Back to November 1982 (25th November 1982)

I’ll be kicking off the evening with TOTP. Not a classic edition but studio performances by Talk Talk (Talk Talk) and A Flock of Seagulls (Wishing If I Had a Photograph of You) ensure that it’s not a total write-off.

From then on, it’s sitcoms all the way. There’s an embarrassment of riches tonight, beginning with Only When I Laugh and Shelley on ITV. Then it’ll be over to BBC1 for Only Fools and Horses before the highlight of the evening (both mine and Stan’s) which is Yes Minister on BBC2.

Tonight’s episode is The Skeleton in the Cupboard and offers Jim the satisfaction of gaining the upper hand over Sir Humphrey. The episode has two plotlines which are only tenuously connected (either could have worked just as well in another episode without the other) but when there’s so many quotable lines flying about, I’m not too concerned about plotting. To give just two examples ….

Sir Humphrey Appleby: If local authorities don’t send us the statistics that we ask for, then government figures will be a nonsense.
Jim Hacker: Why?
Sir Humphrey Appleby: They will be incomplete.
Jim Hacker: But government figures are a nonsense anyway.
Bernard Woolley: I think Sir Humphrey want to ensure they are a complete nonsense.

Jim Hacker: Bernard, how did Sir Humphrey know I was with Dr. Cartwright?
Bernard Woolley: God moves in a mysterious way.
Jim Hacker: Let me make one thing perfectly clear: Humphrey is not God, OK?
Bernard Woolley: Will you tell him or shall I?

The first storyline concerns a local council which has attracted Sir Humphrey’s ire (because they never send their paperwork back to the DAA). This hasn’t stopped them from becoming the most efficient council in the country though, but that’s something which cuts no ice with a bureaucratic mandarin like Sir Humphrey.

Jim is reluctant to censure the council simply because they can’t fill in forms, but he’s pressured by Sir Humphrey to do so. Jim seems to have no choice, but then a gift (evidence of Sir Humphrey’s incompetence from thirty years ago) is dropped into his lap. This is the cue for some exquisite squirming from Nigel Hawthorne as he reluctantly confesses all (equally good as ever, of course, is Paul Eddington as we see Jim delight in twisting the knife).

It’s difficult to say that Hawthorne didn’t deserve the four BAFTAs he won for Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister, but it’s a bitter irony that Paul Eddington had to lose out to his colleague on each occasion (in the years that Hawthorne won, Eddington was always also nominated). If Jim and Sir Humphrey were a double act, then you could say that Eddington tended to play the feed at times (but though he had the less showy role, he was always excellent value). Indeed, one of the pleasures of rewatching the series is simply to appreciate just how good they both were.

Back to November 1982 (24th November 1982)

Tonight I’ll be catching To The Manor Born and Dallas on BBC1. To The Manor Born was incredibly popular at the time (the final episode in 1981 pulled in a staggering 27 million viewers) but it hasn’t retained the same profile today. The fact it doesn’t get re-run has something to do with this, of course. The performances are the thing which still engage the interest – especially Penelope Keith as the horrendous and self-centered Audrey fforbes-Hamilton. It’s Keith’s skill (not to mention the more sympathetic characters played by Peter Bowles and Angela Thorne) which ensures that Audrey is more than a one-dimensional snob. Although there are times when I have to confess I find her very irritating ….

I’ve been meaning to make a real dent in my Dallas boxset for some time, so maybe dipping into this episode will provide the spark to get me going. Possibly yet another programme to add to the 2023 pending rewatch pile.

I’ll set the VHS to record M*A*S*H on BBC2 whilst I switch over to ITV for The Morecambe & Wise Show and Minder. It’s noticeable how peak time repeats (today it’s To The Manor Born and Minder) are quite common in this era. Patricia Brake and Ruth Madoc are Eric and Ernie’s guests today. As I’ve said before, I think the Thames era deserves a little more love than it generally receives – yes, the rehashes of old scripts do become very noticeable at times (as in this episode) but the BBC series also did this from time to time (hello, Greig’s piano concerto).

All Mod Cons (S02E08, original tx 30th October 1980) is today’s Minder repeat. Toyah Wilcox guests as Kate, with Michael Robbins, Simon Cadell, Tony Osoba and Harry Towb also featuring. My thoughts on this one can be found here.

Back to November 1982 (22nd November 1982)

Up first this evening is Angels, and an episode from the series’ penultimate run. I’ve yet to find Angels‘ reformat into the ‘soap’ format (2 x 25 minute episodes each week) that engrossing, although maybe I’ve yet to give it a fair chance. It’s another of those series that I need to really find the time to watch consistently in sequence. Maybe it’ll be another one to attempt next year. I’ll add it to the list ….

BBC2 offers a Grange Hill repeat from series five, originally broadcast earlier in the year. It’s this one, which continues the harsher tone that’s quite noticeable this year. I’ve no doubt touched upon this before, but it’s interesting to wonder just how much input GH‘s producer (this year was Susi Hush’s sole year in charge) had in the direction of the series. Possibly the scripts had already been locked down before she arrived, but the emergence of Gripper as Roland’s nemesis throughout series five was something new for the series (previously, bullies had tended to restrict their reign of terror for only a few episodes).

