Thursday, 21 September 2017
First viewed : 21 January 1987
This was a one-off documentary about the thorny issue of whether or not there were still prisoners of war being held in South East Asia. The programme focused mainly on Laos where a number of pilots flying aid to anti-communist forces in the so-called "Secret War" were shot down and captured by the Viet Cong's allies, the Pathet Lao. Most of the M.I.A.s unaccounted for seemed to be in this category. The accumulation of evidence seemed to be quite strong and even Henry Kissinger , interviewed for the programme, was careful not to entirely dismiss the possibility of surviving prisoners. The programme included an interview with a real-life Rambo figure planning incursions into remote areas of Laos from Thailand with the aid of motley remnants of the anti -communist force.
Monday, 18 September 2017
First viewed : 11 January 1987
This was all a bit strange. Between Seasons 3 and 4 of Alas Smith and Jones, Mel and Griff popped over to ITV to make a comedy series for the Sunday night slot usually occupied by Spitting Image. It took the form of the duo sitting behind a desk a la The Two Ronnies and presenting a mock-history of the world through the use of old film clips. It's probably best remembered for Griff finding some anonymous fat guy among the footage and claiming it to be one of Mel's ancestors - not exactly high brow comedy. The critics reviled it; I thought it was quite well put together and harmless wind-down entertainment.
For some reason ITV stopped the 12-part series after episode 6 ( almost certainly the last thing I watched on the night before I started work ) and presented the rest as a new series the following year. In between, the new season of Alas Smith and Jones was broadcast on BBC 2 and the first episode saw Mel and Griff ripping into the series themselves. Perhaps it was a necessary penance as the Beeb had seriously contemplated cutting them adrift for their temporary desertion but it was odd to say the least.
Sunday, 17 September 2017
First viewed : 9 January 1987
More than any other programme, this reminds me of those first few weeks of 1987 before I entered the world of work. More specifically, it reminds me of Fridays and a brief adventure which didn't seem all that significant at the time but had two big pointers for the future. In September 1986, I went to an Enrolment Day at Rochdale College looking for something that might improve my employability and signed up for a course in Public Administration there. On the first morning the tutor asked us to list our qualifications and shortly afterwards, he pulled me out, said it wasn't the right course for me and he'd arranged for me to attend a more advanced course at Bolton Institute of Higher Education. This turned out to be the second year of the qualification course for the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators, of which I wasn't a student member nor did I have a sponsoring authority so I don't know what he had arranged with regard to the fees. Anyway, I started attending the course and no one challenged my place or chased me for money. Not only did it get me more acquainted with my future place of abode, the course also had a financial accounting module which gave me a bit of a head start when studying the subject for real 12 months later. Rockliffe's Babies was the viewing highlight of the evenings after my last few attendances there.
It concerned seven young plain clothes constables working for a London crime squad under hard task master Sergeant Rockliffe ( Ian Hogg ) on a tough manor known as "The Dragon" hence the theme tune of stroppy kids chanting about social deprivation. They comprised two sensible girls Jan and Karen ( Alphonsia Emmanuel and Susannah Shelling ) , poncey graduate David ( Bill Champion ), headstrong, accident-prone Scouser Gerry ( Joe McGann ), lazy Welshman Paul ( Martyn Ellis ). slow-witted yokel Keith ( John Blakey ) and street smart Steve ( Brett Fancy ). The latter character dates the show more than anything else . Though an effective copper and good team player, Steve was also an overt racist with links to far right groups and it's inconceivable now that any such character would be allowed to go through two seasons without being made to account for such transgressions.
Though the setting was grim and bleak, there was a lot of humour in the show in the banter between the seven fledglings and with their mentor. I think it's probably the cop show that's come closest to recapturing the essence of The Sweeney. On the downside, Hogg's mannered style of acting was an acquired taste that I never really savoured and the whole series was shot on VT which didn't do it any favours.
The programme ran for two seasons before mutating into something else which I'll cover as a separate show. Apart from Shelling whose career seems to have ground to halt a decade ago they're all still acting but none have become stars, McGann having probably the highest profile now. For Champion, Ellis and Blakey as well as Shelling this was definitely the highpoint of their careers.
