Sunday, 30 October 2016
First viewed : 20 November 1981
We're back to Yoof TV here.
At least initially, The Oxford Road Show had a more or less identical premise to Something Else , the first regular episode of which was based in Manchester. It looked like BBC North West didn't want to wait for their annual turn at hosting the programme and came up with their own version instead.
The first series was broadcast at the beginning of 1981 and completely passed me by. It was presented by unfamiliar names like Rob Rohrer and Jackie Spreckley and doesn't seem to have featured much music apart from turns by Graham "Jilted John" Fellows. When it came back in the autumn, tellingly in the same Friday evening BBC2 slot as the just-ended Something Else , it featured chart bands and Rohrer had moved behind the cameras as a co-producer and Spreckley's co-presenter was journalist Robert Elms.
I must admit I can't picture Spreckley at all but Elms was one of the reasons I now tuned in. He was a familiar name from the music papers I was reading as a champion of the New Romantic scene and cheerleader for Spandau Ballet. I was interested to see what he looked like and was quite surprised that he was a chirpy Cockney enthusiast rather than the austere intellectual I'd pictured.
The show never quite became appointment TV for me . It depended what bands were going to be on whether I was prepared to sit through the endless discussions about unemployment ( Not The Nine O Clock News ' Hey Wow sketch was , as usual, on the money ). Early musical guests included Japan, Spandau Ballet ( I wonder how they got on the programme ) and XTC and Ben Elton had a semi-regular slot.
When it returned in the autumn of 1982 Peter Powell was now presenter and the vox pop debates had been junked. It was now an arts magazine with a slot for a new band alongside the big name act and a regular arts slot for Dick Witts , lead singer of third division indie act The Passage. His sneering delivery never failed to get my back up.
A lot of the bands were actually lip-synching on the programme. I remember John Peel on Did You See deriding his R1 colleague Powell for saying "Play a good set lads " before Duran Duran started miming to Is There Something I Should Know ?
For its fourth season the show had had another overhaul. It was now re-branded as ORS 84 and a year later, ORS 85. Apart from introducing two special concert editions featuring those twin totems of mid-eighties mediocrity, Howard Jones and Nik Kershaw , Powell wasn't involved in the latter series and Witts had gone too . Instead they used guest presenters such as Carl and Suggs from Madness and Tom Robinson to work alongside tiresomely childish local DJ Timmy Mallett. His involvement symbolised the programme's final break away from any interest in "alternative" culture as it went for a younger audience . Indeed it was difficult to see much difference between it and things like Saturday Superstore.
I didn't see much of those final two series as I was at University by then and usually still on the train back home when they were broadcast. I did however catch surely the best bit in 1985 when Morrissey was let loose to roam around his home patch of Stretford and stopped in front of his " quite sadistic " old school to deliver a diatribe about it. I could just imagine the producers gathered on the following Monday morning , waiting to see if there was a writ in the post.
The programme ended in the spring of 1985. It might have been interesting to see how they covered the beginnings of "Madchester" but it wasn't to be.
Saturday, 29 October 2016
First viewed : 13 November 1981
This sequel to Secret Army was OK but not as good as it could have been.
The end of Secret Army in 1979 had left a bad taste in the mouth because of a seeming burning injustice. Having contrived the execution of decent Luftwaffe counterpart Reinhardt the series ' chilling chief villain SS man Kessler ( Clifford Rose ) then got away with his Belgian girlfriend and a false identity. But all was not as it seems. A further episode set in the late 60s in which Kessler's past would come to light was filmed but the Beeb didn't like it and canned it.
Kessler is basically a six part expanded version of that rejected episode. The theme tune is a re-arrangement of the Secret Army theme. Its problems began when the Beeb threw out creator Gerald Glaister's original late sixties setting on the grounds that the period detail would make it too costly. GlaisteSecr objected that a present day setting would make the likes of Albert, and Kessler himself, geriatrics but the suits said no one would care which didn't bode well for the series.
It also got off to a bad start by including too much material from the aborted Secret Army episode. Kessler's plot required no more than one of the Lifeline survivors to appear in one scene identifying a German industrialist Manfred Dorff as their former foe. Instead Bernard Hepton, Angela Richards and Juliet Hammond-Hill were all brought back to reprise their roles ( none of them looking nearly old enough ) and their soap-y reunion scenes do absolutely nothing to advance the story and merely impede its flow. None of them appeared in subsequent episodes.
The story begins with a Belgian TV reporter Van Eyck ( Jerome Willis ) fingering Dorff as Kessler which brings a number of interested parties into play. German Intelligence are interested in the form of Bauer ( Alan Dobie ) as , for no very clear reason , British Intelligence. Kessler is also holding the keys to a Nazi treasure chest on behalf of a network of ageing Nazis who are concerned about his exposure while his fanatical blonde daughter Ingrid ( Alison Glennie ) wants him to divert the money to her organisation of young Nazi's including her boyfriend Franz ( Nicholas Young again ) who acts as Kessler's minder.