The Further Adventures of Lucky Jim is on at 9.00 pm. Given that it was written by Clement and Le Frenais it’s a curiously forgotten sitcom, although it’s true that the pair do have a number of equally obscure entries in their back catalogue. It’s certainly worth checking out, even if it’s easy to initially miss that the series was set in the late sixties. Today’s episode can be found here.

Over on ITV, it’ll just be Coronation Street for me.

 

Back to 1982 – 12th August 1982

Pick of the evening (especially as it’s not a repeat) is Top of the Pops. What were the top pop tunes forty years ago today? Let’s see ….

We’re into the Michael Hurll era, which means it’s almost non-stop party time in the TOTP studio. Well, there’s one little ray of gloom – John Peel, who’s on solo presenting duty today and is his usual phlegmatic self.

Toto Coelo with I Eat Cannibals kick off proceedings. Dressed in shockingly bright colours it’s certainly an energetic start. Thankfully things get a little more moody when the lights go down and the dry ice begins to seep in as Yazoo with Don’t Go take to the stage. Top tune, it has to be said.

It’s now time for a spot of footage of the Boys Town Gang taken from the Dutch TOTP imitator, Top Pop. If you like camp, you’ll love this. Then it’s back to the TOTP studio for The Associates and 18 Carat Love Affair.

A packed show today, as Sheena Easton is next up with Machinery (a song I have no memory of, but since it only peaked at no 38 that’s quite understandable). She’s looking very stylish in a 1982 way.

Time to ramp up the party atmosphere once again with Haysi Fantayzee and John Wayne Is Big Leggy. The lyrics are slightly saucy, but presumably nobody cared (or realised). The Wikipedia page about the song leaves nothing to the imagination though.

Wavelength with Hurry Home. Another one of those songs I have no memory of at all but you have to admit they’re very smartly dressed.

After that slow song, Zoo and a group of Moroccan tumblers (“I never drink from anything else” says JP) are on hand to fling themselves around to Kool and the Gang. Then it’s the Fun Boy Three with their unique take on Summertime

One of the stars of Minder had already had his own taste of TOTP glory. Dennis Waterman, fronting the Dennis Waterman Band (good name), hit the heights with I Could Be So Good For You. Not content with that, in 1983 Waterman would join forces with George Cole for the unforgettable What Are We Gonna Get for ‘Er Indoors?

But 1982, in terms of Minder records, belonged to The Film with their (presumably) unofficial but nonetheless heartfelt Arthur Daley (E’s Alright). Sounding very Chas and Dave-ish, it’s one of those novelty songs I loved at the time and I still love now.

And that just leaves the No 1 – which remains Dexys Midnight Runners and Come On Eileen. A nice performance (dungarees and fiddles to the fore of course) although it’s a shame that the end titles run over it.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Elsewhere today there’s another Laurel & Hardy (Chickens Come Home) on BBC2 and a couple of ITV repeats – Robin’s Nest and Thriller – that’ll go on the list. The Thriller episode (I’m the Girl He Wants to Kill – original tx 18th March 1974) features a menacing performance from Robert Lang as a silent killer with Julie Sommars as his potential next victim (Tony Selby, Ken Jones and Anthony Steel also feature).

(David Soul is today’s eye puzzler).

Back to 1982 – 10th August 1982

The repeats continue to come thick and fast. First I’ll be tuning in for Hi-De-Hi! (Lift up Your Minds) in which Jeffrey Fairbrother decides to expand the camper’s minds with a selection of classical music. This, as you might expect, doesn’t go down well ….

Simon Cadell always gave exquisite squirm, and today’s episode is a prime example. I’ve no doubt said this before, but most Croft/Perry and Croft/Lloyd sitcoms tended to run on too long, with their later years weakened by a number of departures/recastings. Hi-De-Hi! was never the same post-Fairbrother, even though Clive Dempster was a decent character (and thankfully wasn’t designed as a Fairbrother clone).

Next is the final episode of Private Shultz. Jack Pulman’s script is a delight as are the central performances of Michael Elphick and Ian Richardson (this episode also features Billie Whitelaw and Cyril Shaps amongst others). Next job is to track down the novelization.

There’s another Laurel and Hardy (Hog Wild) on BBC2, so that’ll go on the list as well. Not too much else I can access (Streets of San Francisco, maybe). If I could choose anything, then Turns with Jimmy Perry on BBC2 and Playhouse: The Glory Hole on ITV both look intriguing.

(Today’s mystery eyes belong to Arthur Negus – bit of an easy one that).

Back to 1982 – 9th August 1982

Not a lot that’s sourceable on BBC1 today. I might watch tune into Doctor Who and the Monsters for nostalgia’s sake – even though Earthshock is one of those stories that really grates on me these days (the plot, such as it is, is full of holes that I find hard to ignore).

BBC2 is a happier hunting ground. There’s tea-time Laurel and Hardy whilst later a repeat of The Paul Daniels Magic Show will definitely go on the list. Today Paul welcomes Reveen the Impossiblist with his Chess Magic, Mr Electric (the magician who beat the Energy Crisis) and Ray Dondy with his crazy diving skills. If that’s not entertainment then I don’t know what is.