Saturday, 16 September 2017
First viewed : 7 January 1987
This was nothing to do with Australian soap operas but a one-off documentary about two female footballers, Kerry Davis and Rose Reilly. At the time, the women's game seemed to be defined by the Not The Nine O Clock News sketch with Smith and Jones as two pervs sitting through a really inept display for the shirt-swapping at the end. That may have been an exaggeration but there was certainly no money in it so Kerry from Crewe and Rose from Kilmarnock had to up sticks and sign semi-professionally for Italian clubs, Lazio and AC Milan respectively. Rose had actually been playing in Italy for over a decade but Kerry hadn't taken any Italian lessons beforehand and was struggling to settle. I remember doing a radio interview and tetchily asking them "Do you not think I would speak Italian if I could ?" The programme climaxed with a game between the two sides ; I can't recall who came out on top.
Despite her issues Kerry did play for four seasons in Italy for Lazio and Napoli before returning to the UK and is remembered as a top England international as the women's game rose in status. Rose played on until she was forty and appeared for both Scotland and Italy , winning the women's world cup with the latter in 1984.
Friday, 15 September 2017
First viewed : 7 January 1987
This was ITV's belated attempt to match BBC One's long-running A Question of Sport. The teams of sporting celebrities had to navigate their way around a Trivial Pursuits-style board answering questions relating to their own sport or others, depending where they landed. Like its rival Sporting Triangles started with two teams of three under resident captains Jimmy Greaves and Tessa Sanderson. It switched to three teams of two when Emlyn Hughes was poached from AQOS . Andy Gray began his TV career here as an alternative captain, the shows featuring three out of the four in random combinations. Nick Owen was quizmaster for the first two seasons then was replaced by Andy Craig until the show was axed in 1990.
I checked out the first episode with its strong line up of guests ( Bryan Robson, Dennis Taylor, Seb Coe and Lloyd Honeyghan ) but didn't watch much of it after that. That's not because I thought it was atrocious but I'm not a general sports fan and didn't have the appetite for two sports quiz programmes a week.
Thursday, 14 September 2017
First viewed : 6 January 1987
Alfred Hitchcock Presents was a re-boot of an American TV classic from the fifties and early sixties whereby the great film director would play on his reputation as the master of suspense with a campy monologue and epilogue bookending a short drama. Hitchcock himself only directed a handful of them but it was an extremely popular series.
Twenty years after it finished , NBC decided to revive it with re-filmed versions of previous episodes and some entirely new stories. Of course Hitchcock had been dead for five years by then but they colorised his contributions and re-used them, fitting the most apposite they could find to the new stories and hoping for the best. It ran for four years.
ITV ( or at least Granada ) broadcast it very late at night and the only one I recall watching is The Creeper ( one of the re-filmed stories ) because it starred Karen Allen. She played Jackie Foster, a paranoid yuppie woman who is plagued by a stalker and ends up garotted by someone she actually does trust.
Wednesday, 13 September 2017
First viewed : January 1987
I wasn't a great fan of this when it started and I think I saw most of it through repeats in the nineties. I thought if John Thaw wanted to do another police detective series then it should be as Jack Regan, older and possibly wiser but still in and around "the manor " ,not poncing around Oxford listening to classical music in a fancy old Jaguar. I found his attempt at an upper class accent particularly aggravating.
The series was liberally based on the novels by Colin Dexter; the Lewis character as played by Kevin Whately was completely different from the man described in the books. There were originally seven seasons of 3-5 episodes between 1987 and 1993 then Thaw went off to do Cavanagh Q.C. probably to the relief of Dexter who was struggling to keep pace with the series. Thereafter, there was one episode per year until the character was killed off in 2000. There have been two spin-off series Lewis ( which may have just finished ) and Endeavour ( ongoing ),
Although I did get to like it, I don't completely endorse it. For all its high production values, I don't think it always justified its two hour length. There are only two episodes ( both from the 1992 season ) where I can recall the plot in detail, the infamous rave story directed by Danny Boyle where Morse investigates the suicide of his neice and has to brush up on what these young people are getting off on and the one where an old flame of Morse helps arrange her dying partner's suicide to frame his son-in-law whose infidelity caused his daughter's death.
Saturday, 9 September 2017
First viewed : 3 January 1987
Jasper was back with a new vehicle, four years after Carrott's Lib finished.
Carrott Confidential was on a bit earlier on a Saturday evening than Carrott's Lib so the content was toned down a bit and he didn't have as strong a team around him. I think Steve Punt and Hugh Dennis have improved over the years but they were awful at this point, their solo slot the equivalent of Ronnie Corbett's armchair turn in The Two Ronnies.
Carrott Confidential also had less political content although Jasper did come a cropper when he made an offhand remark about Denzil Davies MP, seemingly selected at random, being drunk in the Commons. Before the following week's programme, the Beeb had to broadcast a grovelling apology to Davies for the offence caused.
