Thursday, 30 June 2016
First viewed : Spring 1980
This is one I'd forgotten about, a precursor to other cold case cop shows like Waking The Dead or New Tricks . Tom Adams from General Hospital played Nick Lewis, a Detective Chief Inspector whose unit specialised in re-opening unsolved crime cases. This being the era of Mrs Thatcher, he had a female boss who changed from Sharon Maughan to Carole Nimmons halfway through the series. Yorkshire comedian Duggie Brown provided some light relief as the unit's lab technician.
It was on BBC 2 at 9.30 pm on a Tuesday night and I doubt I caught more than a couple of episodes, without getting much involved. Adams was always the blandest , least interesting of the doctors on General Hospital and was more of a supporting player than a leading man. He was also getting on a bit for the action scenes . The series wasn't recommissioned after 15 episodes although it was repeated in full as part of BBC1's Friday night schedule in 1982. Adams wouldn't lead a series again and as time wore on you were more likely to see him doing adverts for DFS than TV drama. He died in 2014.
Contrary to what wikipedia currently says, there was a DVD of the series but it's hard to find now.
Wednesday, 29 June 2016
First viewed : 12 April 1980
This only lasted for six weeks on a Saturday night on BBC2 but there are some interesting aspects to it.
It was a TV review discussion programme in which three critics ( unfortunately not identified by Genome ) discussed three shows broadcast that week, usually one each from BBC1 , BBC2 and ITV. That in itself was highly unusual at the time. Nowadays we're well used to the channels plundering each other's archives for clips but this was the first show I can remember where the BBC acknowledged ITV even existed.
The host was Susan Hill who , I recall, looked like a librarian. On the balance of probabilities I think she was the same person as the successful novelist but I can't find any definite proof.
As you might expect I only tuned in when they were discussing something I'd watched so I only saw three at the most including the first when they discussed Yes Minister ( which I hadn't watched at that point but this encouraged me to do so ) , Rebecca and Death of A Princess. If it is the same Susan Hill, it's worth noting that she later wrote a sequel to Rebecca. I also definitely saw the one where they discussed Not The Nine O Clock News and Coronation St in the same episode.
The show was superseded by the longer -running , more ambitious Did You See ? later that year.
Tuesday, 28 June 2016
First viewed : 7 April 1980
This was an Easter Monday Special giving the good time US country rock band a 50 minute showcase - though at 22.05 pm - for their musical wares.
I was never a great fan of the band though their first hit Silvia's Mother is a good tune and only tuned in towards the end, almost certainly hoping to catch special guest star Kate Bush ( unsuccessfully as it turned out ).
Instead my sister and I just caught the last couple of band songs, the second of which was a comic number about the perils of marijuana " I Got Stoned And I Missed It " which at that time neither us really understood. At the end of it, there was a coda where Ray Sawyer ( the guy with the eyepatch demanded the audience jump up and shout "I Got Stoned " on the seventh drum beat. Without any form of communication passing between us both my sister and I did as we were told which is a testament to the charisma of the guy. Without that shared silly moment I very much doubt this entry would be here.
Dr Hook were in the Top 10 at the time with Sexy Eyes but this show turned out to be effectively their last hurrah. For the full story check out my charts blog Hello Goodbye.
Monday, 27 June 2016
First viewed : 1980
The first series of this followed Vega$ on a Friday night but as mentioned in the previous post that was the cue to going to the chippy so my first glimpses of it would be snatched while eating my supper before going home. Later my mum got very keen on it but it never really caught fire for me.
The Gentle Touch concerned a serious crimes unit in London led by Detective Inspector Maggie Forbes ( Jill Gascoine ) . The crimes she investigated were similar to those in The Sweeney but the series marked a switch in cop shows on both sides of the Atlantic from focusing on the investigation of a case to the life of the cops outside of work which usually had no relation to the case. This was not a development I welcomed. Maggie's husband was killed in the first episode and she subsequently had to deal with a wayward son and ageing father as well as do her job so there were many episodes when the case seemed to go on the backburner.
Also, unlike The Sweeney which was all on film, much of The Gentle Touch was shot on videotape with harsh lighting and minimal make-up which gave it a rather dowdy feel. It certainly didn't do any favours to William Marlowe as Maggie's superior who had such bad skin you wanted to look away when the camera came in for a close-up. There was a practical reason for shooting so much of it on VT; Gascoine couldn't drive which made filming outdoor scenes more complicated.
I didn't fancy Gascoine with the Leo Sayer perm that made her look like Kevin Keegan in drag and the rest of the regular cast was all male including a first regular TV role ( up to 1982 ) for Casualty's Derek Thompson who had his own bubble perm.
The series finished in 1984 although Gascoine's character was moved into a new series C.A.T.S. Eyes which I enjoyed rather more.
