Thursday, 31 March 2016
First viewed : Uncertain
I'm not sure when I first caught this hardy perennial but the first team captains I remember were Gareth Edwards and Emlyn Hughes which would put it between 1979 when both joined the series and 1981 when Edwards stepped down.
I half-enjoyed it, the problem being that my mum and sister watched sports that I didn't e.g. athletics , show jumping, ice skating , and so they would usually be able to answer more questions than me who was restricted to football, snooker and tennis. I also waited in vain for any wrestler to feature or even a question about it.
The show had been going since 1970 with gaffe-prone sports commentator David Coleman taking over from David Vine in the chair in 1979 . Although Coleman enjoyed some banter with the captains, he still came across as a humourless figure with a comb-over who took himself far too seriously. He apparently hated the Colemanballs feature in Private Eye which highlighted his regular goofs and when he appeared with his Spitting Image puppet on some Comic Relief programme the expression on his face told you it was an exquisitely painful experience for him. He retired in 1997 and died in 2013 aged 87.
Edwards was replaced by another rugby guy Bill Beaumont , a genial giant who always gave the impression his elevator didn't quite reach the top floor. He was a good foil for the manic Hughes and they are the pairing I best remember. I was watching in 1987 for Emlyn's John Reid / Princess Anne faux pas and the latter's subsequent appearance on the programme. I also remember when he and Everton's Trevor Steven had US tennis player Peter Fleming on their team and he seemed to know more about football than they did.
Hughes could be very irritating but the programme lost something when he left in 1988 and was replaced by Ian Botham. I drifted away from it some time during his tenure and never really came back on a regular basis.
Sue Barker of course took over from Coleman and remains in the chair to this day. I like her but there was always a barrier to watching the show in the form of Ally McCoist. I just can't bear seeing him treated as a top class footballer knowing he was an abject failure when he tried out in a decent league for Sunderland. They wouldn't have made Steve Bull or Tommy Tynan a team captain.
I can't say I'm a great fan of Phil Tufnell's overgrown schoolboy routine either but I do catch snatches of the show now and then as it often seems to be on when I've put my son to bed.
Wednesday, 30 March 2016
First viewed : Winter 1979
This isn't the coolest programme to admit that you watched but one has to be honest. This was one of a number of programmes around this time that I started watching on the recommendation of my best friend Stephen.
The series began in controversial circumstances. There was a popular consumer show called Braden's Week which ran from 1968 until 1972 when the host Bernard Braden was sacked by the BBC for the heinous crime of appearing in a margarine commercial. The show was effectively resurrected by producer Desmond Willcox with his mistress Esther Rantzen promoted to be main presenter. It's always worth remembering that this champion of child protection is a home-wrecker who stole a father-of-three away from his wife.
With her voluminous dresses, big teeth and ingratiating manner, Rantzen was the ultimate Marmite presenter, something you just had to get past to enjoy the rest of the show . When I started watching her co-presenters were the likable bloke-y duo of Paul Heiney and Chris Serle who played the jobsworths being exposed by the show and Cyril Fletcher. I can't improve on Griff Rhys-Jones' description of Fletcher, from a wicked Not The Nine O Clock News parody , as a "camp old twat". His job was to sit in a chair, read out some humorous misprints sent in by viewers then round off his slot with a rotten pun.
Added to that of course you had the phallic vegetables, comic songs by the likes of Richard Stilgo and those awful street interviews with old dears who didn't realise they were being patronised and then served up to the nation as idiots.
Heiney , Serle and Fletcher got out while the going was good in 1981. Fletcher's spot was taken by smutty songwriter Doc "Ivor Biggun" Cox while the boys were replaced by a trio including Angels actress Joanna Monro . It wasn't the same and I think I'd stopped watching it by the time I went to university, certainly by the time of the Ben Hardwick feature.
Public tastes change and the show was finally axed in 1994. Rantzen of course has stuck around and had other TV vehicles but has never been as prominent since.
Tuesday, 29 March 2016
First viewed : 12 January 1979
And so we move into 1979 which, as I've declared elsewhere is my happiest calendar year so pretty much everything over the net few posts has a golden glow around it.
This three-part adaptation of a Desmond Bagley Cold War thriller replaced the second ( and final ) series of Target on a Friday night. I missed the first episode but my mum saw it - she had a thing for the lead actor Stuart Wilson - and filled me in. Wilson played Alan Stewart , a former MI5 man blackmailed into a delivery job in Iceland by his corrupt former boss Slade ( George Sewell ). There he meets the lovely Elin ( Heida Steindorsdottir ) but is being pursued by KGB man Kennikin ( Vladek Sheybal ) who was once shot in the wedding tackle by Stewart and understandably isn't too happy about it. I remember my mum having to explain what "impotent" meant to me.
It was pretty good although the Cold War themes would seem dated now and had a dramatic denouement ( no spoilers here ). The gorgeous Steindorsdottir hasn't been seen on British TV since but appears to still be working as an actress in her native land.