Carrott Confidential ran for two seasons before another re-boot as Canned Carrott in 1990.
Friday, 8 September 2017
First viewed : Uncertain
This had been running since 1976 with Tom O' Connor as the first host and it's quite likely that I'd caught some of it before 1986 but that's when it started preceding Coronation Street with irritating song-and-dance man Lionel Blair ( who succeeded O' Connor in 1983 ) as host.
I now look back in wonder at my naivete in pondering how a contestant in the final round could identify a song like Let Me Be The One ( The Shadows' long-forgotten Eurovision entry in 1975 ) from one note on the piano. Now it's perfectly obvious that the tune was selected from a narrow range of songs to which the contestants had prior exposure before the show went on air.
The show was axed in 1988 with a revival hosted by Jools Holland on Channel 5 in 1997-98.
Thursday, 7 September 2017
First viewed : 25 December 1986
When this started in February 1985, I instantly took against the idea of the BBC having a twice weekly soap. The idea of a public service broadcaster spending the licence fee on a product already well supplied by the commercial channels seemed like a capitulation to Thatcherite philistinism. I also suspected that it in part stemmed from Southerners' resentment that the nation's favourite soap was firmly embedded in the industrial north. I made a deliberate point of not watching it and hoped it would soon fall flat on its face.
Initially it looked like my hopes would be realised. Only one person, a Londoner of course, in my hall of residence seemed interested in it. However when I came back to university in the autumn, I realised everything had changed . The father of young Michelle's baby had become a hot topic among my peers and the soap's stars were now all over the tabloids. The following year they all started crashing the charts with terrible records, none more so than Nick Berry's Every Loser Wins, the worst number one of all time.
The first time I caught a snatch was the tail end of the Christmas Day episode in 1986 because I'd come down for Only Fools and Horses. It was the one where "Dirty" Den Watts ( Leslie Grantham ) tells his wife Ange he's divorcing her. Grantham is a particular bugbear for me. One, he's a bloody awful actor with only two expressions- sneering psychopath or bug-eyed maniac. Two he's a fully fledged murderer that I don't particularly want to support through the licence fee. I just don't get how the people that holler for racists and sex offenders to be banished from our screens are content that he still has an acting career.
The more attention the show got, the more resolved I became never to watch a full episode of it. This became more difficult when my sister returned home in 1987 and infected Mum with the virus. The peril increased after I got married and found my wife was a fan. I can proudly say I still haven't watched an episode from start to finish but I have come dangerously close. One Sunday afternoon, I came home drenched and exhausted from an arduous walk and sat on the sofa through most of an omnibus edition where John Junkin played a former boys home warden who'd mistreated Billy Mitchell. I also saw a fair chunk of the one where Martin Kemp's character made his fiery exit. Fortunately, my wife threw it off some time in the mid-noughties and the danger has passed.
Wednesday, 6 September 2017
First viewed : 18 December 1986
This was a late night Channel Four programme providing a speedy dramatisation of recent events in a Sydney courtroom where the British government was trying to prevent the publication of a memoir by a former M15 officer Peter Wright. Wright now lived in Tasmania, but dissatisfied with his pension, he decided to publish his account despite having signed a lifelong confidentiality agreement on commencing employment. The British government brought a case in Australia that they should co-operate in suppressing the book because of this breach of contract.
The Spycatcher affair became a cause celebre for the left because of Wright's claims that fellow agents were active in a plot to bring down Harold Wilson's Labour government. To them, that was obviously the reason Thatcher wanted it banned .Even those of us in the centre were enjoying the sight of Thatcher not getting everything her own way
The Australian court case which the UK government lost is remembered for two main reasons. One is that defending Wright gave a big public platform to an ambitious young lawyer named Malcolm Turnbull who is now sitting pretty as Australia's Prime Minister. The proceedings also left their mark when the UK government's fall guy, the Cabinet Secretary Sir Robert Armstrong, conceded to Turnbull that governments sometimes had to be "economical with the truth", a phrase that is now in every day use.
After the defeat in Sydney, imported copies winged their way into the UK and Labour MP Dale Campbell-Savours started reading extracts in the Commons to get it into Hansard but the government fought on for the next eighteen months to stop it being published in England . On the day of its final defeat in 1988, a special Panorama programme was broadcast. It revealed the outcome of their own investigation into Spycatcher in which a cornered Wright admitted that his headline claims were sensational exaggerations to generate sales. The infamous anti-Labour plot amounted to nothing more than a lunchtime pub conversation.
