Thursday, 20 July 2017
First viewed : March 1986
Like, I suspect, many people, my only exposure to this domestic sitcom was the 12 unendurable minutes between the end of Coronation Street on ITV and the start of Dallas on BBC 1 in the spring of 1986 when this was in its third series . That however was more than enough to earn my nomination as worst-ever sitcom.
The series was written by a Jon Watkins and concerned a middle aged couple, the Crabtrees ( William Gaunt from The Champions and Patricia Garwood ) whose four children decline to leave home. The eldest girl moves back in with aggravatingly gormless husband Raymond ( Daniel Hill ) in tow. To make matters infinitely worse they lived next door to the Bottings. Trevor ( Michael Sharvell-Martin ) was something of a soul-mate for Pa Crabtree but wife Vera was something else.
There was nothing wrong with Marcia Warren as the mother in Now and Then a few years earlier but, faced with a fairly unbelievable character in the childless animal lover Vera, she resorted to the most grotesque over-acting I've ever seen on British TV, beating even Christopher Rozycki in Casualty. Playing Vera as a demented perpetual student, she was absolutely unwatchable and her cast mates ( including a young Martin Clunes ) looked a bit embarrassed when she got going.
Clunes actually got out at the end of the third season and I suspect the producers realised they had to do something about Warren. Vera did not appear in the fourth season and when she re-surfaced in the fifth and final season in 1987 she was played by Anne Penfold.
Wednesday, 19 July 2017
First viewed : Winter 1986
This one brings back a few memories. Living back at home that term threw up some challenges. Towards the end of the previous year, I had been elected, at the third attempt , to serve on the Student Union Council which met fortnightly on a Monday. To ensure Councillors took their responsibilities seriously, there was a three strikes you're off attendance policy unless the Council accepted your request / explanation for absence. I was already a strike down for missing a meeting to attend an FA Cup replay where Dale beat Scunthorpe to earn a Third Round meeting with Manchester United. Apparently the vote was close and divided roughly on gender lines.
With something like 30 people at the meetings, they tended to drag on for hours and it was always a bit hairy whether they'd finish in time for me to catch the last train to Littleborough at 10.30 pm. With some avowed political foes in the room, I didn't like asking to leave early too often. By means of some desperate sprinting on occasion , I did manage to retain my place on the Council without being stranded .
I began to notice a young man who also got off that train at Littleborough although I'm not sure where he got on. He looked like one of the Farreys a family I knew from school although he wasn't the one I knew best. On one occasion he was clearly drunk and involved in a physical altercation with a guard. I mention it because a few months later, I caught an item on local news where police were appealing for information about the death of a Carl Farrey who had fallen from a Leeds -Manchester train. Putting two and two together, I went into the police station and told them about the incident I'd seen but it didn't seem to be relevant. I can't give any closure to the story; it's just one of those strange, sad coincidences.
Anyhow, after he'd melted into the night, I'd usually have time to pop into Lords' chip shop just before they closed and get a late supper. When I got in, this would usually be on.
The series was a follow-up to 1980's Hammer House of Horror with a similar number of spooky one-off dramas filmed in 1984. This time round, it was partly funded by 20th Century Fox which meant that nearly all of them had an American lead ( e.g. Dirk Benedict, Mary Crosby, Christina Raines ). Unlike the earlier series it was not nationally networked by ITV with different regions showing it at different times. I'm guessing this might have been because the films were 70 minutes long, an inconvenient length for British television. I don't know whether Granada had broadcast it before this appropriately graveyard slot on a Monday night.
I remember three of them reasonably clearly, none of them having a happy ending. In Last Video and Testament , David Langton from Upstairs Downstairs fakes his own death then leads his wife and her lover into a death trap before fulfilling his pledge to dance on her grave. In Black Carrion , an ageing rocker holds a village in his thrall after they mistakenly lynch his brother . In Czech Mate Susan George finds herself trapped behind the Iron Curtain after a defector steals her identity to make her escape.
Monday, 17 July 2017
First viewed : 8 February 1986
Every Second Counts was the new year replacement for Bob's Full House on Saturday evenings. As Dale were playing Preston North End away ( a 1-1 draw in PNE's worst-ever season ) there's no obvious reason why I wouldn't have seen the very first episode.
Like The Generation Game , the contestants played as couples ( three of them ) and played against each other in a number of general knowledge rounds earning seconds rather than points for a correct answer. When the rounds were completed, the couple with the most seconds took them into the second stage where, answering in turn , they had to complete four more rounds of escalating difficulty matched by an increase in the quality of the prize on offer, within the total number of seconds they had earned. The host was diminutive magician Paul Daniels.