Monday, 28 March 2016
First viewed : 12 October 1978
This is another one to get the Play For Today treatment with individual programmes in the strand being added to the post as we come to them. Omnibus was the Beeb's long-running arts documentary series, broadcast from 1967 to 2003.
The Record Machine
The first one I remember watching was an examination of the pop music business featuring players like John Peel and Mickie Most. The only part I really recall was footage of a Radio One playlist meeting with Dave Lee Travis commenting that a record sounded "very Marshall Hain" , a comment that could only have been made in the latter half of 1978.
David Puttnam ( 19 December 1982 )
At this point , Barry Norman was the regular host of the programme and this edition was given over to a profile of Chariots of Fire producer David Puttnam. The only bit I remember is the account of his difficulties with star Dustin Hoffman when making the film Agatha.
Luck & Flaw's Illustrated Guide To Caricature ( 26 July 1985 )
As Spitting Image was still riding high in the ratings, its creators got to present a potted history of caricature going back to the eighteenth century cartoonist James Gillray. Steve Nallon was on had to present Thatcher's supposed views on the subject as well as contemporary masters like Steve Bell and Gerard Scarfe.
Sunday, 27 March 2016
First viewed : 15 or 20 October 1978
I'll have to be disciplined here as the source novel is one of my all time favourites and I could write reams about it. However that really started when I read it for my English A Level nearly four years later than this series of which I only caught a short snatch. I clearly remember it was a scene where Heathcliff is terrorising Isabella Linton but can't work out whether it was on the first Sunday broadcast or Friday night repeat. A couple of months later I read Richard Adams' The Plague Dogs in which the hardbitten journalist Digby Driver intimidates the villainess who's sold her brother's dog for medical research "like Heathcliff getting to work on Isabella Linton" and understood the reference.
The only other thing I remember about the series is the negative write-up it got in The Daily Telegraph which disliked the editing and use of "arty " camera angles. I think that was probably the first bit of TV criticism I read.
Saturday, 26 March 2016
First viewed : Autumn 1978
I only dipped into this period drama adapted from an R F Delderfield novel but my mum and sister followed it all the way through. It was broadcast on a Sunday evening succeeding the latest series of The Onedin Line. It concerned a young gentleman played by Nigel Havers with a small estate in the Devon countryside who returns from the Boer War , finds romance in the Edwardian era and then inevitably gets drawn into a rather larger War.
I was never too enamoured with it but I do recall the scenes where one of the working class characters Will Codsall starts suffering from shell shock which were quite powerful.
The role made Havers's name in TV although it also imprisoned him in playing charming , often aristocratic, gentlemen for the rest of his career.
Friday, 25 March 2016
First viewed : 7 October 1978
The biggest TV news of 1978 was undoubtedly ITV's poaching of one of the BBC's biggest stars Bruce Forsyth. It turned into one of the great TV disasters , a prime example of hubris over-riding good judgement.
Bruce Forsyth's Big Night was announced with much fanfare. He got himself a new toupee and dyed his moustache and sideburns to match and appeared on the cover of TV Times "bringing an exciting new look to Saturdays". Bruce was given the whole evening from 6.55 pm onwards with even returning new series of Mind Your Language and The Professionals brought into his big tent. Bruce would hob-nob with international guest stars , bounce off regular comedians including the execrable Cannon and Ball and run game show features like Beat The Goalie and Teletennis ( a TV version of the legendary Pong video game ). Bruce was given way too much head, with the 50 year old entertainer allowed to revive old shows from his youth like Charlie Drake's The Worker and radio favourite The Glums
It didn't hang together at all . The Beeb acted very calmly , appointed Larry Grayson to take his place on The Generation Game , scheduled that and the new series of ratings winner All Creatures Great And Small against BFBN and caned him. Audiences stuck with the show not the man. I think we checked out the early part of the first episode - I remember Chelsea veteran Peter Bonetti doing Beat The Goalie - then turned over for the adventures of Seigfried , Tristan and co and never returned.
ITV were not slow to realise their mistake. First they abandoned the umbrella concept, turning it into a straight 90 minute variety show then scrapped it altogether after Christmas. Some of the elements were recycled as standalone shows. Bruce himself was given a shite game show Play Your Cards Right which was a ratings winner but the failure of Big Night clung to him for the next decade.
The show has a little footnote in pop history for hosting the last UK TV appearance on Chistmas Eve of an unhealthy-looking Karen Carpenter performing Please Mr Postman and making excuses for Richard's absence - he was about to go into rehab for his Quaaludes addiction.
Thursday, 24 March 2016
First viewed : September 1978
We switch back to ITV for the revival of The Saint franchise. With Roger Moore now unavailable the producers turned to Ian Ogilvy , star of late sixties films such as Witchfinder General and Upstairs Downstairs where he played the impotent aesthete Lawrence Kirkbride. At first he was going to be Templar's son with the idea of Moore perhaps being tempted to make guest appearances but this was ditched in favour of just transferring the character to a seventies setting. The suave and handsome Ogilvy was a natural fit to replace Moore though a rather better actor.
