Saturday, 30 April 2016
First viewed : Spring 1979
This is one that seems to have slipped out of popular memory, perhaps because it was in the wrong time slot. 9 p.m. on a Friday evening really wasn't the right place for an earnest, hard hitting drama about difficult children being sent to an assessment centre run by James Hazeldine. Each episode was a self-contained story about a particular child based on a real life case.
By this time spending Friday evenings at my gran's ( who lived ten minutes' walk away ) had become a routine and I chiefly remember this coming on as a cue to go home. Therefore I'm not sure if I ever watched an episode right through to the finish.
Thursday, 28 April 2016
First watched : 25 April 1979
This had been originally broadcast in 1978 but I picked up on it during its first repeat in April 1979 and was instantly grabbed, despite coming in halfway through the series. I eventually saw those first episodes when the series was repeated again in ( I think ) 1983.
Out was a six part crime drama from Euston films but told from the point of view of a villain, Frank Ross ( Tom Bell ) who's just got out of jail after an eight year stretch for a bank robbery where the police were waiting. Frank wants to know who grassed him up and doggedly follows the trail to the answer. Frank is a villain of the old school who doesn't sell out his mates or relish violence but wants an answer particularly as his family has disintegrated in his absence.
Watching Out now seems like a guilty pleasure with its regular outbursts of violence and casually racist and sexist dialogue. It's also a wonderful nostalgia trip into the world of Down In The Tube Station , Ford Granadas, vandalised telephone boxes and hit men in beige raincoats. Above all that though it's still an absorbing and exciting drama that sustains its grip to the end with a brilliant , BAFTA -nominated central performance. Tom Bell, a picture of tight-lipped self control and latent menace, was henceforth one of my favourite actors right up to his death.
Having said that all the performances are top notch. Frank's main adversaries are icy , peroxide blonde crime boss McGrath ( Brian Cox ) who secretly idolises him and cynical, loveless police inspector Bryce ( Norman Rodway ) whose contempt for Ross leads him to stray over the line. Both are impeccable as are comedy actor John Junkin as Frank's thuggish associate and Derek O Connor as McGrath's sadistic hatchet man.
I remember my friend Stephen being very amused by the scene where Frank's wayward son Paul ( Andrew Paul ) has a piss on the front porch then tells his foster "I'm making the milk bottles grow". My favourite bit was the scene where Frank's beleaguered mate Chris ( Brian Croucher ) takes a swing at the mild-mannered repo man played by Norman Eshley who's come for his car. Eshley then calmly proceeds to beat the shit out of him without breaking sweat.
In the end Frank was able to take Bryce down but McGrath slipped away , leaving the door wide open for a sequel . It never materialised because Bell refused to revisit the part so the series remains a one-off classic .
It's interesting to note that its director Jim Goddard went on to direct infamously poor Madonna vehicle Shanghai Surprise some years later.
Saturday, 23 April 2016
First viewed : April 1979
Once the Easter holidays were over we were into a general election campaign in earnest. It seemed like a long time since the last one, Jim Callaghan managing to keep his government going to near term despite losing his parliamentary majority some time back. There was no sense during the campaign of just how epochal this particular election was going to be.
I was more engaged this time round without being fully committed one way or the other, unlike my parents who needed the Conservatives' promised Assisted Places scheme to keep my sister at her independent grammar school. However my Dad was agonising over his vote because our Labour MP Joel Barnett ( he of Scottish funding formula fame ) had been very helpful in securing his early retirement from teaching and he may have abstained because of that.
I remember Barnett and the council candidate David Moffat ( who later had a small part in the John Stalker affair ) coming into the shelter in Littleborough Square where I was waiting for the bus to Rochdale and him shaking everybody's hand but mine. I obviously wasn't old enough to vote but it wouldn't have hurt him. I liked his politics and people who knew him said he was a nice guy but that always rankled a bit.
I watched some of the party political broadcasts this time round including the famous Saatchi and Saatchi one emphasising Labour's high unemployment figures. It was a valid political point; they just left out the bit about doubling them once they got into power. I also saw the Liberal one presented by neighbouring MP Cyril Smith in what was a very difficult election for them after the Jeremy Thorpe scandal.