Moving to ITV, an afternoon Van Der Valk repeat is a possible. VDV is a series I’m always surprised to find that I don’t enjoy more – all the building blocks are there (good central performance from Barry Foster, the usual roster of familiar faces guesting) but often the stories are just a little humdrum. Maybe today’s effort will surprise me though.

The blurb for this evening’s Coronation Street (courtesy of Stan Sayer) sounds intriguing. Alf Roberts off to watch a blue film? I’m in.

I’ll round off the evening with Arthur Lowe in A.J. Wentworth B.A. Broadcast after Arthur Lowe’s death in April 1982, the series always had a melancholy feel for that reason. It’s certainly not Lowe at his best, but I felt obligated to watch it forty years ago out of respect, so I think I’ll honour that feeling again today.

(And for those wondering, the eyes belong to John Alderton).

Back to May 1986 (22nd May 1986)

It doesn’t look like a classic Top of the Pops line-up tonight, but it’ll give me a good snapshot of musical tastes from mid 1986, so it’s going on the list.

The Clairvoyant on BBC2 will also be worth a look. The combination of the two Roys (Clarke and Kinnear) promised much and whilst you didn’t have to be a mind reader (sorry) to have predicted that this sitcom wouldn’t have a long run, it’s still amusing enough.

ITV offers Never the Twain. It’s a sitcom which ran for an incredibly long time and was sustained throughout its life almost entirely by the larger than life performances of Windsor Davies and Donald Sinden. They could always be guaranteed to make something out of the most predictable situations.

I’ll round the evening off with the 1983 American TV movie version of A Caribbean Mystery.  I’m rather fond of all the 1980’s US Agatha Christie TVMs and whilst it’s obvious that Helen Hayes was no Joan Hickson, on her own terms she makes for an appealing Miss Marple.

Most of the US Christie TVMs of this era feature impressive supporting casts (for example, the other Helen Hayes Marple mystery has Bette Davis, Leo McKern, Dorothy Tutin and John Mills amongst others) but A Caribbean Mystery is a bit bereft in this respect, although the likes of Bernard Hughes, Brock Peters and George Innes do feature.

Back to May 1986 (20th May 1986)

Once again, the number of prime time repeats rather surprises me. My recollection of this era tended to confine re-runs mostly to July and August (a dead couple of months,  which saw the impatient viewer counting down the days before the exciting new season launched in September).

One Arabian Night is the Terry and June episode on offer. Written by Colin Bostock-Smith, it’s a politically incorrect half hour – Derek Griffiths guests as an Arab Prince who takes a shine to June and offers to buy her for fifty camels.

We’re on firmer ground with Juliet Bravo (The Day The Circus Left Town). The Kenny Everett Show is also worth a look – it’s a re-run from the third series, so the strike rate is still pretty high (the show tended to tail off somewhat during the next few years).

Over on ITV there’s Duty Free – a series that was incredibly popular at the time (even displacing Coronation Street at the top of the ratings) although didn’t seem to generate an equal amount of love. Even today, it’s seen as a lesser part of the Eric Chappell canon – but I’ve always loved it. Very studio-bound, it has the feel of a stage farce which is one of the reasons why I’ve always found it appealing. When the Christmas Special went to Spain for location filming it seemed to kill the comedy stone dead, which suggests that the artificiality of studio VT work can sometimes be a positive.

And if there’s time I’ll catch a bit more of Edward and Mrs Simpson.

Back to May 1986 (16th May 1986)

The randomiser has taken me back to 1986, to sample a week’s television. What does Friday the 16th of May offer? Let’s take a look ….

BBC1 offers a repeat of Home and Dry, the final episode from Big Deal’s first series (watching this might spur me into attempting a complete rewatch). There’s more repeats on ITV – Me and My Girl and Home to Roost. Me and My Girl isn’t greeted with much enthusiasm by the Daily Mirror blurb writer, Tony Pratt (who also seems unaware that the show had already clocked up three series by this point) but you can’t argue with the combined talents of O’Sullivan, Brooke-Taylor and Sanderson.

Home to Roost isn’t a sitcom that’s ever really clicked with me (which is surprising, since I’ve always enjoyed most of Eric Chappell’s output). Maybe time to give it another go and see if it’s more engaging this time round.

The undoubted pick of the evening is Quo Vadis, Pet, the final episode of Auf Wiedersehen, Pet‘s second series. At the time this seemed to be the final end (although it’s slightly disturbing to realise that the first comeback series aired twenty years ago. Where has that time gone?)

The second series, of course, was overshadowed by the death of Gary Horton – especially towards the end of the run when his absence had to be explained away by a double passing through shot or amended dialogue. Despite this, all of the series’ remaining story threads are neatly tied up and even if the second half of series two did sag a little, I’d have to say it slightly edges the first run as my favourite.

Back to April 1986 (10th April 1986)

TOTP, EastEnders and I Woke Up One Morning are all tempting on BBC1. EastEnders is still in the middle of the who fathered Michelle’s baby saga, so sparks look likely to fly – especially when the normally mild-mannered Arthur finds his dander is well and truly up.

I Woke Up One Morning is one of those programmes that seems to have totally slipped from view – despite a first-rate cast and sharp scripts by Carla Lane. The series’ theme (it’s centered around the travails of a group of recovering alcoholics) doesn’t look like it promises merriment but it manages to be wryly amusing (although bleakness is never too far away).