The series had 24 episodes in which Templar roamed all over Europe righting wrongs, chatting up beautiful women and defeating madmen in his own gentlemanly way and though it sold to Europe and the US a second series was never made.
It made Ogilvy one of the front runners for Bond when Roger Moore jacked it in - a prospect that appalled the Bond fanatic in my Hall of Residence who hated him. To his no doubt relief Ogilvy didn't get the role but has had a steady career in theatre, children's books and TV ever since. In fact looking at his long list of credits on imdb I find it quite remarkable that I've not seen him in anything since this series. You'd have thought on law of averages that he'd have picked something that floated my boat in 38 years but apparently not.
Wednesday, 23 March 2016
First viewed : 5 September 1978
Autumn 1978 saw the modest beginning of an eighties classic. I only saw the tail end of the first episode which my mum and sister had been watching but I soon got hooked. It was only supposed to be a five episode mini-series , loosely based on James Dean's final film Giant, but went down so well it was developed into a mega-soap.
The series began with an impromptu wedding between Bobby Ewing ( Patrick Duffy fresh from Man from Atlantis ) , youngest son of an oil tycoon Jock ( Jim Davis ) and Pamela Barnes ( the impressively-chested Victoria Principal ) , daughter of a guy called Digger , formerly Jock's partner but now an embittered old drunk believing that Jock stole his fortune and his girl Miss Ellie ( Barbara Bel Geddes ) heir to the Southfork cattle ranch. You never really got to the bottom of what happened until a spin-off mini-series halfway through the show's run. Pam's encouragement to Bobby to get more seriously involved in the family business, Ewing Oil, ensures the hostility of elder brother John Ross Jnr or J.R. ( Larry Hagman ) who schemes to break them up. To hook the youngsters you also had saucy teenager Lucy Ewing ( the pretty but vertically- challenged Charlene Tilton ) , the child of a middle brother , Gary, who'd fled the nest before the series started. The initial series was a bit of a mish-mash - the episode where the family is held hostage by a couple of hicks ( one of them played by Brian Dennehy ) is a strange one - but it introduced the main characters and one or two series tropes like Bobby's handiness with his fists, J.R's womanising and Lucy's promiscuity.
A 24-part second series was already in production when the first one hit the UK. The expansion of the series led to two characters getting promoted to the opening titles ; JR's neglected trophy wife Sue Ellen ( Linda Gray ) and ranch foreman / stud Ray Krebbs ( Steve Kanaly ) . It began with a two-parter about the temporary return of Gary to the family fold with his white trash wife Valene. Most significantly for the future, it established J.R. , in the first series a rather awkward, insecure, conservative older brother , as the manipulative villain we came to love. It was also the second and last appearance of Pam's cousin Jimmy, a character that was never developed ( I'm not sure he was even mentioned again ) but he does have the distinction of being the first character to change heads between series.
The story of Gary's return was one of three two-parters as the series was in transition between standalone stories with guest characters ( some of whom later became series regulars though not always with the original actor ) and the long -running story arcs of a soap. After Gary departed, the next episode featured Bobby's ex-girlfriend Jenna Wade and her daughter Charlie who might be his. There were also one episode appearances by Ellie's brother and Pam's ex-husband. The meatier storylines revolved around JR , his relationship with Sue Ellen and his lifelong feud with Pam's revenge-crazed brother Cliff ( Ken Kercheval ). This led to the death of JR's former secretary/ mistress Julie who became the series' first casualty when she was chased off a roof.
The season ended with the sort of cliffhanger that became a trademark of the series. Sue Ellen , drunk and pregnant with either J.R's child or Cliff's , crashes her car and both lives are in the balance.
By the end of it the series was enormously popular in the UK and had its number one cheerleader in Radio Two's Terry Wogan who kept up a running commentary on the events at Southfork although I doubt Ms Tilton was fully appreciative of her nickname the "Poison Dwarf".
For the third season , it was Kercheval's turn to be promoted to the main credits and unfortunately it went to his head ; his mugging seemed to get worse with each succeeding season. This was when the series really hit its stride with JR the undisputed star as he swindled his business associates and bonked his sister-in-law Kristin ( now played by Mary "daughter of Bing" Crosby after Colleen Camp played her in the second series ). The paternity issue was settled in his favour so his love for son John Ross became a redeeming feature. Sue Ellen herself got a lover in cowboy Dusty Farlow ( Jared Martin ). Digger Barnes came back with a new head ( Keenan Wynn) and a deathbed confession both to a murder and the fact that Pam wasn't his daughter. Gary returned briefly, also with a new head ( Ted Shackleford ), to promote spin-off show Knots Landing and Lucy got engaged to lawyer Alan Beam ( Randolph Powell from Logan's Run with his amazingly abundant chest hair ) who was working undercover for JR to undermine Cliff. The season built up to the most famous cliffhanger of all in "Who Shot JR ? ", the TV phenomenon of 1980. It's hard to imagine just how big a deal the issue was in the summer of 1980. Hagman came over for an interview with Wogan, did a series of ads as JR for Dunlop and then appeared in the Royal Variety Performance . This was probably a mistake as first he forgot the lyrics to his song and then was completely upstaged by his mother, veteran musical star Mary Martin, standing awkwardly to the side while she did her turn. Bookies ran a sweep on the shooting issue with Lusty Dusty the favourite but inevitably, with the new season broadcasting first in the States news leaked out that it was actually Kristin who'd done the dirty deed.