Saatchi and Saatchi did bring a new professionalism to political campaigning which helped the Conservatives steal a march on their opponents but it was really the Winter of Discontent that did for Labour, the electorate giving the Tories a clear mandate to tackle the unions. Margaret Thatcher went to Downing Street and made one of the most inappropriate political speeches of all time when she promised to act as St Francis of Assisi. Yeah, right.
The most prominent losers were Thorpe whose constituents decided that a man about to stand trial for conspiracy to murder wasn't the best person to represent them , the SNP who lost most of their seats after siding with the Tories in the vote of confidence to put Callaghan out and Labour's education secretary Shirley Williams who was surprisingly turfed out at Stevenage .
Friday, 22 April 2016
First viewed : 11 April 1979
This cheap and cheerful annual awards show for the pop industry is often mistakenly thought of as the forerunner of the Brits. In fact the show was nothing to do with the British Phonographic Industry, which didn't have its own ceremony for the first three years this was on ( perhaps to avoid giving any gongs to those awkward punk types ) and then, in 1983 and 1984, held their shindig at a different venue on the same nights !
The British Rock and Pop Awards was a joint venture between Radio One, Nationwide and The Daily Mirror, which unlike the Brits handed out the gongs for Best Single, Best Album , Best Group, Best Male Singer , Best Female Singer and Best Family Entertainer based on the public vote ( so you didn't get Annie Lennox winning in years when she didn't have a record out ). The public were slightly steered by preview features on Nationwide ( which made it worth watching for once ) in the weeks leading up to the show. There were also two special awards for All Round Pop Personality voted by just the Mirror readers and an award given by the Radio One disc jockeys for an outstanding contribution to music.
Unlike the Brits, the artists normally behaved themselves and there were no real Jarvis Cocker moments in the six years it was on. Kate Bush had a near monopoly of the Best Female Singer Award in the early years , Nick Lowe and Jerry Dammers were worthy winners of the first two DJ trophies and Hazel O Connor's stupendously naff "D-Days" was almost certainly a hit due to the exposure it got on the 1981 show.
Sadly in 1985 the Beeb took the decision to televise the BPI Awards instead with all the irritations that brought in its wake but we'll discuss that in due course.
Thursday, 21 April 2016
First viewed : April 1979
A bittersweet memory this one. This isn't quite the last entry from kids TV but I think it is the last cartoon series to feature until The Simpsons. Laff-A-Lympics had been on before but I first saw it in the morning schedule during the Easter Holidays of 1979 on the recommendation of the lad next door, with whom an irreconcilable fall-out was just a few short months away.
What made Laff-A-Lympics such an unexpected delight was that it drew its cast from all the Hanna-Barbera cartoons of the past three decades though there were omissions for complicated legal reasons. They were organised into three teams , two sporting teams headed by Scooby Doo and Yogi Bear respectively and a team of villains whose ranks had to be swelled by some original characters. Copyright issues meant that no Wacky Races characters could feature so instead the chief villains were Dread Baron and cackling sidekick Mumbly who were Dick Dastardly and Muttley in all but name.
The re-branding was an irritation but not enough to spoil the fun of seeing all your favourite characters from yesteryear popping up again for little cameos. This was the first TV programme I enjoyed for nostalgic reasons which is perhaps a little worrying as I was only fourteen at the time.
24 episodes were made in total.
Wednesday, 20 April 2016
First viewed : Monday 2 April 1979
This short lived comedy series proved a salutary lesson that if you want to escape your past you must take care to choose the right vehicle. Eager to escape the image of Frank Spencer , Michael Crawford took on the role of Dave Finn ( played by Jonathan Pryce in the 1977 pilot ) , a caustic , opinionated , left wing, bearded layabout awaiting the birth of his third child and a constant annoyance to middle class neighbour Roger ( Robin Hawdon ). In the first episode , the only one which I ( and I suspect many others ) watched , Roger had the misfortune of having Dave for company in the maternity ward waiting room , hectoring him about his lifestyle and pretending to be having sympathetic labour pains.
