Saturday, 18 November 2017
First viewed : 4 December 1987
This three part serial turned into something of an embarrassment for the BBC. It was intended to be broadcast in September but was yanked after the Hungerford massacre and put back to December where it became a feelbad drama in the run up to Christmas.
David Threlfall played Don Weaver, a Liverpudlian professional criminal living in Spain and dabbling in real estate who receives a message from his ex-father in law ( James Ellis ) that his 12 year old son has been brutally murdered. He returns to his old stamping-ground to exact violent revenge assisted by Michael Angelis as an old associate and Leslie Ash . who created some extra publicity for the series by appearing topless in a shower scene. Terence Harvey as a bent cop and Craig Charles as a gangster were also along for the rude.
The series was unremittingly grim and violent. It owed a lot to Get Carter and like Carter, Weaver was an evil thug given to bouts of hypocritical self-pity and a rapist to boot. A fair proportion of the cast ended up dead by the final reel. Liverpool was portrayed as a lawless , abandoned ghost city where anything went, the boy's murder turning out to be a senseless act of gratification by three loser junkies who had no idea who he was. There was some of that old Scouse humour which somehow made things worse. Weaver is fond of showing people a photo of his apartment block in the Med and does so to one of the murderers he's about to top saying "That's my baby" to which the doomed scally replies "I'm more of a leg man myself".
Richard Griffiths was also in it as Ellis's innocent partner in a bookshop. He functioned as a sort of one man Greek chorus giving an ironic perspective on the cycle of violence which I guess gave the writers a get-out clause in the face of the criticism the series received.
Friday, 17 November 2017
First viewed : 7 November 1987
This was a one-off drama for Remembrance Day ( or near enough ) chronicling the devastation inflicted on a village cricket team by World War One. It was a familiar enough story, the sudden interruption of a glorious summer by the horrors of the world's most destructive conflict but well done with a fairly unknown cast.
Thursday, 16 November 2017
First viewed : Autumn 1987
This was a legal magazine programme on BBC Two presented by Rough Justice's David Jessel so it tended to take a rather sceptical view of the workings of the law to say the least. I watched the odd episode in the autumn of 1987 because Law was a module in the Graduate Conversion Course I was doing at Liverpool Poly at the time.
Wednesday, 15 November 2017
First viewed : Autumn 1987
This was a BBC North West revival , in the mid-evening Friday regional slot on BBC Two, of an inter-town talent contest that ran in the fifties. It was presented by Stuart Hall. The two towns had celebrity champions. The only episode I saw had ex-Liver Bird Polly James pitted against Bill Waddington ( Coronation St's Percy Sugden ) so I'm guessing it must have been Blackburn v Oldham. There was a bit of football-based banter between the two before the contest started. The only act I can recall is a terrible female singer who did Saving All My Love For You pronouncing all her "oo" sounds as "er" hence "We'll be making love the whole night threrererrr !". I'd love to see that again but I doubt there's much chance. Apparently, another episode featured actress Clare Sweeney , presumably representing Liverpool, doing Somewhere Over The Rainbow. It only lasted for one series.
Tuesday, 14 November 2017
First viewed : Autumn 1987
I only dipped into this and chiefly remember it for the fact that my Dad was so keen on it. He generally disdained television except for cricket but in the last decade of his life he developed a taste for period drama if it was set around the time of his boyhood as this was. The Charmer was loosely based on a fifties novel Mr Stimpson and Mr Gorse by Patrick Hamilton and concerns a suave but pyschopathic conman called Gorse who seduces then swindles a wealthy widow to get a foothold in upper class society but is pursued by her thwarted lover Mr Stimpson.
Nigel Havers playing against type as a scheming arriviste, was Gorse, Bernard Hepton was Stimpson, Rosemary Leach played the mark and Fiona Fuillerton was Clarice, Gorse's unattainable lover.
The TV series went much further than the book in bringing Gorse's activities to a definite end whereas Hamilton preserved him for a further novel.
Monday, 13 November 2017
First viewed : Autumn 1987
This one went down like a lead balloon. Roy Last of the Summer Wine Clarke decided to try his hand at a detective show parody and came up with his horror. Pulaski was the name of a fictional cop show similar to ITV's Dempsey and Makepeace where an American ex-priest and his female sidekick righted wrongs. The twist was that we then saw that the actor playing Pulaski , Larry Summers ( David Andrews ) was in reality a drunken arsehole despised by co-star Kate ( Caroline Langrishe ). But in a further twist fans of the show wanted him to solve their cases and the crooks involved expected him to behave like Pulaski too.