Kristin didn't go to prison because she was pregnant and claimed it was JRs. After giving birth to the baby she ended up floating in the Southfork swimming pool in the season's cliffhanger. In other developments in what was a rather anti-climactic season, Ray finally settled down with a good woman in Donna ( Susan Howard from Petrocelli ) then found out he was Jock's bastard son ( a development prompted by Kanaly's dissatisfaction with his marginal role ) , Lucy married a medical student called Mitch ( Leigh McCloskey ) , JR bedded the latter's busty sister Afton ( Audrey Landers ) before she moved on to Cliff ( I must draw up a list sometime of the girls who went to bed with both of them; it must run into double figures ) and Pam tracked down her long lost mother Rebecca ( Priscilla Pointer ). The most dramatic event happened offscreen with the death of Jim Davis so Jock Ewing was no more. I'm sure Davis was a nice guy but I didn't mourn the character finding him a really objectionable old tyrant who treated his family like shit.
Season 5 ( with Howard replacing Davis in the opening titles ) took 12 episodes to confirm that Jock was dead, killed during an extended visit to South America but not until he'd divided the voting shares in Ewing Oil amongst his family, an arrangement that would drive the plot for years to come. Sue Ellen moved in with Dusty but his impotence came between them and his father Clayton ( Howard Keel moved in ). By a convoluted series of events Kristin's baby ended up being adopted by Pam and Bobby as their son Christopher. Rebecca's wealthy husband died leaving Cliff with his own rival oil company to run but he and Pam now had a psychopathic half-sister Katherine ( Morgan Brittany ) with whom to deal. The cliffhanger revolved around Cliff's suicide attempt.
I lost interest in the series at that point and missed all of Season 6 ( 1982-3 ) in which Rebecca was killed off . I watched Season 7 intermittently and was greatly taken with JR's secretary Sly ( Deborah Rennard ) who he used as a double agent to feed false information to Cliff. There are a couple of scenes where Cliff talks to her after she's just got out of the pool and looks gobsmackingly beautiful. Though she stayed in the series right through to the end she was never featured as prominently again and I always thought that was a great shame.
The other main storylines were Ellie and Clayton getting it together and Pam and Bobby drifting apart. Jenna returned with a third head ( Elvis's widow Priscilla despite her extremely limited acting experience ) and stuck around while Pam found a new boyfriend in Mark ( John Beck ).
I was largely back on board for Season 8 for which Keel and Presley were promoted to the opening credits. The most dramatic cast change was replacing the ill Bel Geddes with Donna Reed who was an experienced actress but never settled into the role and was hated by audiences. Fortunately Bel Geddes was able to resume the role and with one exception the producers never re-cast a major character again. Another stunner was introduced to the cast in Mandy ( model Deborah Shelton ) who , you guessed it, went to bed with Cliff and JR. They also pepped up the Ewing family with two younger additions Jamie ( Jennilee Harrison ) and Jack ( Dack Rambo ), children of Jock's never previously mentioned brother Jason. Harrison had an amazing body but unfortunately a rather mis-shapen mouth which spoiled the effect. Jack had clearly been drafted in to replace Bobby as Duffy wanted to spread his wings and leave the series and so at the third attempt he was killed off by Katherine. Also departing at this point was Lucy as producers felt the character had run its course.
Season 9 was probably my favourite of all. I had nothing against Duffy but Bobby was never the most interesting character and his departure allowed others to breathe. JR and Pam's relationship as she took Bobby's place in the office developed in interesting ways and JR and Jack became friends as they both got involved in a series-long murder plot organised by mysterious tycoon Angelica Nero ( Barbara Carrrera with her black nipples ). Donna and Ray got involved in working with handicapped children. However ratings were not what they were and Hagman convinced the producers that they should attempt to draw his friend Duffy ( who wasn't finding much work due to his very limited abilities as an actor ) back into the fold.
This led to the most famous "jump the shark" moment in TV history - even more so than Fonzie's aquatic acrobatic display itself - when Season 9 ended with Bobby walking out of the shower and making every event of the season, even those she was nowhere near, part of Pam's nightmare.
I was really disappointed and though I continued it to watch it , it rarely resonated in the same way. Season 10 was rather troubled. Firstly it was shot in a different aspect which didn't translate so well to British analogue TV so the picture quality notably dipped. Then they had to come up with new departures for Katherine and Jamie who were also resurrected from the dead by Pam waking up. Then they had to dispose of the now redundant Jack who disappeared shortly after his ex-wife April ( Sheree J Wilson ) was introduced . A wound of their own making was continuing with the silly plot about a fake Jock which had started towards the end of the dream series.