Having just endured the Winter of Discontent , the audience found Crawford's new character as appetising as a bucket of cold sick and turned off in droves, just as they would emphatically reject Dave Finn's values at the ballot box in the General Election which more or less coincided with the end of the series' run. It never returned.
Crawford has rarely been on television since , pursuing a highly successful career in musical theatre instead. He occasionally appears on chat shows to promote his latest show and has even agreed to don the old mac and beret on a couple of occasions, for Noel's House Party and this years Sport Relief. Hawdon has never appeared on TV since but has become a successful playwright and novelist with stage acting gradually taking a back seat to his writing.
Monday, 18 April 2016
First viewed : March 1979
I don't think I've given this one much thought since it finished 37 years ago but there it is in the schedules. Malice Aforethought was a three part adaptation, on BBC2 , of a popular crime novel of the 1930s . The tale is not a whodunnit but a will he get away with it story about a mild mannered doctor Edmund Bickleigh who slowly poisons his awful wife Julia to be with Madeline. However Madeline not only doesn't wait for him but becomes the one person who is suspicious about Julia's death.
The adaptation starred Hywel Bennett as Bickleigh, Cheryl Campbell as Madeline and Judy Parfitt as Julia and was very faithful to the book. It was remade in 2005 by Granada with Ben Miller playing Bickleigh.
Sunday, 17 April 2016
First viewed : March 1979
Who remembers this one then ? It replaced The Pink Panther and Dr Who on a Saturday teatime from the beginning of March to the end of August 1979.
The clumsily-titled series drew together two separate book franchises owned by the Stratemeyer Syndicate. The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew titles were aimed at adolescents and teen boys and girls respectively with the protagonists getting involved in mystery stories in a similar fashion to Enid Blyton's Famous Five. They had been going since the 1930s although of course the protagonists never aged.
The TV series was set in the present day and broke with the books in Season Two by bringing the characters together in a number of "crossover" episodes. All the stories in Season One featured either the boys or Nancy on alternate weeks although they were all featured in the opening titles. The equitable split was abandoned in Season Two with only three solo outings for Nancy compared to eleven for the Hardys. Unsurprisingly the actress Pamela Sue Martin flounced before the season was completed so Janet Louise Johnson played Nancy in four crossover episodes at the tail end of the season. In the third and final season Nancy was dropped altogether and it was cancelled after 10 episodes.
That had just finished in the US when BBC 1 started screening the series. They mixed and matched episodes from the first two seasons ( the third has never been shown here ) but maintained the alternating pattern. The Johnson episodes were avoided although the opening titles and the actress playing Nancy's friend George changed between the seasons.
The Hardy brothers were played by Parker Stevenson ( Frank ) and Shaun Cassidy ( Joe ) . Cassidy was half-brother to David and had a few hits himself ( although not here and each one peaked lower than the one before ). He too was rather feminine in appearance and, given Nancy's pluckiness, led to the thought that it should have been called "The Nancy Boys and Hardy Drew Mysteries" instead.
Both the brothers and Nancy largely worked on cases to help their fathers. They were a private detective and attorney respectively and were both remarkably cavalier about placing their offspring in mortal danger . The boys did tend to get the better storylines including the only one I can clearly remember where Joe is blackmailed into helping an assassin get to a federal witness.
It was a likable amalgam of Ellery Queen, Scooby Doo and Charlie's Angels, but unlike the execrable The Dukes of Hazzard which started later on the same evening it hasn't left much of a mark on popular culture.
The original UK season ended in August but it returned two years later in the same time slot when six more episodes were shown in the late spring including , bizarrely, the Christmas episode ( a Nancy story from Season Two ). The remaining episodes , including all those featuring Johnson , were shown in the morning over the Christmas holiday period in 1981. The Christmas episode is the only one that's ever been repeated.
The delectable Martin went on to a high profile role as Fallon Carrington in Dynasty . Cassidy has become a successful writer / producer while Stevenson has always had plenty of work in TV and TV movies. Johnson , who later preferred to be known as Janet Julian , had further acting work in TV until the mid- nineties but now teaches childcare in Hollywood.
