The Guinness Book of Classic TV by Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping

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Imagine, if you can, a time before the Internet. Back in those far off days, obtaining information about your favourite television programme (especially if it was slightly obscure) was both difficult and time-consuming.

So The Guinness Book of Classic TV (2nd edition, 1996) was a real godsend. To be able to have episode guides close at hand for series such as Doctor Finlay’s Casebook was very welcome, even if there was no way to actually watch the programmes.  Still, we could dream about a time when all this material would be available at the touch of a button ….

Over 100 programmes were covered, including the likes of The Troubleshooters, The Forsyth Saga, The Army Game, Up Pompeii!!, Citizen Smith, Hancock’s Half Hour, The Young Ones, Absolutely Fabulous, Watch with Mother, Dixon of Dock Green, Callan, Edge of Darkness, Doctor Who, The Avengers, Sapphire & Steel, Upstairs Downstairs, Colditz, Secret Army and I Claudius.

The opening analysis – an absorbing ten-page trot through the history of Coronation Street – begins the book with a bang and this high standard is maintained throughout. Mind you, given this is a Cornell/Day/Topping tome it’s unlikely that you’re going to agree with all their opinions (poor Crossroads is given a bit of a kicking).

It’s also interesting to find the later years of Dixon of Dock Green labelled as a dangerous and embarrassing anacronym. That was certainly a widely held view back in the nineties although the DVD release of most of the existing colour episodes has helped to rehabilitate the show in recent years.

There are a few omissions – Public Eye and Sergeant Cork for example – although in the pre-DVD age that’s not really surprising (Cork especially languished in obscurity prior to its emergence on DVD, so if it wasn’t available twenty five years ago you can’t really blame them for ignoring it).

The Guinness Book of Classic TV has aged well. As I’ve said, a few entries are slightly eyebrow raising but most of the book is packed with pithy and well-constructed capsule reviews. It’s been a well-thumbed favourite on my bookshelf for over twenty years and I’m sure I’ll keep coming back to it for many years to come.

Blue Peter – The Inside Story by Biddy Baxter and Edward Barnes

I’ve been digging through my collection of television books during the past few months (unearthing some which haven’t seen the light of day for a while) and I thought it might be a good idea to highlight a few which I’ve enjoyed revisiting.

Blue Peter – The Inside Story was published by Ringpress Books in 1989, running to 236 pages. Although very much the authorised story, it’s still packed with interesting detail. That 1989 was a very different time is confirmed by the revelation that when the original Petra died after just a few days, they calmly went out and bought a ringer (and no-one was any the wiser).

Later scandals which befell BP (Socks-gate, the phone -in) don’t seem any worse than this but I don’t recall the Petra revelation causing any sort of ripple in the press back in 1989.

Down the years some presenters were more of a handful then others. It’s easy to see that Biddy had her favourites and it’s also noticeable that some long-runners (like Peter Purves) were appreciated rather than loved.

The sticky relationship with John Noakes can’t be avoided and his exit from the programme (which was rather uncomfortable due to concerns he would use Shep for advertising purposes) isn’t swept under the carpet. The travails of Janet Ellis and Michael Sundin are also touched upon (it’s quite obvious there was little love for Sundin in the BP production office).

Second hand copies are plentiful and quite inexpensive, so there shouldn’t be too much trouble in picking up a copy. Blue Peter – The Inside Story is well worth a place on your bookshelf.

Doctor Who – Mission to the Unknown

Mission to the Unknown is a bit of an oddity.  After Verity Lambert decided that Planet of Giants was a tad dull and could do with losing an episode, the production team were told they had to add this “spare” episode onto another story.

Considering that the BBC has always been rather cash conscious, this has always struck me as a strange move.  Four episodes were budgeted and paid for on Planet of Giants, even if only three made it onto the screen, so effectively Lambert and co were given a “free” episode.  Surely the scheduling bods could have slipped a few Tom and Jerry cartoons on one week and no-one would have been that bothered?

Anyway, it seems that the original idea was to bolt an extra episode onto a Terry Nation Dalek script.  If that means The Chase then I think we dodged a bullet there.  I was already losing the will to live with six episodes, so seven might just have pushed me over the edge.

Or maybe they were referring to The Dalek Invasion of Earth which was the final story in the first production block (it begin in late November 1964).

And for no other reason than the fact that I love original Doctor Who paperwork, here’s Donald Wilson’s memo from 1964 to prove that I’m not talking complete nonsense.

So if the circumstances surrounding the creation of Mission to the Unknown were a little unusual, it’s also strange that it’s not sitting directly before The Daleks’ Master Plan.  It works as a prologue for that story very well, but the fact you have four weeks of The Myth Makers between the two would have presumably puzzled many of those watching at home.