The remaining seasons saw a steady exodus of the key players. Principal decided to quit at the end of season 10 so the cliffhanger had her crashing into a petrol tank. Reluctant to lose such a major star the writers decided on a very messy line that she was in hiding after plastic surgery in the hope that Principal could be persuaded back but it never happened. Howard left at the same time after being openly critical of the decision to bring Bobby back. Tilton was persuaded to return at the end of series 11 but to no great effect. As she returned Presley and Kanaly, now an item on screen, departed although he would return occasionally.
Season 12 did have its moments. George Kennedy joined the cast as Carter McKay a new adversary for the Ewings with the twist that Bobby rather than JR was the main target of his ire. JR got a new wife after a shotgun wedding with a gorgeous young hick girl Cally ( Cathy Podewell ) he'd taken to bed; I remember my mum's outrage at the age gap between them. Pam was finally written out with a guest appearance by a lookalike actress. In the most ridiculous storyline Sue Ellen hired a British film director Don Lockwood , played very unconvincingly by Ian McShane who looked ill at ease throughout the season, to make a film about JR which came to look like and excuse to pad the series out with old clips. Linda Gray then became the next major departure as she and Don left for England at the end of the season.
Season 13 introduced Sasha Mitchell as James an illegitimate son of JR and Michelle Foster as April's sister but the series was really beginning to creak by this point. However it did end on a high with a completely bonkers but hilarious storyline whereby JR commits himself to a mental asylum to get Clayton's mad sister Jessica ( unmentioned for half a decade ) to sign some business papers. The script and Hagman's comic timing in the asylum scenes are brilliant although certainly in questionable taste.
That's really where it should have ended but it returned for a sorry final season. The BBC immediately realised they had a turkey on their hands and stuck it in a graveyard Sunday teatime slot. Season 14 had a real smell of death about it ; it was like watching a house clearance. Ellie and Lucy were gone and Clayton only made a handful of appearances April was killed off early on by a group of terrorists led by daytime soap regular Susan Lucci and Bobby spent most of the series trying to track her down by dating her entirely innocent daughter Jori. The business transactions were a real yawn, impossible to follow and we'd seen it all before. The worst moment came when Bobby met Jori on campus and two of her fellow students started talking about a daft TV idea they had which featured a woman with a log ( i.e Twin Peaks ) which begged the response - get your own house in order before you start knocking other shows. The only part worth watching was when James's wife tracked him down with their baby son and JR's joy at having a grandson. In the penultimate episode JR finally loses Ewing Oil and is pretty much deserted by everyone setting up the bizarre final episode, a sort of perverted take on It's A Wonderful Life with a camp demon played by Cabaret's Joel Grey showing what life would have been like for selected other characters ( including a supposed replacement brother for Gary and Bobby ) if he'd never existed. For example , Bobby would be just a small time hustler and Cliff would be President ( I guess he couldn't be worse than Trump ). It was just weird , closing a landmark series with alternative futures for minor characters like Gary. At the end JR supposedly committed suicide.
There were a couple of TV movies in the late nineties which confirmed that he hadn't actually shot himself but I'm not sure they were broadcast here. In 2010 though a revival of the series was announced, 20 years after it finished. The main characters now were John Ross ( John Henderson ) and Christopher ( Jess Metcalfe ) now grown up though not quite as much as they should have been given the time lapse. Duffy , Gray and Hagman ( now 80 ) were the returning regulars while Kercheval was semi-regular. A sprinkling of other old characters - Ray , Lucy, Gary, Valene, Cally, Mandy, Afton - appeared in tiny inconsequential cameos. Others were airbrushed out of history : James was never mentioned. The main new characters were Bobby's new wife Ann ( Brenda Strong who'd been in the original series as a different minor character, Elena ( the lovely but un-Latin Jordana Brewster ) daughter of a Mexican cook at Southfork , and Cliff's daughter Pamela ( the not so lovely Julie Gonzalo who is Latin ) . The latter two were involved in a love quadrangle with John Ross and Christopher. In the second season the cast expanded to include Ann's jealous ex-husband Ryland ( Mitch Pileggi ) , their scheming minx of a daughter Emma ( the very tasty Emma Bell ) and his batty old brothel-running mum Judith ( Judith Light - I guess those in charge of naming the characters were running short of inspiration though Emma and Judith did better than the guy playing JR's fixer who was christened Bum ) whose continued interest in sex at an advanced age gave her scenes a distinctly queasy feel.
