposed to be taking part in a tag team contest. That never materialised and when the MC announced that Father Christmas would soon be arriving with some sweets for the children ( i.e. once he'd found an off licence or petrol station ) the spartan crowd started jeering. I'd seen enough and decided to catch an earlier bus home.
If you know my other blogs you'll have worked out what eventually broke the spell wrestling had over me. We didn't have a colour TV never mind a VCR when I first went to watch the Dale in May 1982 and thereafter the grapplers always took second place to the lads in blue. When I look at the names competing in the weeks immediately before that day, some of them ring no bells at all which indicates my interest was probably waning even before then. I do recall getting annoyed at how often the deaf and dumb fighter Alan Kilby was featuring , feeling that this was excessive emotional manipulation.
By the time World of Sport ended in September 1985 , mainly because racing had switched to Channel 4, and the wrestling moved to a standalone Saturday lunchtime spot after Saint and Greavsie , I don't think I was watching it much at all. I still felt a little saddened when Greg Dyke decided to pull the plug on it at the beginning of 1988 and outraged when the rationale emerged , that the audience didn't fit the advertisers' desired demographic. I don't know how he claimed to be a supporter of the Labour Party after that. I have absolutely no interest whatsoever in the American product.
Professional wrestling didn't die the day the cameras were turned off . I remember one of the accountants at Tameside MBC in the late eighties remarking that the only people who could make a show at the Theatre ( which the council propped up ) pay for itself were "Chubby ( i.e comic Roy Brown ) and "Big Daddy" . It did however slowly decline as the old stars died ( some of whom had already died in the saddle like Mal Kirk and Alan Dennison ) or retired. Some of the younger ones went to America and made a fortune; Smith and Dynamite Kid were a headline act as the tag team "British Bulldogs". Today it really is a minority sport.
I haven't got time to track down the subsequent fortunes of every one I've mentioned but I dare say you could do it. Big Daddy , who was present at the deaths of both Kirk and Dennison, finally retired following a stroke in 1993 and the Crabtrees pulled out of the business not long afterwards. Shirley died of another stroke four years later. Dynamite Kid , real name Tom Billington is only 57 but now wheelchair bound after steroid abuse, cocaine and staying in the game too long have taken their toll. His former partner Smith died of a heart attack which probably owed something to steroid abuse in 2002. Haystacks too had a brief career in the US under the name Loch Ness but succumbed to cancer in 1998. The dastardly Breaks was last heard of living in happy retirement in the Canary Islands.
There is of course one other wrestler whose name I haven't mentioned much, who has retained his mystique through the decline of the sport and all the subsequent exposes , and whose enduring appeal seems to transcend the sport itself. Though we now know he was a guy from the Midlands called Peter Thornley ( thanks to a sharp-eyed plumber ) , his ring name, Kendo Nagasaki, can still inspire hushed tones from the most cynical of cultural commentators. Nagasaki was arguably the most contrived act of all , a near-permanently masked man of unknown origin who never spoke, except through his cross-dressing manager "Gorgeous" George Gillette, and never lost ( except through disqualification ) but somehow he took hold hold of the imagination and kept it. Peter Blake has painted him and though long since retired, he still does interviews as Kendo through an interpreter.
Part of the reason is that he was never over-exposed. For a long time he was thought to be too sinister for an afternoon audience and kept off the screen so you had to pay at the door if you wanted to see him. He was also retired on medical advice between 1978 and 1982 ( leading to a spell in rock management with The Cuddly Toys ) which is why the only time I ever saw him fight was a mock brawl with Marty Jones on Granada's Upfront in 1990 ( who on earth booked Kendo Nagasaki for a talk show ? ). Incidentally, it wasn't mock enough for host Tony Wilson who wasn't quick enough in getting out of the way and was still receiving medical treatment for his injuries months later , or a make-up lady who sued both him and Granada with a judge eventually deciding the broadcaster was solely to blame. He finally retired for good due to a slight heart condition in 2001. I guess that , like surly rock climber Don Whillans, his is a cult that I'll never quite get.
The last word on World of Sport though should be about Davies. He remained with ITV for the rest of the decade hosting its boxing and snooker coverage then worked sporadically for Sky and Classic FM , interrupted by a stroke in the mid-nineties, while pursuing business interests such as a frozen foods company. Now aged 82 he admits he didn't really enjoy the wrestling.
* Many years later in 2004 when I was preparing to leave Manchester City Council I had to do some handover sessions with a bloke called Kevin Jordan. After a time it suddenly struck me that he looked a lot like the Flash and it turned out to be his brother.