Saturday, 16 April 2016
First viewed : Early 1979
Give Us A Clue was simply Charades on the TV with Michael Aspel presiding over a contest between male and female teams headed by character actress Una Stubbs and annoyingly camp light entertainer Lionel Blair. The teams consisted of two other celebrities and initially a usually rather overawed member of the public though they were soon dropped in favour of having a fourth celebrity.
Confusingly, it had the same theme as Grange Hill for the first two series.
I never tuned in specially to watch it but it was a reasonably entertaining alternative to Nationwide on a Wednesday.
Michael Parkinson and Liza Goddard replaced Aspel and Stubbs in later series.
It ran for 13 years from 1979 to 1992. There was a brief revival on BBC One in 1997 with none of the original participants involved.
Friday, 15 April 2016
First viewed : Early 1979
CHiPs promised to be Starsky and Hutch on choppers as it featured two buddy cops , dark Ponch ( Erik Estrada ) and blonde Jon ( Larry Wilcox ) fighting crime as they rode the L.A. freeways on their fancy hogs as part of the California Highway Patrol.
Unfortunately CHiPs was tailored to an early evening audience and lacked any bite in its storylines, with violence kept to a minimum. As a result, although I think I watched it a fair bit at first, I don't remember any of the plots ; they've all dissolved into a general impression of sunny blandness .
It must have been popular though because it ran for six years. It didn't keep its prime time Saturday evening slot after Mork and Mindy but the ITV regions stuck with it to the end in various time slots. Estrada's kept his acting career going in low budget films and daytime TV though latterly you're more likely to find him in reality TV programmes. Wilcox moved into TV production though still taking the odd acting job and doing community service for a securities fraud in 2010.
Thursday, 14 April 2016
First viewed : February 1979
This Sunday teatime perennial was my Mum's favourite show though I never really understood why. With one grandfather declared bankrupt and the other redundant before his time and forced to downsize, Christ knows we had nothing of the sort ourselves. What's more, while glued to this, my Mum unceasingly complained about Dad filling up all her cupboard space with old books and regularly badgered my sister and I to yield up old toys for her playgroup's jumble sales. It's therefore hard to figure out why someone with no understanding of the collector's mentality found this programme so engrossing.
This show replaced the earlier antiques show Going For A Song which finished in 1977 and had more of a quiz show format. It transplanted the elderly antiques expert Arthur Negus from the earlier show but this time had members of the public bringing in their treasures in the hope of being told they were sitting ( sometimes literally ) on a goldmine whatever they might say to the contrary. I guess part of the appeal is watching the squirming impatience of the avaricious philistines as the expert gives an unhurried rumination on the piece's history and keeps them waiting for that all-important valuation.
Angela Rippon briefly fronted the programme then left Negus to helm the show on his own for a year. Seeing this was something of a struggle for a guy pushing 80 , they brought in Nationwide reporter and a longstanding antique collector himself , Hugh Scully to help him in 1981. Negus retired from the show when he turned 80 in 1983 ( he died two years later ) leaving the remarkably square-headed Scully in sole charge until 2000 when he quit to work for an online auction company. He died six months ago, an event that passed me by I'm afraid. He was replaced by Michael Aspel who at 67 was close to being an antique himself. He held the fort until 2008 when the current presenter Fiona Bruce took over.
I can honestly say I've never turned the TV on to catch this but over the years I watched quite a lot of it due to its timeslot, just as I was coming in from a walk and wanting to throw myself on the sofa .
Wednesday, 13 April 2016
First viewed : 11 February 1979
This was one of the BBC's greatest projects , the adaptation of all 37 Shakespeare plays over seven seasons. It was first proposed in 1975 by producer Cedric Messina but it took three years to overcome opposition and get the fiance together. The Beeb had in fact adapted most of them in one form or another over the decades but never as part of a continuous series.