I thought it was a brave attempt to match past with present , to bring the Ewing feuds into the world of the internet , darker sex , carbon reduction and murderous drug cartels but it didn't quite come off. The pace was dizzying ; John Ross seemed to be trying to set a new world record for how many words he could cram into a second and often finished his lines with his back to the camera. The most egregious departure from the original was Cliff's turning into a murderous gangster willing to have his own daughter blown up to scupper the Ewings ; I'm disappointed Kercheval didn't put his foot down over that. Gray and Duffy looked fine though obviously older but it was clearly a bit late in the day for Hagman. He managed OK in the first series but by the second he was suffering from cancer , could hardly speak and was being plonked down in a seat for scenes he had no business to be in , just looking on helplessly. Sadly he died while the second season was in production; his meagre contribution was eked out to the middle of the season when JR was shot once more and the rest of the season given to the unfolding of a "master plan" he'd devised to fix the Ewings' enemies.
Without Hagman , the once decent ratings plummeted and though it made a third series the show was cancelled a couple of years ago with its plot lines unresolved. It was broadcast here with some fanfare on Channel 5 but gradually got pushed later and later in the schedules and I ended up watching the third series on the internet. I guess that really is it for the Ewings but who knows ?
Sunday, 20 March 2016
First viewed : 4 September 1978
A bit of a switch in tone here as we consider the first US mini-series to feature here. Holocaust was directed by Marvin J Chomsky, fresh from the success of Roots and had an original screenplay by Gerald Green though he later novelised it.
It centered on three families, the Weiss's , a Jewish family headed by a doctor and about to be shredded , the Helms's, a well to do German family connected to them by marriage but indifferent to their fate and the Dorfs, a lower middle class German family whose fortunes rise with the Nazis . They are all fictional but the anti-hero Erik Dorf ( Michael Moriarty ) hob-nobs with historical figures such as Eichmann , Hoss and Himmler as he becomes an important cog in the killing machine. The series begins in the mid-thirties with the Nazi regime slowly turning the screw on the German Jewish population while Dorf an unemployed young lawyer with a fiercely ambitious wife ( Deborah Norton ) gets taken on by the most scary Nazi of all , Heydrich ( David Warner ).
The series had an impressive cast. James Woods played the Weiss's eldest son Karl who marries Inga Helms ( Meryl Streep just as she was about to go stellar ). Fritz Weaver played the Weiss patriarch Josef while Rosemary Harris played his wife Berta whose refusal to believe the worst costs the family dear. Apart from Moriarty, all the Nazis are played by top British actors and are uniformly excellent as well as historically accurate from Warner as the self-loathing Heydrich, to Ian Holm as the absurdly fastidious Himmler, David Daker as the obscenely efficient Hoss and Tom Bell as the slimy Eichmann.
Taken as a whole it was pretty gripping with the star performance coming from Moriarty in a startling transformation from the self-pitying loser at the beginning to a dead-eyed fanatic who comes to believe his own euphemistic justifications for the slaughter. His high forehead, weak chin and bloodless voice made him a perfect fit for the sort of creep who rose to power in Hitler's Germany. He won an Emmy for it and continues to act to this day but, partly through drink, never quite hit the heights in his subsequent career.
There were weaknesses though. I never quite believed in Joseph Bottoms as the youngest Weiss son Rudi who becomes a partisan wandering around Europe at will and his presence at both the Babi Yar massacre and the Sobibor breakout seemed a contrivance. His romance with a young Czech Jew ( Tovah Feldshuh ) was both incredible and inappropriate. While Streep's acting was top notch it was hard to have much sympathy for her character particularly after a nonsensical plot line where she engineers being placed in the same prison camp as Karl. Another Brit who did well was Tony Haygarth as the low-ranking Nazi who exploits her situation but his eventual fate was left undisclosed . It also seemed very rushed at the end with Germany's collapse seemingly happening overnight.
Saturday, 19 March 2016
First viewed : 20 August 1978
I acknowledge the help of http://carousel.royalwebhosting.net/itv/ITVfootball68-83.html in writing this post.
After the World Cup I couldn't wait for the 1978-79 season to start, devouring all the transfer news and reports of pre-season games I could find in anticipation of the kick-off on Saturday 19 August, a week after Forest demolished Ipswich in the Charity Shield.
With Match of the Day still on a little too late for me , my main source of football fix was The Kick Off Match on Sunday afternoons which showed the highlights of a game of regional interest. This did pose a problem in the pre-VCR era as it clashed with the fortnightly walks of Littleborough Civic Trust which I attended. However on the Sunday before the season started I went on one around Calderbrook which a new family attended. They had a really obnoxious girl who took the piss out of me and with neither her parents nor the regulars among the Trust choosing to intervene I dropped out for the rest of the year leaving me free to watch the football. The other problem was that it clashed with the Sunday film on BBC1 which my mum liked to watch so I usually ended up watching this at my gran's.
So what delights did Granada serve up on 20 August 1978 ? It was a Second Division encounter between Burnley and Leicester City. Burnley were treading water but Leicester were newly-relegated after a disastrous campaign in which they finished bottom of the First Division, 11 points adrift of safety. Their young goalkeeper Mark Wallington had actually kept 12 clean sheets but a chronic shortage of goals at the other end cost them dear. However they had tempted treble-winning manager Jock Wallace down from Rangers and he gave a League debut to future Northern Ireland centre half John O Neill in this game. It finished 2-2 . Burnley's goals were scored by their future chief executive Paul Fletcher and bald-headed midfield stalwart Peter Noble while Billy Hughes and Trevor Christie scored for Leicester.