What was that about sound and fury and signifying nothing. ?
Tuesday, 5 September 2017
Monday, 4 September 2017
First viewed : 15 December 1986
This was a late night repeat of a tribute documentary made in the wake of the actor's death in 1982. It was narrated by Arthur Hill and covered both his career and his personal life including his many marriages and difficult relationships with his children. I can't really think of anything more to say about it; it was just one of those let's not go to bed yet viewings.
Sunday, 3 September 2017
First viewed : Uncertain
This was never the coolest show to admit you enjoyed but you'd be hard pressed not to find something amusing in Jeremy Beadle's pranks. Beadle's About was basically Game for A Laugh with the other three planks jettisoned. Jeremy had a studio audience but the bulk of the show was replaying the set-ups on film. The pranks would always end up with Jeremy appearing in a thin disguise and the victim realising he/she had been had. The participants would then be invited to the studio for Jeremy to have a final word with after the film had been run.
The show ran for ten years and was replaced with the similar It's Beadle.
Saturday, 2 September 2017
First viewed : December 1986
This epic US mini-series about the American Civil War was based on a set of novels by John Jakes and was a worthy successor to The Thorn Birds in the trash stakes. I only dipped in and out but my mum and sister watched it throughout. The latter had been to the US during the summer and seen one of the major locations used in the series.
It concerned two friends Orry ( Patrick Swayze ) and George ( James Read ) who were at military academy together but then find themselves on opposite sides in the conflict and of course keep bumping into each other. Orry's simpering love interest Madeline was played by English actress Lesley-Anne Down; she was 32 at the time and as Upstairs Downstairs was literally half a lifetime ago for me, it was very difficult to accept her as an ingenue with a Southern accent. Kirstie Alley was also in it as George's sister Virgilia, an anti-slavery fanatic. Historical figures popped up regularly with Hal Holbrook playing Lincoln.
The cast also featured many Hollywood vets slumming it including repeat offenders Jean Simmonds and Robert Mitchum but also James Stewart and Olivia de Havilland.
There was a shorter second series made in 1994 but if it was shown in the UK I never saw it.
Friday, 1 September 2017
First viewed : Uncertain
This documentary strand on BBC Two had been running since 1981 so I think I must have caught sight of it before, but the first programme I can definitely recall is a two-parter from December 1986 entitled The Chosen Few which followed the fortunes of two applicants for the Civil Service, an opinionated male leftie and a middle of the road public school girl. Given I was job-hunting at the time, it was of considerable interest although I never applied to join the Civil Service myself.
I can't remember now which one of them got the job. He seemed to be rubbing the panel up the wrong way while her suggestion of a buffer state between Israel and its hostile neighbours was rightly ridiculed. Perhaps it was neither of them as there were other candidates in the field who weren't filmed.
Thursday, 31 August 2017
First viewed : 22 November 1986
Channel Four broadcast this legal marathon on the 23rd anniversary of the Kennedy assassination. It was as realistic as it could be given that the defendant had been dead for over 20 years. It was conducted by a genuine judge and the cases were argued by two high-powered lawyers, Manson-prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi for the prosecution and Gerry Spence, who won compensation for the family of nuclear whistle-blower Karen Silkwood, for the defence. The jury was selected according to normal Texan procedure. The witnesses were all genuine but it didn't tell you how many had declined to participate.
In the end Bugliosi was triumphant against the over-emotional Spence and got a guilty verdict.
Wednesday, 30 August 2017
First viewed : Uncertain
This started at the end of October 1986 but I've absolutely no idea of when I first caught an episode. Based on a US game show Strike It Rich ,it was re-named here to avoid confusion with a recent BBC1 drama with that title. Strike It Lucky was a game show which tested general knowledge but also had elements of gambling and snakes and ladders as contestants risked landing on Hot Spots .
It was hosted by comedian Michael Barrymore who'd won New Faces in 1979 and been a regular on Royal Variety Performances but hadn't yet found the right TV vehicle. Strike It Lucky made him a household name and deservedly so for his manic energy and genuine interest in the contestants, the pre-game chat often lasting for well over 5 minutes.
The show ran for thirteen years before Barrymore wanted to pursue other projects. Alas for him that only lasted for a couple of years before the death of a young man in his swimming pool in 2001 and the prolonged uncertainty over what charges he would face in relation to it utterly destroyed his TV career. His sporadic appearances as a clearly reluctant participant in reality shows only underline his fall from grace.