I might catch the repeat of Star Trek on BBC2 whilst bemoaning the lack of Karen Kay’s show online. Rounding things off with an episode of Kojak on ITV that’s a pretty full evening.

Back to April 1985 (9th April 1985)

Skipping 1984 (which had fairly slim pickings) I’ve moved onto 1985 which looks a little more promising.

EastEnders, No Place Like Home and The Day The Universe Changed offers a pretty decent early evening lineup on BBC1.

I continue to pine about the scarcity on Pot Black online. Maybe one day there might be a stash added to the iPlayer – we can but dream. Tonight’s 1985 match isn’t available, but there’s another from the same series close at hand, so that will have to do.

There are a few possibilities on ITV, but the only thing that really appeals is the repeat of Chance in a Million.

Back to April 1981 (6th April 1981)

BBC1 is my first stop for Star Trek and The Lights of Zetar. It’s a series three episode, which is the cue for disappointment for some (although I’ve never found the later episodes to be that bad). And since this is the only one co-written by Shari (Lamb Chop) Lewis, it’s worth a look for that reason alone. According to Genome, it was previously broadcast in 1971 and 1973, so Zetar fans have had quite a wait to see it again.

Today’s Coronation Street is slightly ahead of my current rewatch, but I think I’ll dip in to see what’s going on (possible romance for Fred, according to the Daily Mirror blurb).

Undoubted highlight of the day is Yes Minister on BBC2 at 9.00 pm. The final episode of series two, A Question of Loyalty is as sharp today (if not more) than it’s ever been.

If there’s time, I might catch the repeat of The Sweeney over on ITV. Ranald Graham’s Nightmare is the episode getting another airing today.

On this day (13th January)

Series one of A Bit of Fry and Laurie began airing on BBC2 in 1989.

Following a pilot episode in 1987, ABoFaL began in earnest today. Whilst you could argue that series four was a little below par, the rest (and this first series especially) continues to hit the mark for me.

The pair’s love of Python has always been plain (breaking the fourth wall as a matter of course) and there’s very little chaff in this opening edition. ‘Bitchmother, Come Light My Bottom’ indeed.

The White Wedding, the first episode of A Bit of a Do, was broadcast on ITV.

What are the chances that two new A Bit Of series should have both begun on the same evening?

Adapted by David Nobbs from his novels, A Bit of a Do is a series that I’ve always enjoyed coming back to, although there’s a definite iciness about it. All of the main characters are flawed and none are particularly likeable – although over time most are allowed to display their vulnerable sides.

Given the repetition inherent in the format (most episodes end with a shattering revelation and either a drunken Betty or Rodney saying something that they shouldn’t) it’s not the sort of programme that you want to binge-watch, but if you take an episode each week then it slips by very nicely.

Having concentrated on playing Del Boy for most of the 1980’s, A Bit of a Do was a reminder that Jason could do more. Although it’s true that he’s not stretched too far here as the vain Ted Simcock (a man frequently forced to endure humiliations) is the sort of role well within his comfort zone. Having said that, Jason never disappoints though and his comic timing is always spot on.

You can’t grumble about the rest of the main cast either – Gwen Taylor, Nicola Pagett, Paul Chapman, Michael Jayston, Stephanie Cole, Tim Wylton – and there are some lovely cameos and smaller roles across the series (Keith Marsh as Percy Spragg in this episode, for example).

Today’s the anniversaries of the births of Ian Hendry and Jack Watling. For Mr Watling I think another viewing of HancockThe Lift is in order, whilst Mr Hendry will be represented by Battleground, the final episode of Village Hall. If you don’t own either series of Village Hall, then this is a reminder that you really should – both are excellent.

 

On this day (11th January)

Sleeping Partners, the first episode of Robin’s Nest, was broadcast on ITV in 1977.

Having already played Robin Tripp in six series of Man About The House, Richard O’Sullivan clearly hadn’t tired of the character as he pretty swiftly moved onto this spin-off (which also ran for six series).

Joined by Tessa Wyatt, Tony Britton and David Kelly (as the unforgettable Albert Riddle – the one-armed washer-upper) this is typical Mortimer/Cooke fare – although they didn’t write all the episodes. Adele Rose, Terence Feeley and Willis Hall were some of the more unexpected names who pitched in with scripts.

Armed and Extremely Dangerous, the first episode of Dempsey and Makepeace, was broadcast on ITV in 1985.

It’s easy to imagine that D&M was an attempt to replicate the success of The Professionals (which in turn owed something of a debt to The Sweeney). The problem is that a copy of a copy might turn out to be a little faint ….

Given that The Professionals never played that well in America, maybe the casting of Michael Brandon was an attempt to crack that market, just like those old ITC shows. Will they/won’t they was part of the D&M formula (we know what happened in real life of course) although never a large part – catching villains, shooting guns and crashing cars were always the first orders of business.

The excellent Ray Smith was cast as Spikings (this series’ Cowley or Haskins). It’s probably the role for which he’s best remembered today, which is a shame since his relatively short career was full of excellent character performances that stretched him much further (Callan, Colditz, How Green Was My Valley and 1990, to name just four).

With the likes of Roger Marshall and Murray Smith later contributing scripts, D&M is always going to be worth a watch but it can be rather hit or miss.