Sometimes Granada couldn't cover a match that weekend so we got LWT's The Big Match instead and that was the case for the second week of the season where we got to see Tottenham v Chelsea. Spurs featured again the following week but must have wished they hadn't as they were steamrollered 7-0 by probably the greatest Liverpool side of all time. The seventh goal was the best of the lot. David Johnson received the ball just inside his own half turned and hit a raking pass for Steve Heighway to run on to on the left. He hit the mother of all first time crosses for Terry McDermott to plant a header into the roof of the net. From the halfway line to the back of the Spurs net in three touches it was absolutely sublime. They only lost four League games all season conceding just 16 goals on their way to reclaiming the League title although Forest put them out of the European Cup and United came out on top in a hard fought FA Cup Semi-Final.
A fortnight later we were back with Brian Moore and LWT for Chelsea v Man City which the visitors won 4-1, a rare highlight in a miserable season for the Blues. They had been tipped for the title following the signing of England Under-21 international defender Paul Futcher from Luton to replace the ageing Tommy Booth but it didn't work out that way. The team couldn't put a consistent run together and Futcher's individual mistakes eventually led to a recall for Booth at his expense. Manager Tony Book eventually had to accept the return of Malcolm Allison to "help" him and we all know how that turned out. Still it was a fine result at Stamford Bridge and a career high point for Futcher's twin brother Ron , a striker who had been bought to keep him company but scored a hat trick that day. Paul and Ron were among the first players offloaded by Allison in 1979. Ron went to America's Minnesota Kicks and became one of the top goalscorers in the old NASL. He returned to the UK in 1984 and scored consistently for Barnsley, Oldham, Bradford, Port Vale , Burnley and finally Crewe ( after Rochdale had declined his services ). Paul moved just down the road to Oldham where he recovered some of his reputation as a fine defender and later gave sterling service to Derby , Barnsley and Grimsby ( in his late thirties ) though sadly he was never given another chance in the top tier.
Bolton featured a few times that season as they'd just been promoted and so the cameras were at Burden Park to capture THAT goal against Ipswich by Frank Worthington who finished the season as the top scorer in Division One. Bolton actually lost that game 3-2.
The week after that it was over to LWT again, featuring a Second Division encounter between West Ham and Wrexham. West Ham opened the scoring with a goal by Billy Bonds after a clear handball by David Cross in the build-up went unpunished. Wrexham keeper Dai Davies was so incensed he chased after the referee and spun him round. Needless to say the ref didn't appreciate this and gave him a red card. The match finished 1-1.
In the new year, my friend Steven joined the Civic Trust and I resumed walking with them so I watched this less often. The following season I started watching Match of the Day which made it seem a bit "yesterday's news" and in any case it didn't start until the end of October due to a technicians strike.
However in 1980 ITV turned the tables on the BBC and so The Kick Off Match became the Saturday night highlights programme although looking at the stats I don't think I watched it much. The following season it went back to Sunday afternoons and became "Match Time". I do remember watching the final series , back on Saturday nights with Elton Welsby as host, although none of the games featured have stuck in my memory.
At the end of the 1982-83 season the regional football highlights set up was dismantled though it would return for midweek games a decade or so later.
Thursday, 17 March 2016
First viewed : 1978
We know a new decade is approaching as the eighties' stalwart shows start appearing in the schedules.
3-2-1 was based on a Spanish game show and was first broadcast in the summer of 1978. Although not in the same time slot - Saturday evening as opposed to Sunday tea times - it was essentially the successor to The Golden Shot , half game show, half variety show held together by a smart host. Instead of Bob Monkhouse you had former redcoat comedian Ted Rogers who had done warm up acts for Perry Como and Bing Crosby as well as hosting variety performances. Ted was assisted by a bevy of forgettable dolly birds including Mireille Allonville who didn't appear to speak English very well.
Like Sale of the Century or The Generation Game the aim was to win money and prizes , the twist being that you could end up winning merely a new dustbin. Hence the show's mascot was Dusty Bin , half clown half er bin. It was quite a risk to have a bin fronting the show but it was very popular.
At first the variety was provided by a dance troupe and a trio of second rate comedians i.e no one who was going to upstage Ted , but as the show got a bigger budget , guest performers from the light entertainment world drop in to do a turn and then bring a cryptic clue to the couple who'd battled through the earlier rounds.
The clues referred to the five prizes including the bin and were so convoluted the poor sods stood precious little chance of unravelling them. Seeing them struggling to unpick the nonsense doggerel was part of the fun though. It has been suggested that the clues had multiple interpretations so that the producers actually chose what prize the couple received.
It was reasonably entertaining ; Rogers was a skilled host but I didn't often want to commit an hour to watching it.