Tuesday, 29 August 2017
First viewed : 24 October 1986
This was another golden Granada adaptation , this time of JB Priestley's novel of music hall life just before the cataclysm of the First World War. David Plowright again called in family favours to get his brother-in-law Sir Laurence Olivier to appear in the series. I watched this one on my own ; I never understood why my mum, usually a sucker for period drama, wasn't interested.
The seven part serial is often remembered as providing the first leading role on TV for the 26-year old Colin Firth as the orphaned young man Richard Herncastle who goes to work for his uncle Nick ( John Castle ) , an icy, cynical, illusionist in a travelling music hall company. It's through Richard's eyes that we see a colourful world teetering on the brink of catastrophe. As well as learning stage craft, Richard also works his way through the female cast from true love, naive Nancy ( Beatie Edney ) to a dangerous liaison with older woman Julie ( Carmen du Sautoy ) plus casual encounters with Nonie ( Francesca McGregor ) , a saucy French acrobat and Lily ( Pamela Stephenson ) a sweet English rose on stage but a debauched voyeur in private.
Olivier played Harry Burrard in the first episode , a hopelessly out of date comedian with nowhere to go who interprets the merciless heckling as a political plot against him. Brian Glover played Julie's partner, Tommy Beamish a bullying boorish comedian. The notorious Christopher Rozycki popped in for one scene as a drunken Russian and chewed the scenery in fine style; he had a glass of whiskey in one hand and there wasn't much left by the end of the scene even though he hadn't drunk any of it.
Though somewhat bleak in tone, I really enjoyed it and am disappointed it's not more celebrated.
Monday, 28 August 2017
First viewed : October 1986
This was broadcast a few times so I can't be certain of the date. I am pretty certain it's the very last schools programme to feature here. It just caught my eye during a flick through the Radio Times. It was narrated by Mel Smith but also had an on-screen presenter Edward Hayward who produced many of the BBC's schools programming in the seventies and eighties. As the title suggests, it provided a brief look at the history of the protest song, zeroing in on Billie Holliday's anti-lynching protest Strange Fruit and finishing with Billy Bragg championing Jerusalem ( which I'd say was anticipatory rather than a protest but whatever ).
I note that the programme that preceded one of its broadcasts was "Media Studies - Inside Television Making News" which surprises me. I hadn't realised that the "subject" had become embedded that early.
Sunday, 27 August 2017
First viewed : Autumn 1986
This show is of course an institution in Ireland and the second longest-running talk show in the world after The Tonight Show in the US. For 37 years it was presented by Gay Byrne , in latter years also the show's producer, who retired just before the millennium and was responsible for breaking the taboo on public discussion of a number of controversial subjects in Catholic Ireland.
Channel Four used it to fill up their afternoon schedules in the second half of the eighties which was when I caught the odd episode but other than that . I don't think it's been regularly broadcast here. Byrne was perhaps a little too unctuous for Anglo-Saxon tastes.
One or two of its incidents have crossed over into the UK consciousness though. In 1992, it ended the ministerial career of Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Brooke who was prodded into giving a rendition of Oh My Darling Clementine on the same day as an IRA atrocity in Ulster. Not long after that, the nascent Boyzone appeared on the show and a nakedly hostile Byrne persuaded them to do their dance routine without the benefit of a backing track, a clip that's been much repeated since. Sadly, it did not kill their career off as he intended but full marks for trying Gay !
Friday, 25 August 2017
First viewed : 8 October 1986
This is one of those where I can't quite put my finger on why I stuck with it - apart from the boredom of being on the dole of course - despite finding much of it unpleasant and distasteful. It was a four part adaptation of a Fay Weldon novel about a large, unattractive woman who executes a long and elaborate revenge plan against her husband and the woman for whom he abandoned her . I haven't read the novel so I don't know if its clearer there whether she actually makes a Satanic pact to achieve her ends as suggested by the series or merely takes on a new personality.
Newcomer Julie T Wallace played Ruth with Patricia Hodge as the scarlet woman, romantic novelist Mary Fisher. The husband Bobo was played by Dennis Waterman with such a lack of charm or personality that you couldn't understand why either of them wanted him . It was hard to know where your sympathies were supposed to lie in the series. Ruth's revenge plan involved such cruelty to innocents. including abandoning her own children and making Mary's mother ( Liz Smith ) appear incontinent in order to ruin Mary's idyll, that the latter seemed sympathetic by comparison. The plan also involved extreme personal degradation including a naked beating from a kinky judge ( Bernard Hepton ) in order to get Bobo a lengthy sentence after she frames him and then bonking with a priest ( Tom Baker, someone I never wanted to see naked ) before sending him on to Mary. In the final act she has extensive plastic surgery to look exactly like the now deceased Mary and moves back in with Bobo prompting the obvious question, what was it all for ? The series was also entirely filmed on VT giving it a suitably harsh look.