I never liked it as much as Bob's Full House because Daniels was an irritant, never as funny as he thought he was but the quizzing itself was OK.
It ran until 1993.
Sunday, 16 July 2017
First viewed : Uncertain
This Saturday night chat show on ITV started in 1984 but as we were pretty chained to the BBC on Saturday nights, it was a while before I first saw it. The show garnered a lot of attention, seven weeks into its first season, when Margaret Thatcher appeared on the show and started crying when talking about her father attracting widespread cynicism. After that, it got a lot of good press for Aspel's quietly forensic, self-effacing style in contrast to the self-promoting mugging of Wogan and Harty. Even if the guests weren't that interesting , it was absorbing to see the ultimate professional at work.
One episode above all stands out and no prizes for guessing which one. Oliver Reed's notorious second appearance on the show in February 1987 occurred at the end of my first week at work and thus constitutes my first " water cooler moment".
Oliver had been drinking something rather stronger than water when he came on to promote his new film Castaway and after putting down his jug of orange juice and God knows what else. the dishevelled actor went over to the house band and asked them to give him some backing for a rendition of The Wild One. They gamely gave it a go whilst trying not to corpse and Ollie bawled out a verse while "dancing" in a manner that suggested he should be in a police cell rather than a TV studio.
Having satisfied his craving to be a rock star he did sit down and manage to give vaguely coherent answers to Aspel's tart questions like "You've just finished making the film Castaway, do you remember any of it ?" He spilled some of his "juice " on fellow guest, the tiresomely wacky comic actress , Su Pollard, who was wearing a typically exhibitionist dress so he deserves some credit if he meant it. Clive James asked him why he drank, getting the reply that the finest people Ollie knew were those he'd met in pubs.
The show outlasted its rivals but came to grief in 1993 when Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis appeared on the show to promote their new restaurant venture in London, Planet Hollywood. The plugging was so outrageously obvious , with Aspel having to read out the menu, that the show was heavily criticised in the press. Aspel took it on the chin and announced he'd be quitting chat shows at the end of the season which had 5 more episodes to run.
Saturday, 15 July 2017
First viewed : 28 January 1986
I purposefully left out mention of this in the Dynasty post but in reality the two series were inextricably linked. The Colbys was a spin-off from Dynasty plucking out the dullest character Jeff Colby ( John James ) and transplanting him and Fallon Carrington ( Emma Sams ) to California where his relatives operated. It was messily set up in the parent series around the same time as the Moldavian massacre. Fallon wanders into town as an amnesiac and gets picked up by playboy Miles Colby ( marginal Brat Packer Maxwell Caulfield ). They get married which comes as an unpleasant surprise for Jeff when Miles brings his new bride home. The series was originally titled Dynasty II : The Colbys in the UK and ran in tandem with Dynasty in 1986 with The Colbys on a Wednesday and Dynasty on a Friday. When Dallas returned in March though , it claimed the Wednesday night spot and The Colbys and Dynasty alternated on a Friday which was very aggravating, especially, I'm guessing , to those who'd previously shunned the spin-off.
The Colbys had some big names up its sleeve with Charlton Heston and his toupee as patriarch Jason Colby, veteran Barbara Stanwyck as his sister Constance, Stephanie Beacham as his wife Sable , Katherine Ross as her sister Francesca ( Jason's true love ) and Ricardo Montalban as vengeful business rival Zack Powers.
Alas, that didn't save it from being a lukewarm copy of its parent with nothing new to bring to the table apart from some really terrible acting. The worst offender was Caulfield , a posing pretty boy who thought he was James Dean and either flicked his quiff around or tried an Elvis lip curl. in lieu of acting. Stanwyck quit after the first series but she was bad as the rest and it was painful to watch her hamming whilst clinging on to the furniture for dear life.
The Colbys was an inevitable failure. Joan Collins recognised that from the start and refused to make any guest appearances. She later said that the show had damaged the Dynasty brand and was probably right about that too. With its cancellation confirmed before the end of season two , the writers ensured it would be remembered for at least one thing by having Fallon abducted by aliens in the final scene, leaving Dynasty with a silly plotline to untangle when she and Jeff returned to the main show. Sable and dullard daughter Monica ( Tracey Scoggins ) were subsequently written into Dynasty's final season two years later.
Friday, 14 July 2017
First viewed : 1986
We move on into 1986, something of a red letter year for me and quite a busy one for this blog as we'll see.
