Wednesday, 31 May 2017

697 Screen Two / Screen One



First  viewed  : 3  February  1985

Screen  Two  and  Screen  One   were  actually  a  continuation  of  Play  for  Today  under  another  name  as  the   original  brand  was  controversially  laid  to  rest  in  1984. The  ones  I  recall  are

Knockback  ( Screen  Two  27.1.85  & 3.2.85 )

I  only  saw   some  of  the  second  instalment  of  this  two-parter  about  the  relationship  between  Sylvia ,a   lonely  middle-aged  woman  ( Pauline  Collins )  and  the  murderer  Alan  ( Derrick  O' Connor )  she  corresponds  with  while  he  serves  a  life  sentence. O' Connor  had  previously  been  very  good  but  very  typecast  in  thuggish  roles  ( eg. Out  ) and  this  role  allowed  him  to  break  out  and  show  his   versatility. Leslie  Grantham, not  yet  a  household  name, was   a  fellow  lag.   I  recall  the  very  last scene  when  Alan  gets  out  on  licence  and  takes  Sylvia  to  a  holiday  cottage. In  the  most  predictable  plot  development  ever, the  moment  they  cross  the  threshold they  frantically  shed  their  clothes  and  get  down  to  it.


Coast   To  Coast  ( Screen  Two  4.1.87 )

This  was  a  musical  comedy  thriller-cum-road  movie,  set  in  Northern  England  and  starring  Lenny  Henry  as  a  Scouse  DJ  and  John  Shea  ( best  known  for  playing  Robert  Kennedy  in  Kennedy )  as  an  AWOL  US  pilot  and  soul  fan. The  pair  set  up  in  business  as  a  mobile  soul  disco  but  get  drawn  into  a  counterfeiting  operation  by  small  time  villain  Pete  Postlethwaite  and  end  up  on  the  run  both  from  the  military  police  and  a  couple  of  gangsters  played  with  relish  by  Peter  Vaughan  and  George  Baker. Rising  star  Paul  Bown   was  also  in  it  as  a  comic  police  constable  and  Cherie  Lunghi  played  Shea's  love  interest.

Not  being  a  huge  fan  of  sixties  soul  music  myself, I  found  the  Shea  character's  obsession  with  it  a  bit  tiresome  but  there  was  a  lot  else  to  enjoy  particularly  their  trek  through  the  Lakes  and Yorkshire  Dales  where  I  could   pick  out  familiar  scenery  in  its  grey, wintry  finery.  There  was  also  a  lot  of  black  humour  particularly in  Bown's  scenes  when  dismembered  bodies  start  cropping  up.

The  licensing  headache  created  by  using  all  the  old  Motown  tracks  on  the  soundtrack  has  stopped  it  being  released  on  DVD  but  it  is  on  YouTube  at  the  time  of  writing.




Will  You  Love  Me  Tomorrow  ( Screen  Two  18.1.87 )

This  was  a  rather  affecting  story  despite  some  cavernous  plot  holes. Joanne  Whalley  played  Jackie  Rivers,  a  former  child-murderess  clearly  based  on  Mary  Bell, who  absconds  from  an  open  prison  ( plot  hole  number  one - she'd  never  have  been  placed  there )  with  short  termer  friend  Linda  ( Tilly  Vorsburgh ) . With  no  real  plan  in  mind, the  pair  fall  in  with  a  couple  of  young  blokes  Sprint  (Phil  Daniels ) and  Sailor  ( Iain  Glen )  looking  for  (unspecified ) work  in  gaudy  North  Wales  resort, Rhyl. Jackie  finds  some  brief  romance  with  Sailor  before  her  inevitable  apprehension. The   sub-plot  about  a   tabloid  hack  ( Peter  Wight)   on  her  trail  is  a  superfluous  waste  of  time . It  worked  because  of  a  tremendous  central  performance  from  Whalley  as  the  confused  innocent-of-sorts  trying  to  make  sense  of  an  outside  world  which  isn't  what  she  imagined  it  to  be.




After  Pilkington  ( Screen  Two  25.1.87 )

This  was  a  black  campus  comedy  starring  Bob  Peck   as   James  Westgate, a  mild-mannered  Oxford  don  whose  obsession  with  childhood  sweetheart  Penny ( Miranda  Richardson )  lands  him  in  deep  trouble  when  she  asks  him  an  unusual  favour. Another  don, Pilkington,  has  gone  missing, and  she  knows  what  happened  to  him.  Her  husband , the  exceedingly  obnoxious   Derek ( Barry  Foster )  doesn't  and  that's  the  way  she  wants  to  keep  it. Great  performances  all  round  keep  it  convincing  as  the  plot  veers  towards  melodrama.




Tuesday, 30 May 2017

696 Odd One Out



First  viewed :  Uncertain

I  wasn't  sure  I'd  seen  this  at  all  but  the  fourth  and  final  season  in  1985  preceded  Top  of  the  Pops  on  a  Thursday  so  it  was  inconceivable  I  wouldn't   have  caught  some  of  it. Watching  an  episode  now,  it  is  vaguely  familiar.

Odd   One  Out  was  a  BBC  games  show  with  the  usual  crap  prizes   and  an  early  vehicle  for  magician  Paul  Daniels  as  host. It  wasn't  easy  either,  requiring  a  considerable  amount  of  general  knowledge  to  do  well. The  contestants  were  shown  four  words  one  by  one  and  could  buzz  in  at  any  point  to  say  the odd  one  out ;if  they  knew  or  guessed  it  right  they  had  a choice  of  challenging  the  other  two  to  explain  why  or giving  the explanation  themselves  so  there was  an  element  of  gambling  as  well.

Monday, 29 May 2017

695 The House of Lords




First  viewed :  23  January  1985

A  little  bit  of  forgotten  constitutional  history  here, that  the  House  of  Lords  admitted  the  TV cameras  five  years  before  the  Commons.  The  BBC  therefore  gave  most  of  the  afternoon  over  to  live  coverage  of   a   debate  on  the  government's  economic  policy, not  something  I  imagine  they're  ever  likely  to  do  again.

I  recall  watching  it  in  the  TV  room  at  my  hall  of  residence, with  quite  an  impressive  number  of  my  house  mates, that  second  year's  cohort  being  a  quieter  more  thoughtful  bunch  than  their  hedonistic  predecessors. I  remember  Lord  Gowrie  , the  government's  bow-tied  arts  minister,  leading  their  defence  though  he  seemed  to  be  often  sidetracked  into  talking  about  the  National  Theatre  and  Sir  Peter  Hall.

Later  on,  Lord  Stockton  ( the  former  Harold  McMillan )  made  a  telling  speech  rubbishing  his  successor's  economic record  but  I'd  gone  by  that  time.  

