Tuesday, 28 February 2017

618 The Mad Death


First  viewed  :  July  1983

Besides  the  water  shortage, the  long  hot  summer  of  1976  was  also  marked  by  a  rabies  scare. I  can't  recall  what  sparked  it  off   but  there  were  posters  in  the  local  health  centre  warning  of  the  dangers  of  flaunting  quarantine  laws. It  seemed  like  Death was  just  waiting  to  pop  over  from  Calais  and  get  us. Radio  playwright  James  Follett  ( not  to  be  confused  with  Labour  luvvie  Ken )  capitalised  on  this  with  a  scary  drama  The  Rabid  Summer  on  Radio  Four  which  made  such  an  impression  on  me  that  I  taped  the  repeat  and  played  it  to  my  friends.

I  don't  know  if  Nigel  Slater  who  wrote  The  Mad  Death  some  six  years  later  heard  the  play  but  there  are  strong  similarities. In  both,  the  hero  is  a  vet  who  has  to  impose  unpopular  control  measures  in  the  teeth  of  opposition  from  countryside  interests  and  mad  old  pet-loving  ladies. In  this  case,  the  vet was  a  younger  man  Hillard  , played  by  Richard  Heffer  with  an  arrogance  that  made  him  very  difficult  to  like. The  green  wellies  brigade  were  represented  by  Dalry  ( Richard  Morant )  who  was  also  the  suspicious  boyfriend  of  Hillard's  assistant  Anne  ( Barbara  Kellerman ).  Brenda  Bruce  played  the  psychotic  cat  owner.

I  think  I  missed  the  first  episode   of  this  three-parter   but  I   recall  a  scene , which  must  have  given  Richard  Whiteley  nightmares  ,where  Hillard  is  ambushed  in  a  pub  by  a  group  of  yokels  and  has  a  ferret  pushed  to  within  a  centimetre  of  his  face. I  also  remember  Dalry  giving  Hillard  a long-overdue  punch  at  some  point  in  the  final  part.




Monday, 27 February 2017

617 Murder in the First Degree


First  viewed :  9  July  1983

This  three  part  documentary  was  originally  part  of  a  longer  documentary  series  called   Circuit  Eleven  Miami ,  taking  advantage  of  a  decision  by  the  State  of  Florida  to  allow  its  judicial  proceedings  to  be  filmed  for  a  year. It  was  first  shown  at  an  ungodly  hour  on  BBC2  in  1979 ; these  repeats  went  out  just  after  nine. Interestingly, it  was  screened  just  as  the  Commons  were  seriously  debating  the  restoration  of  the  death  penalty  for  the  last  time.

The  drama  centred  on  the  trial  of  a  man  called  Thomas  Perri  who  was  accused  of  the  murder  by  knife  of  an  old  man  in  revolting  circumstances. The  State's  only  witness  was  his  apparent  accomplice  Stephen  Weiss  who  had  been  promised  a  maximum  sentence  of  fifteen  years  if  he  helped  nail  Perri  and  send  him  to  the  chair.

What  struck  me  most  was  just  what  U.S.  lawyers  were  able  to  get  away  with  in  court. The  defence's  entire  strategy  seemed  to  be  to  unnerve  Weiss  by  constantly  accusing  him  of  being  a  sexual  pervert. I  seem  to  recall  one  of  the  questions  was

"Did  you  say  to  Diane  [Perri's  wife ]  "Diane  you've  got  such  a  skinny  body , how  can  you  take  that  python  that  Tommy's  got  ?"

The  prosecutors  would  then  object, the  judge  would  shout  "Sustained ! "  and  then  the  defence  lawyer  would  ask  another  question  that  was  equally  as  abusive  and  irrelevant.

And  this  went  on  and  on. Neither  Perri  nor  Weiss, who  were  both  clearly  relishing  the  presence  of  the  cameras,  seemed  fazed  by  the  proceedings.

This  was  in  the  first  episode  and  I  felt  grubby  just  watching  it. I  couldn't  face  any  more  of  it. Googling  reveals  that  Perri  was  found  guilty  but  not  whether  he  was  subsequently  executed .

Sunday, 26 February 2017

616 Open Space : Power in Your Hands



First  viewed : 5  July  1983

This  was  a  bit  of  an  oddity. BBC2  wanted  to  drum  up  some  response  for  their  new  Community  Programming  Unit  vehicle  Open  Space   ( although  a  number  of  episodes  were  already  in  the  can )  so  they  sent   Julie  Walters, hot  on  the  back  of  her  appearance  in   Boys  from  the Blackstuff , to  England's  most  battered  community  i.e  Liverpool  to  tub-thump  for  it.

Open  Space  was  really  just  a  re-launch  of  the  1970s  programme  Open  Door  which  had  fallen  into  odium   after  an  infamous  episode  where  they  let  some  anarchist  group  plonk   a  potted  tree  in  front   of  the  camera  and  recite  slogans  offscreen  for  half  an  hour.

Resplendent  in  a  garish  shell  suit, Julie  wandered  around  estates  and  playgrounds  arguing  that  communities  should't  wait  for  writers  to  come  up  with  once-in-a-lifetime  dramas  like  ..Blackstuff   to  highlight  important  concerns  but  use  the  opportunity  provided  by  the  CPU  to  make  their  own  documntaries. How  a  half-hour  programme  buried  on  BBC2  in  a  midweek  evening  slot  would  bring  about  lasting  change  was  never  really  addressed.