I mentioned a few posts back that I'd moved into shared accommodation for my final year at university but it wasn't long before I came to regret it. The seeds had been sown before we even moved in. Right at the start, my friend Dave L had asked me if we should invite anyone else and me, always wanting to construct a gang, had suggested Pete and Dave M , two other students who'd been left behind after the mass exodus from the hall of residence at the end of Year One. We walked miles around Headingley in April / May 1985 until we found somewhere that apparently suited everybody, then right at the point when we were giving the landlord a deposit , Dave M pulled out and decided to stay put for a third year. We then had to start afresh, looking for somewhere as a trio. We found a back to back in Woodhouse and, fearing that the whole project was on the point of collapse, I agreed to take a very small room to seal the deal.
That was one problem. The next, and I'll have to choose my words carefully here, was Pete. Pete was in the neighbouring room to me that second year in hall and we had a certain amount in common . He liked walking and playing snooker and I enjoyed his propensity for practical jokes as long as they were directed at other people. That's why I suggested him despite having full knowledge of one or two disturbing incidents - Pete had a very poor relationship with many of the incoming students - which should have given me pause for thought. Dave M later said that the main reason he'd pulled out was the thought of spending a year in the same small house as Pete.
By his own admission, Pete had just scraped onto a chemistry course at Leeds after disappointing A Level results. He struggled on it and at the end of that second year, calamitously, he failed the exams and had to take a year out. His tutors said they'd turn a blind eye to him attending lectures but he had to fend for himself as far as maintenance went. His parents gave him enough to survive which meant he could stay in Leeds and have plenty of free time in the house to think up annoying wheezes. I came very close to hitting him on one occasion which would certainly not have ended favourably for me. That wasn't the full extent of the problems though. One evening Dave L and I came back to a house full of smoke. Pete had made the cellar his own, to work on his bike and play with his air rifle, but it had got cold so he decided it would be a good idea to make a fire despite the fairly crucial absence of a chimney. On another occasion, I came back from a weekend at home and the guy from the adjoining property was on the doorstep, threatening to give me and Dave L a good hiding over the excessive noise Pete and his drinking buddies had made on the Saturday night.
It didn't seem safe to stay with Pete and then there was an external threat. The Yorkshire Post started reporting that a large gang of feral kids were targeting students for attack. The reports indicated that the kids were roaming from Woodhouse into the more obviously student territory of Headingley but it was still too close for comfort.
Those were the push factors. Then there was a pull factor. Leeds Student reported on a recent court case - Street v Mountford - I think - where the judges declared that licence agreements, exactly the type of contract we'd made with the landlord were a sham to avoid fair rent legislation and must now be regarded as tenancies. I wasn't that interested in screwing the landlord for a lower rent ; what I wanted to know was did the judgement mean I could tear up the licence, cancel the two post-dated cheques he still had to cash and walk away from my mistake ? Nobody seemed sure but that prospect was the final nail in the coffin for my tenure at 17 Thomas St. Over the Christmas holidays I decided that I would not be returning there and, indeed, never spent a night there again.
Having made that decision , I had no other option except to stay at home and commute in to Leeds when necessary. My mother was very much against this idea, taking the view that I was running away from my first encounter with the real world. I only had one good argument to deploy, that my dissertation, on Edwardian politics in North East Lancashire, required more research in local libraries, which it did. With that , and a contribution to maintenance which I could ill afford because I couldn't find the assurance I needed to cancel that next rent cheque, she grudgingly yielded for the time being. This also meant that, once again, I could watch midweek TV.
That's not entirely relevant to Catchphrase although it was on Sunday nights at a time by which I would normally have started my journey back to Leeds. I have no idea when I first caught an episode but some time during its first year of transmission seems a fair bet.
Catchphrase was a very lowbrow game show akin to Punchlines where the two contestants had to identify a well-known phrase, proverb etc. from a partially-revealed, faintly humorous animation, often featuring the show's Dusty Bin-esque mascot Mr Chips.
The show found its ideal host in slimy Irish comedian Roy Walker, another New Faces winner. His queasy repartee and shark-eyed insincerity were a perfect fit for the cheap concept and that gave the show a certain sleazy charm and durability.
It was the sort of show I'd never stay in to watch and I missed the most infamous episode in 1994 with the "Snake Charmer" animation where Mr Chips appeared to be bashing the bishop. It had me on the floor when it first featured on a Bloopers show.