It was far too "clever" for its own good and that , coupled with having a detestable leading actor, alienated both viewers and critics alive. I remember Nina Myskow excoriating it. I think I saw just the one episode where he was poncing about in a dress and that was more than enough.
The series was canned after just 8 episodes. Andrews hasn't appeared on British TV since but his film c.v. is actually quite impressive.
Sunday, 12 November 2017
First viewed : 1 September 1987
This controversial US mini-series was belatedly shown on BBC One over consecutve nights, two years after being aired in the US. It had a strong cast with George C Scott in the title role, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as his daughter, Robert Downey Jr and Gabriel Byrne as one his sons and Raul Julia as his son-in-law. While Scott achieved a remarkable likeness that couldn't be said about Gunnar Moller as Hitler and gorgeous blonde Virginia Madsen
was about as far from resembling Clara Petacci as it was possible to imagine.
The series was criticised for concentrating on the dictator's private life and glossing over the nature of his regime and status as Hitler's chief ally ( actually more of an Achilles heel than a prop ) in World War Two. That's fair comment although historians are generally agreed that Mussolini actually thought that Nazi theories on race were nonsense and dragged his heels when it came to implementing anti-semitic policies. Though ruthless enough, he doesn't merit the same level of opprobrium as his ally.
The series was also mocked for its supposedly seamless insertion of colourised contemporary footage. As the Sunday Telegraph's critic observed "It was of course completely unnoticeable as long as you were blind". It didn't amount to much more than a few minutes' footage of tanks rolling anyway.
I don't think it's been repeated.
Saturday, 11 November 2017
Thursday, 9 November 2017
First viewed : 24 August 1987
This comedy drama series based on a series of novels by Jonathan Gash was first broadcast in 1986 and was only moderately successful. I first caught it on its repeat run in 1987, the first episode I saw being the second one where a thuggish criminal is pursuing Lovejoy for loot he's stashed in an antique dresser.
Lovejoy was a combination of The Antiques Roadshow and Minder . Ian McShane was the titular hero , a "divvie" ( someone with a sixth sense for a genuine antique ) and a lovable rogue who often operated on the fringes of the law. Instead of mixing it with the lowlifes of London Lovejoy maintained a precarious existence in leafy and prosperous Suffolk although there were just as many crooks and conmen to contend with . Lovejoy was assisted by his friend Tinker ( Dudley Sutton ), an auction "barker" who often fell off the wagon and Eric ( Chris Jury ) his naive apprentice and a convenient device for Lovejoy to explain the significance of the object in question ( when he wasn't talking directly to the camera ). He also enjoyed the patronage of local nob's wife Lady Jane ( Phyllis Logan ) with whom he had an unconsummated friendship. His business rivals were successful self-made philistine Charlie Gimbert ( Malcolm Tierney ) and the gay Dandy Jack ( Geoffrey Bateman ) although he would sometimes work with them. Most of the storylines had some element of crime in them.
I wasn't the only one who tuned in when the series was repeated and the BBC were happy to commission another series. Unfortunately, in the meantime, McShane had flown off for an unmemorable run in Dallas as Sue Ellen's new love interest and filming had to wait until that finished. The first season got another repeat run in 1990 as a trailer for the long-delayed second season. Lovejoy's absence was explained in the first episode by having him come out of prison after being framed by a local crook.
Otherwise, it largely picked up where the first season left off . Dandy Jack never returned although he was occasionally mentioned in the script and Charlie didn't reappear until the fourth season which I thought was a shame since his antagonistic relationship with Lovejoy drove much of the comedy in the first season. Nevertheless it became regular Sunday night viewing for my mum and I for the next few years and was a big ratings winner with increasingly high profile guest stars. McShane brought over his new buddies Linda Gray and Ken Kercheval to appear although he failed to snag Larry Hagman.
The series jumped the shark in the fifth season when it started shedding cast members. Jane was first to go when her husband went bankrupt. and their mansion was bought by Charlie. She was replaced by Charlotte ( Caroline Langrishe ) , a posh auctioneer who did become Lovejoy's lover. Then Eric was replaced ( because Jury had set up a successful production company and wanted to go behind the cameras ) by Beth ( Diane Parish ) although it was never explained what a black Cockney girl was doing in Bury St Edmunds in the first place. By the start of the sixth season Charlie was gone too and the series had clearly run its course. We were still watching but in agreement that it had gone stale. Even the series finale when Eric and Jane came back for Lovejoy and Charlotte's intended wedding wasn't much cop.