Sunday, 26 June 2016
First viewed : Winter/Spring 1980
This was shown in different time slots by the ITV regions so it's impossible to track when I first caught it. I always associate it with Friday nights at my gran's, its end titles a cue to go to the chip shop for my supper. Just hearing the theme music again makes me salivate so it's associated with happy times.
Vega$ was a detective series, its hero a PI and Vietnam vet Dan Tanna played by Robert Urich, one of the vigilante cops in Magnum Force. He drove a distinctive red Thunderbird down the strip or through the desert and was assisted by a couple of showgirls and a young guy called Binzer who usually provided comic relief. Greg Morris played irascible cop Lt Nelson, the obligatory friend on the force.
Vega$'s USP was the setting . The pilot episode , the only one written by its creator Michael Mann , and first series featured Tony Curtis as night club owner Roth but he was gradually edged out of the picture and some real-life entertainers were worked into the storylines including singer Wayne Newton, one of those stars whose name appeared in the opening titles.
Otherwise Vega$ was pretty formulaic and a little vacuous which is why I'm struggling to recall specific episodes. I remember a toecurling guest appearance by naff seventies duo The Captain and Tennille and that an episode where Dan was on the trail of a rapist was darker in tone than usual but that's about it.
The series ended in 1981 partly because Urich wanted to move on and felt the scripts had deteriorated. He later took a similar role in another successful series, Spenser : for Hire which basically typecast him for the rest of his career. He died of cancer in 2002.
Thursday, 23 June 2016
First watched : 9 April 1980
This ultra-controversial docudrama made the cover of TV Times that week and certainly made a few headlines in the days immediately afterwards.
Death of A Princess was a dramatisation of the enquiries made by journalist Anthony Thomas into the public execution of a 19-year old Saudi princess and her alleged lover in 1977. Because the subject matter was so sensitive, Thomas decided to go down the docudrama route to help obscure the identity of witnesses. His conclusion was that the princess was killed for defying her grandfather, a brother of King Khalid, and the pair were never tried in court, the execution being entirely extra-judicial.
The Saudis were , as expected , apoplectic both about the intrusion into the private lives of the royal family and the harsh glare of the light shone on law and practices in the strictly Muslim kingdom. They claimed the whole thing was based on gossip and fabrication but Thomas himself said that he had received conflicting information from different sources and never claimed the drama was 100 % accurate. Lord Carrington, the Foreign Secretary crawled to them saying he found it "deeply offensive" and that seemed to be enough to stop them breaking off diplomatic relations with the UK . In any case they had bigger fish to fry as it was going to be shown in America - the film was part-funded by a US network - the following month and their efforts switched to trying to prevent that ,unsuccessfully as it turned out.
Thomas himself was played by Paul Freeman who reportedly got the part of the main villain in Raiders of the Lost Ark on the strength of it.
I thought it was interesting but there wasn't quite enough substance to the material to justify its two hour ( with commercial breaks ) length. You certainly didn't get much insight into the personality of the poor girl at the centre of it .
Wednesday, 22 June 2016
First viewed : 29 March 1980
I was interested in this - originally titled Roald Dahl's Tales Of The Unexpected - from the start, having a long affection for Dahl's work, but it was on so late - 10 pm on a Saturday that I didn't see any of the first series ( missing out on Pamela Stephenson in a wet bikini in the first episode ) in 1979. I never understood that; there was never really anything in the content that justified such a late slot; many of them were just as suitable for mid-evening viewing as the likes of Armchair Thriller.
The series was originally based on the short stories of Roald Dahl , some of them tweaked to provide the sort of closure TV viewers did expect. Dahl did Alfred Hitchcock -style introductions at the beginning of each episode though these were rarely very illuminating. Dahl had never found the short story form very easy so once a second season was commissioned there was an immediate problem in the shortage of source material and Dahl had no input in four of the second season episodes.
I came in at episode 5 of the second season, a story called "Poison" in which a recovering alcoholic in India played by Andrew Ray wakes up to find a krait ( a deadly poisonous snake ) is having a kip on his stomach . His friend and an Indian doctor try to blow it off and succeed, if it was there at all. Curtly dismissing them , the guy decides one drink won't hurt but guess what's lurking in the drinks cabinet ?
I watched other episodes in that season but somehow it never became required viewing for me. Inevitably the ones I recall best are where there was some female talent on show like Susan Penhaligon in spray-on pants as a policewoman posing as an easy lay to trap a serial killer ( "Decoy" 1982 ) or the not - usually - very - sexy Elaine Paige revealing a great pair of legs ( "The Way To Do It" ,1981) . The last one that I'm reasonably sure I saw was "Have A Nice Death" with Simon Callow as a writer who rubbed feminists up the wrong way. That was in June 1984.