Walker was a smart cookie and knew when it was time to quit in 1999. Nick Weir foolishly tried to replace him. He fell down the stage on his first show and things didn't get much better as ratings plummeted. Weir was sacked in 2002 and Mark Curry took over for a final series in 2004 now relegated to a daytime show.
The show was revived with Stephen Mulhearn and is currently on its fifth season.
Thursday, 13 July 2017
First viewed : 30 December 1985
This was a single drama adaptation of George Eliot's Victorian classic with an all-star cast. Ben Kingsley was in the title role as the miserly weaver who is robbed of both his wealth and reputation but finds redemption by taking in a lost orphan girl. Jenny Agutter popped over from Hollywood to play the wife of the local squire Godfrey Cass ( Patrick Ryecart ) whose secrets Silas has been keeping. The girl Eppie was played by Patsy Kensit, then tring to make it as a pop star in the dire Eighth Wonder.
I came upon it when it had about twenty minutes to run and was intrigued enough to wish I'd seen the rest.
Wednesday, 12 July 2017
First viewed : Autumn 1985
I first watched this hoping to learn something, having never actually been on a date at this point.
I was soon disabused of that notion but it was entertaining for a while. Along with Surprise Surprise ( which I never watched ), it marked a major comeback for presenter Cilla Black who'd spent nearly a decade toiling away in cabaret after the demise of her BBC variety show in 1976.
Blind Date had a simple format. The audience were introduced to three guys or girls then they were hidden and a girl or guy as the case may be chose one of them from the answers they gave to three questions put to them. They were then revealed and the happy or not couple were told where they were being sent for their date. The following week some date footage was shown followed by a separate review of the date from each party then a joint interview where Cilla subtly probed - this was a family show - whether or not they'd had sex . There were two rounds per show. Occasionally the contestants were much older people but generally the show stuck with the under-forties.
It quickly became apparent that neither the questions nor the answers were spontaneous so the chooser was making their judgement on the delivery of pre-written material. This didn't prevent the show being an absolute ratings banker for a decade and a half.
I don't know when I got fed up of it, probably some time in the late eighties but I do recall seeing one of the final series in 2002-03 which introduced the "Date or Ditch" option where the chooser had the option of rejecting their choice and calling back one of those rejected unseen for her date. Cilla didn't like this - quite rightly - and decided to quit the show. Replacements were mooted but it was instead decided to put the show to bed.
Channel 5 revived the series earlier this year with Paul O'Grady replacing his fellow Scouser as host.
Tuesday, 11 July 2017
First viewed : Autumn 1985
The Copy Cats was a direct successor to the seventies show Who Do You Do ? , a fast-moving sketch show featuring a team of impressionists and two of the eight-strong team, Johnny More and Aiden J Harvey, had been involved in the earlier show.
They had to play second string to the main stars Bobby Davro and Gary Wilmot. Davro's come in for a lot of stick over the years but I think at his peak he was a talented performer. Wilmot on the other hand was utter garbage and it could be difficult to identify who he was supposed to be even with the props.
I was particularly interested in Harvey because he was living in Littleborough when he won New Faces in 1975 and I hadn't seen much of him since. He was the most talented mimic on the show but not as telegenic as the younger pair.
The only female on the original team was Jessica Martin who was also working on Spitting Image at the time. She was very good at the voices but her bird-like features were a bit too distinctive for an impressionist. You also couldn't help noticing , when she was impersonating the likes of Kate Bush, that she wasn't able to match her marks in the chest department.
I enjoyed it at the time but having glanced at a couple of videos on YouTube it hasn't aged well. The third and final season in 1987 was gravely weakened by the departures of Davro , Martin and ( I suppose ) Wilmot and it was no surprise that it was scrapped.
Monday, 10 July 2017
First viewed : 19 December 1985
I couldn't watch the original run of this political thriller on BBC 2 due to the domestic situation previously described but I was aware of the buzz around it and so I was grateful for Michael Grade's decision to give it an immediate repeat over three nights at the start of the Christmas holidays.
Edge of Darkness starts with the brutal murder of Emma Craven ( Joanne Whalley ) an environmental activist who is blown off her feet by a shotgun blast while returning home with her father Ronald. Ronald is a taciturn widowed police detective and his colleagues believe he was the intended target after his stint in Northern Ireland. Craven however does his own investigating leading him to two suave civil servants, Pendleton and Harcourt ( Charles Kay and Ian McNeice ) who tell him they think Emma was the actual target after she led a raid by her Gaia group on a nuclear waste facility to determine whether they were illegally storing plutonium. Harcourt is quite upfront about using Craven's desire for truth to investigate the plant for themselves. The CIA are also interested and Craven is paired up with larger than life agent Darius Jedburgh ( Joe Don Baker ) to raid the plant.