Sunday, 28 May 2017

694 By The Sword Divided


First  viewed : January  1985

I  only  saw  snatches  of  the  second  season  of  this  English  Civil  War  drama  because  my  mum  liked  it  and  it  would  be  on  on  a  Sunday  evening  before  I  made  my  way  back  to  Leeds. It  was  good-looking  but  seemed  a  bit  slow  and  the  archaic  dialogue  weighed  it  down  further.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

693 Wogan's Women


First  viewed : 22  December  1984

We're  into  the  Christmas  Holidays  now  and  this  one  was  marked  by  a  not  entirely  agreeable  surprise. My  sister  was  home  after  her  first  term  at  Oxford  and  I  know  this  sounds  bad  but  I'd  kind  of  assumed  she'd  be  out  of  her  depth  there,  particularly  with  her  ultra-conservatism  around  food  and  drink . That  had  now  been  completely  banished , she  was  having  a  whale  of  a  time  and  she  wasn't  entirely  disguising  a  frustration  at  being  landed  back  in  Littleborough  for  a  fortnight  or  so.

This  in  turn  prompted  the  first  evaluation  that  perhaps  I  wasn't  making  the  most  of  my  opportunities  and  the  most  immediate  result  was  using  a  little  diary  to  make  a  note  of  a daily  "achievement" such  as  finishing  a  book  or  trying  something  new  at  a  pub. I  kept  this  up  for  a  while  but  unfortunately  events  were  already  conspiring  against  me  elsewhere..

On  the  evening  that  I returned  from  Leeds, the  members  of  the  Civic  Trust  Footpath  Group  had  their  Christmas  meal  at  some  place  near  Heywood. Earlier  in  the  week  I  had  missed  the main  Civic  Trust  committee  meeting   and  I  innocently  asked  some  of  the  other  guys  how  it  had  been. They  were  pretty  forthright  in  telling  me  how  dreadful  it  was, comprising  a  self-indulgent  monologue  from  the  chairman  Keith  Parry (  who  wasn't  at  the  meal  as  he  didn't  come  on  the  walks )   about  all  the  people  he'd  met  at  the  Coach  House  over  the  past  month  and  little  real  business  being  discussed. I  recall  my  friend  Lincoln  prophesying " If  it  carries  on  like  this  he'll  kill  those  meetings, well , kill  the  Civic  Trust !".

The  nub  of  the  problem  was  that  Parry  had  accepted  the  chairmanship  of  the  Trust  when  his  predecessor  and  her  vice-chair  had  stepped  down  three  years  earlier  in  order  to  become  directors  of  the  Littleborough  Coach  House  Project. It's  my  feeling  that  it  wasn't  long  before  he  started  thinking  he'd  got  the  bronze  medal  and  his  energies  became  diverted  towards  undermining  and  then  replacing  them. The Civic  Trust  could  help  his  cause  by  raising  more  money  for  the  Project  than  the  other  participating  organisations  but  apart  from  that,  he  didn't  seem  very  interested  in  the  society's  activities  and  it  started  to  wither. That  wasn't  all  down  to  him  but  it  was  happening  on  his  watch.

One  of  the  other  members  present  at  the  meal  was  a  man  named  Roy  Prince, my  predecessor  as  newsletter  editor,  who  concurred  with  all  that  had  been  said. After  a  bout  of  ill  health,  he  had  recently  retired  as  a  secondary  school  headmaster  and  had  some  time  on  his  hands. Roy  obviously  went  home  and  pondered  on  what  had  been  said. A  week  or  two  later,  he  called  me  and  revolution  was  in  the  air. He  had  spoken  to  the  vice-chair  Betty  Pickis  ( no  friend  of  Parry's )  and  she'd  agreed to  take  over  with  Roy  becoming  her  deputy. The  unsatisfactory  Treasurer, a  nice  bloke  but  he  was  under  too  much  pressure  at  work  to  do  the  job, was  also  going  to  be  replaced. They  were  going  to  put  the  idea  to  Parry  at  the  next  committee  meeting, did  I  approve ?  I  don't  think  my  vote  was  essential  but  I  said  yes , effectively  committing  myself  to  the  reconstruction  job  in  the  Trust  for  the  rest  of  my  time  at  university  and  beyond.

Ho  hum,  back  to  the  TV.   Terry  Wogan's  career  was  going  into  orbit  and  Wogan's  Women  was  a  compilation   and  review  of  memorable  moments  involving  female  guests  on  his  Saturday  night  chat  show.  Felicity  Kendal  was  on  hand  to  help  boost  his  ego. The  only  bit  I  remember  was  a  re-visit  to  a  notorious  interview  with  Dallas  star  Victoria  Principal  who  had  rightly taken  him  to  task  for  harping  on  about  how  ugly a  baby  her  screen  son  Christopher  was.  Kendal  cooed "I  don't  think  she  understood  your  sense  of  humour  Terry" . No  Felicity,  she  understood  he  was  being  an  arsehole  and  gave  him  the  kicking  he  deserved.


Friday, 26 May 2017

692 The Do They Know It's Christmas Video


First  viewed  :  29  November  1984

This  had  been  well  trailed  on  the  news  programmes  but  the  official  unveiling  of  the  Band  Aid  video  was  just  before  Top  of  the  Pops  on  a  Thursday  evening. It's  still  a  remarkable  story, how  a  washed-up  rock  star  saw  a  harrowing  news  report  about  Ethiopian  famine  and  used  the  only  asset  he  had  left, the  names  in  his  address  book, to  create  the  most  famous  charity  single  of  all  time.

The  video  is  nothing  more  than  footage  from  the  hastily-convened  recording  session  that  produced  the  single  with  the  insertion  of  Boy  George  who  had  to  fly  over  from  the States  to  do  his  bit. It's  now  a  time  capsule  of  who  was  big  at  the  time  with  one  or  two  exceptions  ; if  there's  someone  you  don't  recognise  it'll  be  one  of  the  Boomtown  Rats. You  also  have  to  put  up  with  the  annoying  mugging  of  Culture  Club  drummer  Jon  Moss who  seemed  to  think  his  vicarious  fame  gave  him  the  right  to  hog  the  camera.

For  all  its  significance  the  song  is  a  bit  of  a  dog, little  better than  an  Ultravox  B-side, but  you  can't  knock  the  intention.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

691 28 Up, 42 Up , 49 Up and 56 Up


First  viewed : 20  November  1984

I  first  caught  this  monumental  series  in  its  fourth  incarnation  on  a  Tuesday  night. The  Littleborough  Civic  Trust  Footpaths  Group  had  held  its  quarterly  meeting  to  decide  the  forthcoming  walks  programme  that  evening  and  I  had  informally  chaired  it. I  never  had  the  title  of  Footpaths  Secretary,  because  my  colleagues  wanted  to  make  sure  the  last  person  to  hold  the  post  never  had  a  job  to  come  back  to  after  his  sudden  resignation  in  the  summer  of  1982,  but  effectively  I  did  the  job  for  the  next  fifteen  years. And  it  had  one great  benefit, it  meant  the  idea  of  trying  to  revive  the  Littleborough  Rambling  Club  in  its  public  form   never  crossed  my  mind.