Wednesday, 8 November 2017
First viewed : 14 August 1987
To mark the tenth anniversary of Elvis Presley's death, Central TV put together a tribute show that was part concert, part video jukebox with pre-recorded numbers performed on a set. Some of the artists only appeared in that way. Everyone did one or more Elvis number and though it went on for over two hours , only two of the performances stick in my mind. One was the Pet Shop Boys covering Always On My Mind which went on to be the Christmas number one that year. The other was Kim Wilde doing a very sexy interpretation of One Night with plenty of cleavage on show.
Tuesday, 7 November 2017
First viewed : 4 August 1987
This play was first broadcast in 1968 but was shown again as part of a Dennis Potter season in 1987. The title refers to a slang expression for bonking although sexual themes are not quite as prominent as in some of his other works. The play was loosely based on an historical event in Potter's beloved Forest of Dean which Potter used to show how underlying prejudice can lead to violence and tragedy at the slightest excuse. An Italian impresario and his lovable harmless dancing bear are set upon by vigilante miners over the death of the village tart who has actually been killed by a combination of one of their own and the local vicar. Filmed in grainy black and white, it's pretty bleak stuff and one of Potter's best-remembered single plays.
Monday, 6 November 2017
First viewed : 22 July 1987
This was a documentary about two accused war criminals living in Britain with no mechanism to extradite them for trial. Both Antonas Gecas and Kirilo Zvarich were East European not German but accused of enthusiastic collaboration with the Nazis in Second World War atrocities.
The programme eventually led to the War Crimes Act of 1991 to make the process easier. I don't know what happened to Zvarich but Gecas evaded prosecution until he was ruled too ill to stand trial in response to an extradition request from his native Lithuania in 2001. He died shortly afterwards.
Ironically, one of those most loudly calling for him to face justice was the then - Labour MP Greville Janner, who himself escaped prosecution for sex crimes on medical grounds a couple of years ago.
Sunday, 5 November 2017
First viewed : 22 July 1987
This investigative series was essentially a televised version of the radio 4 series Checkpoint which had been running since 1973; my mum knew who Roger Cook was long before I did. He was an Australian journalist based in the UK since 1968 who specialised in uncovering crooks and confronting them once he had the evidence often at the cost of taking a punch or worse.
Once cameras were involved, the reaction could often be more extreme.The show also revealed Cook to be a fairly chunky bloke whose solid frame could absorb a lot of the punishment. The bigger budget he received from Central TV allowed him to investigate issues with higher stakes than dodgy antiques dealers such as child pornography and the IRA 's protection rackets. In its visual style the programme was very similar to World in Action.
Like Rough Justice, the programme made enemies and Cook was himself subject to his doorstepping technique over an episode suggesting Arthur Scargill had taken money from Colonel Gadaffi. He wasn't happy but he didn't hit anyone.
It's often assumed that the programme was cancelled after a News of the World article in 2000 alleging that much of it was faked which they were eventually forced to retract. In fact the decision to cancel the show had been taken for budgetary reasons two years earlier.
Cook has been semi-retired since the show ended and is now 74.
Saturday, 4 November 2017
First viewed : 18 July 1987
The acerbic Aussie continued to get all the tough assignments and ITV sent him on a weekend mission to Hugh Hefner's abode for an interview and general sightseeing tour. Hefner, perpetually in his dressing gown, stalked the premises like a character from The Great Gatsby living out a male fantasy. With his ad man's patter and freedom from any doubts about the exploitarive nature of his business , Hefner was too wily an old bird to be pinned down by James who was too busy trying not to drool at the sight of so many cosmetically-enhanced bosoms in the vicinity. I suspect that went for the cameramen too.
Thursday, 2 November 2017
First viewed : July 1987
This was a six-part documentary series on BBC Two narrated by Ed Asner , telling the story of the famous film studio. I'm not sure how many I saw but I do recall seeing the second one , mainly about Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, both of whom were still alive when the series was made.
Wednesday, 1 November 2017
First viewed : 1987
It's a bit cheeky to include this as I don't think I ever saw a whole episode through. It wasn't that I didn't like it, just that I preferred to be in The Red Lion when it was on and by the time we got a VCR I probably felt that I'd missed too much. It starred Paul Bown as shy bird watcher Malcolm who somehow acquires a lively Scouse girlfriend Brenda ( Emma Wray ). Brenda also came with a bossy sister Pamela ( Liza Tarbuck ) and it came as something of a surprise to me that I could find such a big girl attractive.