I enjoyed the series but was troubled by one scene which I couldn't get my head around. During his own raid, Craven comes across the drowned bodies of the Gaia team which include Emma herself. Craven exclaims "They all drowned". I could accept the shooting as an hallucination but Craven only knows every other character as a direct consequence of that incident so is the whole thing a dream ? For some time afterwards, I went trawling bookshops looking for a novelisation of Troy Kennedy Martin's script to answer this conundrum but to no avail.
The series was lauded across the board and many years later became a feature film ( with the same director ) starring Mel Gibson which I haven't seen. Both Peck and McNeice found subsequent work in Hollywood. Strangely, Kennedy Martin seemed to rest on his laurels after the series and produced surprisingly little of note in subsequent years. He died in 2009.
Sunday, 9 July 2017
First viewed : 13 December 1985
I'd resolutely ignored this since it debuted on BBC 1 in May 1982 but lately my mum and sister had started following it. With her royalty obsession , my mum kept bleating on about how the cast featured a real princess ( Catherine Oxenberg who is a scion of the former royal house of Yugoslavia ) and she couldn't act. I think Oxenberg owed her involvement to being a drop dead gorgeous supermodel rather than her disinherited blue blood but Mum was right about her acting abilities. I had already been drawn back to Dallas by this point but the real carrot for watching my first episode was that it was going to end with all the cast being gunned down in a massacre at the wedding between Oxenberg's character Amanda Carrington and Prince Michael of the now- fictional Moldavia played by Michael "Robin Hood" Praed who'd taken the US TV dollar.
Dynasty was launched in the US in 1981 with ageing John "voice of Charlie" Forsythe as Blake Carrington, head of an oil company marrying his much younger secretary Krystle ( Linda Evans, previously best known as Steve McQueen's love interest in Tom Horn ) to the disgust of his daughter Fallon ( Pamela Sue Martin who of course was Nancy Drew ) . His son Steven ( Al Corley ) , being gay was more accepting. The ratings were disappointing but the producers had an ace up their sleeve at the start of the second season with the arrival of Joan Collins as Blake's first wife, Alexis who became a thorn in the flesh to Blake with a deathbed marriage to his business rival. Collins was merely camping up the sexy older woman role she'd played in The Bitch but she caught the mood of the times perfectly and saved the series. She knew her worth too and ruled the roost behind the scenes demanding that all her close-ups used soft focus so that you always saw Alexis through a veil of mist.
The cast gradually expanded to include Gordon Thomson ( in reality only 12 years younger than Collins ) as Adam the kidnapped son they'd forgotten about , Heather Locklear as Krystle's scheming neice Sammy Jo and Michael Nader as croaky-voiced Dex who seemed to be perpetually auditioning for the next Bond movie.. Corley left and was replaced by Jack Coleman, a change explained by plastic surgery while Fallon was apparently killed off. When I came in they were just bringing her back as a wandering amnesiac but Sue Martin had declined to return and so the role went to a young British actress Emma Samms.
The "massacre" was actually very well executed and there were suggestions that part of the reason for it was that the producers were using it to strengthen their hand in contract negotiations for the next season. If that were true Collins turned the tables on them and secured a hefty pay rise for herself to continue. At the start of the next season, the death toll turned out to be precisely two unimportant characters ; people you'd seen taking a bullet just got up and brushed a bit of dust from their sleeves , a serious anti-climax.
The whole Moldavian angle was quickly dropped over the next season in favour of a ridiculous storyline involving a doppelganger for Krystle - Evans' limited talent certainly didn't stretch to playing two characters - and Alexis's elaborate scheme to dispossess Blake using his not previously mentioned much younger brother Ben ( Christopher Cazenove )
The series began to fall in popularity. Oxenberg was sacked and replaced by Karen Cellini who was just as bad an actress without being so attractive and the character was unceremoniously written out and not mentioned again. Fallon and her husband Jeff ( John James ) were brought back in from dismal sister soap The Colbys ( which we'll discuss in due course ) when that was axed in 1987. The main series finished in 1989 with an episode leaving a number of unresolved cliffhangers. These were partly answered by a 1991 two part mini-series chiefly notable for Robin Sachs replacing the unavailable Thomson as Adam and thus making it a clean sweep of changed heads for all Blake and Alexis's offspring.