Still, Julie's  evangelism  did  inspire  me  to  write  to  the  programme  suggesting  they  come  to  Littleborough  and  cover  the  Coach  House  Project.. This   was  instigated  at  a  public  meeting    convened  by  Littleborough  Civic  Trust  in  November  1979  as  a  response  to  the  lack  of  community  facilities  in  Littleborough  ( partly  down  to  the  parsimonious  policies of  the  old  Littleborough  UDC   and  then  the  tendency  of  Littleborough  to  elect  councillors  of  a  different  political  hue  to  the  majority  group  on  Rochdale  MBC  to  which  it's  been  tethered  since  1974 )  . Rae  Street  and  Don  Pickis  ( chair  and  vice-chair  respectively  of  LCT  )  had  identified  a seventeenth  century  building  in  the  town  centre  that  an  ironmonger  was  about  to  vacate  as  a  suitable  site  for  a  community  centre  and  invited  representatives  from  all  the  local  voluntary  groups  to  come  on  board  with  the  project. I  was  at  the  meeting  and  there  was  a  unanimous  vote  to  green  light  the  project  with  Nan  Dearden  the  formidable  chairwoman  of  the  Townswomen's  Guild   nominated  as  chair  of  the  steering  group  ( not.  I  suspect,  an  entirely  agreeable  surprise  for  Rae  and  Don ! )

In  addition  to  the  cost  of  taking  on  the  lease  for  the  building,  which  was  owned  by  the  brewery  for  the  pub  it  once  served ,  the  old  coach  house  required  considerable  work  to  make  it  fit  for  purpose  and  all  the  constituent  organisations  were  involved  in  fund  raising  activities  to  various degrees. My  mum's  playgroup  was  involved,   despite  her  reasonable  questioning  of  what  they  stood  to  gain  when  they  served  the  interests  of  parents  in  Dearnley  and  Smithy  Bridge,  a  good  mile  away  and  already  had  premises  there,  By  the  time  the  Walters  episode  was  broadcast,  the  Centre  was  still  not  open  for  business.    

Besides  being  involved  in  the   Civic  Trust's  fundraising  activities,  I  had  also  made  over  50  %  of  the  proceeds  from  two  raffles  held  by  the  Littleborough  Rambling  Club  ( much  criticised  by  some  of  the  other  members ) to  the  project . Still , there  was  no  invitation  for  me  to  join  the  steering  committee  and  quite  rightly so ; they  needed  some  specialist  expertise  or  someone  who  could  open  up  doors  to  further  funding, not  the  impractical  ideas of  a  teenager. The  approach  to  Open  Space , made  without  any  consultation  whatsoever, was  probably  another  attempt  at  self-advertisement.

The  reply  is   below :


I  heard  nothing  more. The  Coach  House  partially  opened  its  doors  that  October  and  continues  to  this  day  without  the  benefit  of  my  services.

The  earliest   subsequent  Open  Space  programme  I  definitely  recall  watching  was  broadcast  on  9  October  1986  titled  B &  B  the  Real  Scandal   which  highlighted  that  local  authorities  in  London  were  having  to  put  homeless  families  into  bed  and  breakfast  accommodation ,  usually  a  single  room  with  a  shared  bathroom , because  of  the  government's  restrictions  on  public  house building.


Saturday, 25 February 2017

615 Six Fifty five



First  viewed  : July  1983

This   early  evening  - I'll  leave  you  to  work  out  the  exact  time  - chat  show  from  the  Pebble  Mill  team  on  BBC  Two  ran  for  three  summer  seasons  from  1981  to  1983  but  the  first  two  (  when  it  went  out  as  Six  Fifty  Five  Special  )   passed  me by  entirely. It  was  on  five  nights  a  week .  For  the  second  season  some  star  power was  added   with  Sally  James  from  Tiswas  and  Anglophile  actor  David  Soul   becoming  the  presenting  duo.

For  the  1983  season  Soul  was  replaced  by  swarthy  young  Scot  Paul  Coia.  I  recall  episodes  which  featured  John  Hurt  and  the  bloke  he  was  playing  in  a  film, cancer-beating  jockey  Bob  Champion  and  one  which  featured  Mike  Read  and  Paul  Gambaccini  talking  about  30  years  of  the  charts. I  remember  Read  championing  The  Shadows  as  the  first  group  to  write  their  own  material against  Gambo's  plump  for  The  Beatles  given  that  the  Shadows' tunes  lacked  certain  vital  ingredients. There  was  also  a  show  given  over  to  TV  puppets  where  Sooty  attacked  Sally  with  a  water  pistol  ( not  that  that  was   likely  to  faze  her ) . It's  a  shame  he  went  for  her  face  given  she  was  wearing  a  white  summer  dress  at  the  time.

The  feature  I  remember  best  was  in  the  Friday  episode  where  Bob  Langley  would  go  for  a  walk  in  the  Lakes  with  a  celebrity. The  first  one  was  Chris  Bonington  and  I  remember  him  saying  that  he  fantasized  about  food  rather  than  sex  when  he  was  mountaineering. The  second  one  was  Martin  Shaw  who  talked  to  Bob  on  the  summit  of  Latrigg - at  the  time  I  had  no  idea  I  would  be  in  the  exact  same  spot  just  a  month  later -  who  took  the  opportunity  to  show  that  he  was  a  more  thoughtful  guy  than  his  screen  image  would  suggest. I  remember  taking  the  piss  out  of  him  for  talking  about  his  spiritual  guru  and  my  mum  rebuking  me   for  this  nascent  bigotry.