The first edition of Victoria Wood – As Seen on TV was broadcast on BBC2 in 1985.

If Dempsey and Makepeace doesn’t appeal, then maybe the first show in Victoria Wood’s new series might be more entertaining.

Many of the building blocks of As Seen On TV were already evident in Wood & Walters (C4, 1981 – 1982), although Wood was later to disown it. Mainly this seems to be because the audience were comprised of pensioners who’d never heard of her and proved to be a pretty tough crowd to crack.

But by the time of As Seen on TV, Wood had built up a head of steam through touring and the BBC2 audiences were much more appreciative right from the off. And there’s plenty to appreciate in this opening show, not least the first installment of Acorn Antiques.

On this day (9th January)

Strangers on a Train, the first episode of Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads?, was broadcast on BBC1 in 1973.

There might be previous examples which have slipped my mind, but WHTTLL has to be one of the first sitcoms which allowed its characters to grow and develop. Most sitcoms prior to this (Steptoe & Son or Dad’s Army, say) existed in a kind of stasis, but the Bob and Terry of 1973 were certainly different from the young lads we first met in the early sixties.

Given Bolam and Bewes’ later estrangement, it’s hard not to rewatch the series without pondering how far real life mirrored fiction. Graham McCann’s summation of their relationship (click here) might be a little waspish towards Bewes, but it does help to redress the balance previously painted (largely by Bewes as a victim, it must be said).

Throughout WHTTLL it becomes obvious that Bob and Terry have little now in common and it’s mainly the ties of childhood friendship which still keep them together. For Bolam and Bewes during the 1970’s, it was only the work that kept them together – like Bob and Terry they were totally different people with few shared interests.

Mind you, I don’t have a problem with discovering this and am always surprised when someone states that they find it difficult to now watch the series after learning that the stars weren’t the best of friends. For me, they’re simply giving an acting performance – and if they convince, then they’re very good actors.

The Grand Design, the first episode of Yes Prime Minister, was broadcast on BBC2 in 1986.

I think that the first series of YPM has to be my favourite run of episodes (Yes Minister was always consistent, but these eight episodes just have the edge). By now the formula was well established, the three regulars were totally comfortable with their characters and the elevation of Jim Hacker to the PM’s chair gave the series a little extra spice.

Sitcom fans were well catered for this evening, as you could then switch over to BBC1 to catch the first episode of Blackadder IIBells.

Sirens, the first episode of Rockliffe’s Babies, was broadcast on BBC1 in 1987.

For the best part of thirty years the BBC pumped out a series of top-rated police series – Dixon of Dock Green, Z Cars and its various sequels and Juliet Bravo. After Juliet Bravo came to an end in 1985, they struggled to find a long-running replacement.

Rockliffe’s Babies briefly looked like it might have the legs, but in the end it only ran for two series. Oh, plus there was the faintly bizarre spin-off in which Rockliffe became a country copper (which was almost as jarring as seeing DI Maggie Forbes in the C.A.T.S. Eyes environment).

Reviewing it now, Rockliffe’s Babies is patchier than I remember, but there are some strong episodes and it has the same urban feel of The Bill from this period (like its Thames counterpart, the show was shot entirely on VT).

Ian Hogg’s always good to watch (although in this one he’s only called upon to utter a few words) and maybe casting seven relatively unknown young actors was done in the hope that one or two stars might emerge who could then be given their own series (as had happened with the likes of Auf Wiedersehen Pet). Most are still acting today, although Susanna Shelling’s post Rockliffe career was fairly brief (her last television credit was in 2007).

On this day (4th January)

The first episode of Ivanhoe was broadcast on BBC1 in 1970.

Adapted by Alexander Baron in ten parts, this Classic Serial was directed by David Maloney, so you can expect to see plenty of familiar faces (such as Graham Weston, John Franklyn-Robbins, Hugh Walters, Tim Preece, Bernard Horsfall and Noel Coleman) filling out the cast.

Eric Flynn cuts a dash as Ivanhoe with the always dependable Anthony Bate as his nemesis, Sir Brian de Bois Guilbert. Vivian Brooks and Clare Jenkins supply the female interest.

Released on DVD by Simply Media in 2017, I reviewed it at the time and it’s still an enjoyable watch – albeit with the usual strengths and weaknesses of the Classic Serial from this era.

The Prisoner of Spenda, the first episode of Carry on Laughing, was broadcast on ITV in 1975.

Hmm, I wonder what novel this could be based on?

There’s a good reason why the television incarnation of the Carry On franchise doesn’t receive the same number of rescreenings as its big screen counterpart (they’re not very good) but approached in the right mood it’s still possible to derive some enjoyment from most of them.

This one features most of the main Carry On players (one notable absentee was Kenneth Williams, who loathed the whole idea) and at 22 minutes it’s brisk enough.

The first episode of The Prince and the Pauper was broadcast on BBC1 in 1976.

Another Classic Serial debuting on this day, The Prince and the Pauper boasts an impressive duel performance from Nicholas Lyndhurst as well as the usual strong supporting cast. With Barry Letts directing, it’s no surprise that CSO comes into play – the meeting between Prince Edward and Tom Canty is excellently done (the mirror shot still looks very good today).

Another Classic Serial released by Simply Media, you can read my full review here.