Was Dynasty better than Dallas ? I'd say no. It was more outrageous and therefore funnier but you could never believe in the Carringtons as a genuine family in the same way as the Ewings. There was no character consistency. Ben and Adam were dastardly villains when they first arrived and then turned into decent guys with no real explanation. For all her skills, Collins couldn't make the contradiction between plotting the downfall of Blake's company and being a tender mother to his children convincing. Dynasty tried to outflank its rival on the socially liberal front but it always seemed a bit tokenistic. Steven never got to spend too much time with his boyfriends while Diahann Carroll as Blake's black half-sister Dominique was left a dangling spare part after the initial revelation. And of course Dynasty didn't have J.R.
Saturday, 8 July 2017
By contrast Tony Robinson spent a significant part of one episode stark naked, not a recollection I want to conjure up too often .I don't remember too many of the political jokes being at Labour's expense either.
- an extended swipe at the execrable Simon May for setting words to his naff BBC theme tunes. This is slightly damaged by the knowledge it came from the man who inflicted The Chicken Song on us just six months later.
- a vicious swipe at morris dancing with Hills yanking McGrath just moments into his routine
- "I'll be reviewing Michael Winner's new film Death Wish 26 in which Charles Bronson shoots absolutely everybody just in case"
- "I'll be reviewing Ted Heath's new book in which he sets out his political vision. It's called It's Not Fair I Should Be Prime Minister "
- Getting the audience to chant "We Love Gadaffi" with McGrath then cutting it short with "That's enough Tebbit- baiting".
Friday, 7 July 2017
First viewed : 25 October 1985
This absorbing documentary about the death of Marilyn Monroe in 1962 was broadcast on a Friday night. I was back home to get on the coach to Tranmere the following day. The programme was largely based on a recent book by British journalist Anthony Summers although it wasn't plugged, nor did Summers appear, on the programme.
Although some of the wilder "witnesses" talked about murder, the main accusation seemed to be that Monroe was discovered still alive by actor Peter Lawford - her late phone call to him is a matter of public record - who sent her to hospital but she died on the way. He then - somehow - reclaimed the body and placed it back in her room while at the same time arranging an early morning flight to get his brother-in-law Robert Kennedy who'd been having an affair with her , out of town.
It is, of course, completely preposterous and though the programme did not endorse the theory, it gave it a rather fairer hearing than it deserved. It failed to mention that Lawford had conveniently passed away just months earlier nor that his marriage to Debra Gould, the young actress to whom he supposedly confessed all many years after the event, had only lasted a couple of months. While noting that Sgt Clemmons - undoubtedly on the scene - had got his medical facts wrong, it failed to tell you that he was an extreme right winger who'd been forced to resign from the force after a blackmail scam against a liberal politician he disliked.
On a wider scale, the supposed relationship between Kennedy and Monroe largely owes its currency to a book by Norman Mailer in 1973. Mailer admitted -once the book had passed peak sales - that he had no real evidence of the affair and accepted the official verdict on Monroe's death.
Marilyn Monroe died of an overdose that was probably intentional. Minor departures from established protocol do not prove otherwise.
Wednesday, 5 July 2017
First viewed : 12 October 1985
The blog suddenly speeds up now for reasons I'll explain. At the end of my first year at university, there was a mass exodus from my hall of residence. Only 8 students out of approx. 85 were going to stay at Seton House for the forthcoming academic year, the rest either graduating or house-sharing in bedsit land much nearer the campus. I was particularly disappointed not to be invited into one such arrangement and even though I got on well with most of the other seven stayers I didn't like being one of those left behind. Therefore, when my friend Dave suggested, around March 1985, that we find a house for our final year, I jumped at the suggestion without a moment's hesitation. The search for suitable accommodation was protracted and fraught but eventually Dave, myself and another guy called Pete ended up at 17 Thomas St, a back to back terrace in Woodhouse within walking distance of the campus.
The relevance to this blog is that we didn't have a TV. I think Dave still had an old portable black and white thing but he didn't bring it downstairs and make it communal so we made do with the radio. I did usually walk over to the Student Union to watch Top of the Pops in one of the TV lounges but nothing else that I can recall. Therefore for the last three months of 1985 this blog is restricted to programmes that were broadcast at the weekend when I usually went home.
Saint and Greavsie is the first such example. In September 1985, ITV's long-running World of Sport was scrapped, its execution slightly stayed by a dispute over football coverage which meant that Frank McAvennie's spectacular start in English football went unfilmed. The two most popular elements remained as separate programmes , the lunchtime soccer coverage previously known as On The Ball and for a few more years , the professional wrestling.