Sally  James  largely  withdrew  from  TV  after  this  to  raise  her  family  although  she  had  a  semi-regular  slot  on  Countdown  in  the  late  eighties. She  later  set  up  a  business  selling  school  uniforms. Since  2000  she  has  been  a  regular  celebrity  guest  on  numerous  programmes. Paul  Coia  has  been  lesss  visible  but  his  career  continues  as  a  game  show  host  on  satellite  channels  and  a  local  radio  DJ.

Friday, 24 February 2017

614 World of Wildlife


First  viewed  : 4  July  1973

This  was  an  early  evening   nature  documentary  series. I  remember  watching  the  first  episode  on  sharks  which  set  out  to  show  that  most  of  them  are  not  as  fearsome  as  their  reputation.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

613 T.J. Hooker


First  viewed  : 1983

I  always  referred  to  this  as  "Toupee"  Hooker  in  reference  to  the  obvious  syrup  sported  by  William  Shatner  throughout  the  series. Contrary  to  popular  wisdom,  this  was  not  the  first  regular  TV  vehicle  for  Shatner  since  Star  Trek; he  had  a  starring  role  in  the  forgotten  Barbary  Coast  in  the  mid-seventies  but  his  re-emergence  here  as  a  paunchy  ex-detective  who  decides  to  go  back  on  the  uniformed  beat   was   almost  certainly   due  to  the  popularity  of  the  first  Star  Trek  movies.

Forget  Shatner  though, the  real  reason  for  tuning  in  was  Heather  Locklear, a  pocket-sized  Farrah  Fawcett  lookalike  who  joined  the  cast  in  the  second  series  as  a  rookie  officer. The  producers  wasted  few  opportunities  to  make  use  of  her  assets  with  storylines  regularly  calling  for  her  to  wear  a  bikini  or  go  undercover  as  an  exotic  dancer  or  other  such  devices. The  third  member  of  the  core  trio  was  Adrian  Zmed  as  Officer  Romano  who looked  up  to  Hooker  as  a  mentor.

T.J.  Hooker  was  something  of  a  throwback  to  seventies  shows  like  Starsky  and  Hutch  in  contrast  to  more  earnest  fare  such  as  Hill  Street  Blues  or  Cagney  and Lacey. As  such  it  was  always  watchable  without  ever  being  essential  viewing.  It  ran  until  1986.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

612 A Midsummer Night's Tube


First  viewed  : 24  June  1983

Taking  their  cue  from  BBC  Two's  Rock  Night  the  year  before  Channel  4  gave  Jools, Paula  et  al  a  five  hour  show  to  play  with  ( Switch  was  on  earlier  in  the  evening  too ).  I only  dipped  into  it , partly  because  of  Wimbledon  highlights  on  BBC Two  and  partly  because  the  line-up  wasn't  that  great   including  King  Sunny  Ade, Culture  Club, Shalamar . Marillion  and  Robert  Plant, none  of  whom  held  much  interest  for  me. The  main  draw  on  the  schedule  was  Jools  Holland  interviewing  Duran  Duran  at  a  French  chateau. It  was  notable  for  the  ironic  questioning  by   Holland, clearly  no  great  fan  of  the  band, and  Simon  Le  Bon  in  particular  failing  to  pick  up  on  this  and  making  an  arse  of  himself. The  feature  did  the  band  no  favours  at  all  and  sharpened  critics'  knives  against  them  which  was  perhaps  Holland's  intention.

There  was  another  in  June  1984 but  I  don't  recall  seeing  any  of  that.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

611 I Like Competitions Because ...


First  viewed  :  21  June  1983

This  was  an  ITV  documentary  about  those  competitions  in  magazines  which  trawled  the  public  for  advertising  slogans. What  struck  me  was  that  some  people  were  almost  making  a  living  from  entering  them . I  remember  footage  of  a  couple  with  a  roomful  of  prizes  and  something else  was  being  delivered  while  the  cameras  were  rolling  although  the  more  cynical  me  of  today  realises  that  was  probably  a  set-up.

Monday, 20 February 2017

610 Dancing Girls


First  viewed : 20  June  1983

This  four  part  documentary  series  about  aspiring  dancers  was  originally  broadcast  in  January  1982. The  one  I  recall  watching  was  the  second  episode  which  followed  the  fortunes  of  18  year  old  Joanna  Garbutt  from  Newcastle  as  she  tried  to  join  the  Bluebell  dancing  troop  in  Paris. There  was  a  bit  of  bare  boob-age  on  show  which  is  probably  why  I  remember  it.

I  can't  remember  if  the  programme  mentioned  that  Joanna  had  been  part  of  a  clutch  of  youngsters  from  the  North  East  that  appeared  as  dancers  in  Bugsy  Malone  . It's  sad  to  report  that  by  the  time  they  had  a  thirtieth  anniversary  reunion  in  2005  Joanna  had  already  passed  away.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

609 The Happy Apple


First  viewed  :  20  June  1983

We  come  to  what  I  expect  to  be  one  of  the  densest  parts  of  the  blog  as  there  was  a  long  gap  between  finishing  A  Levels  and  starting  university in  October. I  know  what  you're  thinking,  that  I  should  have  found  some  gainful  employment  over  the  summer,  and  that's  probably  true  but  such  opportunities  tend  to  be  manual  and  I honestly  don't  think  I  was  robust  enough  to  do  a  week's  manual  work  to  an  employer's  satisfaction.