Anyway  by  the  time  the  meeting  finished  it  was  too  late  to  go  back  to  Leeds. There  was  still  a  train  but  my  hall  of  residence  was  four  miles  out  of  the  city  centre  and  the  last  bus   left  long  before  the  train  would  have  got  into  Leeds. So  I   stayed  over  and  came  home  to  find  my  mum  watching  this.

The  series  is  another  great  legacy  from  the  golden  days  of  Granada  TV. The   first  programme  Seven  Up  was  the  brainchild  of  a  Canadian  ex-pat  director  Paul Almond   who  had the idea  of  taking  a  disparate group  of  children  of  the  same  age , interviewing  them  and  seeing  how  their  social  background  shaped  their  expectations  for  the  future   at  the  age  of  seven. A  young  researcher  on  the  programme, Michael  Apted  helped  select  them. From  a  pool  of  20, 14  were  selected.  It  was  not  originally  intended  to  catch  up  with  them  at  seven  year  intervals  and Almond  had  no  involvement  in  the  subsequent  series. From  7  Plus  Seven  onwards, the  series  has  been  Apted's  baby  and  has  remained  so  despite  his  success  as  a  Hollywood  film  director and  advancing  years. I  had  absolutely  no  knowledge  of  the  project  until  my  mother  filled  me  in  that  night.

I  was  only  half-interested  at  the  time  not  quite  buying  into  the  concept  of   lengthy  interviews  with  "ordinary"  people. Except  that  one  of  them  wasn't  the  least  bit  ordinary  and  his  segment  was  really  the  only  part  that  stuck  with  me. Neil  Hughes  is  the  undoubted  star  of  the  series  and  his  sections  are  always  the  most  compelling, a  study  in lost  opportunity  , mental  disintegration and  restored  equilibrium. Neil  was  the  star  of  the  original  Seven  Up , a  bright-eyed, confident   boy  with  a  winning  smile  who  wanted  to  be  an  astronaut. Even  at  fourteen  though, you  can  see  the shadows  approaching  in  his  rather  sombre  demeanour. At  21  he's  an  angry  young  man  living  in  a  squat  having  dropped  out  of   Aberdeen  University  after  less  than  a  term, still  bitter  at  his  rejection  by  Oxford   and  verbally  lacerating  his  parents  for  not  properly  preparing  him  for  the  world.  When  28  Up  came  round , it  took  Apted's  team  months  to  even  find  him  as  he  was  hitch-hiking  across  the  UK  moving  between casual  jobs  and  they  eventually  found  him  in  a  caravan  in  the  Scottish  Highlands.The  anger  had  subsided but  he  was  clearly  suffering  from  mental  health  problems. The  series  has  never  delved  too  deeply  into  his  medical  issues - some  things  should  be  kept  private  after  all - but  Neil  did  let  slip  that  he'd  suffered  from  a  nervous  complaint  since  he  was  16  and  that  was  the  primary  reason  he'd  dropped  out  of  university.  That  may  well  be  so  but  you  also  get  the  impression  that  Neil  is  just  too  sensitive  a  soul  to  survive  out   there, his  obvious  intelligence  more  of  a  handicap  than  a  help.  

Neil  mentioned  his  own  castles  in  the  air ,  a  university  lecturer  on  subjects  of  his  own  choosing  or  a theatre  director  during  that  interview  and  in  a  small  way  he'd  achieved  the  latter  ambition  by  35  Up , a  small  crumb  of  comfort  in  a  segment  that  is  Gothic  in  its  bleakness. That  series  passed  me  by  at  the  time  but  even  watching  it  with  the  benefit  of  hindsight,  it's  still  devastating. Neil  is  now  on  the edge  of  the  UK, living  on  social  security  in  the  Shetland  Islands, physically  decaying  and  seemingly at  the  end  of   his  mental  tether  having  been  ditched  as  director  of  the  local  pantomime  after  one  year. The  scene  of  Neil  hammering  away  at  his  typewriter  because, as  he  says , having  put  so  much  effort  in  he  can't  believe  the  results  can  be  useless. is  personally  unbearable. I  think  you  can  probably  work  out  why.

But - there  are  good  people  and   happy  endings  in  life  as  42  Up  showed  - on  the  BBC  for  the  first  and  only  time  to  date . This  time  ( 1998 )  I  was  fully  interested  partly  because  I  was  short  of  disposable  income  and  more  reliant  on  the  TV  for  entertainment. At  33  I was  also  becoming  a  bit  more  interested  in  the  concept  of  the  passage  of  time. This  revealed  that  following  35  Up, another  participant  chubby  teacher  Bruce  Balden  had  invited  Neil  to   stay  with  him  in  London  while  he  got  his  life  back  on  track. This  seemed  like  a  formidable  gamble but  Neil  repaid  his  faith , did  an  Open  University  degree  and  found  solace  in  becoming  a  lay  preacher  and  Liberal  Democrat  councillor,  first  in  Hackney  then  in  the  Lake  District.  He  also  looks  much  healthier .That  doesn't  stop  the  tears  welling  up  whenever  they  re-run  the  footage  of  the  7-year  old  version.

That's  not  to  say  the  rest  of  the  participants  are  uninteresting. I  particularly  like  Nick, the  farmer's  son  from  the  Yorkshire  Dales  whose  good  humour  and  well-rounded  personality  are  the  greatest  testament  to  the  benefits  of  a  rural  education  in  a  tiny  village  school. He  too  has  had  disappointments, a  divorce  and  the  abandonment  of  a  research  project  in  which   he invested  much  of  his  early  working  life,  but  has  managed  to  shrug  them  off  and  remain  optimistic. I  also  have  a  sneaking  affection  for  Andrew,  one  of  three  well-off  boys  featured. His  life  has  been  the  best  illustration  of  the  series' original  point, panning  out  exactly  as  expected. He is  now  a  solicitor  leading  a  normal  middle  class  family  life , a  thoroughly  decent  guy  with   nothing  remotely  interesting  to  say. You   can  almost  hear  Apted  and  the  crew  seething  with  frustration  at  having  picked  such  a  boring  subject  but  them's  the  breaks. Villain  of  the  piece  is  his  mate  Charles  Furneaux, now  a  TV  producer  himself  and  so  embarrassed  by  his  participation  ( which  ended  after  21 Up )   that  he's  gone  to  court  to  try  and  stop  them  re-running  any  old  footage  of  him.

The  last  one  to  date  was  56  Up  in  2012.  Sadly  the  inevitable  has  now  happened  and  one  of  the  participants , Lynn  Johnson  a  working  class  school  librarian,  died  the  following  year. Apted  has  said  in  the  past  that  he  would  want  a  last  chat  before  any  of  them  passed  away  so  we'll  see  in  63  Up  if  he  got  that  opportunity  with  Lynn.