The first episode of Clarence was broadcast on BBC1 in 1988.

Ronnie Barker’s sitcom farewell is a series that I’ve never warmed to – the single joke premise (Clarence is a short-sighted removals man) wore pretty thin when the character (with a different name though) appeared back in 1971, so a whole series based around this concept has never seemed inviting to me. Still, Barker and Josephine Tewson are always worth watching, so maybe I’ll give it another go this year.

Iain Cuthbertson, born in 1930.

I’ve chosen Mutiny, an episode from The Onedin Line‘s first series, as my anniversary Cuthbertson programme. It sounds promising – Cuthbertson plays the dangerously unstable Captain Kirkwood with the likes of Kevin Stoney and John Thaw also making appearances. It’s written by Ian Kennedy Martin (his sole script for the series).

The Jewel In The Crown, Southall, Middx by Johnny Speight (1985, unscreened pilot)

jewel.jpg

It’s fair to say that Johnny Speight remains a rather controversial figure, more than twenty years after his death.  The news that the recently established UK streaming service BritBox will not carry Till Death Us Do Part has brought his name to the fore once again. Although this, to be honest, is a bit of a non-story. At present, the list of archive television from the sixties, seventies and eighties not on BritBox dwarfs the small amount which is …

With Till Death, the argument (a pretty convincing one) has always been that whilst Alf Garnett often espouses bigoted and racist opinions, the series – and the other regular characters – are laughing at him, not with him.  This defence was also (less convincingly) used for Speight’s LWT sitcom Curry and Chips, in which Spike Milligan (browned up as Paki Paddy) joined his old friend Eric Sykes for a short lived series which was mired in controversary right from the start.

Milligan clearly enjoyed browning up as he later played Mr Van Gogh, an illegal Pakistani immigrant, in The Melting Pot which was written by Milligan and Neil Shand.  Only the pilot was transmitted, the remaining six episodes have remained locked up in the BBC’s vaults for over forty years.

Given all this, what were the chances that a mid eighties BBC pilot featuring Sykes and Milligan (once again browned up) and written by Speight would prove to be a roaring success? Clearly very slim ….

Watching The Jewel In The Crown now, it’s interesting for many reasons – not least the fact that it’s precisely the sort of programming which alternative comedy was supposed to have killed off.  Of course, the notion that alternative comedy was always some sort of positive cleansing force has to be taken with a pinch of salt. Not all trad comedy was bad, not all alternative comedy was good.

Anybody looking to claim that The Jewel In The Crown is a satire on racism will have their work cut out for them. In the first few minutes Spike explains to Eric why he’s opened a crummy café whilst caked in brownface. “All those Pakistanis come over here and steal our jobs, right? Well, I’ve opened up a Pakistani restaurant and I’ve blacked myself up every night and I steal some of their bloody jobs”. Eric looks perplexed but doesn’t issue a challenge, so the point is allowed to stand.

The thirty five minutes aren’t without some merit though.  Even allowing for the fact that Spike’s Irish accent comes and goes at will, Spike Milligan and Eric Sykes are always worth watching (even if it’s slightly sad that they didn’t seem to have any issue with Speight’s script).

The fact that they’re playing versions of themselves is also interesting (there’s a gentle dig from Spike about the fact that Eric’s spent twenty years making the sitcom I Love Hattie). There might have been some merit in developing this theme had the pilot by some miracle generated a series. And Josephine Tewson and Keith Smith (an old colleague of Spike from his Q days) both add a little touch of quality, even if they can’t do anything with the script either.

I haven’t been able to source a great deal of info about this pilot, save for the usual rumblings that it was never broadcast due to “political correctness”. It’s probably more to do with the fact that it was horribly misjudged and not really very funny.  As a curio it’s certainly worth a look, but it’s hard to see it as any sort of missed opportunity.

Bob’s Full House

bob

If you were looking to crown a British King of Quiz shows, then surely Bob Monkhouse would be your man. The Golden Shot and Family Fortunes were a couple of his big hitters, although he also had some very obscure shows on his cv.  Ironically, it seems that few people today remember Monkhouse’s Memory Masters whilst his first quiz effort (Do You Trust Your Wife?) has also fallen down a crack in time.

Bob’s Full House is one that’s endured though. And thanks to repeats on Challenge, a heathy selection are available to enjoy on YouTube.

“In Bingo lingo clickety-clicks, it’s time to take your pick of the six”

This was the perfect show for Bob. It allowed him to do a bit of stand-up at the start and then interact with the four contestants in a mildly teasing (but always friendly) way before the serious part of the quiz began.  Although there were a few rumblings that bingo was too down market for the BBC, BFH was actually a pure quiz rather than a televised bingo session (although surely that’s been done by someone somewhere).

Round one was Four Corners, where you had to … well, you can probably guess.  The first contestant to answer four questions correctly would also get a prize (there would be much cooing from the studio audience in that sort of semi-ironic Blankety Blank way).

The pace would pick up with Round two – the Monkhouse Mastercard. This time the contestants could select one of their numbers which matched with a variety of quiz topics.  A slightly more impressive prize would be given to the one who managed to light up their middle line.

By the time we get to round three – Full House – things are going full throttle. Now it’s just a straight race to the finishing line, with a series of rapid fire questions requiring good fingers on buzzers action.  Bob comes into his own here, rattling through question after question like the pro he was.