I did like the theme song, Warm Love Gone Cold by Christine Collister and took an interest in her career for some time afterwards. The series went down well both here and in America and there was a considerably bowdlerised film version starring Roseanne Barr and Meryl Streep in 1989.
Thursday, 24 August 2017
First viewed : 16 September 1986
Having completed the Shakespeare plays the year before, the BBC Two drama department turned their attention to the Greek playwrights with the three tragic plays by Sophocles broadcast on consecutive nights. I was interested because I'd studied the first one Oedipus Rex for A Levels three years earlier and I'd read the following two because they'd also been in the textbook we were given.
I think the story in the first one is pretty well known. Oedipus the king of Thebes is visited by a prophet bearing the exceedingly unwelcome news that the man he slew to get the throne and his bride was actually his father and his wife and mother to his four kids is actually his own mother. She tops herself and he is banished from the city by his brother-in-law Creon who then takes the throne himself. The second one Oedipus at Colonus isn't a barrel of laughs either with the blind Oedipus wandering the wastes as a beggar accompanied by loyal daughter Antigone and then plagued by unwelcome visitors including estranged son Polynices who receives only a curse for his trouble. The last one Antigone is more political in tone with a battle of wills between the titular heroine and the now tyrannical Creon over the burial of Polynices's body.
The plays were presented on a stark minimalist set with mix and match anachronistic clothing, Creon's final costume looking like it was on loan from General Pinochet. Anthony Quayle played Oedipus, something of a departure from his usual bluff and genial screen persona . John Shrapnel played the bullheaded Creon and Juliet Stevenson was the predictable choice for Antigone. The Chorus included such familiar faces as Ian Hogg, Peter Jeffrey and Bernard Hill.
It hasn't been repeated to date.
Wednesday, 23 August 2017
First viewed : 15 September 1986
This was a flawed but interesting ten part serial which my mother enjoyed more than I did although I stuck with it. It was written by John Mortimer. Mortimer was a genuine polymath, a prominent barrister who also wrote copiously after working in a wartime propaganda unit and achieved success in both fields. As a lawyer he achieved prominence in a number of obscenity trials such as the Oz trial and then the Never Mind The Bollocks Case. As a writer he came to the fore through TV in the late seventies as the creator of Rumpole of the Bailey. In the eighties, he took on a third role as an arch-critic of the Thatcher government, using his public profile to hector the electorate about the iniquities of Tory policies . These harangues, not helped by his personal likeness to a supercilious toad, did the socialist cause more harm than good.
Paradise Postponed was a lament for the decline of post-war idealism which demonstrated a degree of self-knowledge not immediately apparent in his public appearances. Like Bleak House , the story rested on an inheritance issue. Why did Simeon Simcox ( Michael Hordern ) a socialist vicar in East Anglia but cushioned by the wealth from shares in a family brewery leave those shares to a locally-born Tory Cabinet minister Leslie Titmus ( David Threlfall ) ? Most interested in solving that mystery are his disinherited sons , Henry ( Peter Egan ) , a self-interested writer long since moved to the right and Fred ( Paul Shelley ) a liberal but rather indolent doctor. The story unfolds mainly in flashbacks illustrating the changes in social attitudes since the days of Attlee.
The main flaws were twofold. Firstly, a rather mechanical plot relying too much on Arthur Nubble ( Kenny Ireland ) , Fred's entrepreneurial old schoolfriend periodically popping up with a revelation to move it forward. The great secret becomes obvious well before the final episode. The other was that Mortimer tried to cram in too much social commentary so that characters often became mouthpieces for his themes. I still cringe at the memory of Henry's scene with his daughter Francesca ( Leonie Mellinger ) where she goes into a rant about how unidealistic she is, concluding with "And I don't give a damn about great stinking whales !"
Threlfall had already caught the eye in Nicholas Nickleby and The Gathering Seed but it was Titmus that made his name as an actor, transforming from a gauche provincial nobody to a smooth-talking ,high-ranking politician with the aid of the Radio 3 cricket commentary. There was much interested speculation in the papers about who Titmus might be based on. Norman Tebbit was an obvious candidate but Peter Walker was also mentioned a lot. Mortimer was pretty fair to Titmus. He gets where he is by hard work and determination and though his marriage to volatile Charlie ( Zoe Wanamaker ) is politically advantageous , he does treat her with genuine care and affection. He is clearly morally superior to the local Tory old guard that despise him.