It's  a  series  that  has  greater  resonance  the  older  you  get. The  further  away  you  get  from  your  own  childhood, the  more  emotional  punch  the  black  and  white  footage  of  those  kids   ( including  the  ghostly  six  who  never  made  the  cut )  in  the  playground  carries. Long  may  it  continue .



Wednesday, 24 May 2017

690 In at the Deep End



First  viewed :  31  October  1984

This  series  was  a  replacement  for  The  Big  Time  ;  instead  of  following  amateurs  looking  to  break  into  the  professional  ranks ; Esther  Rantzen  now  sent  in  "those  two  nancy  boys "  ( c/o  Not  the  Nine  O  Clock  News )  Chris  Serle  and  Paul  Heiney   from  That's  Life  to  take  up  challenges  for  which  they  had  no  obvious  aptitude.

This  added  a  new  ingredient to  the  mix  - humour-  and  although  the  individual  episodes  varied, some  of  them  were  bloody  hilarious  especially  the  ones  featuring  Serle. His  lugubrious  demeanour  had  already  been  put  to  good  use  as  a  comic  foil  to  Dave  Allen  in  the  seventies  and  his  hangdog  expression  as  he  was  repeatedly  humiliated was  comedy gold.

A  classic  example  was  the  first  episode  I  saw, the  second  in  the  second  season  ( the  first  was  in  1982 ). Chris  went  into  training  to  be  a  snooker  player  but  had  little  talent to  develop. Despite  a  whitewash  in  an  amateur  match  with  Barry  Hearn  looking  on  askance, Serle  was  allowed  to  play  an  exhibition  doubles  match  with  Steve "Interesting " Davis  as  his  partner. I  remember  Ray  Reardon  winding  him  up  beforehand  with  sadistic  relish. After  potting  an  early  red , Serle  went  to  pieces  and  not  even  Davis  could  rescue  the  situation.

The  other  episode  I  recall  from  that  season  was  Heiney's  attempt  at  competing  in  a  sheepdog  trial  and  the  lump  in  his  throat  at  the  end  when  it  came  to parting  with  his  canine  partner  Tim.

The  third  and  final  season  was  in  1987  and  I  think  I  saw  two  of  them. One  was  Heiney's   attempt  to  become  a  hairdresser  with  his  guinea  pig,  novelist  Jilly  Cooper   who  threatened  to  kill  him  if  he  botched  it. The  other  was  the  final  episode  of  the  series,  and  for  my  money  the  best  , where  Serle  became  a  press  photographer  (  I  don't  recall  the  term  paparazzi  featuring  in  the  programme )  . The  scene  I  recall  most  vividly  is  Serle  being  invited  to  take  a  few  snaps  of  scantily-clad  glamour  model  Linda  Lusardi.
He  stooped  to  the  camera  with  the  words  "One  hardly  knows  what  to  say".
"Don't  be  shy"  cajoled  Linda.
 "Could  you  erm. squeeze  them  together  a  bit   more ?"
Linda  complied.
Serle  stood  up  straight   from  the  camera  , his  face  a  picture  of  exquisite  embarrassment, and  said  "Thanks".

I don't  know  why  the  series  was  discontinued; perhaps  it  was  too  costly. Heiney  remains  a TV  presenter , currently  on  ITV's  Countrywise  but  Serle  retreated  into  radio  in  the   nineties  and  has  rarely  been  seen  on  TV  since  the  series  ended.
  

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

689 Rock 'n America



First  viewed :  Autumn  1984

Well, I'd  never  have  recalled  the  title  of  this  unaided.  It  was  a  US  import  broadcast  on  Channel  Four early  on  Saturday  evenings. Broadcast  from  New  York,  it  was  fairly  simple  in  format. Comedian  Rick  Ducommon  linked  pop  videos  and  older  music  film  with  his  own  routine  and  comic  inserts.

I  only  recall  two  of  the  items, a  spoof  ad  for  a  chewing  gum  that  instantly  made  a  woman's  breasts  grow  and  an  archive  film  of  a  Beatles  TV  appearance  from  the  Netherlands  in  1964   with  stand-in  drummer  Jimmie  Nicol  in  place  of  tonsilitis-stricken  Ringo  Starr. As  Ducommon pointed  out,  Nicol  started  "playing"  before  the  music  came  in.

There  was  a  second  series  with  a  new  host  in  1985 but  I  don't  know  if  that  was  ever  broadcast  here. A   very  similar  show  with  a  non-human  host  would  presently  be  along.

Monday, 22 May 2017

688 On The 8th Day




First  viewed :  24  September  1984

This  documentary  followed  on  from  Threads,  explaining  the  science  on  which  it  was  based.  Scientists  across  the  Cold  War  divide  (  including  Carl  Sagan  from  Cosmos )now  agreed  that  the  devastation  caused  by  a  nuclear  exchange  would  throw  up  so  much  dust  it  would  block  out  enough  sunlight  to  cause  a  drastic  drop  in  temperature  sufficient  to  make  the  whole  planet  essentially  uninhabitable,  the  "nuclear  winter".  This  would  impact  on  people  nowhere  near  the  military  targets; the  Shropshire  town  of  Ludlow  was  used  as  an  example. Grim  stuff.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

687 Threads


First  viewed :  22  September  1984

This  was  the  British  version  of  The  Day  After,  presenting  the  effects  of  a  nuclear  bomb  on  Sheffield  in  a  style  that  was  half  drama , half  documentary.  It  was  written  by  Barry  Hines, author  of  A  Kestrel  for  a  Knave. 

 The  drama  centres  around  a  young  couple  Jimmy  ( Reece  Dinsdale )  and  Ruth  ( Karen  Meagher )  who  conceive  a  child  just  as  trouble  between  the  USA  and  the  USSR  erupts  in  Iran. The  other  main  character  is  Clive  Sutton  (  Harry  Beety )  the  Chief  Executive  at  the  City  Council  who  is  the  designated  Controller  in  the  event  of  an  attack. That  duly  arrives  in  some  impressive  BAFTA-winning  scenes  of  panic  and  destruction. Jimmy's  caught  out  in  the  open  and  perishes. Ruth  survives  to  give  birth  and  eke  out  a  living  in  the  rebarbative  society  that  develops  after  the  blast  but  eventually  succumbs  to  radiation  sickness. Sutton  and  his  team  do  their  best  while  buried  alive  under  their  Town  Hall  but  it's  pretty  useless   and  they  too  are  doomed. In  the  end,  we  just  have  Ruth's  teenage  daughter  Jane  ( Victoria  O'Keefe ) , a  semi-feral  scavenger  giving  birth  to  something  horrible  after  a  casual  rape.

This  is  interspersed  by  documentary  information  delivered  through  various  media, voice-overs, television  advice, Patrick  Allen's  public  information  films  and  now-primitive  computer  graphics.