Dahl's introductions became very occasional from the third season onwards and his name was removed from the title. Anglia produced the series originally but as it became popular accepted money from the States so many of the episodes were filmed overseas. It attracted many big name stars over the years including Joan Collins, Janet Leigh, George Peppard, Denholm Elliott and Don Johnson. The 1982 episode "Stranger In Town " captured the screen debut of a nine-year old Jennifer Connelly. Many actors appeared in more than one episode; Andrew Ray was something of a regular in the British-made ones.
The series did suffer from a contradiction at its heart. If you make something called Tales of the Unexpected a regular series then the twist ending is what the audience is going to expect and they're going to become increasingly expert at guessing what it is. So it was that the series came in for a fair bit of mockery, wags renaming it "Tales of the Amazingly Predictable" and so on. As audiences waned the seasons slowly got shorter until the axe fell in 1988. I wonder if they saw it coming ?
Tuesday, 21 June 2016
First viewed : 12 March 1980
This BBC 2 three-part adaptation of Emile Zola's bleak tale of adultery , murder and revenge from beyond the grave was so good it's hard to understand why it's not more celebrated.
I have to admit it was the nudity that got me and my best friend Michael interested in this at the time although as with The Mallens there was actually less than I "remembered". It was the first time I saw a full frontal nude though she was just an uncredited extra lying motionless in one of the harrowing morgue scenes. I thought there was one where an artist's model walks out to take her position and recall excitedly remarking to another friend "you could see the black triangle ! ". On a second viewing , even with the aid of the pause button, it's cleverly staged so that you don't.* Not that it would have bothered the actress , Zoe Hendry, who had done a fair bit of nude modelling in men's magazines and made revealing appearances in one or two sex comedy films. As for Kate Nelligan in the title role, all you got was a quick shot of barely-lit buttocks and a lot of breast - shielding in the bedroom scenes.
After the scene with Hendry halfway through the middle episode, there was nothing and it was easier to concentrate on the story. Therese is an unhappy young woman who has married Camille, her sickly and self-absorbed cousin who helps his doting mother run a backstreet shop. The highlight of her social life is a weekly game of dominoes in the parlour with their friends, mainly boring old men. Things brighten up when Camille's colleague Laurent joins the circle and starts taking time off work to bonk Therese in the afternoons. When his boss stops this Therese proposes they murder Camille which they do but neither are prepared for the psychological consequences.
Though subject to budget constraints this is marvellously staged with the dark poky sets mirroring emphasising Therese's feelings of being cooped up. The appearances of the dead Camille are absolutely terrifying and a tribute to the make-up artist Jean Speak.
The cast too is brilliant. Besides Nelligan , it had Brian Cox as Laurent, Kenneth Cranham as Camille and a young Alan Rickman as Laurent's arrogant artist friend. Pride of place though must go to Mona Washbourne as the mother-in-law. She discovers the truth after suffering a paralytic stroke and so can only act with her eyes in the final scenes but is absolutely riveting.
* In my defence I was watching that episode bereft of my glasses which had been lost when I was knocked to the ground after attending a gig by the school punk band the previous Friday.
Monday, 20 June 2016
First viewed : February /March 1980
Points of View was returning to the schedules after almost a decade's absence having run from 1961 to 1971 as a five minute space filler where some luminary read a selection of extracts from viewers' letters. Even in the less cynical sixties there had been some suspicion that the Beeb had written the letters themselves. That's not likely to have been true but some gatekeeping must have taken place, not aggravating tetchy star talent - I don't remember much criticism of Esther Rantzen making it through - or highlighting attacks on programmes they wanted to axe anyway.
The programme was first revived as a regional feature on BBC London then went national as a ten minute filler before the Nine o Clock News on Fridays from the end of February 1980. The host came with it.
Barry Took had an impressive c.v. as a comic scriptwriter, working extensively with Marty Feldman on shows like Round The Horne and The Army Game, but going in front of the cameras did him no favours. Leaning back in his chair with middle-aged spread to the fore, he came across as dull and dessicated as fellow old bores Frank Muir and Dennis Nordern with his sarky put-downs and mock shock at criticism. While Took was just about respectful to most of the correspondents, the over-theatrical reading of the gobbets suggested that the producers regarded even the little old ladies who had nothing better to do than write in about how much they enjoyed Hinge and Bracket with the utmost contempt.
In 1986 BBC One Controller Michael Grade publicly denounced him as "boring " and axed him from the programme. Barbaric as that was, it was difficult to find much sympathy for Took who retreated to radio. His replacement was acerbic Daily Mirror journalist Anne Robinson who'd made an impression as a panelist on Question Time. Although prone to irritating digressions like responding to an inane query about her ear-rings ( not great when you've only got a ten minute slot ) she was an improvement, at least giving the impression of being independent rather than a smug lackey.
She left in 1997 to concentrate on her other show Watchdog . After brief stints from Carol Vorderman and Des Lynam it went to Terry Wogan for eight years and now Jeremy Vine although I must admit I hadn't realised it was still going. I think I may have caught the odd Wogan episode but otherwise I think I lost interest in it during the Robinson years.