Watching  the  first  episode  of  The  Happy  Apple  was  a  classic  case  of  staying  with   the  channel  after  Coronation  Street. It  was  a  seven  part  sitcom  written  by  Keith  Waterhouse  based  on  a  play  by  Jack  Pulman. An  advertising  agency  is  struggling  to  come  up  with  the  goods  until  they  realise  their  chavvy  young  secretary  Nancy  is  the  perfect  Everygirl   for  market  testing  purposes. Of  course  Nancy  has  to  be  kept  in  her  place  if  the  success  is  to  continue.

There  was  only  one  series  and  it's  best  remembered  for  providing  the  breakthrough  role  for  Leslie  Ash  who'd  been  treading  water  since  her  appearance  in  Quadrophenia  four  years  earlier. Just  months  later  she  was  replacing  the  indisposed  Paula  Yates  as  co-host  of  The  Tube.  The  series  also  starred  Nicky  Henson, Jeremy  Chld  and  Peter  Hugo-Daly.

608 The Black Adder /Blackadder II / Blackadder the Third / Blackadder Goes Forth


First  viewed : 15  June  1983

I  can't  find  any  definite  confirmation  of  this  but  I  think  the  first  episode  of  this  was  broadcast  on  the  the  day  of  my  last  A  Level  exam  ( History , appropriately  enough )  and  therefore  my  last  day  at  school.

I  remember  it  was  in  the  afternoon  and  finished  around  3-30. Afterwards,  some  of  us  mooched  around  the  Sixth  Form  Centre,  hesitant  to  make  the  final  break  although  in  my  case ( and  perhaps  one  or  two  others ) there  was  a  practical  incentive  to  wait  another  half  hour  for  the  school  bus  which  would  take  me   directly  back  to  Littleborough  for  free. This  led  to  an  unfortunate  little  incident. The  huddle  started  breaking  up  and  an  early  driver  called  John  Bradley , never  a  great  friend  but  he'd  matured  a  lot  during  the  sixth  form, offered  me  a  lift  into  town. As  this  meant  Rochdale  and  the  need  to  catch  an  ordinary  bus   on  to  Littleborough  I  just  said  "Nah"  without  bothering to  explain  why. "Sod  off  then  you  ungrateful  bastard !"  was  the  perhaps  predictable  response. And  so  my  school  days  ended  on  a  sour  note.

The  Black  Adder  was  eagerly  anticipated  as  the  first  TV  vehicle  for  Rowan  Atkinson  since  the  demise  of  Not  The  Nine  O  Clock  News   a  year  earlier.  It  placed  him  in  a  counter-factual  scenario  where  the  fictional  character  of  Edmund  Plantagenet, younger  son  of  Richard  Duke  of  York,  one  of  the  Princes  in  the  Tower  mistakenly  slays  Richard  III  after  his  victory  at  Bosworth  and  thus  makes  his  father  the  king  as  Richard  IV. Written  by  Atkinson   ( his  only  series  as  a  writer ) and  Richard  Curtis , it  was  expensively  filmed  on  location  and  parodies  a  number  of  medieval  themes  and  events  such  as  dynastic  marriages, church-state  conflicts  and  religious  relics  ( the  appearance  of  Joan  of  Arc's  boobs  is  in  shocking  taste; I  wonder  if  that's  been  altered  in  the  French  releases ).

Edmund  is  a  snivelling, cowardly  figure  often  forgotten  by  his  father  ( played  with  scenery-gnawing  relish  by  Brian  Blessed )  but  in  fact  unworthy  of  his  love  anyway. He  has  to  rely  upon  faithful  servant  Baldric  ( Tony  Robinson, then  best  known  for  a  stint  on  Play  Away )   to  get  by,  hindered  by  the  fabulously  stupid  Lord  Percy  ( Tim  McInerny ) . Peter  Cook  made  a  guest  appearance  as  Richard  III.

Though  quite  well  received  at  the  time,  the  series  has  come  to   be  regarded  as   the  runt  in  the  litter when  compared  to  its  successors. No  doubt  this  suits  Ben  Elton  as  it's  the  only  one  in  which  he  didn't  have  a  hand  in  the  writing. It  isn't  consistently  funny  but  I  would  argue  you  could  say  that  about  some  of  the  others.

Michael  Grade  delayed  commissioning  a  follow-up  due  to  the  cost  and  insisted  future  series  were  studio-bound. Blackadder  II   eventually  emerged  in  1986  with  Blackadder  now   a  somewhat  nobler  Elizabethan  courtier  scheming  just  to  stay  alive  in  the  treacherous  politics  of  the  time. Baldric  and  Percy  remained  in  situ  as  descendants  of   their  original  characters . Elton  came  on  board  as  a  writer  which  also  meant  the  involvement  of  Fry  and  Laurie. Fry  had  a  major  part  in  the  series  as  Blackadder's   rival  Melchett  and  was  one  of  the  reasons  I  largely  stayed  away  from  it.

I  did  watch  Blackadder  the  Third   through  and  enjoyed  it. This  had  Blackadder  as  the  clever    butler  having  to  do  the  thinking  for  the  brainless  Prince  Regent  played  by  Hugh  Laurie. Baldric  remained  in  place  but  not  Percy  as  McInerny  was  fearful  of  being  typecast  and  only  appeared  as  a  different  character  in  a  guest  role.