What saves the series though is that his exposure also attracts a young Jewish girl with military training, Mical Rak , who wants revenge on Kessler for sending her family to Dachau and then the murder of her travelling companion ( though Kessler actually disapproved of the latter, one of many loose threads in the narrative ). Played by the stunningly attractive Nitza Shaul, Mical is a marvellously plucky heroine who gets knocked about a bit but comes back for more and forms an effective partnership with the dry, unexcitable Bauer to chase Kessler across the globe.
The series aired in a pre-watershed 8pm slot on Friday nights and pushed the limits of what was acceptable in early evening television. The female characters are usually scantily clad and there are regular outbursts of violence . In the first episode Franz feels Mical's boobs during a frisk then receives a boot in the goolies for his trouble and then the episode ends with Mical discovering her friend's naked body with a swastika carved in her back.
As mentioned above the writing seems a bit slapdash and rushed. In their final encounter Kessler demands an explanation from Mical seemingly forgetting that he already had that under torture in Episode 2 . She also says that her friend was not involved in her mission whereas there was a conversation between them in the first episode where Mical referred to staking out the Dorffs' house. There are also many scenes where the characters are clearly being used simply as mouthpieces to re-hash the arguments about whether or when to call a halt to the pursuit of Nazi war criminals. This is fair enough , if well-worn territory, but when Kessler then presents the surviving Nazis as a vast criminal network in the present day that can efficiently murder people with impunity, the question becomes redundant.
Kessler works better as a drama about inter-generational conflict. The intelligence operatives are all smug, venal, middle-aged men who need the rocket up the arse that Mical represents. She has her Odile in Ingrid who is equally frustrated that the secret funds are being used to keep old men like Mengele ( Oscar Quitak ) and Bormann ( an arm in a doorway )* in relative comfort rather than prepare for a Nazi re-launch. The writers missed a real trick in not having the two girls meet ( well not in circumstances where they could have a conversation at any rate ).
I remember watching the final episode on December 18 1981 very clearly. It had been moved to 9.25 pm although, as it was no more violent than some of the previous episodes, I suspect that was more about the Beeb wanting to get it out of a prime time slot asap than worries over its content . The move actually suited me to the ground ; in its new slot it provided the perfect cover for bringing an awkward situation to a close. If you've read the Tenko post, you might recall that my departing friend Michael had said he would attend the Littleborough Rambling Club Christmas Party which was at our house on that date. We'd had no contact in the intervening six weeks but he still turned up. It was a tense affair; I didn't know if he wanted to be friends again or not so I was walking on eggshells and it became the elephant in the room for everyone. He stayed fairly taciturn throughout but he'd been like that at the past couple of committee meetings . The last episode of Kessler provided the perfect excuse to wrap the party up.
So we all watched it together. I remember our new chairman, Sean expressing tactless amazement that we still had a black and white TV. I also remember my sister Helen remarking that, as usual, Mical wasn't wearing a bra ( she was wearing the top in the picture above ).
Either Sean or his brother Frank asked, intrigued "How can you tell ?"
"Well look ! Where are the straps ?"
"Oh right "
So I guess she can claim credit for a little piece of their sex education.
Kessler has never been repeated so I'm guessing the ratings were disappointing. It marked the effective end of Young's efforts to move on from The Tomorrow People though I think it was his failure to sort his adenoids out that sunk him. How can you convey authority or menace if you sound like George Osborne with a peg on his nose ? The lovely Nitza tarried in England for a while , appearing in Dr Who and C.A.T.S. Eyes before returning to Israel where she remains a fairly prominent actress.
* Unknown to the writers at the time, both men were already dead by 1981.
Thursday, 27 October 2016
First viewed : Autumn 1981
It wasn't a great autumn for the Beeb. While ITV had Brideshead Revisited , BBC 2 unleashed The Borgias on an unsuspecting world. I can't say too much about this notorious TV turkey because I only dipped into it but I clearly remember the derision it provoked.
It was promising material for a drama series; the story of the notorious Renaissance dynasty offered a spicy blend of sex and violence to rival the successful I Claudius of a few years earlier but it didn't work out that way. The main target was Sicilian actor Adolfo Celi who played the incest-loving Pope Rodrigo Borgia ( or Alexander VI ). Celi was previously best known to English-speaking audiences as the chief villain in Thunderball. He was quite fluent in English but his heavy accent made him difficult to follow especially in the quieter scenes and his declarations of "I am ze pop ! " made it a bit of a catchphrase at the time. Celi's difficulties rather over-shadowed a tremendous performance by Oliver Cotton as his murderous son Cesare.
The series was also notorious for some over the top sex scenes. I recall our excitable English teacher Mrs Mortimer mentioning her shock at an orgy later in the series.
Granada must have been laughing all the way to the bank. Apart from the Sunday night repeats at the time , the series has never been re-broadcast. However, an American version with the same title was made in 2011 and ironically the part of Rodrigo went to Jeremy Irons.