Mortimer went on to write a sequel, Titmus Regained , a less ambitious three parter in 1991 which I didn't see. Apart from Threlfall, I think only Paul Shelley returned from the original cast. It didn't have anything like the same impact. Rumpole of the Bailey finished on TV in the following year ( although he was resurrected on radio in the noughties ). Mortimer's star then dimmed, particularly after the death of Labour leader John Smith in 1994. His successor Tony Blair regarded the "Labour luvvies " in the entertainment industry as an electoral embarrassment and froze them out. Mortimer continued to write, mainly about Rumpole, until his death in 2009.
Tuesday, 22 August 2017
First viewed : 9 September 1986
This was a late night programme on ITV which was effectively an extended advert for the film with director James Cameron being careful not to give too much away. It did whet my appetite for the movie - I'd enjoyed the first one - but I didn't go to see it because I still owed my Mum some money from my last university term and thought it would be self-indulgent to go to the cinema or buy records while that was the case. It was one of the first videos I took out when we got a VCR player at the end of 1989 and I wasn't disappointed.
Monday, 21 August 2017
First viewed : Autumn 1986
This TV phenomenon began life as a replacement for Juliet Bravo on a Saturday evening and has never relinquished its spot since. The genius of the show is that the setting lets the writers get away with melodrama every week and allows a regular parade of guest stars to check in and out ( sometimes permanently ). As well as their coping with each medical crisis the writers throw their way, the programme looks at the personal lives of the staff with story arcs developing over the course of a season. Both its creators, Jeremy Brock and Paul Unwin, were passionate left wing champions of the NHS but with The Monocled Mutineer drawing away most of the Tory fire , the launch of Casualty was uncontroversial.
I don't have a fascination with medical matters and didn't watch the opening episode but did catch at least one from the first series in order to see the lunatic over-acting of Christopher Rozycki as the Polish porter Kuba which seemed to be the main talking point. I became a more regular viewer in the second season when Kate Hardie joined the cast as a student nurse who had an affair with Charlie ( Derek Thompson ) although she wasn't in it for long and I dropped out again once she'd gone.
I became a regular viewer at the start of the nineties when Nigel Le Vaillant was the star as passionate registrar Julian Chapman. His interaction with the steadier Charlie was one of the highpoints of the series. Another favourite character from this time was Kelly Liddle ( Adie Allen ) a student nurse that couldn't hack it. Sadly Le Vaillant decided to quit in Season 7 and although I eventually warmed to his successor Mike Barrett ( Clive Mantle ) it wasn't quite the same without Julian.
The show's writers responded to the criticism of left wing bias in Season 8 by introducing a character , Rachel Longworth ( Jane Gurnett ) a nurse who actually supported the market-led reforms to the NHS. At first she was a bit of a joke, just an unlikely mouthpiece, but eventually they let her become a real character who had a fling with Barrett . That series also saw Tara Moran from recently deceased soap Families join as a nurse but she turned out to be a fly by night. Another favourite of mine Suzanna Hamilton came in as a young doctor with no bedside manner but she too departed before the end of the season, a great shame as her character could have been developed a lot more. Long servng nurse Duffy ( Cathy Shipton ) left towards the end of the series leaving Charlie as the only survivor from the original cast.
Season 9 introduced one of the most irritating characters in bolshie, stud-in-the-nose nurse Jude Kocarnik ( Lisa Coleman ) while Baz ( Julia Watson ) returned from the first series and became embroiled in a long running affair with Charlie.
I think I lost interest some time in Season 10 ( 1995-96 ). I came back to it briefly after I got married ( December 1997 ) noting lad's mag favourite Claire Goose in the cast but my interest was finally killed off by the scene at the end of Season 12 ( 1998 ) when the cast broke out into a version of "Everlasting Love" which was then released as a single. I just thought that was so naff and unworthy of the series.
Inevitably, it's been on in the living room since then and I've caught odd snatches but never been tempted to re-engage with the series.