Former Liverpool legend Ian St John had been the affable anchorman for On The Ball ever since his dismally unsuccessful stint in football management came to an end in 1977. Peerless goal poacher and recovering alcoholic, Jimmy Greaves had been his foil on the segment ever since his starmaking turn as a pundit during the 1982 World Cup.
Now they were the titular stars of their own show with Saint still the straight anchorman and Greavsie given free rein to come up with amusing one liners. The programme was serious when it needed to be but the duo went out of their way to find amusing angles on the beautiful game.
I missed the first of the separate shows as I was on a coach to Swindon, my first long away trip with the Rochdale FC Supporters Club ( a dismal 4-0 battering for the Dale but Swindon were runaway champions that season ). Generally, I really enjoyed the show though there was irritation at the unfair amount of coverage given to Tranmere Rovers and Stockport County who were being allowed to play their home fixtures on Friday nights at the time and therefore provided the show with some up to date action to show.
The duo were violently hated by some serious football writers and the show's demise when Sky won coverage of the new Premier League in 1992 was widely celebrated. I remember one writer in The Guardian - I can't recall who - for whom the duo's downfall seemed to be adequate justification for the Premier League on its own. I was sad to see the end of the show although latterly Greavsie's act had deteriorated and was more dependent on clowning than his former wit. The pair worked together on some regional coverage of the remaining Leagues, viciously parodied on Fantasy Football League , but with Sky obviously here to stay they eventually went their separate ways.
Tuesday, 4 July 2017
First viewed : September 1985
I missed out on the Mole phenomenon initially but it was brought to my door in an unwelcome way in the summer of 1984 when I unwisely showed parts of my novel-in-progress to a few house mates at university. A friend called Giles Tulk immediately said it reminded him of Adrian Mole. He didn't mean it unkindly; he just assumed I was writing a satire in that style. The problem was the story was a science fiction wish fulfilment fantasy where I came out on top after an apocalypse and it was meant to be serious. What Giles had picked up on was the authorial voice and to be honest he was bang on the money. I might have been 19 at the time but I was still lionising my early teens and hadn't got out of that mindset.
The novel was shelved there and then ( though I've probably still got those early chapters in a drawer somewhere ). That was undoubtedly a good thing and helped me grow up a bit but I still bore Sue Townsend something of a grudge. She had revealed to me that feelings and perspectives I thought made me special and unique were actually commonplace to adolescents and, much worse, ripe for mockery.
The pain had subsided a bit by the time it came to TV and I watched a little of it ( likely just one episode ) out of reluctant curiosity. ITV's schedulers had some difficulty placing it; there was an obvious appeal to youngsters and yet with Adrian measuring his "thing" and feeling for girlfriend Pandora's boobs it couldn't be on too early so they settled on a mid-evening slot. Newcomers Gian Sammarco and Lindsy Stagg played the youngsters. Julie Walters played Mum ( replaced in the follow-up series The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole by Lulu ), Beryl " I say "fuck " on chat shows and get away with it because I'm old" Reid played Grandma and Stephen Moore played Dad, a role he effectively reprised for Harry Enfield the following decade. Coronation Street's Chris Gascoyne made an early appearance as the school bully.
Townsend went on to write six more Mole novels but ITV left it at the two series in 1987 and he seems to have fallen out of fashion. Neither of the youngsters still act. Sammarco called it a day in 1990 and re-trained as a nurse. The impressively curvy Stagg quit acting immediately after the second series and information about her as at a premium.
Monday, 3 July 2017
First viewed : 1 September 1985
Like many people my age, my first introduction to Alf Garnett was through Mike Yarwood's impersonations of the bigoted loudmouth. Never having seen Till Death Us Do Part , which finished in 1975, I was never quite sure whether he was a real person or not.
This resurrection of the series under a new title ( ignoring ITV's brief, unsuccessful re-boot in 1982 ) finally gave me a chance to see him in action. I can't say I found it enjoyable. Alf ( Warren Mitchell ) was now a pensioner dependent on state services and gradually realising that the party of Churchill that he'd consistently championed actually didn't give a stuff about the likes of him. To make his predicament more unhappy, his home help was the stuff of his worst nightmares, a gay black guy called Winston or "Marigold" ( Eamonn Walker ). There was a fair political point here but probably not a justification for six seasons of the programme.