As  you  would  expect  it  wasn't  a  barrel  of  laughs  and  still  has  an  impact  if  you  watch  it  today  despite  the  threat  of  nuclear  Armageddon  having  receded  somewhat.

Sadly, O' Keefe  was  killed  in  a  road  accident  in  1990  aged  21.


Saturday, 20 May 2017

686 The Pennine Challenge




First  viewed : 18  September  1984

This  was  first  shown  earlier  in  the  year  on  BBC  North  but  got  a  national  airing  on  BBC  Two  over  four  nights  in  September. The  series  was  made  by  potholing  film-maker  Sid  Perou which  accounts  for  the  high  quality  cinematography  on  show.

The  film  followed  four  intrepid  walkers,  three  of  them  around  the  same  age  as  me , as  they  walked  the  Pennine  Way  in  the  summer  of  1983. They  were  doing  it  the  hard  way  as  well, carrying  a  full  pack  and  camping  all  the  way. This  was  before  baggage  transfer  services  became  popular. The  two  lads,  Jonathan  and  David  from  Derbyshire ,  had  been  selected  as  a  pair  but  otherwise  the  quartet  were  strangers  when  they  set  out. The  girls  were  Sue, a  student  at  Leeds  but  I  never  met  her  nor  do  I  recall  any  mention  of  her  exploits  in  Leeds  Student , and  17  year  old  Sarah  who  was  still  at  school,  doing  her  A-Levels. Neither  of  them  were oil  paintings  but  they  looked  OK  in  shorts.

Sid  has  kindly  put  the  whole  series  up  on  his  YouTube  channel  for  which  I'm  very  grateful  as  I  feel  I'm  guilty  of  an  injustice  towards  the  series. Just  after  it  finished,  I  was  producing  the  latest  edition  of  the  Littleborough  Civic  Trust  Newsletter  and  as  the  organisation  was  wilting  under  the  distracted  chairmanship  of  Keith  Parry  whose  interests  lay  elsewhere, I  was  having  to  write  an  increasing  proportion  of  the  content  myself. I  filled  one  and  three  quarter  pages   with  a  review  of    recent  TV  programmes  with  a  Northern  flavour. Here's  what  I  had  to  say  about  The  Pennine  Challenge.

"BBC  North's  "The  Pennine  Challenge" about  4  youngsters  walking  the  Pennine  Way  had  some  brilliant  photography  ( c/o  Sid  Perou )  and  a  well  versed  if  rather  patronising   narrator. Where  the  programme  failed  was  when  the  film  crew  turned  their  rifle  microphones  to  the  participants'  conversations. As  these  consisted  almost  entitrely  of  banalities  such  as  "Oh  look,  the  sun's  coming  out "  or  "It's  a  bit  steep  up  here  isn't  it  ?," it  didn't  do  much  for  the  walker's  image"

Having  watched  it  again, I'm  a  bit  embarrassed by  the  criticism. It  now  seems  astonishingly  refreshing, a  reality  series  with  genuinely  real  people,  not  one  trick ( being  generous ) pony  "personalities"  hoping  for  a  TV  break.  I  don't  recall  the  introverted  Sarah  casting  a single  glance  towards  the  camera. OK   the  four  teenagers  weren't  as  erudite  as  the  teachers  and  small  businessmen  I  went  walking  with  but  on  the  other  hand,  they  weren't  relying  on  people  more  than  twice  their  age  for  company  ( a  factor  that  might  have  influenced  my  piece ).

Well , enough   of  the  self -flagellation ; it  is  an  excellent  series  which  captures  all  the  scenic  highlights  brilliantly. That  is  the  main  aim  of  the  programme. Narrator  Peter  Allen  hints  at  some  personal  conflict  along  the  way  but  there's  no  footage  of  it.   in   stark  contrast  to  every  other  "reality"  show  you  could  consider. Instead  the  quartet  battle  against  blisters, illness , bogs , bad  weather  and  navigational  errors  with  admirable  fortitude . Sarah  obviously  hadn't  broken  in  her  boots  beforehand  and  had  blisters  forming  by  noon  on  the  first  day. She contemplated  dropping  out  but  decided  to  switch  to  trainers  and  was  able  to  complete  the  route. David  caught  a  lurgy  which  put  their  schedule  out  but  he  too  pulled  through  and  they  all  made  it  to  the  end.

The section that  falls  in  Littleborough  was  briefly  featured. with  the  walkers  crossing  the  M62  on  the  Pennine  Way  footbridge  and  then  descending  the  Roman  Road  on  Blackstone  Edge  with  narrator  Peter  Allen  sarkily  noting "the  legionaries  were  heading  for  a  camp  north  of  Rochdale - probably  not  the  most  popular  posting".

The  programme  captured  something  of  the  bittersweet  feeling  that  comes  with  successfully    concluding  such  a  venture  with  the  quartet looking   pensive  as  they  sat  with  their  drinks  outside  the  Border  Hotel  in  Kirk  Yetholm  and  contemplated  their  imminent  return  to  normal  life. Allen's  comment  that  David  was  worried  about  redundancy  at  his  engineering  works  is  a  poignant  reminder  of  the  times. One  hopes  they're  OK  now  ; all  four  are well  "off  the  grid" , none  ever  attempting  to  capitalise  on  their  brief  moment  in  the  sun. If  things  haven't  gone  so  well,  they've  still  got  a  shared  achievement  that  can't  be  taken  away  from  them.

In  one  important  respect  the  programme  is  very  dated. The  Pennine  Way  is  no  longer  as  popular  as  it  was  and  has  largely  dropped  out  of  the  national  consciousness  as  a  challenge . Even  among  serious  ramblers,  it's  become  less  popular  than  the  Coast  To  Coast  Walk  or  Scotland's  West  Highland  Way. In  part  that's  been  a  matter  of  policy. From  the  late  eighties  onwards,  the  National  Park  and  local  authorities  sanctioned  the  use  of  flag  stones  and  hardcore  to  protect  the  peat  from  further  erosion  on  the  moorland  parts  of  the  route.  Major   diversions  have  been  made  in  the  Peak  District  so  that  what  were  bad  weather  alternatives  have  become  the  official  route  .This  work  has  been  done  with   worthy  objectives  but  it's  fundamentally  altered  the  nature  of  the  walk; you  literally  cannot  walk  in  Wainwright's   boggy  footsteps  any  more. Part  of  the  Littleborough   section   across  Redmires  Moss,  used  to  be  a   challenging  morass ; now  it's  a  stroll  in  the  park. It  simply  doesn't  attract  the  serious  mountaineer  any  more  and  yet  it's  still  too  long  for  many  with  limited  holiday entitlement.