Wednesday, 26 October 2016
First watched : 12 November 1981
I wondered if anything was going to fall on this particular date and yes, a trawl through the synopses and a peek on YouTube confirm that my first exposure to this series did indeed occur that evening.
It was a red letter day because an hour or so earlier, at our regular monthly meeting at my gran's house, my friend Michael announced that he was quitting Littleborough Rambling Club . In one sense it wasn't so surprising ; it had been effectively agreed that he would step down as chairman in the new year, making way for Sean, our young treasurer. but it was still a shock that he was calling time early. He was very polite about it, waiting until Any Other Business and saying that he would still be coming to the Christmas party ( which will feature in another post ).
Very unwisely, I asked him "Are you just fed up ?" and received the devastating reply "Not of walking ! " *
The meaning of that was clear enough. I dared not delve any further nor was there any need.
My attention switched to Sean. He lived virtually next door to Michael, seemed to admire him and looked like he had known what was coming.
" I suppose you're going too then ? " I asked him.
Sean looked surprised and said no so we ( the four of us including our Secretary, another Michael ) went through the silly business of electing him as chair. That actually made the situation worse; if Sean had said yes, that would have allowed me to offer throwing over all the formal nonsense and the hopeless trying to attract adults with easy local walks which Michael had never been enthusiastic about and going back to the sort of walks he enjoyed, perhaps on a monthly basis. With Sean wanting his spell in the chair, that option wasn't available. Even worse, it put me entirely at Sean's mercy ; when he got fed up, and I'd no doubt at all that he would , the house of cards would collapse. Everyone knew that and the next six months were almost entirely miserable, waiting for the Sword of Damocles to descend. Looking back, I can appreciate the irony of someone as virulently anti-communist as me taking the classic Bolshevik route to getting one's own way by formalising relationships and then manipulating the structures. Except in the end. it worked against me.
It would be very unfair on a few individuals ( one of whom was best man at my wedding ) to say that the "members" of the Club were my only friends at the time but Michael was the last friend who I could trust to say yes to my ideas more or less unconditionally. I could no longer feed my ego that way; I would have to learn about compromise, "fitting in " and letting others take the lead, a painful process.
So I came home that evening, shocked and full of apprehension for the future , to find my mum engrossed in the fourth episode of Tenko, of which she was already a big fan. Tenko actually sprang from This Is Your Life when a researcher on the programme Lavinia Warner was investigated the experiences of an incarcerated nurse and thought it had dramatic potential. She was proved correct.
The first two episodes were filmed in Singapore before its fall giving an introduction to the privileged lifestyle the British were enjoying there. It's interesting that those first two episodes were written by a man and give equal weight to the male characters. Thereafter , the episodes were filmed on VT on a purpose-built set in Dorset, written by a female duo and were very female -centric. \The series was part-funded by Australia's ABC so there were a couple of Aussies in the cast although I don't think there was any cross over with a certain Australian soap about female captives
The series follows the lives of a group of British and Dutch female prisoners taken by the Japanese around the fall of Singapore. They have to make the best of life amid dreadful conditions and appalling cruelty although this was slightly toned down to keep the series watchable. The camp commander Yamauchi ( Bert Kwouk ) was a relatively humane figure. The central relationship in the series is the platonic friendship between Marion Jefferson ( Anne Bell ) , an army wife who becomes the leader of the British women and is capable although her constant self-analysis becomes a bit grating over time and grumpy, repressed lesbian doctor Bea Mason. ( Stephanie Cole ). The chief Dutch characters were Sister Ulrica , a formidable, single-minded nun and Mrs Van Meyer , vain and selfish but a born survivor. Both characters were played by British actresses ( Patricia Lawrence and Elizabeth Chambers ) who had to keep up the accent for three series.
Although my mum always regarded it as "a woman's series " I'm sure the simulation of a tropical climate meant it had a certain male audience with a thing for women in 1940s underwear even if they weren't wearing make-up. There was occasionally a topless scene. First off the mark in that respect was Cockney trollop Blanche played by Louise Jameson; for anyone who remembered her from Dr Who it was a shocking disappointment. Best to stick with your memories of Leela in the animal skins. Later, in the third season there was a tabloid fuss about one of the Aussies , Kate ( Claire Oberman ) getting them out for a bathtub scene.
That first episode I saw largely focused on the efforts of scarred young widow Dorothy ( Veronica Roberts ) to find enough food for her baby which has dreadful consequences for an Asian villager who trades with the camp. It may have been just the mood I was in after the meeting but I had a dreadful feeling of foreboding for the baby and I'm glad I didn't see the subsequent episode in which it perished. Dorothy goes on to become a compelling character who sleeps with the guards to the disgust of the other women but they do make use of it.
