Wednesday, 31 May 2017
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.
The Impossible Spy ( Screen Two 11.2.90 )
This historical drama was made ( and broadcast in America ) in 1987 but for some, presumably political, reason, it wasn't broadcast in the UK until 1990. It told the story of Eli Cohen , an Israeli spy in Syria who was so successful he became a top official in Syria's Ministry of Defence and facilitated Israel's trouncing of Syria in the Six Day War 0f 1967. By that time, Cohen was dead having been publicly executed in Damascus for his trouble in 1965. Israel has been trying to repatriate his remains for over 50 years.
John Shea played Cohen with Eli Wallach featuring as his boss.
Tuesday, 30 May 2017
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 ?"
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.