It was Tarbuck's TV debut and the springboard for an ongoing media career. Neither of her co-stars have done as well with Bown still working as a jobbing actor and Wray disappearing from public view at the end of the nineties. The series ran from 1987 to 1993.
Tuesday, 31 October 2017
First viewed : 1987
I only caught a brief glimpse of this hit American comedy show when it got a mid-evening slot on BBC Two in 1987. I had a dim view of American comedy anyway but this took the cake. The titular star seemed to be just standing around flashing his teeth at the audience and laughing at his own jokes. I was appalled and never watched it again. It ran from 1986 to 1990.
Monday, 30 October 2017
First viewed : 23 June 1987
This was a three part adaptation of US campus writer Alison Lurie's 1967 novel which re-set the tale in Southern England. It was shown over three nights on ITV and I missed the first episode.
It starred John Duttine as Roger Zimmern a young sociology professor who accompanies a senior colleague Tom McMann ( John Stride ) on an investigation of a millennial cult that has emerged on their doorstep led by Verena ( Patricia Kerrigan in her first film role ). Both men get involved more deeply than they intended. It was fairly light in tone though quite scary in parts.
Wednesday, 25 October 2017
First viewed : 19 June 1987
This was a late night Channel 4 programme giving a first showing to the video for George Michael's controversial new single " I Want Your Sex ". Both song and video were considered inappropriate for pre-watershed broadcasting so George Michael came in for a nocturnal chat with Jonathan Ross explaining the single and his forthcoming solo album "Faith". There was much talk of AIDS; George is scrawling "Explore Monogamy" on the girl's rump in the still above.
George was still in the closet at the time so the video featured his then-girlfriend Kathy Jeung. Both the song and video are exceptionally tame by today's standards and wouldn't raise an eyebrow let alone be banned in 2017.
Tuesday, 24 October 2017
First viewed : 14 June 1987
This was a tasty Sunday night serial featuring Philip Sayer as Ramsey, a dogged doctor pursuing a group of ruthless cocaine smugglers across Europe after the death of a Cabinet minister. He is aided by the man's daughter Tessa played by the gorgeous French actress ( now a film director ) Gaby Dellal. I remember at one point she is kidnapped and deliberately injected with heroin and he has to take her camping to get her clean. It was gritty and brutal; I seem to recall Tom Chadbon's character getting fitted up for the murder of his boyfriend who gets his knob cut off as part of the set-up.
For some reason I don't think I saw the second season in 1988. There would have been more were it not for Sayer's untimely death in 1989.
Monday, 23 October 2017
First viewed : June 1987
This was ITV's short-lived challenge to Top of the Pops. It was made by Tyne Tees TV and therefore used the same studios as the recently-deceased The Tube. It used the Network Chart which took airplay into account rather than the official Gallup chart. The original presenter was David "Kid " Jensen who'd fallen out with the BBC a couple of years earlier. Like Top of the Pops most of the performances were lip-synched.
Because it was based in Newcastle some acts who'd do Top of the Pops demurred at travelling to the north east so it often got a bit further down the chart than its rival. I remember Joe Cocker performing his song Unchain My Heart on a set that looked like he was in a giant burger which I thought was quite appropriate for his hammy performing style.
The programme struggled to attract a large enough audience. Jensen quit and was replaced by Pat Sharp.
I saw one of the last episodes in March 1988 when I went to visit my ex-house mate Pete, still living in Leeds . One of his house mates wanted to see Bryan Ferry performing Kiss and Tell because Mandy Smith was one of his onstage dancers for some reason. That was the last time I saw him and I've still got the snooker cue he sold me that day..
The Roxy was cancelled a few weeks later.
Sunday, 22 October 2017
First viewed : Uncertain
For a long time after its launch . I deliberately boycotted this series because it was an extension of his intrusive American chart spot on Top of the Pops which I resented as it denied British acts just outside the Top 40 a priceless slot on the programme and often promoted US hits that had hitherto been struggling to make an impression here. That's what presenter Jonathan King was all about; a resentful anti-patriot belittling everything Britain had to offer and proclaiming the superiority of our former colony's culture.
I think it was probably around 1987 that, softened up by Dallas and Dynasty , we started to watch it semi-regularly. It was a well put-together magazine show with King an under-rated interviewer whose irreverent style paved the way for the likes of Louis Theroux. It was also good for previewing stuff that was inevitably going to come our way; I remember first hearing about Twin Peaks on the show. I recall one uninspiring evening when my Mum and I agreed that Entertainment USA was actually the best thing on that night.