The winner would then join Bob for the Golden Card. A holiday destination (which always had to be around seven letters) was the prize and there were fifteen questions to be answered.  With a time-limit of just one minute things could get tense – the more wrong answers, the harder it would be to locate the letters (other squares on the board contained money, which was nice but no help when you were looking for an all-expenses paid holiday).

BFH was a hit straight away – by the end of the first series in December 1984, the show was pulling in more than thirteen million viewers. It’s early evening Saturday timeslot may be one of the reasons why it’s fondly remembered today – possibly it wasn’t the programme that we were all tuning in for, but it was a dependable part of the television furniture for a good number of years.

And maybe it plays a little better today than it did then. Bob was respected in the eighties, but he also had to fend off a fair number of brickbats. In the last few years of his life, and in the decades following his death, his critical standing has certainly increased.  Maybe at the time we just took him for granted – now, some thirty years on, it’s easier to see just how good he was.

bob game

The Dawson Watch – Simply Media DVD Review

164454- Chief Crazy Horse Sleeve.indd

Les Dawson’s road to television stardom was a long and rocky one. Born in Collyhurst, Manchester in 1934, Dawson pursued numerous dead-end jobs whilst attempting to break into the comedy world.  After many false starts, thanks to a spot on Opportunity Knocks his luck slowly began to change.

His own show – Sez Lez – which ran on Yorkshire Televison from 1969 to 1976 was key in establishing his brand of entertaining miserablism.  Whilst some of the early editions were a bit thin comedy-wise, the arrival of a crop of experienced writers such as Barry Cryer and David Nobbs gave the show a considerable boost.  Having John Cleese as a regular co-star for a while didn’t hurt either.

Whilst with Yorkshire, Dawson also appeared in The Loner (scripted by Alan Plater) and Dawson’s Weekly (penned by Galton and Simpson) so he didn’t lack for heavyweight writers. Throw in a number of one-off specials, guest spots on other people’s programmes and appearances on panel shows such as Joker’s Wild and Celebrity Squares and it’s fair to say that by the mid seventies Dawson had well and truly arrived.

His defection to the BBC in 1977 wasn’t a shock on the same level as the departure of Morecambe and Wise to Thames, but it still raised a few eyebrows.  Lacking his familiar group of writers (even though they would have been happy to continue working with him) Dawson’s first BBC starring venture – imaginatively titled The Les Dawson Show – turned out to be something of a damp squib.

The writers – including Eddie Braben and a young David Renwick – were strong, but in some respects it seemed to be little more than a Sez Lez rehash (Les interacting with guest stars – such as Lulu – plus regular spots for singers and dancers).  The time was clearly right for Les to do something a little different next time and so The Dawson Watch (1979 – 1980) was born.

Dawson’s monologues (which he wrote himself, the sketches tended to be penned by other writers) often railed at life’s follies, so a series in which Les examined a different hot topic each week (Housing, Transport, Money, etc) was something which played to his strengths.

Along with a new writing team – Ian Davidson as script editor, Terry Ravenscroft and Andy Hamilton providing the sketches – the show began to take shape.  The Dawson Watch has the air of a consumer programme in which Les introduces sketches illustrating the topic of the week whilst moving around a studio packed with high-tech equipment (well, high-tech for the late seventies) and attractive young ladies pushing buttons.

daw20.jpg

It’s fair to say that the first series was a learning experience for all concerned.  Dawson seemed a little ill-at-ease in the first programme, only coming to life when he began to banter with the audience about where they live.  Once he does that – and presumably starts to go off-script – he visibly perks up.  Although there’s plenty of new material in his monologues, several old favourites (“until I was fifteen, I thought that knives and forks were jewellery”) also receive airings.

There are so many gems which can be mined from Dawson’s routines, such as this bleak portrait of Christmas.  Les confided that he could “only remember being given one Christmas present by my father. It was a do-it-yourself electric train set. Turned out to be a roll of fuse wire and a platform ticket”.

Possibly the major failing of the first series is the fact that Dawson doesn’t appear in many of the sketches.  Familiar faces such as Cosmo Smallpiece and Cissie and Ada do pop up, but most of the sketches are handled by others.  There’s certainly some very talented performers on view during these early shows – Sam Kelly, Johnny Ball, Michael Knowles, John Junkin, Patrick Newell, Terence Alexander, David Lodge, Andrew Sachs – but it would have been much more enjoyable had we seen Dawson playing off against them.

However, one of Les’ early sketch appearances (with Roy Barraclough as Cissie) is a Dawson classic.

CISSIE: Leonard and I went to Greece last year.
ADA: Oh, Bert and I have been to Greece, with Wallace Arnold’s Sunkissed Package Holiday and Inter-Continental Tours.
CISSIE: Oh, really? Did you have the shish kebabs?
ADA: From the moment we arrived. All down that side.
CISSIE: Did you see the Acropolis?
ADA: See it? We were never off it.

Clearly lessons had been learned for series two as Dawson takes a much more central role in the sketches whilst Vicki Michelle (as one of the computer girls) proved to be a welcome additon to the line-up. The girls in the first series were rarely called upon to be anything more than mute and attractive – acting simply as fodder for Dawson’s remarks – but Michelle possessed the comic chops to be able to engage in banter with him (which made Les’ lecherous advances seem a little less uncomfortable).