Sunday, 19 June 2016
First viewed : February / March 1980
The "only comedy duo with two straight men" line has been used so often it's become a cliche to avoid. I'm not sure of its provenance but I can't think of anyone to whom it could be more fairly applied than this pairing. Even Cannon and Ball on the other channel were more entertaining.
They were actually on their third and final season here, after a brief three show run on Saturdays in the summer of 1978 then a longer stint on BBC2 on a Monday in 1979. Quite how they managed that, I don't know having been fortunate enough to miss them before they got the post-Top of the Pops slot at the end of February 1980.
It would be easy to assume, given that he had the longer career that Lennie Bennett was the "funny one" but that wasn't the case. They were both equally bad , their banter stilted and embarrassing. When you find yourself longing for guest stars of the calibre of The Barron Knights to provide some light relief you know it's desperate. In fact the Knights dropped to the same depths with a barber shop quartet routine whose only concession to humour was the last line "We will always be around to come and take the piss". Well thankfully not. A regular turn on that season was professional Yorkshireman Albert Pontefract who was a sort of proto-Al Murray but not very funny either.
It has to be said that the material was terrible too. Of the five credited writers on that season only Lennie Bennett himself has an entry on wikipedia. It's as if the whole show were a receptacle for the cheapest "talent" available. I remember one episode used Jerry Stevens' supposed Italian background as an excuse to trot out all the old jokes about Italian war heroes.
I say "supposed" because there's precious little official information about Jerry anywhere. His last appearance on TV was a walk-on role in In Sickness and in Health in 1987. A trawl through some chat sites reveals that his real surname is Pinder ( hmm, not very Italian sounding ) he's divorced and worked for the Variety Club organising golf days for many years. One interesting comment said he and Lennie "hardly knew each other at all. They were thrown together by LWT as a comedy duo " which would make sense, given how poor they were in tandem. Bennett of course found work as a host of lower grade gameshows for the next decade but he too was off screen by the mid-nineties. He died following a fall at his home in 2009.
Saturday, 18 June 2016
First viewed : February 1980
Ah yes the critics' favourites - I jest of course; Clive James early on described their show as "like watching two men share one parachute " and they were consistently reviled throughout their television career.
The duo of Syd Little ( Cyril Mead ) and Eddie Large ( Edward McGinnis ) worked their way slowly up the ladder after starting out as pub singers in the early sixties. Gradually shifting their act towards comedy they got their big break on Opportunity Knocks in the seventies and then became regular variety show guests and had a stint presenting Crackerjack. Their first TV series was for Thames in 1977 but they switched to the BBC in 1978. Timing is everything and someone at the BBC, rocked by the defection of Eric and Ernie , saw them as potential replacements.
Hence their appearance in the Saturday night schedules from February 1980 onwards although generally in an earlier time slot than Morecambe and Wise. I don't think they were quite as bad as they're usually made out to be; there were worse comedy duos and we'll come to one shortly. Syd , perhaps genuinely , still wanted to be a singer and was an endearingly useless straight man while Eddie went through his repertoire of not quite up to the minute impressions. Even James conceded in the same article that he was "a gifted impersonator ". They were crap yes but that was part of the appeal.
The show featured star guests and the duo always looked genuinely pleased to receive them. For the first two series they had a regular dance troupe of eight girls known as Foxy Feeling who pushed the boat out even further than Hot Gossip for a pre-watershed show. I remember them doing a slow routine to Captain and Tenille's Do That To Me One More Time in skimpy bikinis and there was another - I think the song might have been The Gibson Brothers' Cuba - where they frolicked around with a giant banana. Producer Michael Hurll dropped them in 1981 at the same time that Legs & Co were ditched on Top of the Pops.
I don't think I watched it much after that first season but it survived for a decade in that slot before moving to Friday nights for a final season in 1991. The duo were rarely on TV after that and you get the impression the Beeb would prefer you to forget they ever broadcast the show.
Little and Large had to split up in 2003 when Eddie had a heart transplant and could no longer gig regularly . He maintains a light schedule of cameos in comedy dramas and after dinner speaking near to his home in Bristol . Syd appeared on Trust Me I'm A Holiday Rep in 2005 where he came across as a thoroughly nice guy. He's also worked on cruise ships , been active in Christians in Entertainment and since 2012 has run a restaurant in Fleetwood.
Friday, 17 June 2016
Thursday, 16 June 2016
First viewed : February 1980
Play Your Cards Right was given a big build-up as the return of Bruce Forsyth after a period spent licking his wounds after the disaster that was Brucie's Big Night.
The show was based on the American show Card Sharks and basically required contestants to guess whether the next giant playing card was going to be higher or lower than the one before. That was it really, no skill or knowledge required , just guesswork and a lot of luck. That's what all the hype about Brucie's big move had come down to , host of the crappiest game show on TV.