Famously, the show came to grief in 1989 when Janet Street-Porter became head of Youth Programming on BBC Two and promptly axed both this and No Limits , describing them as "dreadful". There were stories of King chasing her down the corridor to protest but it was to no avail.
Saturday, 21 October 2017
First viewed : May / June 1987
I would probably have seen this sooner except that it was usually scheduled directly against Coronation Street. Probably the first one I saw was the repeat episode on 1968 which was broadcast early on Spring Bank Holiday Monday in 1987. Fortunately for me, the third season covering the years in which I was most interested, 1972-80, was broadcast at 8pm.
The series was a development of a Radio One series, 25 Years of Rock , which simply intercut contemporary news bulletins with the records of the day. The Rock 'n' Roll Years had more leeway to match visuals with an appropriate record such as matching footage of dodgy Pakistan premier Bhuttto to Thin Lizzy's Don't Believe A Word. The most striking juxtaposition I can recall is from the 1969 episode, with a performance by Marsha Hunt of Walk on Gilded Splinters cut with footage of the aftermath of the Sharon Tate massacre.
When it came to the years I knew best, inevitably I sometimes disagreed with the selections. I'm still flabbergasted that the 1973 episode somehow omitted to use Part of the Union when covering the industrial unrest that year.
Some of the captioning was a bit slapdash. The 1983 episode covering that year's election had a caption that read "The Liberal and Social Democratic Parties form an alliance" which had actually happened in 1981. And I've just noticed that the caption above is incorrect; there were only five victims* and only three of them were Sharon Tate's friends, the fifth being a friend of the caretaker who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The series stopped at 1989 in a fourth series broadcast in 1994.
* unless you include Sharon Tate's unborn child
Thursday, 19 October 2017
First viewed : 3 May 1987
I didn't think I'd caught the first episode of this but I do recall seeing its most controversial item, the presenter Sankha Guha making a fake cash card Blue Peter -style and then successfully extracting money from a cashpoint machine with it. I never watched it regularly as I often had better things to do on a Sunday but I remember a sympathetic feature on All About Eve in early 1988 which helped turn me on to them.
Network 7 was created by Jane Hewland and Janet Street-Porter and broadcast at noon on a Sunday lunchtime on Channel Four. It was aimed at a youth audience with fresh young presenters, a fast editing style and a focus on entertainment news rather than social problems.
It only lasted 18 months but it was influential and helped land Street-Porter a plum job with the Beeb the following year.
Wednesday, 18 October 2017
First viewed : 13 May 1987
This was a dark and demanding drama from Channel 4 based on a novel by Scottish crime writer Frederic Lindsay. Anyone unfamiliar with the book who claimed that they knew what was going on after the first episode was a liar.
Brond marked the screen debut of John Hannah as Robert, a callow Glasgow University student who witnesses the callous murder of a young boy in broad daylight by a man who conspiratorially winks at him as he goes by . The man we later learn is called Brond ( Stratford Johns ) and he keeps popping up in odd places as Robert's life descends into nightmare. At first, Brond does not interact with any other character and the story takes on an hallucinatory quality but once one of Robert's fellow lodgers turns up dead, the story becomes much more political in tone. There's a side dish of Kafka as Robert realises he's at the mercy of forces beyond his control.
There aren't too many sympathetic characters although you feel for Robert in his hopeless pursuit of Margaret ( Louise Beattie ) who clearly doesn't give a shit about him. This is paralleled by the story of Primo ( James Cosmo ) a deluded Scottish nationalist and hard man with a blind faith in Brond that is almost childlike.
The resolution left many questions unanswered as you always suspected it might. My twopennyworth is that it was a political fable with Brond the embodiment of the perfidious Englishman exploiting Scotland when it suited him. In this interpretation, Primo was your typical Scots S.A.S. man killing to order to sustain a system that didn't benefit him at all.
I enjoyed it but could have lived without seeing Stratford Johns in his underpants ( as seen above ).
Monday, 16 October 2017
First viewed : May 1987
This was the first general election of my working life and a senior officer of the council I worked for was standing for Labour in my constituency. As the history books tell us, Margaret Thatcher won a third and final term as Prime Minister with a scarcely dented majority. Labour under Neil Kinnock improved on Michael Foot's showing in 1983 but not significantly so despite a much more impressive campaign.
The result was far more significant for the Liberal-SDP Alliance. Their share of both votes and seats fell , though not disastrously so, after the campaign exposed significant differences between the SDP's leader David Owen and Liberal leader David Steel. The former SDP leader Roy Jenkins lost his Glasgow seat to a young George Galloway and Shirley Williams and Bill Rodgers were defeated in their final attempts to return to the Commons. All three of them backed the calls for a merger after the election. Owen decided to resist them and brought the curtain down on his political career. I had let my membership of the SDP lapse after graduating but I decided to rejoin after the result and voted for the merger a few months later.