The astonishing roster of familiar faces making guest appearances during series one was reduced for the second and third series.  As was more common with series of this type, a “rep” of performers was used instead – Roy Barraclough headed the list, with Daphne Oxenford and Gordon Peters amongst the other regulars.

The formula remained the same for the third and final series (broadcast in 1980 and culminating with a Christmas Special discussing the obvious topic of Christmas). Vicki Michelle wasn’t featured so prominently, although one of her future Allo, Allo! co-stars, Kirsten Cooke, made a few appearances whilst it was also nice to see the likes of George Sweeney and Michael Keating.

Compared to some of his contemporaries, such as Mike Yarwood and Dick Emery, Les Dawson is very well represented on DVD. Virtually all of his surviving ITV material can be purchased from Network whilst this release from Simply constitutes a welcome chunk of his later BBC work. Hopefully more will surface in the future.

Whilst some aspects of Dawson’s humour haven’t aged well, there’s still so much of interest here – his wonderfully crafted monologues, the impressive parade of supporting actors – to make it easy for me to wholeheartedly recommend this release.

The Dawson Watch consists of nineteen 30 minute episodes spread across three discs (six, six, seven) and is subtitled. It’s released tomorrow (4th March 2019) by Simply Media and can be ordered directly here (quoting ARCHIVE10 will apply a 10% discount).

 

 

A Very Peculiar Practice – Contact Tracer

contact 01.jpg

At the start of this episode Lyn and Stephen enjoy a relaxing post-coital moment. Lyn tells him that she’s his best client and that their experiences (with the names changed of course) will make valuable research material. Is she attempting to unsettle him with her talk of other partners – all part of her researches maybe? Stephen, although he’s immensely grateful to Lyn, can’t help but feel like an experiment subject. At one point he likens himself to a “smoking beagle”.

John Bird returns as Vice Chancellor Ernest Hemmingway with Frances White appearing as his ever-loyal secretary Dorothy Hampton. The members of the practice are called to an early morning meeting with the VC, where the drinks on offer – apple juice – doesn’t meet with the approval of Bob (“I’m not a bloody hippy”).

Hemmingway is a jargon-spouting bureaucrat, keen for the practice to pay its way. Stephen’s weak protestation (made even less impressive by the way he’s clutching his carton of apple juice) that they have an impressive treatment rate piques the VC’s interest for a fleeting second, but since it’s not actually something that’s generating income he’s unsure of how they can spin it into a success story.

Stephen’s encounter with Jeannie MacAllister (Geraldine Alexander) has unforseen consequences. She’s charming and Stephen is his usual affable and friendly self, but she’s also a journalist and despite Stephen’s protests that he can’t discuss confidential medical matters with her, he attempts to put a positive spin on their treatment successes. Alas, this means that he turns into Doctor Blue Eyes whilst their success at treating VD becomes a major talking point of the article.

But then there’s a rash – as it were – of cases of sexually transmitted diseases. Stephen and Rose Marie, of course, are delicate, patient and understanding with their patients whilst Bob is forthright, brisk and uncaring. “Below the waist I take it? Front or back? So we’ve got a bit of tool trouble, well, well, well”. Jock is his usual avuncular self, telling one student that it’s “one of the minor penalties extracted from us by the goddess aphorpdite”.

With thirteen cases in two days (“trouble with the trouser snake” as Bob puts it) Jock and the others have a race against time to stop the epidemic growing. Graham Crowden once again ramps the intensity up and effortlessly steals the scene as Jock rages to Bob that they have to tackle this undercover and with a Falklands spirit. Later bulletins to the troops (“we’re holding the enemy, but only just”) are delivered in the same entertaining military manner.

With only a limited number of extras on hand, a little bit of creative work ensures that the illusion of a stream of patients is created. First, we see a number of mute patients before rapidly cutting to close-ups of the doctors as they continue to work their way through a backlog of appointmemts. By this point we simply have to accept that the unseen people they’re talking to are actually there.

Bob’s rundown of which departments were the worst offenders is a classic VPP moment. “Arts Faculty produced the largest number of cases. Idle sods. Too much time on their hands. Whole department’s going down like dominos. Similar pattern with the secretaries and porters, and Communication Studies lived up to their name. Waitresses and bar staff were a problem till we sewed up the catering managers’ trousers with cobbler’s thread. Sociologists only appear to do it with each other and we’ve got control there. Engineers, you’ll be interested to hear, have a very low rate of sexual activity. Singing about it in the bar seems to be their only outlet. And Physical Sciences hardly troubled the scorer”.

The nuns – who have been ever-present background figures – call in to see Jock. Stephen’s shocked expression – surely, they can’t have … ? – offers Peter Davison a lovely reaction moment. The late twist that even the VC is affected is another gift for Davison as Stephen is forced to reluctantly approach Hemmingway in his den. Naturally, the VC immediatly jumps to the conclusion that Stephen’s attempting to blackmail him.

The VC is appreciative but as a skilled politician he finds it impossible to believe that Stephen won’t attempt to use this embarrassing information at a later date. So Stephen’s told gently but firmly that his days at Lowlands are strictly numbered ….