I  don't  think  I  saw  any  of  the  last  series  Blackadder  Goes  Forth  but  the  reasons  for  that  now  evade  me.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

607 General Election 1983


First  viewed :  May  1983

This  was  a  landmark  general  election  in  many  ways. Personally,  it  was  the  first  one  in  which  I  was  able  to  vote. One  of  my  fellow  pupils, a  nice  girl  called  Claire  Twigger, turned  18  on  polling  day  and  was  on  the  front  page  of  the  Rochdale  Observer  waving  her  polling  card. At  the  start  of  the  campaign,  I  was  wavering  between  the  Tories  and  the  SDP-Liberal  Alliance  and  told  the  Tory  candidate  in  our  constituency  Geoffrey  Dickens  that   when  I  met  him  early  in  the  campaign. My  father  had  bought  all  three  manifestos  including  Labour's  notorious  "longest  suicide  note  in  history"  and  I  diligently  read  all  three. That  pointed  me  towards  the  Alliance  and  that  firmed  up  as  they  gained  on  Labour  in  the  opinion  polls  in  the  last  week  of  the  campaign  even  though  our  Liberal  candidate  Richard  Knowles  seemed  a  bit  wet.

We  were  in  a  new  seat,  Littleborough  and  Saddleworth,  that  was  very  different  from  the  previous  one, Heywood  and  Royton  represented  by  Labour  right  winger  Joel  Barnett. Barnett  had  been  edged  out  of  the  Labour  selections  for  the  new  constituencies   and  wasn't  standing  anywhere. Dickens  had  moved  over  from  a  Huddersfield  seat  and  had  attracted  some  bad  publicity during  the  previous  parliament  when  he  almost  left  his  wife  but  changed  his  mind  on  the  drive  to  a  mistress  he'd  picked  up  at  a  tea  dance. Other  than  that,  he  was  a  right  wing,  populist  buffoon  with  an  obsession  about  sex  that  he  tried  to  disguise  as  concern  about  paedophilia  and  Satanism. Knowles  was  a  councillor  in  Oldham. The  Labour  candidate  was  an  ex-councillor  who'd  been  turfed  out  of  his  ward  the  year  before following  a  steep  rate  rise.

The  Conservative  campaign  was  smooth  and  efficient, led  by  chairman  Cecil  Parkinson , the  only  sticky  moment  being  a  fierce  grilling on  TV  for  Mrs  Thatcher  over  the  sinking  of  the  Belgrano  by  a  viewer . The  Labour  campaign  was  a  complete  disaster  from  start  to  finish. Saddled  with  a  fantasy land  manifesto  and  a  leader  who  looked  like  a  confused  old  man, his  gift  for  parliamentary  oratory  useless  on  the  stump  or  TV,  they  made  matters  worse  by  openly  disagreeing  over  nuclear  disarmament  -their  greatest  Achilles  heel - and,  in  Dennis  Healey  and  Neil  Kinnock's  cases, disparaging  the  Falklands  victory.

The  Alliance  campaign  was  a  game  of  two  halves. David  Steel  for  the  Liberals  had  bowed  to  Roy  Jenkins'  experience  and  agreed  to serve  under  him  in  an  Alliance  government. However  the  so-called  "Prime  Minister Designate"  who'd  been  unimpressive  in  Parliament  , was  little  better  than  Foot  in  the  campaign. I  remember  him  doing  a  Party  Election  Broadcast  and  not  even  looking  at  the  camera. With  a  week  to  go,  the  leaders  had  a  "summit" at  Steel's  house  where  he  basically  told  Jenkins  he  was  useless  and  that  he  was  taking  over  the  campaign. As  soon  as  he  did  so,  their  standing  in  the   opinion  polls  improved  and  in  some  of  them  they  crept  ahead  of  Labour.

The  election  date  was  right  in  the  middle  of  my  A  Levels  so  I  couldn't  fully engage  with  the  campaign  and  I  couldn't  stay  up  for  the  results.

The  result  was  the  biggest  outrage  the  first  past  the  post  system  has  foisted  on  the  country  although  UKIP  supporters  have  a  fair  case  for  nominating  2015  instead. The  Alliance  surge  was  just  a  little  too  late  for  them  to  overtake  Labour  in  the  popular  vote  but  they  were  less  than  a  million  votes  behind. They  ended  up  with  26  seats  compared  to  Labour's  209. Despite  the  Falklands  factor, the  Tories  actually  polled  less  votes  than  in  1979  but  ended  up  with  an  enormous  majority. What  most  depressed  me  was  the  fate  of  the  brave  defectors  who  left  the  Labour   tribe  with  all  but  four  ( who  included  David  Owen )  going  down, usually  in  third  place ( although  poor  Dick  Crawshaw  whom  local  Liberals  wouldn't  accept  as  their  candidate came  fourth ). Only  John  Horam  ever  returned  to  the  Commons  and  he  did  it  by  becoming  a  Tory  although  Tom  McNally  survived  to  play  a  part  in  the Coalition  government  as  a  peer.
The  only  SDP  gain  ( the  Liberals  managed  half  a  dozen )  came  in  Scotland  where  an  unknown  postgraduate  student  named  Charles  Kennedy  ousted  a  Tory  minister.


Monday, 13 February 2017

606 The Blue and the Grey


First  viewed  : 16  May  1983

I  only  watched  a  small  part  of   this  three  part  miniseries  about  the  American  Civil  War, concentrating  on  two  families  on  opposite  sides  in  the  conflict. I  don't  think  I  saw  any of  Gregory  Peck  as  Abraham  Lincoln. The  part  I  do  recall  is  the  one  where  a  pregnant  wife  rushes  her  blockade  runner  husband  to  hospital  in  Vicksburg. She  gives  birth , introduces  him  to  his  son  then  just  as  she  leaves  his  ward  it's  hit  by  a  shell  killing  him   and  all  the  other  patients  which  gives  you  a  flavour  of  the  melodrama. The  husband  was  played  by  a  young  Gregg  Henry  (  Mel  Gibson's   treacherous  accomplice  in  Payback ).  