I’ve a strong suspicion that Terry Nation leapt at the chance to write a Dalek script which didn’t include the Doctor.  He was already working on his proposal for a big-budget American series featuring the Daleks (but not that strange old man in the police box) so it’s easy to see Mission to the Unknown (and large parts of The Daleks’ Master Plan) as a dry run for this.

The American series would have featured plucky members of the space corps (similar to Marc Cory, Sara Kingdom and Bret Vyon) facing off against the Daleks week after week.The television series came to nothing, but the seventies Dalek annuals give you a flavour of what it might have been like.

Anyway, back to today’s episode. We open in a jungle on Kembel, which has plenty of lush, aggressive vegetation.  You’d better get used to it as there’s going to be lots of jungle action once we hit The Daleks’ Master Plan proper.  We see someone who we later learn is Jeff Garvey (Barry Jackson).  His first words (“I must kill… must kill… must kill”) have a slightly ominous ring about them. He doesn’t seem at all well.

Elsewhere, space captain Gordon Lowery (Jeremy Young) is complaining to space agent Marc Cory (Edward de Souza) about this inhospitable planet.  It’s clear that Cory’s the man in charge though, which is confirmed when he shoots Garvey dead.  Lowery’s a tad upset about this, but Cory explains that Garvey had been infected by a Varga plant and it was him or them.

Cory then reveals his true identity to Lowery.  “Space Security Service. Licensed to kill.” Yep, this was very much the time when Sean Connery’s portrayal of James Bond was dominating cinema screens and Cory is a blatant attempt to steal a little of 007’s thunder.  It’s an unusual move for Doctor Who though, which until now hasn’t tended to be influenced that much by contemporary popular culture.

Cory explains that he’s on the trail of the Daleks.  They haven’t bothered the Earth for a thousand years, but all that seems to have changed as a Dalek ship has been spotted in the vicinity.  This shattering revelation is followed by the most melodramatic music cue possible.

Wait! Garvey’s not dead.  Instead he’s suffered a far worse fate – he’s turned into a Varga plant!

The Daleks are also on Kembel and they’re here to chair a meeting between the leaders of the seven galaxies.  Some of the representatives we see here also pop up in The Daleks’ Master Plan, although by then some were played by different actors.

And some of the representatives in The Daleks’ Master Plan are totally different from how they look in this episode, which is another puzzle.  Luckily there are those who have pondered these issues long and hard.  For the curious, I can recommend this post by Jac Rayner on her blog Delegate Detective.

Whatever names they have or whichever actor is playing them, the delegates are a rum lot who certainly don’t have a lot of love for our precious planet Earth.  As Malpha (Robert Cartland) succinctly puts it.  “This is indeed an historic moment in the history of the universe!  We six from the outer galaxies, joining with the power from the solar system – the Daleks!  The seven of us represent the greatest war force ever assembled!  Conquest is assured!”

That spells trouble.  I hope the Doctor is somewhere around …..

Angels

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I’ve just dug out series one of Angels for another watch. Whilst it’s a shame that only the first two series made it to DVD, that shouldn’t dissuade you from picking them up as these early episodes are first rate.

Along with the colour Dixon of Dock Greens, Angels is probably the series I’ve found myself reassessing the most.  Based on hazy memories of the later, twice-weekly soap format, I’d long held the opinion that it was a rather cosy, pedestrian show. Maybe it did later lose its spark, but to begin with Angels is rich in interest in all areas – acting, writing and directing.

That a core group of female writers were assembled (and each assigned one of the main characters to write for) is noteworthy. Others also made valuable contributions, such as P.J, Hammond (who provides a typically disorientating offering later in the first series). I’d previously written about the first two series episode by episode here.

Given that Simply now seem to be out of the DVD game, it might be that their various BBC licensed titles will slowly begin to drift out of print. If so, you may want to pick up their Angels releases (and indeed anything else of interest) sooner rather than later.

The 1970’s Angels fan was well served with merchandise. There were the obligatory tie-in novels as well as annuals and (most eye-opening of all) a range of dolls. That most of the merchandising was aimed at the child market – even though the series wasn’t always child-friendly – is slightly odd, but it was common at the time (various post watershed programmmes like The Professionals and The Sweeney did something similar).

Crown Court – Lieberman v Savage (Part Three – 20th October 1972)

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Mrs Savage’s maid – Florence Ferguson (jean Faulds) – is next in the witness box. Giving off a very Scottish air of respectability, she initially provides strong support for Mrs Savage but is then somewhat picked apart by Helen Tate. Possibly just enough of a seed of doubt has been sown in the mind of the jury by this point – was Mark really sleeping on the sofa all night or could he have been canoodling with Mrs Savage and her radiogram?

We’ve waited long enough and now finally Mark Lieberman gets a grilling. Jonathan Fry has made it back into court and takes charge of the cross examination. I get the feeling they don’t have a great deal in common (Fry begins by pondering about “the lifestyle of the younger generation” with a faint air of distaste and things career downhill from there).