Of course he had the catchphrases , the slightly sadistic banter with the contestants and the young dolly birds turning over the cards but that could never compensate for the game at the heart of the show being utter shit. The ratings were good but , you know , sometimes the viewing public's just plain stupid.
Brucie was stuck in this purgatory for seven years until he found an escape route in America hosting Bruce Forsyth's Hot Streak. He returned to the UK to host You Bet for a couple of years then returned to the BBC for three years re-installed as host of The Generation Game . ITV lured him back in 1994 for a relaunch of Play Your Cards Right which lasted for the rest of the decade. Bruce had a new toupee for this which makes dating stills and clips a bit easier.
The show was revived again in 2002 but now the show, the host and most importantly the audience were tired and it was axed after 12 episodes.
Wednesday, 15 June 2016
First viewed : 28 January 1980
This was launched with a two hour pilot episode "Nightmare at Pendragon's Castle" featuring Robert Vaughan as a powerful and sadistic millionaire with his own Excalibur sword that only he could pull out of a boulder in the grounds of his mansion. He has some people over for dinner and what do you know ? He ends up getting murdered. Instead of calling for Colombo it falls to defence lawyer Eddie Capra played by Freddie Mercury lookalike Vincent Baggetta to solve the mystery and get his client off. When he does, he gets his own series. Vaughan's Excalibur turned out to be an electronic device which recognised his fingerprints.
Although I often get this one mixed up with Petrocelli because the titular protagonists were both attorneys and it went out in the same Friday night time slot , this was really a re-badging of Ellery Queen. It used the same device of challenging the audience to identify the real murderer before Eddie's revelatory speech and actually adapted some of the scripts intended for the cancelled series.
The main thing I recall ( with a shudder ) was that his girlfriend Lacey ( Wendy Phillips ) was a single mum with a ghastly, precocious daughter Jennie ( Seven Anne McDonald, daughter of Country Joe McDonald of Fixing To Die Rag fame ) who set my teeth on edge. I like to think the show's cancellation after just one series was down to the audience's rejection of her.
Baggetta will pop up again before long in a similar role while McDonald has had a successful career as a writer and rock manager.
Monday, 13 June 2016
First viewed : January 1980
On into the big brash eighties !
I didn't watch the first episode of this new game show as The BBC Shakespeare was doing Twelfth Night which we'd studied in English the previous term , starting at the same time but I may well have caught the second one.
Family Fortunes was based on an American game show Family Feud and allowed Bob Monkhouse to move on from the now rather stale Celebrity Squares. Combining elements of the Generation Game and Blankety Blank , it featured two teams of five from the same family battling for cash through guessing the public's most popular answers to categories put to them in a previous survey. The show's supposed computer "Mr Babbage" would give them a ping if they got one right and an electronic uh-huh if their answer didn't figure. Three questions wrong and the other family got a chance to steal the round.
Monkhouse hosted the first four series and it wasn't long before they had celebrity editions. I remember a DJs edition featuring Tony Blackburn. I had presumed from his radio persona that he was a complete airhead and was genuinely surprised when he turned out to be a bright bloke.
Monkhouse went to the BBC in 1983 and the always-challenging task of following in his footsteps fell to the much kinder Max Bygraves. His two-year stint was not regarded as particularly successful but will always be remembered for the episode where a Bob Johnson seemingly had a mental breakdown and answered "turkey" to the first three questions in the Big Money Round including the opener "Name something you take to the beach". Max did well to hold it together but the best bit was the cutaway to Bob's family where his son's brother-in-law - who'd set him up well - seemed to be saying something extremely unfraternal about him.
Max's stint was while I was away at University then it was rested for a year before Les Dennis took it on. By that time I'd lost interest and rarely saw it. Dennis had a long 15 year stint which finally ended in 2002 , around the same time as his marriage to Amanda Holden. Dennis was unhappy with the proposed move to an afternoon slot and his judgement proved correct as the next series with Andy Collins only lasted a year.
The show was revived with Veron Kay as All Star Family Fortunes in 2006 and though on hiatus at the moment is set to return in 2017. By a fantastic coincidence the only one I ever tuned in to , randomly in 2009 , featured somebody I knew from work, former Barnet goalkeeper Steve Berryman who is related by marriage to TV host Paddy McGuinness and gave a good account of himself. I saw him the day after the broadcast and the first question I asked was "Are they real ? " referring to the mammary glands of McGuinness's girlfriend ( now his wife ) Christine. He said he'd never dared ask but found them impressive nonetheless.
Sunday, 12 June 2016
First viewed : Autumn 1978
Scrutinising the first week of 1980 in TV Times jogged my memory regarding this one but, as it clashed with Top of the Pops, it must have been the first series I saw which went out on Mondays ( I'm presuming straight after Coronation St ) in the late autumn of 1978.