  

Thursday, 18 May 2017

685 Liberal Party Assembly


First  viewed  :  September  1984

There  isn't  that  much  more  to  say   about  this  having  covered  much  of  the  same  ground  a  couple  of  posts  ago. The  Liberal  Party  Assembly  followed  on  from  the   Conference  of  their  SDP  partners  and  what  stood  out  most  was  an  impassioned  quasi-unilateralist  speech   from  their  coming  man  Paddy  Ashdown  against  the  siting  of   cruise  missiles  which  he  described  as  "militarily  useless". I  also  recall  a  smart  quip  from  David  Steel  that , having  met  Reagan  and  Chernenko,  he  wished  that  the  two  men  on  whom  the  future  of  the  world  depended  had  a  more  long  term  interest  in  it.

The  only  thing  I  recall  from  the  1985  conference  was  an  interview  with  Lloyd  George's  surviving  daughter  Lady  Olwyn  Carey-Evans , a  sprightly  93-year  old.

The  1986  Assembly  was  notable  for  the  Owen-baiting  vote  on  defence  and  tributes  to  the  popular  MP  David  Penhaligon  who'd  died  in  a  car  crash  earlier  that  year. Of  more  local  interest  was  the  brief  appearance  of  Cyril  Smith  who  usually  boycotted  the  assemblies  but  popped  in  just  to  declare  that  he  would  be  standing  in  Rochdale  again.   I  was  working  by  the  time  of  the  1987 Assembly.

I  did  watch  some  of  the  special  Assembly - the  final  one  of  the  old  party- called  to  vote  on  merger  which   was  held  over  a  weekend  in  1988. I  recall  a  characteristically  bonkers  speech  by  a  woman  called  Claire  Brooks. Brooks  is  largely  forgotten  now  but  in  the  seventies  she  had  quite  a  high  profile  as  a  perennial  Liberal candidate  who  kept  the  Tory  MP  for  Skipton  on  his  toes,  coming  closest  to  ousting  him  in  October  1974 . She  appeared  fairly  regularly  on  Question  Time  and  could  always  be  relied  upon  to  go  over  the  top . And  she  did  so  in  1988.

She  didn't  like  the  idea  of  merging  with  the  SDP. fearing  the  Liberals  would  lose  their  radical  edge  and  reminded  the  delegates  of  all  the  twentieth  century  disasters  that  wouldn't  have  happened  if  the  Liberals  had  kept  their  backbone  straight  seventy  years  earlier.  If  I  recall  correctly,  her  diatribe  ended  with  the  phrase  "Liberals  where  are  your  balls ?"  The   riposte  came  from  another  perennial  candidate  until  ennobled, Baroness  Nancy  Sear, a  pro-merger  champion  who  dismissed  Brooks  with  her  opening  phrase  "After  that  somewhat  selective  view  of  recent  history...." enunciated  with  exquisite  aristocratic  disdain. Her  position  won  the  day, the  Liberal  Democrats  were  born  and  Brooks  faded  from  public  view.


Wednesday, 17 May 2017

684 Chance in a Million



First  viewed : Uncertain

This  quirky  Channel  4  sitcom  started  around  this  time  but  as  I  never  watched  it  regularly  I've  no  idea  when  I  first  dipped  into  it.

It  starred  Simon  Callow  and  Brenda  Blethyn,  neither  of  whom  were  particularly  well  known  at  the  time,  as  Tom  and  Alison  Chance, a  couple  whose  life  together  is  bedevilled  by  unlikely  events  and  coincidences. For  a  mid-evening  sitcom  it  had  quite  a  high  sexual  content  and  most  episodes  involved  somebody, usually  Blethyn, stripping  down  to  their  underwear. It  was  amusing  and  inventive  but  did  require  tolerance  of  Callow's  constantly   clipped  and  fruity  manner  of  speaking  and  holy  fool  persona.

It  ran  for  three  seasons  from  1984  to  1986. Both  actors  have  expressed  interest  in  reviving  the  series  but  it  hasn't  happened  yet.


Tuesday, 16 May 2017

683 SDP Conference


First  viewed : 10  September  1984

Watching  this  was  not  quite  as  desperate  as  watching  cricket - I  was  now  a  student  member  of  the  Liberal  Party  after  all -  but  it  sits  somewhere  on  the  same  spectrum.

The  party  was  in  a  strange  position, almost  wiped  out  in  the  general  election  a year  earlier  but  now  led  by  one  of  the  most  impressive  political  performers  of  the  decade keeping  their  profile  high  almost  singlehandedly. They'd  also  been  boosted  by  Mike  Hancock's  recent  by-election  in  Portsmouth  South. All  I remember  from  this  conference  is  some  attention  being  given  to  a  guy  called  Fitzgerald  and  his  "Limehouse  Group"  dedicated  to  keeping  the  party  true  to  Labour  values.

Not  long  into  my  next  term  at  university  I  switched  from  the  Liberals  to  the  SDP  because  the  Liberal  Society  at  Leeds   was  dominated  by  hardline  supporters  of   trouble-making  local MP  Michael  Meadowcroft  and  very  hostile  to  a  mooted  alliance  with  moderate  Tories  for  student  union  elections  which  I  thought  made  sense.

David  Owen  kept  up  his  high  profile  and  after  an  impressive  performance  at  the  1985  conference,  the  Alliance  briefly  topped  the  polls  again   until  Neil  Kinnock  stole  the  headlines  a  fortnight  later  with  his  attack  on  the  Militant  leader  Derek  Hatton., a  key  moment  in  Labour  coming  back  in  from  the  cold.

The  1986  Conference  was  marred  by  a  looming  row  with  the  Liberals  over  defence  policy  and  by  the  time  of  the 1987  Conference  all  hell  had  broken  loose  between  the  parties  over  the  idea  of  merger. In  any  case  I  was  working  by  then  so  the  days  of  watching  live  Condference  coverage  were  over.

Monday, 15 May 2017

682 Master of the Game


First  viewed :  2  September  1984

BBC  One  further  blotted  its  copybook  by  buying  this  trash, a  worthy  successor  to  The  Thorn  Birds. 

The  US  mini-series  was  an  adaptation  of   a  best-selling  airport  novel  by  Sydney  Sheldon  published  two  years  earlier.  In  truth  the  first  part  of  the  story  wasn't  too  bad. Ian  Charleson  played  James  McGregor, a  Scottish  adventurer who  comes  to  South  Africa  and  forms  a  partnership  with  Boer  businessman  Van  Der  Merwe  ( Donald  Pleasence ) to  look  for  diamonds. When  he  finds  them  he  is  swindled, beaten  up  and  left  for  dead  in  the  desert. Having  survived  that  he  carries  out  a  daring  raid  on  a  mine, escapes  with  booty  and  comes  back  in  disguise  to  avenge  himself  including  seducing  and  impregnating  the  man's  daughter  Margaret  ( Cherie  Lunghi ).

McGregor  sets  up  a  successful  business  and  Margaret  manages  to  become  his  wife  by  playing  on  paternal  feelings  he  didn't  know  he  had. Unfortunately  their  son  is  killed  in  a  native  rebellion and  McGregor  dies  soon  after  of  a  stroke,  leaving  new  baby  Kate  as  heir  to  the  business.