With the popularity of the series soaring , new characters were introduced in the second season as the women were moved to a camp with slightly better conditions. Both Bea and Ann have to contend with already-installed rivals for their positions. Ann's nemesis Verna Johnson ( Rosemary Martin ) thinks nothing of ripping off the other women for her own gain. Sour faced battle-axe Jean Anderson from The Brothers joined the cast as crusty old Joss. The season ends dramatically with the death of high maintenance Rose ( Stephanie Beacham ) who was shot while having an unlikely rendez-vous with her fella outside the camp and perishes slowly and then an Allied air-raid on the camp .
By the third season the series was really popular and commanded a much higher budget. It was a mirror image of the first season with the first two episodes set in the camp as the war ended and the rest filmed in Singapore as the survivors ( missing Verna and Blanche who were tersely mentioned as having died in the intervening years ) struggled to rebuild their lives and deal with a population no longer content to accept British rule after the tame surrender of 1942. I was never a fervent viewer of the series but this season did seem to go on too long.
The series was rounded off with a feature length reunion episode on Boxing Day 1985 set five years later. This had a melodramatic storyline with Ulrica getting shot ( not fatally ) and Christina ( Emily Bolton ) , the mild-mannered mixed race girl exposed as a Communist terrorist and imprisoned.
It was repeated on Yesterday a few years back to the delight of my wife who'd also been a big fan of the series.
* I've no doubt he meant it sincerely but, from subsequent conversations, I don't now think he did much walking after that night.
Tuesday, 25 October 2016
First viewed : Uncertain
Beginning in 1977 , Everyman was another long-running documentary strand, this one concentrating on religious and moral issues. It was always on after the news late on Sunday evenings. I probably caught snatches of earlier episodes but the first one I recall with certainty was ...
Carry Me Away ( 2 November 1981 )
This episode covered an event held in a London hotel earlier in the year when a thousand disciples of Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh ( aka Osho ) gathered together for what one tabloid called a "Ring-a-ring-a-roses Sex Orgy". Osho believed that religion should not be about suffering and in the free expression of sexuality. One of his acolytes on the programme seemed to sum up the approach as do it until you get bored of it. Accordingly the film incorporated much footage of nude people mauling each other which is probably why it's stuck in my mind. When not tediously bonking each other, his disciples would line the roads waiting for the great man to drive past in one of his fleet of Rolls Royces.
I don't think Osho himself was interviewed by the programme; he was in the U.S. setting up a commune in Oregon which provoked virulent opposition from the locals. There are a couple of contemporary documentaries on YouTube , one of which is absolutely hysterical ( in both senses of the word ) , comparing him to Jim Jones and Adolf Hitler. The rednecks eventually got their way when Osho was deported in 1985. He died of heart failure in 1990.
Monday, 24 October 2016
First viewed : Uncertain
Stanley was always the most enigmatic of the big entertainers of the seventies. He was a Christmas fixture who flitted between BBC and ITV but the rubber-faced Scot was hard to define, somewhere between an impressionist ( most famously of the Queen ) and a comic actor. Though still alive at 90, he seems half-forgotten , never celebrated on those boring comedy great docs with Barry Cryer droning on about him.
I include him here because he had a regular Monday night series on ITV in the autumn of 1981 though I'd probably caught one or two of his Christmas specials before that.
The only sketch I can clearly remember is Stan playing a crusty old buffer of the Raj who goes to a fortune teller and is appalled by the prospect of Asian shops on every street corner of England.
Baxter more or less retired from television in the mid-eighties as the bean counters grumbled at the cost of his Christmas specials but made a major comeback on radio in the mid-nineties with a show on Radio Four until as recently as 2014.
Sunday, 23 October 2016
First viewed : 18 October 1981
I grew to like this in time but was very hostile towards it at the beginning.
In one sense Bergerac should never have been made. Its roots lie in the shock decision of Trevor Eve to walk away from Shoestring after just two series. Producer Robert Banks Stewart had to re-write the whole premise , re-cast and move the setting from Bristol to Jersey. Much stayed the same, the episodes were 50 minutes in length and on film rather than VT, there was a regular supporting cast and George Fenton's theme tunes were so similar that, even now , I still get them confused. Also, the central character was returning to work after battling personal demons.
That leads on to the first problem with the series. Whereas Eddie Shoestring had had a nervous breakdown when faced with the encroaching advance of computer technology, an interesting, topical idea, Jim Bergerac was a run of the mill reformed alcoholic getting over a messy divorce, nothing very novel about that. Further to that , Eddie as played by Eve was clearly still quite vulnerable whereas John Nettles's Jim. once back on the job, often came across as a sneering, self-righteous bully and was nowhere near as sympathetic.
Jim's job was a further difficulty. He was not a private eye but a police sergeant working for the fictional Bureau des Estrangers which dealt with crime where non-residents i.e people who didn't have the right to live there, were involved. So whereas Eddie took up cases involving vulnerable people who needed a champion, Jim and his crew often seemed more like gamekeepers or a private security firm, protecting the lives and property of the over-privileged few who had bought their way on to the island. For all the lovely coastal scenery on show, Jersey society came across as narrow-minded and selfish as personified by the main supporting character, Jim's father-in-law Charlie Hungerford ( Terence Alexander ).