Sunday, 20 August 2017
First viewed : Autumn 1986
After four seasons of Bergerac , John Nettles wanted a break so there was only a Christmas special in 1986. Creator Robert Banks Stewart and the crew came up with this one to fill the gap in the autumn schedule. With Crocodile Dundee riding high in the cinemas, this series looked to tap into the vogue for bluff Aussie guys by casting Steve Bisley as Sir Jack Bartholomew , a former Australian police officer who inherits a title and estate in England to the dismay of his posh relatives played by Haydn Gwynne and Rupert Frazer. He prefers to set up as a private detective instead with the help of much-younger girlfriend and part-time singer Julie ( Dulice Leicier from Grange Hill ).
Unsurprisingly, it was fairly similar to Bergerac but a bit lighter in tone. As with Brush Strokes , I gave it a try for one episode . I thought it was passable but not good enough to become appointment TV.
When Bergerac returned the following year, Call Me Mister slipped quietly out of memory.
Saturday, 19 August 2017
First viewed : 1 September 1986
This was the latest comedy from the Esmonde and Larbey writing team ( Please Sir, The Good Life, Ever Decreasing Circles ) and starred Karl Howman , a familiar face playing Cockney villains in The Sweeney, Minder and The Professionals, as Jacko, a womanising painter. The producers seemed to know they might have a problem with the material from the start; I remember Howman in The Radio Times giving a defensive interview insisting that the series celebrated women rather than demeaned them and that was before the first episode was even broadcast !
I only watched that first episode which introduced Jacko and his boss ( Gary Waldhorn ) and saw Jacko trying to date two girls at once in different parts of the same pub. I thought it was crap and saw no more of the Dulux-coated lothario's adventures. However it was popular and ran for 5 series until 1991.
As with Carla Lane and Bread , Brush Strokes was the last major success for the Esmonde-Larbey team, their nineties efforts such as Mulberry which also starred Howman, leaving little impression.
Friday, 18 August 2017
First viewed : 31 August 1986
This series seems half-forgotten now but in 1986 it was deeply controversial. It was based on a book of the same name by William Allison and John Fairley published in 1978 adapted for the screen by Alan Bleasdale. It traced the career of a criminal called Percy Toplis who had spells in the army and was shot dead by police near Penrith in 1920 while on the run for the murder of a taxi driver . While in the army, he sometimes posed as an officer, with a monocle as part of his disguise, to pull girls or impress friends . That much is undisputed. However the book alleged that Toplis was the ringleader of the Etaples mutiny of 1917 and that he was pursued after the war by the Secret Service who arranged the ambush leading to his death. Historians with no axe to grind pointed out that the records showed that Toplis's regiment was on its way to India at the time of the mutiny, an event that the authors had greatly exaggerated. This led Tory politicians and the Daily Mail to excoriate the BBC for supposed left wing bias for advertising the drama as "a true-life story".
I missed nearly all of it first time round because I had become reconciled with my old friends Michael and Sean and went to the pub with them on a Sunday night instead. I did see a small part of the first episode in The Red Lion, Littleborough with them, showing the horrendously botched execution of a young deserter. When the series was repeated in 1988, I watched it right through and it was an impressive piece of drama with Paul McGann furthering his reputation in the main role.
At the time of the broadcast , a witness to Toplis's death was still alive, a man called De Courcey Parry who did not enter the controversy. When I used to attend slide shows at Kewsick's Moot Hall in the early nineties ,the host Ray McHaffie would always point him out as an old man attending a summer fete on one of his slides.
Thursday, 17 August 2017
First viewed : 28 August 1986
This US mini-series took on the task of presenting a more factual account of the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 than Arthur Miller's The Crucible . It told the story from the point of view of Sarah Cloyce ( Vanessa Redgrave ) , the survivor of three sisters accused of witchcraft who spent the next decade fighting to clear her executed sisters' names. Sarah does not appear in The Crucible , a victim of Miller's compositing but one of her sisters, Rebecca Nurse, does.
After ten years, Sarah gets a hearing from an examining magistrate ( Patrick McGoohan ) and points out the social tensions in the village that led to the accusations. He eventually decides that he cannot establish the full facts a decade later but grants Sarah three sovereigns as symbolic compensation for the three damaged lives hence the title.
Wednesday, 16 August 2017
First viewed : Summer 1986
This was a late night Channel 4 show taking a light-hearted look at the joys of early parenthood. As both of the main The Tube presenters had recently become parents, they were the obvious choices to host it As it would be another 21 years before I became really interested in the subject, I think I only caught one episode. I remember a feature calculating the opportunity cost of having a sprog with yobbish chants of "We still want the baby!" after every item. There was also a female celeb - I can't recall who - telling how desperate she was for a drink of Perrier Water while she was giving birth. In addition, think this was where I came across Rowland Rivron for the first time