It  all  went  a  bit  pear-shaped  after  that , starting  with  the  grotesque  sight  of  47-year  old  Dyan  Cannon  as  a  lovesick  schoolgirl  marrying  the supposedly  much  older  David  Maxwell  ( David  Birney  who  is  actually  two  years  younger  than  Cannon ).  Kate  turns  out  to  be  even  more  obsessive  than  her  father  and  destroys  the  ambitions  of  her  son  Paul  ( Harry  Hamlin )  to  be  an  artist  by  paying  a  renowned  art  critic  ( David  Suchet  slumming  it ) to  rubbish  his  work. When  Paul  finds  out  he  tries  to  kill  her  and  so  ends  up  in  an  asylum  rather  than  running  the  business.

And  so  the  focus  falls  on  his  twin  daughters  Eve  and  Alexandra  ( Liane  Langland ) . Eve  is  an  evil  psychopath  while  Alexandra  is  a  bit  dim  but  virtuous  so  it  ends  up  becoming  a  contrived  melodrama  as  Eve  plots  to  get  her  sister  out  of  the  way.

You  also  had  Jimmy  Nail  with  a   German  accent  in  it.




Sunday, 14 May 2017

681 Bob's Full House


First  viewed : 1  September  1984

The  autumn  schedule  began  with  this  new  Saturday  night  quiz  show. I  remember  this  with  particular  affection  as  it  formed  part  of  my  Saturday  schedule  when  Dale  were  playing  at  home. I'd  go  to  the  game  then  come  back  for  tea, watch  this  and  the  following  Juliet  Bravo , then  make  my  way  back  to  Leeds.

Bob  Monkhouse  had  been  poached  from  ITV   and  got  his  name  in  the  title  which  was  fair  enough  as  he  was  still  at  the  top  of  his  game  as  a  quiz  show  host with  his  ad  libbing  skills  and  complete  control  of  the  floor. Not  all  his  jokes  were  great  but  he  crammed  so  many  gags  in  there  was  always  likely  to  be  a  good  one  just  round  the  corner.

Bob's  Full  House  was   based  on  Bingo  ( with  Bob  and  some  of  the  contestants  using  mildly  annoying  Bingo  lingo - "two  little  ducks"  etc )   with  four  contestants  trying  to  complete  their  "card"  by   answering  general  knowledge  questions   which  were  set  at  quite  a  high  standard  compared  to  shows  like  Sale  of  the  Century .  Contestants  could  win  Generation  Game  -standard  prizes  by  getting  their  "Lucky  Number"  right  and  the  first  to  a  full  house  got  a  chance  to  win  a   holiday  in  a  solo  spot  with  Bob.

The  show  ran  for  6  seasons  until  1990 . It's  a  measure  of  Bob's  dominance  that  despite  its  popularity  it's  never  been  revived  with  anyone  else.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

680 Evita Peron



First  viewed :  29  August  1984

I'm  quite  surprised  this  was  late  as  1984  ( though  it  was  broadcast  in  the  US  in  1981 ).

Evita  Peron  was  a  dramatised  account  of  the  short  life  of  Argentina's  former  First  Lady  and  gave  you  a  chance  to  learn  about  it  without  any  dreadful  musical  accompaniment. Faye  Dunaway, only  just  about  able  to  play  the  teenaged  Eva, was  the  star.

The  mini-series  was  in  two  parts  and  I  watched  parts  of  both  without  being  fully  engaged. I  recall  the  scene  in  the  first  part  where  young  Eva  wrangles  her  way  into  the  railway  carriage  of  a  tango  singer  and  then  seems  surprised  when  he  starts  undressing  her  without  even  asking  her  name.

The  second  part  had  Faye  in  fine  scenery-chewing  form , portraying  Eva as  a  revenge-crazed  harpy  when  she  wasn't  making  histrionic  balcony  speeches  lauding  her  fascist  husband. It  wasn't  easy  to  watch.  

679 Cricket


First  viewed : 28  August  1984

It's  a  measure  of  how  bored  I  was  becoming  in  that  long  summer  vacation  that  I  was  prepared  to  give  watching  cricket  a  go. Cricket  had  always  been  my  most  loathed  sport, associating  it  with  my  Dad  hogging  the  TV,  watching  people  in  white  wandering  around  for  hours  with  occasional  short  bursts  of  action. It  was  also  a  sport  where  the  weather  could  decide  the  outcome  which  didn't  make  sense  to  me.

I'm  pretty  sure  I've  got  the  right  date  as  my  Dad  went  to  Manchester  every  Tuesday  to  conduct  small  transactions  at  the  bank  that  he  could  easily  have  done  in  Littleborough  but  I  suppose  he  wanted  to  feel  he  still  had  a  stake  in  the  big  city   and  I  wouldn't  have  dreamed  of  watching  it  with  him.

England  were  playing  Sri  Lanka  just  weeks  after  being  smashed  5-0  by  the  West  Indies  to  a  storm  of  derision  from  the  press, captain  David  Gower  coming  in  for  particular  criticism. I  recall  half  way  through  that  series  they'd  recalled  a  veteran  bowler  called  Pat  Pocock  to  try  and  steady  the  ship  and  he  was  still  in  the  team  against  Sri  Lanka. Other  than  that  I  can't  recall  a  damn  thing  about  it  and  I  remained  unconverted.


Wednesday, 10 May 2017

678 Play at Home




First  viewed : 21  August  1984

Play  at  Home  was  another  Channel  Four  music  programme  which  invited  successful  bands  to  make  a  documentary  about  themselves, showing  how  they  went  about  their  business. No  disrespect  to  the  other  bands  involved  but  the  outstanding  draw was  the  second  programme  which  featured  New  Order, part  of  the  ongoing  thaw  in  their  public  presentation,  having  spent  the  four  years  since  the  tragic  demise  of  Joy  Division  eschewing  the  usual  media  channels, whether  through  a  desire  to  preserve  the  JD  mystique  or simply  to  avoid  answering endless  questions  about  the  suicide  of  Ian  Curtis.

The  programme  offered  a  first  opportunity  to  see  and  hear  the  four  musicians  talking  about  their  music  and  half-delivered  on  the  promise. It  did  feature  interviews  with  Bernie, Steve, Hooky  and  Gillian  except  they  were  asking  the  questions  of  the guys  behind   Factory  Records, the  real  subject  of  the  documentary. Joy  Division  aren't  mentioned  once  in  the  programme.

Poor  Gillian  Gilbert  drew  the  short  straw with  a  visit  to  chez  Wilson  where  she  had  to  climb  inside  the  bath  to  interview  the  great  man  in  his  birthday  suit. He  had  the  decency  to  cover  his  vitals   until  making  a  point  about  capitalism  when  he  needed  both  hands  to  gesticulate  and  all  was  revealed ,including  possibly  the  reason  Mrs  Wilson,ahem  "played  away " with  Howard  Devoto. Gilbert, a  reticent  personality  at  the  best  of  times, looked  nervous  and  embarrassed  throughout  as  well  she  might. She  later  had  a  more  comfortable  encounter  in  the  gym  with  Factory's  female  employees  Cath  Carroll  and  Liz  Naylor  ( and  looked  pretty  good  in  hot  pants ).