Charlie was basically Arthur Daley made good, a rather vulgar businessman with a finger in many pies, some of them still shady , relishing his place at the top table. Though not without some empathy for others , he was your stereotypical self-made Tory. In some way or other Charlie was involved in every case Jim investigated. The other regulars were Jim's boss Crozier ( Sean Arnold, previously the first headmaster in Grange Hill ) who effectively performed the same function as Michael Medwin's character in Shoestring. In the first four seasons you also had Diamante Lil ( Mela White ) but eventually the self-inflicted problem of writing a barmaid into the stories when the main character was teetotal became too much and she was dropped. Semi-regular at first was Jim's dislikable ex-wife Deborah ( Deborah Grant ) ; later , Dr Who girl Louise Jameson , had a five year stint as his girlfriend Susan.
Also in later series, Jim got a couple of young constables , Ben and Willy ( David Kershaw, John Telfer ) to push around.
I watched the first episode and didn't like it ( as you've probably guessed ). It just felt like following caviar with Turkey twizzlers. However my mum liked it. Although this might have been as much to do with a fondly-remembered holiday in the Channel Islands decades earlier as the storylines, it meant that it was always on so it was inevitable that I would eventually come back to it. From looking at the list of episodes on wikipedia - which doesn't give synopses so I'm relying on the guest stars column - it looks like this was the fourth series in 1985.
Things had improved. Bergerac had a large team of writers and they seemed to have been encouraged to take risks with the format so there were episodes with supernatural elements , some quite outlandish plots and one or two very bleak endings. The one that sticks in my mind is where Jim spends the whole episode keeping a pretty young witness safe from hitmen only for her to be bumped off the moment he passes her over at the airport. The last shot is of her staring-eyed corpse hitting the ground. Jim's spoiled brat of an ex-wife featured less often and the annoying Lil was soon dropped altogether.
The stories I recall best were these
- Jim tries to foil the planned assassination of a dodgy foreign general by an SAS man running loose on the island. It turns out he's acting for the Home Secretary ( Bernard Hepton ) who's really a crooked arms dealer. Jim is threatened into silence.
- The one where a nude Jeremy Clyde turns out to be an amnesiac aristocratic murderer whose buddies try to help him escape justice. The episode is clearly based on the Lord Lucan affair.
- One where Nick Stringer plays the villain and ends up dangling by his foot from a crane. This was broadcast barely a year after the death of Michael Lush doing a suspiciously similar stunt for the Late Late Breakfast Show . Had he died just to save the Bergerac team a few bob ?
- The anti-yuppie episode where Jim ludicrously arranges for the pushy bitch who's been giving him a hard time ( Hetty Baynes ) to desert her wealthy husband ( and Jersey ) for a Scouse chancer played by Stephen McGann
- A number of episodes where Jim has a flirty cat and mouse game with a jewel thief played by Liza Goddard
- An old London cop harasses a rich islander ( George Costigan ) who he believes has got away with an insurance scam that invalided a colleague. Jim is pretty much a bystander in this one.
- The one set mainly in France where a couple of students unwittingly interfere with the plans of a nasty explosives dealer played by Kenneth Cranham
- One from the final season with Jim working as a private eye in France guarding an international assassin who has started to question his calling.
Later episodes often took place in England or France ( the setting for the whole of the final season ) as the popularity of the series made filming in Jersey increasingly difficult. That final season in 1991 was a brave attempt at breaking with a tired format and doing something new with the character but it didn't really work and Jim was put to bed in a Christmas special at the end of that year which I'm not entirely sure I watched.
Saturday, 22 October 2016
First viewed : 12th October 1981
There is no doubt that this was the TV event of 1981, a monumental adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's novel that proved that commercial television could match the BBC in quality given the right circumstances and a lasting memorial to the glorious reign of David Plowright at Granada Television.
Plowright commissioned the project as Controller of Programmes in 1979 and kept the ship afloat through numerous production problems and changes in direction. For example though credited as screenwriter John Mortimer's scripts were not actually used as the producers tried to be as faithful to the book as possible over 11 mesmerising episodes. The casting was faultless, the cinematography sumptuous and the music almost a character in its own right.
The story details twenty years in the life of Charles Ryder ( Jeremy Irons ). As an army captain on the cusp of middle age in 1943 Ryder finds that his unit has been billeted on the Brideshead estate and is overwhelmed by memories of his involvement with the aristocratic family, the Marchmains who lived there. From an upper middle class background Charles bumps into the second son Sebastian ( Anthony Andrews ) at Oxford and forms a romantic friendship with him. Sebastian is spoiled but vulnerable, clinging to his childhood teddy bear Aloysius and drinking too heavily. Depressed by his joyless home with his fussy , self-absorbed bibliophile father ( John Gielgud ), Charles is spellbound by the architectural glories of Brideshead and is soon introduced to the rest of Sebastian's family his devout Catholic mother ( Claire Bloom ) , ultra-conservative elder brother Brideshead ( Simon Jones ), and sisters , socialite Julia ( Diana Quick ) and pious wallflower Cordelia ( Phoebe Nicholls ).