Bernie was of course Bernie Winters ( originally Weinstein ) , who'd just ended a decades long partnership with elder brother Mike who disapproved of his brother's affair with a much younger woman. As the comic half of the partnership , Bernie was the better equipped for a solo career and to add insult to injury , replaced his brother as straight man with a dopey-looking St Bernard dog named Shnorbitz.. His own chubby, gormless appearance was an asset.
I recall enjoying the show and tuning in regularly but not much of its content and there's nothing on YouTube to jog my memory.
Bernie was almost 50 by the time the second series ended and the tide was going out for his style of comedy. The show wasn't recommissioned but he remained on TV as host of Whose Baby ? and a regular panellist on things like Blankety Blank and Punchlines. He died of cancer in 1991, leaving Shnorbitz to his friend Richard De Vere , although the average lifespan of a St Bernard strongly suggests it wasn't the same one from the TV series.
Saturday, 11 June 2016
First viewed : Uncertain
This period drama about the Austrian composer family was first broadcast on ITV in 1972. I'm absolutely certain I didn't see it first time round as I would have had no conception of the Austro-Hungarian Empire or familiarity with The Blue Danube as reference points at that time. I think instead I saw a repeat of the series on Sunday afternoons sometime in the late seventies although I can't be more precise than that.
Mum would be watching it for Stuart Wilson as Johann Strauss the Younger but my sympathies went towards youngest son Eddy. The first Johann had a very colourful private life, having more bastards than legitimate children, and didn't want any of his sons to follow in his footsteps so the potential for a spicy family drama was obvious. Though I can't find any common personnel, the series had a very Upstairs Downstairs feel to it from the opening titles onwards .
First viewed : Uncertain
We're almost done with the seventies but first I need to include a couple of programmes which I can't date with any precision.
The Night The Animals Talked was a Christmas perennial on ITV in the seventies. It was based on a Norwegian Christmas legend although Animal Farm was another influence. The half hour animation sees the stable animals of Bethlehem suddenly acquiring the gift of speech on the night of December 25th . At first they use it to argue about status and hierarchy but learn humility through witnessing the birth of Jesus in their stable, their new gift slipping away shortly afterwards. It was absolutely charming and became a regular feature of our Christmas viewing for a few years though as I said I can't put a start or end date to that.
Thursday, 9 June 2016
First viewed : 28 December 1979
I must admit I wasn't completely into Kate's music at the time this was first shown - it would take the divine trinity of singles from Never For Ever to open the door - and only caught the tail end of it waiting for a highlights show from the first series of Not The Nine O Clock News .
This Christmas special featured Kate performing songs from her first two albums plus other yet-to-be-released songs, some of which appeared on her third album Never For Ever nine months later. She also had Peter Gabriel as a special guest performing a solo piano version of Here Comes The Flood and a duet with Kate on Roy Harper's Another Day which I don't think has been released in any other format.
Kate performs three of the tracks live at the piano but on the ones where she's dancing she's clearly lip-synching as she's not miked up. She largely avoids the hits apart from Man With The Child In His Eyes , picking songs for which she'd developed interesting new routines. Given her decision not to tour for the next 35 years, this is the only place to see Kate perform some of these songs.
Oh and she looks pretty fetching too !
Tuesday, 7 June 2016
First viewed : 25 November 1979
This was a massive dramatisation of the Suez crisis which took up most of a Sunday evening , 3 hours and 10 minutes in total. I watched a portion of it, surreptitiously sniffing at the collar of my shirt for a last lingering trace of the greasepaint from the night before.
The play was written by Ian Prince Regent Curteis and sought to present the events of 1956 in a light sympathetic to the Prime Minister Anthony Eden whose career they brought to a premature end. Curteis did not seek to produce a definitive account of the crisis that ended Britain's pretensions of being a world power and thought the finished product was more of a docudrama than he intended.
I only had a very vague idea of what happened and didn't watch enough of the play to get the full picture but did pick up some useful information such as the fact that Israel was somehow involved in the conflict and that it distracted the world from the contemporary events in Hungary where the Soviet Union was violently suppressing the revolution against the policies it had imposed.
It's quite easy to see how this led Curteis to his infamous Falklands Play a few years later.
Monday, 6 June 2016
First viewed : 20 November 1979
I'm not sure I want to admit to this but yes there was a time when I was taken in by all that Da Vinci Code rubbish and here's where it begins.
This is one of those instances where I can recall the exact circumstances in which I watched the programme. It was a Tuesday and we had the decorators in at home so for a second night I was staying at my gran's 10 minutes ' walk away. It was also a very foggy day and either the bus company or our headmaster determined that the bus taking pupils back to Littleborough would leave early at 3pm. However I had a dress rehearsal that evening for the play I was going to be in at the end of the week ( David Shellan's Perfection City ; I played Jackson and Anthony Mooney who's now a reasonably successful TV actor played Deadbeat ) so I stayed put.