Saturday, 14 October 2017
First viewed : 5 May 1987
This mini-series was the sequel to A Woman of Substance . Both were based on novels by Barbara Taylor Bradford about a woman Emma Harte, who rises from humble beginnings to head a vast business empire and take revenge on the gentry family that abused her. Deborah Kerr resumed her role as the elderly Emma with Jenny Seagrove switching to play her granddaughter instead of her younger self. However, Liam Neeson retained his role as her confidante Blackie , made up as an old man and talking through a voice box like a Dalek. I think it's safe to assume he doesn't view it as his finest hour. For some lost reason, I tuned into the first episode, decided it was absolute rubbish and checked out again.
First viewed : April 1986
This is a bit out of sequence but when doing a bit of research on the series I realised I must have seen it a year earlier than I thought. C.A.T.S. Eyes was a spin-off from The Gentle Touch taking Jill Gascoigne's Maggie Forbes character out of the police station and into a private detective agency which was really a front for a Home Office covert unit. Don Warrington from Rising Damp was the man from the Ministry. In the first series Maggie was number two on the team headed by Pru ( Rosalyn Landor ) and they were assisted by sexpot Fred ( Lesley Ash ). For the second series, Maggie was promoted to replace Pru and the glamour quotient was doubled by Tessa ( Tracy Louise Ward ).
Ward was the sister of dubiously-talented Hollywood actress Rachel Ward and it was the publicity around her entrance that prompted me to tune in as she looked pretty hot. The series was a cross between Charlie's Angels and The Professionals. There was little cross over from The Gentle Touch as the more outlandish and feminocentric storylines meant it was very different in tone.
The series was popular but expensive to make so the plug was pulled after three seasons. After the series ended Gascoigne rarely appeared on UK TV. She moved to Los Angeles with husband Alfred Molina and worked mainly in theatre. In 2009 she pulled out of a planned run in Eastenders and is now in a care home suffering from Alzheimer's Disease. Shortly after the series ended Ward married the Marquess of Worcester and soon gave up acting in favour of environmental politics. She is now the Duchess of Beufort.
Thursday, 12 October 2017
First viewed : Spring 1987
This was not the re-branded version of the Michael Barrymore game show but a drama series. I've always imagined I was watching a repeat run of the series originally broadcast in 1986 but in fact it was a second season, I didn't see enough of it to be totally sure of my ground here but it seemed to be promoting the politically sensitive idea that small shareholders actually counted for something. Its characters were a disparate group of people , including ex -Ant bassist Gary Tibbs as a would-be rock star, whose lives were only connected by having shares in a news agency and all seemed to get a happy ending. No doubt it was Maggie's favourite viewing.
Tuesday, 10 October 2017
First viewed : April 1987
Prospects was first broadcast on Channel Four in 1986. It did well there and so ITV decided to give a repeat of the series a prime time slot the following spring.
Prospects concerned the efforts of two young unemployed men, Pincy ( Gary Olsen ) and Billy ( Brian Bovell ) , living in London's Isle of Dogs , to improve their situation through a variety of ill thought out, often criminal ventures which usually leave them in a worse position than when they started. Chrissie Cotterill had a semi-regular role as Pincy's high maintenance girlfriend Mona. The programme was made by Euston Films and had a very Minder-ish feel with its 50 minute episodes and comic take on the black economy.
I remember catching episodes 3 and 4 and enjoying them. Episode 3 had the boys trying to devise a foolproof betting system around greyhound racing while Episode 4 saw them taking their girlfriends on a camping weekend and all four ending up in the same tent. Unfortunately, after that one, ITV decided the ratings weren't good enough and pushed the remaining eight episodes into a late night slot, abandoning plans for a second series.
Monday, 9 October 2017
First viewed : Uncertain
This Channel Four comedy show had been on since 1985 but I can't be certain I saw it until March 1987 when host Ben Elton had a go at Frankie Goes To Hollywood for pulling out of appearing on the show due to Holly having a cold. That was almost certainly a lie given what we know of the state of relations in the band at the time. Ben had a jibe about that well known slogan "Frankie Says I'm Feeling A Bit Sniffly" . Level 42 had stepped in at short notice and Elton want on to make a very cheap crack about them being higher in the charts at the time.