Saturday, 11 February 2017

605 Alfresco


First  viewed :  May  1983

Granada  didn't  always  get  it  right  and  this  series  definitely  came  to  less  than  the  sum  of  its  parts.

Alfresco  sprang  from  a  three-part  Granada-only  pilot  called  There's  Nothing  To  Worry  About  in  1982  which  passed  me  by. When  Alfresco  came  to  the  screen  a  year  later  it  was  billed  as  a  successor  to  Not  The  Nine  O  Clock  News. Talk  about  setting  yourselves  up  to  fail  !

The  first  series  was  written  by  Ben  Elton  who  also  appeared  in  it,  alongside  Emma  Thompson, Stephen  Fry, Hugh  Laurie, Robbie  Coltrane  and  Siobahn  Redmond.  It  was  filmed  on  location  around  Manchester  rather  than  in  the  studio.

It  should  have  been  very  good; instead  it  was  dire. Elton  forgot  the  first  rule  of  sketch-based  comedy ; that  the  sketches  have  to  be  short  and  snappy. In  Alfresco , they  went  on  interminably; even  if  the  premise  was  funny  the  execution  killed  it. A  great  example  was  one  in  the  third  episode  where  a  student  ( Elton )  finds that  he's  taken  up  lodgings  with  the  embarrassing  couple  from  Hell  ( Coltrane  and  Thompson ). This  is  going  quite  well  until  Fry  and  Redmond  pop  their  heads  out  of  the  TV  screen  and  it  becomes  some  lame  attack  on  cable  TV. Some  of  it  didn't  even  try  to  be  funny. Redmond's  performance  of  an  old  Squeeze  song  The  Apple  Tree   to  a  backdrop  of   cheesy  thermonuclear  explosion  effects  was  just  bizarre.Fry  and  Laurie's  two  posh  guys  talking  crap  routines  poisoned  me  against  them  for  years  afterwards.  




Wednesday, 8 February 2017

604 Vietnam


First  viewed : 25  April  1983

This  was  a  long  documentary  series  on  Channel  4  about  the  post-war  history  of  the  South  East  Asian  country  in  which  the  U.S.  became  so  fatally  involved. The  episode  I  watched  concerned  the  ill-fated  President  Diem  who  tried  to  hold  South  Vietnam  against  the  Communist  threat  from,  the  North  in  the  fifties  and  early  sixties.

What  gave  this  story  human  interest  was  that  Diem  increasingly  relied  on  his  family to  operate  his  government  including  his  younger  brother  Nhu  and  his  colourful  wife  Madame  Nhu  who  could  always  be  relied  on  to  make  a  bad  situation  worse  with  her  intemperate  remarks.

Eventually  Diem  and  Nhu  were  assassinated  in  a  military  coup in  1963; the  culpability  of  Kennedy's  administration  in  this  has  always  been  a  contentious  issue. Madame  Nhu  was  not  in  the  country  at  the  time  and  had  to  live  out  the  rest  of  her  days  in  exile  in France. She  died  in  2011.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

603 World War Three


First viewed :10  April  1983

This  earnest  two-part  mini- series,  starring  Rock  Hudson  as  the  U. S. President, speculated  on  how  Armageddon  might  come  about.  I  didn't  watch  all  of  it  but  I  seem  to  recall  it  hinging  on  events  at  a  US  pumping  station  near the  Bering  Straits  which  U.S. forces  under  David  Soul  were  defending  against  Soviet  attackers  led  by  Jeroen  Krabbe.

This  led  to  a  really  risible  scene where  Krabbe, on  the  point  of  overwhelming  the  Americans, requests  a  parley  with  Soul  in  the  hope  they  can  avert  World  War  Thee  with  a  handshake. The  dialogue  went :

Krabbe  : You  know what  this  means  don't  you  ?

Soul : The  end  of  war !!

Unfortunately , at  this  point,  a  hawk  on  the  Soviet  side  throws  a  grenade which  blows  up  our  two  Nobel  Peace  Prize  contenders   and  the  world's  march  to  destruction  continues  although  the  ending  was  ambiguous  enough  to  allow  for  a  sequel  or  spin-off  series  which  never  materialised.

Monday, 6 February 2017

602 Death of an Expert Witness




First  viewed  :  8  April  1983

This  one  reminds  me  that  I  was  still  going  down  to  my  gran's  on  a  Friday  evening  as  we  watched  this  seven  part  adaptation  of  a  P D  James  crime  novel  together.

This  was  the  first  of  a  number  of   James  books  brought  to  the  screen  with  Roy  Marsden  as  her  detective hero  Adam  Dalgleish. The  expert  witness  was  forensic  biologist  Edwin  Lorrimar   ( Geoffrey  Palmer )  a  man  so  arrogant  and  disagreeable  it  gave  Dalgleish  a  number  of  likely  suspects  including  lesbian  sister  Brenda  Blethyn, professional  rival  Barry  Foster , unstable  young  colleague  Andrew  Ray , troubled  pathologist  Ray  Brooks  and  venal  police  detective  Malcolm  Terris. I  remember  which  one  did  it  but  as  it's  on  YouTube  I  don't  want  to  spoil  anyone's  enjoyment  of  what  was  a  pretty  good  whodunnit  with  an  excellent  theme  tune.  