The main thing that made it difficult to watch was the obvious deterioration in Dandy Nichols who returned as Alf's wife, Else. The wheelchair-bound actress could still perform and I can well understand someone wanting to die with their boots on but her presence gave the whole show a mordant air. Nichols died not long after the first season finished but as ratings had been good the series continued with neighbour Mrs Holingberry ( Carmel McSharry ) taking over as Alf's love interest.
Like the original series, the show had its critics who felt that Alf's prejudices should not be given air time despite the obvious intent to ridicule them.
I never made a point of watching it but would sometimes find it on until it finally finished in 1992. The death of writer Johnny Speight in 1998 put the final seal on its demise.
Sunday, 2 July 2017
First viewed : 1 September 1985
Another iconic eighties series began in the autumn of 1985.
Howard's Way was the brainchild of The Brothers creator Gerald Glaister and promised the same mix of business and family drama as well as using one or two of the same cast. The titular character Tom Howard was played by Maurice Colborne from Gangsters. Tom is made redundant from his job as an aircraft designer and, wanting to make a living from his hobby, uses his redundancy to buy a share in a struggling boat building concern, a risky venture given that his new partner is a reactionary drunk Jack Rolfe ( Glyn Owen ) kept afloat by his daughter Avril ( Susan Gilmore ). This causes strains in his marriage to Jan ( Jan Harvey ) who turns to her arriviste boss Ken Masters ( Stephen Yardley ) instead. They have two kids Leo ( Edward Highmore ) who looks like Mark Hollis of Talk Talk and is a right-on eco-warrior in a rather wet fashion and curvy blonde Lynne ( Tracey Childs ) a skilled sailor herself. The Paul Merroney- style head villain of the series was slimy Charles Frere played by sixties survivor Tony Anholt.
The series was an immediate hit and a second season was immediately commissioned but many fans of the first series were disappointed that it increasingly came to resemble a British facsimile of Dynasty with the introduction of more glamorous characters, more opulent settings and melodramatic storylines. Nevertheless it continued to prosper. I got fed up with it after season two but I think my mum stuck with it.
The series suffered a body blow when Colbourne suffered a fatal heart attack while filming the fifth season in 1989. That continued with re-writes explaining Tom's absence and then his death was explained at the start of the sixth and final season. It may be that the series had run its course anyway as we entered a new decade. The final episode was broadcast three days after the resignation of Margaret Thatcher.
Friday, 30 June 2017
First viewed : 27 August 1985
Storyboard was an ITV drama strand similar to the Beeb's Play for Today. Ladies in Charge was a comic drama about three young single women who, having been involved in war work during World War One, are looking for new sources of excitement. They set themselves up as a sort of detective agency but the wording of their advertisement leads some men to think they are offering services of a rather different kind. I was rather taken with the trio of Carol Royle, Julia Hills and Amanda Root.
The play made a good impression and led to a short series under the same title although Root was unavailable and replaced by Julia Swift. Unfortunately it coincided with my Finals in 1986 and passed me by entirely. Only six episodes were made and it's largely forgotten.
Thursday, 29 June 2017
First viewed : 16 August 1985
This was a one-off wildlife special presented by a hirsute Simon King. It set a number of challenges for garden birds by devising contraptions which would release food if the bird followed a sequence of tasks using its beak. If I remember correctly, the tits proved the most adept. It was first broadcast in April but I'm pretty sure it was the repeat I saw.
Wednesday, 28 June 2017
First viewed : 12 August 1985
This was a five part adaptation of an interwar novel by Francis Brett Young. There was a popular British film version in 1948 starring Michael Denison. It is remembered as being the first and only TV series with a leading role for Daniel Day-Lewis as My Beautiful Launderette was already in the cinemas when it was first broadcast.
Day-Lewis played Jonathan Dakers , a young man whose parents neglect him yet dote on his younger brother Harold ( Benedict Taylor ). When his father dies, Jonathan abandons his medical studies to take a junior post in a medical practice in an industrial town so that Harold can complete his public school education and maintain his social standing. Jonathan's social conscience soon makes him an enemy of Dr Craig ( John Stone ) the corrupt head of a rival practice. As if things weren't bad enough , Edie ( Caroline Bliss ) the object of his desire falls for Harold instead. There isn't a happy ending either.
Perhaps Jonathan is too good to be true; is anyone really that self-sacrificing ? Nevertheless,I enjoyed the series but I did think Day-Lewis was actually a bit wooden. My mum disagreed and said his ponderous delivery was a mark of his being "very upper class".