Steve  Morris  didn't  fare  much  better, being  saddled  with  an  off-his-face  Martin  Hannett  whose  entire  contribution to  the  programme  could  be  summarised  in  four  words : I  am  a  smackhead.

Peter  Hook  got  the  best  claim  for  posterity  with  a  very  rare  interview  with  the  elusive  Alan  Erasmus , posing  the  questions  while  giving  him  a  ride  on  his  motorbike  on  the  latter's  farm. Erasmus's  answers  left  you  absolutely  none  the  wiser  as  to  the  enduring  mystery  of  what  exactly  he  brought  to  the  party.  

Obviously  a  lot  of  water  has  passed  under  the  bridge  since  it  was  made  and  it's  hard  to  watch  it  now  without  the  weight  of  hindsight. Apart  from  Happy  Mondays'  antics , the  reasons  for  Factory's  eventual  demise  are  clear  enough  already  in  the  cavalier  attitude  to  contracts  and  economics. The  shortcomings  of  the  Hacienda  as  a  club  are  mercilessly  exposed  with  Factory's  own  people  lining  up  to  stick  the  boot  in, a  remarkable  bit  of  television.

I  must  admit  I  can't  recall  anything  about  the  other  programmes  in  the  series  which  featured  Big  Country  and  Level  42  amongst  others.

 

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

677 Billy Graham at Aston Villa


First  viewed :  10  August  1984

In  the  summer  of  1984  I  saw  posters  appearing  advertising  the  visit  of  this  guy  to  the  UK. I  had  never  actually  heard  of  him  before - not  too  surprising  as  he  wasn't  going  to  be  trumpeted  in  the  Catholic  education  system -  but  got  to  understand  that  he  was  the  granddaddy  of  US  evangelists  and  therefore  an  important  cultural  figure.

BBC  Two  broadcast  highlights  of  one  of  his  prayer  meetings  at  Villa  Park, Birmingham. I  was  watching  something  else  that  night  but  did  turn  over  to  catch  the  last  few  minutes  out  of  curiosity. Unfortunately,  that  meant  I  didn't  catch  any  of  his  speech  just  the  invitation  to  come  onto  the  pitch  (  this  was  pre-Hillsborough  remember  )  and  declare  faith  in  Jesus  prompting  the  most  well-mannered  pitch  invasion  in  the  ground's  history.

Billy  seems  in  no  hurry  to  actually  meet  his  Maker  and  is  still  alive at  the  time  of  wrting  aged  98.  

Monday, 8 May 2017

676 V




First  viewed : 31  July  1984

This  was  good  fun  if  you  didn't  take  it  too  seriously  and  didn't  mind  that  every  idea  it  had  was  at  least  second  hand.

The  expensive  US  mini-series  started  with  the  descent  on  Earth  of  large  alien  spaceships   bearing  friendly  humanoid  aliens  willing  to  share  their  advanced  technological  benefits  with  us  if  we  let  them  hang  around. Most  humans  welcomed  the  offer but  a  few  led  by  Mike  Donovan  ( Marc  Singer, a  poor  man's  Kevin  Bacon )  and  Dr  Julie  Parrish  ( gorgeous  blonde  Faye  Grant )  are  suspicious  and  uncover  the  visitors'  deadly  secret, they  are  really reptiles  with  a  penchant  for  devouring  live  rodents  ( possibly  the  inspiration  for  The  Sun's  infamous  Freddie  Starr  headline )  and  are  harvesting  the  earth's  population  for  food. As  the  aliens'  regime  on  earth  becomes  more  obviously  repressive  - a  fusion  of  elements  from  the  Nazis, 1984  and  the  Khmer  Rouge  , a  resistance  movement  emerges , aided  by  alien  fifth  columnists represented  by  Martin ( Frank  Ashmore ) . It's  also  helped  by  Donovan's  remarkable  ability  to  use  alien  weapons  and  spacecraft  more  skilfully  than  the  aliens  themselves.

The  chief  villain  was  Diana  ( Faye  Badler ) who  added  an  extra  ingredient  of  Mengele-like  evil   to  the  visitors'  plans  with  her  medical  experiments  including  getting  a  young  girl  Robin ( Blair  Tefkin ) pregnant  with  alien  spunk  provided  by  Brian  ( Peter  Nelson ). The  caesarian  birth  scene  where  the  girl  has  twins, a  girl  with  a  forked  tongue  and  a  reptilian  boy  is  a  blatant  steal  from  Alien. Other  notable  characters  were  innocent  drone  alien  Willie  ( Robert  Englund )  , Dan  Bernstein  ( David  Packer )  a  Jewish  boy  who, with  tasteless  irony,  joins  the  equivalent  of  the  Hitler  Youth  and  Ham  Tyler a  resistance  chief  played  by  Michael  Ironside  and  his  black  leather  jacket. This  was  my  first  sighting  of  this  versatile  actor  who  not  only  plays  the  same  character  in  every  film  but  also  wears  the  same  clothes.

Eventually,  the  humans  get  the  upper  hand  by  developing  a  bacterial weapon  a  la  War  of  the  Worlds  and  Diana's  response  of  total  annihilation  is  thwarted  by  her  own  prodigy, Robin's  daughter , the  "star-child"  Elisabeth  ( Jenny  Beck ). A  sequel  ( although  in  fact  what  we  saw  was  two  separate  mini-series  in  the  US  run  together )  was  telegraphed  by  Diana's  Darth  Vader-esque  escape  at  the  end.

This  materialised  in  1986  although  as  a  19-part  regular  series  of  hour  long  episodes. It  was  shown  late  at  night  on  a  Friday . Apart  from  those killed  in  the climactic  battles  of  the  original  series,  the  same  cast  returned  with  some  new  additions  such  as  Lydia  ( June  Chadwick ),  a  professional  rival  to  Diana  facilitating  some  Dynasty-syle  bitchery.  Martin  was  killed  in  the  first  episode  but  later  his  clone  Philip  arrives  on  the  scene. I  thought  it  was  OK  and  stayed  with  it  but  it  was  expensive  to  make, critically  savaged  and  weakened  by  Ironside's  departure  midway  through  the  series. Although  it  ended  on  a  cliffhanger  there  was  no  further  season.

There  was  a  reboot  in  2009  but  in  the  UK  it  was  only  shown  on  Syfy  and  Virgin1  channels. Singer  went  on  to  appear  in  Dallas  for  a  season. I  thought  Grant  would  be  a  big  star  but  apart  from  the  Richard  Gere  film  Internal  Affairs  in  which  she  played  a  very  unsympathetic  character  I  never  saw  her  again.