My own interest in Shakespeare sprang from an interest in school drama around the beginning of 1976 . The only play texts we had in the house were in my mum's 1955 edition of The Works of Shakespeare so I spent some hours staging productions using my Matchbox cars to play the characters. The one I spent most time on bizarrely was The Life and Death of King John because it was the first of the historical plays and therefore most likely to be interesting to me. Of course at that age I only half-understood what I was reading and was also perplexed by some of the bard's dramatic choices. I mean what is the point of the character of James Gurney ? A servant to Lady Faulconbridge he comes in with her, is almost immediately dismissed , says the line "Good leave . good Philip" then is never seen again. I guess you'd know you weren't the apple of the director's eye if he said "I think you'd make a perfect James Gurney ! "
The first one I studied at school was Julius Caesar in 1977 or 1978 and , as luck would have it, this was the fourth play to be broadcast in the first season so we stayed tuned after Life On Earth. I don't remember much that was specific to the production apart from the interesting casting of David Collings as Cassius. Collings was a very busy actor at the time but usually played good guys - I knew him from Dr Who and Midnight Is A Place - so it was a change to see him as a villain.
We stayed with it the following week for Measure For Measure, probably the bard's smuttiest work . I was beginning to understand sexual innuendos now and found it pretty funny particularly the performance of John McEnery as the fop Lucio whose scurrilous talk gets him into trouble. As a consequence I learned the original meaning of the word "punk". The cast was interesting for the appearance of Jacqueline Pearce ( Blake's Seven's Servalan ) as one of the play's trio of wronged women.
I wasn't interested in the next and final play in the first season The Famous History of the Life of King Henry the Eight , generally regarded as a superficial, propagandist work which deliberately skirts the major controversies of the reign.
The second season started at the tail end of 1979 with the two parts of Henry IV then Henry V. I tuned in for Twelfth Night ( 6.1.1980 ) for Robert Lindsay as Fabian and because we'd studied it in English the previous term even though I hadn't liked it much. I also watched The Tempest ( 27.2.80 ) which was pretty familiar to me as the first play in Mum's book. David Dixon played the spirit Ariel. I think I saw some of Hamlet ( 25.5.80 ) because I remember Lalla Ward as Ophelia and Patrick Stewart as Claudius but didn't watch it from start to finish.
The third season started in the autumn of 1980 with The Taming Of The Shrew . I remember the publicity buzz around the casting of John Cleese as Petruchio but I'm not sure I actually watched any of it. I remember Warren Mitchell and Gemma Jones as Shylock and Portia respectively in Merchant of Venice ( 17.12.80 ). After that, a volley of three plays I had no familiarity with , meant I lost a lot of interest in the series.
I caught a bit of Troilus and Cressida ( 7.11.81 ) in the fourth season because I've always been interested in The Trojan War but Kenneth Haigh's Achilles was so far from my conception of the character I was glad I hadn't watched the whole thing.
The fifth season was mainly taken up with the three parts of Henry VI and then Richard III presented in sequence. I came back to it towards the end because I'm a firm Ricardian and the Henry VI plays also benefited from featuring Bernard Hill ( as Richard of York ) who'd become the hottest actor in the UK since the plays were filmed , due to Boys from the Blackstuff.
The controversial final scene which had Queen Margaret cackling while cradling the dead Richard atop a pile of the war dead ( despite her having died seven years before the Battle of Bosworth ) was actually my last sight of the series . The final two seasons were mainly broadcast while I was at university and it was never the consensus choice in the common room so I missed both the plays I studied for A Level ( Macbeth and Much Ado About Nothing ) and , rather sadly , King John .
Monday, 11 April 2016
First viewed : January 1979
I think we saw more of this when repeated on BBC1 the following year but I remember catching some of it the first time round on BBC2.
This of course was an adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier's novel , a perennial favourite of schoolgirls everywhere if not of critics. I recall later in the year an English class where we had to read a passage from a book of our own choice. Two girls independently went for Rebecca but after the first reading our acerbic English teacher Mr McInerny declared "I think we've had enough Rebecca" and sent the luckless second girl off to find something else. She fared better than another guy who was told his Alistair McLean novel was "ludicrous". I escaped without censure after reading the twist ending of Brian Aldiss's short story Intangibles Inc . That class also contained a special young lady called Rebecca but sadly I can't recall what she read.
This adaptation had Jeremy Brett as Maxim De Winter, Joanna David as his mousey unnamed new bride, the bird-faced Anna Massey ( Brett's former wife ) as the psychopathic housekeeper Mrs Danvers and the always reliable Julian Holloway as blackmailing cad Jack Favell. It dragged slightly at first but hotted up considerably when the plot thickened. How that compares with the novel I wouldn't know but I don't remember my Mum uttering her usual protests when they got something wrong.