I was resigned to missing the final episode of Not The Nine O Clock News that night but there was a bit of hope when Sean Kearney ( a regular truant whose casting was a calculated risk ) didn't show up. However Perfection City is only really a playlet and so was double-billed with the very different Burglars ( David Rudkin ) . Therefore the rehearsal for that went ahead first and I got made up in the hope that Kearney would still show. He didn't but it was still touch and go whether I would get back in time as returning to Littleborough out of school hours required two buses . However by happy chance the drama teacher Mike Fitzpatrick lived in Littleborough himself and gave me a lift and so I got back with half an hour to spare.
I immediately turned the TV to the right channel in preparation and caught the second half of that week's Chronicle , BBC Two's flagship history and archaeology series that had been running since 1966. That episode The Priest , The Painter And The Devil was the second in a series of three documentaries presented by Henry Lincoln which developed from a local mystery he discovered while on holiday in the south of France. What the programme didn't tell you was that Lincoln was not a professional historian but a former scriptwriter for Dr Who. His investigations were inspired by a book he read about a lowly parish priest Sauniere in the French village of Rennes-le-Chateau who in the late nineteenth century became inexplicably wealthy after discovering some mysterious coded parchments during church renovations. Lincoln ran with the story and in this documentary postulated that Sauniere's discovery was linked to the thirteenth century Cathar heresy which held that the world was created by the Devil and that he became a secret adherent. It was Lincoln's "discovery" of occult symbolism in Sauniere's church and a Poussin painting linked to the mystery by one of the parchments that really grabbed me, an enthralling subject for a straight history series.
But there was more. It turned out at the end of the programme that it was actually a repeat dating back to 1974 and Lincoln was going to present his subsequent discoveries in a new documentary the following week ! I made sure I watched Shadow Of The Templars. In the intervening years Lincoln had been mysteriously directed to documents supporting the existence through the centuries, of a secret society the Priory of Sion. Lincoln seems to have been utterly bereft of the professional scepticism a real historian would have brought to all this and his researches were now aided by US novelist Richard Leigh and New Zealander photo-journalist Michael Baigent. The latest documentary was somewhat confusing mixing undisputed history where the Templars were concerned with Lincoln's own mystifying geometrical speculations and provided no real answers.
Three years later it was all tied together in the book Lincoln wrote with Leigh and Baigent The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail . Baigent who seems to have had an anti-Catholic agenda had come up with his own hypothesis that the Priory of Sion existed to protect the knowledge that Christ had married Mary Magdalene and their descendants were the Merovingian kings of France whose line still existed today. Both the Vatican and the academic world condemned it as rubbish.
I had a dilemma. I wanted to read the conclusion of the story but didn't want to defy the Vatican ban so I started reading it a couple of pages at a time whenever I passed through Leeds railway station. Of course I was nowhere near finishing it when it disappeared from the shelf and in any case one of my tutors at Leeds , the acerbic Dr Loud , peremptorily dismissed it as "Crap !" which sowed the first seeds of doubt in my mind.
After I graduated in 1986 I returned to Littleborough and found it in the library there which provided another, better solution to buying it. However I jumped towards the end and found a passage where they say how can you trust the Bible when Matthew talks about shepherds visiting the nativity and Luke about three kings ? At that point I realised it was illogical, ill-researched rubbish and never opened the book again.
Even before the book was published, a French writer Jean-Luc Chaumeil had contacted the writers to warn them that his investigations ( inspired by Lincoln's documentaries ) had uncovered that the whole Priory of Sion thing was an elaborate hoax by a trio of Frenchmen led by a convicted fraudster named Pierre Plantard . Plantard had actually been interviewed by Lincoln in Shadow of the Templars because he had inserted his name at the bottom of a Merovingian family tree copied from a magazine and then deposited with France's National Archive service. On publication of the book Plantard was quick to deny that he'd ever said the Merovingians were descendants of Christ which was true but he wasn't a Merovingian either. Another of the trio Gerard de Sede was the author of the book on Sauniere which set Lincoln off on his quest but that was all lies too. Sauniere had made a lot of money but it was from collecting donations for more masses than he could physically say, a nasty fraud but of no historical significance.
Chronicle ended in 1991 but the broadly similar Timewatch in 1996 devoted a programme to purging the BBC's embarrassment by debunking the whole myth and allowing Chaumeil to forensically annihilate every document upon which Lincoln and co had relied. Lincoln was devastated and protested that his geometrical "findings" were still valid ( a clearly bemused Plantard had said "I can't answer that " when Lincoln brought them up in his interview ) .