Sunday, 5 February 2017

601 Jury




First  viewed  : Spring  1983

This  was  an  ambitious  13  part  drama  on  BBC 1  in  the  9.25  pm  slot  on  a  Thursday. It  was  about  the  12 members  of  a  jury  on  a  rape  case. Ten  episodes  concentrated  on  an  individual  member   and  their  life  outside  the  courtroom, one  covered  an  affair  between  the  other  two  then  the  final  two  episodes  concentrated  on  the  deliberations  and  the  final  verdict. The  only  actor  I  recognised  was  William  Gaunt . I  don't  think  I  saw  many   of  the  preceding  episodes  but  I  certainly  remember  the  final  two.

The  accused  was  a  man  with  learning  difficulties  and  the  case  hinged on  whether  he  was  capable of  interpreting  the  signals  he  got  from  the  woman  correctly. As  you  would  expect  the  jury  included  a  ballbusting  feminist, bleeding  heart  liberal, hanger  and  flogger  and  a  guy  who  just  wanted  to  get  home  for  tea. I  think  they  found  him  not  guilty  but  I  couldn't  swear  to  that.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

600 King Lear


First  viewed : 3  April  1983

This  was  Channel  4's  Easter  night  offering  although  it  was  actually  made  by  Granada. David  Plowright  took  advantage  once  more  of  the  fact  that  Laurence  Olivier  was  his  bother-in-law  to  stage  a  star-studded  performance  of  Shakespeare's  monumental  tragedy. Besides  Larry  in  the  title  role  you  had  the  recently  deceased  John  Hurt  as  Fool , Dorothy  Tutin  and  Diana  Rigg  as  the  monstrous  sisters  Goneril  and  Regan  and  various  other  worthies. It  was  a  studio-bound  production.

I  didn't  watch  the  whole  thing  , perhaps  the  last  hour  or  so . Olivier  was  getting  rather  hammy  by  this  stage  in  his  career  but  it  was  watchable  enough. Diana  Rigg  looked  a  bit  too  nice  to  be  playing  such  a  horrible  character.

Friday, 3 February 2017

599 Switch


First  viewed  : 25  March  1983

The  London-based  summer  replacement  for The  Tube   has  been  largely  forgotten  now, partly  down  to  the  fact  that  neither  of  its  presenters,  Yvonne  French  and  Graham  Fletcher-Cook , went  on  to become  household  names  although  the  latter  is  still  a  working  actor.

Switch  was  very  similar  to  Whistle  Test   with  short  sets  played  to  an  audience  of  technicians  in  an  empty  studio,  interspersed  with  the  odd  video. I  remember  Fletcher-Cook  was  very  partisan  in  his  tastes, pulling  a  face  when  having  to  cue  in  the  video  for  Depeche  Mode's  Everything  Counts  and   then  saying  "That  was  Depressed  Toad"  after  it  had  finished.

It's  to  be  hoped   Fletcher-Cook was  a  fan  of  Paul  Weller  because  he  and  the  acts  on  his  Respond  label  seemed  to  get  more  than  their  fair  share  of  exposure. The  first  episode  closed  with  a  continuous  set  from  The  Questions, then  Tracie  ( with  Weller  having  a  rare  outing  as  a  bass  player  on  her  hit  The  House  That  Jack  Built ) then  The  Style  Council. To  be  fair , Weller's  operation  was  based  in  the  capital  so  they  would  be  an  easy  booking.

Respond  were  always  a  shaky  proposition. The  Questions  had  some  potential  but  they  were  a  former  Jam  support  act  and  never  escaped  from  Weller's  shadow. I  think  the  association  probably  did  them  more  harm  than  good. Tracie   ( Young )  was  a  slight  talent  who  just  about  deserved  her  handful  of  hits. Why  on  earth  he  signed  The  Main  T  Possee  ( aka  New  Romantic  loser  Vaughan  Toulouse ) though , I  can't  imagine. I  remember  my  mum  watching  him  do  his  dire  single  Fickle  Public  Speaking  and  saying  "This   is  horrible"  and  she  was  dead  right. Within  a  couple  of  years  it  was  all  over.

By  that  time,  Switch  was  history.  It  finished  in  September  1983  and  never  returned.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

598 Sight and Sound in Concert


First  viewed : 12  March  1983

This  programme  was  making  a  comeback  after   a  five  year  break. It  was  first  broadcast  in  January  1977  featuring  folk  rockers  Renaissance. The  idea was  that  BBC  Two  would  broadcast  at  least  part  of  a  concert  at  the  same  time  ( mid-evening  on  a  Saturday )  that  Radio  One  would  broadcast  it  in  stereo. The  Radio  Times  entry  always  included  instructions  on   how  to  position  your  speakers  ( if, unlike  me, you  had  them )  for  best  effect . The  venue  for  the  1983  season  was  always  the  Regal  Theatre, Hitchin.

Having  looked  through  the  list  of  performers  I'm  pretty  sure  the  only  one  I  saw  was  A  Flock  of  Seagulls  in  March  1983. I  remember  watching  it  with  my  sister  who  felt sorry  for  them  because  they  got  such  a   rough  ride  in  the  music  press

At  the  time  the  band  had  just  enjoyed their  biggest  UK  hit  "Wishing  (If  I  Had  A  Photograph Of  You  )  and  were  still  a  big  deal  in  America. They  had  a  new  album,  "Listen",  in  the  can   so  the  set  was   understandably  weighted  towards  giving  the  new  songs  a  hearing.  Like  U2  , A  Flock  of  Seagulls-  only  had  one   top  notch  musician  in  guitarist  Paul  Reynolds ; drummer  Ali  Score  could  have  been  replaced  by  a  drum  machine  with  no  loss  of  flexibility  were  it  not  for  the  fact  he  was  the  singer's  brother.