Sunday, 10 April 2016
First viewed : 21 January 1979
This was a major TV event, the first and most famous of David Attenborough's landmark wildlife documentary series ( as opposed to self-contained documentaries for Wildlife On One or The World About Us ). In 13 55- minute episodes he traced the standard evolutionary timeline from amoebas and jellyfish to human beings , filming the most colourful examples of each species. In the course of it he became a national treasure, a position he has never forfeited.
The undoubted highlight of the series was his impromptu encounter with the mountain gorillas of Rwanda in the penultimate episode which has become one of the most famous pieces of television ever filmed.
I tend to be more interested in cold-blooded species so the earlier episodes were the best for me but it was all top notch stuff. I remember being chuffed that the final episode on humans incorporated a bit of wrestling footage , illustrating audience reaction to a fight between Giant Haystacks and , I think, Tony St Clair.
One other great thing about the series was that it didn't have those tedious final ten minute segments showing "how we did it" . Those are a curse of the media studies generation and boring as hell to anyone who doesn't want to work in television. I'm not saying TV producers should guard their tricks like the Magic Circle but it's criminal to jettison 10 minutes of precious wildlife footage in order to show bearded guys setting up cameras and microphones in unlikely places.
We watched the Sunday night repeat because the original broadcast on a Tuesday night clashed with Dallas.
Saturday, 9 April 2016
First viewed : Uncertain
I've absolutely no idea when I first caught this hardy perennial but it was probably towards the end of the seventies when I started being able to answer a handful of the questions. Some time in the seventies it featured my former work colleague Steve Taylor as a contestant for Warwick University.
Television's most cerebral quiz is another monument to the glory of Granada's Golden Age. Cecil Bernstein, brother of Granada's founder Sidney produced it after seeing the show College Bowl in America. It started in 1962 with the young theatre critic and historian Bamber Gascoigne in the presenter's chair. Despite its highbrow content, the show was an immediate success, much of it due to the appealing personality of its diligent host.
After the sixties , it did suffer through the other networks treating it as a space filler without a regular spot in the schedule . It eventually fell victim to cultural dumbing-down in 1987. However there was always a chorus of discontent about the decision and in 1994 the BBC agreed with Granada to bring it back on BBC2.
By that time Gascoigne had become involved in his great project to create the definitive encyclopaedia of world history and turned down the opportunity to resurrect his TV career.
Instead the job went to a very different personality in Jeremy Paxman who has presented it ever since. Gascoigne's History World website was launched in 2001 and has always been well regarded but that was the same year Wikipedia launched and Gascoigne's venture has always lived in its shadow.
I've never watched it on a regular basis with either presenter but still catch it occasionally.
Friday, 8 April 2016
First viewed : Winter 1979
I never saw very much of this wartime drama series made by Euston Films , either because it was on at 9.00 pm on a Monday or because Mum preferred the Nine o Clock News to something with the loathed Iain Cuthbertson in it or a combination of the two.
The series followed a young lieutenant Brian Ash ( Anthony Andrews ) who unexpectedly finds himself in charge of a bomb disposal unit in London during the Blitz. He has to deal with unexploded bombs as the Germans make their fuses progressively more complicated and his life ever more dangerous. His love life becomes equally complicated when he starts an affair with Susan ( Judy Geeson ), the married daughter of the boffin Dr Gillespie ( Cuthbertson ) with whom he is working. There was a strong supporting cast with stony-faced Scot Maurice Roeves playing his loyal Sergeant, George Innes as his shiftless Corporal and first regular TV roles for Kenneth Cranham and Robert Pugh ( the priest in The Lakes ).
The series, based on the real life adventures of a Major A B Hartley, made for good drama with plenty of nailbiting tension, a high mortality rate and plenty of gallows humour. It only lasted for one 13-part series but that was probably for the best; there's only so many bomb de-fusings you can screen without the series either getting boring or needing a replacement lead character on a regular basis.