None of the three authors has ever fully admitted to being taken for a ride with Baigent in particular still insisting it's all still plausible. It all flared up again in 2003 with Dan Brown 's airport trash bestseller The Da Vinci Code which made liberal use of the ideas in The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail . In 2006 Leigh and Baigent ( notably not Lincoln ) sued him although, as The Guardian pointed out at the time , Brown's publishers and theirs were owned by the same parent company, suggesting it might be a cost-effective way of advertising the forthcoming film rather than a genuine suit. Brown won it anyway and Leigh died shortly afterwards. It's unclear to what extent Brown himself believes in the Holy Grail hypothesis.
This all prompted another debunking documentary from Tony Robinson on Channel 5 which essentially made the same case as the Timewatch film a decade earlier.
Sunday, 5 June 2016
First viewed : November or December 1979
This series isn't much celebrated these days but it ran for five years.
Kelly Monteith was a reasonably successful American stand-up comedian who'd presented a short-lived variety show in 1976. In the late seventies he came to Britain and became a popular chat and variety show guest particularly on Des O' Connor Tonight . The Beeb sought to capitalise on this by offering him his own show with a British supporting cast.
First broadcast on BBC2 in November 1979 the show was a strange hybrid of Saturday Night Live and Robin's Nest . Kelly played a version of himself , a slightly manic TV comedian who lived with a British girlfriend Jill ( Gabrielle Drake ) . He'd start the show by breaking the fourth wall and addressing the audience directly with a lengthy monologue and then drop himself into a more conventional sitcom situation.
I saw a small snatch of the first season on BBC 2 where Kelly had a mishap in the shower and was hopping around the flat starkers ( not the last time he was nude in the series ) . I thought that was pretty funny so when the series was repeated on Sunday nights on BBC1 in the spring of 1980 I made a point of watching it.
Not that much of it has stayed with me to be honest. The episode I remember best is one where Kelly and Jill have a great dinner party at their flat with an older couple and accept a return invite that wasn't really meant. Accordingly they turn up at their hosts when they're about to go to bed and muddle through a joyless evening, Kelly desperately cracking lines which just die in an acute case of social embarrassment.
I must have watched at least some of the second season because I remember the appearance of animal impersonator Percy Edwards as a fellow guest on a chat show featuring Kelly. I don't recall watching any of it after Drake was dropped allowing Kelly to start dating again. This was probably partly down to BBC 1 putting the repeats on in a progressively later timeslot perhaps through nervousness at the increasingly risque content.
Kelly doesn't seem to have done very much since the series ended in 1984- the odd chat show appearance, a few obscure films - which is a bit of a shame.
Saturday, 4 June 2016
First viewed : 15 September 1979
This was an influential show but has largely been forgotten , so much so that yours truly created the wikipedia page for it back in 2010 ( it's still there but messed around a bit ).
Something Else was the start of "yoof TV". In typically BBC language it was an "access programme" produced by the Community Programme Unit. The brief was to have the programme devised and presented by unknown under-20s from around the country focusing on issues important to them, interspersed with musical performances. After a pilot show in March 1978 went reasonably well five more were commissioned for the autumn of 1979 broadcast monthly on a Saturday evening.
I remember glancing at the first one of these from Manchester which had The Jam performing what would become their breakthrough top 10 hit The Eton Rifles and then drifting away. So first time around , I actually missed the series' crowning glory, the one thing that ensures it will never be completely obscure , the only nationally broadcast TV appearance by Joy Division performing "She's Lost Control " and "Transmission " . The sound is a bit tinny as you'd expect but they're very tight and at the centre of it you've got Ian Curtis and his, um, unique, contribution to the terpsichorean art. There would actually be more of his manic ducking and weaving had not the film editor decided it was more interesting to see a statuesque Bernard Sumner concentrating intensely on his fretwork during many of the instrumental passages. There's still enough there to show what a uniquely mesmerising performer he was and of course it's desperately sad to watch in retrospect.
After a further one off show from Skelmersdale in May 1980 heralding another monthly season which never materialised, the series returned as a weekly programme on Mondays in the autumn of 1980.
A third season began in September 1981 but it had switched to Fridays. There was a gradual shift towards more issue-based programmes rather than basing the show in a particular locality. At the end of that season there was a highlights programme featuring just the musical performances. In the fifth and final season, in the autumn of 1982 these were mostly dropped as Riverside, The Tube and Oxford Road Show ( all shows which owed a debt to Something Else in their format and presentation ) were adequately catering for the live music audience. There was a fair amount of music though on the show broadcast on 1st October which was given over to a bunch of Brighton arts students led by semi-famous performance artist Ian Smith who made sure their queasy art rock as Birds With Ears got a generous slice of the programme. Unless I'm mistaken, Smith is the only person who was able to use the series as a launching pad to greater things although Boy George and Martin Degville featured in an earnest discussion about style wars early in the first season.
That final season concluded with four , more formal debates over a week in October 1982 on family, equality, politics and war then a highlights programme covering the four years of the series. Then it was over and started slipping away into the mist.