Lord Marchmain ( Laurence Olivier who was Plowright's brother-in-law ) flew the nest some years earlier and lives on the Continent with an Italian mistress.
Charles recalls idyllic summer days with Sebastian but clouds begin to gather. The Marchmains know their lifestyle is under threat from "the Socialists " in what Charles calls "the age of Hooper " ( after his coarse, philistine lieutenant ). Sebastian's drinking gets out of hand and Charles eventually has to choose between remaining faithful to him and maintaining his privileged position as a family friend. The result is exile from both as Sebastian follows his father's example and runs away. As in the novel there is then a big jump of some years in Episode 8 where we find Charles , a fairly successful but morose and dissatisfied artist , married to Celia ( Jane Asher ) and sailing back to England with her on a luxury liner . She has been unfaithful to him for which he is grateful as it liberates him to begin an affair with Julia when he finds she is a fellow passenger. They go to live at the Hall until Brideshead informs them his new wife couldn't share a house with an adulterous couple. However they are spared eviction by the return of the dying Lord Marchmain ( his wife having died earlier ). The last episode sees a prolonged struggle between Brideshead and Cordelia and their father who they want to reconcile with God before his death. The outcome moves Julia to renounce her relationship with Charles as a religious sacrifice which he accepts because he too is moving towards Catholicism. At that point the action returns to 1943 and a bittersweet epilogue.
As well as the main characters there's an exceptionally rich supporting cast. Dad's Army's John le Mesurier in one of his last roles plays Father Mowbray who has the thankless task of trying to explain Catholicism to Julia's rich but terminally stupid American fiance Rex.
Mona Washbourne plays Sebastian's beloved Nanny . Theatre director Nikolas Grace made an impact with his rather fruity performance as Sebastian's gay friend Anthony Blanche who dissects Charles's relationship with the Marchmains with brutal honesty.
Irons and Andrews were both 31 when filming started so they don't really look the part in the Oxford scenes but it's hard to imagine anyone else in the roles. Irons of course went on to become an A-list Hollywood star ; it didn't quite happen for Andrews although his performance drew more awards at the time. Gielgud is splendid as the infuriating Ryder Snr and Olivier later regretted that he hadn't taken that part instead. My favourite performance though is Simon Jones who somehow manages to make Brideshead , a cold, repressed prig, rather endearing. Frequent US repeats of the series have allowed him too to have a Hollywood film career , often in wildly incongruous roles ( cf The Devil's Own ) .
The series did come under attack later in the decade from left wing critics for supposedly promoting "Victorian values" in art and helping to create "the heritage industry". I do think that, had he still been alive , Waugh, would have sided with the likes of Gilmour and Pym, looking on aghast at the ascendancy of the decidedly Hooperite Margaret Thatcher and her cronies.
I only dipped into it the first time round, not really getting it. I think you have to be in from the start to understand it. I watched it right through when it was repeated in the summer of 1983. Having spent most of the last couple of years mourning a lost friendship ( which was in its dying throes when the series was first broadcast ) it now struck a powerful chord. The harsh truth Charles Ryder eventually realises with Blanche's help, that the Marchmains meant far more to him than he did to them, continues to resonate with me , reinforced since by my favourite novel The Secret History whose narrator Richard Papen has a similar longing to be with the beautiful people.
Plowright eventually met his own Hooper ( or "ignorant upstart caterer" in John Cleese's words ) in Gerry Robinson and resigned rather than implement the new boss's profits before quality policy in 1992. He was found a role as deputy-director of Channel 4 for five years but there's little evidence to show he had much influence there and did some lecturing at Salford University before his retirement. He died in 2006.
Tuesday, 18 October 2016
First viewed : 26 September 1981
This became one of the great success stories of the early eighties despite having one of the most charmless presenting line-ups ever.
It was the brainchild of Jeremy Beadle who developed it with US producer Michael Hill after the BBC rejected the pilot for a similar show. It was the first practical joke show since the demise of Candid Camera but it was also influenced by Crackerjack and Tiswas in the studio-based sections. Beadle himself , a malevolent gnome-like figure, presented it assisted by the appalling Matthew Kelly ( initially with a broken leg sustained in a parachute jump which sadly didn't finish him off ) , the equally odious Henry Kelly who came across as an Irish used car salesman and most incongruously, the frumpy Sarah Kennedy who seemed more suited to a BBC 2 arts programme than something as stridently lowbrow as this. Perhaps Beadle saw her presence as a trick in itself .
Some of the set-ups were quite funny and for me were the only bits worth watching in a show that ran at a frantic pace so I never loved it.
It ran for four years but as it relied so much on surprise, it had a built in obsolescence factor and all three of Beadle's co-presenters recognised this and got out while the going was good, After one season with a new team featuring the supremely annoying Rustie Lee the show was put to bed in 1985.