Andrews went on to Brideshead Revisited but aside from the forgotten Breakaway this was the last regular British TV series for Geeson before she emigrated to LA in 1984.
Thursday, 7 April 2016
First viewed : January 1979
Dick Turpin was another feature of those wintry Saturday evenings of early 1979. It was the latest series written by Richard Carpenter ( Catweazle, The Ghosts of Motley Hall ) and followed Harrison Ainsworth in romanticising the eighteenth century highwayman.
Carpenter's Turpin ( Richard O' Sullivan ) is basically Robin Hood moved on six centuries, an unjustly disinherited soldier who takes to the road to take on a corrupt establishment in the form of rapacious squire Sir John Glutton ( Christopher Benjamin ) and his hatchet man Captain Spiker ( David Daker ). To draw in the kids he had a young apprentice Swiftnick ( Michael Deeks ) he often had to rescue. He sometimes found time to help out damsels in distress such as Phyllida ( the lovely Julie Dawn Cole above ).
The series looked good and was clean escapist fun giving O ' Sullivan a chance to stretch his wings in a more or less straight role. Only two 13 episode series were made in 1979-80 plus a star laden feature length story. For some reason the second series was curtailed after seven episodes in 1980 , the TV film broadcast as a five part serial in 1981 then the six unseen episodes shown as a final series in 1982.
O' Sullivan's sad decline has been well publicised but Deeks just gave up on acting after an appearance in The Bill in 1994.
Monday, 4 April 2016
First viewed : 12 January 1979
This followed straight after Dick Barton that Saturday night and was heartily recommended by Stephen.
Mork and Mindy was a spin-off from a rather leftfield episode of Happy Days where Richie is set to become an alien abductee at the hands of a comic alien called Mork played by then-unknown comedian, Robin Williams. The character was so popular that work started on a separate vehicle for Mork straight away.
Mork and Mindy transported him to 1970s Colorado where he'd been sent by unseen boss Orson to observe earth culture. There he ends up the house guest of a young journalist Mindy ( Pam Dawber ) who endeavours to teach him the ways of the world while learning about his own quirky customs.
Now I know I'm in a minority here but I never found Williams very funny and that limited my enjoyment of the show particularly as he was given progressively more space to improvise which often left Dawber in danger of corpsing. The first series was phenomenally popular but after changes to give it a more romantic angle, the ratings fell off dramatically and it was cancelled after four series in 1982.
Williams retreated into stand-up before re-emerging as a major film star at the end of the eighties. Dawber appears to be a classic "Where are they now ? " contender in the UK because her next major vehicle , "My Sister Sam" was never shown here so the death, in a stalker shooting of her young co-star Rebecca Schaeffer and her subsequent advocacy of gun control went unnoticed here. In the US her steady string of TV and film roles and marriage to the very hardworking Mark Harmon have kept her profile relatively high. She made an appearance on Williams' ill-fated TV series The Crazy Ones just before his death.
Sunday, 3 April 2016
First viewed : 12 January 1979
I first caught this at my friend Stephen's house though it had started the previous week. Earlier that day I'd gone with him to Rochdale to help him purchase walking boots and a riucksack then in the afternoon we'd gone for a stroll round Hollingworth Lake. My diary also records that we'd played Pong on his TV and had a go at the Bontempi.
We'd just finished an extra week off school because there was no heating. It's often forgotten that the "Winter of Discontent" was also marked by extreme weather, the worst winter in my memory although I don't know how it compared to 1963. It played havoc with our Saturday morning plans for the first few months of 1979.
Dick Barton Special Agent was an ITV attempt at reviving a popular BBC radio character from the immediate post-war period before it was controversially axed for The Archers. Hammer had started a film franchise featuring the character but it was discontinued after three films when the lead actor Don Stannard perished in a car crash.
Dick had served as a Commando in the War and now headed a three man unit with sidekicks Snowy White and Jock Anderson investigating crimes which had national security implications. The storylines were pulpy and sensationalist with a melodramatic cliffhanger at the end of each episode . Dick was suave and aristocratic while Snowy and Jock were obediently working class.