I can’t play the Doctor Who game with Trevor Adams but he racked up a fair number of interesting credits during the seventies. There’s a role in Fawlty Towers but he’ll no doubt be best known for playing Tony Webster in The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin.

Although still very early days, the Crown Court formula is now very firmly in place. This one was a decent enough story, although even with the tinges of sex and scandal (cue reporters in the gallery frantically scribbling in their notebooks) it’s still not terribly memorable.

The Verdict

Once again I find myself disagreeing with the verdict. Maybe next time I’ll be in sync with the Fulchester jury.

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Crown Court – Lieberman v Savage (Part Two – 19th October 1972)

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Lieberman’s private detective, Sidney Abbott, is called to the witness stand. He’s played by David Webb, although with a character name like that surely Sidney James should have been given the role.

When watching Crown Court or indeed any archive series of a similar vintage, I like to play a little game of ‘Which Doctor Who story has this actor appeared in?’. Wolfe Morris and Barbara Shelley were pretty easy but David Webb (possibly because his name’s rather nondescript) gave me a little more trouble. But I got there in the end – he was Leeson in Colony in Space. Well, it’s the sort of game that keeps me out of mischief …

Mr Fry has popped out (to powder his nose maybe) so Helen Tate stepped in to ask Abbott a few questions. Although since Barry Deeley handled the cross examination maybe that’s an indication that Abbott wasn’t a prime witness.

That the case isn’t being taken totally seriously can be inferred from the fact that Abbott used to work for P.E.E. (Piccadilly Enquiry Agency).

The focus now turns to the defendant. Delia Savage catches the attention of those watching in the public gallery (especially one old dear with a pair of opera glasses!).

Another time honoured courtroom chestnut occurs when Mrs Savage mentions a popular best combo, The Kitchen Sink. Cue the Judge looking confused and a swift helpful explanation (“a rock group, M’Lord. A musical ensemble, M’Lord”).

Crown Court  rarely went in for camera tricks or flourishes, but there is a split screen used here (Mrs Savage on the left, Leiberman on the right) which works rather well.

She’s a convincing witness, cool under pressure, although whether she’s telling the truth is another matter. Jonathan Fry does his best to paint her as an unscrupulous gold digger though.

Mmm, both parties are exchanging lingering looks. I’ve a feeling that a reconciliation might be on the cards (depending on the verdict of course).

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Crown Court – Lieberman v Savage (Part One – 18th October 1972)

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Crown Court had plenty of humdrum cases (which nevertheless were often fascinating) but they also liked to chuck in a bit of spice from time to time. Lieberman v Savage certainly falls into the latter category …

Emmanuel Lieberman (Wolfe Morris) is attempting to evict his former fiance Delia Savage (Barbara Shelley) from his luxury London penthouse apartment. His ardour for Mrs Savage was somewhat dampened when he returned home to find his son, Mark (Trevor Adams), naked in the flat with her. Crumbs.

Given how good David Neal was as Jonathan Fry in the unscreened pilot, it’s very surprising that he never came back to the series. Instead, Bernard Gallagher took over the role of Fry (remaining with the series until 1984).

Charles Keating and John Alkin return as James Elliot and Barry Deeley whilst Helen Vernon debuts as Dorothy Tate. Richard Warner sits in judgement as Mr Justice Waddington.

Distant Hills is present and correct for the first time and we also see the debut of the jury – twelve bewildered souls plucked off the streets of Fulchester. Or in reality, eleven members of the public and one actor (since the foreman was a speaking part, an Equity member was required).

That each case would actually be judged helps to give the series an extra level. Although as time goes on, I’m sure I’ll be scratching my head at some of the bizarre verdicts handed out …

£200,000 for a luxury penthouse flat in London? Cheap at the price.

Jonathan Fry begins the case by waving a great many documents around. This is a little low on excitement but things soon pick up as he outlines the relationship between his client (Lieberman) and Delia Savage. Whilst Fry is opening the case, the camera lingers on Mrs Savage. She has a very nice hat.

And into the witness box goes Emmanuel Lieberman (Wolfe Morris). As he begins to give his evidence, his son saunters into the court. With his dark glasses and general slouching air, Mark is so hip and happening it hurts.

We quickly get to the nitty gritty – Lieberman returning home unexpectedly to find his son (stark naked!) emerging from his fiance’s bedroom. There’s a definite ‘oooooo’ reverberating around the courtroom at this point.

The flaw in Lieberman’s case is pretty obvious. As soon as he clapped eyes on his naked son he stormed out without demanding an explanation. If Mark had been innocently spending the night there (sleeping on the couch say) and then wanted to use the bathroom, he’d need to pass through the bedroom first to get to it. Mind you, having only one bedroom and one bathroom in a luxury penthouse seems like something of a design flaw.

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