The show was based on the legendary US show Saturday Night Live , predominantly a vehicle for cutting edge comedians but also including music and the odd variety act. Like Hello Mum, it was mainly live but did include some pre-recorded material. It started with guest hosts each week but by the second series Elton had established himself as the regular host and for better or worse his right-on persona came to define the left wing comedian. Besides Ben's motormouth ranting, other features came to be regular such as Mayall and Edmondson's Dangerous Brothers act ( not very funny ) and Harry Enfield's garrulous Greek chef Stavros.
For its last series, it switched to Fridays, with appropriate change of title. That series became dominated by the success of Enfield's next character Loadsamoney, the vulgar loudmouth plasterer making a mint from the property boom. You know something's hit the mark when politicians start referring to it and the phrase became a regular feature of economic discourse in the final two years of the eighties.
Sunday, 8 October 2017
First viewed : Spring 1987
This started as a daytime show when BBC One launched its afternoon schedule in the autumn of 1986 but was promoted to an early evening slot in March 1987. As the title suggests, it was a magazine programme about clothes. It was originally presented by top fashon designer and Mr Sandie Shaw, Jeff Banks and clothes horse Selina Scott. They were joined by rather cute magazine editor Caryn Franklin who took over as main host with Banks when Scott left.
You'd be hard pressed to find anyone less interested in clothes than me but I did show some interest when they covered women's swimwear.
The programme led to an annual fashion show Clothes Show Live which started in 1989 and continued when the programme was discontinued in 2000. Six years later it was resurrected on a satellite channel with Franklin resuming as one of the hosts and continues to the present day.
Saturday, 7 October 2017
First viewed : March 1987
I missed this three-part adaptation ( by the ever-reliable Brian Clemens ) of a Gavin Lyall novel the first time round in 1984 and I think I missed the beginning of the repeat run in 1987 but I was soon hooked. One reason for that was the terrific theme tune by Dave Greenslade, one of my all time favourites.
Charles Dance played Harry Maxim an SAS officer assigned to protect Professor Tyler a visiting nuclear scientist with a nasty wartime secret. Tyler was played by Dan O'Herlihy, always a reliable villain. The KGB are also interested in the visit and Harry has to tangle with an old adversary, Komoscin ( Constantine Gregory ) , the pair having an almost friendly relationship.
I can't recall all the plot details but I remember it turned out that Tyler had resorted to cannibalism in extremis during World War Two. After discovering the secret, Maxim pulls him away from a banquet and when Tyler protests, Maxim drily remarks "I think you've eaten enough".
Friday, 6 October 2017
First viewed : 3 March 1987
Previously best known for The Slab Boys ( covered in the Play for Today post ) , this was John Byrne's first full TV series though he'd written some episodes of Crown Court in the meantime.
The series was made by BBC Scotland and starred Robbie Coltrane in a dual role as Danny and Jazza McGlone. Danny is the younger, but physically very similar, brother to Jazza and comes home from New York for the latter's funeral after he's killed in a car crash. Jazza has been the lead singer for The Majestics, a rock and roll band who've been going for 25 years without ever making the big time and were about to set off on their Silver Jubilee tour. Because of the physical resemblance, the group's devious manager Eddie Clockerty ( Richard Wilson ) drafts Danny into the band despite the violent hostility of the other members, particularly volatile guitarist Vince Diver ( Maurice Roeves ) . Tensions in the band are also inflamed by Vince cheating on his wife with a much younger girl because his wife is the sister of drummer Bomba ( Stuart McGugan from It Ain't Half Hot Mum ) . Danny bolsters his position by inviting his girlfriend Suzi Kettles ( Emma Thompson ) to join the group as well.
The series was very well received and rewarding for some of its cast but I couldn't get into it. I watched the first and last episodes but not much in between. I tuned in for the first episode because it was branded a comedy but I couldn't identify where I was supposed to laugh. The series captured the joyless toil of being in an unsuccessful act very well with many scenes consisting of petty squabbles erupting in one member's dingy sitting room or whilst cramped up in a transit van but it wasn't funny and none of the characters were particularly likeable. Vince was especially despicable and his self-immolation on stage which closed the series left me utterly unmoved. I think I'd have given him a match myself.
This was a period when Thompson could do no wrong which lasted until her self-titled show eighteen months later but a rather large stain in her copy book. Wilson and Coltrane of course got major TV roles on the back of the series.