Though it had original plots by Clive Exton who later wrote much of Poirot , the TV series made no attempt to update the character. He remained in the late forties with attitudes to match , picking his way through the bomb sites and patronising his female supplicants. He was played by the plummy-voiced Tony Vogel. Anthony Heaton played the cockney Snowy , a hothead somewhat akin to Bud White in LA Confidential, while the more cerebral Jock was played by ubiquitous Scotch hard man James Cosmo. As in the radio version the episodes were fifteen minutes long. It was shown on Saturday and Sunday evenings.
Although I enjoyed it at the time , few details of the stories have remained with me which is indicative of how ephemeral it was. Four stories were broadcast in total but it was apparently expensive to make and there was no second series. Vogel remained an actor , popping up here and there but appears to have retired around a decade ago. Heaton had a part in Widows in 1983 but died four years later aged just 39.
Saturday, 2 April 2016
First viewed : 18 January 1979
This long-running quiz show filled the gap between Top of the Pops and Butterflies on a Thursday evening. It made its original host, the recently-deceased Terry Wogan, a top TV star.
The show was based on an Australian show and involved two contestants trying to match their answers to a missing word in a phrase or sentence to those supplied individually by a panel of celebrities. The panel was made up of three men and three women. They usually put the smarter cookies on the top row , a comedian bottom centre and an apparent bimbo ( Lorraine Chase , Sandra Dickinson ) for Terry to tease bottom right. The questions were usually mildly smutty, giving Terry plenty of opportunity to raise an eyebrow in the direction of the camera.
The prizes were hardly worth having ( Terry's expression at announcing a weekend in Reykjavik was priceless ) ; the joy of the show was Terry's easy interaction with the guest stars even when, as in the case of Kenny Everett, they destroyed his trademark silly microphone. This eventually led to him to giving up the show in 1984 to host a nightly chat show.
Les Dawson took over , presenting the show - and particularly the prizes - with a heavy irony which eventually became a bit wearisome. You thought if he despises the show that much why's he taking the money to do it ? I bailed out some time in the mid-eighties and the show finished at the end of the decade.
It was revived in 1998 hosted by Lily Savage who I've never found remotely entertaining so I was never going to tune in for that. It lasted two years then switched to ITV for another couple of years. Special versions have appeared on charity shows since then.
Friday, 1 April 2016
First viewed : 1979
This Carla Lane-penned domestic comedy was premiered on BBC2 then got a repeat showing on BBC1 on a Thursday evening which was when we usually caught it.
The comedy revolved around a family of four , Ria ( Wendy Craig ) a bored housewife whose lack of culinary skills was a running gag, loyal but slightly neglectful dentist husband Ben ( Geoffrey Palmer ) and two teenage sons Russell ( Andrew Hall ) and Adam ( Nicholas Lyndhurst ) who show no signs of eagerness to enter the world of work and adult responsibility. Throughout the series Ria is contemplating adultery with wealthy divorcee Leonard ( Bruce Montague ) while grappling with normal family dramas.
Butterflies was infuriating because it was part brilliant, part awful. The scenes around the dinner table were superb thanks to the comic timing of Palmer and Lyndhurst. It was here ( and perhaps Going Straight around the same time ) that the latter moved effortlessly from ubiquitous child star to genius comic actor. Although Hall couldn't match him, they were a great comic duo and perhaps the inspiration for Men Behaving Badly a decade or so later. Unfortunately these scenes had to be punctuated by Ria's everyday monologues treating us to the Carla Lane view of the world and its absurdities , rarely funny and often aggravating in its middle class self-absorption. Then you had the never-ending scenes with Leonard , her male equivalent; at least you felt they deserved each other.
In a major plot development in the third series, Russell ended up getting a girl pregnant and so had to grow up a bit. Palmer's awkward delicacy when she came round to meet the family was brilliantly played and very touching.
It finished after four series in 1983 apart from an extended reunion sketch on 2000's Comic Relief which I think I caught but can't remember much about.
After the series finished Craig had long periods out of the spotlight for the next two decades before playing Matron in The Royal from 2003 onwards. She's still a regular screen presence in her eighties . Palmer and Lyndhurst of course went from strength to strength. Hall hasn't been quite as busy but he's still a working actor and has done some directing of late.