Monday, 17 October 2016
First viewed : 27 September 1981
I wouldn't normally be watching a party conference at the tender age of 16 but this one was different. The whole family were in the room to watch one of the most pivotal moments in recent political history.
Ever since Labour's defeat to Margaret Thatcher in 1979 one figure had dominated debate within the party, our friend Anthony Wedgewood Benn. He had led the movement to change the rules under which the party leader was elected in 1980. Jim Callaghan promptly resigned to allow his succcessor - Dennis Healey he hoped - to be elected before the changes came into effect. Having been heavily defeated in the leadership contest of 1976 Benn decided to bide his time and support venerable old leftie Michael Foot instead. Foot won and Healey had to settle for the deputy leadership , a very poor consolation prize. Who now remembers Edward Short, Harold Wilson's deputy from 1972 to 1976 ?
Nevertheless once the new rules were in place in 1981, Benn made the momentous decision to challenge Healey, ignoring an invitation from an incandescent Foot to directly challenge him instead. That set the stage for a furious internecine contest out of all proportion to the paltry prize on offer. Healey had the support of most of the MPs and Benn was the darling of the activists so both men went after the third part of the electoral troika, the unions' block votes, to decide the winner and as many saw it the fate of the party. A third candidate, the obnoxious John Silkin , threw his hat into the ring but was never a serious contender.
With excitement at fever pitch, the NEC decided to start the Party Conference a day early and get the count and announcement of the result out of the way before the Conference proper began. The Newsnight team moved in to cover the declaration live on BBC2 that Sunday evening.
In an atmosphere of unbearable tension the chairman ground his way through the figures to announce the narrowest of wins - less than one percentage point - for Healey. What had made the difference was the decision of a number of Labour MPs on the so-called "soft" Left to abstain , most notably everyone's tip as heir apparent, Neil Kinnock. Far closer to Benn on policy, they had walked to the brink of the abyss with him and then drawn back.
Benn was finished and he knew it immediately. You can see it in that extraordinary grimace as the result was announced. He'd taken a high stakes gamble and lost. His influence in the party didn't vanish overnight but thereafter he was always fighting a rearguard action. He suffered a further blow 18 months later when boundary changes meant he wet down in Labour's rout at the 1983 General Election. Without a seat in Parliament he had little influence in the leadership contest that year which brought his assassin Kinnock to power. He got back in at Chesterfield 6 months later ( I played a very minor part in the Liberals' by-election campaign ) but a front bench role under Kinnock was unthinkable. Instead his championship of Arthur Scargill and the Militant Tendency simply pushed him further to the margins. In 1988, dismayed by Kinnock's rightward drift , he launched a last desperate bid for the leadership against the advice of all his former acolytes and was thoroughly trounced. He remained an impotent backbencher right through to Tony Blair's first term before retiring in 2001 "to spend more time on politics". This witty epigram was actually suggested by his dying wife as cover for his real wish to be with her throughout her last days. After her death, the great bogeyman became a sort of cuddly uncle figure , still doggedly preaching his romanticised version of socialism on lecture tours. It became hard to recall how terrifying he'd seemed back in the day. He died a couple of years ago aged 88.
Sunday, 16 October 2016
First viewed : 24 September 1981
This was a four-part adaptation of Michael Sadleir's novel which had been filmed with James Mason back in 1944. Although often thought of as a Victorian novel, it was actually published in 1940 and looks back to a time when courtly romance and the utmost depravity existed side by side.
Fanny ( Chloe Salaman ) lives comfortably with her mother and stepfather Hopwood ( that man Stephen Yardley again ) who runs a gentleman's club which is a front for prostitution including children. He makes the mistake of evicting the dissolute aristocrat Lord Manderstoke ( Michael Culver ) who avenges the insult by blowing the whistle on the club and ruining the family. Fanny finds work as a maid and companion and meets a genuine gentleman in Harry Somerford ( Peter Woodward ). However her friend Lucy ( Julia Chambers ) brings Manderstoke back into her orbit with tragic consequences. The final word from Fanny, spoken at a funeral is "Nothing".
It was a good-looking series with a splendidly malevolent performance by Culver as the villain. It went out on Thursday evenings after the Nine O Clock News although, for all the seedy backdrop, I can't remember it having any sex scenes as such . It was repeated once , two years later and as far as I know isn't available on DVD.
Chloe Salaman, neice of Alec Guinness, seemed set for a strong career - in the same year she had a good part in Winston Churchill - The Wilderness Years and appeared in the film Dragonslayer - but it didn't work out that way and her appearances have been sporadic since then.
Saturday, 15 October 2016
First viewed : 21 September 1981
This one's come around a bit earlier than I was expecting. I only saw a brief part of the second episode of this epic mini-series first time round . It was repeated in the summer of 1985 and although coming in at more or less the same point I watched it through to the end. That was when I fell in love with Karen Allen.