Thursday, 5 October 2017
First viewed : 27 February 1981
As part of the government's drive to educate the public about the dangers of the AIDS virus, there were a number of programmes on the subject on both the Beeb and ITV on Friday 27 February 1987. ITV had First AIDS or "AIDS - The Variety Show" with Mike Smith introducing various pop stars and comedians to bleat on about the subject for 90 minutes . I suspect a certain Chris Morris may have been watching but we opted for Blankety Blank and Dynasty instead.
The Beeb went for a more succint 10 minute slot after the Nine O Clock News broadcast on both channels . The odd duo of Janice Long and Ian Dury presented the then known facts and half way through Dury memorably demonstrated how to put a condom on an erect penis. It's not known if notorious rock groupie Cynthia Plaster Caster was responsible for the model used but if Dury was the, erm, model he had nothing about which to be ashamed. I remember Sharon, the young junior on our team, remarking how shocked she'd been to see it.
There was a debate hosted by the dreaded Robert Kilroy-Silk on after Rockcliffe's Babies but I went with The Last Resort with Jonathan Ross instead.
Tuesday, 3 October 2017
First viewed : February 1987
Following the success of The Life and Loves of a She-Devil, BBC Two quickly followed it up with an adaptation of a novel Fay Weldon hadn't finished writing and came a cropper with a series no one liked very much and which has never been repeated.
I think the idea was to puncture the ideal of country living and show rural Britain as a nasty , unfriendly place now run by ruthless agri-barons. The vehicle for this was the story of Nataie Harris, a pampered housewife living near Glastonbury who is deserted without warning by her husband and left with two kids and no money. If I remember rightly, she has to sell herself to slimy landowner Arthur Wandle ( Derek Waring ) to survive.
Heart of the Country is at least remembered for giving a first TV role to a 12 year old Christian Bale as one of Natalie's kids. Perhaps he's paying to keep it under lock and key although I think there might have been a radio broadcasting in the background for much of it which always causes problems for DVD releases and repeats.
However , it wasn't Bale that struck me amongst the cast, it was Jacqueline Tong as Natalie's benefit buddy Sonia. I hadn't seen - or at least hadn't recognised - her since she played Daisy the attractive housemaid in Upstairs Downstairs a dozen years earlier and boy, had she gone to seed. Though not yet forty, she was now an overweight frump and Sonia was less a character than a ranting mouthpiece for Weldon's views on the iniquities of the benefit system, threatening to turn the series into Girls from the Brown Stuff. IIRC, she organised the protest at the Glastonbury Carnival which ended in someone getting killed in the last episode.
Monday, 2 October 2017
First viewed : 23 February 1987
Ah yes, I wouldn't have recalled the title of this but I remember it, a live comedy show adapted from a radio show, starring spook-eyed Helen Lederer, former Jasper Carrott sidekick Nick Wilton, Clive Mantle and Arnold Brown. Most of the show was performed in front of, and sometimes involved, a studio audience but there were some pre-recorded inserts. It was just dire and there was no second series.
Although Lederer escaped more or less unscathed, it seemed to scupper Wilton's career as a comic performer though he's still around as both a writer and an actor. Mantle of course found his metier in a straight role as Dr Mike Barrett in Casualty and Holby City.
Sunday, 1 October 2017
First viewed : February 1987
I missed this new John Sullivan comedy first time round but my Mum had caught some of it and recommended it when the first season was repeated in February 1987.
It starred Ralph Bates as the titular John , a middle aged divorcee looking to start again by joining a singles club run by overbearing Louise ( Rachel Bell ) with her prurient interest in the members' sex lives. The regulars were supposedly frigid Kate ( Belinda Lang ), chronically boring Ralph ( Peter Denyer ) and self-deceiving moron Kirk St Moritz ( Peter Blake ).
Bates seemed a strange choice to play the hapless John. He made his name as a Hammer villain in the early seventies then played the dastardly George Warleggan in Poldark . Apart from a turn as a comic French detective in Minder on the Orient Express , he had no background in comedy or sympathetic roles but was very good as John, a decent guy who can't stand up for himself.
The one episode that stands out for me is the one where Kirk sets up Ralph as DJ for a disco night as "Dazzling Darren". Unfortunately "Darren" only has one record, Shaky's Green Door so that plays continuously while Ralph reads robotically from Kirk's script of 1970s disco cliches - "Boogaloo", "Strut Your Funky Stuff " etc. As background to the other characters' conversations it was hilarious.
Dear John was surprisingly cancelled after just two series, a decision still somewhat shrouded in mystery especially as they then bought an American adaptation with Judd Hirsch shortly afterwards. I avoided that on principle but I did see a brief snatch of one episode which had Trevor Eve playing a role originally played by Kevin Lloyd.