Thursday, 31 March 2016

367 A Question of Sport

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

366 That's Life

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

365 Running Blind

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

364 Omnibus

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

363 Wuthering Heights

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

362 A Horseman Riding By

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

361 Bruce Forsyth's Big Night

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

360 Return of the Saint

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

359 Dallas

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

358 Holocaust

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

357 The Kick-Off Match / Match Time

First  viewed :  20  August  1978

I  acknowledge  the  help  of  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

356 3-2-1

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

355 The Hollywood Greats

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

354 The Fall And Rise of Reginald Perrin

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.