I  remember  being  a  bit  disappointed  at  the  time. "Wishing"  was  played  early  in  the  set  and  the  new  material  sounded  a  bit  turgid  so  my  interest  in  the  band  started  to  wane  from  this  point.  Having  watched  it  again  though  it  actually  holds  up  pretty  well. Perhaps we  were  a  bit  spoiled  for  good  music  back  then.

The  series  was  discontinued  after  one  more  season  in  1984.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

597 Tucker's Luck


First  viewed : 10  March  1983

This  Grange  Hill  spin-off   is  most  remembered  for  keeping  Todd  Carty  gainfully  employed  between  his  unavoidable  exit  from  Grange  Hill  and   Eastenders.

Tucker's  Luck   followed  Carty's  character, the  lovable  rogue  Tucker  Jenkins  out  of  Grange  Hill  and  into  the   real  world, accompanied  by  faithful  mate  Alan  Humphries  ( George  Armstrong ) ,always  my  favourite  character. Peter  McCarthy  returned   as  Tommy  Watson  to  make  up  a  trio  after  having  been  dropped  from  the  parent  series  a  season  earlier  than  the  other  two . Hilary  Crane  also  resumed  her  role  as  Tucker's  mum  but  Alan's  dad  was  now  played  by  Peter  Childs  ( replacing  Tony  Barton ). Apart  from  very  brief  cameos  from  Susi  McMahon  ( see  below )  and  Trisha  Yates  there  were  no  other returning  characters. Phil  Redmond  set  the  ball  rolling  as  far  as  the  writing   went  but  later  episodes  were  delegated  to  the  likes  of  Barry  Purchese  and  David  Angus.

The  series  began  with  the  trio  a  year   on   from  leaving  school   under -qualified  and  ill-prepared  for  life  on  the  rock  and  roll. Unemployment  doesn't  affect  the  boys'  libidos  though  and  much  of  the  series  was  concerned  with  Tucker  and  Tommy's  adventures  with  two   girls  the  rather  rough-looking  Michelle  ( Elaine  Lordan )  and  the  Gail  Tilsley-esque  Alison   ( Gillian  Freedman ), both  associated  with  a  Neanderthal  skinhead  Passmore  ( Peter  McNamara )  who  added   to  Tucker's  woes. Alan  is  still  holding  a  torch  for  Susi , his  school  girlfriend  who's  gone  to  college  and  is  no  longer  interested.  She  briefly  appears  in  a  scene  which  will  have  had  many  Grange  Hill  viewers  asking  each  other, was  that  the  same  girl  ?  Actually  it  was, the  actress  Linda  Slater  having  had  a  radical  makeover  in  the  meantime.

Besides  teen  romance,  the  main  focus,  of  the   first   season  at  least ,  was  unemployment  and  it  teetered  on  the  edge  of  becoming  too  downbeat  to  enjoy.  Coming  so  hot  on  the  heels  of  Boys  From  The  Blackstuff  didn't  help.  The  boys  end  up  as  none  too  conscientious  casual  labour  for  Alan's  builder  dad.

The  series  was  quite  ribald  for  its  early  evening  slot,  the  most  memorable  scene  being  the  one  where  the  boys  are  helping  in  a  house  renovation  and  Tommy, at  the  wrong  end  of  a  sewage  pipe,  gets  a  faceful  of  you  know  what. Mind  you  that  perm  deserved  nothing  less !

I  watched  the  entire  first  season  but   my  viewing  of   the  second  in  the  spring  of   1984   was   interrupted  for  the  prosaic  reason  that  it  clashed  with  dinner  time  at  my  hall  of  residence. I  only   caught  the  very  end  of  the  final  episode  after  that. The  girls  were  dispensed  with  but  Passmore  was  retained  for  the  first  few   episodes  and  rehabilitated  as  a  decent  human  being.
Things  weren't  getting  better  for  Alan  though; when  the  series  opened  his  dad  had  died  of  a  heart  attack , the  business  was  failing  and  he  was  living  with  an  unsympathetic  uncle. The main  new  character  was  a  young  homeless  man  Creamy ( Adam  Kotz )  that  Alan  wanted  to  help.

The  third  season,  eighteen  months  later,  passed  me by  entirely. Until  yesterday, I  didn't  realise  there'  been  one !  The  writers  seem  to  have  adopted  a  scorched  earth  policy  and  excised  all  previous  characters  bar  Tucker , his  mum  and  Alan  so   the  character  of  Tommy  Watson  was  prematurely  dropped  from  a  second  TV  series, surely  a  unique  distinction. From  the  synopses  it  seems  to  have  been  much  more  focussed  on  Tucker's  family  life.

Carty  of  course  became  a  household  name  five  years  later  in  Eastenders  but  as  someone  who's  studiously  avoided  that  programme  he'll  always  be  Tucker  to  me. Armstrong  wasn't  able  to  maintain  a  career  in  acting  bar  a  couple  of  appearances  in  The  Bill  but  he  remained  involved  in  drama  as  theatre  manager  at  a  large  public  school  in  the  nineties. Since  then  he's  been  a  trainer  for  a  management  consultancy.