It was axed after ten years while still holding its place in the ratings causing Ted to fulminate against the "Oxbridge lot" who'd deemed it too downmarket , an argument which doesn't hold too much water when you consider the likes of The Price Is Right were still going strong.
Poor Ted then cut a rather sad figure, touring the bin round the seaside towns before going bankrupt in 1992. He still worked in show business making occasional appearances on TV before his death following open heart surgery in 2001.
Tuesday, 15 March 2016
First viewed : Uncertain
This documentary series on Hollywood's finest movie stars written and narrated by affable Film... host Barry Norman was first broadcast in 1977. There were four series in total usually comprising five 50 minute profiles of individual idols although one of the programmes in the third series was about Hollywood itself and there were only four programmes in the final series in 1983. The main qualification for featuring in the series appeared to be being dead* - fairly recently in the case of Charlie Chaplin and Joan Crawford - which allowed surviving associates to talk more frankly about their foibles. As many of the subjects succumbed to personal demons and died before their time the series had an inescapably melancholic tone.
I wasn't terribly interested in old films so this was of more interest to my sister and mother than me but I saw some of it. The first one I remember was on Judy Garland ( above ) which was part of the second series broadcast in August 1978.
Norman's last series was in 1983. I didn't see any of Jonathan Ross's subsequent series ( 1999 - 2006 ).
* Zeppo Marx was still alive at the time the programme on the Marx Brothers was broadcast but as you'd expect didn't feature much in the script.
Monday, 14 March 2016
First viewed : August 1978
It may have only come 35th in 2004's Top 50 British sitcoms poll behind shite like dinnerladies and As Time Goes By but for me the first two series of this are up there with Fawlty Towers and Dad's Army as far as bulletproof TV comedy goes.
Based on a novel by David Nobbs the first series concerned the mid-life crisis of a middle-aged businessman played by Leonard Rossiter whose dissatisfaction at everyday frustrations and progressive mental deterioration leads him to fake his own death in the fifth episode. Love of his family eventually brings him back and he re-marries his wife Elizabeth ( Pauline Yates ) under a new identity ( which of course doesn't fool her ). Unlike The Good Life's Tom Good , Reggie seems plagued by real demons and the first episode ends with him frozen in a Munch scream.
The success of the series ( boosted by the coincidental similarity with the real-life John Stonehouse scandal ) prompted Nobbs to write further Perrin novels to order. The second - and for me, the best - series was less dark and more satirical with Reggie turning the tables on his one-time oppressors at Sunshine Desserts with the success of Grot, a company that sold nothing but rubbish.
The idea for Grot emerged at the end of my favourite comic scene of all time when Reggie discovers his military-minded brother-in-law Jimmy ( Geoffrey Palmer ) is part of a secret army preparing to fight the "forces of anarchy". Jimmy lovingly lists them - basically a tick list of every Daily Mail folk devil of the period , Tony Benn, Play For Today, punk rock etc.- and then Reggie responds with a list of the undesirables he's likely to attract , Paki-bashers, Queer-bashers, sacked policemen etc. It encapsulates the whole politics of the late seventies in a couple of minutes and was inspired by tabloid reports of retired colonels plotting a military coup as the ill-fated Callaghan government staggered towards its demise. It emerges out of nowhere in an episode that hitherto has been largely about Elizabeth's emancipation from her matriarchal role, a sudden left turn that switches the whole focus of the series.
Perhaps that's one reason why it didn't feature more highly in the poll; there is too much of the late seventies in there for people who've no idea who Clive Jenkins was. Certainly corporate culture has moved on from the days of Reggie's appalling boss C.J. ( John Barron ) whose pompous self-adoration - "I didn't get where I am today" and sadistic deployment of whoopee cushions was enough to put me off working in the private sector for life. These days you're more likely to encounter a character like Reggie's ghastly son-in-law Tom ( Tim Preece then Leslie Schofield ) a Guardian reader concerned with outward political correctness but really just a venal hypocrite. The series is also very male-centric ; there's nothing misogynistic about the portrayal of the female characters - the ones we meet anyway - but they're not very interesting either.
I think the main reason though was the fact that it didn't quit while it was ahead. Nobbs wrote a third book "The Better World of Reginald Perrin" and this was dramatised as the third series at the end of 1978. Where I came in was a repeat of the earlier series to build up anticipation for this third instalment. Unfortunately it was only OK-ish. Reggie gathered all the other characters together to set up a commune called "Perrin's" for distressed middle age people. It had its moments but the concept seemed a bit tired ; we were at the wrong end of the decade for a satire on communal living. The setting was claustrophobic and the catch phrases seemed tired.
Worse was to follow. Rossiter died in 1984 and that seemed to rule out any return for Reggie but twelve years later Nobbs and the BBC contrived The Legacy of Reginald Perrin which gathered together most of the old cast for seven episodes seemingly hell bent on trashing the memory. It was universally derided. The 2009 re-make ( after the poll of course ) with Martin Clunes as Reggie didn't fare much better.