The series was an adaptation of John Steinbeck's epic novel, re-telling the Cain and Abel story over two generations of the Trask family from the American Civil War to World War One . It was dramatised in three lengthy episodes, its scale allowing it to be much more faithful to the book than the 1955 James Dean film. Production values were high and it was largely well cast. I say largely because unfortunately the leading role of high-minded Adam Trask went to Timothy Bottoms who seems to think looking down your nose with a solemn expression constitutes acting.
Adam is one of the two sons of tyrannical hypocrite Cyrus Trask ( Warren Oates ). He is the favoured one despite being placid and easy-going in contrast to hotheaded workaholic Charles ( Bruce Boxleitner ) . The brothers have a fearsome fight before Adam is dragooned into the Army by his father. Finding the strength to defy the old man, Adam becomes a wanderer before returning to the family farm after Cyrus's death for reconciliation with Charles. Their father's corruption has made them both rich.
After a brief period of harmony, they are finally pulled apart by the appearance of Cathy ( Jane Seymour ) who Adam takes in after being found beaten close to death. We have already seen that she is a liar, whore and murderess whose assailant Edwards ( Howard Duff ) was her whoremaster . Charles can see her for what she is but Adam falls in love with her, gets married and moves to California leaving Charles behind for good.
After failing to abort her pregnancy , Cathy deserts Adam after giving birth to twins Caleb ( Sam Bottoms, a better actor than his brother ) and Aron ( Hart Bochner ) and , through another murder, becomes a brothel madam. Adam is destroyed but his friends kick him into some sort of shape . However he becomes just as guilty of favouring one son over the other as his father and the destructive cycle begins again. Karen Allen plays Abra , Aron's virginal girlfriend.
Seymour won a Golden Globe for her stunning portrayal of the irredeemably evil Cathy making her a hot property in the US. Her performance contributes to the dark tragedy of the story and although we'll be covering some quite terrible US mini-series over the next few years this one is worth catching.
Friday, 14 October 2016
First viewed : Uncertain
I really have no idea when I first caught an episode of this long-running, late night, astronomy series and suspect it may have been earlier than 1981 but with bed time curfews now abandoned this seems as appropriate a time as any to include it.
The Sky at Night was first broadcast as a live show presented by amateur astronomer Patrick Moore who was at the helm for every monthly episode bar one until his death three years ago , a record-breaking stint. I realise the programme has carried on since then but can't really imagine it working without him. Space is a bloody frightening subject emphasising how small and vulnerable the human race is and it needed his lovable, avuncular if cranky presence to make it cosy late night viewing. I never became a regular viewer but tuned in from time to time, half an hour of Moore having the same appeal as a cup of cocoa.
From 2004 it had to be broadcast from Moore's home due to advancing arthritis and became less comfortable to watch as he was propped up and plastered with make-up in a futile attempt to mask his obvious physical decline. Still the mind remained active to the end and he died in harness. I've never seen it with the new team in place but it's telling that, barely a year after Moore's death, it was moved over to BBC Four.
Thursday, 13 October 2016
First viewed : 10 September 1981
This was a ten part documentary series going "backstage" with various creative people. I only watched the first episode because its subject was Pamela Stephenson.
It was clear from the word go that Pamela was preparing for a solo career so the programme increased fears that Not The Nine O Clock News was no more. It also gave clues as to why Pamela ultimately failed to become a top comedienne outside of the team. For one thing she was trying to be too many things at once , dancer, author, actress and singer. For another, she made some lousy choices when looking for collaborators. As you can see from the picture she's throwing shapes with ex-Shock duo Tik and Tok who were only headed for the dumper. For her musical debut she called on Richard Burgess and John Walters from briefly popular jazz-rockers, Landscape, after appearing in the video for their second ( and last ) hit "Norman Bates". The EP she made with them, "Unusual Treatment", died a horrible death when released at the beginning of 1982. The programme included her performing the track "Music Bitch Weekly".
Of course Pamela bounced back in various guises but the programme was an interesting look at someone taking a wrong turn at the height of their fame.
Wednesday, 12 October 2016
First viewed : 10 September 1981
This was a six-part adaptation of John Wyndham's science fiction classic and was partly funded by Australia's ABC although there are no concessions to Oz in the casting.
John Duttine ( again ) starred as Bill Masen , a temporarily blinded man who misses a spectacular meteor shower which has left everyone who did watch it permanently blind. In the chaos a group of genetically engineered mobile and carnivorous plants , the Triffids, have got loose and started preying on the incapacitated humans. Bill finds some other sighted survivors including Maurice Colbourne and Stephen Yardley ( yet again ) who argue about how to rebuild society or whether it is better simply to find an island retreat.
The show was moderately absorbing and the special effects were quite good. The Triffids themselves were a little Dr Who-ish but then again few plants look inherently terrifying so looking like giant sticks of rhubarb was as good an idea as anything else. It also suffered a bit from having a pre-watershed slot ; a reasonable injection of sex and violence would have spiced it up a bit without compromising the story.
The series has been repeated three times on BBC Four over the past decade so the Beeb are still proprietorial over it i.e you can't watch it on You Tube without coughing up.